From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Part of a series on


Religion · Nontheism
Antireligion · Antitheism
Secular humanism
Metaphysical naturalism
Weak and strong atheism
Implicit and explicit atheism


History of atheism


Against religion · For nontheism
Against god · Criticism


Atheism · Irreligion
Famous atheists · State atheism
Discrimination and Persecution

Atheism Portal · v  d  e 

Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is active opposition to theism. The etymological root of the word comes from the Greek 'anti-' and 'theismos'. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to belief in any deity, while in a theism context, it sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods.


[edit] Opposition to theism

An antitheist is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "One opposed to belief in the existence of a God." The earliest citation given for this meaning is from 1833. Furthermore, an antitheist may be opposed to belief in the existence of any god or gods, and not merely one in particular.

The concept allows a useful distinction to be made between the simple rejection of theism, atheism, and a position of antipathy or opposition towards such beliefs.

[edit] Antitheism

Antitheism may be adopted as a label by those who take the view that theism is destructive. One example of this view is demonstrated in Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001), in which Christopher Hitchens writes: "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful."[1] However, here Hitchens' use of the word seems to be as general anti-religious belief rather than exclusively as opposition to belief in deities. There is some support for this use, but it may be regarded as a misuse of the terminology by others, most of whom hold that antitheism is a subdivision within, or even a synonym of, atheism. For example, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1996) defines antitheist simply as a "disbeliever in the existence of God".[2] It is not listed at all in Webster's Third New International Dictionary through the 1976 addenda, nor in the online version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.[3]. Hitchens himself is, in fact, also an antitheist in this sense: "I say I'm an antitheist because I think it would be rather awful if it was true; if there was a permanent, round-the-clock, divine supervision and would be like living in North Korea"[4]

According to historian Michael Burleigh, antitheism found its first mass expression in revolutionary France in response to organised resistance to "organised ... 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state.[5] Another well-known quote from this period is "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest", by Denis Diderot. In Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks originally embraced "an ideological creed which professed that all religion would atrophy" and "resolved to eradicate Christianity as such." In 1918 "Ten Orthodox hierarchs were summarily shot" and "Children were deprived of any religious education outside the home"[6]. Increasingly draconian measures were employed. In addition to direct state persecution, the Society of the Godless was founded in 1925, churches were closed and vandalised and "by 1938 eighty bishops had lost their lives, while thousands of clerics were sent to ... labour camps"[7]

[edit] Militant atheism

The active antitheist stance is sometimes called "militant" atheism.[8] In 1922 Lenin wrote an essay On the Significance of Militant Materialism, in which he commended the journal Pod Znamenem Marksizma as a "militant atheist" journal. He defined this as "carry[ing] on untiring atheist propaganda and an untiring atheist fight".[9] The Society of the Godless was established in the Soviet Union as a militant atheist organisation,[10][11] and the term has also been applied to a number of key figures in the development of Marxism, including Karl Marx,[12] Friedrich Engels[13][14] and Joseph Dietzgen.[15]

Today the term is sometimes 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 has suggested that the label militant is 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."[16]

[edit] Further examples of use

  • Key figures around the French Revolution and in the thinking leading up to it are sometimes described as militant atheists, for example Julien La Mettrie.[17] The same applies to some of their international sympathisers, such as Thomas Holcroft.[18]
  • The 19th-century political activist Charles Bradlaugh has been described as "the first militant atheist in the history of Western civilization",[19] and the term has also been applied to other 19th-century thinkers such as Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach[20] and Annie Besant.[21]
  • Figures in the 20th century in the USA and the UK who have been described as militant atheists include Joseph McCabe[22]and Michael Newdow.[23][24] In his book Schopenhauer, Religion and Morality: the Humble Path to Ethics Gerard Mannion disputes "the textbook assessment of Schopenhauer as militant atheist and absolute pessimist."[25]
  • In 1965 Francis Crick explained that some lectures of his "will not be militantly anti-Christian, but nevertheless will be directed against the sort of ideas at present held by many religious people." [26] 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", [27] and an article in the same newspaper by Raj Persaud, who applies the term to Richard Dawkins.[28] The editor of Quadrant Magazine also refers to Dawkins in these terms, and suggests that Dawkins' views are an extreme example of intolerance.[29] Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly applies the term to Polly Toynbee.[30] 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."[31]
  • The Argentinian Supreme Court Judge Carmen Argibay apparently describes herself as a "militant atheist",[32] and the journalist and campaigner Paul Foot has been praised as a "militant atheist".[33] Comedian Kathy Griffin identifies herself as a militant atheist.[34]

[edit] Atheistic evangelism

Atheistic evangelism, or evangelical atheism, is a pejorative term used by Christian apologists to describe the approach of those who actively promote atheism. Some Christian apologists have described the characteristics of "atheistic evangelism" during the past century and a half.[35] The term "Evangelical atheism" is also used by atheist Dan Barker.

