Positive Atheism Forum
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If Not God, Around What
Can We Rally To Unite?
Dee Crowe
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I recently had a conversation with a Christian who was curious about my way of thinking. He asked, "If we don't rally around God in times of crises, such as the one we are facing with the present terrorism, what can unite us?"

I gave him my answer, which was that we can unite to protect ourselves from this crime. That didn't seem to be adequate to my friend. I would be interested in your response, and perhaps that of other like-minded persons.

Dee Crowe,
Belleville, Michigan

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What if there were no such thing as God, and we all knew this fact? Then what would we do?

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From: "Christian Ambrose"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: If Not God, What Can We Rally Around To Unite?
Date: October 19, 2001 9:41 PM

I'm surprised my Christian friends haven't really asked me how I've handled the terrorism situation or what I would propose we rally around. Your answer was fine but I'd also point out that we can rally about the sanctity of life and forgiveness (Christians love hearing about that). We can look at what the terrorists were upset about and try opening a dialog with them. We can even use this as a time to remember the heroes and how this tragedy caused us to for a moment realize that we are all humans regardless of what we believe. We can use our patriotism as a rallying point. There is nothing religious about that; patriotism is fine so long as you don't go overboard. Every ideal has its share of fanatics but that does not make the ideal in itself bad. We can rally for our country and look forward to the day when we can once again know peace.

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From: "Nora Miller"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: If Not God, What Can We Rally Around To Unite?
Date: October 20, 2001 4:54 PM

Dear Cliff and Dee:

I think you, Cliff, did your usual terrific job of address one of the crucial issues underlying Dee's question, that of whether we need to "rally around" anything at this moment. However, I would suggest that the question also requires a challenge on the religion half of the question.

What does the questioner imply when he suggests that we "rally around God" in the face of troubles?

I think that most theists believe that one cannot act morally without directions from their god, handed down to them by the human keepers of "his" will. They operate on the premise that religion provides the only answers to questions of right and wrong and that once armed with those answers, they as individuals need not ask any further questions about the causes of their problems or the appropriateness of their actions and reactions.

In discussions with my very well-read and very Catholic father-in-law about a different religious war at a different time in history, he stated this notion explicitly -- "If you do not fear retribution in the after-life for your actions in life, what makes you behave morally now?"

One of the tenets of the Christian family of religious sects (and of many non-Christian faiths as well, I think) is that humans are innately wicked, licentious and devoid of moral sense. Only threats of extreme punishment serve to hold this nature in check -- hence Hell, the death penalty and the Inquisition, to name a few attempts over the course of history to control humanity's evil instincts.

Today, when a theist suggests to me that only religion can guide us in these darks times, I take one of two tacks. If I feel confrontational at the moment, I will point out that religion got us into this darkness to begin with, as it so often has before. While the theist may draw what he considers a clear distinction between his religion and the twisted Islamic subsect that apparently guided the terrorists, I as an atheist see very little difference and I point that out. If some god, any god, says go kill that guy over there, for whatever reason, anger or retribution, it seems like an immoral act to me.

If I feel more like trying to reason with the theist who claims that moral action can only come from a religious base, I point out that I personally act morally without fear of heavenly retribution and that I know plenty of others who do as well. I act morally because it creates a moral environment around me, because I believe the meaning of the Golden Rule, that how I treat others will ultimately help determine how they treat me and because I believe that what I do and don't do teaches others by example how an intelligent species operates when operating rationally.

I also point out that just claiming to act "morally" doesn't address the question of how you define morality and what actions qualify as moral or immoral. Religious leaders in the past, acting on the moral directive from their gods, have committed any number of atrocities I would not call moral by any wild extreme of defintion (consider the Inquisition which I mentioned above.) If the theist counters that religious thought should not be held responsible for fallible human interpretation, I point out that all religious thoughts are human thoughts and that perhaps when humans act morally, we don't have to attribute that to interpretation of divine commands either!

As a mature human, I act in a moral way because I choose to act morally, not because someone else tells me I must. As a mature human, I take responsibility for my choices and I willingly acknowledge and bear the consequences of my acts, rather than handing over the responsibility to some hidden and inaccessible source that does not have to explain its motivations.

