Firstly, I’d like to thank Wade Kaardal and the International Humanist and Ethical Union and more specifically, the International Humanist Ethical Youth Organization, for inviting me to come here and speak at this important event. Also, it would be rude and remiss of me not to thank our hosts, the National Taiwan University. So, I sincerely thank you.
I’m sure many if not most of you have no idea who I am, so please allow me to just briefly introduce myself. I am, for lack of a better description, a Militant Atheist author, and I’ll explain what I mean, and perhaps more importantly, what I do not mean, by Militant Atheist, over the next 30 to 40 minutes. I’ve published six books on religion and atheism, and I am nearing the end of a Master’s degree in Studies in Religion. Why is a Militant Atheist studying religion so intensely you might ask, and Sun Tzu would answer, ‘Know your enemy.’
I am also the Founder and Chair of a small Human Rights organization, Human Rights for Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists, and we are petitioning the U.N to pressure member states to repeal blasphemy and religious insult laws by strengthening freedom of expression within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as by amending the UN Charter to expressly include non-believers as a protected group.
We have a petition with over 15,000 signatures, some of which belong to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ricky Gervais, Roseanne Barr, Maryam Namazie, as well as numerous other well-known signatories from various religious and non-religious organizations. We are about to launch a fundraising campaign to raise money to hire our own international lawyer so that we can begin dealing directly with the United Nations.
So, that is who I am and what I do.
I’m going to spend the next 30 to 40 minutes presenting you with what may at first appear to be a very strange case indeed. I’m going to argue, as the title of my speech suggests, that Militant Atheism is necessary for humanism and human progress, although I’ll address these issues in the reverse order, just to keep you entertained. Now, I’ll do this by first defining atheism, although most of you probably have a good idea of what atheism is. Then I’ll move on to explain what Militant Atheism is not, and also very briefly address what I have dubbed ‘The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy’, and then I’ll explain what exactly I mean by Militant Atheism. Finally, I’ll present my case by demonstrating why “Militant Atheism” is necessary for human progress, then I’ll finish by showing how “Militant Atheism” is necessary for Humanism.
What is Atheism?
Atheism can be broadly defined in the following two ways:Firstly, as the positive belief that there are no gods and secondly, in the negative form, as a lack of belief in gods.
Whichever way you slice it, atheism is simply the absence of god-belief, and nothing more. That’s about as much time as I really need to spend defining atheism to a room probably brimming with atheists, so I’ll move on.
Militant atheism is not the sycophantic statism and near superstitious messianism of Stalin’s Russia. It is neither Mao’s dictatorship nor his ill-contrived Great Leap Forward which many scholars argue caused the Great Chinese Famine. It is not Pol Pot’s communist Khmer Rouge and it certainly is not Hitler’s Nazism. Militant Atheism is not the atrocities committed by Communist and fascist dictators who happened to have been both a-theists and a-Leprachunists. Militant Atheism is not any of these things despite what the vain, desperate and deceptive ramblings of enraptured religious apologists would have you believe.
Now, before I explain what “Militant Atheism” is, let me just take a very brief moment to address the atheist atrocities fallacy, because it is so prevalent within religious apologetics and so widespread on social media that I think it deserves some attention here.
I am sure at least some of you have encountered this common religious apologetic tactic. Stalin is the religious apologist’s favourite character to trot out in an attempt to demonstrate that atheism is dangerous. Most frequently the religious person will raise characters like Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao to rebut or at least mitigate the raising of religious atrocities.
The atheist atrocities fallacy is a multifaceted and multidimensional monster of a fallacy, comprised of misrepresented historical data combined with a cocktail of illogically contrived arguments. It is, at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, or “You Too” fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct. But it’s much more than this, for within its tangled and mangled edifice can be found the false analogy fallacy, the poisoning of the well fallacy, the false cause fallacy, and even an implied slippery slope fallacy.
If you’d like to read more about this, you can just google atheist atrocities fallacy or go to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and you’ll find it there, along with a few other essays and articles I’ve written for the Dawkins Foundation. But the point here is that Militant Atheism is neither a euphemism for totalitarianism and/or fascism, it is not dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao.
