Hard Atheism: Why So Aggressive?

I would appreciate comments and explanations from the hard atheists about their beliefs, values, and motives.

My first encounter here, some two years ago, with a hard atheist was in the famous Atheist Religion thread. After a couple of days of amazingly civil discussions between theists and atheists, suddenly a hard atheist swooped in and posted something like this: “If I ever run into your god, I’ll cut his nuts off and shove 'em down his throat.”

M’kay… And presently, of course, we have either a troll or a hard atheist who is running from thread to thread apparently on a mission from Nogod to dispel the evil myths of theism with taunts and dares and silly proclamations that say, well, nothing. S/he just seems to like making noise.

I’m wondering whether there are any hard atheists who don’t necessarily feel that it’s their manifest destiny to slay all the believers, or whether that sort of aggression is endemic to the hard atheist belief system.

What kind of atheist would I be if I didn’t answer ya, Lib? :slight_smile:
(I’m assuming by “hard atheist” we’re going with the “actively disbelieves in deities” definition?)

I used to do exactly what you describe. Not so much as our new friend Lolo, but somewhat. Then, as I said in a tussle with Ben in the Pit earlier this year, I discovered generally find that whether or not someone believes in a deity to be the least interesting thing about them; what I’m concerned with is how they act and how they treat people. There are deeply devout believers who treat everyone well, or try to; and there are Sarcastic atheists who treat people like shit. I’m more inclined to cast my lot with the former.

I’ll still play my part as a skeptic, and try to do my part to see that neither atheists nor theists are egregiously stereotyped, but it isn’t so big an issue that I have to get in people’s faces.

I, like pl, am coming around to a more enlightened way of thinking, but when I first became an atheist 3 years ago I definately had some pent up hositlity. No doubt I was at times openly aggressive toward believers.

I think this came from feeling that I had been blatently lied to by the church and all believers for years. When I began studying religion and saw how much of what had been presented to me as fact was purely speculative and/or the church’s (as opposed to the Bible’s) teaching, I was miffed. I was also pissed off at all the Christians I knew who were happy to spout off their beliefs but (as I soon learned) had never taken the time to actually investigate what the church had told them. It infuriated me to no end that people were ready to claim sincere belief and devotedness only to learn that they knew not what they spake. It made me feel that, through their neglegence, they were contributing to spreading The Big Lie. And it pissed me off even more that the church seemed to have very little interest in actually enlightening people and was far more inclined to give the first grade version of their beliefs and avoid the pesky little facts about how their particular doctrine actually came to be.

But, over time, I’ve met several intellegent people who are also believers and have realized that one does not have to be a blind idiot to believe. I still find their arguments in favor of a God to be thin, at best, but one cannot argue with personal experience and I can respect that someone else’s experience has lead them to a conclusion different than mine.

I still have great contempt for the church as a whole and people who claim deep faith but have never really investigated what they supposedly believe. Sadly, I find that the majority of religious folks fall into that category. But now I am polite enough not to share my views with them.

I’m a “hard atheist” in the sense that I have no doubt at all in my belief (i.e., my non-belief.) OTOH I have no interest in converting anyone else to atheism. I don’t dislike religion. My impression is that religion does more good than harm. In any event, somone else’s beliefs are their business. I don’t feel threatened by Christmas displays (although I do feel somewhat alienated, and I tend to get depressed at that time of year.

I’ve wondered about the same question as Libertarian. Many years ago, I remember trying to understand what drove Madelyn Murray O’Hare to attack religion. I never related to it.

My younger daughter adopted a conservative Judiasm about the time she got married. I’m sorry for her sake that she chose to give up sausage pizzas, shrimp and lobster, but I have no desire to unconvert her.

I’ve noticed a pattern among hard atheists that a lot of what they are reacting to are proselytizing evangelicals. They get sick of people constantly trying to convert them. So, as a sort of reaction, they fight back by being agressive in their non-belief.

On this thread, at least, I think that a lot of atheists resent Christianity because of the discrepancy between what Christians preach and what they do. It is only later when they realize that not all Christians are like that do the debates get really interesting :wink:

My personal feeling is that everyone is entitled to believe what they like. I’m not interested in converting Christians or anyone else to atheism.

I only get angry when religion is used as a justification for discrimination, or when it otherwise threatens to encroach on human rights.

As an additional example to support the OP, there was the thread here a few days ago (forgive me, no cite) where the poster wanted to prohibit proseletyzing. S/he was willing to toss that inconvenient 1st amendment, so that s/he wasn’t bothered by those mean ol’ Christians.

