The Atheist Of 'God'
[name withheld]

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: [name withheld]
Subject: Re: atheist of "god"
Date: December 29, 2003 1:12 AM

This is a very unusual letter, which I will take at face value (as I do with all letters). By assuring you of this, you don't need to wonder whether or not I believe what you're telling me: when I sit at this desk and field letters, my policy is to believe what people tell me unless it's clear that they're lying (they're contradicting some well-known fact, for example).

Also please be aware that when I observe that a reader is leaning toward one of several relatively equal options or explanations, I like to favor one or more of the other ways, simply to broaden the discussion. If I have a strong opinion about something that I think is crucial, then I will state, unequivocally, that I strongly favor the viewpoint in question.

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Are you an atheist? Your experience is definitely on the fringe, because we observers really have no business venturing a guess as to what's really going on inside your mind.

As a "closeted" atheist, that is, one who will not openly admit his atheism, you fit the definition of a theist when you tell others that you believe. But when you log on to the atheistic site and admit that you're actually an atheist, I think we observers have enough to go on to call you an atheist.

The bottom line, however, is what you think in the privacy of your own mind. As such, if you don't believe in any of the traditional models for "God," then you are, most assuredly, an atheist. Again, this presupposes that it's none of our business (we observers).

For some perspective on the reasoning behind what I've said here, check out the lengthy dialogue we had called, "The Semantic Dance of Pantheism." Apart from that, all we can do, really, is try to explain our understanding of the definition for this complex word, and describe what we think this might mean when applied to your situation.

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As for the nature of your quest, I have nothing but respect for your ideas. I place a great deal of hope in the work that you have the potential of doing. I'm immediately reminded of Bishop Spong, indeed, and also of Gerd Lüdemann.

If you stay with the church (or with some form of organized religion), then I hope that you can obtain similar rank within these institutions, rank that will allow you to have substantial influence. With this, you would be able to show others what it will eventually be your "mission" to show them (for lack of a better word). This rank was given to Bishop Spong because he came to his controversial views after achieving his position; Professor Lüdemann, despite his rank, was essentially blacklisted from teaching after he redefined his point of view. Once it became clear that he had nothing more to offer by remaining subtle and private in his opinions, Professor Lüdemann came out as a full-fledged atheist. I don't know how this affected his ability to inspire people toward seeking truth. It's possible that his sphere of influence may have been greatly reduced by this decision, but I'm not sure of this: I can only guess.

My hope for you is that you can achieve your goals while exercising the wisdom of caution in so doing. If revealing my atheism (deliberately or accidentally) can cause the problems that it has -- just trying to keep a roof over my head -- consider the possibilities when you seek a position wherein you are entrusted with the sober responsibility of teaching younger students and acting in behalf of large institutions! This would be my only real concern over what you have told me.

With that, I wish you the best. I also wholeheartedly invite you to send us some of your views, even if it's simply to further elucidate what you have said here.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight years of service to people
    with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: [name withheld]
Subject: Re: atheist of "god"
Date: July 18, 2004 06:32

I am sorry this is so late: half-a-year late, actually! I was working on it and my computer crashed. Then by the time I got this Beast working again (one day later) I had forgotten which projects I had been working on!

Here it is, as complete as I can make it. Thank you for your patience.

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I want you to know, most importantly of all, that I am trying not to diminish anything that you have said. Your views are profound as well as profoundly enlightening to me!

Most importantly, I feel an urgency to reassure you that the plight of the "atheistic priest" is common all over the world. Clergymen have faced this moral dilemma throughout the ages, for as long as the masses have wanted (yea, demanded!) organized religion and for as long as rulers have imposed it, by force or by trickery, upon their subjects.

It is extremely important to understand that most atheists remain "in the closet": we dare not let our families and our neighbors know how we really feel. We dare not for fear of retaliation: be it simple ridicule; be it the meddling attempts to "set us right"; be it the loss of advantage in business and in the workplace; be it open ostracization from family, neighborhood, or society.

In Europe, religion has so thoroughly lost its appeal that in most countries, an atheist can openly declare and even celebrate his or her atheism without fear of retaliation. The Philippines is one of the countries where the opposite is true: Filipinos remain very religious, and are not moving toward atheism as quickly as most of the World's other countries and cultures.

Some Muslim countries boast a very high percentage of atheists, even where the law sternly and viciously punishes anybody who openly declares his or her atheism, and particularly those who try to propagate freedom from religion (freedom from Islam, actually; Christian missionaries are punished just as severely for teaching their religion to Muslims)! Activists in America often point to Iran as an example a religious government. One of our readers, however, an Iranian, told me that at least 40 percent of the men in his country firmly believe that there are no such things as "Gods"!

Ultimately, we must realize that when we find ourselves having to lie to people in order to keep peace, we are giving them precisely what they want, we are giving them exactly what they deserve, what they have earned by their behavior. True, a man or woman practicing the philosophy of Positive Atheism (as we advocate it here) would most likely be stubborn in his or her refusal to give them what they want, thinking that despite their despicable behavior, they deserve more -- they deserve more simply because they are human beings. This is one of the things where the Positive Atheism we advocate and the original Positive Atheism practiced in India are in full agreement. However, I (personally) recognize that we all must live, and to do so we often must get along with our fellows. To this end, even I have recently been forced to keep quiet about the true thoughts within my mind. In America, "Free Speech" are but words on parchment for many of us.

