Celebrating The
Heritage Of Atheism
Laura Rowe

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Laura Rowe"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: October 12, 2001 7:31 AM

I'm not too keen on the evangelical thing: I am, however, at least a fourth-generation atheist (from every line that we've been able to tell -- Spinoza's god at most). Although people mistake what I do here for evangelism, that is not even close. I am not here to "evangelize" atheism but to fight the stigma and bigotry and to encourage atheists to help one another come to an awareness of our heritage as atheist. I think our first move is to encourage atheists to practice the sense of honesty that my family took for granted until it becomes almost instinctive. I think then and only then will we solve the stigma problem. Interestingly, I don't think the solution will incorporate it going away; rather, everybody will simply know that it is false.

I do know that after a few generations, family members tend to lose the habits of thought associated with maintaining theistic faith. We always had trouble finding friends whom we didn't constantly alienate by our thinking style. How we think, though, is so much a second nature to us that we don't even notice it. But in atheists, it stands out like a sore thumb to theists who have been trained to suppress that thinking in themselves.

I realized this when I tried to become actively involved the Twelve Step program (after having been conscripted to attend by a judge): All the classic "warning signs" that the members of this very theistic group helped one another avoid were just normal thinking to me. Much earlier, when I was in the church, I constantly wanted to make things better for everybody, so I often offer suggestions. Boy! Did they ever take me wrong!

Okay! I was only trying to be helpful! Put that stake down!

I think telling others what to think is undignified, so I don't do it. I am not here to try to convince theists that they ought to become atheists. As close as I get to doing that is when I tangle with the various theists who write to us: they make claims and I respond to those claims. Some of the theists' emotional hooks are quite cunning, and I think it does us well to keep up on the basic questions and to familiarize ourselves with some of the rhetorical tricks they use when marketing their ideology. I have studied those tricks and much of the discussion along those lines involves exposing and explaining those wiley and dishonest rhetorical techniques.

Most of the theists who write to this Forum are Evangelical Christians who are, for the most part, quite an unsophisticated lot when it comes to presenting reasons to believe. But occasionally a well-educated Roman Catholic theologian will log on and give me a run for my money. It's not that I think they can convince me or anything like that, it's just that they have over 1,700 years of collective experience from which to draw and I have only my wits.

Such showdowns can be compared to them having not been to Seminary in a while and needing to look up this or that angle to as a refresher -- which I am encountering for the very first time in their letter. They can reference seventeen centuries or more of how this particular bit has panned out, and I must figure out -- from scratch -- what's even going on. I don't even have the shorthand: "Oh, that's such-and-so argument which so-and-so dealt with in this-or-that way." Sometimes it has taken three or four lengthy letters just to get through one point, and you know they'll pile on point after point after point in each letter. I get a lot out of it, but it must be tedious for the readers since I'm constantly having to get back to this one problem that I had with what they said three letters ago. A lot of these remain unposted, and my very favorite one eventually degenerated into a yelling match.

Still, they're about the only ones that I truly enjoy grappling with; were it not for the possibility of these types of discussions, I'd just as soon ban the God-question from this Forum. The only other good it does is to give readers examples of rational thinking in action as applied to theistic claims. Also, it shows, first hand, just how patently dishonest some of these Evangelicals are! Many atheists are not used to people being so ready to lie just to win an argument -- just to examine a damn philosophical question, for gaud sakes! Another advantage comes out when showcasing the theistic thinking style and trying to distinguish this style Many of us who were raised as theists often cannot identify the faith-based thinking which so severely plagues our atheism. So, I like to think that sparring with some of these folks shows, in some ways, the differences between faith and human reason.

We emphasize Thomas Paine primarily because Paine most keenly embodies the sense of honesty and morality which I seek to understand and to make instinctive and second nature in myself (that sense of morality which I thus recommend to other atheists). However, we also consider Deism, Paine's religion, to be well within the heritage of modern atheism: any modern atheist seeking to understand her heritage will surely study Paine's views on orthodoxy and especially his arguments against revealed religion.

As for youth-oriented material, that is the luxury of large groups who can place one or several people in charge of this responsibility, people who are experienced in dealing with youths. (Hey! You could do a lot worse than Thomas Paine!) If I had experience with youngsters, I might be able to pull something like this off, or even branch off into it as a full-time endeavor. Similarly, if somebody wanted to volunteer to put together a "Positive Atheism" section for youngsters I would welcome the idea and would probably host it (if what comes out meets my standards, of course). But the twelve or sixteen hours per day that I already put into this thing end up being only about a third of what I need to put into it to do it right even by current standards.

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: "Laura Rowe"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: October 19, 2001 8:03 PM

I ran the King feed when he was doing the all-night radio show, and King would take on supernaturalists in the interest of openmindedness. While any guest was on, King would drift off into their world and completely absorb what they had to say. Then, as soon as the guest was gone, he'd talk about his objections and field calls from skeptics. King's style of interview is the best, and I don't think any other interviewer has even figured out what he does, much less how to do it.

When the authorities allowed one host to interview Charles Manson, Tom Snyder got the interview. I was livid! I wanted King to do it, because King, more than anybody else I've ever seen, could drift into Manson's world for a few moments and thereby cull out from Manson just who he is and what he's all about. Then we'd know! Then we'd be able to learn something from the experience. Instead, Snyder baited Manson into threatening to attack him, I felt as if I was watching a surrealistic, low-rate lion-taming exhibit of some sort.

King is the only one I've heard who could have pulled off a successful interview of Hitler. It might have been an awkward experience while it was taking place, but in the end we'd know a little more about Hitler and thus might be able to use this information in the future in stopping his atrocities from happening again.

Larry King has (had? I haven't heard him since he switched to TV) a special sense of integrity that I've only seen in atheists that I'm thinking of -- are fully aware of their atheism. Atheism itself is not enough to achieve what I'm thinking of; but I've only seen this in atheists. I cannot say I've known any theists who came off this way (at least according to the way I see things). I like to think this is what made King so special -- at least when I used to listen to his all-night radio show.

Thanks again for writing!

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

Graphic Rule

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