Where Did All This
(Positive Atheism) Come From?
I am 60 years old and have been an atheist since the age of 12. I have studied and majored and philosophy and pharmacy and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1971. In a whole lifetime of (part-time) study of religion as a special interest (how and why do they think that way?), I have never come across as much well written, well researched material as on your website.
I am interested to know your education level (self as well as formal) as well as any other information you may care to give me about yourself. Do you do this full time? Is there a living in this? Are there any other websites even half as good as yours?
With sincere appreciation
Redondo Beach, California
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "John Revolinski"
Subject: Re: FORMAL EDUCATION?
Date: October 01, 2001 12:48 AM
I am sorry to admit that if Attention Deficit Disorder is real, I got it big-time and never got much done except in the fifth grade and a little work in the ninth grade (when we'd steal my friend's Mom's bennies and those were about the only times in my life I did even moderately well at school). I never once stopped being curious, though, and have a knack for never forgetting a story line (though faces and names I'll never figure out -- and don't even think about having me keep track of invoices and the like). I also have a talent for taking abstract ideas and applying them to real-life situations. But it makes sense that the drugs they make bennies out of are what they give to kids with ADD.
My impairments mostly involve timing and keeping a schedule. I'm particularly bad at cooking, coordinating a meal so everything comes out on time or even remembering that such and so is in the oven and needs to come out at a specific time -- or a few minutes earlier. I've also had trouble with time-space coordination, such as catching a ball or judging when to apply the brakes in order to stop at a particular spot. To compensate, I am an ultra-defensive driver (when I bother to drive at all), always keeping plenty of distance between myself and the person ahead of me.
All I did in college was get (I think) a BSEE in one of those diploma mills for veterans (although I paid cash) so I could qualify for my Federal Communications Commission license. I wanted to work in radio. Later I hung at the college station and took classes in news writing so I could qualify to be on the air. With my speech problem, I never spent much time on the air (though I trained like the dickens). However, I did spend three semesters writing news and learning the style of writing which is most conducive to scripted material. Since this was the only class I took, we'd spend all afternoon at the station putting together a ten-minute broadcast. Much later, after recovering from an extended illness, I taught myself how to write English written prose (as opposed to English verbal scripts).
Although I spent several years (off and on) repairing consumer and professional audio equipment, a sudden and severe hearing loss ended that career for good during the mid-1980s. Aside from that, some of my adult life was spent working as a Transmitter Engineer (you need only show up and write down what the meters say once an hour and that's it; President Reagan pushed the legislation which ended that job category). Either way, I have had plenty of opportunity for self-study and probably have the formal education equivalent of at least a doctorate, if not two, if measured by the amount of time I've set aside for study and compensated for the fact that I can only work about a third as fast as an able-bodied person with the same skill level.
My studies specifically for this line of work (social activism) began in middle school, when I hung with a group of Yippies and worked to protest the Vietnam War. This was my introduction to activism, which has been a very large part of me off and on ever since, though striving to improve whatever environment I find myself in has always been a part of my personality. As for atheism, I was raised an atheist and did not know that people thought Jesus was a god until I was about 15 years old when I joined a Baptist youth group for a few months. A few years later, during high school, I spent about six months hanging at a Pentecostal-flavored beach-front "ministry" run by Morris Cerullo. When I was about 23, I joined a Calvary Chapel offshoot and wandered among that scene for about three years, spending most of that time in full-time study of the Bible, church history, and the history of Christianity's varied interpretation of its own Scripture (trying to figure out what it was that God might have been saying to me). This was while I was a transmitter engineer, so for three years I kept one ear glued to the Larry King all-night call-in radio program, which was an education in its own right, while I distilled Bible-study book after Bible-study book into my notepad (to increase the impact the material had upon my memory).
Disillusioned with the Church and quite unsure of my faith, I abandoned religion altogether after some heart-rending and downright experiences, and worked for a few years promoting New-Wave and ecclectic music (circa 1983 to 1985) while I tried to come down from the harrowing religious experience. I eventually became very ill, suffering two crippling conditions at the same time, and this gave me lots of time to begin studying the classic Freethought works, such as Bertrand Russell, A. E. White, and, of course, Mark Twain and Robert Green Ingersoll. Homeless, I was jailed for shoplifting and later conscripted to the Twelve Step Program for 25 months. During this time, I worked tirelessly to improve the lot of atheists in Narcotics Anonymous (Alcoholics Anonymous, at the time, required you to have had an alcohol problem, which was never the case with me; also, at the time, AA didn't think very highly of atheists). When that ended, I spent over seven years working almost full-time with Rational Recovery and ended up being called by their leaders one of the most talented at presenting RR's particular spin on things and at teaching their methods to people who have substance abuse problems. One too many death threats from Twelve Steppers prompted me to end that phase of my life about two years ago.
While working for RR, I became involved with the local atheist group who wanted to place RR in their portfolio. I eventually became involved with the group itself and ended up editing their newsletter for over three years before we had a falling out.