Thus if someone wants me to follow him into war, he must convince my rational sense of morality, if he can. Appeals that attempt to obscure motivations or to characterize "our" side as wholly good and the other side as wholly bad or to motivate me out of fear of God's wrath, in short, that lie to me about the situation in order to get my cooperation, these appeals fail with me because I use my intellect to judge morality, not my fear of hell.

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From: "Sally Watts"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: If Not God, What Can We Rally Around To Unite?
Date: October 19, 2001 12:16 PM

The person asking the question is putting the cart before the horse. God exists in people's minds largely because most humans need something to unite them with others. My response would be that if there were no god to unite them, we'd just invent one -- like we already have, many times over.

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From: "Kenneth Ray Whitley"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: If not god, what can we rally around to unite?
Date: October 19, 2001 6:03 PM

If not god, what can we rally around to unite?

Holy Moly, as a Vietnam veteran this question shocked my very fabric. Did we Americans only unite around god, prior to this terrorist incident at the WTC? I never thought for a moment that god held us all together, as a free nation, under nothing, before, or after these terrorist attacks. I have always believed we united around ideals of freedom, such as: Freedom of religion, to include none if so wished. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom to pursue happiness. Freedom, generally, to sign up, or not to join, in our nation's offensive or defensive military tactics. Freedom to work where we please and further our educational needs if need be, etc.

To imply that we as a nation should gather around an invisible image of our own making to prop us up, sounds dangerous and self defeating. What if we kept losing ground in our efforts toward national honor while having his supreme crutch? Would our religious leaders then blame our past sins for these future failures? What if the preachers promised us victory, only, if we sent them more money? And they would! Would that imply one could buy military successes and god's goodwill or would we really only line charlatan preachers pockets? I don't know. Give me a break. I hear similar comments from our current enemy within Afghanistan saying, "Don't worry my fellow soldiers, Allah alone will defeat the wicked Satan empire to our west."

Should we now act similarly to them to gain favor with an invisible paper tiger? Can't every American see how wrong their situation is for calling on Allah in defeating us? In you dreams, tribal leader -- dude. If so, could we be right in then doing this same act? Must we always begin a fight through uniting, first, around a god? I think, not now, not ever again, because we Americans must become realist in a real world. Dreamed up friends don't bring us victory. Human flesh, blood, and bones slowly bring a victorious outcome, over time, when nothing else can, or will, so don't bank on a figment of imagination, god, in the first damn place.

Amen, never.
A proud Atheist,
Kenneth Ray Whitley
Cleveland, Ohio

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From: "InPRO IAfrica"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: If Not God, What Can We Rally Around To Unite?
Date: October 19, 2001 10:14 AM


Without having read your whole response/ideas in detail, I would briefly respond with some of your and other points which I think are at the core of the 'problem' you refer to :

1. Is there a god,etc -- old debate which you will never get anywhere with believers as most are so dependant on the religious belief and so illogical that it's a total waste of time anyway -- we all know this.

2. For me, more to the point is why the need to unite? what does it achieve?? You have brought this up yourself anyway. Uniting is all about self-righteous arrogance, and totally lacks humility and questioning.

I cannot help wondering what my personal hero, Albert Einstein, would have said about all this??

Some of my impressions of the USA in this regard (as a generalisation, and compared to Europe) are that it is arrogant, has double standards, never questions itself (self-righteous about everything, including religion) has little capacity to think things through logically, philosophically, compationately, etc, to understand the other side -- Just a few of the very many questions that should be being asked by US citizens -- Is democracy the answer? Who are the voters and how qualified are they to come to many various decisions, actions, conclusions, etc?

It's actually that issue that is core, as Islam is not democracy orientated, just as medieval christianity (and current christians including Bush himself) were and are somewhat short of anyway -- Islam (religion -- all of them) does not like democracy as it would undermine the religion itself and give people freedom of choice (contrary to what Bush would like to do, I thought the Christian (and Islamic) God wanted us to have freedom of choice?? !!) Notice that no Americans have dared questioned themselves publicly (as far as I have seen on CNN). When debating with Christians, rather assume there is a god (it's what they would like) but just assume it is Islam that is the right choice -- then they will spend time defending their own god as against others, and highlight their own inconsistancies and hypocracy in the process. If Islam is the right way (i.e., there is a god) then what they are all doing (boeings into buildings, etc) is probably fine depending on your interpretation of their good book. It's the same logic the Crusading Christians used to murder millions of muslims 1000 years ago. Those who are biblically orientated will know the many verses in the Bible that support intolerance and christian domination (in spite of the 'we know better now' attitude and justification of christians) and that were used in the Crusades.

