Truth of the day

From Anthony Grayling’s Q&A about his new “secular bible,” The Good Book (via Pharyngula):

‘Militant’ is a term used by religious people who wish that they could continue to enjoy the status and privileges which the now-lost ‘respect agenda’ (‘I think weird thoughts so respect me, I am a man of faith’) once protected for them.


  1. Posted April 23, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    On the ‘militant’ tip, we need a prominent new atheist to start collecting berets. I would suggest you for the role, but I’m not they would go with the cowboy boots.

    • GordonWillis
      Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Yes, let’s collect berets. What fun. Just as long as no one starts handing them out.

      • Dean Buchanan
        Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        I refuse.

        I am a non-beret collector. An aberetist if you will.

        • Posted April 23, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          How am I supposed to start a militant fundamentalist atheist religion if I can’t even get you people together on berets?

          Jesus, it’s like herding cats.

          • GordonWillis
            Posted April 23, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            I think there are supposed to be some “commandments” or something. This sort of thing, I believe:

            1. God did not make any of this up.
            2. God did not command anyone to read it
            3. There is supposed to be some rule now about being a decent sort of person, but we all know about that one already.
            4. If anyone starts believing in things and ranting about it, well, perhaps we should just tell them to calm down and try not to worry. Point out that persistent shouting makes people deaf (and is positively ruinous to the voice).
            5. Anyone who doesn’t at least try to think about things in a sensible way is, well, a bit of an idiot, really.
            6. There are supposed to be 10, I think, but frankly this is really boring.

            • Posted April 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink


              • Posted April 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

                Spencer, that is an amazing idea. I can see Dawkins sporting a beret.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 24, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

              There are supposed to be 10, I think, but frankly this is really boring.

              Au contraire; nicely done. 😀

    • Sili
      Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Cowboy boots, jackboots. Tuh-may-toe, tuh-mar-toe.

  2. Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m scooped! I was just about to post that Q and A.

    • Steve
      Posted April 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Double scooped!

  3. Posted April 23, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I have to say that the “militant” label is very tiresome. As Prof Grayling says, it is just used to bash those who don’t show religion enough respect.

  4. Konradius
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    This talk is from 2002. I think we should own up to the ‘militant’ title and point out the difference between a militant atheist and a militant anything else…

  5. onkelbob
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Not sure how many read Arts and Letters Daily, which I find to be occasionally interesting. One thing I find especially “interesting,” is their neo-conservative fawning and their attachment to the British on-line rag “spiked!”. One author of said rag offered this as part of his criticism of AC Grayling’s book:

    The trouble is that in snippeting some of the most profound moral thought of the past 2,000-odd years, and turning it into a modern-day bible written in olden-day language, Grayling has done a grave disservice both to those great moral thinkers and the idea of a bible.

    I shan’t link to the author of that critique, you can find it on the ALD website if you wish.Btw, google Grayling, Eagleton, London Review of Books, and God Delusion for probably the best evisceration of poorly constructed argument ever.

  6. Sastra
    Posted April 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I think that calling outspoken atheists “militant” is meant to reflect the religious belief that without faith, one might as well be dead. There goes hope, there goes meaning, there goes worth and value, there goes all comfort and support. The bastards killed God for me, and my fundamental identity is gone forever and I am alone in an uncaring universe. Alas.

    As they see it, militant atheists don’t change people’s minds without simultaneously creating casualties. We gnus spread spiritual death with every well-constructed paragraph or reason-laden argument. Better then we keep silent.

    I can see why the religious use the term — but I can’t understand its popularity among other atheists. Do accomodationists consider themselves among the walking dead, that they want to connect themselves with such an implication?

    • GordonWillis
      Posted April 24, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      It’s a real puzzle, isn’t it? The following might be possible reasons:

      Re your speculation on “spiritual death”, some of them are presumably genuinely fond of the old traditions and would hate to see them go, and they depend upon believers to maintain them. Is this because the old traditions add some sort of depth, or increase the sense of belonging (how they were brought up, etc)? Or is there a sort of touristy notion: nice to see the peasants still following the old ways…? Or indeed, as you are wondering, care for the poor bastards who will lose whatever makes sense of their lives?

