Atheists As Potential Allies
Hassan Behtooee

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Hassan Behtooee"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 15, 2001 2:16 AM

It might be interesting if that's what we were about -- or anything else you've complained about in your letter. I notice that you clicked the e-mail link at the top of the front page, suggesting that you didn't spend much time finding out what we're about before launching your salvoes against us.

What I find so fascinating is just how many people click that very link and begin to talk about how we do things that we don't do. And the people who do this inevitably (to a man) display an air of superiority, even though they're too lazy to investigate to see what our view are, what we do, or what we say.

What is it called when someone thinks they're so utterly superior to you that they'd go so far as to write you a letter and tell you this fact -- even though they obviously have not taken the trouble to even find out who you are or what you do to see if, in fact, they indeed have one over on you?

By the way, there are good reasons why this web site clearly states that we're here for the benefit of atheists. We have nothing to say to believers, except to wish them well. Your letter reminds us of one of those reasons.

Have a nice life. As far as we can tell, it's the only one we get.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Hassan Behtooee"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 19, 2001 9:01 PM

Compare this most recent statement:
 

with this previous statement of yours:

It is interesting to see someone devote so much of their life to disproving the existence of God. [Etc.]

So, then, when I told you that this is not the overall goal of the web site but a superficial slander of it, are you now calling me a liar? still having not read very much of the material on the web site? still having not bothered to try to understand some of the problems we address or even the basis for some of our humor?
 

Once more, the god-question is not one that I concern myself with very much. Only to the extent that my earlier religious training has raised unconscious fears and doubts that still influence my behavior today do I even ponder the god-claims for myself.

This web site features some material on the god-claims, specifically that of Christianity, because we receive many requests for material on this subject, so we provide it for our readers:

Many of our readers fear the political maneuvering of the Radical Religious Right, and support our efforts to educate our target audience about this frivolous yet somewhat offensive rhetoric which has the potential of harming us all if we don't have all the facts. I have investigated the god-claims of these people and have found them to be laughably shallow. By addressing some of the more vulgar elements of their religious views, we can, in effect, disarm them to a certain extent. Because much of their rhetoric has only a religious basis and cannot be justified outside of a religious world view, we rightly address the religious basis of their arguments.

But this is not enough: we must also show how the changes they seek are harmful or nobody will act to try to stop them. More often than not, when we address a specific political issue we will cloak it in the context of a religious argument because it is much easier to show their purely religious motives this way. So, after we open such a response with the obligatory refutation of the religious dogma undergirding the political rhetoric, we will quickly move on to discussing how this or that proposed change will adversely affect our lives -- including the lives of those who support the changes!

Other people read this magazine and visit this web site because they can relate to my descriptions of how certain earlier religious training can profoundly affect your behavior and how you feel for years after you stop believing. They, like me, detect that the problem stems from their religious training, and they, like me, have sought ways to stop our past from affecting our futures. To this extent do we spend much time talking about the god-claims of those religions which have so profoundly affected us. So, when this issue comes up, a response always begins with the obligatory refutation of the religious claim at hand, inevitably followed by discussion of the issue itself.

It's easy to see how somebody who does not bother to see what's really going on here, and who would just as soon portray atheists in an unfavorable light to begin with, would jump at the chance of telling themselves and others that we spend our time "disproving the existence of God." (perhaps because that person is too busy perpetrating the very problems we are discussing?).
 

Please give your credibility a lift by taking the time and making an effort to understand what your opponents do before you make the mistake of criticizing them for doing things that they do not, in fact, do. This is probably the most common mistake of those who write to an atheist journal: they fail to find out what the word atheism means to those who produce the journal as well as those who read it. Who knows? You may just discover that someone who you thought was an opponent turns out to be one of your greatest allies.

