Glad To See That You're
No Real Threat To Religion
Josh Deremer

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Public schools
Date: October 30, 2001 12:13 AM

Christian students have always had the right to bring their Bibles to school and to read their Bibles, even as an individual project of classwork.

The only thing that's prevented is for the school to force the children to recite, together, rote passages as an exercise similar to a group recitation of a rote prayer or a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Neither is a teacher allowed to present the Bible as the sole object of a presentation on religion, but the presentation must include fair treatment of other religious viewpoints; in other words, it is wrong to present the Bible as true, to the exclusion of other Scriptures such as the Koran or the Upanishads. But taken together, if they are all presented as religions (the traditional beliefs of specific groups), the Bible is fair game in school. Numerous educational and civil libertarian groups have written up standards and lists of dos and don'ts on how the law reads regarding the Bible in school.

Nobody is working to prevent Christian students from bringing their Bibles to school. If you can find me an organization that explicitly states that their goal is to make it illegal for Christian students to bring their Bibles to public school, I will set aside a prominent section of my web site to denounce that person or organization.

In turn, I would ask you to provide for us the names of individuals and groups who are telling their followers and the public that the mainstream Separationist groups and activists are trying to prevent Christians from bringing their Bibles to school. This is a bald-faced lie put out by exploitative and greedy Christian propagandists. This bold and vicious slander is then swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, by the Christian rank and file. This and many other lies about our movement have done great damage not only to everyone's quest for Religious Liberty but more so to the credibility of the Christian religion. To propagate lies such as these makes the Christian religion appear so utterly greedy!

Please, for your own sake and that of your religious tradition, help us to stop this nonsense!

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Public schools
Date: October 30, 2001 5:55 AM

Absolutely not. This country is founded on Liberty. Whatever made you come up with an idea like that?
 

And by telling other children that they had better believe in Jesus or they'll burn in hell, they're exposing other students to their religion as well.

This is the whole point of the First Amendment: The students are allowed to practice their religion as long as doing so doesn't break any laws (including the First Amendment). The only restriction is that the government and government workers may not use their position of authority to endorse or sales-pitch religion -- any religion. That's what the First Amendment means, in light of the subsequent Amendments and litigation that has followed its ratification.

So the teachers may not proselytize. The schools may not set aside a time where a student sitting in the classroom has to sit there and watch other Christians pray. Besides, only a handful of extremist Christians want the schools to pray in unison, anyway. The rest of us realize that in this day and age of fairness, post Martin Luther King, when everybody has a slice of the pie, so to speak, the day will come when their own kids will be asked to watch or recite the prayers of a religious group that is decidedly not Christian.

As the tradeoff, teachers may not forbid individual students or informal groups consisting entirely of students from praying or reading their bibles or even proselytizing. This is the same whether done in private or in groups composed entirely of willing student participants (such as at a lunchroom table). Such functions as the after-school Bible Club are in -- as long as the Chess Club may also meet and as long as the Gay and Lesbian Support Club may also meet.

There is a single exception: Only if all students are forbidden from trying to proselytize or recruit their fellow students to or from any viewpoint at all (political, etc.) are the schools on somewhat safe ground by prohibiting the free exercise of even the most despicable religious practices. If it is against school rules to advocate anything, from flag-waving patriotism and down-home Christian hospitality to selling Avon and Amway, then and only then may the school prevent a student from posting a broadsheet about the local Witches' coven or from trying to recruit his fellow students into the local Satanist grotto (for example, although Satanists don't recruit).
 

How so? We're big boys and girls. Being hustled by Christians is not our big problem, believe me! Besides, when it comes to sheer propagandizing skills, nobody beats a commercial for breakfast cereal.
 

Go away! Who do you think we are!? I want to know who has been telling you this stuff about atheists! You ought to go straighten these people out yourself for having fed you this line of drivel.
 

And what, exactly, does "a separation of church and state" mean, according to the United States Constitution? That language does not even appear in the Constitution! It says that the government "shall make no laws regarding an establishment of religion." After the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and after the Supreme Court ruled as to what that Amendment means, it means this: no government, no government agency, and no government agent may use his or her or its authority to either promote, endorse, or establish religion. (Students are not agents of the Government.) Neither may a government, government agency, or government agent prohibit the free exercise of religion; in other words, they may not detract from somebody's legal religious practices. Since it's legal to bring a Bible to school, since it's legal to read it alone or to a willing group of your fellow students, since it's legal to pray alone or in groups of willing students, therefore it is against the law for a teacher (or a fellow student) to try to stop them!

But here you come saying that atheists are trying to do just that: stop them from doing what is their Constitutionally protected right. I tell you that I have yet to meet an atheist who advocates that policy! Thus, I must again ask you to provide me with the names of people and organizations who are saying this. Since you cannot do this (because they probably don't exist), you come back and try to argue, allegedly from the perspective of an atheist, that we ought to prevent school kids from freely practicing their religion on school grounds.

