Questions About Atheism
I'm a student at the University of Portland, and I'm doing a series of essays on religiously-related issues and organizations in the Portland area for my senior thesis. I think I have enough information to write fairly and accurately on atheism as a whole, but I have a couple questions for you on issues/insight specifically related to the Portland area...any help you can give me on this would be greatly appreciated, and forgive me if I sound naieve or ignorant at times...most of the things i know about atheism i learned yesterday..questions follow
What have been recent major issues in the struggle to separate church and state?
What kind of response does the Positive atheism website usually generate?
What usually happens when people "find out" you're an atheist? I guess what I'm looking for with this question is just a better understanding of the stigma that accompanies atheism in Portland, and for you personally...answer however.
thanks much for whatever you can give me...a
They say goldfish have no memory
I guess their lives are much like mine
The little plastic castle
is a surprise every time
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Alison Ryan"
Subject: Re: questions
Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2001 6:56 AM
Oregon is the least religious of the United States. Seventeen percent or write down "no religion. These figures are lower than those for the world as a whole: twenty percent of humans are either flat-out atheist of are what we call "weak" atheists -- that is, those who simply lack a god belief. Atheism does not necessarily mean asserting that no gods exist. We use the "weak" definition, which means lacking a god belief. In this sense, agnosticism is compatible with "weak" atheism.
The struggle to separate religion from government is so overwhelming that it defies description. You need look no further than your wallet to see what I mean: the inscription "In God We Trust" was put on our money during the McCarthy Era of the Cold War. Did you realize that our government pays the Portland Rescue Mission to preach to the homeless? That's right! They require you to sit through an hour-long Fundamentalist Christian sermon, and then pat themselves on the backs because they have been so generous with the food that we bought them! That's only the beginning: if I go to court, they'll ask me to swear on a Christian Bible -- even though there's no law requiring them to ask me to do that. It goes on, and you need only look around to see what I mean.
The big case in Portland of recent years has been Nancy Powell's move to stop the Boy Scouts from recruiting during class time. The scouts won the court case, and then the schools immediately agreed to stop letting them come in. Although Ms. Powell's suit was motivated by her atheism, the public outcry came over the Scouts' homophobia, not their antiatheist bigotry. Also in Oregon, the Skinner Butte Cross came down in Eugene. This cross-on-public-land squabble was different from the others only because the Ku Klux Klan used to light crosses on Skinner Butte before it became a park. I think this argument -- not the separation of religion from government argument -- is what prevailed to make this case unique among crosses-on-public-land cases. Do you see a trend? What few cases we do win are not being won on grounds of the separation of religion from government.
There have been some tangential issues, such as the Right to Die movement which was opposed entirely and exclusively by powerful organized religious interests which outspent the proponents ten to one both times -- and lost. Also, the homophobic moves in Oregon, such as the Oregon Citizens' Alliance, are based entirely on religion, as are the anti-choice demonstrations at the women's health clinics. This is where we don't want a policy which is based upon religion to impact us all. If you don't think euthanasia is right, then don't commit suicide -- but don't throw me in prison for giving my father some pills if he asks me to get him some. If you don't like abortion, then don't have one. If you your religion says don't be a homosexual, then either don't be a homosexual or change your religion. But we need to make laws based upon how they impact everybody -- now whether some ancient scroll says this or that. In the case of abortion, I can make a very good case that the Christian Bible does not equate abortion with murder, and that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a grown man (and neither do women, children, or slaves, for that matter -- but the fetus has a monetary value placed upon it whereas a man, woman, or child would have a life-for-a-life bounty placed upon him or her).
Naturally we are terrified that George Bush wants to take our tax money to fund religious "outreach." What he's doing is taking my money to fund the spreading of a message that atheism is wrong. While people have every right to say that atheism is wrong, we have no business supporting that speech with our money. This is the very foundation of America, but Jefferson warned that people were already trying to take our hard-won freedoms away -- even while he was President.
The Positive Atheism website averages over 20,000 hits a month and uploads just under five gigabytes per month. The website itself is closing in on 75 megabytes of text-intensive material -- almost every file of which I have prepared myself. Our Inbox sees between 20 and 120 pieces of mail per day, but 30 to 60 is about right. Last time I checked, our e-mail list was larger than that of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and our subscription list is now larger than United States Atheists' list was the entire time I was there (during their heyday, I'll add). This is quite impressive considering that I am a one-man operation.
Most people I know are pretty cool about me being an atheist, although many people get real nervous or defensive the moment they find out I'm an atheist. A few want to try to convert me, and a few will get rude. Sometimes I will start getting very sloppy service at a bar after I've either crossed out "In God We Trust" or folded the magazine at the bar (no cats to jump up on your work in the bar). Sometimes a print shop will get a new manager and we are suddenly and inexplicably without a contract. Most of all, though, people either feel sorry for me or they try to straighten me out. Can you imagine feeling sorry for someone because he's a Mexican? Can you imagine what it would be like if the majority of people you met tried to talk you out of being an American and tried to sales pitch Russian citizenship to you? Can you imagine people you just met tried to change your sexual identity from gay to straight or vice versa? Here's one you can probably relate to: I'm somewhat sickly, and people are always trying to get me to try this or that medical procedure. Worse, they want me to try acupuncture or something like that. Do you feel embarrassed when people tell you this or that about your health and you know they're mistaken? -- and you know it's your health, not theirs? This is why I pretty much keep to myself when I go out, or else I go with people who have already gotten used to my atheism so I'll know there'll be no surprises.
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
people with no reason to believe
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