‘Why Not Just Lie?’

‘Why Not Just Party?’

Matt Johnson

From: “Matt Johnson”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Sent: December 23, 2004
Subject: honest question

Dear editor,

I want your opinion. I am not an atheist, but have had some atheist friends over the years and none of them could give me a satisfactory answer to this question.

If I am a Christian, Muslim, whatever, most religions command their adherents to evangelize, spread the word, win converts, that sort of thing. But an atheist does not believe in God, the devil or any absolutes. So why bother wasting your time trying to convince anyone of anything? Why not just party?

Furthermore, outside of going to jail or getting the death penalty, what stops an atheist from killing someone? If there is no right or wrong (religious concepts) and then there is no reason to follow any rules, study anything or do anything. Where is the meaning, purpose or code for an atheist?

I am not trying to be rude, just asking an honest question. If I truly felt there was no God, nor reward, no punishment, no reason to obey any rule as none would be better or worse than my own, then why not just party or be a criminal? Furthermore, if we are just animals then isn’t anything beyond the pursuit of pleasure a waste of time? Why even listen to anyone or convince anyone of anything?

Matt Johnson,
Phoenix, Arizona

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Matt Johnson”
Subject: honest question
Date: December 27, 2004

Jeezis, Matt! I don’t know where to even begin!

  

But an atheist does not believe in God, the devil, or any absolutes.

First of all, this is a very flawed definition of atheism.

  

Secondly, do you know what “absolutes” are, or is this just a buzz-word that you’ve heard repeated numerous times in certain Evangelical circles (namely, Portland Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and one whose current name slips my mind but they used to be called, The Multnomah School of the Bible). This is a word that is most often used to demonize the ideological opponents of those who want your head count, your loyalty, your money, and, most importantly, your vote. Its meaning, however, is seldom ever explained to the “sheep.”

What are “absolutes”? Can you tell me? Can you demonstrate an absolute to me? Can you show me one? Or is this merely a human abstraction — an idea, and little more?

To be honest, I cannot tell you, because I’ve never been able to coax a consistently sensible position out of those who use word.

  

So why bother wasting your time trying to convince anyone of anything? Why not just party?

First, the one is not necessarily the opposite of the other!

For example, I am not trying to convince anyone of anything, here. Rather, I do this in search of answers — for me.

Nevertheless, neither am I partying. At least, that is not my main goal in life. I do like to have fun when I can afford to, but being a party animal has never been the bottom line for me.

  

Secondly, happiness is what life is all about, really, once you get the necessities out of the way.

For me, however, I cannot “just party.” I must continue the struggle for as long as people are being jailed for refusing to undergo religious indoctrination. I cannot party; I cannot sit and do nothing as long as this is still policy in “The Land Of The Free.” That happened to me, once, in September of 1988. When it did, I immediately became an activist, and shall remain one probably for life.

Okay, I can relax and have fun every now and then, because I know that I have worked very hard and done what I can to prevent others from having to endure what I experienced in the United States 16 years ago. I also know that relaxation is good for a person. But in the sense that you appear to be portraying atheists — trapped by their hedonistic ideology into playing the roles of nonstop, hope-to-die party animals — no: I cannot think that way, and I don’t know anybody who does. If I don’t have a specific reason behind a given choice, I am willing to pay the price of having made that choice. And I’m willing to pay the price even if, when I made the choice, I didn’t know what might be in store. This has always been at the core of my ideology, even as a boy.

  

Furthermore, outside of going to jail or getting the death penalty, what stops an atheist from killing someone?

Well, what stops a Christian from killing someone and then asking Mother Mary to intercede in his behalf, or asking Jesus Christ to forgive him outright? Why do so many killers turn themselves in, months, years, even decades later? What stops a Muslim from killing someone and then claiming that it was an act of jihad or a Jew from claiming that it was in obedience to some obscure commandment? Even if this is not how these particular religions actually work, there is nothing to stop someone from wrongly thinking that to be the way they do work, and then killing someone based upon their false understanding of the religion.

Most people who kill do so because at the time of the act they think killing that person is the morally right thing to do! People rarely kill just to rebel against good morals. Can you give a case history of that happening? I can’t.

  

What follows is a brief outline of my understanding of how it works.

  

First, here are the most obvious reasons in my mind why I don’t kill.

The most obvious one is, “Now, why would I want to do a thing like that!? I mean, kill somebody? Wha...!?”

I repeat: “Wha...?”

  

Next, if I kill someone, I am, by my action, saying that the act of killing is right behavior. I this sense, I am, by my act of killing someone, openly inviting others to kill me.

But really, the bottom line is that I simply cannot stand the sight of blood! (This was hammered home again just tonight when I dropped a pair of dressmaking shears right where my big toe joins my foot and only bothered to glance at it at first. I could not feel any pain because I have chronic, acute lymphodema.)