So we’re agreed, then? Jerks are jerks whether they believe in a god or not.

Personally, I do not. You might even call me a “strong” atheist, who believes in the non-existence of any deities (as opposed to a “weak/soft” atheist, who merely lacks a belief in any such entities). However, I am also not a jerk.

You’re welcome.

I would point out, as december and TheeGrumpy allude to, that “hard atheist” may be misleading in this context. “Hard atheist” is usually used in contrast to “soft atheist”, “positive disbelief in a deity” vs. “lack of evidence for a deity leading to a lack of belief in same”. Although there may be some correlation, “hard atheist” does not necessarily equate with “militant atheist” or “in-your-face atheist”, just as “fundamentalist Christian” does not necessarily equate with “in-your-face Christian”. Furthermore, I have run across occasional agnostics who are pretty pushy about asserting “I don’t know, and you don’t either!”–from time to time, we get these threads by self-professed agnostics asserting that atheists are no better than theists, both are just blind believers, etc.

I suspect that the reasons why some atheists, hard or soft, are pushy or aggressive or rude are as varied as the reasons why some theists are those things, and I’m therefore not sure if this debate will go anywhere–there is no one answer, no secret commandment from Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Certainly some atheists are showing the zealousness of the convert. Others may additionally have had bad experiences with organized religion–perhaps as believers, or perhaps as non-believers in very heavily religious areas–and have a lot of hostility as a result. There may be an issue of maturity–when I see threads like the ones I think Libertarian is referring to (whether they’re pushy atheist drive-bys or pushy theist drive-bys) , I always picture some teenager somewhere (although I’m sure these threads are not actually always started by teenagers–that’s just my stereotypical mental impression). If that is the case, then give them a few more years to become more widely read, to interact with believers and non-believers of all types, to see how more mature debaters comport themselves, and to see how some of their tactics are regarded by people on their own side. And of course some people are just assertive or pushy or downright jerkish about theological issues because they’re assertive or pushy or downright jerkish about everything–it’s just the way they are. They’re probably the same way about politics or movies or baseball.

Cosmological apotheosis is a waste of human intellect.

That statement sums up my current feelings pretty well. I’m still kind of in that stage, although I would say that I’m more agnostic than hard atheist. Mostly I’m angry at the duplicity of those who mislead the masses, such as Creationist “teachers.” Argh. Don’t get me started…

I’m new here -still kinda getting to ‘know’ everybody- and I notice you didn’t say if you were an athiest. Is your sig a clue? :wink: :smiley:

To the OP:
I like you Lib, and you seem sincere so I’ll give you my take. If by ‘hard’ you mean thoroughly convinced, yep - that’s me. I never try to convert anyone who doesn’t try to convert me first. But I’m not militant about it. I share beliefs, the reasons behind them and let it go at that. I am a very compassionate person and I would never want to take away something from someone that gave them comfort without replacing it with something else or unless I thought they could handle it. Realistically, my conversions to date - zero.
I don’t drink, drug, steal or lie. I gave blood for the injured at the WTC before they started asking because it occured to me they might need it. I try to lead a good, moral life without hurting anyone. Though I don’t hate Christians, I’m not crazy about religion. It inflicts too much pain, suffering and anguish on people. And it is often used as a weapon against those who Believe.
My guess, is that the anger you hear is a product of those being condemed for their (non)belief, being irked at theist’s hypocracy and a dislike of Tele-evangelist, Davidians and their ilk. But I also suppose you hear them because they are making noise. Ever notice how you only notice red lights, not green ones? I’m a green light.
To my way of seeing, Theist also fall into the type of thinkers such as pro-lifers, gun control advocates and the like (I don’t want an abortion and I don’t want YOU to have one, I don’t own a gun and I don’t want YOU to own one, I believe in God and I want YOU to belive in God…). It annoys folks. This is America. Long ago people clamered into wooden boats and made the long journey here to get away from that kind of thinking. We have the right to not believe so don’t stop by at supper time and try to convert me. It’s rude. And if we are wrong, this being America, we have the right to be wrong.
The most moral person I’ve ever known was an atheist. But you’ll never know that unless you ask her directly.


My slightly-younger-than-me brother went through an intense period of militant atheism when he was a young teen-ager (about 20 years ago). When I would introduced him to one of my friends, the first thing he would say was not “How are you?” or “Do you skateboard?” or “How 'bout that Led Zeppelin”, but “Are you an atheist?”

