Kathleen Parker's Website
Abuzz With Furor
About Her Article
Kenneth Paolini

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kenneth Paolini"
Subject: Re: Kathleen Parker
Date: October 06, 2001 7:24 PM

When sacked by National Review for saying of the Muslims celebrating the attack, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," columnist Ann Coulter replied: "Frankly, I'm getting a lot of great publicity." She was only talking about those who were celebrating the attacks, remember.

Right! Like Rush Limbaugh, she knows she's got quite an audience for that kind of stuff, and she's hoping she'll be able to continue to milk this in the post-September 11 climate, not counting on the possibility that this thing threw everybody for a loop, that practically everybody's gone off their diet, and we just might see some wholesale changes in people's attitudes over the next few months.

So now Kathleen Parker's chat room is being billed as the hottest atheist board going. Can we really add to the discussion by tossing in a few more numbers? Perhaps. We do better, though, by trying to learn from this. At minimum, we owe it to ourselves (and the community as a whole) to at least make a statement: we gotta say at least something, and cannot simply let this thing slide. To remain silent would be to renege on our responsibility to our fellow humans as a whole.

If nothing else, we've shown ourselves that we can examine a statement consisting of tired old clichés, long overdue for becoming passé, and express how it makes us feel -- how this behavior has always made us feel. If nothing else, we've pulled ourselves that much further out of the closet. If nothing else, one more small group of disinterested observers have been exposed to this particular issue.

But now the question we need to ask is, When does it become like beating a dead horse?

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In suggesting that our energy might be more wisely used elsewhere (without suggesting exactly where that might be), I will mention that I was briefly involved in the Boy Scouts discussion. While my associates were jumping up and down to the Scouts, their supporters, and the public about that group's discrimination against atheists, I was quietly observing the other front in that battle: those working to end Scouting's homophobia. I noticed just how much more successful the gays had become than the atheists even hoped to become.

After reading a few dozen of his e-list dispatches, I approached the busiest spokesman for Scouting's anti-homophobia movement and asked him what it would take for his group to systematically mention atheists every time his group mentions anything about Scouting and homosexuals.

He didn't balk, but it didn't seem as if he thought much of the suggestion. It seemed almost as if he didn't want to tarnish a good thing by taking risks at this point, but I can't really tell what was going on in his mind, I just remember making that specific request. Instead, he pointed to a few things that he had said.

I reiterated that it certainly wouldn't hurt for his end of the movement to say "homosexuals and atheists" whenever they ordinarily would have merely mentioned "homosexuals." This isn't the exact language and metaphor I used, but simply the gist of what I was trying to get across: Please bring up the atheists every time you mention the homosexuals, because you're doing quite well and we've gotten nowhere."

Well, literally moments later I started Positive Atheism and have been busy doing this since then, no longer affiliated with the people who had been busy working against the Scouts. I received a rare e-mail from my former associate a few weeks ago, celebrating just how much success has been derived from this one activist's group's having made one simple change: they now systematically include atheists in almost every statement they make. Hmmmm! My former associate had sent her dispatch in part to thank them and laud them for having made the change. (Now, not that it matters where an idea comes from or who does the work to put it in place -- but if she only knew!)

My point is this: Working directly against the opponent is not always the wisest use of our time, energy, enthusiasm, and other resources. With the Scouting thing, a couple of extra half-hours carefully challenging potentially one of our staunchest allies seems to be what changed everything for our side. Instead of being on the outside, trying to figure out how we could ever manage to even ride their coattails, we appear to have become an important part of their cause! Now may those who had been working for atheist dignity in Scouting return kind with kind and bring homosexuals into their speech at every opportunity!

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With Kathleen Parker, there's quite a bit of personal pride at stake. If she says anything at all on her own (without being coerced by Gannett), it will be a spin -- guaranteed. One person claims to have received just such an apology from Parker:

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Why take it so personally? It wasn't about atheists. It was about the fact that everyone is talking about God all of a sudden when no one would have mentioned the word before Sept. 11. That was my real point.

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Yeah, right! If that's what she's saying, it has all the irony of James Watt's bit describing his staff to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1983: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." Watt was trying to be funny: Watt was actually paying them a complement (if you can buy that one). Watt had to cool off critics of racial imbalance in his department, so he livened it up with humor so oblique that in the end even he couldn't explain the punch line. Instead, he resigned in disgrace. Hey! He was just trying to make a point!

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Why take it so personally? ...

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Why does she feel the need to throw it back on us like that? Why not simply own what she said?

Why take it so personally? Because, like James Watt's "Black," like James Watt's "woman," like James Watt's "two Jews," and (speaking from personal experience) like James Watt's "cripple," Kathleen Parker's "atheists" have been getting the short end for so long -- for generations, in fact -- that we don't even want to think about that aspect any longer, we just look forward to the day when we can live in peace and dignity.

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... everyone is talking about God all of a sudden when no one would have mentioned the word before Sept. 11....

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You mean to tell me that with George W. Bush in office, nobody has been willing to even mention God in public life? In other words, our pious President is the only one?

I don't buy that one -- not for a minute!

Bush barely edged out Al Gore in what more than a few social critics called "a race for the office of Bishop." In this day and age, if you don't have the "God" angle covered, your political career is in grave danger. (Lincoln had similar problems but dealt with them quite differently.) Though Gore said he'd vote for an atheist, even level-headed John McCain balked at that, saying he found it "impossible" to imagine that "a nation which is grounded in Judaeo-Christian principles would somehow select someone ... who would repudiate those principles."