The word atheism exists only so that we may distinguish ourselves from those people who believe the various god-claims floating around. These god-claims do not bother most of us at all: we are not sitting here wondering if we may have made a mistake in deconverting to atheism. Many of them are so utterly devoid of a foundation as to make grist for a rather off-the-wall humor mill; these theist are literally begging for us to laugh at them. And if I can pull off a few chuckles at their expense, fine with me.

Again: I am not trying to prove to myself (or anyone else) that no gods exist. None of the god-claims I have encountered in my lifetime come close to convincing me that I should even bother with the subject. Instead, I am trying to avert some of the damage caused by those religions which are popular where I live: namely, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, the New Age movement, and the Twelve Step movement -- and, to a much lesser extent, Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam.

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

Graphic Rule

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Hassan Behtooee"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 21, 2001 4:22 PM

Please understand that we encounter this particular misunderstanding all the time -- almost every day on this Forum. Sometimes we need to become stern, but this does not necessarily mean that we are losing our patience. Some atheists do lose their patience, but my role here is trying to express to others what I think atheism is as opposed to what it is not. So, patience is a must for me when dealing with these questions on this Forum -- particularly when there is a misunderstanding. I hope my sternness did not sound like a loss of patience.

Thus, I do what I can to try to convey these views. I am sorry if this makes a few people uncomfortable, but imagine yourself in my position, being misunderstood from all sides -- even by one's own fellow-atheists! If I and a few others spend enough time working toward education in this matter, perhaps this misunderstanding will eventually go away. I doubt it, but at least I can try!
 

The naturalistic religions, such as Deism, pantheism, Wicca, and, in a sense, Buddhism, are not objectionable to me, I just see science as a superior way to describe Nature. If I didn't see science as clearly superior, I would probably practice one of these religions.

I think the monotheistic religions are, for the most part, harmful to those who practice them, and degrading to the other people around the monotheists, who are not even practicing these religions. Monotheism tends to breed exclusivism, which in turn breeds both intolerance and tolerance. Intolerance is when the dominant group forbids us from having our own differing opinions, and tolerance is when the dominant group permits us to have our own views. I don't think viewpoints are things that should be allowed or disallowed at all!

Science suggests to me that none of us have a clear advantage over any others. Most of us use non-religious reasoning to make our moral decisions in spite of whatever religious training we may have. So, there is nothing about religion that I cannot find through non-religious means -- nothing except the religious faith itself. And I am suggesting that religious faith is not superior to the absence of faith in any way or for any reason. Any advantages which anybody can point out that religion has can be found through non-religious means.

So when somebody claims that their group is superior or in some way more worthy of my allegiance than some other way, I find myself not believing them. Even when I do bother to investigate, I find myself grateful for the system that I've been using for many years. These people are not deliberately lying to me, of course, because they truly and honestly believe what they're telling me. In fact, what they're telling me is probably true for them -- they're probably better off with religion. But I still do not think what they're telling me is the truth: I don't think any religious group is superior to any other group, and I don't think any religious system is superior to any other system. I think it's all a matter of choice and taste, and if religion is superior for anybody it's because that person wants what religion has to offer. There is nothing inherent in religion itself that makes it superior, only the choice of the individual to want religion.
 

I checked it out. I will say that some of the teachings contained there are what I believed when I was a Christian during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I rebelled against the sloppy exegesis and particularly the horrid eschatology that was being used by the churches to attract new members. So I entered into a deep, full-time study of the history of the church as it relates to what various Christians have believed over the ages. This study lasted over two years, and involved about nine to fourteen hours of study per day. My work situation was little more than that of a glorified security guard, babysitting sophisticated electronic equipment and being on hand in case something went wrong with the equipment.

I will say no more than that I was so shocked by my studies of Christian history that I began to question the core teachings of the Bible. As a result of this questioning, I became an atheist, having decided that I do not have enough information to know if God even exists. Today, I don't think I have enough information to know if a historical Jesus even existed.
 

