Atheist Concerned
Over Zawadzki Response
Kip Werking

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2001 6:41 AM

The response in question was designed to point out the abusive tone, haughtiness, and -- in short -- the flat-out bigotry contained in Mr. Zawadzki's letter. Since you ask me to read over the letter and try to find a "polite, civil tone," I will go over why, when I read it for the first time, I could not find any of the civility you describe. In fact, I have gone over it again, several times (editing and typesetting it for the print edition), and have, since you wrote, gone over it an additional time. I don't see anything polite about Mr. Zawadzki's letter, but see the writing of a man who has exerted very little effort to disguise his hatred toward non-Christians.

I thus responded as I would any unjustified sarcasm.

Mr. Zawadzki starts off by comparing himself favorably to "a heathen" and then proceeds to write off the atheist's opinions by saying, "This is America!" and making several sideways remarks about freedom of speech -- as if to say that "even atheists have the freedom of speech!" He never once, during the course of the initial letter, offers any reason why one should write off the atheist's opinions; in other words, Mr. Zawadzki never argues against the atheistic position, but merely writes it off!

Mr. Zawadzki then misrepresents my views by suggesting that I called it "bigotry" whenever Christians are "speaking out for the Lord." I clearly and repeatedly state my views in this respect: to degrade one who is not a Christian, simply for not being a Christian, is bigotry. This includes announcing to a known atheist that one is praying for that atheist's "salvation" (conversion to Christianity). It's one thing to pray in the privacy of one's own closet (Matthew 6:5-8) but it's another thing altogether to rub it in like that. But, for a Christian to simply express an opinion, stating, "I believe thus and so, and here's why I believe this way" or "here are the reasons why I think you ought to agree with my opinion," is perfectly acceptable behavior.

Zawadzki then misrepresented the Theory of Evolution, laughing at me for believing that way (the way of his misrepresentation). Then he said, "it takes a lot of faith to believe that." He justified his slander by saying, "America, right?" -- implying that Liberty of speech includes the right to slander somebody without fear of consequence! I suggested that those in the majority will always find it easier to get away with abusing those in the minority -- but it doesn't have to be this way, and most members of the majority do not act this way. Being in the majority is merely a convenient shield for those few who choose to abuse it, because they are less likely to be held accountable for their misbehavior; that is, they are less likely to pay the price through having their reputations tarnished.

He then asked a question that I find quite degrading: "Do atheists exercise faith in any area of life?" Excuse me? Faith, in the sense where one would argue that even an atheist exercises faith, is exclusively the domain of religion! I think most would agree that the concept of an atheist exercising "saving faith in Christ" is oxymoronic, to say the least. Crucial to the very definition of atheist is the absence of such faith. The other meaning for the word faith (such as having faith in one's co-worker, or having confidence that the Theory of Evolution is the best explanation for human origins that we have thus far devised) would never be a question in this context, because nobody disputes this latter sense of the word. Nobody would question whether an atheist is capable of thinking that way, capable of having faith in a co-worker or confidence in an idea.

I think only someone who is deliberately trying to throw confusion into the discussion would confute these two meanings for the word faith. In short: I think his question here was degrading as well as dishonest. This rhetorical technique is known as equivocation, wherein the speaker deliberately confuses the definitions between two synonyms.

But the clincher was his prodding question, "have atheists done anything for the good of man?" He asked this question not once but twice! The very foundation of a question like this is pure bigotry, because it presupposes that Christians can do only good, and that only Christians can do good. It writes off an entire class of people.

Think about this one: What if Mr. Zawadzki had written to a group that advocates Jewish dignity and asked, "have Jews done anything for the good of man"? What if he had written an African American dignity group and asked, "have Blacks done anything for the good of man"? or a group working for the rights and dignity of Muslims living in America? I see absolutely no difference between these questions and the one that he asked -- except that he would never have been able to get away with asking these two questions! If any political or community leader pondered these two questions aloud, there would be quite a stir.

If Miami Mayor Joe Carollo had vilified his political enemies by saying, "These are Jews. They don't believe in Christ," he would have lost his job before the day was through. Mayor Carollo would have been forced to resign in disgrace had he spoken about African Americans or Cubans or even homosexuals in this manner! But no: Mayor Carollo vilified the Elian-snatching INS agents by stating, "These are atheists. They don't believe in God."

And nobody said a thing about it except me! No other public figures thought anything of it! Not even any atheistic leaders that I know of! I don't remember even American Atheists saying anything about it.

In light of this, I think I did a pretty good job at keeping a lid on it.
 

Refuting the Design argument was not the issue, here. This is why I walked completely around the subject and tailored my response to this question toward addressing the dishonesty and the derogatory tone expressed by the way he worded this question (aside from my very subtle remark about "factorial" -- and so far, nobody has indicated to me that they got that joke). Mr. Zawadzki admitted up front that "I know that you've heard all the arguments. So, I'll spare you!" Then he proceeded to: (1) misrepresent evolution and then insist that it takes "faith" to believe that way; (2) imply -- no, assert -- that atheists have done no good for humankind; (3) throw in a legitimate question as to the validity of my work as an atheistic activist; (4) suggest, two more times, that atheists "believe in evolution" -- which language I find to be quite unfair because the context suggests that atheists use a style of thinking similar to that of theistic faith.

We can continue to bend over and take it from a whole subculture full of characters such as Mr. Zawadzki -- of which subculture Mr. Zawadzki is an up-and coming leader. That is one of our options, and I won't fault any atheist for choosing that path.

Another option is to display this creep's bigotry for what it is, in hopes that one or two atheists who are tired of enduring this and similar treatment will be inclined to respond next time they get treated this way, and in hopes that one or two who act like he does will see and will be inspired to learn a better way.

