Refusal To Argue Religion
'Reflects Hatred And Intolerance'
Charles Atwater

Editor's Note

For this one I broke two of my rules.

First, we no longer entertain questions or comments about the Twelve Steps or addiction recovery in general. We have discovered a pattern wherein, no matter how nicely they appear at first, almost all Twelve Steppers end up getting quite hostile any time we challenge the sacred dogma found between the covers of the Big Book. So, several months ago I placed a ban on that subject in this forum. I just don't like dealing with people who behave this way, and I shoulda figured that REBT is just a right turn from the Twelve Step Program, each placing conditions on one's prospects for remaining abstinent.

Secondly, I seldom give the time of day to somebody who would make a remark such as "while I am not an atheist, I firmly believe in your right to make information available to like-minded individuals." I always get nervous whenever people remind themselves that even atheists have the right to speak! I am especially nervous considering that I would die for anyone's right to say anything and I would march to my death as a matter of course! It would be like going to the drug store. Your right to speak means so much to me that I don't even need to bring it up.

Nevertheless, I spent the better part of three hours composing a careful answer for this clown, only to be called "hateful" for having better things to talk about with theists than to argue the God-question!

Yeah? Well, consider the source -- and enjoy!

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Optimum Computing"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: October 21, 2001 11:36 PM

I may have been quoting Trimpey in a personal conversation. In this case, you'll probably have to take my word on the matter and either trust or distrust Trimpey's integrity. If this is the case, and if it is something that Ellis said, then Trimpey would remember Ellis saying something like that, and could point you to the sources.

If not, then it's from his book with Emmett Velton, When AA Doesn't Work For You, as that's the only book of his I have that I've read with any degree of attentiveness.

Basically, he seemed to be praising AVRT for being superior in the case of helping someone with an addiction because it was more focused toward addiction, whereas REBT was more generalized.

If you could find the piece (try searching on our front page), I could more easily remember the situation that prompted me to write it. I have an excellent memory for situations, though this is an obscure one. However, if I wrote it at all (and I do remember writing this), then I wrote it because at the time I thought it was true. I'm not one who has ever had an easy time juggling lies! This is not something that I made up, though my facts are only as good as my sources and my understanding of the situation.

Search Positive Atheism (three-week delay on new posts):
http://www.positiveatheism.org/index.shtml#SEARCH
 

Much of what I do here at PAM focuses on addressing the problems of stigma and bigotry that bear down upon atheists more intensely than they are upon other social groups. That's the only thing we really have to say to theists as theists: we are not here to discuss the God-question. In fact, by opining that the God-question is one of the stupidest reasons to get into an argument, we free ourselves up to do some much more important work that will benefit all humans, not just atheists. I have also questioned the validity of forming atheists-only groups, organizations, and alliances.

Most of what we have to say to our fellow atheists revolves around what we, as atheists, can do to change our behavior to increase the likelihood of this stigma going away. Part of this is my encouraging atheists to consider theists as fellow humans who happen to think they have valid reasons for believing that gods exist. By presupposing that theists think they have valid reasons for believing, I dignify the theist (I think -- I hope!) and perhaps open the door to some working relationships. My hope lies along the lines of atheists, as individuals, working for social change, the fact that the groups they're working with are basically theistic programs making no real difference to the atheist. My first response in the exchange with Joel, "Be Defined Or Be Counted," lays down some detailed speculations I've had along these lines.

This opinion may change, but it is my current (and very recent) hope that atheists, as atheists, will soon be able to assimilate into the American mainstream. We can assimilate now, as long as we can keep our mouths shut about our atheism or as long as we're Europeans, we still cannot function as atheists in the American mainstream. As recently as this past American Presidential election, Gallup reported that only 49 percent of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist, while 59 percent would vote for an otherwise qualified homosexual. The third group, the Mormons, at 82 percent, is closer to the mainstream than it is to either the atheists or the homosexuals.