Regarding the purpose of life, I have lately written along the lines that there is no intrinsic purpose to life except to remain alive and to procreate. See the second of "Two Questions From A Youth Minister," called, "What is the primary reason for our existence?" particularly my second option for this imprecise question, called, "What is your purpose for living, for remaining alive?" Procreation, in humans, involves more than simply reproducing because intricate emotions must be in place if we are to successfully bring our young to an age where they can bear their own young. In other words, since the human spends a larger portion if its life as a helpless child than any other fauna, only those who have the ability to nurture and to get along are likely to even have young to whom they can pass those traits. These may get passed on as genetic traits or they may be learned during this long period of nurturing -- it doesn't really matter: without these traits being present in each generation, we would not have made it as far as we have.

Knowing this does not make these emotions any less noble than they would be under other circumstances. I don't need to go any further than this to see the great good in the human emotions -- even though they are, at bottom, traits that happened to favor our survival and thus were put in place through natural selection!

In another example, by seeing the vastly remote unlikelihood that I should have even been born, not to mention that I should be alive today (considering that time only goes around once, and time happens to be "now," when it's my turn to be alive), I have developed a profound appreciation for all life. Richard Dawkins expresses this sense better than I've ever seen it expressed, in his recent book, Unweaving the Rainbow.

My appreciation of this sense as an awe-inspiring mystery that I cannot begin to fathom means more to me than any religious explanation I have ever heard. Also, this appreciation has been with me since I was a child. Again, see my answer to "What is your purpose for living, for remaining alive?" and compare my youthful ponderings with what Dawkins says here. You can easily see why I was so taken by this opening passage that I dropped everything I was doing and sat down and read the book in a single sitting!

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

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Added: October 21, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Hassan Behtooee"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 24, 2001 6:08 PM

Yes, however my wanting something to be true does not make it true.

Sometimes I think about death and injustice and these thoughts hurt me to the point of being unable to function. I can see why people cling to supposed answers to these problems. I do not fault anybody for seeking these answers in religion.

A case can be made that some things are more important than truth. However, I have found that I am no happier thinking something that is true when I know that I'm only fooling myself. While the truth can be quite disturbing, clinging to falsehood has only shown itself to be worse than that. This is particularly true when I discover that I've been teaching falsehood to others (and I cannot do anything as a spectator -- not even religion). For this reason, I choose to follow truth wherever it may lead, and to abandon falsehood whenever I find something to be untrue.
 

Properly stated, my position says that human reason, as feeble as it may be at times, is really all we've got. Without reason, we are left groping in darkness when it comes to discovering truth from falsehood.

I'm not saying that science is superior, I am saying that science, insofar as it is an expression of human reason, as all we've got in the way of discovering truth.

In saying this I am saying that faith is not a method for discovering truth. While certain truths may have been discovered through faith, it is not reliable as a method for discovering truth.
 

Some of the things that Jesus is alleged to have taught are among the most superior moral tenets known to humankind. I have two problems with trying to live the way he allegedly asked.

First, one of the things he is said to have stressed is exclusivism: he who is not with me is against me, no man comes to the Father except by me, and the like. This implies that other sources of truth are not valid, and to take seriously this element of the body of Christ's (alleged) teaching would be most unwise.

One saying in particular is most diabolical -- if and only if Christ were, as is claimed for him, omniscient: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:6.) This saying was used for centuries as the "proof text" to argue that burning my ideological forefathers at the stake was the express will of Christ. Had Christ truly been omniscient, we could expect him to have foreseen this and to have picked a different metaphor. In fact, had Christ truly been omniscient, we can expect many things to have come out differently in the Gospels.

Meanwhile, there is nothing within the body of Christ's (alleged) teaching that is truly superior that does not have precedent in much older systems of ethics. Those who compiled the words that would be said to have come out of the mouth of Christ knew what they were doing, and saw to it that all the world's most cherished wisdom had graced the lips of this greatest of teachers -- as far as the official record was concerned.

