Positive? Christianity Says
Don't Kill, That's Positive!
Courtney Haynes

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Courtney Haynes"
Subject: Re:
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2001 09:43:13 -0000

I don't know what you mean by positive. Gora and Gandhi meant reactive and proactive -- as in refusing to sit there and watch this injustice continue to come upon us. That is what we mean when we use the term Positive and we're sorry if you misunderstood and perhaps thought that we atheists (members of one of the most widely and viciously despised classes in America) should be all namby-pamby about what we endure.

This magazine and website was named after a book by Gora, Positive Atheism, and I even contacted his son Lavanam and asked for permission to name this magazine in honor of his father's work in India. Those elements of Gora's and Gandhi's philosophy that we have retained are described in the "Introduction to Activistic Atheism," particularly the "What Is Positive Atheism?" section.

What two-page synopsis of the word heathen? The two paragraphs you describe was about three column-inches of text, as newspapers go.

Are we exaggerating, here? Is this really necessary?

Meanwhile, my problem was primarily with the derogatory manner in which he used the word heathen, and I wanted to show how thoroughly ingrained and institutionalized this bias against "the heathen" really is. My example was to attack the definition of the word given by the dictionary, and my hope was that a at least one or two readers would cut him some slack, as an individual, because the very bigotry he practices permeates our Christian-dominated society -- like it or not -- so that it's only natural for some people to go overboard in expressing it.

No. Most Christians are extremely lovely people -- despite the main gist of what the Christian religion teaches. Fortunately for all of us, most Christians do not read the Bible, but only hear select passages recited from the pulpit and discussed from a post-Enlightenment, humanistic perspective.

I will divide what I have to say about this into two sections: first, I will discuss what I think about hypocrisy being caused by bigotry. Please bear with me because this just rolled off my fingertips and what came out surprised even me!

The teachings of the Christian religion lend themselves to bigotry, because the Christian religion, taken at face value, is exclusivistic. Many passages in the New Testament posit an "us" and a "them." Thus it becomes proper to treat members of the "us" differently from the way they treat members of the "them." This, I think, is why the Commandment says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." It is the neighbor, the "one of us," who gets the special treatment, and it is the "them" who do not (or worse).

Mormonism is even more focused with this "us" and "them" dichotomy, so much so that an entire class of Mormons, called "Jack Mormons," has emerged. Jack Mormons are those who give lip service to the Mormon faith but who are not considered faithful by their more devout brethren. Roman Catholicism is not quite as focused as Mormonism, so it's equivalent of a "Jack Catholic" is not as easily identified (at least there is no name for them).

However, it is not the Christians who are the hypocrites, but the atheists. If it were acceptable to just go ahead and be an atheist without being vilified, without being marginalized, without being discriminated against, without being relegated to second class, without being lied about -- in short, if it were okay to openly admit that you don't see any truth to the Christian religion -- then most of your "Christian" hypocrites would go ahead and admit that they are not really Christians at all, and they'd be done with it. But as it stands, because of the exclusivism and the resulting bigotry, the atheists stay in the closet and pretend to be Christians in order to escape the Christians' bigotry. The Christian majority makes being a hypocrite the easiest option for most people to deal with. Thus the Christian religion gets what it deserves, in my opinion, because its bigotry against atheists forces all the weak-willed atheists unwittingly into the Christian camp, giving what little lip-service they need to survive. So, the Christian religion becomes infested with hypocrites, people who would be much better off admitting they were atheists! -- if they could only get away with it!

"Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an Atheist. I repeat it. Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an Atheist."
     -- poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in a letter to Thomas Allsop, ca. 1820

I would only change this to read: "... to say they are an atheist," because today, many are atheists and would readily admit it if they did not fear the social repercussions of being openly atheistic in the United States in the year 2001.

Lots of people are concerned, but what are most of these people doing about it?

I work full time at it, and I frankly admit that I am clueless as to how to even begin fighting this monster. I know only that I must begin by attacking my own tendencies toward bigotry. Everything else is, at this stage, pure guesswork on my part. I've been an activist since I was a teenager, and I've been struggling toward bringing dignity to atheists in one form or another for over ten years (almost full-time), but I am still completely baffled by it.

But here's what I've done during the past year:

I started by deliberately prejudicing myself in favor of theism -- that is, I am as in favor of theism as I can be without compromising my identity as an atheist and without compromising what I see to be the truth. I do this by deliberately presupposing that all theists have (or think they have) valid reasons for believing the way they do. I derived this from Michael Shermer, who just yesterday agreed to be interviewed on the subject of fighting antiatheist bigotry. Though Shermer is concerned about antiatheist bigotry, he still primarily targets the superstition itself; I am the only one I know of who has drawn a bead on the bigotry, while keeping the superstition aspect somewhat off to the side, though still within the line of fire. But Shermer's book, How We Believe, gave me the first glimpse into realizing that some real solutions to this problem can be found.

The second thing I did was begin to popularize the "weak" definition for the word atheism specifically as a tool against antiatheist bigotry. An atheist, in this sense, is somebody who simply lacks a god belief. In other words, the atheist (most atheists) have not encountered an argument in favor of believing in the existence of gods that is worthy of our assent. Thus, we remain without faith in such gods. We remain atheists, unconvinced by the claims of the theists.