Once more I ask: Please tell me the names of those who are arguing for this policy? Give me their name or their phone number or the URL to their web site.

(And I made that a separate paragraph all of its own just so you wouldn't miss it this time!)

Give me their names and I'll contact them and straighten them out. I say, "Over my dead body will anybody prevent a United States citizen from freely exercising her or his religion according to the Liberties established by our Bill of Rights!" I am about as strong and as staunch as they get when it comes to being a proponent of your right to practice whatever cockamamie religion you want and for my right to call it "cockamamie" (and even emphasize the word with italics) if that is the honest opinion of my mind.

The only exception to the "free exercise of religion" at all is if the religious ritual or practice is illegal. Religious Liberty was never intended to be a smokescreen for lawbreaking or illegal activity (though some have succeeded to do just that, making things legal for religious people that are illegal for the rest of us -- such as peyote -- although two wrongs have never made a right).

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Taxation
Date: October 30, 2001 2:27 PM

Is it fair for the rest of us to take up the slack by having to pay stiflingly high taxes and even (in some cases) lose our homes simply because churches don't have to pay taxes? Does this not give them an unfair advantage and are they not likely to eventually take over?

These were precisely the sentiments of Ulysses S. Grant when he was President.

Unlike regular businesses, churches do not have any product and so do not have to pay overhead, either -- no shelves to stock! What a venture, don't you think!? Neither are they responsible for keeping track of their money: they don't have to show their books to the government to the same extent that other businesses do. Meanwhile, some of us, who have to make up for the taxes these ultra-rich churches don't have to pay, are paying such chokingly high taxes that we're losing our homes.

In exchange for this great advantage over the rest of us, the churches forfeit but two things that taxpaying citizens and businesses may secure: (1) they may not endorse candidates or political parties during an election (this is the law that Pat Robertson violates each year with his "Voter's Guides," which always endorse only Republican candidates); (2) government offices and workers are not allowed to endorse tax exempt religious groups or bend a special ear to them (although the law against this has not stopped some government officials such as George W. Bush from doing just that).

I think all real estate ought to be taxed except that which is owned by the government itself. And if we're going to tax income, then that ought to be done fairly: all income gets taxed unless the income of a person or business is below a certain level or unless, for example, the income is from the government itself, such as Social Security payments. It's not as much about the government getting money as it is about some groups getting special privilege and others not, and thereby gaining power and privilege that they have not earned, that they have not worked for, that they have not contributed toward establishing and maintaining -- in short, that they do not deserve.

Every few months, I read a headline about the budget problems in Salem (Oregon) and how we need a sales tax or to raise these choking property taxes, and the like. Every time I see this, I just start to tremble because we are being taken to the cleaners by greedy religious groups.

But if churches became truly private, then the IRS could not stop them from endorsing candidates any more. This is why Positive Atheism has not become a tax-exempt organ (atheists qualify as a religious group and thus we get better benefits than, say, the ACLU would). If churches don't want to pay taxes, then they don't have to amass wealth -- simple as that: there's more to life than having lots of money. Paying their fair share would instantly raise the standard of living for all Americans. But this will never happen: the churches are interested in only one thing: amassing their own wealth.

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

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"A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ; who frequently attends Bible studies; who has a high level of financial giving to Christian causes; who home schools his children; who has accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second Amendment; and who distrusts big government."
-- Janet Reno

[Notice: This quip has been declared to be a phony quote by the folks at Urban Legends Reference! Kudos to Tom for alerting us of this one.]

 

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Government
Date: October 30, 2001 11:20 PM

I rarely use the words cult or cultist precisely because they are hot-button, emotionally charged words, having no precise meaning. Their only uses are folkloric; no two people can agree as to their definition (such as the word cult; another is the word alcoholism: nobody can tell me the symptoms dividing someone who has this alleged disease). All too often they are used as slanderous epithets.

Good enough!?
 

I think that those who have drawn attention to their gun collections probably have no grounds for complaining that they are being watched by ATF -- just as a noisy apartment tenant who has frequent traffic stumbling in and out of his unit at all times of the day and night shouldn't be surprised if he gets a no-cause eviction or even if the narcs storm the place one bright and early morning. To me, it's all a question of whether or not you draw attention to yourself by making a pest of yourself.

Never should one's religious beliefs be the only criteria for police action. There is a single exception that I mentioned last time: if the religious activity itself happens to be illegal, you're literally asking for a visit from the police. Activities claimed as religious that have been deemed illegal at various times and in sundry parts include human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, use of drugs, indecent exposure, infringement of the Establishment Clause (a teacher making the class pray in unison), false representation (Scientology has been busted but Christians still promise Heaven to all who join: go figure), fraud (palm readers pulling the gypsy switch), medical malpractice (faith healing), child neglect (courtroom and newspaper terminology for when your kids die because you don't believe in doctors, although who's to say whether Western medicine would not have backfired?).