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I would like to raise some questions and to issue some challenges, however. I am not looking for you to answer these questions. Rather, I raise them because they are questions that I would want to face were I in a position similar to the one in which you find yourself. (And I strongly suspect that were I in your position, I'd probably be unable to think of such questions!)
 

I would suspect that you actually lack the nerve to tell them. I think you might be exercising caution because you know the potential costs of such a move as telling your family that you are an atheist.

Just as importantly, your family might be just the people to help you see clearly enough to make the tough, tough decisions you now face!

As I mentioned in my previous reply to you, it is not always the wisest choice for any atheist to tell anybody about his or her atheism. Religion is a private matter (or at least is best kept that way): beyond membership in a group whose purpose is to be a point of cultural identity, such as the churches in Greece and in certain parts of Ireland, it is nobody's business what you really think about gods and religion. Also, in most situations it is a very controversial subject.

By discussing your heartfelt views (as opposed to the official "view" that you "hold" as part of your job), you could be putting your future career into the hands of people who may not understand. In fact, as far as the statistics are concerned, the chances are overwhelmingly high that those you tell will not understand. Religious people tend to distrust atheists; this is the hard truth. The more religious someone is, the more vehemence with which she or he is likely to distrust an atheist.

The biggest problem in this respect is that atheists are seen as traitors, both against the culture (the family) and against God Himself. It is possible to ascertain how your family might respond by thinking about what might happen if someone in the family made some other controversial decision.

Think of a loyalty that you hold that has nothing to do with religion. Do you love your country? What would things be like for some member of your family (for example) if she or he were to join a group dedicated to overthrowing your country's government? Would your family turn you in? Would this matter to them?
 

Here is your "bottom line," then: your true loyalty is not to your family but to those you serve by your position in the church.

However, one of the big questions you'll want to address is this: Exactly what is my job here at the church, to teach religion or to help humans in need?

Another question would be: Is working through the church the best way for me to accomplish my goal of helping humans in need, or might I be able to do this without religion?

Finally, consider that you are just starting out: Might I be able to learn and to develop networking contacts while serving time at the church, so that I might eventually leave and form a secular helping organization? Might I meet a number of priests in a similar situation as I, who, by their having known me for a while, would more readily move toward eventually forming a secular group?

On the other side: Do I, with only my education, have the qualifications and the resources to strike out on my own and form an agency which would accomplish without religion what I had initially hoped to accomplish through religion?

Or: Is this even what I want to do at all? Is there another career choice that I might make? And: What choices would I have if all I had as far as education goes is what I received at the Seminary (and the schoolwork leading up to the Seminary -- doesn't it take a four-year degree just to qualify for Seminary)?

My hope for you is that you find a way to make a big influence for change in your country and for your people. This is what I feel when I read your letters, that you seem to be most concerned about the plight of your people who are being misled and exploited by those who know the truth but would keep the truth from the people in order to keep them in the darkness of fear and a false sense of complacency, as you say, to keep them from wanting to compete or struggle for a better life. The only thing I can think of that's more exploitative would be to convince the people that a better life cannot be had -- but to do this would be next to impossible: the human mind is (usually) too sharp to be fooled by that lie.

If this is what you choose to strive for, then the only big decision is whether to do it under the cloak of a clergyman (like Bishop Spong and a handful of others) or to openly rebel against the Church (like Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and many others).

Which would be most effective? You can probably ponder how many people would trust and listen to a priest, even a somewhat wayward one, versus how many would trust and listen to an open and rebellious atheist.

Which would be easier work? This is easy to determine by how many have taken the open atheist route versus how few have done what you, with your training, are specially qualified to do.

Then there's a reason why very few would do this: as you pointed out, it seems -- or even is -- dishonest.

A third alternative, which seldom makes news headlines with its changes but which makes those changes in the most permanent way thinkable, would be teaching youngsters; that is, giving them a secular education.

Again, I don't know how this works in the Philippines: does the Church own all the schools? Here in America and in many places, the government owns most of the schools. The churches own some schools, and others are owned by businesses and groups that are not religious. Then, it is very popular for people here to educate their own children in what we call "home schooling."

If the Church has a monopoly on education where you live, then you're in the same boat as before: needing to act as though you have religious faith. Even so, I wonder if there would be enough people in your community who are frustrated with the way their children are being educated to experiment with starting their own schooling system. All of the systems run be the groups and businesses I mentioned above started out in a similar context.

I thank you for allowing me to play a role in this discussion that has, until now, only occurred within the privacy of your own mind. And on behalf of our readers, I thank you for allowing us to have a peek into the struggle that one man is enduring as the result of enforced childhood religiosity: you were recruited almost at infancy, trained up to be a good Catholic, and eventually sent to Seminary -- where your eyes were opened to what they've been doing, to what a large majority of your culture does. While this is normalcy for you and your fellow countrymen, and while similar things go on in numerous other cultures and countries (but involving different sects), many of us are unfamiliar with this practice as we do not experience it in our families or in our cultures. Your story and those of others in similar situations help us to understand what we are up against when people come around trying to recruit us to join various religious organizations. I cannot thank you enough for your candor.

Finally, I have expressed many diverse opinions, here, and it is my hope that any reader keeps in mind that these are just "food for thought," as they say, stimulus for discussion, if you will. Views should not be seen as strong opinions that I hold unless I make it clear, in the presenting of those views, the these particular opinions are strongly held.

Again, thanks for writing!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight years of service to people
    with no reason to believe

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