To Respond With
That Unfazed,
'No-I'm-Not' Look!

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "kay"
Subject: Re: Okay -- uhh -- Break Time's -- er, uh -- Over!
Date: January 26, 2002 2:56 AM

I looked up the price of lapel pins, and I'd be glad to sponsor a run of one thousand (colored ones cost about US$1300.00) if and only if someone could provide me with a design that I think would fly (that is, would sell as well as catch on). People may take this as me putting my money where my mouth is in support of the notion of coming up with a visual symbol, but they best see this as me daring anybody to come up with a good visual symbol for atheism!

Annie Laurie Gaylor says that Freethinkers have used the pansy as a symbol for Freethought, which is almost always seen as a synonym for atheism. In this case, I'd probably want to go first-class and simply wear a real pansy on my lapel. We'd also have to go much further than even Ms. Gaylor has in promoting the idea that the pansy symbolizes atheistic Freethought. However, I wouldn't want to limit such a project to promoting Positive Atheism Magazine: I would only support a greater, more inclusive effort.

Meanwhile, I have pondered this off and on over the past several years, and have kept a record of my ponderings. It seems that the essence of my opinion has not varied over the years. The only changes have been the reasons behind that opinion.

No Existing Symbols Precisely Represent Atheism

In the Letter called "Symbols, Acronyms, and Slogans," a combined effort with letters from David and Will, I show several images and visual logos that fall into two categories: (1) they are the registered trademarks of specific organizations, such as American Atheists or the American Humanist Association; (2) they are too specific to mean "I am an atheist," having additional baggage such as anti-Christian sentiments, or, in the case of the Darwin Amphibian, anti-Creationist education sentiments (which is not necessarily atheistic). Since I wrote this, I learned about the pansy, so I silently added a paragraph to that effect.

Atheism Has No Object, but is Philosophically Negative

The main objection that I've had to using a symbol at all is that atheism is not something that represents or is represented by an object or anything (philosophically) positive. Christianity is faith in Christ, Judaism is faith in the Hebrew scheme of religion. Atheism is the absence of religion, the absence of faith, the absence of a god-belief. To me, atheism is how I distinguish myself from theists, when the need to do so arises.

This is one of the main points we've tried to make at Positive Atheism: "Why is it that you persecute us, etc., for what we are not?" In other words, "Why don't you figure out a way to express your religious views so that they make sense to us?" That is, "Since you've been unable to convince us to assent to your claims, why don't you just leave us live our lives in peace?" To atheists we say, "The god-question is one of the silliest reasons over which to bicker." That is, Let us agree to tackle only those expressions of religion which are intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous." Better yet, "We have much more in common with most theists than we have differences."

Thus, my most recent thinking along these lines has centered around the notion that my atheism is not a very big aspect of my life. True, my life is severely impacted because I am an out-of-the-closet atheist, but this should never be (and wouldn't be in a perfect world). My atheism is nothing like my interest in music; my atheism is nothing like being a Republican or a Democrat (but would be similar to having no interest whatsoever in the voting aspect of politics). There really shouldn't be a word for "atheism" -- but there is. There is because so many people have vilified us and hated us over the years.

But Many of Us Want to be Identified as Atheists

But (and this is a big but) -- but, we keep getting hit from all sides for not accepting the dominant god-claims! This is usually only an embarrassment or an inconvenience, but occasionally our lives are disrupted by this stigma, this bigotry. Either way, many of us wish to have some way either to identify with one another or to distinguish ourselves from the others.

Tangent: My Passion for Uniqueness

I think I am not alone in being one to appreciate anybody who is truly unique -- and knows it. Such people that I've met tend almost always to be atheists; they tend hardly ever to join religious groups (but will practice the highly personal forms of religion such as Wicca, Zen, and Satanism, which, in my opinion, is little more than traditional atheism with a dark æsthetic and a penchant for frightening the bejesus out of Evangelical Christians).

Thus, being one who appreciates uniqueness, I don't see myself (or many active atheists I've known) doing very many things that a whole crowd of others is doing. This would include using a common symbol to identify myself as an atheist. There are many (many) aspects of my life that are tangential to my atheism, and most of these have powerful, widely recognized symbols.

Some Aspects of My (Cliff's) Atheism: Gandhi

Positive Atheism is rooted in Gandhism, so I have a Gandhi magnet on my refrigerator that says, "There are no gods higher than truth." This quote came indirectly from the work we have posted in our India section, An Atheist with Gandhi, which is one of the works that inspired this entire project! I found the magnet at a little boutique not too far from where I live. Ah, but Gandhism is unique to my brand of atheism, Positive Atheism as we advocate it here, and is not inclusive or even directly reflective of my atheism. Most people don't realize that Gandhi, toward the end, was what many would describe as a philosophical atheist, so many will mistake you as a theist (thought not a Christian).