In short: if the religion is a cloak for lawbreaking, they are not availing themselves of Religious Liberty (as Liberty breaks no laws, neither does it infringe the Liberties of another). Rather, they are abusing our Religious Liberty and endangering my Liberty by making it more likely that some whip-start reactionary politician will want to legislate my Liberties away for the sake of "safety," under the auspices of protecting us from those who would abuse our Liberties in the first place.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Schools
Date: October 31, 2001 1:02 PM

I never knew that sex education had stopped being optional. We always had to take a form home and have it signed before we could attend the classes. Those whose parents refused to sign the form had to go sit in the fifth-grade class while the rest of us were watching those "racy" films and talking about them "homa-seck-shules." Actually, we were learning information that saved my life, and those of countless other foolish teenagers. Having always had a taste for Catholic girls, I am very, very happy that this was no big deal with their families, and that those who did come from strict families had girlfriends who knew enough to clue them in! This was the case of the girls I knew in high school, but there were others who for whatever reasons were not so fortunate.

While none of us knew enough (or had the self-control) to "stay out of trouble" entirely (if you call having fun and growing up and learning about life "trouble"), I had been duly impressed about the dangers of disease and the risk of pregnancy. Thus, there were no "little Cliffies" crawling around by the time I got out of high school (or ever, as far as I know). Later, as a young adult, I'd bump into an old high-school acquaintance or chum, and whether or not we indulged in any activities, I kept hearing this litany of tales about adoptions and abortions and baby sitters and the like. Not all of them had the excuse of a strict religious upbringing, many were just plain stupid. ("You did what!?" "Yup! Just being stupid teenagers, I guess!") However, this situation did have ample representation.

In addition, I am still alive to tell other youngsters to be careful, having contracted neither of the two destructive diseases (herpes and HIV) -- diseases which were floating around in the 1970s but which nobody even knew existed until it was way too late for way too many of us! Just learning wise use of these safety precautions and basic disease theory saved my life and probably the lives of dozens of teenagers and young adults who listened to me warn them not to do what they were about to do.

Unfortunately, I did catch the third unknown and potentially deadly disease, Hepatitis C, but this was because somebody had stolen my stash and then replaced it after using my works, not because I ever knowingly or voluntarily shared my works with anybody -- I didn't. But no sniveling because I knew that I was playing a high-risk game and can only say to myself that I've been fortunate to have been granted 25 years of "borrowed time" despite my foolishness.

Be aware, though, that overpopulation is reaching such epidemic proportions that most advanced countries now have strict immigration laws: I probably couldn't move to The Netherlands if I wanted to. As it gets worse, America will feel the impact to the point where many will demand mandatory birth control, and you may find yourselves compromising with mandatory sex education.

The "American" way would be to allow religious groups to come up with their own approved classes if they wanted their kids to be allowed to duck out of the state-run class, but everybody's going to need to know it. We'll surely double-up the effort by making sure that many youth activities contain ways to pass this information to those kids who may have slipped through the cracks because of religion.

But by the time it comes to trying to stop mandatory birth control, the religious groups will not be squawking about sex education like they have the luxury of doing today. Time and progress and the progression of problems has a tendency of doing this to people and groups. Mark my word.
 

Cliff's Sex Education Trade-Off

I don't know what to do with the condom question, though; this is a tough one, because it's reaching a point where the Roman Catholic Church's refusal to endorse the Condom is causing massive overpopulation in some parts of the world. In other parts, HIV is destroying entire populations, and there is no way for the government to put a stop to it because of "cultural" matters (basically, certain groups' right to keep condom information from their children for religious and cultural reasons).

So the question is this: Just when do the dangers that overpopulation and disease present to the rest of us justify our going in and administering information that might go against the teaching of one specific religious group? The other question would be, How can we grant that small group the right to keep this information from their children without compromising our right (and our stated desire) to make this same more than freely available to the rest of us?

Meanwhile, here's a trade-off that we might want to think about, and I'll bet this is happening (it was happening when I was in school during the late 1960s and early 1970s): The schools are not allowed to proselytize or even distribute pamphlets urging students to join this or that religion (or to look out for these dangerous so-called religious cults -- as was the big fear in the 1970s, when L. Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon and Jim Jones were making big headlines). However, the kids themselves are allowed to distribute these pamphlets to one another.

Now, let's turn this around and suppose we have instituted a policy of voluntary sex education (including the need and use of the condom to prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease). Let's suppose that our policy allows the parents to forbid their children from receiving this information from the school itself. Still, because of the constitutional guarantee of Liberty of Speech, the schools cannot forbid the children from distributing either religious tracts or condom information to one another! So, just as a Christian child is allowed to hand a Jesus tract to my kid or even to tell my child about the wonders of joining that kid's family's religious sect, my child would be allowed to hand a Planned Parenthood pamphlet to the Christian kid and to warn her of the dangers of pregnancy and disease should she ever be fast-talked into a compromising situation or (God forbid) should she ever be forcibly raped. I see nothing unfair about such a deal: both pieces of information are freely available, but the schools are not involved. This, I think, is the American way.

