Atheists enjoy online forum
By LISA MILLEGAN
BEE STAFF WRITER
(Published: Saturday, July 22, 2000)

Modesto resident Stan Strain clearly is in the minority in the Northern San Joaquin Valley: He doesn't believe in God.

Atheist views rarely are discussed in the local media. The area's dominant conservative Christian community gets most of the attention when it comes to matters of personal belief and values.

That's why Strain was happy to discover Positive Atheism, a Portland, Ore.-based magazine with a popular Internet site, www.positiveatheism.org. The Web site, one of several focusing on atheism, provides a forum for atheists and believers alike to discuss their ideas.

Publisher Cliff Walker sees the site as a place for people to seek the truth. He is emphatic that he does not want to bash religious people.

Walker also tries to clear up misconceptions about atheists.

"I lack a God belief," he explained in a telephone interview from his Portland home. "I have a lot of people telling me that a God exists, but their arguments are unconvincing."

As one reader of his site wrote, "Atheism doesn't imply evil, wickedness, witchcraft, satanism or any number of other negative connotations."

The site contains a wealth of arguments against religious belief and links to other sites. One section links to readers' "deconversion" stories. Other sites link to philosophical arguments.

Walker started the magazine in October 1998 because he is interested in the topic. He was raised an atheist but attended evangelical churches briefly as a teen and in his 20s.

He was attracted to church because he was lonely and longed to be part of a group. He said he read the Bible 12 times cover to cover. But he left Christian fellowship after he realized his probing questions weren't welcome. "I couldn't fit in because I'm a thinker," he said. "You have to be a sheep to visit all those (churches)."

Walker estimates half the people who read Positive Atheism have had experiences similar to his or have been atheists since birth. The other half are Christians who want to convert him.

"It amazes me how seemingly intelligent people fight God," wrote readers Jeff and Traci Adkins (no hometown listed). "The beauty of God is that he does not force anyone to believe."

Another reader complained to Walker that atheists refuse to let God into their lives.

"I feel pity for those who cannot sense something just because you can't see it with your eyes," wrote Patrice Robertson (no hometown listed).

Whether they agree with atheism or not, several readers say they simply enjoy the opportunity to discuss their beliefs. When asked through a posting on the Web site what they liked about the service, readers said they enjoyed the lively debate.

"Cliff provides a positive forum that demands proper use of logic and the scientific method -- two processes that I can identify with heartily," said reader Todd Smith of Peoria, Ill. "The second thing I particularly like about Cliff's Web site is his letters section. Cliff's welcoming of opposing viewpoints indicates his quest for knowledge and truth is sincere."

Dan Johnson of Sonora appreciates Positive Atheism because it provides an alternative to the divisiveness of religion. Claiming one religion is better than another only breeds war and destruction, he said. Johnson believes the best hope for humanity is serious, thoughtful discussion on the meaning of life.

He calls himself a "religious humanist" who appreciates the mysteries and wonders of life but rejects the idea of a personal God who watches over people.

Vincent M. Wales, founder of the Freethought Society of Northern Utah, likes the site because Walker respects those who have given up God. "Atheism and atheists have this horrible stigma attached, which is wholly unjustified," he said.

Another reader said he was prompted to read the site because of a move. "I come from a very secular country, Sweden, where religion takes almost no part in our daily lives," said Johan Grahn. "When I moved to Chicago almost two years ago, I noticed that religion was a much bigger issue here, and after being offended several times by evangelizing Christians, I decided to become more prepared."

Strain, the Modesto reader, said the site provides a load of useful and interesting information. "It certainly helps open the lines of communication."

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LAMPOONING LAURA

Note: This is an anonymous letter to Dr. Laura, the radio talk show host, that was posted on the Positive Atheism Web site. Dr. Laura opposes homosexuality because it is prohibited in the Bible.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to best follow them:

* When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

* I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

* I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

* Lev. 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mind claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

* I have a neighbor who insists on working the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

* A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

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