On top of that, although I have not led a happy life, by any means, I cherish my own life nonetheless and assume that others cherish theirs as well. Who am I to take someone’s life away from them? I’m the one who likes to help others, who derives satisfaction and even pleasure by making life better for those around me.

  

Here is the bottom line regarding why people can and, I think, should be considered instinctively moral. I shall use murder as my example.

We have evolved as social animals. As such, killing off nonparasitic members of our own species (or our social sector, such as our dogs) reduces our entire species’ prospects for survival. Like many mammals and numerous other animals, we humans tend to exile or even execute members of our tribe, species, or social sector who do not go along with the important life-or-death ways and rules of the tribe. Ultimately this boils down to anybody who does not obey the undisputed leader, who does not conform to that individual’s stated will, and so forth.

This is readily seen in chimps and other mammals: numerous species of social animals banish incorrigible members who, unable to procreate, simply die off, taking any affected genetic code to the grave, while, at the same time, reinforcing conformity among the others with an unforgettable real-life example.

Thus, the behavior of killing nonparasitic members of our own tribe or species has been naturally selected out of the genetic aspects of our behavior as well as its banishment being reinforced among the others. Not every behavior is genetic, of course, but those that are can, to at least some extent, be selected out of the gene pool by excommunication and similar means which (essentially) result in the prevention of that animal from procreating. Meanwhile, the problem is solved quickly (albeit superficially) by the simple removal of the offending tribe member.

  

If there is no right or wrong (religious concepts) ...

Why do you specify that only “religious concepts” can be seen as addressing “right or wrong”? I wonder why you misstate the facts like this, not once but twice!

  

If there is no right or wrong (religious concepts) and then there is no reason to follow any rules, study anything, or do anything.

Again you suggest that without religious rules, the atheist’s opinion inevitably and necessarily defaults to one advocating the notion that “anything goes.” I know no atheists who think this way simply because they are atheists. I have heard of very few who call themselves “atheists” who conform to your overgeneralization of our entire social class. Many of those whose lives I have studied either had some greater agenda to fulfill (Marxism, etc) or were, from today’s perspective, visibly mentally ill (eg, in the advanced states of syphilitic degradation, which was common prior to the work of Jonas Salk).

I, for one, don’t steal because I know it is wrong to steal. I won’t even (deliberately) take the pen that the grocery store clerk hands to you for writing a check — even if they want you to take it ’as a form of advertising! I still won’t take it because it’s way too close to stealing! I just won’t do it!

Not only are there plenty of reasons to behave in a moral and productive manner, but most people act this way without even having a reason! I would wager that most people behave in ways that you and I would agree are rightly called “moral” — without thinking about it and without even knowing why they do it!

I’d also put good money on the likelihood that you are one of those people. I say this because your letter betrays a woeful dearth of understanding of ethics and morals from any standpoint (not just the religious standpoint). Nevertheless, you display a respect and appreciation for morals and ethics! Your understanding is flawed, but your appreciation is strong nonetheless.

  

Where is the meaning, purpose, or code for an atheist?

Code!? What is that?

Apart from that, this is a very confused question. I don’t understand what you’re trying to get at.

Again, you sound as if you haven’t given life and its rainbow of meanings much thought!

  

I am not trying to be rude, just asking an honest question.

Ah, but you are being rude — because you’re knowingly being dishonest. You suggest, simply by your asking, that we atheists believe a certain way. But you know full well that we don’t believe this way at all! You made these statements without studying atheists — without even quizzing us as to our position about morals and ethics. Had you conducted any studies (had you even asked a few questions of the members of your local atheist or humanist group), you would have known better than to say this (though I strongly suspect that you knew from the start just how flawed this line of reasoning was and is).

What you’re doing is making things up about us and then acting as if what you’re saying is true! Then you ask us why we are the way you (erroneously) describe us!

Only someone who would listen to and uncritically believe the spite-filled one-liners of an agenda-laden preacher or evangelist would think that anybody thinks the way you describe us!

  

If I truly felt there was no God, nor reward, no punishment, no reason to obey any rule as none would be better or worse than my own, then why not just party or be a criminal?

I’d bet a week’s pay that you don’t believe this way! I’d bet a week’s pay that the religious leaders who taught you this line sought to disparage atheism and to make atheists look stupid. I’d bet a week’s pay that you’re no different from anybody else, and that if I were to convince you that being a theist is morally wrong, your behavior wouldn’t change like you here predict.

  

if we are just animals

You are behaving immorally, again, in that you are putting words into our mouths — words that we did not say and ideas that we do not hold as true.

We are animals, yes, but nobody said we are “just animals” as if our being animals is a shameful, degrading thing of some kind.

