I have noticed that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris both cite 9/11 as the fuel to the fire of their current passion for atheism. I also often cite this as one of the biggest seeds of my frustrations with religion.
I wondered if anyone else had a big turning point that either largely help you realize that there is not a god or gods, or made you more "militant".
I have never believed in god or been religious. In fact there was pretty much a great deal of reinforcement against religiosity from my family as a child, which caused me to actively search for arguments to challenge the idea that religion was bollocks and pretty much consistently running into the fact that it was pretty much crap. I actually remember deriving a lot of amusement from trying to argue in favour of religion just to play devil's advocate.
In the past though I've always accepted the typical view of the society I grew up in that people's beliefs shouldn't be challenged and everyone has a right to hold an opinion, however irrational. I found this changing however, with religion's increasing attempts to insinuate itself into the public arena, whether through vandalising our education system, denying fundamental rights to people based upon their sexual orientation, and basic hate peddling justified by nothing more than their right to hold an irrational faith.
I think I am coming to the view that a person's beliefs should be challenged when those beliefs are irrational, or rather that it should never be enough for someone to say "well that's my opinion and I have a right to hold it and you must accept that my irrational opinion is as valid as your own, even though I cannot justify it with anything more than what is stated in a 2000 year old book".
I think I've become more militant only in the sense that I am less willing for the statement "this is what my religion tells me, and if you keep advocating your view I'll be very hurt and offended" to be a reasonable argument to make in a debate. In the past I think I would have more readily thought "well everyone is entitled to their opinions, we have to respect that", while I think now I'm beginning to feel that no-one is entitled to have their unreasonable beliefs respected, that respect simply means I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and spend time to see if their opinions have a rational basis before rejecting them outright.
And that whatever rights people have to their beliefs, they do not have the right to expect other people to not challenge them in case their feelings might be hurt, or in case they might resort to violence or some other disproportionate response.
As far as answering the part of the question about becoming more "militant" I'd have to agree with you almost word for word. Moving from the whole "everyone is entitled to their opinion" thing to an understanding that not all opinions are equal, and furthermore, and more importantly, that what a person's opinions are has a direct effect on the world that we share. Thus irrational world-views have to be confronted.
Yeah, 9/11 was pretty key - not so much because religious people were behind it. Most people are religious and justify or excuse their bad behaviors with it. But really because it made me look at faith in a way I never really had before. I started to see it more like hard drug use than casual drinking, maybe. Something people were not in control of and that caused them to do incredibly negative things - stupid things, in fact - and feel good about it.
But I think I became militant after George W Bush was re-elected. That was...nothing justifies that. That was insane. Absurd and terrifying. That a majority of my fellow Americans were that besotted by ideology and shit thinking made me want to fight. It didn't last, though. Once Sarah Palin was a going concern I lost any respect for people in my country. We are just a bad reality TV show now. I think it was Jello Biafra that called it a Reagan Wet Dream.
I know this reads like a political rant, but in fact I chalk all of it up to faith - the ego made fetish and given control of the state. We are the government, so I blame us, and we are a people of faith, so I blame faith.
I have never believed in a "god" of any sort, and even as a child I had a rather negative opinion of faith. I remember lying in my bed at 5 years old, using my middle finger to trap "god" in a corner and kill him. For the most part, I just wanted to 'live and let live'. Though I didn't share any of the religious people's viewpoints, I didn't necessarily see anything wrong with it.
My extreme anti christian (and faith in general) view came back into play a couple of years ago, when I was with a (now ex) friend, who would flip a tit and hit me whenever I said anything that didn't include praise towards his invisible friend. It was stupid of me to even consider this person a friend, no matter how brief the duration that we were on speaking terms.
After that I started doing more reading on the subject of religion, what and how truly religious people believe, and now I genuinely and strongly view belief in god as a dangerous threat.
So I would suppose that over the last year or so I have become more 'militant' in terms of the way I express my disgust for religion. I would never resort to violence unless my physical safety was immediately in danger, but I intend to fight back for all it's worth.
I went to a private Baptist elementary school as a kid...and aside from witnessing almost daily small-minded, judgmental behavior from the godly teachers there, which was just about enough in itself...my second-grade "science" textbook sowed the first real seed of doubt. There was a picture of a duck-billed platypus, and the caption read something along the lines of: "Such a marvelous creature could only have been created by God. Those who suggest that it came about through evolution are doing the work of the devil." I remember thinking, "Wow. Something's not right about that." I didn't know anything about evolution (the old "we came from monkeys" line was all I'd ever heard about it in this little Bible Belt town). But such an odd creature seemed, even to a 7-year-old, much more likely to have been stumbled upon by nature than purposely designed by a god. I mean, what...was he bored? Not enough to do? But then, he certainly didn't seem to busy NOW, even with the whole creation gig behind him...plenty of human suffering he could be tackling, useful miracles to be performed. But he didn't seem bothered. And the not-rightness of a hundred other things soon started jumping out me.
Plus, one of those nasty teachers told me that my beloved beagle, who was hit by a car (ripping out part of my very SOUL) wouldn't go to heaven. She was just a dog. Maybe that was the seminal moment... Anyway, by the time I was 13, I was done.
I still live in the same town, and drive by that idiotic school from time to time. I'm always strongly tempted to stop in and tell them that I'm an atheist now, and that I have them to thank for it.
But, as to what made me more militant (I called myself "agnostic" for years and years because "atheist" is a bad word around these parts)....it was a mixture of reading Dawkins' God Delusion and the increased meddling of the religious right in civil rights in this country. Not that the atrocities committed in the name of religion worldwide hadn't always disturbed me deeply...but I thought surely we'd never reach that level of extremism in the U.S. Now I know that we could. I found I could no longer pretend to have an open mind about something I was so strongly opposed to....I had to speak out, at the very least. I now tell people I'm an atheist at every plausible opportunity. I've even converted one "agnostic" (maybe two!).
It's so therapeutic to read all of your stories. It's a nice foil to my Facebook 'news' feed. Sigh.
spark: probably 5th grade science class.
militant: the religious right constantly trying to legislate jesus into my life.
I was wavering since i was 13 but it was at 19 that I became an athiest. The day my grandma died in agony from cancer. Ok so no poetic intellectual answer, I didnt find it in a book or a song, i just thought if this is gods work and he has 'a plan for all' or 'works in mysterious ways' he can go f**k himself. As i got older and did eventually read books, Id watch my family around me being totally absorbed and deluded by 'GOD'. And yes I must admit I get very angry around religious bollocks (although i try my best to hide it). What makes it harder is I do not know many athiest to talk to face to face.
Logic led me to atheism. Honesty prevented me from denying the truth of my conclusion. The attempts by the religious to force me to believe led me to the conclusion that religion was evil--a conclusion that has only been strengthened by further examinations of religion.
Yeah I have to credit logic and philosophy. I was raised non-denominational christian, baptized and all that shit, even though I didn't really have a freaking clue what any of it meant, just that there was this threat of burning in hell for eternity if I didn't do it etc..But it never really meant that much to me, except for the fear part, I even remember not being able to sleep sometimes because I was imaging demons swarming all over the house in the night.
But then I read Descartes and that was the beginning of the end. The whole "radically doubting" everything, and really thinking about the question of epistemology: How do you know that you know what you know? Followed that path to logic, reason, empiricism and Science.
Finally though, it was really thinking about the model of reality from quantum to universe, and finally getting a clear grasp on the mechanics of Evolution, that led me to just full out realize that I was, in fact, an atheist.