Hard To Attack Someone You
Understand To Be Human, Too
Brian

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Brian"
Subject: Re: Promote Understanding
Date: September 27, 2001 2:51 PM

We don't know what it's like because we haven't had to -- until now.

It's too bad that the price is so high, but Americans just got "baptised" into knowing what it's like for most of the rest of the world.

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

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Brian"
Subject: Re: Promote Understanding
Date: September 27, 2001 11:43 PM

I think we both are on the same wavelength, with only very minor differences.
 

Where We're Coming From

Most theists think of atheism as militant anti-theism. This is not true. Most atheists rarely if ever even think about religion or atheism. This is what atheism means: without religion. The vast majority of us just don't care about the subject. Those of us who are interested in the subject tend to be somewhat quiet because those expressions of religion which even merit our attention (usually fundamentalism) are practiced by people who just won't listen to reason: there's just no talking to them. The remaining forms of religious expression, the benign forms of religion, aren't worth talking about because they don't hurt anybody. Even as a full-time atheistic activist, I spend very little time thinking about religion or atheism, but spend my on-duty time thinking about ethics, social issues, philosophy, typesetting and HTML coding, English syntax, General Protection Faults, and other more mundane elements that make up the work that I do each day. Seldom do I discuss atheism with people in social situations. I just don't care what other people believe, and have never even dated somebody who (I knew) was an atheist when we started dating. To quote a Christian missionary whose daughter I dated long ago, even when this is work, it's "ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration."
 

Our Recommendations To Atheists

Thus, we ask atheists to recognize that most atheists are barely aware of their atheism. We use the "weak" definition for the word atheism, which says that an atheist is, at minimum, a person who simply lacks a god belief for whatever reason. The "militant atheist" is a rarity even among those who keep an active awareness of their atheism, and our goal is to make this militancy even rarer among active atheists.

We have for some time asked those atheists who are aware of their atheism (what we call "active atheists") to consider three additional things: (1) all theists have (or think they have) valid reasons for believing the way they do; (2) atheists' open and public criticism of theism is best restricted to those expressions of religious faith that are intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous; (3) in understanding what an "intrusive expression of religion" is, we do well to distinguish between private and public expressions of religion. There are others, but these are the main ones as they relate to what you're trying to say.
 

We have long held that we atheists have much more in common with theists than we have differences. We also stress that the God-question is one of the stupidest controversies we can think of over which to get into a heated argument. Granted, many theists will disagree and will consider the God-question of utmost importance. Nevertheless, we have seen no reason to go along with those theists on that matter. Besides, there are plenty of theists who will agree with us in this, and we thus have plenty of opportunity to make friendships and form alliances with people who are interested in working together to solve the grave problems which we face as a species.
 

Most of the theistic groups whose outlooks are conducive to this behavior are already actively engaged in trying to reach out -- if not across Christian-Muslim lines, at least across the lines of Christian denominations which were once bitterly divided. Lately, the Christian-Jewish barrier seems to be crumbling just as the inter-Christian barriers have, for the most part, fallen away. Even when the leadership still maintains a sharp distinction, the rank-and-file tend to downplay such distinction. Thus you will see many intermarriages today, and have seen these for as long as I can remember. I have many friends who are older than I who are the product of Jewish-Christian marriages.

As for atheists joining this move, I'd say that most rank-and-file atheists already do this, because most atheists just don't care about religious matters. Whether somebody is Jewish or Muslim or Christian or even atheistic matters naught to the vast majority of atheists.

The small number of atheists who do care about these things tend to be those atheists likely to join groups. This brings two advantages: First, the percentage of atheists who are willing to join a group is very small, almost imperceptible. Even though its the atheist groups that the press will hear from when they want to solicit the opinions of "atheists," the groupers are really an insignificant minority. Secondly, even if you did want to "reach out" to atheists groups, this would be a rather simple undertaking. I'm not sure you will accomplish much, because these atheists are more likely to approach their atheism fundamentalistically; like their theistic counterparts, such atheists would be much tougher to reason with.

Perhaps something similar to our suggestion will eventually catch on -- perhaps atheists will, on a wide scale, refrain from gratuitously and indiscriminately criticizing any and all forms of theism and restrict our criticism to those forms of theism which are intrusive, exploitative, and dangerous. If this or a similarly cooperative or peace-promoting outlook becomes popular, we can expect the groups to want to adapt it simply because its being popular will increase the groups' prospects for gaining new members. Hey! We could do much worse!