I would go along with such a scenario if and only if we could be assured of one thing: up until the middle of the past century (I forget the exact date), organized religion had prevailed upon Congress to forbid the distribution of birth control information through the mails. This was eventually overturned. If and only if we could be assured that such a move would remain overturned, and if we have decided once and for all that birth control information is not illegal in any way (except that the schools may not distribute it to minors if the parents have specifically requested that it not be distributed to their kids), then I would go along with a scenario where the parents are informed that they have the right to forbid such information be distributed to their kids.

I put this stipulation down only because of Christian activists' history of wanting the whole pie for themselves; that is, they have tended not only to want to prevent their own children from having things that the rest of us want for our kids, but have usually tried to prevent us from being allowed to give these same things to our children! (We cannot legally teach our kids to drink wine responsibly at the dinner table like they do in Europe, the most effective preventive against alcohol abuse later on, all because of that Women's Christian Temperance Union!) For this reason (and this reason alone), I would opt for giving all kids sex-ed information over not giving any kids sex-ed information if these were our two choices. However, I think the third choice that I have described is vastly superior to either of these two choices.

I say this for the case of sex-ed only, simply because the lack of sex-ed information has shown itself to be a danger to society: we are foolish to ban it; however, I think the Christian families ought to have the right to keep it from their children.

In addition, I would not go along with the idea that the schools may not distribute this information without prior approval from the parents, simply because the health risks to the community from ignorance of the condom have reached grave proportions. Because of the health risks to the community, I would insist that the default situation be to allow the distribution of the information except when the parents object: the schools, in this case, would be allowed to distribute the information only as long as each parent had been sent a separate, specific notice informing them of their right to forbid the schools from giving this information to their child.

In other cases it would be different: without such notice, I would say that the schools should not have the right to distribute certain information without specific consent from the parents. But the graveness of this one situation involving birth control and the spread of sexually transmitted disease, I think, justifies that we make distributing the information the default practice, except when the parents object. This would have the one advantage of preventing the information from being placed indiscriminately on the pamphlet table of a health office or posted on a poster on the wall. Instead, the nurse, practitioner, instructor or counselor would need to look up the child's chart and make sure that no notice had been returned forbidding the school from giving this information to that child.

Done carefully, I think we can make everybody but the greediest of religious nuts happy about what's going on in the public schools. All of the problems, I think, come when one group gets greedy and seeks to inflict its unique viewpoint as policy that the rest of us must live under. I think this plan of mine is fair and I think this would adequately address the Religious Liberties of religious parents who are concerned that condom information and availability somehow endorses lasciviousness. It doesn't, according to all the studies I've examined. The only ones to disagree are those with a long history of making verifiably false statements (such as Pat Robertson). Nevertheless, the concept of Liberty grants these parents the right to be misinformed in this matter, and Liberty therefore grants them the right to act on their misunderstanding.

(Sorry I've said this so many different ways, but I don't want to be taken wrong on any of this. I realize that some of my ideological opponents will misquote me anyway, and will do so just to try to convince others that my opinion is one of falsehood and theirs is one of truthfulness, but at least I have tried to make myself clear. )
 

Paying Your Own Way in Some Matters

There's something to be said for the presence of such organizations as Planned Parenthood. I would hope that Planned Parenthood and similar organizations could afford to have offices (or be given offices) at various locations throughout the district, to be able to disseminate such information to whomever would like to receive it. I can remember hitchhiking to the clinic at the beach with my girlfriend. We had been together for quite a while and had become comfortable with one another. We felt we knew what we were doing and wanted to "go all the way" with the minimum of risk to ourselves and our families and our future. The workers were kind and gave us a world of information with which to make our choices. Knowing that we wanted only each other and that disease from multiple partners was not a risk, we both got tested and then opted for birth control pills. A lot of the information we got came from that book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, which is still available, obviously in a much-needed revision from what we knew in 1975.

Such information, of course, would likewise be available in the school library -- not posted conspicuously on the wall, to be sure, but catalogued and put away wherever one would expect to find such information under the Dewey Decimal System. I do not consider something being available at a school library to be the same as the school distributing or making the information available. (In fact, I think school libraries ought to be under the jurisdiction of the Library System, not the School District!)

Of course, I see no problem with allowing a school library to carry the controversial "Left Behind" series or the Bible or the Koran or even proselytizing material from the so-called religious cults. That, I think, would not constitute the school endorsing religion unless, of course, the library allowed only materials agreeable to a single sect or denomination or major religion or even trend (such as Evangelicalism). Some school libraries have been known to do just that, and this is very wrong.

With this, the library (like our public library) would have information giving arguments in favor of condom use and, in the interest of fairness (as all libraries ideally do), would also provide material which argues against the use of the condom (information put out by Christian abstinence programs, etc.). The library, in my opinion, merely stores and makes the information available, thereby trusting the student to discern which information she or he will believe or agree with.
 

