Not all atheists are militant atheists
Militant evangelising atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been in the news a lot recently. They obviously care, and care very deeply, about the gods that they think people should not believe in. It is therefore good to be reminded that the vast majority of atheists couldn’t give a toss.
Roughly speaking, an atheist is anyone who has no use for the concept of God – the idea of a divine mind, which has created humankind and embodies in a perfect form the values that human beings cherish and strive to realise. Many who are atheists in this sense (including myself) regard the evangelical atheism that has emerged over the past few decades with bemusement. Why make a fuss over an idea that has no sense for you? There are untold multitudes who have no interest in waging war on beliefs that mean nothing to them. Throughout history, many have been happy to live their lives without bothering about ultimate questions. This sort of atheism is one of the perennial responses to the experience of being human.
There have been militant atheists around for quite a long time, of course, and militant atheism has been quite popular, especially when that position has been regarded as politically correct, as it was in the USSR, where the League of Militant Atheists saw its membership grow into millions.
But it would be a mistake to see all atheists as a kind of organised irreligion.
Militant atheists, who are very vocal, might give the impression that there is such a thing a organised irreligion, but as the author of the (very good) Guardian article points out, atheism is characterised by an absence of something. As someone pointed out, if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair colour.
If you want a comparison, atheists are a bit like people who don’t like ballet, and can’t see the point of it. So most people who don’t like ballet won’t buy tickets to see the shows, they won’t talk about ballet, and will tend to regard ballet fans as eccentric at best and as rather tiresome bores at worst. The last thing that most of them would do would be to campaign for bans on advertising ballet shows and ballet classes, or write books and give lectures on the evils of ballet. In the same way, common or garden atheists, the non-militant ones, are quite happy to live and let live. The word atheist means someone who is without God or gods. It is an absence rather than an antipathy.
There is a tendency for extremists to get more publicity in the world today. Militant Islam gets a lot of publicity in the Western media, so people in the West tend to think that all Muslims are militant. They’ve even coined a new word for militant Muslims — Islamists. Perhaps the militant atheists should rather be called “antitheists” to avoid giving the common or garden atheists a bad name.