To Find An Atheist
Group Near Us?
Mrs. K. Meidell

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Mrs. K. Meidell"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: January 18, 2002 6:58 AM

While we maintain web listings of as many groups as we can find, we officially recommend independence from groups rather than affiliation with them.

However, if you cannot find any, and if American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, etc., prove of little help, there's always the library, which usually lets groups meet at low cost, and the newspaper, where you can place ads announcing that you're forming an atheistic discussion group. Discussion groups can go one of several directions: some of them tend to become quite bigoted if all you talk about is what you don't like about religion, but others can be most productive if you do it right; that is, discussing what you can do in your community to promote acceptance of atheists, state-church separation, science and history education, and the like.

Again, we still recommend involvement in regular activistic groups, that is, groups which do not have a religious test for membership, which welcome theist and atheist alike. Thus we celebrate our humanity by working together with like-minded individuals (like-minded in that they all wish to solve a specific problem, though not necessarily like-minded in their core ideology). We also put our atheism into practice by realizing that since there are no gods or angels looking out for us and our fellow humans, we need to buckle down and do this work ourselves. This is a crucial part of "Positive Atheism" as we advocate it.

This web site is part of my doing just that, so I will talk about activism work as it relates to erecting a web site, but you can take this and apply it to almost any project you may wish to start -- including an atheist discussion group!

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Much of what you see in our Big List of Quotations section was not on the web before I scanned or typed it from books and magazines, and put it there myself (although numerous webmasters have since come by and, with a few mouse-clicks, grabbed almost our entire hand-excerpted collection of quotations and distributed them throughout the web, so that now the work I did lives on any number of other web sites). Also, much of what you see in our Writings and Historical sections either was not on the web until I put it there or had been pulled from the web by the time I decided to post copies. I am adamantly opposed to posting something that is already on the web, unless what's up there is of very poor quality, is unreadable, is on a poor connection (those AngelFire or Yahoo free web sites which make readers endure pop-up ads, etc.).

The rest of what little was already posted I put up because what was on the web at the time was of atrociously poor quality that I couldn't stand to see such fine writing displayed in such trashy format, with lines missing, words misspelled, and not formatted with italics or footnotes or anything. This is the very reason I posted our Ingersoll collection, which is the Joseph Lewis collection of Ingersoll's Greatest Lectures. What was already up was so poorly done that it was virtually unreadable in places, and absolutely useless as a resource. Ours are of good enough quality to quote as "revised by Cliff Walker in [year]" or a "Positive Atheism edition," and even have the page numbers included in those that have page numbers, usually indicated as HTML Target codes [e.g., "<A NAME="23"></A>"] (as some HTML editing programs, most notably DreamWeaver 4, butcher the reliability of the HTML comment code; also, you can type a pound sign plus the page number after the URL and your browser will take you to the page in question).

Having recently gone through my papers, I have two reams worth of Xerox copies from the library and elsewhere, plus three book-length projects, all ready to scan and post -- all of it is material that is not currently on the web (or even in print, for that matter). This is what I mean by contributing to the big picture: I will only bother with material that is currently unavailable. Anybody can set up a web site, post a few abusive anti-religion tirades, steal quotes and articles from other web sites for filler, sign up for a "free" guest book or even one of those programs that place a randomized quote on your front page, and then huff and buff their nails and say, "Look at our atheist web site!"

Although a few individuals have done this, it's most often someone affiliated with a group who does this to bring attention to the group: putting up a web site is no easy deal. To me, these serve only as a detriment, both for the abusive tirades and for the theft or other people's work (and don't the two so often go together!).

When they do steal your work, they inevitably whine that they're just making the stuff available! Well, what do you think we're doing by paying top dollar for one of the best servers in the world, connected directly to one of the biggest, busiest fiber-optic hubs currently in operation? When that doesn't work, they lash out at you for being all manner of stingy, uncooperative, and the like. One clown who had stolen my quotes section file-for-file threatened to reformat the stuff and post it anyway. I knew he would be too lazy to do that much work, and over the years, as I check back on his URL, I notice that I was right! He simply continued to steal stuff that he didn't think would be missed. Now he's got something that you've got to log on in order to access, and claims to have quite a collection of MP3 files. See? He was just a thief, and nothing more!

If you want to contribute to the overall collection of knowledge but don't know where to start, ask someone who runs one of the larger web sites, who's bee at this for a while, and see what's not out there that you can put up. Then, you'll not only be drawing dignified attention to your group, but you'll be providing a much-needed service in taking something that's not currently available and making it available for all to see.

This is probably the most important thing I learned about activism, which I learned, actually, from one of the nephews of Daniel Ortega, during the Anti-Apartheid movement: If we're too busy working to change the world (and in this case, changing the Internet means putting something up that wasn't there before), you don't have time to even have personal problems (specifically, in their case, it was gang and drug involvement). In your case, I would suspect that whatever project you chose to erect (or even support), the absence of a group in your area would quickly become one of the least of your concerns: you'll have such a group writing to you (who came by because you put up something new, something different), that you won't be able to keep up with all of them.

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Positive Atheism is just one project. Though we happen to be atheistic, most of the opportunities you'll find will have nothing to do with either atheism or religion. It's nice if you can get some things done in this respect, but the point is to make a difference in the world. That is humanity. There's plenty to do if we just open our eyes and decide to get busy.

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As for learning and reading the freethought literature, there's the web, the library, and the Bank of Wisdom, which scans old freethought literature and burns it onto CD Rom (though the scans are rather poor quality last time I checked). Our web site alone ought to provide several dozen hours of what I consider to be the choicest material that I've been able to come across.

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

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.