The Responsibility of Paying for Your Own Liberty

Liberty, as I mentioned earlier, has never been divorced from the concept of personal responsibility. We are granted Liberty as a right, but never has it been handed to us on a silver platter: we've always had to go out and insist on our own Liberty and have, at times, had to pay our own way. Liberty of Speech allows me to pay a printer to publish a pamphlet and to pay a newsboy to sell it on the street corner. Liberty of Speech has never promised to pay the printing or distribution costs. Neither does Liberty of Speech get me a copy of the paper just because I cannot afford to buy one. If you want it, you've got to pay for it; we (the government) are not going to just give it to you.

Similarly, I firmly believe that the best policy is to make abortion legal and freely available during the first trimester. However, I agree that it is offensive to the Religious Liberties of Roman Catholics and others for the government to pay for such abortions. I am willing, instead, to allow such groups as Planned Parenthood to establish funds through private and corporate donations. Such funds would then cover the cost of abortions for those who cannot afford them. This way, the government does not have to deal with this burden. Surely we can afford this (we always have in the past), and hopefully the Roman Catholics and others would honor that and back off from trying to ban abortion entirely. I think this would be a fair trade.

Unfortunately, this is not how most Christian antichoice activists have acted, historically, in the real world. Having shown themselves time and time again to be an abjectly greedy bunch, the Christian antiabortion activists have never failed to demand having the entire pie all to themselves; never have they suggested making the situation such that we all can live in peace. It's gotta be "My way or the highway!" as they say!

Thus, as long as they continue the push for banning abortion (that is, as long as there exists the risk that abortion may again become illegal), then I will continue to endorse allowing the government to pay for it. However, we do not live in a "perfect world" and they will never stop trying to ban it. But if we did live in such a world, I would prefer the scenario I have here described: allow abortion as a legal medical procedure, but anybody who wants an abortion must pay the bill. This would, at minimum, keep the true cost of the procedure up in the forefront of any conversation.
 

This is how I think about Liberty in many situations: Unfortunately, certain things that Evangelical Christians want to ban are the same things they are expected to pay for through their tax dollar! In addition, we force them to sit silently as we inflict these things on their children, to the chagrin of the Christian parents! I not only see the plight of the Christian parent but see this as a dangerous situation that simply invites social activism on their part! We can avoid all of these problems with just a little foresight. Thus I don't see why we cannot at least make it so that certain controversial matters revert back into the hands of the parents: keep the Christians from being expected to pay for it through their taxes, thereby keeping the Christians from reacting and possibly (probably) overreacting by banning it altogether! (Way too much legislation is this type of black-and-white, all-or-nothing bickering.) I would expect the Christians to back off and allow us to have these things for ourselves and our children -- as long as we are willing to foot the bill. In short, I'd be glad to pay for some of these things as long as you support my right to even have them at all).

But like I said, many Christian moralists have made it clear that they unashamedly want the whole pie for themselves. Thus, for this reason (and this reason alone) I will continue to work that much harder to thwart their every scheme.

Were they a reasonable lot, though, I think most of us would be more than happy to meet their real needs -- those needs having mainly to do with the autonomy of their own families. I'm okay with letting them ban it from their own kids. But please don't try to ban it from mine and other similar-minded families. Unlike how many of you act, and how many of you represent us as acting, we civil libertarian types are a very reasonable bunch. After all, it's liberty that we want. But sometimes what we have to do looks (and is) a tad ridiculous because that's all we have left after you have placed such strict restrictions and made such ominous threats to our personal liberties.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Josh Deremer"
Subject: Re: Schools
Date: November 01, 2001 1:53 AM

You seem to be like the "majority of Christians" that I discuss below (as opposed to the "majority of Christian moralists" that I discussed in my previous letters as well as the "majority of Christian activists" that I also discussed in my previous letters).

I, likewise, am "pro life" in that I think abortion is a great evil. The problem is that the alternative, banning abortion, is an even worse evil (though not by much). Thus, I reluctantly side with making the procedure available.

I think the homosexuality issue could be solved if both sides were told. Science seems to be telling us that homosexuality is "hard wired" and is not the choice that some make it out to be. Most of the kids I grew up with ended up becoming homosexual as adults. Once more: about eighty percent of those whom I counted as close friends, from about fifth grade through the twelfth grade, became homosexuals. They found out real early what the truth was and fortunately were able to accept themselves -- that is, we weren't kept in the dark to the point where any of the kids I knew committed suicide over their discovery.

However, many kids who find out they're homosexual do commit suicide simply because the only story they ever hear is the "it's a choice and it's morally wrong" line. They hear it's a choice, they try to change, they find out that it's no easier for them to become attracted to women than it is for me to become attracted to men. But they don't have all the facts. As a result, they end up lapsing into deep despair and killing themselves at a time of life when kids are already vulnerable to ferocious emotional upheavals.