While still with them, someone in the group erected a web site which I thought was simply atrocious, so I erected a web site for their newsletter, which I tried to dignify by calling a magazine, but they tauntingly insisted on calling a bulletin. I eventually ended up being responsible for having gathered over half the addresses on their potential mailing list, although they never did anything with the addresses I gathered. So, when we had our falling out, I published the Premier Issue of Positive Atheism in November, 1998, and I mailed a free copy to each member of the list I had gathered for them, with an offer for five more free issues if they returned a postcard that I had included in the Premier Issue package. Since then I have sent at least one copy of PAM to 555 different addresses. Slightly over a third of that number will receive the September, 2001, issue later this week. Approximately one-fourth of the 555 still have subscriptions that are currently paid and up-to-date. Still, the subscription donations pay for only about half the cost of doing this project: the rest comes out of my disability pension or is covered by family members.
I will say, though, that putting together a monthly atheist magazine for six full years has been quite an education. Top that off with all the feature articles that I've posted (at first, typing them by hand, as I did not get a scanner until later on) and rewriting numerous news clippings -- plus the several book-length works that I've converted to e-text have exposed me to a lot of ideas.
At one point I began collecting articles about logical fallacies and the different ways in which charlatans pull the wool over people's eyes.
Eventually I decided to put what I could into my own words. Grabbing write-ups on tricks that people have used on me in our Forum over the years, I wrote the final section of "Introduction To Activistic Atheism."
I think this one project, probably more than any other, has helped me to accomplish what you probably had in mind when you wrote with your question. If you are talking about my Letters responses, then doing the research to put together the third section of "Introduction" definitely had an impact on me. This works both ways: What I learned while researching this piece is at my immediate grasp whenever I respond to a letter. Also, when I revised "Introduction" last October, I was able to include many examples, quoted directly from our Letters section, of people trying to pull various stunts on me. Now that I'm keeping notes specifically for "Introduction," the next revision will probably be built around what has happened during our Forum sessions.
But, to answer your question, I have no formal education other than my diploma from the University of Hard Knocks. There are two ways to learn something: (1) listen to your father; (2) the hard way. Now, I love my Father, but I was never one to take somebody else's word for something, especially if they got their information from TV or Time Magazine. That's not how I did things and that's not how I would do things. I'm sure there might have been some easier ways for me to have lived my life, but this is what I did and this is what I have as a result. I may not be very useful on the open market, but I strongly suspect that the world will be a better place for my having lived. In any event, that is my primary goal in life: to make this world a better place for my having lived!
As for other web sites, I must admit that I spend too much time puttering over this one to have time to appreciate what else is out there. I have had occasion to use Internet Infidels numerous times. We both started at about the same time, but I chose to go a vastly different route than they, preferring to hand-pick and hand-type my e-text conversions rather than depend on the Bank of Wisdom material, most of which I consider to be way too sloppy to even justify the effort that has gone into producing it. They shot way ahead of us, even gaining a link within the Microsoft Encarta 2000 CD-ROM. But I think we're beginning to get the recognition I initially sought for, preferring quality over quantity.
Another web site that has drawn my attention (although they need to do something about their flickering banner ads) is about.com.
Finally, I think the American Atheists' web site is quite well done if I do say so myself, having advised them on several occasions both in web design as well as in how I think atheistic activism ought to be approached. I was specifically in on one of the early discussions regarding our mutual abandoning of the vitriolic and vindictive approach once popularized by their founders, advising from behind the scenes someone who was directly involved in that discussion.
What I look for is honesty first and dignity close behind. Several small web sites give lip service to both concepts, but one in particular, run by someone who speaks glowingly of such concepts as honesty, has done Positive Atheism a great deal of harm through her dishonesty. Thus, I think a good way to assess the actual motives of a web site designer is by her or his reputation among the similar or competing web sites. I may not agree with all that many people, but I think I do a good job at getting along in the scene simply because I do what I say and say what I do.
It's one thing to get "awards" from, say, Netscape or even Encyclopedia Britannica, or to consistently get the top position on the "Most Popular" list of a search engine such as Yahoo! But recognition from these "big guys" tells only part of the story, in my opinion.
It's another thing altogether to be called by American Atheists and the Skeptics Society and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and even private activists such as Victor Stenger and to be asked for your advice on important matters.
My goal is not to have a wildly popular web site (although yesterday we reached a million "hits" for the month -- the first time we've ever done that!). My goal, rather, is to create an atmosphere where atheists (and others) can learn together and work together and discover what we can do to (most of all) try to reduce the stigma and bigotry leveled against atheists and (secondly) try to put together a usable understanding of our heritage as atheists. While these two have always been my goal since striking out on my own, only recently have I been able to tell you some specific directions I think we ought to go in accomplishing these goals. Also, I have only recently been able to even state with assurance that these are goals that we do well in seeking. Before, it just sounded and felt good; now, I can tell you a little bit about why these things are good and I can tell you a little bit about our prospects for actually attaining these goals in the long run.
I thank you for your compliments and mostly for your interest. It's been a wonderful opportunity to put down in writing some of what has gone in to becoming who I am as well as how that relates to making Positive Atheism what she is (and what I hope she shall become).
I would especially be interested in hearing your ideas on how we can reduce the stigma and bigotry against atheists -- particularly what you think we atheists can do to put the brakes on this madness which has been with us anywhere Judaism, Christianity, or Islam have reigned supreme ("The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good." -- Psalm 14:1, circa 1000 B.C.E.).
I don't expect to single-handedly end what has been institutionalized throughout five continents for up to three thousand years. But maybe we can free up a few areas so that we atheists can feel safe in introducing ourselves and can thus get together, work together, and even accomplish what for most of us have only been dreams, often dreamt only after everybody else has been safely tucked into bed and we may dream without attracting too much attention.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
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.