However, I am finding (and have known for most of my life) that the vast majority of those who do not believe in gods tend not to care whether or not others believe. My family was this way as were most of our friends and neighbors who were atheists (and those who were theists, come to think of it). About once a year, my father would get into it with the Roman Catholic family's father, but we all knew that they were just having fun with it -- engaging in a competitive game of exploring ideas -- just like when they'd discuss the merits of hunting (or lack thereof) or whatever. And we knew that the competition inherent in the discussion was no more competitive than that involved in a chess game or a tennis match. I can remember when I started hanging at the Baptist church and my parents, atheists, invited the Mormon neighbor over to see if I might be interested in Mormonism! My parents though much more highly of Mormonism than they did of regular Christianity, and thought very little of the biblical fundamentalism I was learning from the Baptists!
 

This is an excellent start! You will go far in your specific quest with these two sects. I don't hold out much hope for many sects, but these two will provide you with great success as far as reaching out to promote peace and inter-sect dignity.
 

You have our pledge of cooperation, but you will need to recognize that many of us atheists have been deeply hurt for centuries and this pain just won't go away in a day. We cannot learn to deal with this pain just by going to a few sessions with a psychologist or social worker. In fact, I barely know where to start.

I do hold out hope for our recommendation that atheists refrain from indiscriminately and gratuitously criticizing any and all forms of religious expression. This is, I think, a very good start. We can deal with the pain, for now, by allowing ourselves to continue to speak out against dangerous expressions of religion -- such as what happened in New York two weeks ago as well as many of the responses that have followed, including Jerry Falwell's comments, Bush's blatantly exploitative public religiosity and his crusade-like approach to his little "war," the dancing in the streets of Beirut and elsewhere, and the shocking bigotry against Sikh-American and Muslim-American citizens, which could, at any moment, turn its focus upon atheists. Any atheist will have her or his hands full addressing any one of these issues, or perhaps one of the handful of other exploitative religious acts that we've witnessed -- if that atheist even wants to say anything at all!

We really have no time or energy any more to sit there and indiscriminately cap on any and all forms of religion. Most importantly, we have no reason to act this way, because most expressions of religion harm nobody. We may disagree or even find some of it objectionable, but we're big boys and girls and we'll get over it.

As for cooperating with some forms of religion, particularly some of the more popular forms of Evangelical Christianity as it's practiced in the United States, many of the active atheists who have paid attention, who have watched the Evangelical Christian leadership over the years, have noticed several important tendencies on the part of these leaders. Evangelical Christianity is a form of monotheism which actively seeks to dominate and even rule almost every situation with which it comes in contact. Many of the more powerful Evangelical Christian leaders have shown us that they will stop at nothing to win a few converts or to gain control over this or that aspect of public life.

This was a problem during much of the career of the brilliant journalist H. L. Mencken, and it has been quite a problem starting again in the late 1960s but particularly beginning with the Reagan administration. This religiosity is not limited to the Evangelical Christian organizations, but is also practiced by some of the "fringe" sects, such as Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. But Evangelical Christianity is so popular as to be almost ubiquitous; we are constantly having to battle them over lawmaking and even public school curricula, trying to stop them from legislating their specific brand of "morality" and bringing the instruction of their specific religious tenets into our classrooms.

This particular brand of religiosity is what I would consider intrusive, exploitative, and, at times, dangerous. I know of very few atheists -- active or oblivious -- who would disagree with the observation that the Evangelicals are a force to be reckoned with. In fact, I'd wager that even those sect with which you will find much in the way of cooperation will balk at the notion of trying to get along with those Evangelicals who set themselves apart from everybody and anybody who is not in full agreement with them on religious matters. I don't know how to address this problem, and would tend to place the "ball in their court," as they say. We can certainly urge them to try to get along with us purely for the sake of getting along, but I don't hold out much hope in many of them responding to our call for peace and unity. In fact, the closest we came to this was Bush's Day of Prayer, and even then, based on the remarks of Rev. Falwell and Rev. Robertson along with the somewhat vocal support for their sentiments from within the Evangelical camp, I cannot hold out much hope for cooperation from them any time soon.
 

I would appreciate feedback from you regarding my reservations.

These reservations include the fact that many atheists have been deeply hurt for a long time. This pain does come from almost all sides. Considering that atheists are the single most widely and viciously despised innocent people group in history, we will see examples of bigotry and stigma coming from those that we ought to consider as potential allies. This bigotry is institutionalized and will not fall in a day. And we are foolish, I think, if we pretend that it will just go away if we ignore it and simply go about our business of trying to get along. I suspect that most active atheists will want to continue confronting this whenever it occurs.

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

Graphic Rule

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