Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This post by Neil Carter over at “Godless in Dixie” had gotten me thinking about one of those extra labels that gets kicked around in the atheist community: anti-theist. Depending upon who is using it, it means a whole lot of different things, but it’s probably more closely related to the term “militant atheist.” Both really are terms I don’t like anymore, because they don’t even really have to do with atheism.

They usually are used when talking about the ethics of persuasion.
In any given population, there are going to be people who think being a jackass is the equivalent of being persuasive. Additionally, there are going to be people who think being agreeable on everything is going to persuade people. Everyone else falls in between those extremes. Since opinions are like assholes, everyone is also going to question the wisdom of other people on the spectrum.

Thus, these terms start spreading around to informally question where people are on the spectrum. People who use “anti-theist” pejoratively are saying that they don’t think aggressive behavior is okay, while people who use it as a badge of honor think more highly of it. It’s a matter of taste.

So what’s right and what’s wrong?
Where I personally draw the line is abuse. Critiquing ideas is one thing, but emotionally manipulating people until they submit is something else entirely. The problem is that these things aren’t always obvious, and people who do it don’t always think of themselves as being abusive. Nobody needs a particular point of view to be a jerk; what they need is determination and a lack of empathy.

None of this negates that it’s a gut call. Sadly, too many conversations regarding religion devolve into swearing contests or at least one side becoming petulant. Some conversations really never were conversations, and they’re just a chance for people to harass each other. Other people who travel the Internet see this, and they steer clear.

This leads me to my point: remember what a reader a year from now might think of what you wrote. Stuff on the Internet can last a long time, and people can come in on posts and conversations long after they’re done. In these circumstances, they’re like a time capsule. The great thing about it is that being so removed in time from the discussion, people can look more objectively at it.

What do I want them to see?
That’s what I ask myself. Do I want them to see a snarky atheist who’s just there to troll people, or do I want them to see someone who tried and failed to have a conversation with unreasonable people? The latter is actually excessively more persuasive than the former. Nothing shows the hollow nature of religion more than when someone preaches about having a better divine morality while being a jackass to strangers.

It is much more difficult to show this rather than tell it. The rewards are not immediate, and it takes an obsessive amount of control and self-restraint. However, such high costs yield high rewards. At the very least, I’ll convince some Christians that they and their friends can be really awful people when it comes to disagreeing with people. At best, I’ll show people how little some of these principles hold water.

Ultimately, my views express my concerns.
I don’t have the luxury of walking up to a church full of people and tell them that nobody’s listening to their prayers. Well, unless I want a large mob to kick my ass. Then I’ll be fine.

Likewise, I try to be a little more responsible for my behavior than when I was a Christian. The Internet makes everyone believe they’re champions of whatever cause they believe in. Personally, I don’t want to be an anonymous atheist forever, and I never want to be embarrassed by something I write. If anyone comes up to me pissed off because of a post here, I want it to be their problem and not mine.

What this doesn’t mean is that I have some kind of authority to dictate how people treat each other. But I can share my point of view.

24 thoughts on “Anti-Theism?

    • I understand it’s supposed to mean that, but the way I’m seeing it tossed around these days there seems to be more getting attached to it. It’s like the discussion about the term is really a discussion about something else.

      In effect, I think that all this is just preferential window dressing. Why is the term “anti-theist” even necessary? It just shouldn’t matter that someone criticizes religion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. I think it’s a nonsense term. Much like militant atheist. If atheists start blowing people up in the name of atheism they would deserve tge title of militant. Typing your opinions on a keyboard doesn’t qualify as militant by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a term used so that someone can dismiss the arguments made without actually having to address them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh come now! Surely the distinction between those who think that theism makes no sense and those who think all theistic belief is harmful, is a useful distinction.
        But yes, militant is a label-thet – a modifier that can claim innocence despite having thrown its stone.
        Sometimes you do want to back these people off – the ones who attempt to pressure or threaten. A reasoned argument or reciprocal denigration won’t do the job. They think that they have a natural right to be doing what they do.
        Silence, a middle finger, or ‘Shut the fuck up’, are more effective. Generally, in that order.


      • Nah. I don’t think so. I think most people have a more nuanced approach. Just engage the actual argument being made instead of blanketing them with a meaningless term meant to shut down communication.


      • Really? Most of the arguments I see put forth come with loaded language which makes it plain that the truth or validity of the argument is subservient to the social and emotional utility of the argument.
        That’s interesting and revealing – maybe more than the arguments themselves.
        I don’t think you can engage the actual argument in the hopes of refining mutual understanding.