He kinda convinced me to be as militant an atheist as he was, for a time. You see … we both became convinced that religion was responsible for most if not all of the problems of the world. I now understand that this was a narrow-minded position to take, that we were just making religion into our scapegoat, that religion is often used as an excuse to commit atrocities and is no more to blame for most wars than Nietsche was to blame for Naziism, etc., etc. – but at the time I really honestly believed that religion was to blame for the world’s ills.

I guess, in that sense, atheism fulfilled the same role in my brother and I that dogmatic fundamentalism fulfills in its believers, and that a certain notorious terrorist fulfills in Americans at this point in history. It gives us an obvious enemy to fight. My brother and I made religion out to be the cause of all our grief, a fundamentalist makes Satan out to be the cause of all his grief, and all too many Americans now make Osama Bin Laden out to be the cause of all their grief.

I think a quote from Herman Melville is in order here:

“… all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam on down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”

Being incredibly new to these boards (and, might I add, loving them - the last board I wasted my hours on was full of people who thought “debates” were contests of who could insult the other’s mother the most efficiently in under 3 paragraphs) I’m not entirely sure on all of the definitions and terms y’all commonly use, so I’m not sure what “hard atheist” really means.

If it is the “actively disbelieves in deities” definition that pldennison is working with, then I think I qualify, in a way. My views are a little skewy. I think Gods exist because people believe in them, so others may have a God, but I don’t, because I don’t believe in them. shrugs I don’t know if that really puts me as an atheist or some sort of drugged agnostic …

… but at one point in time I was fairly close to a militant atheist so I suppose I have some qualification to speak here.

When I was eight it suddenly occured to me that, if God made everything, He had to have some sort of physical being at some point in time, to shape things or even to direct things. But if He was a physical being, and nothing existed before He did, then who made Him? If “all this stuff” - animals, people, planets, stars, digital watches, etc. - had to be made out of stuff, and couldn’t have “always existed”, then didn’t it follow that God was bound to this same law?

I asked this question of everyone I knew. My mother had me baptised as Lutheran (to this day I’m still not certain what that means) but we very rarely attended any form of church anymore, and she was unable to answer my questions. I asked friends of my mother’s who I knew were religious, and they never gave me a satisfactory answer, they just said, “He has always existed.”

(Nobody ever thought to say to me, “But if He doesn’t exist, then who made the earth? 'Cause if God can’t exist without someone to make Him, then the earth can’t exist without someone to make it, right?” If they had, my atheism may have taken much longer to develop - that sort of logic would have worked fantastically on me when I was eight.)

I started going to church with some of my friends, and asked their pastors/preachers/ministers the same question, and they always replied with the simplistic, “He has always existed.” I was not satisfied, and after a little bit of thought on the matter I decided that God did not exist.

My parents were devastated. My stepfather’s parents are very devout Catholic types (but they live in a different state which is why I couldn’t ask them these questions) and they constantly accused me of being a devil-worshipper because I had renounced God. That didn’t bother me too much because I didn’t see them very often, and I usually tune out people who yell and throw fits in my general direction.

When I was ten years old and in the fifth grade in elementary school, our school began shipping us off to a trailor located across the street from our building, conveniently off of school property, where we were given lectures and lessons about Jesus and God. It enraged me; at the age of ten I already knew about the “separation of Church and State”, and I felt that this was a perversion of that concept. However, we always got string cheese and wheat crackers at the end of the lesson so I wasn’t too vocal about it. I hated it, I found it very boring, but … cheese! Cheese is good. So I sat through it, but every moment of the class that wasn’t filled with cheese instead filled me with resentment and hatred toward these people who were trying to make me believe something I didn’t want to believe.

I didn’t really have a clear reason to hate Christians or any people who believed in any Gods; I just knew that they were inconveniencing me and it irritated me. Somewhere along the next several years this turned into aggression, as more and more I was told I was going to hell. I have the misfortune to live in a strip of the “bible belt” and in a rural area, where it seems that faith is more assertive, and I got confronted by a lot of people who didn’t want to mind their own business.

In middle school - I think it was grade 8 though I can’t rightly remember - we had a debate in my “Honours class” (it was just a class for smart people to sit around and be smart at one another, we didn’t really do much other than logic puzzles, debate, and write papers) about the existence of God. I was one of three atheists in twelve students, and the other two were the gothic/trenchcoat wearing/machine-gun loving all-out AntiGodWarriorhaXx0r types. Things got very heated during that debate, and in the middle of it all, I got caught up in their anger and started screaming at the theists, I don’t even remember what.