Nevertheless, one of the main points of this web site and magazine, as an activistic organ, is to seek out Christians such as yourself in the hopes that we can actually come together and realize that we have much more in common than we have differences. Just think of the statement on abortion or homosexual education that you and I could come up with that would be much more effective than either a purely Christian group or a purely atheistic group could ever develop! That's what I want, more than anything else, is to see what we can do once we see that we have more in common than we have differences.

In the meantime, as we agree to avoid the "God-question" during the course of our work together, perhaps you will see in me that most atheists don't even care about the "God-question"! And perhaps I will see in you that most Christians don't really agree with the "party-line" opinion about "those atheists" that tends to come from the pulpit because that's what we expect to hear from the pulpit!
 

Here are a few final notes, the most important being the one comparing the "vocal few" Christians with the "vast majority" of Christians. This is precisely my regular line of talk (of "rhetoric," if you will -- to call it something, though it's not really "rhetoric" in the strict sense of the word).

I wax a little prosaic on this first story only because that's the way it was presented to me, but the essential story line is what happened. I'm sorry I don't have that story posted in my vast collection of stories, because at the time I our group was dividing coverage of certain stories between my newsletter and the television program. I just didn't want to step on any toes.
 

Would that you could see that most of us are like this. A few essentially powerless individuals may be as hard core as you think most of us are, but the bulk of the Separationists are very much like me. Hardly anybody wants to eventouch private religious expression, and the bulk of us only pay attention to the real extremists on your side.

In addition, I and a few other moderately influential activists are working very hard to try to change the minds and outlooks of some of the other activists, to become a little more realistic.

Like I said, only a few of the activists on our side are what either of us would call unreasonable. (Opponents? Yes! Unreasonable? No!) I'd bet that you represent the majority on your side as well: opponents but not unreasonable (meaning willing to at least talk, willing to at least try to find solutions to meet both sets of needs).

Remember, the very strict sense of morality practiced by active atheists (atheists aware that they are atheists) doesn't just come out of a vacuum. Rather, our morality presupposes that this world is all we've got and all we will ever get.

We start off with the premise that we will experiences no improvements in our condition or situation unless we get busy and do it ourselves. Since we've all got to get along, theist and atheist alike, and since the "God-question" is relatively unimportant (to us, though we do recognize that many theists think otherwise), we therefore try to be fair in all situations. We do this not simply because we've got to get along but because it's the right thing to do: we may not be able to explain to you why it's right, but we do almost universally agree that it is right. We really don't feel good about demanding what's coming to us unless we're willing to grant the same even to those with whom we vehemently disagree, even to those who would dismantle our rights given less than half a chance.

Yeah, many of us are getting real tired of the dishonest and patently greedy Christian activists that we keep hearing from. Many of us get a little more than edgy over that. But then, so do a lot of Christians, to tell you the truth. When I was a Christian, I was extremely embarrassed that Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, then at the very peak of their popularity as the Moral Majority, were "on our side." I had a real problem that my God required me to think of them as my "brethren." I still hear more complaints about Falwell and Robertson from Christians than I do from atheists, simply because I know more Christians in my personal life than anybody else.

I can see how Christians have more to lose because of a loose canon like Falwell. We atheists weren't always very happy with Madalyn Murray O'Hair, but for several decades, she was all we had -- she was only one of two people on the planet willing to endure the brutality that would routinely come the way of an atheistic activist during those decades of turbulence. The other was my mentor (so to speak), Gora, from India, and I am proud to have recognized in him what I did and to have sought to be one of his philosophical and ideological successors. I never knew Gora personally, but know his son and have typed most of his books into online versions (you cannot scan this stuff, it's printed so poorly).
 

I do not want to "tax churches to the ground."

We all pay our fair share of taxes and most of us get by okay. Our business get along okay as well -- and so can the churches if we do it right. If the churches would get in there and help work out a fair and equitable system rather than opposing the idea altogether, they'd stand a good chance of getting the upper hand still, and getting away with paying only a token fee that would serve to keep folks like me quiet. It would add up, to be sure, and the churches would also see it in their best interest to pay attention to how public money is spent! We're talking about asking religious groups to join the human race.

If a congregation is not taking in enough money to do more than pay the bills, or if all the excess is being spent on real, documentable charity work, then they won't have to pay much if anything under any conceivable system. But Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn and many others are worth millions each. They hide the treasuries of real businesses under the guise of religion and charity, they thwart the intent of the law, and they put themselves at great advantage in their business affairs. As a result, we all pay for their monetary greed. Ditto for several of the big-business churches that don't have anything going other than the political grab game. A special ditto for the virtual churches of the televangelists: they stand only to profit, having little or no overhead other than to buy television time which, I hear, is a pretty lucrative investment if you do it right!