If Bush and like-minded christian fundamentalists had their way, would they not want to wipe out other religions as well??? Is it only democracy, the constitution, Europe that is holding Bush back from doing exactly what the muslims (fundamentalists) are doing? Note Blair had repeated the fact that only Afghanistan is going to be treated this way, and other European countries are even less supportive of military strikes.

What if christians became the minority and Islam was the majority -- would they (christians) sit back and take all the crap christians hand out to others?

If the Christian God really exists, then would he want there to be revenge (turn the other cheek, do unto others, etc.)? Would he want to have any or innocent or select Afgans to die just because some Americans died? Religion is about dogma, intolerant self-rightiousness, not principles and values !

Is America really going after world terrorists, or just the ones that piss them off (selectively)? The terrorists (Al Queda) were in fact started and supported by the USA. initially anyway (against the Russians) -- so America does support its own terrorists. Would the Russians have been justified in bombing NY or USA due to stop American-sponsored terrorists wrecking havoc in other countries, as the USA have done world wide for decades?? What makes the average christian think that Islam is not the answer???

Listen to the lack of reasons, alternatively the reasons he criticises other religions, or supports his own are identical to what the muslim/hindu etc will say (get christians to debate with other religions) will highlight the lack of logic and hypocracy automatically.

I am personally slowly trying to get the South African government to accept and ulitmately implement the idea of having a 'critical thinking' school subject where philosophy, critical thinking, and related topics can be pushed -- education is meant to be about teaching people and children to think for themselves. Is this not what athiests should be slowly trying to do? If children grow up with religious (fanatically or otherwise) parents, the religious self-rightious problem will continue. We need to start at the base level and get kids to start questioning and thinking -- humility and questions, not self-righteous arrogance and dogma. Get Americans to debate the principles involved, irrespective of who is involved and what the agenda's are. This immediately highlights the lack of principles and logic. Self-righteousness along with a lack of questioning is something that is pushed hard by all religious persons, organisations, countries, and in my view is the core core problem.

Now Israel is doing likewise -- sending in the army to destroy so called terrorists. Where does this all stop? In South Africa we had the ANC terrorists, who then become freedom fighters, and are now the government. How does one define terrorists -- note a total lack of discussing this internationally. The IRA certainly does not see itself as a terrorist organisation, but Britain does!

Why did America not follow due process in international Law and only after (presuming) no success in getting the 'terrorists' , then do the military thing?? What if Bin Laden allowed himself to be caught openly (ie not killed, which I am sure is the USA special forces mandate) by the Americans or better still, the European Authorities and was tried in court there. Would that not highlight the illegality of the American operation and dictatorship?? (Personally I think that this would be a beautiful scenario) Why are people not questioning the religious aspects to all this openly -- religious discussions are always taboo.

Look at all the conflicts worldwide -- almost always started and continued by religion and its followers.

What becomes apparent in this whole crisis is that the priests and the politicians have not addressed the core issue of what are the standards and principles the whole world should adhere to??? -- Once these are stated (International law -- already exists??), then everybody knows where they stand, and all (including hypocritical Americans) can be judged by them openly.

So, to sum up,
Why unite? What does this achieve???
Why not question instead?
Why not unite (if necessary) around compassion and empathy, principals and values?
Why not highlight American hypocrisy and double standards, and ask if USA is prepared to be treated the same way as they are treating others (in fact that is exactly what Bin Laden is doing!!).

Happy questioning and thinking.

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From: "James Call"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: If Not God, What Can We Rally Around To Unite?
Date: October 22, 2001 8:58 PM

We rally around each other. We come together for our common self defense. We come together to aid the victims and comfort the bereaved. We do this because we hope that together, in numbers, we are safer against our enemies. We do this because we, most of us, feel pain ourselves when we see someone suffering. It helps to relieve that pain to help those in need. And, I suppose, we hope that help will be there when we need it. I think this humane impulse, seemingly common to most of us, is for theists abstracted, by and large, in many concepts of god. If the religious rally around god and we rally around humanity, what, really, is the difference? Not much. Except maybe that the idea of god is once removed from what it really is that we are coming together for.

James Call

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