It took me until I was fifteen to come up with the “theory” on what religion was, that explained why I could be so derisive and feel superior to believers. I decided that religion was a left-over necessity from the primitive man, that it was nothing more than a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. I had taken basic psychology, you see :slight_smile: I knew that when the mind is confronted with a reality it can’t accept, or doesn’t want to accept, it sometimes reacts by “inventing” a solution that resolves the issue to make it more palatable and understandable. That’s how people get multiple personalities from extended childhood abuse (or so my very basic psych class said) … and that, I decided, was how the primitive man came upon the need for Gods and Goddesses.

They didn’t understand, because they didn’t have the evolution/knowledge/technology to understand, how life was created or what life was or why people had to die, or how the sun came up or why flowers bloomed in the morning and where rain came from … in fact they didn’t understand much more than (as I colloquially put it), the man puts his grunt in the woman’s unga and a long time later a little person comes out.

While their minds wished to resolve this rationally, they didn’t have the intellect to properly understand it, so they resolved their problems - all of them - by inventing Gods.

This was all fine and well to me, because they had little other choice but to accept that explination. My problem with religion now, though, was that we have scientific explanations for many of these things. I decided it was just pure, intentional obtuseness that kept the theists believing in their “fairy-tale” Gods, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s intentionally obtuse people.

So that’s how I used to treat Christians, and other theists; as if they were stupid, belligerantly so, and were purposely missing the point just so they could comfort themselves with letting God take the blame for all the bad things (“It was God’s will that I miscarried”) and still get into the paradisical “afterlife”. I felt they were too weak to accept the responsibilities of choosing their morals and actions on their own, with their own original thought, and instead turned to the Church to suck the elixir of hypocritical truth from its teats … I really didn’t like religions :slight_smile:

However, in the eight years since then I have mellowed out considerably, revamped my view on religion entirely, and I don’t have a problem with it anymore. In fact I envy people with strong faith - it’s a feeling, an emotion, that I simply am not capable of experiencing.

Something I have noticed about other atheists that I know - they seem to think that because they don’t believe in a God and a Judgement Day and an afterlife, they don’t have any goals to work for in this life, and that life is just meaningless and pointless, full of pain and suffering and little chance for happiness. I think that might be the cause of a lot of atheistic surliness that gets slung at theists. I can’t imagine anyone could be pleasant and smiling, going through life believing that it’s all a waste…

I probably would not qualify as a hard atheist since I believe atheism could be rendered moot by the elimination of theism. The idealic world for me would require neither. Or is this some sort of parodox?

Nice use of the invisble smilie link there.

Yeah, I’m an atheist. With respect to God as defined by traditional Western monotheism, I’m even a “hard” atheist; i.e., it goes beyond “there’s no evidence” to “there are strong arguments against”. But I don’t think that’s the same as walking up to random strangers and saying “Can I have a moment of your time to tell you about the non-existence of the Christian God?” or opening up threads which blame all the world’s woes on wicked and hypocritical priests. Then again I do get worked up about stuff like having “In God We Trust” on the money.

Former hard atheist speaking.

I, too, was pretty much the unbelieving equivalent to fundamentalist theism. I was obsessed with the non-existence of God(s), and wanted to convert the world. I know pretty much why I was such a chest-thumping atheist – I thought I knew something that others didn’t, namely salvation from ‘the bonds of religion’, and thought it my duty as a human being to convert everyone. I wasn’t as pushy as a before-mentioned person (I usually waited a few weeks to pop the ‘are you an atheist’ question), but I made it clear that I didn’t believe in God(s).

I was annoying and arrogant to presume that others didn’t think their belief systems as valid as mine. I now share the theist’s contempt for hardcore, ‘let’s convert these sheep’ atheists, as well as the agnostic and theist sides of the coin.

Ohmigosh, I actually agree with december on something! Anyone spotted any flying swine today? :smiley:

In any event, yes, I’m a “hard atheist” (though I just prefer “atheist”), and I don’t understand the recent surge in militant atheists appearing in the SD boards. Between Lolo and Eternal Student’s confrontational attitudes, I’m almost embarassed to say that I share similar beliefs with them…

Thanks for the responses. I guess the gist of it is that some of you felt the need to respond to what you perceived to be either condescension, attack, or disrespect. Certainly understandable. Over time, most of you came to learn that many believers understand, defend, and respect you, and so you have mellowed a bit. Is that a decent nutshell summary?

In the future, I’ll take care to distinguish between “hard atheist” and “militant atheist”. Thanks again. God go with you.

Or nature. Or whatever.

[…terribly embarrassed…] :o