So then, what is “Militant Atheism”? I think comedian Ricky Gervais describes it perfectly:
The term “Militant Atheism” possibly finds its roots in the name of a nominally independent anti-religious organization in Stalin’s Russia called The League of Militant Atheists, or literally translated, The League of the Militant Godless. This organization was primarily concerned with intellectually dismantling religion with publications and by engaging in debates with believers, however in 1929 it took a violent turn when, at the Second Congress of Atheists, the editor of Pravda, Nikolai Bukharin, called for the extermination of religion at the ‘tip of the bayonet’, and his vile and inhumane suggestion was enthusiastically endorsed by the newly elected leader of the group, Yaroslavsky.
Here is where Humanism would have greatly benefited the victims of this early group of Stalinist atheists, for had they placed the sanctity of human life over the perceived sanctity of human beliefs, they would have remained a purely intellectual movement, as “Militant Atheism” is today. So then, the relationship between outspoken “Militant Atheism” and Humanism is not only essential, but co-dependent, as I will reiterate at the end of this speech.
The term “Militant Atheism” is used today as a pejorative label describing atheists who actively, yet peacefully, highlight the harms associated with religious superstition and dogma. And if you are possessed by the mistaken belief that religion doesn’t cause harm, all I can say is, read more. Thumb through the blood soaked and misogynistic annals of religious history, from Islamic to Jewish to Christian, to Hindu, and even, dare I say it, Buddhist – although I do concede that Buddhism has been a comparatively more peaceful religion than its insane Abrahamic counterparts, but let’s not ignore the slavery and tyranny of certain Buddhist regimes that have existed and in Myanmar, for example, continue to exist.
To further justify the belief that religion does cause harm, read the modern studies that show how children raised in religious households are, generally speaking, less intelligent, have a harder time distinguishing between fact and fiction, are more judgmental and selfish than children raised in non-religious households, and who, if raised with the belief in a vengeful and angry god, are more likely to develop severe personality disorders. Now, the “Militant Atheist” smear, and let’s be honest, it is in its modern employment nothing but a smear and a slander, is used as a kind of implied slippery slope fallacy in an attempt to argue that outspoken atheism will necessarily lead to Stalin’s Russia, which, I hope you’ll agree, is not only unfounded and illogical, but patently absurd.
Christian apologists, Lyons and Butt, in an article on Militant Atheism have the following to say about scientists who unapologetically express disbelief in gods:
‘In fact, a large majority of scientists now believe that God does not exist (Here they misrepresent scientists like Dawkins and Krauss, who aren’t positive atheists, but anyway, what would religious apologetics be without a handful of strawmen). These scientists, Lyons and Butt continue, feel that they should militantly spread their ideas of atheism and evolution as far and wide as possible’.
I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but I’ve yet to hear Dawkins, Harris, Tyson or Krauss call for the beheading of believers to further a scientific and atheistic worldview, although Dawkins has remarked on this horrendously false allegation in true Dawkinsean fashion:
In his article in the New Yorker entitled, All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists, Dr Lawrence Krauss wrote:
‘Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma. When I do, I sometimes get accused in public of being a “militant atheist.” Even a surprising number of my colleagues politely ask if it wouldn’t be better to avoid alienating religious people. Shouldn’t we respect religious sensibilities, masking potential conflicts and building common ground with religious groups so as to create a better, more equitable world?…
Dr Krauss continues:
‘In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise’.
And here we arrive at the first of my two central points. “Militant Atheism”, that is, the outspoken criticism of religion and religious dogmas, is necessary for human progress.
George Bernard Shaw enunciated this point when he penned upon the lips of one of his characters the following remark:
Now, we need not confine ourselves to the attacking of religious dogmas alone, because the unapologetic criticism of dogmas, whether religious or otherwise, represents the core spirit of “Militant Atheism”. So, I’ll just give you a few examples that demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Militant Atheism, or at least the spirit and driving ethos behind Militant Atheism, has sown the seeds and tended the blossoming fields of human progress.
The Heliocentric Solar System
Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno were all viewed as horrible blasphemers for having the audacity to correctly suggest, in accordance with reality as we now understand it to be, that we in fact live in a heliocentric solar system. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity referred to Copernicus as simply a ‘Clown who has out to refute scripture’, Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Church and Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake – but here I’d like to debunk a myth that was perhaps unwittingly propagated by Neil deGrasse Tyson in his Television series, Cosmos. I researched Giordano Bruno’s execution for my second book, by examining the primary historical sources available, and although his advocacy of the heliocentric model of the solar system was included amongst his blasphemies, it certainly was not his most provocative. He had some pretty choice words to say about the Pope, or Triumphant Beast, as Bruno called him, as well Jesus, whom Bruno described as merely a deceptive magician, which one Catholic historian at his death tells us were the main reasons for his barbaric execution.
