Saturday, 3 December 2011

Are today's “militant atheists” persecuting Christians?

A guest post by C. Stuart Hardwick

This is the third of the guest appearances by other readers of Something Surprising to celebrate the first 50,000 page views.  It comes from USA written especially for publication here, inspired by a conversation on Facebook.  Some people reading this post outside USA might be perplexed about aspects relating to the First Amendment to their constitution which guarantees the separation of church and state.  I just wish we had that right in some other parts of the world!


Most people are wrong about most things, most of the time – it's just matter of degree. So whenever a dispute arises, the truth often lies not somewhere in the middle, but somewhere outside the realm of contention.

Today's non-believers are certainly more vocal than in years past, and along with other non-Christians, now influence western culture sufficiently to attract Christian derision as "militants" bent on Christian persecution. For their part, atheists disclaim the label, asking "who ever heard of an atheist suicide bomber?"

Both groups, of course, are wrong at least in the particulars. To see why, you need only look up the definitions to the words "militant" and "persecute". First, though it does refer to any unaffiliated military combatant, "militant" can also refer to any overtly confrontational person. When uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens tells a Christian evangelist "If you don't think I am your enemy, then you don't know an enemy when you see or hear one." this clearly is militancy, but rhetorical militancy. It is ironic, however, that Christians should use this term as a pejorative, since its use in this fashion stems directly from Christianity, which until the latter twentieth century explicitly declared all living Christians to make up "The church militant, or military church, which is engaged in constant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil".

So score one for the Christians, then take it away for hypocrisy. Now what about persecution, the "systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group". Hitler killed 6 million Jews. The Crusaders slaughtered at least a million Muslims. The Missouri Extermination Order caused the death of hundreds of Mormons, the tarring and feathering of hundreds more, and the confiscation of the property of thousands.

Christians decry the loss of organized prayer in public schools, ignoring the fact that under federal guidelines, a student may express explicitly religious convictions, even those that contradict the factual content of the curriculum, and "a teacher should not silence the remark [nor] ridicule it". Meanwhile, atheists and theists alike are accused of persecution for saying "Happy Holidays".

Failure to show respect for one's known beliefs might be insensitive, it might even be rude, but it is hardly persecution. Using rhetoric and the rule of law to enforce equal protection for all at the expense of the traditional majority''s ability to persecute others with impunity does not, by any stretch of the imagination, constitute persecution.

So both sides are wrong. Today's vocal anti-theist activists are militant, but until atheists buy out Joel Osteen and start turning lions loose in his 17,000 seat church, the only religious persecution widely practiced in America remains directed against the non-Christian minority, the same minority whose militant defense of the separation of church and state protects the rights and liberties of all citizens, Christians included.

Happy holidays.


Many thanks to C. Stuart Hardwick who blogs as and I recommend visiting to see more of his work.  He can frequently be found debating on is work.  SodaHead at


Aspentroll said...

Christianity has conducted real persecution over the past 2000 years against atheists and scientists. The difference is they used instruments of torture and actually burned people who didn't agree with them.
Speaking out against religion can not be described as persecution especially when it is well meant.

Aspentroll said...

Your "not a robot" system really sucks.

Plasma Engineer said...

Sorry. I'll look at the settings. What was the most annoying feature?

Anonymous said...

I really like your take and views on things, Mister Plasma Engineer. The religious should take a leaf out of the book read by children, called Being a Child. They can be so very canny about things that adults are too sniffy about. On the other side of the equation (and there seems to always be), Atheists presume a little too much about what is had meant by religion. They seem, the two antagonists, to be engaged in a crosstalk that is as technical and as baffling as big boys' toys of war are these days. Christians are supposed to enjoy persecution for their beliefs, giving an edge to life, a perspective across the gap between what belief is/is not.