[edit] Origins

Some consider Thomas Huxley to be the first atheistic evangelist.[citation needed] Huxley himself denied that he was an atheist, preferring the term agnostic, which he coined in 1869.[36]

Harvard botanist and Christian Asa Gray, one of the first supporters of Darwin's theory of evolution, first noted the phenomenon in 1868 when he referred to "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought".[37] Such thought was usually associated with Thomas Huxley at the time.

The religious nature of Huxley's beliefs were referenced in Janet Browne's biography of Charles Darwin:

Huxley was rampaging on miracles and the existence of the soul. A few months later, he was to coin the word "agnostic" to describe his own position as neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but one who considered himself free to inquire rationally into the basis of knowledge. . . The term fitted him well . . . and it caught the attention of the other free thinking, rational doubters in Huxley's ambit, and came to signify a particularly active form of scientific rationalism during the final decades of the 19th century... In his hands, agnosticism became as doctrinaire as anything else—a religion of skepticism. Huxley used it as a creed that would place him on a higher moral plane than even bishops and archbishops. All the evidence would nevertheless suggest that Huxley was sincere in his rejection of the charge of outright atheism against himself. To inquire rigorously into the spiritual domain, he asserted, was a more elevated undertaking than slavishly to believe or disbelieve. "A deep sense of religion is compatible with the entire absence of theology," he had told [Anglican clergyman] Charles Kingsley back in 1860. "Pope Huxley", the [magazine] Spectator dubbed him. The label stuck."[38]

Dan Barker is an American atheist writer, and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 1993, Barker wrote an article on "Evangelical atheism" in which he provided advice to atheists interested in promoting atheism:

I am not suggesting that every atheist should be an evangelist. Some are better off temporarily keeping their views to themselves for job security or family harmony. Some freethinkers wisely wait until they retire, when they have little to lose, before they become vocal. In certain communities, open unbelief can be costly. [...] If you decide to be evangelistic, then ask yourself what you hope to accomplish. Are you trying to win an argument? To simply end an argument? To demolish the enemy? To chase bigoted theocrats from your door? We want to enhance self image, not squash it. You can't yank someone out of the fold. If your objective is to end up with a friend, then woo them, don't boo them. You may not respect their current views, but you can respect their potential to learn.[39]

Paul Kurtz, editor in chief of Free Inquiry, has written an opinion piece criticizing the criticism of Dawkins, Harris and Daniel Dennett in which he discusses the usage of the term "evangelical" in this context.[40]

Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion has been successful in this approach, not only having sold over 1.5 million copies (as of November 2007),[41] but winning the Author of the Year Prize in 2007 at the Galaxy British Book Awards.[42]

[edit] Opposition to God

Some sources, particularly religious ones, have defined antitheism as opposition to God, holiness or the divine rather than general opposition to belief in gods.

The Chambers Dictionary defines antitheism in three different ways: "doctrine antagonistic to theism; 'denial' of the existence of a God; opposition to God." All three match Hitchens' usage, not only a generally anti-religious belief and disbelief in a deity, but also opposition to a god's existence[4]. The second is synonymous with strong atheism. The third and first, on the other hand, need not be atheistic at all.

Earlier definitions of antitheism include that of the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1953), for whom it is "an active struggle against everything that reminds us of God" (p.104), and that of Robert Flint (1877), Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Flint's Baird Lecture for 1877 was entitled Anti-Theistic Theories.[43] He used it as a very general umbrella term for all opposition to his own form of theism, which he defined as the "belief that the heavens and the earth and all that they contain owe their existence and continuance to the wisdom and will of a supreme, self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, righteous, and benevolent Being, who is distinct from, and independent of, what He has created."[44] He wrote:

In dealing with theories which have nothing in common except that they are antagonistic to theism, it is necessary to have a general term to designate them. Anti-theism appears to be the appropriate word. It is, of course, much more comprehensive in meaning than the term atheism. It applies to all systems which are opposed to theism. It includes, therefore, atheism... But short of atheism there are anti-theistic theories. Polytheism is not atheism, for it does not deny that there is a Deity; but it is anti-theistic, since it denies that there is only one. Pantheism is not atheism, for it admits that there is a God; but it is anti-theism, for it denies that God is a being distinct from creation and possessed of such attributes as wisdom, and holiness, and love. Every theory which refuses to ascribe to God an attribute which is essential to a worthy conception of His character is anti-theistic. Only those theories which refuse to acknowledge that there is evidence even for the existence of a God are atheistic.[45]

However, Flint also acknowledges that antitheism is typically understood differently than how he defines it. In particular, he notes that it has been used as a subdivision of atheism, descriptive of the view that theism has been disproven, rather than as the more general term that Flint prefers. He rejects non-theistic as an alternative, "not merely because of its hybrid origin and character, but also because it is far too comprehensive. Theories of physical and mental science are non-theistic, even when in no degree, directly or indirectly, antagonistic to theism."[46]

Opposition to God is frequently referred to as dystheism (which means "belief in a deity that is not benevolent") or misotheism (strictly speaking, this means "hatred of God"). Examples of belief systems founded on the principle of opposition to God include satanism and maltheism.