However, I digress. The discovery of the heliocentric solar system wasn’t only significant for its positive impact upon our understanding of the cosmos, which has fomented a whole host of advances in technology and understanding in relation to cosmology and astrophysics, but it also acted as one of the first dominoes that knocked over our species previously worshipped faith-based approach to the acquisition of knowledge, which caused the scientific revolution, which, in turn, gave real breathing space for Humanism and Rationalism to grow and flourish in many societies, to benefit of all those lucky enough to be born and raised therein.
The Science of Geology
The science of geology also caused tempestuous waves amongst the majority by discovering and unapologetically announcing that the earth was in fact much older than James Ussher’s Christian chronology permitted, which held that the earth was only 6 thousand years old, a belief now only held by nascent fundamentalists and similar cooks and crackpots. Dawkins describes the error of young earth creationists in the follow words:
The Theory of Evolution
Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is still highly controversial in overtly religious countries, the USA included, due to the fact that it blasphemously and unrepentantly conflicts with the dogmatic religious ignorance that kept our ancestors in the dark on many important scientific and historical questions, by explaining not only the origin and development of our species and others – an explanation that flies in the face of religious fables regarding these questions – but it also has become the sturdy backbone of highly valuable sciences such as biology and archaeology, for example. Yet regardless of the mountains of evidence in its favour, and its obvious benefit to the advancement of human knowledge and subsequently, human progress, the theory of evolution, no, the fact of evolution, is still irrationally rejected and denied by many religious people for no other reason than it provides a reason to reject their ancient fables.
Vaccines – Yes, still controversial in many dogmatically ignorant circles, and some have even tried to take us back to the days of now-avoidable epidemics and widespread polio by erroneously asserting that vaccines cause autism.
I am particularly fond of this comic strip:
These are the kinds of lengths devout believers will go to keep themselves and the rest of us caged within the beguiling bowels of gloomy ignorance and mindless dogmatism and faith, despite the obvious advantages that occasion a destroying of the old to make way for the new.
Just to give a real world and up-to-date example of this struggle between wilful ignorance and the intelligent desire to progress with the findings of science, I give you Donald Trump:
And just for some contrast, here is Hillary Clinton’s position on the matter:
The discovery that climate change is the result of human ignorance. Yes, I say human ignorance because if we had have known what we were doing as we began to undertake our grand adventure that now threatens all of us with extinction, we might have done things differently, if not, we’d be back at ignorance again, so either way, climate change is the result of human ignorance. Yet people still vigorously attempt to refute this scientific fact. Yes, the acknowledgment of human-made climate change may hurt your pocket and your feelings, but facts care for neither of these things. They exist regardless of your financial and/or emotional comfort, and climate change is a fact. The understanding that we are causing this planet to grow sick is, for obvious reasons, of great significance to human progress, because without a planet you can’t have humans, and without humans, well, human progress may be a little difficult to achieve, I’m afraid.
And to give you another real world and up-to-date example of the wilful ignorance surrounding this issue, I give you Trump, once again:
Thomas Paine & The Enlightenment
It is also a matter of fact that the seeds of modern democracy and human rights were sown in the enlightenment by proponents like Thomas Paine, whose opinions on the tyranny of religion and the aristocracy were so controversial for his time that he was given the death sentence in absentia for seditious libel against the crown, and even those who had been his ardent supporters, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, eventually criticized him for his blasphemies, blasphemies that helped to create a wall between religion and politics in western democracies, thereby placing human rights above human beliefs to the benefit of both the religious and non-religious alike, for without freedom from religion, we can never truly have freedom of religion – and in many ways, we might even be so bold as to call Thomas Paine one of the fathers of western Humanism. I say western Humanism because if we trace western Humanism back to its philosophical roots, we are forced by the unbroken chain of historical evidence to traverse back through ancient and Classical Greece, eventually arriving in ancient Asia and Asia Minor.
