Instead of Arguing Atheism,
Make It Truly 'Positive?'
Dear Mr. Walker,
I've written you a few times before as I'm sure you know. I've always been pleased with your responses in seeing how well-thought and researched they are. Over the previous few days, I've been reading past letters that you have posted and have been amazed at how well you can argue atheism over theism in, what I find, to be some very difficult topics to argue. I very much envy you for your knowledge - I wish I had the base you do to argue my atheistic beliefs.
As I stated above, I've been reading some of the past articles and letters and forums on your web site. One thing that frequently strikes me as noteworthy is the number of people writing to ask you, "what have atheists done to help man?" It also comes to my attention that there are a few people stating that they never knew they weren't the only atheists. Letters like "Finding Fellow Atheists On The Net," by Jenny, "Tried, But Just Couldn't Believe," by Brigette, "To Realize I'm Not The Only One," by Theidyl Lucienne Arias C., "Have Atheists Done Anything For The Good Of Man?," a forum question, and "Need Help: E-Mail Debate With Missionary," by Fred Nojd, seem very offensive to me since, they not only expose some of the feelings and actual repression of non-believers, but they also make atheism seem like it's for "slackers," in a manner of speaking. I don't mean atheists are lazy by saying "slackers," but I mean that some letters try to prove that religion has done so much good for man and atheism has not.
I am an atheist, I know I'm not the only one, and I know that atheists are not lackadaisical in their daily life and full of hate for everyone else. Being a free-thinker, I know that I love my family in spite of their vaired beliefs, that I have done community services (even in churches) because I wanted to help - not because I believed in God, and that, assuming nothing negative has happened to influence me, that I have a pleasant demeanor and am actually a sociable young man.
I think that atheists need more outlets than just over the Internet. I've noticed by the large forums and letter columns you have posted that your web site is like a congregation ground, so to speak, for atheists and theists alike. However, I find it somewhat repulsive that so many atheists are "still in the closet" (quoted from a letter in your archive forum which I could not find referrence to twice). I think that a good step toward truly making atheism "positive" as you try to do and end some of the bigatory would be for more free-thinking groups to meet as part of youth counselling, community service, youth groups, groups for adults, and other programs that are normally attached to churches by name (since I know you're right in your letter "Let's Go To The Atheist Page Just For Laughs," by Rich Zawadzki, that taxes fund most church programs and not donations from the collection basket).
For a move in the direction of making atheism what most theists might call "truly positive," I think it would be helpful if you could list local and national free-thinking groups on your web site. I asked this once before and you said that you didn't socialize with other atheists in groups anymore, but that you knew some atheists found it helpful. For those who would like the help in realizing that they're not alone and for those non-believers who would like to help boost the image of atheism, I think that a popular web site like yours would be a good place for them to get information about such groups or get some atheists connected. Is there any possibility of adding a page of free-thinking groups to your site, or giving links to such groups?
Thanks again for your time.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Instead of Arguing Atheism, Maybe Make It Truly "Positive?"
Date: Sunday, January 07, 2001 8:51 AM
First, our "niche," if you will, is toward the individual atheist who chooses to be an activist without becoming part of a group. It is my hope that individual atheists will become active within their communities (indeed, within whatever setting they find themselves) and work to end the bigotry against us -- including the bigotry you describe when you discuss how atheists are portrayed as lackadaisical.
When I was part of a group, I saw a very strong tendency for the group members to form an us-versus-them polarity. Occasionally a theist or two would wander in, and inevitably the more outspoken members would attempt to show why atheism is the preferred way to see things. I would have preferred finding out why the theist has bothered to check out an atheist meeting, but the atheists present seemed to want to have their own little "oasis" where they could be free from having to deal with theists. I would have preferred learning how to get along outside the oasis but found that the way to learn this is -- outside the oasis. My September, 2000, column, "Reducing Our Own Stigma," summarizes the changes I've undergone since leaving the group. The December, 1999, column, "Atheism & Fundamentalism," also hints at my inevitable discovery that groups are not necessarily the best vehicle for atheistic activism. I eventually inverted the entire concept of atheistic activism and began to toy with the concept of activistic atheism. This seems to be what you're trying to get at, though each atheist, I feel, must make her or his own discoveries in this respect.
A few group-level efforts have become successful in accomplishing what I see as Positive Atheism. Recently, a Humanist group and a Baptist group jointly staged a series of discussions and lectures. The same Humanist group had earlier done this with a Mormon group. From this, I learned to respect those founding principles of the Baptist tradition (particularly the views of Thomas Helwys and Roger Williams). But more importantly, I learned that we can find common ground not only as individuals but as groups. It's very hard to do this in a group setting, but not impossible. And when we do accomplish this, the benefits tend to be powerful and long-lasting.
However, I have found that it is so easy to accomplish this as an individual that I have begun advocating this style of work, where individual atheists work as individuals to try to figure out what needs to be done and then to find ways to do it. After that, it is my hope that these individuals will report back to the rest of us what she or he learned. The Internet has shown itself to be a superior vehicle for this type of communication.
Meanwhile, although this website is quite busy (I'm on the verge of having to pay higher rates simply because of how many hits we get), we only get a certain number of letters (and I have only a certain number of hours in a week wherein I can respond to them and then format and post them). What this means is that we get the letters that we get, and we must learn to do the best with them that we can. True, many of our letters are simply the attacks of theists, and I will use these opportunities to try to learn how to defend my dignity as an atheist -- if I cannot learn how to communicate even with these "attacking" theists.
Other atheists, each developing his or her own outlook and approach, will read these exchanges (among others) and will use these and other resources to decide how best to act when confronted with a similar situation.
Meanwhile, even though we are not part of any group, we do support the notion of groups because many atheists find powerful benefits from being part of a group. We have a large listing of groups in our Web Guide, under Local. The Atheism section lists many of the larger national or international organizations, many of which support local chapters. We would be happy to list more groups, and would love it if someone would periodically check our Web Guide for dead links (sites that no longer exist or have moved). I can only do so much, and can barely keep up with the basics.
The Google search engine on the front page is programmed to search our entire website (updated, supposedly, every month or so -- but I have reason to suspect that Google is now updating our site more frequently than in the past, because our statistics service recently shows a dramatic increase of activity by Google's robots, and several other search engine robots as well). With this search engine, you should be able to find all but the most recently posted material (usually the newest letters and the newest quotations). I will soon expand this search engine to all the major indices, but for now, it lives in the Web Guide under Web.
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