Besides, this thinking degrades the other animals in that they evolved using the same processes that you did, and they fulfil their niche as effectively as you do (if not more so).

  

then isn’t anything beyond the pursuit of pleasure a waste of time?

Here you go, putting words into our mouths, again.

Try this experiment: for the next six months, pursue only immediate personal pleasure — your immediate personal pleasure. Do not do anything that is not immediately pleasurable to you (and all others be damned).

Then try another experiment: for six months after that, pursue only ultimate pleasure. Do not do anything unless it ultimately brings about somebody’s pleasure (not necessarily your own) or unless it ultimately increases everybody’s chances for experiencing more pleasure over the long run. For example, invent a gadget that allows us to spend fewer hours each week futzing with our laundry.

  

Why even listen to anyone or convince anyone of anything?

This sounds like your viewpoint already!

I suggest that for you, deconverting to atheism might be a vast improvement over what you currently have! Maybe you would see your fellow-human as someone who has something important to share with you, who thinks it is in both of your best interest that you both work together for the common good of all in your vicinity. Hopefully you will stop seeing your fellows as people worthy only of your scorn and abuse unless they belong to the same exclusive club that you do.

  

Conclusion:

You really haven’t done much thinking about life, morals, or even your own religious beliefs, have you? This is easy to see. You sound as if you’ve satisfied yourself with listening to a few spite-filled preachers or watching a few “Refute the Atheist!” videos or reading a handful of comic-book tracts. I can tell these are not your own thoughts. They aren’t ideas of your own invention. They are too common for that. They are almost word-for-word identical to a whole folder of letters we've received from Christians who not only have watched the same videos you have (or whose pastors have read the same books yours has), many of these Christians are just as embarrassed of their religious view as you seem to be (in that they omit mention of the fact that they are Christians; maybe it’s not embarrassment but something else that prompts them to hide this information till I ask — or flat-out deny it when I do, though the latter is rare).

Seriously, I doubt that you’ve asked these questions of any atheists! You certainly haven’t held any substantial discussions with active atheists, that is, atheists who have given their own ideological position substantial thought.

And most atheists don’t think about their own atheism! Nether do many of us spend much time or energy defending our atheistic position: we don’t have to! Since the theist is making the claim (that a god exists) then it’s the theist who needs to make the case, to bring forth evidence and strong argument. The atheist need not even lift a finger in this discussion, because the atheist has not made any claims!

Go check out some of the atheistic web sites that have some of the basic atheistic arguments mapped out for you. Read them, and get the kindergarten-and grade school-level stuff out of the way. Then come back and I’ll be glad to discuss with you some of the weightier matters that affect us all (not this bickering back and forth about your misunderstanding of my viewpoint).

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
   to people with no reason to believe

  

From: “Matt Johnson”
To: “Positive Atheism”
Subject: honest question
Date: December 31, 2004

I was hoping for a non emotional response. Apparently, you are not capable of such. If all you can do is spew venom and insults, then I guess you have answered my questions. You assume too much about me and have no idea of my background (academically or otherwise). I will not waste my time with you again.

  

From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Matt Johnson”
Subject: honest question
Date: January 19, 2005

You ... have no idea of my background (academically or otherwise).

I only know what you wrote, and how much time I spent correcting the grammatical and spelling errors therein (which I only do for friendly conversations, by the way; pardon me for misjudging you as having been friendly).

I can see why “none” of your “atheist friends” could give you “a satisfactory answer” to your question. Indeed, it is impossible to answer a trick question. But even an attempt to unravel a trick question must be met with a desire to discover the truth of a matter.

  

It’s a very simple matter for you to launch false accusations against your ideological opponents, isn’t it?

Being a member of the majority, all you need to do is lash out.

That’s it!

Then, simply because of who we are, a certain percentage of the people will believe you over me, regardless of the argument or the evidence. These members of the majority will believe you solely because you are the Christian. They will consider me the liar simply because I am the atheist. Of course! Those dirty atheists are all liars, aren’t they? Nobody has morals unless they believe in the correct God, right? But those dirty little atheists don’t believe in any God!!

No thinking whatsoever can occur during such exchanges.

To behave as you have is much easier than to answer an atheist’s reasoned objections to your spite-filled slander, isn’t it? This is to say nothing of admitting that you might have been mistaken, or that you might have been taken in by clever fakes who propagate one of the numerous fundamentalistic takes on the Christian religion.

  

Nevertheless, we at Positive Atheism Magazine thank you for providing us with another opportunity to let us showcase the extremes to which some religionists will go in their attempts to win credibility by trying to tarnish the good name of an honest individual.

Please don’t bother to write back: we gave you an opportunity to be honest, but we must now stop wasting our time on your wizened little game.

And take care, Mr Johnson, okay?

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
   to people with no reason to believe