Over the past month, we have been the object of much scorn, borne of falsehood and misinformation. What seems to be a "template" editorial column has circulated through all the bureaus, having been rewritten by numerous Christian commentators. We know these are all original columns, and that no such "template" exists, but these columns are so strikingly similar that there may as well be a web site which sells these things just like those web site which sell term papers to students.

These columns have all noted a "deafening silence" among atheists and civil libertarians over Bush's religiosity and the congressional rendition of "God Bless America." In every one of these columns, it's always a "deafening" silence -- as if we atheists have ever been free to speak our minds without retaliation. But now that we're finally getting a little attention, it's over our apparent silence, and it's always in terms of that common set of misrepresentations they have always used to describe us. My current plan for (maybe) changing this (just a little) is described in our FAQ piece, "Introduction to Activistic Atheism."

Most of this has to do with correcting the popular misunderstandings regarding the word atheist and popularizing what I consider to be the "classic" definition for the word: "one who lacks a god belief for whatever reason; one who is not a theist."

A lot of what I do also involves urging atheists to take responsibility for our behavior and to be self-consistent with what the atheistic position basically is. Atheists are, by the very nature of atheism, calling theism falsehood; thus, you would expect atheists to have at least some respect for truthfulness. Thus, I picked up the mantle left by Gora and now urge my fellow atheists to consider that we, of all social groups, cannot afford to practice dishonesty. Gora is very pointed when he speaks of hypocrisy, ready to pronounce a hypocritical atheist as not really an atheist.

Atheism, remember, presupposes a respect for truthfulness in the sense that simply through the act of being atheists we call theism a form of falsehood: we need not lift a finger or utter a word. Unwilling to carry this to the extremes that Gora and Gandhi carried it, I recognize that many Americans are not ready to "come out of the closet" for whatever reason. I will respect the matriarch who raised four generations of Jehovah's Witnesses and as a senior citizen snapped out of her religious belief. But to let on to her family that she'd done this would cost her the right to contact all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren! This is because the Watchtower group, more than most, frowns on "apostasy" (leaving the fold). An entire family will stop speaking to an apostate family member! I am not as ready to pass judgement upon such an individual as Gora and Gandhi might have done.

A new idea that I have been developing involves the fact that atheism is really not that big of a deal. My atheism is not a very big part of my life -- even though I am a full-time atheistic activist! How can that be? My atheism distinguishes me from other people: my atheism says, "I am not a theist." Atheism, to me, is the default position when it comes to religious views. We start out without a god-belief and usually learn some religion at a very young age. Being unable to remember the time when we did not believe, we tend to take religion for granted. But this is not right: religious faith is an added attraction, something extra that humans add to their humanity. If we fail to add this element to our humanity (or later remove it), we are regular humans, people without theism.

Would it make sense to come up with a word that means, "I am not a Nobel Laureate"? Do I need to distinguish myself from this special group of people? No. Okay, do I need to distinguish myself from the criminal class? do I need a word that means, "I have never been convicted of a crime"? Well, that only comes up when we're filling out job applications, and the like, so not really. We can simply answer "No" to the question on the form. However, even though theism is something extra that people have added to their humanity (it's the theists who have distinguished themselves, actually), the theists are in the majority, and have been throughout recorded history. So, I propose that there are times when we will need a word which distinguishes us from the theistic majority. But that's all that the label "atheist" does, actually, is distinguish me from the theistic majority.

I have developed this theme in the editorial columns "Atheism: But A Small Part" (April, 2001) and "To Symbolize That Which Is Not?" (August, 2001). Having been raised in an atheistic family, this is the expression of atheism that we practiced for four generations: we rarely if ever even thought about religion or atheism. As I meet more and more atheists, both through the PAM project and in my personal life, I am noticing that more and more people who are not religious are this way: we don't even use the word atheist because we make the mistake of thinking that atheist means antireligious (see the point above about misunderstanding atheism). We don't think of ourselves as "not religious" simply because the subject doesn't even cross our minds! But, according to the classic definition, they are atheists because they are without religion! The leaders of atheist groups and organizations would try to recruit these atheists to their groups or to at least "come out of the closet" and "be counted" or -- at minimum -- become aware that you are not religious. I don't agree with this attitude: instead, I prefer to leave them be as atheists and dignify them by calling that an entirely legitimate expression of atheism (if you would call it an "expression").

