A.L. Eleutherios over at Under Two Trees recently posted a very thought provoking article on absolute anti-theism. This opinion piece argues that many celebrated atheists thoughts, sayings, and actions are actually anti-theist, and that this anti-theist movement is hurtful to followers of minority religions, as they are conflated with the oft-meant majority religious groups that fueled aforementioned thoughts, sayings, and actions.

The major example given was the 'God graveyard' (part two) stunt that took place in 2013 by the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin. The group had created a graveyard filled with (paper) tombstones with names, images, year of birth, year of death, and a short description of many popular Pagan and Non-Pagan Gods. The group never released their reason for putting up this specific display, but did comment on Facebook to criticism saying:

"Our sign said "Once worshipped by entire civilizations, now only myths." Perhaps we should have said "now considered myths". The fact is that every god that we included was once worshipped by an entire civilization, but those civilizations have since died, and their gods are now no longer worshipped at all, or by nowhere near as many people as before. 

As atheists, we believe ALL gods are myths, but we chose to only include the gods that are now considered myths by the majority of human beings. The Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Islamic, etc gods are undoubtedly at the height of their worship, and thus can be considered "the gods of today". We then posed a simple question: looking at all these gods that were once worshiped widely, but have since ceased being worshiped altogether or at least lost a significant amount of followers, how much longer will the current gods 'live' or remain in the mainstream?"

Eleutherios recounts these events and puts them into another --much darker--light:

"It’s not that it bothers me what these kids believe about the old gods. It’s because the graveyard, essentially, is an endorsement of cultural genocide, no different from building a monument to Christopher Columbus. Basically, how this sounds like is, “These cultures are dead and you’re next”. But since these cultures didn’t die of “natural causes” or “old age”, this isn’t a reminder of mortality — it’s a threat. We know from history that most of those religions “died” and their gods “forgotten” because of coercion, not for simply falling out of favour.

Now, I understand how they want to “help” monotheists see how ridiculous it is to question other religions but not theirs. I think that’s important. However, this graveyard stunt (and others like it) comes off as historically and culturally uninformed. There are countless accounts of pagan peoples fighting for their right to exist in an increasingly pagan-hostile society, ultimately losing because the enemy had more money for a bigger army. In some places, it still happens."

These types of actions, and condoning them, is not atheism, it's anti-theism, and it paints--in Eleutherios' words 'religious people [as] a monolith; a cohesive group of delusional, backward bigots holding the world back from science, reason, and progress'.

Now, I do not condone the stunt pulled, nor do I support or appreciate anyone speaking highly of it. But as I said then, I do not feel personally offended. This was a thought exercise--or threat, if that is how you want to view it--not to the Pagan and/or ancient religions (as a conglomerated whole), but to those religions currently in major practice. Does this equate cultural genocide? I don't know. I doubt that was the goal of the graveyard, and few atheists I know are actively looking forward to, or working towards, a day where all religions have disappeared (with or without its previous believers).

Now, 'anti-theism', as described in the blog post is very real. To a very, very, very small group of people, all people who believe in some form of divinity are pretty much basket cases. Some people in the world extend their hate towards believers of a particular faith to all people of faith. And a larger group of people with receive information about being a follower of a minority religion with skepticism or ridicule. Yes, this is all true. I do think, however, that the distinction between theism and anti-theism is a lot more nuanced than proclaimed in the blog and that the graveyard is a form of atheism (as badly thought out as it was), not anti-theism. You will recognize anti-theism instantly, I feel: if you doubt it’s anti-theistic, it probably is not.

For me, anti-theism is the Chapel Hill shooting, or the 2015 Oregon shooting. It's outright violence and/or the spreading of hatein the name of atheism. It's getting others to share your views in a way that is clearly meant to incite, not provoke objective thought. Anti-theism is the radicalized version of atheism, and radicalization no matter the form is scary, deadly, and very hard to root out. But just like Muslims cannot and should not be judged by the actions of a very small few who kill in the name of their religion, we cannot judge atheists in the same way. Some people simply do not believe. Some people talk about not believing like I talk about believing. And there is enough room in the world for both. There is not, however, room in the world for extremism of any kind and while atheist thought, in my opinion, falls under freedom of speech, true anti-theism never, ever does.