[edit] Other uses

Another use of the term antitheism was coined by Christopher New in a thought experiment published in 1993. In his article, he imagines what arguments for the existence of an evil God would look like: "Antitheists, like theists, would have believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal creator; but whereas theists in fact believe that the supreme being is also perfectly good, antitheists would have believed that he was perfectly evil."[47] In normal usage, such believers would be called dystheists or maltheists; they would however still qualify as theists since the concept of theism (contrary to common assumption) is not restricted to belief in benevolent deities.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Christopher Hitchens | Book Excerpt
  2. ^ Antitheist - Definitions from
  3. ^ Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ Michael Burleigh Earthly Powers p 96-97 ISBN 0-00-719572-9
  6. ^ Michael Burleigh Sacred Causes HarperCollins (2006) p41, p42, p43
  7. ^ Burliegh op. cit. p49 and p47
  8. ^ Baggini, Julian (2003). Atheism: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-19-280424-3. 
  9. ^ Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 33, 1972, pp. 227-236 available on the web here
  10. ^ see the books cited in League of the Militant Godless, also The fruits of militant atheism in the new USSR By Brian Moynahan The Faith: A History of Christianity Doubleday,NY (2002) pp. 670-674.
  11. ^ Note that безбожников is usually translated "Atheists"
  12. ^ Richard Drake Apostles and Agitators Harvard University Press (2003) p3 available on the web here
  13. ^ from Irving Hexham's Concise Dictionary of Religion
  14. ^ Concise Encycolpedia Britannica
  15. ^ Marxist Glossary
  16. ^ Catherine Fahringer, The militant atheist, Freethought Today, October 1997.
  17. ^ Marxist Reference Writers
  18. ^ Review of The French Revolution and the London Stage 1789-1805. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  19. ^ Charles Bradlaugh was the first militant Atheist in the history of Western civilization
  20. ^ The Debate Between Feuerbach and Stirner: An Introduction, in The Philosophical Forum 8, number 2-3-4, (1976)- available on the web here
  21. ^ entry
  22. ^ A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism
  23. ^ The New American Vol. 18, No. 15 July 29, 2002
  24. ^ Commentary by Les Kinsolving here
  25. ^ Ashgate book description
  26. ^ Letter 14 December 1965 PP/CRI/E/1/14/5 cited in Wellcome Trust biography of Crick
  27. ^ "Militant atheists: too clever for their own good"
  28. ^ "Holy visions elude scientists"
  29. ^ Science versus Religion. Quadrant Magazine February 2007
  30. ^ Huffing over Narnia
  31. ^ 15 Questions Militant Atheists Should Ask Before Trying to "Destroy Religion"
  32. ^ see refs in her Wikipedia article
  33. ^ Nick Cohen pays homage to his friend Paul Foot in The Guardian
  34. ^ Blase DiStefano (June 2007). "Foul-Mouthed and Funny". OutSmart. Retrieved on 2007-07-01. 
  35. ^ Fort Hard Knox on Evangelical Atheism
  36. ^ "Agnosticism", Britannica 1911 Edition, fetched April 2007,[1]
  37. ^ Browne, Janet The Power of Place, Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), page 310
  38. ^ Browne, Janet The Power of Place, Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), pages 309-310
  39. ^ Barker, Dan Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray in Freethought Today, 1993
  40. ^ Kurtz, Paul. "Religion in Conflict: Are ‘Evangelical Atheists’ Too Outspoken?". Retrieved on 2007-03-28. 
  41. ^ "Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism". Richard Dawkins at Point of Inquiry. 2007-12-08. Retrieved on 2008-03-14. 
  42. ^ "Richard Dawkins Author of the Year".,809,Richard-Dawkins-Author-of-the-Year,Galaxy-British-Book-Awards. Retrieved on 2008-03-27. 
  43. ^ Flint, Robert (1894). Anti-Theistic Theories: Being the Baird Lecture for 1877 (5 ed.). London: William Blackwood and Sons. 
  44. ^ Flint, p.1
  45. ^ Flint, p.2-3
  46. ^ Flint, p.444-445
  47. ^ New, Christopher (June 1993). "Antitheism - A Reflection". Ratio 6 (1): 36–43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.1993.tb00051.x. 

[edit] References

Personal tools