It is the theist who is making the claim, here, not the atheist; thus, it is the theist's responsibility to make a compelling argument. This is because it is impossible to prove a negative (such as "no gods exist"). Thus, we really have no argument except to show why theist's argument is not worthy of our assent.

Thirdly, we have to live, and we do well to try to get along. But why must we atheists live our lives in the closet in order to get along? Why must we lie about the honest thoughts within our minds? I refuse to do this any more. This year, I chose to stop simply leaving a situation when I encounter antiatheist bigotry (such as stopping patronizing a bar, etc.), but will raise a stink about it (and then leave, if I feel I must, but not without first at least showing the people involved what just happened). No longer will I let sideways remarks slide, but will at least point out that I heard a sideways remark or detected some sort of superiority complex.

Fourthly, we humans have a tough road, and there are many problems that we can solve only if enough of us put our heads together and get our hands dirty. Thus, I emphasize that the question of whether or not gods exist is one of the stupidest thing that we can get into a fight over.

Finally, I am just this week beginning to see that some people who act in a hurtful manner don't even realize that they are degrading members of a certain class! Just seeing this is one thing, but how to respond is another matter entirely.

There are no books on how to fight antiatheist bias and bigotry. Until now, no there have been no websites that focus on raising the question, "How should we go about opposing antiatheist bigotry and discrimination against atheists?" What I propose to do, here, is to pose this question and to try a few things, inviting people to scrutinize what I have done and also inviting them to offer their own responses. If you go through the letters in chronological order, you will see this pattern developing over the past several months, with people criticizing my responses, and with people offering their own responses. I have even had requests from people to let them handle some of these letters, and may eventually work it out so that we can do this. But, this is the only organ that I know of that specifically targets antiatheist sentiments and actions.

I simply don't see anything good about the Christian religion that cannot be found in ample measure outside of the Christian religion. In other words, I don't think the Christians have anything on the atheists. But you wouldn't know this to hear some Christians talk. And when Christians talk as if they have one on the rest of us, particularly when they say this at the expense of atheists, they will hear about it from me!

I respect that some people think they have valid reasons for believing that the Christian religion is true or that the Christian religion is good. And I recognize that most Christians are decent, hard-working, kind, caring, responsible, and honest people -- although I must always qualify this observation by pointing out that I don't see anything in the Christian religion that would inspire its members to be "good" people; thus I must conclude that the trait of human "goodness" is natural to being human, not unique to being Christian.

If I think someone is being arrogant, and if I see that their specific motive for contacting me is to express that arrogance toward me -- particularly if they are doing this simply because I am a member of a certain class of people (atheists), and for no other reason -- then I think it would be dishonest of me not to call that person arrogant. This is what I saw in the Rich Zawadzki letter: a man who wrote to "the atheist page" simply for the purpose of expressing his hatred for atheists as a class. I saw this before I was even got to the part where he admits affiliation with Kent Hovind, and I titled the letter to reflect what I saw him doing: "Let's Go To The Atheist Page Just For Laughs!" Several have tried to argue that he was being sincere, but none convincingly. I still see no reason to think that his motive was anything other than to taunt: "Exhibit A" is his repeating the question about atheists doing good.

Meanwhile, if you'll read the more dignified letters from Christians, you will not see me talking about or responding to arrogance -- because that arrogance is simply not there. It is very plain in the Rich Zawadzki letter, though.

I remember calling certain ideas and behaviors foolish (I think to take the Bible at face value, for example, is foolish behavior), but I don't think I have called people foolish. I generally don't judge people, but merely describe, assess, or react to certain people's behaviors.

In fact, now that you said this, I searched our Letters section: fewer than a third of the occurrences of the string "foolish" were even my words. In over half the times I used the word (ten or so occurrences in all) I was quoting from the Bible! In the remaining occurrences, I am either quoting back the letter writer (defending myself against a Christian who has called me "a fool" or "foolish") or I'm describing certain behaviors as foolish. The Bible, meanwhile, calls people "foolish," goes to great lengths to discuss various people's "foolish hearts," and flat-out calls people "fools" in many different passages.

I usually spell-check the letters, unless leaving it alone is part of the point I'm trying to make (such as a know-it-all who can't write calling me stupid), or unless leaving it alone would bring a better understanding of the situation (such as someone struggling with English as a second language). I also leave them alone if the letter is sufficiently hostile that I have good reason to fear future accusations of tampering with the text for the purpose of changing the context.

At least your letter didn't come with a critter attached to it. I got three of those today!

I have, at least, used the spell-checker on your letter, capitalizing the word Christian and such, though I left the rest intact.

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

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Courtney Haynes"
Subject: Re: Re:
Date: Thursday, February 15, 2001 7:55 PM


I was experimenting with some ideas on that one, and I'll see what becomes of them.

Also, I was deliberately hard on that guy because he was being such a bigot and because the very arrogance he displayed was cloaked into polite language to become the main feature of a certain recent presidential campaign -- coming from both sides! My first-ever New Year's resolution is to stop being polite to those forms of religion which assume that one cannot be moral unless one believes that gods exist.

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

Graphic Rule

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