What Factors Prompt One
To Jettison Family Tradition?
Jason Poggioli

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Jason Poggioli"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: May 15, 2002 1:18 PM

Some of the most unflatteringly unfair letters I get are from atheists.


Ah, this is a situation where it is best to back up and examine research which asks just how much of our personality is determined by genetics (biology), environment (what happens to us), and choice (what we think, do, and say), respectively. This research, I think, is what would hold any key to assessing the questions you raise -- if, of course, such a key exists.

This is a big "if," because any answer that might come your way will never be much more than a rough approximation. You'd never want to hang your hat on it, much less bet the farm. All this stuff, if there is indeed anything to it at all, is little more than a somewhat unreliable glimpse of simple trends, likelihoods, and probabilities -- as is much of the science dealing with human personality. It makes for great talk-show topics and it sells a lot of books; however, I strongly suspect that the more weight you see an individual giving to any particular claim along the lines of the so-called causes of specific personality traits, the less (you can be sure) that person deals with science on a day-to-day basis. And the more specific the claim, the more I think the above will ring true!

Another clue might be to discover the biases of the author-researcher, to see if perhaps this individual might consciously or unconsciously wish to discredit atheism. Consider that according to a recent poll conducted by an Evangelical Christian group, a full 98 percent of Evangelical Christians consider an atheist (any atheist; all atheists) to be "untrustworthy." That's it! That's their unqualified assessment of the atheist unqualified by consideration of any potential accomplishments! If you're an atheist, you're untrustworthy; we need not know anything more about you than the fact of your atheism! (Glad this problem is essentially unique to America, that the majority of the World's Christians are not Evangelicals!) The very real prospect (that is, the statistically high likelihood) that a given Evangelical Christian thinks this way about me perhaps ought to color at least some of my dealings with such people! Nevertheless, being viciously against any form of prejudice, I tend to at least try to approach everybody with a clean slate, in my personal dealings, anyway. However, you are talking about research, so you do well to see if any prejudices might exist on the part of the researcher, or even look for signs of it in the research itself!

Naturally, Positive Atheism Magazine tends to favor personal choice as probably being the greatest influence when it comes to making life's big decisions such as whether to leave the family's religious affiliation. However, this is based mostly on what many would call tradition: we are in no small way inspired by Gora and the Atheist Centre; Gora (perhaps unreasonably) strongly associated atheism with choice-making, calling it an essential component of atheism. He even goes so far as to call "surrender" a form of theism.

We do not take this as literally as Gora did, but do take to heart what he said about the importance of choice-making in the life of an active atheist (an "active atheist" being our term describing the atheist who is prominently aware of her or his atheism, as opposed to passive atheists who, like the vast majority of atheists, rarely if ever think about the subject of theism and atheism).

In this sense, of course, a response from Positive Atheism Magazine might be biased in favor of placing a greater importance on human choice-making. However, your question regards not what is the best decision, but what elements besides human will are actually influencing this decision. And the answer to this would, of course, be keyed to the answer to our first question, asking just how much of all of our choice-making is our own versus how much of it is influenced by the various outside factors. This, I suspect, might play into assessing Dr. Vitz's hypothesis concerning atheists and their relationships with their fathers. I strongly suggest, however, that the same would ring just as true if the question was to become an atheist or stick to the family tradition as it would if the question was whether to eat chocolate or butterscotch ice cream after lunch. In other words, I suspect that which question is being decided (the question's topic) plays a very small role in your question.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six-and-a-half years of service
    to people with no reason to believe

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