Hankering For Patience
To Educate These
Brainwashed Psychos!
Frank G. Hammond III

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Frank G. Hammond III"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: April 30, 2002 7:16 AM

I have several advantages, one of which is that I now get to do this stuff "on paper," so to speak, and don't have to depend upon my wits and the ability to "think on my feet" (which impediment spared me from a lifetime of hosting radio phone-in talk shows). I can also spend (if need be) an hour (if I want) looking up a single piece of information (if that's what it takes). This is something one cannot do when discussing such matters in person.

My greatest "advantage" (if you'd even call it that: I enclosed it within quotation marks on purpose) is that I don't give a rat what others believe about religion. That is entirely their business. I don't care if they believe or what they believe as long as they keep it to themselves. The worst that could happen, in that case, is that they try to convince me to join the "fun." Then it (technically) becomes my business in that (technically) I owe them a response (Hee, hee, hee!), this being good etiquette and all that.

So if I can justify a good "sparring match" as a form of politesse, a way of being polite, then I'll feel no qualms about "letting them have it," so to speak, once the match gets underway and I've usually wiggled out of most of my restraints. Any more, though, I prefer to wait until what someone said or did actually hurt, actually offended, actually crossed what I see as a line of some sort, in my necessarily fictitious guide to the etiquette of dealing with atheists. (It's fictitious because who would bother addressing how to treat an atheist in a real etiquette guide? So I gotta write my own! It's just a tad sticky holding others to it, though, particularly when nobody has read the thing -- including me!)

Our newly revised "Guidelines for Submission" was fine, as far as I was concerned, but a certain breed of readers found too many "workarounds" in it), makes a few points in this respect:

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We have very little to say to what H. L. Mencken might have called "on-duty theists" and are not interested in debating the "god question." If you've already made up your mind, good for you! If you wish talk about your personal religious convictions, our response will be along the lines of, "Thank you for sharing that with us!"

 

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This basically reflects my own approach to dealing with theists, dating back to the 1970s (a long time ago, for me, to be sure!). I can remember when I'd love to go to this tiny park right smack in the middle of Downtown San Diego called Horton Plaza (which I hear is a huge shopping center today). This tiny park had a small path about, two meters long, worn into the lawn in the north-east corner, leaving a lone, triangular patch of live grass right at the corner. The path, of course, was where the preachers would pace back and forth as they barked out their menacing descriptions of the Christian Hell and their long, long lists of the social classes who would be sent there when all is said and done (as if having to abandon sentient existence, which is the one thing truly worth desiring, were not traumatic enough!).

At the time I knew very little about religion or atheism! I did know, though, that these blokes had their heads firmly lodged in that place which, if something were to crawl up inside and die, would, to a man, smell very much like these guys' dispositions. I've heard a lot of street preachers in my day but the Horton Plaza preachers were truly the worst, as street preachers go, particularly this one greasy fellow who wore this leather sport jacket every day of the year. (In fact, the color must be Tom Waits's mystery color: "monkey-shit brown"!) This guy was pure beaming hatred. I openly speculated it was because he knew he was gay. But somewhere along the line, he'd bought the Christian line, and henceforth could no longer be himself. For this reason, he subconsciously took it out on the very religion that did this to him, representing it before the public in the foulest of ways, as a very effective form of retaliation! That was my hypothesis, anyway.

Back then, cheap thrills, for me, was to go down on a day when Jim Carroll's infamous line, "the word on this property was no exaggeration" rang true; that is, when I really wasn't up to anything more challenging and just couldn't stomach another movie. On days like that, I'd go down to Horton Plaza and just heckle the shit out of these pathetic freaks. It's not like I was going out of my way or anything, as I lived right in the neighborhood. Perhaps heckling them was my retaliation for having to live there -- as if where you live is not a choice.

I finally met one who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, both in talent as a preacher and in his personality: Carlton Baltimore. This was also literally true, as Carlton must have stood at least six-foot-nine! Something had happened to his vocal cords, so he'd gravel like Muddy Waters or Mojo Nixon, but you could hear him for blocks and he had a couple dozen vastly different sounds he could produce with this effect. In fact, I had been listening to him one afternoon during a particularly "low" period of my life, and became converted and remained that way for almost three years. I was not converted by his sermonizing; rather, I spent the remainder of the evening in the company of a lovely young black gentleman from Los Angeles and we took in an Evangelical film (some end-times bit circa 1978 that kept showing this Israeli license plate with the number 666 on it) and ate some moderately-paced food (as opposed to fast food). He didn't know Carlton, but had simply been enjoying the show (and what a show this guy could put on, acting out the various characters of the Noah's Ark story in "adult-serious" versions of the childhood Bible favorites!). I promised him I'd read the well-thumbed leather-bound King James he gave me and attend this megachurch he told me about.

I later linked up with Carlton and let him stay at my place for a few months. We'd go to the all-Black church and it was a wild experience always being the only White in the whole building. I never felt more welcomed, more unanimously wanted, to the point where the vehemence with which they urged me to feel welcome and consider myself "one of us" was matched only by how out-of-place I really felt inside!

It was Carlton who silently showed me never to heckle another street preacher -- or try to talk anybody out of his faith, for that matter, no matter how much "in error" the poor fellow might be. You see, I took a few drugs here and there, but Carlton had a problem -- a real problem! I wouldn't want to talk him out of his faith if that's what's keeping him off drugs. My reasons are much more elaborate today, but this is what got me started on letting others decided for themselves what to believe and what not to believe! This is when I started "letting people make their own mistakes," as they say.

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

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