Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Does Nobody Know What "Militant" Means?

The stupidest thing I've read today (ta Luke):
I have been chided in the past for referring to the "militant" atheism of Dawkins and his like. But the desire for one's creed to spread, in order to make the world a better place, surely merits the label.

Hmm. Isn't that desire shared by such well-known "militants" as MLK, Gandhi and, oh, I don't know, Jesus?


  1. Yeah, I've referred to them as "militant atheists" before, mostly ironically, since the vast majority of them are armchair warriors, but this has to be the silliest use of the epithet ever.

    And really, the whole post/essay is silly. It looks like a high school essay's first draft.

  2. I agree that it's a poor word choice, and a very bad justification.

    But, militant doesn't necessarily mean violent. It could just mean aggressively active; where aggressively could just mean strongly or emphatically.

    So, I don't think the usage is necessarily wrong, but it definitely brings things to mind the wrong connotation.

  3. I find it suspicious that people are only ever tempted to use the word this way in relation to atheists. If you (whoever) want to call Jesus "militant" for his strong views, there's nothing stopping you. But you can't say the term means one thing when applied to atheists, and something different for everyone else.

  4. Oh, I agree completely.

    I'm just saying that the issue isn't so much the meaning of "militant", but rather unfair and misleading characterization.

  5. What in reason's name is this "comment is free" place this essay got posted to? It appears to be connected to the Guardian somehow, but perhaps not held to the same standards as other things. You'd think they still have some, though...

  6. Whenever someone decries the "militancy" of today's atheists, I like to ask: "How many buses has Richard Dawkins bombed in the name of converting people to atheism?"

  7. Eh, it's just empirically false that "militant" is reserved for atheists. It's quite common to hear that label appended to Islam and its followers, often appropriately and sometimes inappropriately. It's also been a common modifier for "communists," "feminists," "pro-lifers," and pretty much any other group that voices its opinions loudly (especially if you disagree with those opinions). Hell, you won't even have a hard time finding Jesus referred to a militant, just not in this particular discussion. Hell, there are some Christian dominionists who preach a "warfare theology" and militant Christianity, where "militant" has a sense more akin to the one used in the offending essay than in reference to militant Islamicists.

  8. Really? I think perhaps feminists are the only other group I've heard in relation to this usage. (The only militant muslims and pro-lifers I've heard about are the ones who literally blow people up.) But the real problem is the inconsistency in "this particular discussion", since changes in context may allow the word to take on a different sense.

  9. Richard, really (google "militant Jesus," for example). But I agree with you, the word's unfortunate. I use it in a deliberately ironic fashion, but I wouldn't use it otherwise to make a serious point about atheists or anyone else who's not blowing people up. Because any other use of "militant" is too equivocal, and too easily used to dismiss those one disagrees with.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)