      There seems to be a strong element of sour grapes, with some at least. These wretched amateurs (you know, Dawkins, Jerry, PZ) who know nothing of history (how dare they ignore history as interpreted by us who know far more blah blah?) or theology (how dare they condemn theology just because it’s a load of old cobblers without reading up on Aquinas etc etc.?) or our personal contributions (how dare they write more successful books than ours and become famous blah blah and what do they really know blah blah?). All of which appears to be saying: how dare anyone bring reason to bear on our precious patch or be so unsympathetic to the muddle-headed whom we (of course) interpret so much better?

      There’s a thread of egotism running through much of this, I think. It almost looks as though we’ve knocked a dead parrot off its perch and its owners are shrieking about vandalism. If so, maybe some of them are taking refuge in the arms of the godly. They’re so used to our democratic way of life, so used to the inroads it has made on the attitudes of many influential religious persons, that it does not occur to them that once religion gets its grip on society, if we allow it, they will be dropped with contempt.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 24, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Excellent points.
        I think there is also as bit of Religion-as-Personal-Therapy in there as well. Accomodationists seem to have bought into the idea that “losing faith” invariably causes an emotional crisis, so that trying to “take away” someone else’s faith is mean. It’s a hurtful invasion of privacy.

        Accomodationists are approaching religion not just as experts who can appreciate history, but like therapists.

        • GordonWillis
          Posted April 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I take that point, and it is very likely true, at least with some; and I’ve no doubt that there are many motives. What especially bothers me is the degree to which people (like Berlinerblau) seem to be relying on unsubstantiated claims. It seems odd to make charges which can be so easily countered, but I think that there is method in’t.

          One of the charges seems to be that we don’t make any reasoned reply, but only attack with “more vitriol”. The method presumably is that by simply denying that we make reasoned replies we can be presented as incapable of the reasonableness that we associate with our views. This feeds the prejudice that we are simply “rude” and “arrogant”, a prejudice which has already been implanted by accommodationists themselves.

          If I am right, then these people would not consider it necessary to provide any evidence for their accusations, because the sole purpose would be to win popularity, and that may be all that is needed to destroy our credibility. To my mind, this indicates a high degree of malice, and I think that the egotism I mentioned above may be at least partly the motive. I have also, perhaps unworthily, sometimes suspected deliberate mischief. Though again, alarm at the unhappiness of those suffering a crisis of faith might be there, after all. I don’t see much sign of that, though, unless I’ve missed it.

          On the other hand, when I think about people like Bishop Olmsted, I think that the crisis of faith cannot come too soon.

        • Posted April 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          Allow me to add here that we don’t forget that it was religion who took our common sense away from the beginning.

  7. Posted April 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I am very careful to reject the adjective “militant”, whenever I see/hear it used inappropriately. The only real fighting I see among atheists is with words, and the most “militant” among “us” seem to go to great lengths to choose their words thoughtfully with a self-imposed responsibility to back up what they say with evidence.

    I’ve enjoyed this thread immensely. I have benefitted from some new insights.

  8. Fraser
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    There’s few things which cause more anger than a loss of status for somebody who previously had an implicit possession of that status.

    I was convinced of this (and pardon the geekiness of the following example) by the gentleman who wanted a way of turning off the man-on-man relationships in Dragon Age 2, on the basis that most of the players of the game were heterosexual males.

    When the status quo benefits your winnings from the genetic lottery, it’s hard to be tolerant of the rest.

    It’s hard even to see that there’s an alternative. In Australia, where I grew up, a common refrain is that the Koori (aboriginal Australians) should just integrate more into society, and there wouldn’t be a problem.

    I certainly have my own prejudices.

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