So, to conclude on this point, Militant Atheism is necessary for human progress because without those who fear not the condemnation and persecution that accompanies the unashamed criticism of religious and religiously held dogmas and superstitions, progress is ruthlessly slain and made the victim of mindlessly worshiped dogmas and beliefs, and this creates a situation in which humanity, despite its best interests, repeats its long-held and cherished insanities and errors over and over and over and over, and…well, you probably get the picture. I think the best way to sum this point up is with the following words: The more we dogmatically believe the less we learn and the less we learn, the slower we advance. Conversely, the less we dogmatically believe the more we learn and the more we learn, the quicker we progress.
Now on to my final point.
When I use the word Humanism, I do so with some reasonable and justifiable conflation. Please allow me to explain. When I say that Militant Atheism is necessary for Humanism, I’m saying that it is necessary for both Humanism as its strict definition is concerned, that is: as, and here I quote the strict definition, “a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and which, generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over the acceptance of dogma or superstition – but I also use the term Humanism to describe one of its greatest and noblest products, namely, human rights. So when I argue that Militant Atheism is necessary for Humanism, I’m really arguing that it is necessary for both Humanism and Human Rights. So, strictly speaking, the title of my speech should have been, Militant Atheism is necessary for Humanism, Human Rights and Human Progress, however I didn’t want to have too many humans in the title of my speech because we all know how placing too many humans in the one place causes conflict, and I didn’t want the title of my speech tearing itself apart before I had a chance to deliver it.
Now, how would one go about arguing that outspoken, militant atheism is necessary for Humanism in its strictest sense? Well, one would need only ask the question; what is the antithesis of Humanism? I think you’ll agree, it is dogma and superstition, and what is the primary source of these two thought-destroying demons? Religion. So how does this brand of atheism, a firebrand of atheism, combat religion? It does so by refusing to pay enabling lip-service to an institution that the majority still believe should shielded from rational and justified criticism, and tax. This refusal on the “militant atheist’s” part naturally causes them/us to be reviled by the majority. Voltaire once quipped: “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere”, and it is taxing and draining to be a Militant Atheist, it is difficult, but I believe difficulty should never dissuade one from the pursuit of that which is worthy of achieving, and a humanistic global society is certainly worth striving for.
In my opinion, the value of the militant atheist cannot be overstated: Militant Atheists are not merely concerned with criticizing religion for the fun of it, well, not all Militant Atheists. We serve an important purpose, a valuable function, and that is to fight against the tsunami of religious bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, hatred and violence by stripping the automatic, unthinking and undeserved reverence the majority of human beings still pay to this archaic institution of human society. Further, the Militant Atheist is the frontline blocker for the scientist and the human rights activist, not to mention the downtrodden victim of religious barbarism. The Militant Atheist’s job is to clear a path so that love, logic and reason may walk unmolested by molested minds that seek to perpetually resurrect and resuscitate the insanities, cruelties and credulities of a dark and deranged superstitious past. Militant Atheists employ combative psychological strategies so that we might all one day be freed from the psychological tyranny that is religion. And we, well, I, do all of this with all of our children in mind – because if we truly wish to leave a prosperous and bloodless harvest for our children, we must suffer in their stead, so that when they inherit this insane world from us, it will be a little saner- – it will, if we succeed in our intellectual endeavour, be a world in which human rights are placed over human beliefs. I should offer a qualification here.
I do not see religion as the only problem we face. It is one of them, the one I have chosen to combat. Nor is religion completely devoid of value. Great art and architecture have been created from religious inspiration, as well as many beautiful and noble philosophies…Love thy neighbour as thyself. The Golden Rule, The Good Samaritan. The problem with religion, however, is that it is laced and poisoned by dogmas and superstitions that are murderous, xenophobic, homophobic, suicidal, misogynistic, and stupefyingly ignorant, and so, I guess it may be accurate to describe religion, that is, the institution as a whole package, as being either Arsenic laced with Vitamin C or Vitamin C laced with arsenic. Whichever way you wish to see it, the end result of this cocktail of insightful philosophy and wilfully ignorant misanthropy, is death and destruction, as the annals of history and the observation of current events convincingly attest.
The beauty of Humanism is that it can dissect religious teachings and adopt that which is rational, reasonable and beneficial for humanity. We, as humanists, can love our neighbour without psychologically abusing our children, or separating ourselves from our fellow human beings upon irrationally divisive grounds. We can take that which is truly humanistic from religious scripture and doctrine and discard the rest of the rubbish. But in order for us to build a global humanistic society that is rational and compassionate, we must first pull up the toxic weeds of our dark and depraved religious past. Here is where the Militant Atheist does the highest service to humanity. We are willing to suffer the slings and arrows so that those poisonous impediments to Humanism can be neutralized.