Two people whose body of teaching I find vastly superior to that of Christ are Thomas Paine and Robert Green Ingersoll. I can think of many others whose body of teaching would be ahead of Christ's in my list of recommendations.

Secondly, some of what Christ is said to have taught I find most reprehensible. For example, by saying that if a man looks on a woman with lust he is already guilty of adultery is to trivialize such reprehensible crimes as rape and child molestation. To be angry with a man is certainly not the same as taking his life away from him.

Since those who formulated his (alleged) body of teaching were convinced that the end of the world was nigh, much of what he is said to have taught is not good policy during times of peace and prosperity. These teachings include turning the other cheek, allowing injustice to go unrecompensed, giving all one has to the poor (at one point the only way to get into Heaven, according to Christ), and abandoning one's family for the cause ("let the dead bury their own dead"). When I was a teenager, many youngsters followed the teaching of Hal Lindsay in The Late Great Planet Earth and abandoned plans for college in order to join flash-in-the-pan ministries -- groups that some would call cultic in that they exploited the youngsters' fears of the future, particularly the dim ecological prospects being popularized during the era which sparked the first Earth Day, when the price of gasoline had doubled over the course of a few months and we had to wait in long lines if we were even allowed to by gasoline at all on a particular day.

Thus, what good I do find in Christ's teaching is available anywhere one finds the wisdom of the species preserved: there is nothing special about Christ himself. Furthermore, some of what I find in Christ's teaching is not what I would teach youngsters, but what I would warn youngsters against.

If Christ were portrayed as merely human, his body of teaching would be much easier to take seriously, because we all would use our powers of reason to discern what is applicable from what is not -- just as we would with any historical figure whose life and words are held up as an example.
 

What we have thought about origins and destiny probably has little to do with our prospects for bringing offspring up to the age where they can reproduce. Origins was not a question until about 140 years ago. Meanwhile, I can only imagine what it's like to grow up wondering if Grandma went to the Christian Hell when she died. How awful! I could not imagine being a kid and thinking that!

What has influenced us more than what you suggest has to do with the fact that for about ten thousand years, anybody who went up against the state religion was put to death and their children sold into slavery (if they were not executed along with the blasphemer). This left those traits which tend toward credulity and surrender to dominate in the gene pool. No wonder so many people find it hard to kick the religion habit, and why there are so many utterly whacky religions out there!
 

The only "records" of the existence of Jesus is the Gospel accounts themselves. No contemporary documents corroborate the claims that a Jesus existed. Paul spoke of a Jesus who lived some time in the past, but gave no indication as to the time of his life and death. Paul "met" Jesus only through dreams and visions. All of the works attributed to Peter and John were written by followers of Paul. We don't have any writings from that sect in Jerusalem which followed Jesus and kept the Mosaic laws. Thus, I don't have enough evidence to assert that a historical Jesus ever lived. I am not saying that he did not live, only that to say that he did exist would go beyond what I know to be true. To say that would be conjecture on my part. The Jesus myth can be explained without there having been a real Jesus. I certainly don't believe the Gospel tales of a supernatural being, born of a virgin and raised from the dead who died for the sins of some but not all humans.

Ditto for Moses and Abraham: We don't have enough evidence to confidently say that these characters have a basis in history or that their stories are based on the lives of men who actually lived. I think many of the exploits of both Moses and Abraham are simply the myths of tribal gods that have been humanized and applied to historical figures. Later, features were added which further made it look as if these were the stories of humans rather than the exploits of deities that I suspect them to have originally been.
 

I disbelieve the Christian-based religions in particular and consider the statement "The Christian God exists" to be a false statement. I disbelieve the monotheistic religions in general, as well as those which feature spectacular claims of the supernatural. I lack a belief in the deities of all other religions. I am not against any religion, though I will oppose certain religious expressions, particularly those which strive to legislate their religious tenets, rituals, and confessions (including "In God We Trust") into law for us all to obey or be punished by the state.

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