I grew up with a kid whose father did this in France. The father was an Existentialist à la Jean Paul Sartre, but he'd write all this smarmy religious mumbo-jumbo and laugh about how phony it was. Then he'd publish it and broadcast it in France. He did quite well for himself. I have long known how lucrative this "business" called religion is!
 

Your church wouldn't pay much, if anything.

Meanwhile, with the tax dollars that you, your business, and your fellow-congregants will save, there will probably be a surplus, considering that Robertson and the megachurches would pay the bulk of the taxes, while yours, which is not taking in any more than its expenses, would pay at the same rate that any business does that doesn't take in any more than the overhead.

So you would stand to gain from both ends: first, the overall tax burden would not be as high as you think it is right now; secondly, the savings trickled back to the congregants would free up that much more within the congregation. If you're depending too greatly upon outside funds to survive instead of the group pulling its own based upon the real income of the group as a whole, then taxation is not your problem: you have a much more serious situation going on.

As Ben Franklin said,

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When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
    -- letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

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The tax exemption was fiercely opposed by Ulysses S. Grant. He was deathly afraid of the consequences, to the point where his opposition seems almost comedic today, being somewhat of an exaggeration! But if you think about it and look at all these religious health-care mergers happening lately, the fears of President Grant are not greatly exaggerated at all:

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In 1850, I believe, the church property in the United States, which paid no tax, amounted to $87 million. In 1900, without a check, it is safe to say, this property will reach a sum exceeding $3 billion. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally.
    -- from Rufus K. Noyes, Views of Religion

I would like to call your attention to ... an evil that, if allowed to continue, will probably lead to great trouble.... It is the accumulation of vast amounts of untaxed church property.
    -- (source unknown)

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President Grant did say something that I think we all can agree on, though, considering that he didn't want the schools to propagate religious or "atheistical" dogmas (back then, to an American, atheistic would have meant asserting that no gods exist and possibly being antireligious):

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Encourage free schools and resolve that not one dollar appropriated for their support shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian schools. Resolve that neither the state nor nation, nor both combined, shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land of opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical dogmas. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.
    -- address to the Army of the Tennessee, Des Moines, Iowa, September 25, 1875, from Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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In reference to most Christians, you're right: only a handful of Christians are the way I described these activists.

But these activists are the ones we almost always hear from. These activists are the ones we have to deal with when protecting our own Religious Liberties. The Christian activists who seek to take away our Religious Liberties are best characterized as "greedy" and "wanting the whole pie for themselves" and the Christians who work so hard at taking away our Religious Liberties almost universally come off the way I have described them.

I'm sorry I got carried away to the point where I failed to stop and make myself clear: I am very upset over this "God Bless America" thing, the latest attempt to inject religion into government life, thereby relegating myself and my colleagues into the category of "second-class" citizens. I feel utterly betrayed by my President, my Legislature, and my fellow countrymen over this, and cannot shake the strong suspicion that they are deliberately exploiting a tragedy for the purpose of carrying out the agenda which Bush clearly stated in his campaign: the unraveling of the Constitutional protections against government entanglement with religion.

"God Bless America" was transformed from a noble, uplifting ditty to the marching orders of a movement that's very dangerous to our country's heritage, to say nothing about our own freedom. Now they're using this to try to get all manner of religion placed into the public schools (as long as the religion resembles Christianity, of course!).

When they go to such filthy extremes as exploiting a national tragedy to accomplish a political move designed to install a ceremony into the classroom routine, don't think that it's going to be easy for a kid to simply step outside during the ceremony for which they went to this much trouble! It'll never happen! And standing there, watching the others is not going to be "optional" enough for any kid! Optional, to me, would mean, those who wish to participate in the ceremony show up in the auditorium or wherever at 9:00. This way, the nonparticipants don't have to feel left out and don't have to stand quietly in the hall (unsupervised, of course). When the ceremony ends, at 9:08, we have seven minutes for the children to come to class so that class time begins at 9:15. Anything less, to me, would not be as "optional" as they're saying this would be. Not when you're a kid who decided he doesn't do this! Been there! Done that!

But let's say that we adopted my 9:00 to 9:15 plan. Would that be good enough for some? No. They'll want more. Mark my word, they'll want more! They already want more: they're just settling for this right now! How do I know this? It's not like this is some big secret, or anything. One of the more popular arguments I've heard for why Christians should support moves like this is because this will be one more way for kids who don't live in Christian families to be exposed to God, the Bible, Jesus, and the works.

Whoops!

But who gets to break the law?

Here's their argument: The legislators did this, and even though what they did was wrong, technically against the law and certainly an abject moral breach, they cannot get busted. Neither can you bust George Bush for doing what he does. The Supreme Court has ruled to have a case (be a plaintiff) against a politician or a government or government official, you must prove "proper standing." This is how a court determines if there is any damage in a case like this where there are no statutes with set sentencing guidelines and the like. And it doesn't matter how much damage was done or how badly someone gets offended by the religiosity of, say, George Bush, nothing would matter. Why? No standing. If the only damage is the fact that it's unconstitutional, there's no damage, says the Supreme Court.