A final theme that I've also been working on recently is that I cannot find what I consider to be a legitimate reason for atheists to join together and form atheists-only groups and organizations. This will eventually work its way into the goal of urging atheists to assimilate themselves into the mainstream wherever we find ourselves (mentioned above). However, this is so new that I really have yet to receive much feedback on the idea itself. Nevertheless, my initial expression of this viewpoint lives in the exchange with Argentinean Skeptic Juan De Gennaro, called, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?"

What started out as an aside-remark mainly out of curiosity a few months ago, a question that actually referred to something else entirely, exploded onto my keyboard as what I think will be a major turning point for Positive Atheism's position. Then again, it could flop! I could realize just how wrong I am! But this is the food for thought that I have laid down, and at this point I merely await feedback from friends and critics.

Thanks much for the opportunity to explore some of these ideas with you. What started off as a clarification of our purpose turned into a "progress report" of sorts. But this is much more than simply making information available, we are struggling desperately to overcome centuries -- millennia -- of brutally destructive and shamefully degrading treatment at the hands of the theistic majority, which majority has almost always been entangled in some form of State Church. Just having the information is important, but for most of us it is not enough: we wish we could have grown up with this stuff, grown into it, actually, and we will never be able to make up for that simply by reading the material today. All that's left is to try to make it so that future children do not have to experience the problems that marked my childhood, by making Religious Liberty a reality, not just words on a revered parchment.

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

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His pull-quote of what I allegedly said, what I did say is blocked in Roman Text, what he pulled that I do not remember writing (that is also not in the copy) is in Courier or TeleType Text.

 

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Optimum Computing"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: October 22, 2001 4:47 PM
 

We have placed your address in our 505 block. Have a nice life.
 

So, then, should we abandon sixty years of history and heritage and begin giving the word positive the meaning that you think it ought to have when we use it?

We should change our entire way of doing things simply because you cannot accept that when we use the word positive we mean "proactive" and "taking action against injustice," etc., rather than "namby-pamby" and all things Barry Manilow, as you appear to suggest?
 

I thank you for your compliment!

Whenever somebody simply makes bald statements like this without bothering to back them up or even explain, I know little more than that I have just been paid the kindest back-handed compliment -- based on what kinds of people almost always are the ones who act this way (people whose respect I certainly wouldn't want).

I would be very worried had you bothered to explain yourself or back up your statement, because the kinds of people who act that way tend to have opinions that are at least remotely based in reality and as such; that is, worthy of consideration.
 

I cannot comment on this because I am not sure what I said (or if I said it). Perhaps some spurious text was pasted into what I was writing and I didn't notice it (I have a sleep pattern disorder and sometimes spontaneously fall asleep at the wheel and that does happen -- not infrequently). I apologize if this is what you read (and think you understood!?) in assessing me as reflecting "hatred and intolerance." (And gaud help us if he thinks he actually understood that mess -- whatever it was!)

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

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I don't remember writing this. It doesn't make sense. It is not in the copy of what we sent that we saved out after we sent it. I don't know where this comes from.

Occasionally (actually quite frequently), a sleep-pattern problem kicks in in mid-paragraph and I'll manage about half a sentence in the sleep state and usually several pages of repeated character as my hand rests on a key. Though this could be what happened, snapping awake from such a state is not something I can ignore. Besides, it is not in our copy of the final product.

However, Mr. Atwater has already given us strong indication that there's nothing I could have done or said that would have satisfied him. So with that, I will not say that I think Mr. Atwater is playing games with us or pulling anything, only that I am relieved to hear that we won't be hearing from him again. (Well -- we won't be hearing from him anyway, because I have blocked his address!)

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2009 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 Positive Atheism 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.