Militant Atheism: The New Fundamentalists

Let’s be clear: I have no agenda when it comes to another’s faith preferences. I have enough issues living my own life without trying to impose my values on you. If you ask me about my faith tradition, I’ll skim over it and likely move on pretty quickly. Would that all the atheists were the same.

In a visit with a couple about a year ago, the wife was going to surgery. I visited with the couple merely to assist with a paperwork matter and assure them that I was available to help if there was anything they needed. As I left the room, I said to the husband (while the wife was gone for testing) that I would keep them both in my prayers, that I cared about their wellbeing. That was the entire extent of anything religious I said. Before I closed the door, he replied: “She doesn’t need your prayers.”

Similarly, last summer when visiting my local Barnes and Noble , I noticed a whole table filled with recent diatribes against God, Christianity, and any other faith tradition (conveniently enough failing to recognize that atheism and agnosticism are also faith traditions). As I read the flyleaf of each book, it became clear that bashing people of faith is becoming a cherished indoor sport.

Some of those books were quite straightforward in stating their case that faith traditions as a whole hobble our development as a global society. It was quite clear from several of these books that they were making a case that faith practice, faith values, and faith traditions have little or no place in public life, if any place at all. Indeed, they seemed to feel that faith practice was a sort of mental illness.

Does any of this ring a bell? You’ll have to pull out your history helmet to be able to know what I’m talking about. Yes, we’re talking about the reign of Hitler. And where did Hitler’s cleansing process begin? That’s right:With the mentally ill.

We began this essay by saying that we have no beef with the faith preferences of others. Indeed, I have known many atheists and agnostics whom I deeply respected. I just want people to be able to hold the beliefs they feel the most comfortable with and find the most convincing. If that’s atheism or agnosticism, go for it.

For that matter, I’m equally sickened by those of religious persuasion who feel the need to judge atheists and agnostics. They are fundamentalists (not in a historical sense) who roughly parallel many of the other fundamentalists who so currently trouble our world. Hear this: those dogmatists who subscribe to the position of the radical atheists are no less fundamentalists than are those who seek to coerce others into a particular faith tradition. They, too, seek an Inquisition of sorts. They, too, can imagine society as being better without the presence of a belief in God. The only question that remains to be asked of them is how far they would go to see that happen?

In the recent movie Expelled, Ben Stein takes to task the educational establishment: Not for teaching evolution, but for rooting out anyone who has questions about evolution or holds a position that doubts evolution. In short, those who question evolution don’t even have the benefit of a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

We began this essay with a story about a woman who’s husband says she Doesn’t need your prayers. I’m not sure what book of etiquette these folks were reading from, but clearly they missed an essential lesson in the pottie training section.  And, that’s where I fear all this is heading. When someone says, I’m praying for you, the appropriate response is, Thank you. You don’t have to believe in prayer yourself. Assuming the person is being at all honest, the only reason they’d say something like that is because they care and because they feel that prayer may have some value on another’s behalf. It is an act of kindness. What is wrong with that? Are they not allowed to say the word prayer in the presence of these zealots?

Not so many years ago when you went to the airport you would almost certainly be accosted by some dogma peddler selling his/her faith tradition. They could and would harass passersby. Restrictions were created that made them stay in a little space off to the side of the terminal corridor. They were not allowed to step outside of that space and witness. Perhaps it’s come to that for this new breed of atheists. Perhaps they need a booth?

For years, we have been warned by left-leaning media about the dangers of intolerance. Yet here, on a Barnes and Noble display, and in an innocuous contact where someone of faith says in the best way they know how that they care, we find two front-and-center demonstrations of the direction that society may be moving. Apparently, it’s increasingly okay to be intolerant of those of faith. And, when I look at history, more than making me angry, it makes me a little afraid.

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