Why Spend Energy
On Religion If It's
So Unimportant?

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: [unsigned]
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 26, 2002 6:59 PM

I hardly ever think about atheism, either. Atheism is nothing, absolutely nothing. I am entirely indifferent to religion, too, unless it is practiced in a manner that is intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous.

However, for no small fraction of my life I was utterly fascinated by religion, mythology, the occult, the paranormal, and similar malarkey. All the while I thought the whole business to be just so much rot.

Then, at one point, I became religious in what students of it would call a "sudden conversion experience." After I snapped out of it (just as suddenly), it still took me a full five years to "come down from" what I had done to myself through self-indoctrination in my zeal to become accepted by the others in the sect. Later, I was forced (against my will) to participate in religion. This was a harrowing experience, indeed, such that I'm certain that I remain oblivious to the full impact that it had on me; unlike the first experience, where I joined voluntarily, figured it out entirely on my own, and left just as voluntarily (and at no small cost, emotionally) I can assure you that I still have yet to recover from this experience of enforced religious indoctrination.

I have presented a limited amount of my research on religion, material I acquired when I was in that precarious state of not knowing which end is up and not sure who's lying to you. Some of the most skilled brainwashers that have ever lived are religious evangelists. I don't blame anybody for being confused and wanting to see what another has done. For this reason, I set aside some time and made some of what I know available to those who might find it useful.

From what I hear, I certainly made the right decision, because I get a letter like yours from theists about once every six months or so, and I think this is a natch fortheists to ask. I'll also mention, without speculating as to why, that you are only the second atheist who has ever asked this of us (if I understand you to be an atheist -- if not, your question, as framed, makes no sense to me, and I apologize for addressing it as if it does). However, I get six to ten letters a day that either mention somewhere that they were helped by this material or that have only one thing to say: "Thanks for posting this material!"

But you're right: Atheism is nothing! Atheism is nothing because to an atheist, religion is nothing (in theory, anyway -- but see below).

Unfortunately, you and I know this, but the vast majority of busybody Evangelical Christians (and a growing number of busybody Muslims, lately) do not understand that atheism is nothing. They get confused because all they know is from their experience as a theist. We all know that theism is something that adherents usually become quite involved in. We also routinely see and hear of people for whom theism has become an all-encompassing obsession.

Their religion means a lot to them, so they assume that our atheism means, to us, as much as their religion means to them!

You would not bee-leeve how long and how much it took for me to cull that previous sentence out from my experience and put it into English that others might find useful. I'll say it again, and set it off to be sure I make my point, because I think this might end up being a key to at least understanding the bigotry we endure:

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Their religion means a lot to them, so they assume that our atheism means, to us, as much as their religion means to them!

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There's got to be a reason why atheists are so widely and viciously despised in America (and a few places elsewhere). There's got to be an explanation for why, in America, it is entirely legitimate to degrade, discriminate against, and threaten atheists in this widely represented atmosphere of advanced antibigotry sentiments. Even political leaders: the Mayor of Miami a few years ago, when Cuban child-refugee Elian was captured, vilified the INS agents as "atheists," further snarling, "They don't believe in God!" Nobody said a word!

I started this work less than a month shy of 14 years ago, after serving 24 days of a 30-day "hold" that a judge placed upon me, solely for refusing, on religious grounds, to submit to a court order to undergo religious instruction in a faith-based rehabilitation program. (In three days, on August 29, 2002, it will have been 14 years since I was released from that hold.)

Almost all of this work has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with atheism (on my part) -- with a single exception: All of this work is the result of what happens or what is likely to happen when I say, "I am an atheist." Everything I do here, from arguing with fundamentalists to writing abstract poetry is tied up into a single goal: I want to get to the bottom of something that has impaired my quality of life since I was a child.

Part of this is to study bigotry. The most effective way I know of to study bigotry is to invite it upon yourself. I got that from former gay dignity activist Luke Sissyfag and as far as I can tell, he's right. I think I have come up with a few things which, if popularized and instituted (informally) on a wider basis will, I think, either give lots of us better tools with which to cope with it and address it or give us better tools with which to rout it.

One of those elements is directly related to the personal study of our heritage as atheists. This is as close as I get to paying direct attention to atheism itself. I have made such a study and continue to dabble in it now and then (but the nuts and bolts of keeping this thing intact doesn't leave me much time for that any more: it's all subordinate clauses and HTML code and keeping the feet elevated any more). However, some of the work I have done has been quite enjoyable, useful, profound, and enlightening, so I have transcribed the reading material and posted it. If not that, I'll excerpt the representative thoughts and post them in the Big List of Quotes (with which I hope, eventually, to supplement retirement income: all is not in vain).

But I am hopeful that if a significant number of us can develop even a cursory grasp of our heritage as atheists, this will work to reduce the stigma that is from seemingly everywhere.

This may not accomplish anything but something else we stumble upon might work wonders. I have admitted from the very start that this whole thing is an experiment. As the guy on the broadcasting school ad used to say, "You never know what you can do until you try!"

Meanwhile, I would hope that you, as someone who recognizes the abject nothingness that atheism itself is, would at minimum appreciate my work toward popularizing that viewpoint (even if it is just the byproduct of a different project). I am hoping to see an eventual reduction on the type of atheist who froths gratuitously against any and all expression of religion. This cannot be doing any of us any good. I also hope that those who do think about their atheism, even if just a little, who can discuss it and who would go so far as to even call themselves atheists would consider what Gora says about morality, particularly about the role truthfulness plays in the life of someone who by their very existence calls theism falsehood.

This is not much, but neither is it comprehensive. I don't have much because in doing this particular work, I have no precedent to which I can look or consult. So I've got to experiment if I am to do anything at all. However, in keeping with my unintrusive outlook, I am coming up with ideas that fall on the shoulder of the atheist: I am, thus far, not involving the theist in any way except that some of them disregard what I say about this having atheists as her target audience and want to argue with me anyway.

And in any event, even if I fail to come up with anything here, I will not have failed myself.

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

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.