I think this point was brilliantly made by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who said:
For the purpose of this speech, we might say that: only through rigorous scrutiny can human society progress towards humanism, and only through free speech and Militant Atheism can rigorous scrutiny occur.
For my final point, I’ll argue that Militant Atheism is necessary for Human Rights, which will bring me full circle back to the start of my talk today.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, I am the founder of a small human rights organization called Human Rights for Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists, and we are attempting to have the U.N take steps to ensure that member states abolish blasphemy and religious insult laws. This attempt on our part is nothing if not Militant Atheism. We are trying to ensure that people are granted freedom FROM religion, so that we all have freedom OF and FROM religion. In recent times, the problem of blasphemy laws has been resurrected with vigour, particularly in the Muslim world. If you scroll though the recent cases in Pakistan, a country that kills you for questioning Islam, or Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, and even numerous western and Asian democracies, countries that pride themselves on the pretence of valuing human rights, blasphemy laws have arisen to the detriment of both human rights and humanism. In his book, Blasphemy in the Christian World, Historian Dr David Nash says:
One of the most famous examples of this in recent years is Saudi Arabia’s brutal lashing and imprisoning of the humanist and secular activist Raif Badawi, for blasphemy. If you read the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, you’ll see that freedom of expression is listed as a human right, and for good reason. However, there are exclusion clauses in subsections to these provisions, exclusions that allow blasphemy laws to be enforced, and for this reason we need more Humanists and Militant Atheists putting pressure on the U.N to revise these exceptions, because they effectively nullify the noble goal of protecting freedom of expression, and without freedom of expression, freedom of thought becomes the victim and both freedom of thought and expression are crucial human rights, which is exactly why we need unapologetic Militant Atheists and Humanists out there directly challenging these types of Orwellian laws – not just for the benefit of rude and uncouth atheists such as myself, but for people who still desire the freedom to believe any absurd thing they wish, without being persecuted and molested by the states under which they live.
To give you one example of this, look at the way in which Christians are persecuted by blasphemy laws in Pakistan. To Muslims, John 3:16 of the New Testament is grossly blasphemous, because it suggests that god procreates, which is highly offensive to Muslims, so without Freedom From Religion, Christians in Pakistan cannot enjoy freedom Of religion. And this is reflected in the disparate rates of Christians charged with blasphemy in Pakistan vs Muslims charged and convicted for that same offense, again, an offense that carries the death penalty. So, in all of this religious madness, more voices of unapologetic reason are necessary, and this voice, I argue, is the voice of the Militant Atheist, because what is religion at the end of the day?
Religion is a Scam
Many of my fellow Militant Atheists say that religion is just stupid! However, I couldn’t disagree more. Religion isn’t stupid, it’s genius! Think about it. What scam in the history of scams has enjoyed even a tenth of the success that religion has enjoyed? It has amassed in the trillions from the sale of tickets to a non-existent place. It has profited immeasurably by selling a cure for a disease that does not exist, and it has achieved boundless wealth and authority by convincing its gullible marks that only it can garner the favour of an imaginary wizard in the sky who, it alleges, is the only character with sufficient power to defeat a terrifying boogieman, who also happens to be the creative design of this amazingly brilliant scam. Religion can kill in the millions and not only will people not object and rebel against such cruel criminality, they’ll turn to it in the hopes of finding an end to the violence it has causes. Religion is without a doubt one of the most brilliant scams in the history of scams, and the cherry on this scam is that it is free, and tax-free, to kill and exploit whilst avoiding legal consequences for its criminal conduct. One of the secrets to the success of this scam is that it turns families into subsidiary cults, so that its targets become the unwitting perpetrators of the scam that they were scammed into buying before their minds had a chance to reject the obvious absurdities that have in no way hindered the remarkable success of this self-perpetuating scam. So religion isn’t stupid, it’s genius, and it is its genius that has turned it into to a social institution beyond criticism. But the time has come for more Militant Atheists to unapologetically criticize this cherished institution, however in so doing, we must be careful not to let our anti-theism turn into anti-humanism, as the atheists under Stalin did, and so I’ll conclude by saying this:
Thank you for listening.