More Aspects: My Disdain for the Twelve Steps

My atheism came flowering forth as a direct result of my having been court-ordered into the Twelve Step program without cause and over my Religious Liberty objections. Thus, anything I can find that speaks out against the Twelve Step program is a sure sale if I'm around. My favorite is the T-shirt that says, "I'm Not an Alcoholic / I'm a Drunk / Alcoholics Go To Meetings." However, my dislike of the Twelve Step program only got me started: it has very little to do with my atheism itself. Many atheists love the Program, and many who dislike the program do so for very religious reasons. So, there's only a minor, very personal connection between the two, and only in relationship to myself. You could not say the same thing with the same symbol unless you had undergone similar experiences.

Another Aspect: Anti-Christian Sentiments

I also had some dealing with the Christian religion, so I picked up the T-shirt from the art-rock band Negativeland that says, "Christianity is Stupid / Give Up." Now, the T-shirt itself is not anti-Christian; rather, it is anti-noise pollution. The album is all about various types of noise pollution: one song, "Car Bomb," is about the noise that emanates from the explosion of a car bomb; the lyrics are merely a list of car parts with some extremely oblique references to noise. I won't get into the song called "Michael Jackson," and I admit that the one about the bee that flew into the guy's Nesbitt's lime soda has me stumped to this day. "Christianity is Stupid" is about the loudspeakers at a fictitious concentration camp: "The loudspeaker spoke up and said, 'Christianity is stupid! Communism is good! Give up! Give up!' from five o'clock in the morning to nine o'clock at night." However, only two or three people who have seen me wearing this T-shirt understood that it really means "Shut up!" They all think I'm echoing a vicious slam against the Christian religion. Fine with me! I also try to keep a bumper sticker with the logo for the punk-era band "Bad Religion" somewhere on the premises: it's the Christian Cross with a thick, red slashed circle around it. Nevertheless, anti-Christian does not equal atheistic, and atheistic does not equal anti-Christian. However, when it comes to dealing with Christians, this stuff definitely says, "I am not one of them!"

A Positive Aspect: Pro-Science

I have collected images of Albert Einstein over the years, having had probably a dozen Einstein T-shirts (all of which were stolen in Tualatin in 1986). Today, I have two or three posters, and that's it. This symbolizes, for me, my life-long love of science and education (including history as a science, if studied using the scientific method). This goes along with my atheism as it goes along with my humanism. However, it is not, by any means, exclusive to atheism; it is merely one aspect of my atheism.

The Darwin Amphibian has, over the years, been absconded by numerous atheists and atheist groups as an atheistic symbol. We must keep in mind that more theists than atheists are out there marching against Creationism in the schools (simply because there are so many more theists than atheists). We are at a crucial point in this struggle where I have begun to urge atheists to stop using the Darwin as a symbol for atheism. Whenever and wherever a fight over creationism is being waged, the Darwin is prominently displayed among the anti-Creationists, and is directly responsible for adding tremendous momentum to the action at hand as well as the movement as a whole. (See this story about an action in Hawaii.) If the Darwin inadvertently becomes associated with atheism in the minds of very many people, then the anti-Creationism forces could lose a vividly powerful symbol around which they can rally.

Another Positive Aspect: Pro-Human

I have always admired humanity, the way most humans I've known have treated me notwithstanding. As an atheist, I realize that this is the best I've got, and that any Imaginary Friend that I might wish to communicate with is just that: imaginary. The human is the most intelligent entity with whom I can communicate -- like it or not. So, I celebrate the human in many different ways, including the human as an art form. Thus, off and on, I have collected images of the human form, and have even, for the most part, tried to keep my human form looking good (though lately, this is next to impossible with the spinal damage preventing me from doing much exercise effective to looking very good at my age). Ah, but humanity is related to humanity, and is only related to my atheism, not necessarily anybody else's.