      • By using blanket statements like anti theist, you’re catering to that subservience. Thus being part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

        I think you can engage the argument.


      • I guess I see “anti-theist” playing a role outside the coliseum of ideas.
        I mean, if I say that John Searle is an atheist, but Richard Dawkins is an anti-theist, doesn’t that signify something beyond how I might feel about each of those individuals?
        I’ll add that you, sir, are a pitiable optimist, while I am a realist.:)


      • Yes. It would mean you’re implying the definition of the word as stated above.

        Haha. I don’t think I’m too much of an optimist. Most people who know me would say the opposite but I guess in some respects I am. I wouldn’t say that optimism is unrealistic though. So maybe that makes me an optimistic realist.


  1. Labels. They are not good. Sounds like anti-life to me. PR propaganda. Atheist is a perfectly adequate word. Although why it needs to even come up in normal everyday conversation is beyond me. Isn’t religious belief, or lack of, between the individual and the imaginary deity?

    Liked by 2 people

    • It really should be, except here in the South, people ask what church you go to. If you say “I don’t,” then you get invited to go to their church because it’s “laid back.” It makes it difficult to talk to strangers.

      And the anti-life label is another rant for me at some point. Whenever I see it used as a legitimate label, I stop reading and go to something else.


  2. The only time I recall bringing it up was when John B was trying to saddle A-theism with all sorts of nonsense. A-theism is content free. Anti-theism, I pointed out, is full of content. The tempo of how that content comes out typically depends on the level of wilfull ignorance the apologist is throwing up.

    Whatever the case may be, this will always be true:

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not so much willful ignorance as it is a rhetorical method to try to shoehorn words into a person’s mouth. A lot of churches do this in adult Sunday school classes. Basically trick people into agreeing with something, and then watch as they refuse to walk it back.

      But I’m seeing anti-theism used as a pejorative, and I don’t think it should be. That other atheists and skeptics are using it is problematic, because the last thing we need is to start policing speech because it doesn’t fit some kind of group norm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d be interested, considering the topic.

        Abd by wilfull ignorance, I was meaning mostly when it comes to subjects such as science and history, but in both instances one isn’t debating theism, per say, rather the claims made. That’s the angle I prefer to take. “Theism” is too nebulous a thing to pin down.

        Liked by 2 people

      • It’s a good video, and the question is a great one. There’s probably a bunch of reasons people could list, and they’d all be true under different circumstances. I think some of it is temperament; most people get upset when other people get upset at them. It’s one of the great tools that Christianity has going for it.

        In a similar vein, I think that it’s not even the claims of Christian theists that are getting debated regarding science and history. Rather, it’s about how people feel about them. There were two people trying to have a conversation with me on JB’s micronauts post, and it’s a great example of what I’m talking about. What matters is that what they believe feels good, and what they don’t believe makes them angry.

        Sorry in advance if I’m rambling a bit or off topic, but it’s late where I am, and I wanted to make sure I got my thoughts down.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes and no. No, theism is a belief in the existence of a god or gods. Yes, there are no such things as gods therefore there are as many versions of god as there are theists.


  3. SB, it pains me to think that there are people who are unable to “come out” about their religious or non-religious beliefs. Until I became part of the blogging community, it had never occurred to me that there are still parts of the developed world where there are risks involved in being open about what beliefs one has in regards to deities. I’m learning that what I have taken for granted – that people don’t form friendships or judge others based on the religious or non-religious beliefs of others – is not necessarily the norm elsewhere. I can state I’m a religious non-theist and nobody raises an eyebrow. I do hope that some time very soon you can be open about being an atheist, without facing a backlash.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hey, remember me? the Atheist writer Michael Vito Tosto? I’m just letting my old followers know that I’m up and running again. Feel free to connect or follow me again! I appreciated your support on my former blog.


  5. SB, I’ve thought more about this and wanted to say, I sincerely appreciate this post, especially the part about being responsible for what you say on the internet. It’s so easy to have that false sense of security behind a PC. And, I find, easy to lose sight of my value of mutual respect. From your replies to others who post, I see that you demonstrate that respect ethically, even in the face of a lack thereof. I’m inspired and, what’s more, am more careful now of where I comment and whether my comments may be valuable and welcomed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cuz, I’m the poster boy for anti-theists. I have no interest in persuading anyone. I’m trying for a cathartic outlet for my thoughts in an effort to not alienate my family and friends with me, may I say so for myself, from my spot on rants.


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