PAM: An Curious Time-Warp
Into The Age Of Reason
John J. Bombaro, M.Th., Ph.D.

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A theology professor stumbles onto the Front Page of the web site of (perhaps) the most vocal proponent of the view that the vast majority of atheists are simply indifferent to the subject of religion.

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "John J. Bombaro"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: November 11, 2003 2:42 PM

Okay, did we have lots of fun being obscure, today? Wheee! Isn't it grand amusement to make derogatory-sounding statements which, when given a close look, could mean just about anything -- with a single exception: the comment is clearly disparaging.

But one thing is evident: you did not venture past our Front Page. This is shown in two ways: first, you clicked the "WebMaster" link, which lives only on the Front Page; secondly, you muttered something about atheism having been replaced by -- what!? -- indifference?

Hmmm!

No, you definitely have not read anything that we have written about atheism. Not a thing! Why, you didn't even give our Front-Page Statement a careful reading!

I'll bet the only item in the entire web site that you examined from beginning to end is the word atheism on the Front Page! And chances are you think that the Roman Catholic, Christian Science, and Anglican-owned dictionaries are giving accurate, unbiased definitions for the name of this most widely despised social class in America.

Neither have you read much of what the majority of the other atheistic activists are saying. A handful still think the same way that you appear to think Russell thought; this is true. But most atheistic activists and philosophers, both now and since the Enlightenment, have described the self-identity of this class of people the same way that we do.

We welcome you to read what we have to say about our self-identity as a class (that given by the majority of those who bother to think about the subject, those thinkers being a tiny fraction of the class itself). You might learn something interesting. You might even spare yourself further embarrassment by learning how to avoid mistakes such as the ones you made today.

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

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Added: November 12, 2003
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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "John J. Bombaro"
Subject: Re: reply
Date: November 12, 2003 6:44 AM

Interesting. I mean, about the chip.

The note is not to "theists" unqualified, and it is not even to "some theists," as a few have whined. Rather, the note states that the entire† web site is for atheists, though theists stop by. Some of them have a nasty habit of writing us, trying to rip open a new cavity of some sort, and spouting off based upon their (mis)understanding of what the word atheist means. This occurrence is so utterly common that the note became necessary very early on in the game. It's been there for many years, and over the years it has grown, evolved, and morphed into what it is today.

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†Note: This paragraph had been truncated in the original. (Narcolepsy. Fell asleep at the wheel. What can I say?) During the editing process it was completed to approximate the original intention.

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Okay. So, then, what are we supposed to make of your comment about indifference? I mean, when people who do read our web site criticize the content of our work therein (as opposed to the color schemes or because we didn't include So-and-So in the Big List of Quotations), the gist of almost all of their friendly jabs is that we give that particular topic too much coverage (e.g., "I was reading some old Letters and while you were explaining that "indifference" bit for the umpteenth time, I thought of an interesting question:..."). And we wholly agree that this topic is covered to the point of overkill: every time a reader writes about the nature of atheism or says (or asks) what atheists are like in this or that respect, I mention it at least once, if I don't expound upon it at length. So, where do you get off comparing, unfavorably, what we say, against this ideal, which advances the very notion that we happen to be renowned for advocating?

Can you see why I remain skeptical as to your claim, Chip?

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: "John J. Bombaro"
Subject: Re: appreciated
Date: November 12, 2003 7:38 PM

Sentiments noted and appreciated.

One clarification is in order, though: PAM's web site is two things. First, it is our activism project, which includes our in-house opinions (essentially my opinions plus a handful of writings from a handful of others -- until the project grows).

Secondly, and this is where confusion sometimes creeps into the picture, we host space for a modest library of writings which, when we posted them, had no Internet presence.

(Since posting them, however, almost everything we've posted, converted, obtained permission for, etc., has been "mirrored" by lazy, shiftless, no-good atheistic activists who think I should be the one who stays up nights, marginalizes my health with deskwork-caused health problems, pays the money, stays home on many a Saturday night, and passes by numerous opportunities to work to bring a few extra bucks into the household. Why? So that they can have cool-looking web sites, of course! One recent discovery is "Losing My Religion," which essentially built its commercial enterprise by taking material that legally belongs exclusively to PAM [among other things that we own, created, converted, or rightfully post]. They built their web site out of my work until they had the opportunity to develop some of their own material. They still post my work and pieces that were donated to PAM, however. This, more than anything else, threatens to kill the Positive Atheism web site.)

As the library section goes, we post the material in order to make it available to our readers and others who may be interested. The material posted in our library is not written by people affiliated with us. It does not reflect our viewpoint except in the sense that we urge our fellow atheists to study our heritage as atheists. This material is, at minimum, useful for that. I admit: I like most of it. However, you are right: much of this stuff is from eras and comes out of movements that we have deemed passé. We are cutting some new paths because we want to take advantage of the overwhelmingly popular antibigotry sentiments that thrive within our cultural mind set these days.

PAM's viewpoint (as it pertains to our dialogue) essentially follows that which dominated the post-Enlightenment writings of atheists, self-proclaimed agnostics (following Huxley, of course), skeptics, and secularists. We suggest using the following formula when discussing and thinking of atheists in the generic sense (as opposed to describing any individual's "spin" on his own atheism):

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an atheist is anybody who is not a theist, that is, atheism is the simple absence or lack of a god-belief -- for whatever reason (this nonbelief is not necessarily the result of a conscious decision; an atheist does not necessarily assert that no gods exist, in fact, that is a minority viewpoint: most of us will not go so far as to make an assertion about reality; the vast majority of atheists, by this definition, are simply indifferent toward religious matters: they don't interest us)

  

 

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atheism is the default condition when it comes to religious opinion (we are all born without a god-belief; theism is an "added attraction" which comes later, through learning and, often, a decision of some sort)

  

 

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the above (that atheism is the simple lack of a god-belief) is the majority viewpoint among atheistic thinkers, writers, philosophers, and spokespersons who have bothered to ponder the subject of the self-identity of this class of people

  

 

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the above-mentioned thinkers (etc.) are, themselves, a minority among atheists (a mere pittance; a drop in the bucket), but, being the only ones among us who have bothered to examine the questions surrounding our self-identity as a class, their opinions constitute our self-identity, as it can be known in a collective sense

  

 

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the vast majority of those who are without a god-belief rarely if ever ponder the subject of religion and, thus, the subject of their own atheism; many would be offended if you were to call them "an atheist," often because they have (uncritically) accepted the Anglican, Catholic, Christian Science definition of an atheist as being one who asserts that no gods exists

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Thus, while most of the paragraphs posted in the positiveatheism.org domain might express the strong "There is no God" position, PAM herself urges the weak position, and does so because we think awareness of it can reduce bigotry.

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

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