Another Aspect: Erotica

One thing that I can have that I don't share with most Christians, anyway, is my love of subtle erotica. And I like it subtle: I've only ever been to one porno move, "Misty Beethoven," and only because it was billed as an "art" film. Right! But I do have (somewhere) this little gold and silver trinket for the necklace that I think is ideal for flashing back to someone with a cross: It is an anthropomorphized crescent moon. Hanging from the top point of the crescent is a woman, who is straddling the lower portion of the moon like a horse or a bicycle. Oh, but where the lips of the Man in the Moon meet the woman! Ooooh! And erotica, dangled temptingly before a sexually repressed religionist is almost sadistic, if you know what I mean (and you fully know only if you've put yourself in that position at least once in your life). Many Christians have not callused their conscience to the point where they wouldn't indulge if they could, and those who have lost their sensuality have lost other crucial aspects of their humanness, and tend not to want to teasingly flaunt their religion before you: their heads are in a completely different space. So stuff like this is one hundred percent tease. If you haven't seen this trinket, I'll bet you could find one within a day of shopping for it. This one took me a few glances to see what was really going on with this thing! I bring this up because your options are as numerous as you have different aspects of your personality. And it need not be "flashed," but a simple, "Have you seen this?" and then let them examine it until you see on their face that they "got" the joke! And with this one (with the right person), it can come off as both innocent as well as with the opposite of a disdainful attitude. Yes, tasteful erotica is a wholesome way to say, "I am not one of them"!

The Pentagram: Bad News for Christians

If you are targeting Christians, you can go a long way with the pentagram, the circle with a five-pointed star, pointing downward, with the little symbols strewn about. I don't really know what it means, because there are so many different traditions. And this is just as good because your Christian associate will probably let her imagination run with this one as well. Unfortunately, the pentagram has vivid religious connotations of its own (unless you're talking about traditional Satanism). Thus, you won't be sending an entirely accurate message with this one, but you will be getting the main point across: "I am not one of them!"

Other Aspects: Legion; Barely Identifiable

There are many, many other aspects of me that are also aspects of my atheism. I try to celebrate those: I try to celebrate me! In fact, I get so busy celebrating what I am, what I have, and what I can offer that what other people are doing fades insignificantly into the din and the clutter of what I don't even care to think about.

How Can Atheism be Conceptualized? At All?

Try as I may (and I gave it a good shot again tonight), I'm still not finding even a concept that would directly represent my atheism. I am beginning to think that it cannot be done (although I'd love to be shown wrong on this!). Atheism is, to me, how I distinguish myself from another group of people. Don't look now, but this means that my identity as an atheist depends entirely and exclusively upon the religious beliefs of other people: "I am not one of them"!

So, in lieu of finding a way to conceptualize and thus symbolize atheism (an intuitive way, rather than simply saying "This means that"), I will continue to celebrate life, to celebrate me, to be who I am and be neither ashamed nor afraid, and to care not what others think about themselves or about me! That's all I can come up with.

However, if someone can come up with an intuitive way to say, "No, I'm an atheist!" I'd be more than happy to invest in having some made so that we can get them at an affordable price and share both the trinkets and their message amongst ourselves and in interaction with others.

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

Graphic Rule
Added: January 26, 2002

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "kay"
Subject: Re: Okay -- uhh -- Break Time's -- er, uh -- Over!
Date: January 26, 2002 10:56 AM

Whatever we do we must be careful about what message we send to the less stable among us. I am still surprised when I read the paper only to learn just what little thing has set off this or that predatory criminal to attack an innocent person.

I've always loved my "Christianity is Stupid" T-shirt, although I usually wear it only with a jacket over it when I'm in public (open, of course, so you can see at least part of it). One day I was on the bus and this strange, dirty man kept glaring at me. I soon realized that he was just angry about my T-shirt, having been offended by the slogan. (I was wearing no jacket that day.) I then realized that had it been him wearing an anti-atheism T-shirt, I might have even got up and said something! Then I thought about what might have happened had this man stood up and said just the wrong thing to me!

We gotta be careful, and not just with Christians, either, because, first of all, not all Christians are dangerous, and secondly, they're not the only dangerous ones out there. On this side of The Big Pond, being the wrong race increases your chance that certain individuals or groups will rob you. I imagine that could work for religion, as well, although religious ideology is not something you wear on your face.

You'd hope that the religion they learned upon their Momma's knee would remind them of some of the other important lessons they probably learned while sitting open-eyed upon The Great Learning Center of Humankind. But the tribal exclusivism of religion is, unfortunately, probably one of those lessons. And, unfortunately, a lot of the manners that religion does teach, as The Hebrew Commandment Against Bearing False Witness suggests, apply only to one's "neighbor," and, of course, is not applicable to those who hold the hated ideologies of Otherness and Themism. The lengths to which religion is used to justify not being accountable for one's actions never ceases to amaze me.

Unfortunately, we are not really free. Thus, caution is the word when expressing controversial views.

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

Graphic Rule

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