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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Cyrix"
Subject: Re: Just wanted to say ...
Date: May 13, 2002 11:03 AM

Thanks!

We suspect that bringing about an easy-to-grasp definition for atheist and popularizing it among the general public might do us a world of good when it comes to reducing the stigma that is everywhere leveled against us. Another important tool in that respect, that also has numerous possibilities just in the lives of atheists is to help encourage atheists to study their heritage as atheists, that is, to follow those trends in thinking and science that led to modern atheism: this will help the atheist as well as help reduce the stigma.

One way in which we seem to differ from other organs and entities alleging to speak on behalf of "the atheist" is that we don't pretend to speak for "the average atheist" or anything along those lines. Why? Because atheism being simply the absence of a god-belief is a very small component in any atheists overall outlook, which tends to be very comprehensive. Most atheists, we've found, relegate the entire question to a very unimportant status: we just don't give a rat about religion, and thus the fact that we're atheists is way down on the list of important things we might say about ourselves. Only a handful of atheists, mostly the activists, have much to say at all about their atheism, and many if not most of them think the rest of the atheists are just like them except that they're afraid to come out of the closet.

It is very hard to identify a group by name, define that group by saying that each member of the group shares a specific trait with the others, and then even conceive that most of them could be almost wholly unaware that they even have that trait except in the vaguest of terms!

What has happened is that atheism should not even exist as a concrete concept. For there to exist a word that means "not religious" and for there to exist a word that means "not infected with Hepatitis C" ought to be equally absurd!

This is not the case, though; religion is so all-important to so many people that they have invented a word to identify those who are not religious. Likewise, sight is so important to so many people, and to be without it such a harrowing thought, that we have the term "blind" to identify those who do not see.

While a blind person might agree to the importance of there being a word to distinguish between himself and the sighted majority, this does not seem to be the case with atheism: atheists, for the most part, not only want to be left alone about both religion and any distinction between them and religionists, most atheists don't even like the word atheist! That this is not entirely due to "the dreaded 'A'-word" is shown by the tendency on the part of atheists to shun more socially accepted synonyms for atheist.

I'm not sure I understand why this is, this is just my observation.

One possibility brings up the fact that atheism is the default condition when it comes to religious belief. Even theists admit this when they talk about "the natural man" who, as they say, has yet to be "enlightened" by the religious experience or dogma. People seem to accept terms and distinctions that show how they differ from the norm or from the default or from the majority. Do folks go around identifying themselves as "sighted" (meaning "not blind")? We don't do this: "sighted" is the default and "blind" is an impairment. Even the most extremist of homosexuals, those who consider it perfectly normal, will distinguish themselves from the majority, simply because nobody is calling heterosexuality anything other than perfectly normal!

The same does not hold for theism and atheism: theists boast of the fact that conversion is not natural, not the default. Atheists, meanwhile, seldom consider themselves anything but fortunate for not being theists. Very few atheists bemoan the fact that they're not religious, that they just don't get it! In fact, this opinion tends only to surface when you remind a particular atheist of his or her atheism. The rest of the time, we're not thinking about theism -- or our own respective atheism. More than one person I've know has told me, "Well, I never really gave it much thought before, but now that you told me what atheism is, I guess I'd have to say that that's what I am: an atheist!"

This is as close as I can come right now in describing why this tends to be the case, though.

A related factor is the fact that theists tend to attach much more importance to my atheism than I do! My atheism is a major issue with them, deciding whether or not their kids can play with mine or even whether or not I get to work or live at a certain place. (I've had this all happen except the kids part, when I was the kid in question.)

My atheism is so utterly important to many theists but I am only vaguely aware of my atheism, if that? It doesn't seem right, but that's another observation I've made. And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), that one will have to wait for some thoughts from me.

Again, thanks for writing and helping us to see just what it is that we do here!

It's one thing to post a bunch of information and even to post it with a specific goal in mind. But to hear feedback that shows that your goals are coming true is quite thrilling indeed. But even if I were to do all this work and find my premise entirely wrong, at least we'd now know that premise to be wrong, so nothing is in vain when trying to find out what's going on in our world!

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

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