So the school prayer mongers argue that "since it's okay for Bush and the legislators to do it, the kids can do it, too!" But it's not okay, we just can't bust them! They're saying that since these legislators (who cannot get busted even though they broke the law) did this, and because George Bush, who can't get busted, did this, therefore the kids should do it, too. Never mind that the President and the legislators are held to different standards in Constitutional law than are the schools.

But you act as if I'm talking about all Christians when I'm not even talking about most Christians or even all that many Christians! No! I am talking about a very vocal, very busy minority who is doing a lot of damage and making life miserable for countless people -- and they're doing it all in the name of Christ and under the guise of Christian morality. They're claiming that Christians are being persecuted right here in America because we won't let them have the entire pie! Hey! It's not ours to give to them any more than it's theirs to take for themselves!

These Christiands are not all that common. I've only ever known, personally, one family who respects Pat Robertson or D. James Kennedy or Jerry Falwell or any of these guys. There's a big difference between the educated Conservative reading the Wall Street Journal or the Economist and the Reactionary Religious Right, marching in goose-step with Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, Paul Ott, or the Reverends LaHaye, Falwell, or Robertson!

I've met a few Christians like this during the course of my activism, but I've never known one as a friend or even as a neighbor. I didn't know any when I was a Christian during the late 1970s and early 1980s; in fact, I didn't even know anybody who would have hung around with someone like that or gone to a church that preached that kind of stuff! Most Christians -- almost all of them -- are not like this.

But in reference to the ones that come to our attention -- the only ones who come to our attention, actually -- the tiny handful who are causing all the problems that keep us from doing any real work to better our own social class -- this assessment is right on the money. These Christians, the ones we encounter in the course of our work -- the ones who are the very reason why several of us have set aside our careers for a half-dozen years or more in order to try to keep a lid on their activities -- they weren't satisfied with putting "In God We Trust" on our money thirty-seven years ago. Even that shouldn't have happened, but it did! And since it did, these people must have more. More. More.

Most Christians -- almost all of them -- are decent people.

Such Christians would just as soon live in a country where people are allowed to be atheists and Muslims and Roman Catholics and Mormons than live where anybody is banned from any of these things.

Here's one example of wanting the whole pie: this group in Utah wanted a Bible Club as an after-school club at the school, so they let 'em have it. There were a few questions about state-church issues, but those laws are pretty clear: if the schools have any clubs, they can't ban the Bible club. This issue is much more well-known and firmly decided than it was, say, thirty years ago (or even ten years ago).

Later, after they got the Bible Club going, the same group of parents wanted to ban the Gay and Lesbian Support Club even though the members of the Gay and Lesbian Club had rallied in support for the Bible Club! They did this because it's the right thing to do, not because they cared about a Bible club. What ended up happening was that the religious group had such conniption fits over the existence of the gay and lesbian club that when it became clear that the authorities wouldn't bow to their pressure to get rid of it, the religious group moved to ban all clubs, including the Bible club.

And that's just what the authorities did, they banned all student clubs, simply because this religious group obviously wasn't going to shut up about it, and the School District had other work that needed to get done, so they finally decided that banning all clubs was the only way they could get back to work. It was the only thing that would satisfy the religious group and keep them quiet and stop them from disrupting meetings. Even the District ended up treating this group as if they were just a bunch of pests.

This is basically the story as I read about it in the daily paper. This little group shot themselves in the foot, not over what they wanted for themselves but over what somebody else was doing, that had nothing to do with them!

My favorite example (and you'll see dozens of these on my web page, both as letters and as news items) is the "Christian Nation" revisionist who is old enough to remember Congress putting "In God We Trust" on our money and inserting "under God" into our Pledge of Allegiance. Then they'll point to these two -- breaches, actually -- and use them to set a precedent for even more breaches! as if we had any business going that far in the first place! Many even go so far as to claim that "In God We Trust" on our money and "under God" in our Pledge "proves" that this has always been a Christian nation! You wouldn't believe how many people I meet on the street who think "In God We Trust" has been on the money since the beginning! Why do they think this way? Because the "Christian Nation" revisionists (who know the truth, by the way) deliberately spread the falsehood that it's been around the whole time.

This is not the majority but just a handful that are doing this, though probably the majority of Christians now believe this one lie!

These and many examples of how many (but not all) Christian activists work all point in the same direction: greediness, selfishness, unfairness -- all the things you try to teach your Kindergartner not to be!

However, I of all atheistic activists, go much further out of my way than I probably ought pointing out that Most Christians are mind-your-own-business types who are not trying to change the legislation to give Christians or organized religion the advantage. They are decent, honest, upstanding, fair, honest, hard-working people who might even put themselves at a disadvantage for a while if they knew that's what it would take to bring a better life to the atheist community or the gay and lesbian communities who are currently getting slapped around pretty viciously by some of our fellow humans.

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

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