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Template:Coat rack Template:Atheism and Irreligion Sidebar The terms militant atheism and militant atheist are designations applied to atheists who are, or are perceived to be, hostile towards religion. The term has been used going back to at least 1894[1] and it has been applied to people from Thomas Hobbes onwards. It had a specific application within the materialism of MarxismLeninism, and in the early years of the Soviet Union, and more recently the term has been used, frequently pejoratively, to describe atheists such as Richard Dawkins,[2] Christopher Hitchens,[3] Sam Harris[4] and Daniel Dennett.[5]

Julian Baggini defines 'militant atheism' as "Atheism which is actively hostile to religion", which "requires more than strong disagreement with religion — it requires something verging on hatred and is characterised by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious belief. Militant atheists tend to make one or both of two claims that moderate atheists do not. The first is that religion is demonstrably false or nonsense and the second is that it is usually or always harmful."[6]

Concerns about the use of the term

The term militant atheist is often used pejoratively by theists to describe people believed to campaign actively or outspokenly for atheism and against religion. Catherine Fahringer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation suggested that the label militant was often routinely applied to atheist for no good reason – "very much as was the adjective 'damn' attached to the noun 'Yankee' during the Civil War."[7] Another term that is similarly used is "Evangelical Atheism".

The linguist Larry Trask suggests that the word militant "is used all too freely in the feebler sense of 'holding or expressing views which are unpopular or which I don't like'." He notes that Richard Dawkins is "accused by tabloid newspapers and other commentators of being a 'militant atheist'", although, according to Trask, the adjective is never used of Christian activity. Trask concludes, "if you find yourself writing this word, stop and think whether it has any clear meaning, or whether you are just using it as a swearword."[8]


Soviet Bloc


The cover of a membership card of the Union of Militant Atheists of the USSR

Template:Seealso Template:Seealso Template:Seealso Engels is considered a militant atheist by Oscar J. Hammen.[9] The belief that Marx was a militant atheist has been challenged.[10] The ascent of the Bolsheviks to power in 1917 "meant the beginning of a campaign of militant atheism"[11] and in 1922 Lenin referred with approval to "militant atheist literature" and demanded that the journal Pod Znamenem Marksizma "must be a militant atheist organ", explaining that he meant militant 'in the sense of unflinchingly exposing and indicting all modern “graduated flunkeys of clericalism”, irrespective of whether they act as representatives of official science or as free lances calling themselves “democratic Left or ideologically socialist” publicists'.[12]

Marxist-Leninist militant atheism resulted in the administrative elimination of the clergy, the housing of atheist museums where churches had once stood, the sending of many religious people to prisons and concentration camps, a continuous stream of propaganda, and the imposing of atheism through education (and forced re-education through torture at various prisons).[13][14][15]

In 1923, the Bezbozhnik ("Atheist", or "Godless") magazine appeared,[16] around which the "Union of the Friends of the Bezbozhnik" was formed in 1924. The organization, renamed the Union of Militant Atheists (Template:Lang-ru, Soyuz voinstvuyushchikh bezbozhnikov) in 1929, carried out anti-religious propaganda at the grassroots level. In 1941, soon after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the newspaper closed, and in 1947 the society itself folded, the task of the anti-religious propaganda being transferred to the more neutrally named All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge (Всесоюзное общество по распространению политических и научных знаний).[17]

The society in its turn was in 1963 renamed to simply Obshchestvo "Znanie" (Общество "Знание", The All-Union Knowledge Society).[18] Since 1959 the society has published a monthly journal called Nauka i Religya (Science and Religion) which, during the Soviet era, described itself as "a fighting organ of militant atheism", rejecting the view that religion would disappear of itself. In 1961 the Ukrainian branch produced a similar journal called Militant Atheist.[19]

The Peoples' Republic of China

In China, according to Julia Ching, Falun Gong was seen by Jiang Zemin as an ideological threat to militant atheism and historical materialism.[20]

Usage in other contexts

Other examples of the usage of these terms include the following:


  • Rodney Stark describes Thomas Hobbes and the other originators of 'The social "scientific" study of religion' as "militant opponents of religion" whose "militant atheism...was motivated partly by politics".[21]
  • Some participants in the French Revolution have been described as militant atheists, as have some of their international sympathisers, such as Thomas Holcroft.[22]
  • The 19th-century political activist Charles Bradlaugh has been described as "the first militant atheist in the history of Western civilization",[23] and the term has also been applied to other 19th-century thinkers such as Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach,[24] Annie Besant[25][26] and Schopenhauer[27]
  • * Figures in the 20th century in the USA and the UK who have been described as militant atheists include Michael Newdow.[28][29] and Joseph McCabe.[30] McCabe wrote that "Russia is doing the finest and soundest reconstructive work of our time, and it is doing this, not only without God, but on a basis of militant Atheism."[31] Oxford lecturer and historian Timothy Ware used the term to describe the approach of the Soviet government towards religion, which resulted in the systematic killing of 78 bishops, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks, and 3,400 nuns by 1926. By the 1960s, the number of priests who had been killed was estimated to have risen to 12,000. He notes that the number of laity who were imprisoned and/or killed because of their faith will never be known.[32]
  • The Polish religious leader Stefan Wyszynski decided during his imprisonment (1953–1956) "to defend the faith of the nation against militant atheism by means of the power of the Virgin Mary."[33]
  • More recent examples of the use of the term include an opinion piece by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph entitled "Militant atheists: too clever for their own good",[34] and an article in the same newspaper by Raj Persaud, who applies the term to Richard Dawkins.[35] The editor of Quadrant Magazine also refers to Dawkins in these terms, and suggests that Dawkins' views are an extreme example of intolerance.[36] Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly applies the term to Polly Toynbee.[37] RJ Eskow in The Huffington Post refers to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, saying "I believe most atheists are progressive, enlightened people who are simply 'nonbelievers.' My quarrel is only with those who advocate the elimination of religion based on grandiose and unsubstantiated claims."[38] Theo Hobson in The Guardian claims that "criticisms levelled at religion by militant atheists are often crude and short-sighted".[39] Dawkins has responded to criticisms that he is hostile towards religion, saying "such hostility as I or other atheists occasionally voice toward religion is limited to words" and "It is all too easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion. I may well appear passionate when I defend evolution against a fundamentalist creationist, but this is not because of a rival fundamentalism of my own."[40]
  • Andrew Fiala in his paper "Militant atheism, pragmatism, and the God-shaped hole" begins by referring to "Militant atheists such as Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens"[41]
  • Melanie Phillips suggests that ‘militant atheism’ "in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now" and "paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values ... and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy".[42]
  • Simon Blackburn writes that "many professional philosophers, including ones such as myself who have no religious beliefs at all, are slightly embarrassed, or even annoyed, by the voluble disputes between militant atheists and religious apologists".[43]
  • The Argentinian Supreme Court Judge Carmen Argibay apparently describes herself as a "militant atheist",[44] and the journalist and campaigner Paul Foot has been praised as a "militant atheist".[45] Comedian Kathy Griffin identifies herself as a militant atheist.[46]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Extract from Flowers of Freethought: Vol 2 by George William Foote
  2. M. Paulli, Spoils split at 'Nibbie' awards
  3. Fiala, Andrew. "Militant atheism, pragmatism, and the God-shaped hole". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 65 (3): 139–51. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
  4. Johann Harri in The Independent
  5. The Belief Trap: The evolutionary explanation of religion gets stuck. By Judith Shulevitz, Slate 8 March 2006.
  6. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction OUP p. 101.
  7. Catherine Fahringer, The militant atheist, Freethought Today, October 1997.
  8. "Militant", in Trask, R.L. (2001). Mind the gaffe: the Penguin guide to common errors in English. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-051476-7, pp. 186–187.
  9. Freidrich Engels Encyclopedia Britannica 2008.
  10. Lobkowicz, N (1964). "Karl Marx's Attitude toward Religion", The Review of Politics, Vol. 26 (3), July, pp.319–352. [1], see also [2]
  11. John F. Pollard Benedict XV: the unknown pope and the pursuit of peace p. 199.
  12. On the Significance of Militant Materialism Lenin 1922
  13. Marxist-Leninist "scientific atheism" and the study of religion and atheism in the USSR ISBN 9789027930606
  14. A short history of Soviet socialism ISBN 9781857283556
  15. Orthodox Christianity and Militant Atheism in the Twentieth Century
  16. Журнал "БЕЗБОЖНИК", Москва, СССР (Bezbozhnik Magazine, Moscow, USSR). The page is in UTF-8 encoding. The caption to the front page picture of the No. 1 issue, by Dmitry Moor, shown in the article, is "We've finished with the earthly kings – now it's time to take care of the heavenly ones!"
  17. Союз воинствующих безбожников (Union of the Militant Atheists) in the Great soviet Encyclopedia
  18. "Знание", Всесоюзное общество (The All-Union "Knowledge" Society) in the Great soviet Encyclopedia
  19. Religion, state, and politics in the Soviet Union and successor states John Anderson CUP p. 44.
  20. The Falun Gong: Religious and political implications American Asian Review/January 1, 2001 By Professor Julie Ching Institute of Asian Studies University of Toronto [3]
  21. Rodney Stark "Atheism, Faith and the Social Scientific Study of Religion" Journal of Contemporary Religion Vol 14 No 1 1999, pp. 41–62.
  22. Review of The French Revolution and the London Stage 1789–1805. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  23. Charles Bradlaugh was the first militant Atheist in the history of Western civilization
  24. The Debate Between Feuerbach and Stirner: An Introduction, in The Philosophical Forum 8, number 2-3-4, (1976)- available on the web here
  25. Annie Besant (1847–1933), a problematical feminist
  26. entry
  27. Though is Schopenhauer, Religion and Morality: the Humble Path to Ethics Gerard Mannion disputes "the textbook assessment of Schopenhauer as militant atheist and absolute pessimist." Ashgate book description
  28. The New American Vol. 18, No. 15, 29 July 2002.
  29. Commentary by Les Kinsolving here
  30. A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism
  31. Is The Position Of Atheism Growing Stronger by Joseph McCabe (1936).
  32. The Orthodox Church, (Pelican, 1964 ISBN 0-14-020592-6), p. 156.
  33. George Weigel The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism p. 114.
  34. "Militant atheists: too clever for their own good"
  35. "Holy visions elude scientists"
  36. Science versus Religion. Quadrant Magazine February 2007
  37. Huffing over Narnia
  38. 15 Questions Militant Atheists Should Ask Before Trying to "Destroy Religion"
  39. Atheism is pretentious and cowardly The Guardian 6 June 2007.
  41. "Militant atheism, pragmatism, and the God-shaped hole" International Journal for Philosophy of Religion Volume 65, Number 3 / June 2009.
  42. The culture war for the White House Melanie Phillips The Spectator, 17 October 2008.
  43. Divine irony Times Higher Education 5 March 2009.
  44. See refs in her Wikipedia article.
  45. Nick Cohen pays homage to his friend Paul Foot in The Guardian
  46. Blase DiStefano (June 2007). "Foul-Mouthed and Funny". OutSmart. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-07-01.

