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Militant Atheists: A Déjà Vu ?

In Fox’s Book of Martyrs,1 we read:

At length the zeal of the infuriated Atheists in France hurried them to the perpetration of one of the most ridiculous, and at the same time impious transactions which ever disgraced the annals of any nation. It was no less than a formal renunciation of the existence of a Supreme Being, and the installation of the Goddess of Reason, in 1793.

Fanaticism ~ A to Z ?
A light or a lock ?

“There is,” says [Sir Walter] Scott,[2] “a fanaticism of atheism, as well as of superstitious belief; and a philosopher can harbour and express as much malice against those who persevere in believing what he is pleased to denounce as unworthy of credence, as an ignorant and bigoted priest can bear against a man who cannot yield faith to dogmata which he thinks insufficiently proved.” Accordingly, the throne being totally annihilated, it appeared to the philosophers of the school of Hebert, … that in totally destroying such vestiges of religion and public worship as were still retained by the people of France, there was room for a splendid triumph of liberal opinions (Kindle Locations 10270-10278, emphasis added).

These passages brought to mind the words of Sam Harris:3

Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.

Harris has spent considerable effort to clarify his meaning, but in the final analysis he and his colleagues seem to advocate preemptive self-defense: We anticipate violence based on another’s beliefs, so we are justified to shoot/bomb/obliterate first.

Sir Walter Scott’s quote also brought to mind a TED talk by Richard Dawkins wherein he manifest a comprehensive disdain for all religious belief.4

These beliefs expressed by Harris and Dawkins show how thin the razor’s edge might become between 1) preemptive justification for “preventing” violence by others and 2) preemptive justification for thwarting present and future crimes against humanity and civilization that they lay at the feet of religion.

Harris is right (even about atheistic beliefs): “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably” (p. 52).

In any event, Harris, Dawkins, and company seem alarmingly déjà vu those “infuriated Atheists in France.”

1. Foxe, John. Fox’s Book of Martyrs Or A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Primitive Protestant Martyrs. Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition (2009-10-04).
2. Sir Walter Scott quote:
3. Sam Harris, The End of Faith at ; see pages 52-53.
4. See Richard Dawkins: ; e.g.: at minute 8:00 ~ “attack religion as a whole”; at 28:00 ~ “secretly despise religion as much as I do.”