Be Defined Or Be Counted
Joel

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Joel"
Subject: Positive Atheism Letters Section
Date: October 17, 2001 3:16 AM

The balance I'm looking for is this:

1. It is hard to identify by our mutual absence of religion. So, perhaps the energies we might spend trying to form an alliance based upon our mutual atheism could be put to better use elsewhere.

2. We do have specific socio-political goals; that is, we have needs that, if met, would enhance our lives or remove barriers from our ability to live normal lives. I don't think any of these goals is a concern that's unique to atheists. Almost every socio-political goal I can think of that an atheist might work toward is a matter that likewise concerns many theists. Thus, socio-political activism is not an issue of atheism or theism. I argue this point in the letter "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" with Juan De Gennaro. In it, I show that even curbing antiatheist bigotry is in certain theist groups' best interest!

The only uniquely atheistic angle I can think of would be the antireligion angle, and I don't think this is something I'd want to see developed into an "outreach" program.

Face it: Let's just find the issues that concern us the most and the goals we think we need to work toward. Next, it should be quite easy to find out which groups need some help (hint: all of them!) and then go out and join their efforts. If nobody's working toward a specific goal, let's start a group and get busy -- but never should we start an atheists-only activistic organization.

3. While we're out there working with and among other activists (most of whom happen to be theists), we can keep our eyes open looking for ways to reduce or eradicate the stigma and bigotry. Sure we're going to bump into some problems, because bigotry is natural among humans and antiatheist bigotry is pretty much institutionalized in America. Even those of us who are trying to address our own bigotry still have problems with it at times. But rather than allowing this to become a problem for us, we can instead use it as an opportunity to study what's going on and see if we can work out some effective solutions.

Then, when we come home at night, we can log on and describe the incident and ask others who are working on the bigotry problem for their feedback or suggestions. We can take those suggestions back the next day and see if what was suggested works: does this or that response, etc., effectively reduce such and so behavior. Most importantly, since it's activism that we're doing in the first place, we stand a good chance of meeting people who belong to other groups that have had it just as rough as we have. Most of those groups are well on their way to coming to their own terms, and many of them have actually made it into the mainstream. This means that we might be able to ask them for some balance or even some advice. Always, though, we're coming home and adding our experiences and thoughts to the discussion of this particular matter.

That's a sort of rough overview of what I've been trying to put together over the past several months.

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

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Added: October 17, 2001

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Van Citters"
Subject: Positive Atheism Letters Section
Date: October 17, 2001 8:33 PM

Yes, and as I've been trying to point out for years, our most powerful position in trying to accomplish these goals is in league with theists, simply because a majority of the active Separationists are theists. This makes sense because theists have much more to lose than atheists if the government endorses one religion over another. Most atheists simply ignore the problem, seeing that a little superstition never hurt anybody: it's not like the demons are real, or anything like that!

Here is where we need to be careful to be very precise in our wording.

If by atheism you mean the claim that no gods exist, then yes, the government must remain silent on this issue. Thus, I like to say that the government ought never have an opinion as to whether or not a God or gods exist.

However, to me, atheism has always been the simple lack or absence of religion. In this sense, atheism is the default perspective when it comes to religious matters. Thus, I could conceivably make the case that the recommended position of the government is rightly called "atheism."

A similar case can be made for agnosticism: if the government ought never have an opinion, then we rightly describe the official government position as "agnosticism."

So, when stating the position that I advocate, I like to say that the government should have no opinion on the God-question (and I capitalize God out of respect). If somebody brings up the notion that the government ought not endorse atheism, I reiterate my first line of thought: the government ought never have an opinion on whether or not a God or gods exist. I then remind myself, out loud, that the word atheism means different things to different people.
 

I still prefer using the language neutral over secular when describing the role of government regarding the God-question. The word secular is a hot-button word in some circles, and can only blind some potential supporters to the real point we are trying to make.
 

Religion is a private matter, but some people are bent on enforcing their narrow views upon the rest of us, either by legislating draconian prohibitions based upon their religious viewpoints or by tricking, coaxing, or browbeating the government into endorsing one specific sect -- even if that "one specific sect" happens to be the bulk of Protestantism, as is the case with posting the Ten Commandments: they inevitably want to post the Protestant version!

As much as I love Dan Barker, I still sense quite a bit of what most would call "antitheism" coming from that particular camp. I'm not saying this is wrong, only that some of what they do comes off, to myself and others, as "antitheistic."

Certainly there is a time and place to openly criticize certain religious views. The context that I've been exploring lately is that of building resources for those who have decided to abandon the faith of their heritage. I am not quite ready for the concept of engaging in the atheistic equivalent of missionary work. Others are, and I will not try to hinder their efforts, but neither will I endorse a program to recruit theists to atheism.

Rather, I think an entirely legitimate context for critical treatment of the religious beliefs themselves would be helping former theists adjust from a faith-based outlook to one based in human reason. This is a lot of what goes on in my Letters responses, that is, why many of my responses are a lot longer than they otherwise need to be.

I would have several advantages in such a field of work: I was raised completely without religion (except minor exposure from neighbors, schoolmates, schoolteachers, and relatives). However, I did spend two brief periods in high school thinking I might want to be a Christian (and some even briefer moments exploring several Eastern viewpoints). I also have spent years studying (but not practicing) what some would call the occult: like British occultist Aleister Crowley, I don't consider any of it "real," but simply enjoy exploring some of the riddle-like or puzzle-like aspects of the occult. I also like what I call the "dark aesthetic" in some expressions of the occult. Finally, I spent three years during my mid-20s as a Fundamentalist Christian, spent perhaps as much as five years after that trying to "come down" from that experience.

As a result, it is almost second-nature for me to recognize the differences between faith-based thinking and reason-based thinking. Argentinean Skeptic Juan De Genarro and I have lately been discussing the problem of atheists, particularly atheistic activists, who have not adequately dealt with the residual or vestigial thinking that one acquires while she or he was a theist. We've each noticed that the style of thinking that marks a fundamentalist in theism can easily be applied to the defending atheistic outlook. I had written "Atheism & Fundamentalism," which explores some of the differences between Fundamentalistic thinking and rational thought. This difference can show up in how we deal with individual subjects, how we respond to stress, and ultimately how we defend the atheistic position. In a worst-case scenario, a group of atheists caught up in the fundamentalist thinking style is indistinguishable from a group of fundamentalist theists, and some have described various atheist groups in precisely those terms!
 

I hope I'm wrong, but since fundamentalism is by definition "not wrong" (at least in the fundamentalists' minds) some of these will get no kind of awakening! Never happen!

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

Graphic Rule

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