External links


  • New Myth, New World: From Nietzsche to Stalinism by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press (November 2002) ISBN 978-0271022185
  • Nietzsche and Soviet Culture: Ally and Adversary (Cambridge Studies in Russian Literature) various authors edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal Publisher: Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0521452816
  • What the God-seekers found in Nietzsche: The Reception of Nietzsches Übermensch by the Philosophers of the Russian Religious Renaissance. (Studies in Slavic Literature & Poetics) by Nel Grillaert Publisher: Rodopi (October 22, 2008) ISBN 978-9042024809
  • A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory, and Practice, and the Believer, vol 1: A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policies, by Dimitry V. Pospielovsky. Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312381328
  • Soviet Antireligious Campaigns and Persecutions (History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 2),Dimitry Pospielovsky, (November, 1987), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0312009054
  • Soviet Studies on the Church and the Believer's Response to Atheism: A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice and the Believers, Vol 3, Dimitry Pospielovsky, (August, 1988), Palgrave Macmillan, hardcover: ISBN 0312012918, paperback edition: ISBN 0312012926
  • Storming the heavens: the Soviet League of the Militant Godless By Daniel Peris 237 pages Publisher: Cornell University Press (July 1998) Language: English ISBN 978-0801434853
  • Great Soviet encyclopedia, ed. A. M. Prokhorov (New York: Macmillan, London: Collier Macmillan, 1974–1983) 31 volumes, three volumes of indexes.
  • The Russian Church and the Soviet State by John Shelton Curtiss, 1917–1950 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953)
  • Sacred causes : the clash of religion and politics from the Great War to the War on Terror by Michael Burleigh Paperback: 576 pages Publisher: Harper Perennial (March 11, 2008) ISBN 978-0060580964
  • Religious and anti-religious thought in Russia By George Louis Kline The Weil Lectures Published in 1968, University Press (Chicago)
  • "Godless Communists": Atheism and Society in Soviet Russia 1917–1932. by William B. Husband DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2000. Pp. xviii, 241. $36.00.

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