By the way, have you written your letter to ABC yet? Their favorite talk show host Star Jones just joined rank with Senator McCain! Just this week she said she was grateful that George W. Bush is a "man of faith," adding that under no circumstances would she ever vote for an Atheist, since nonbelievers presumably have no foundation for morality.

No foundation for morality, eh? Have you heard that one before? Does this mean we atheists are de facto wicked or something?

That's how Miami Mayor Joe Carollo vilified the Immigration agents who grabbed Cuban boy-refugee Elian Gonzalez in a celebrated Easter Morning raid: "These are atheists. They don't believe in God," he said. And Carollo kept his job in part because the only voices anybody heard on that one were Positive Atheism and a few of her readers -- thanks to one very alert reader.

Grab a copy of Merriam-Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary (or any M-W dictionary, for that matter), look up the word atheism, and check out their idea of a synonym: "wickedness"! That they call this rendering "archaic" only shows how long we've been dealing with it. That a major talk show host can continue this myth and remain employed only shows that the idea is not as "archaic" as M-W would have us believe.

But if Arizona Senator John McCain and ABC talk show host Star Jones would refuse to vote for a candidate simply because she or he is an atheist, they rank well within the majority of Americans. The 1999 edition of a semi-frequent Gallup poll says that being an atheist is still "the most discriminated-against characteristic of the eight tested in the research." The question? Would you vote for somebody who is a ________ for President? Here are the 1999 results:

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"____ percent of Americans
would vote for ____? "

     95     Black
     94     Roman Catholic
     94     Baptist
     92     Jew
     92     Woman
     79     Mormon
     59     homosexual
     49     atheist

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That's right: Fewer than half of Americans would vote for somebody if one of their character traits happened to be atheism.

But wait a minute: Polls continually show a solid ten percent of Americans to be without religion or theism (however they want to describe it, because we see what happens when you call yourself an atheist). This would mean that chances are, ten percent of politicians are atheists, wouldn't you think? even more so, because religiosity is more strongly represented among the poor, and you rarely if ever see politicians coming from that side of the tracks.

Or is "American Politician" such a fine, upstanding category of profession that only fine, upstanding Christians would ever consider making American politician their career choice? is that it?

I don't think so.

Rather, I'd wager that a solid ten percent of all American politicians are lying to the public about their religious beliefs! Why? Because the American public, through its bigotry, forces the politicians to pretend to be Christian (or, in some parts of the country, Jewish or Mormon).

Can you just see this on one of the online service debate boards?

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Atheists are more moral than religious people.

1. Given that: American politicians are among the most consistently corrupt people groups ever to have existed.
2. Given that: very few (if any) American politicians are atheists. (Hell, even "Honest Abe" Lincoln openly misled the public about his atheism! and not even Jesse Ventura admits his atheism!)
3. Therefore atheists, going from the smaller group of politicians to the larger group of the general public, are shown to be more moral.

-- or --

3. Therefore atheists, containing zero American politicians, have that many fewer corrupt people within their overall ranks.

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So, in short, I think we do well to make at least a little noise about Kathleen Parker. Ditto for Star Jones' remark about atheists having no basis for morality and ditto for E! magazine host Ben Stein's remark calling the terrorist attacks an "atheistic evil." (Excuse me? Those guys had drafted special prayers to Allah just to help them make it through this ordeal!)

We need to make noise about all this plus Bush's exclusive, almost exploitative, ultra-religious handling of the national ceremony of mourning for our fellow Americans who fell from this vicious attack, which also should have served as a way for us to unite and also should have helped any and all Americans recover from the sheer shock of having watched this thing go down.

But there reaches a point where we've said all we can say to all who can listen. Saying it again and again over the same incident (i.e., rubbing it in) just isn't going to improve anything at a certain point: our energies are, at that point, best used doing something different. Just what that "something different" is, though, depends entirely on the situation at hand.

That's where being observant and getting creative will make all the difference. May I recommend tracking down a copy of Saul Alynski's classic books, Rules for Radicals and Revile for Radicals or perhaps Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book could provide numerous attention-getting ideas. Any study of the union organizers or the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement or even Gandhi's salt rebellion is sure to full of anecdotes of all their successes and even tell of where they failed and how.

That's where working variously as individual activists can actually strengthen our position. As we saw with the Scouting thing, a single move by one person in an entirely unexpected direction appears to have made a big difference there. Thomas Paine's one pamphlet series sparked the entire American Revolution and his one trip to France financed much of the ensuing war. With several people each doing something different, we are more likely to see one of them actually finding that one moment, that one situation, that one opportunity where a couple of hours of careful talk can accomplish the work of thousands in daily toil for a month.

Thanks for your letter and for the opportunity to hammer out a few new ideas.

Again, I'm not saying not to log on and give Ms. Parker a piece of your mind. I'm only saying that if this is all we do -- if our goal is to see how many people will log on to the most board and show solidarity -- we shouldn't be surprised if three months from now we're still basically where we were three months ago. We do want to make our voices heard and we do want a strong show of solidarity whenever possible (and we sure have it with this wildly successful statement against Ms. Parker). But as with most moves, there's only so far you can go with this one. Most importantly, there are only so many of us and we each have only so much time and so many resources. So we must pick our battles wisely.

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

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