My efforts are basically unprecedented: I don't know where to go to school to learn how to do this in a way that will please everybody. So, I've got to wing it, see if anything works, and reject anything that clearly doesn't work.

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

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1. Do atheists exercise faith in any area of life? The odds on just chemical evolution 10 to factorial 157 (That's 10 with 157 zeros after it) from a single cell to the human body. I have a friend who is a chemist, and just punched the numbers. In my opinion, (America, right?) it takes a lot of faith to believe that.
2. Have Atheists done anything for the good of man? Such as: Baptist Hospital or St. Joseph's Crippled Children's Home I have yet to see "Bob Ingersoll Nursing Home" or "Agnostic Children's Cancer Ward". Certainly many ills have been done in the name of "god". However, much good has been done by Christians. My question remains, "have atheists done anything for the good of man?"
3. Would many Atheists writers and website editors be out of work if it weren't for Christianity?
4. (Serious Question) Do most atheists believe in evolution?
"you're certainly not part of the solution, and it's the solution that we seek."

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"I hope that you have a "Merry Christmas" (I got your Sarcasm-Ha Ha the jokes on me)"

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Thursday, January 25, 2001 1:22 AM

His question about atheists having faith was clearly a goad, as is seen by how he followed through with his question: he was positing what he presented as an extreme unlikelihood, and then remarked that it takes a lot of faith to believe in this unlikelihood. He was not saying anything about any "meaning of life" or wallowing in any "purposeless limbo"; he was goading me for believing what he (mistakenly) though was a very ridiculous premise: the extreme unlikelihood of life appearing on a planet. What makes his caricature so ridiculous is that he dishonestly omits many factors from his misrepresentation of the theory of evolution. He does this because this trick happens to work on many people: many have converted to creationism because the creationists do not tell the truth in that they leave out key points when they misrepresent what the theory of evolution is. Of course it would be ridiculous to believe that -- except that that's not what evolutionists believe!
 

You've even mistaken what factorial is! You've made the same mistake as he -- when it comes to factorial, but not when it comes to dignity.

But this highfalutin know-it-all was degrading me, calling me everything but stupid, while at the same time he didn't know what he was talking about!

The difference is dignity: You are attempting to dignify him, but he was trying to squash my dignity. There's the big difference. It has nothing to do with factorial, but has everything to do with dignity. If I'm going to go so far as to call someone wrong, I at least try to have the facts straight in the example I give.

By the way: factorial (fàk-tôr-ee-uhl) noun -- The product of all the positive integers from 1 to a given number: 4 factorial, usually written 4!, is equal to 24 (1 × 2 × 3 × 4 = 24).

But you will notice that I never overtly addressed either his question or his mistake. I instead addressed his caricature of me having faith by giving my definition for what faith is and what it is not. Included in that definition was a very subtle response to the factorial mistake -- so subtle that I am not surprised that nobody has yet noticed it (but here, now, I've spelled it out).
 

Which is what I did. I also had to address the bigotry entwined in his question. In fact, addressing this bigotry was my first order of business; defending atheism was secondary, and "enlightening" him was much further down on my list of priorities.
 

To me, atheism exists only as a response to theism, so I considered this to be the only legitimate question he asked.
 
 

"you're certainly not part of the solution, and it's the solution that we seek."

I don't know. If I knew, I would be trying to implement the solution, not struggling to find out what the solution is. I do know what the problem is, though, and I think I did an okay job at displaying the problem in a focused manner, with tact and with artistic flair. I didn't do an excellent job, but I did an adequate job for my purposes. My primary hope is to inspire one or two atheists to take this and run with it. Perhaps before my life is over, we will have seen some progress. If not, then at least let's hope that atheists are doing a better job at what I'm trying to accomplish than what I'm doing today. I certainly hope I am doing a better job than Madalyn Murray O'Hair did, because -- thanks in part to her efforts -- I have more to work with in 2001 than she did in 1965. Does this mean that I agree with what she did or how she did it? Not entirely, but at least she bothered to go out and try a few things. That is what I am doing here: I have a few ideas, a lot of passion, and some meager resources. And I am tossing out some ideas, here. That's all.

Perhaps the main difference besides our views on atheistic activism is connected to the fact that my work, to me, is as much an artistic expression as it is an effort of social activism. Most people would see Rap music much differently if they realized that Rap is as much a nightly newscast as it is something you might want to dance to. If every experiment with self-expression (artistic or activistic) worked on the first try, I'd definitely get bored and do something else. I've heard the tapes of the Rolling Stones trying to put together the song "Sympathy For The Devil" and I'm real glad they didn't stick with the first take. And I've also heard others perform that song better (I think) than the Rolling Stones did or could perform it.
 

Positive, in its original sense of how Gora and Gandhi described it, means proactive. The jovial and uplifting aspect is an afterthought -- a way after afterthought -- a two-years-down-the-road afterthought.

I notice you have sent more without waiting for me to respond to this one. Just to let you know that I get very confused with parallel threads, and may find myself wanting to duck out for that reason. Thus, I would appreciate if we tried to keep the dialogue linear.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Thursday, January 25, 2001 1:32 AM

Rich sent the clear message that his main goal was to try either to degrade my postion or to degrade me for holding that position. My response was to send a clear message that I find degradation abhorrent, and that I am tired of people trying to degrade me simply because I hold a position that they don't even understand.
 

Have you seen my dialogue with the World Church of the Creator? Did you like the way I handled white supremacist Regan Lowery in "The Ant And The Contact Lens"? In both cases I ignored the obvious in order to discuss what I felt were much more important matters; I waltzed right past what would have stopped most people in their tracks.
 

So, are you suggesting that the superiority complex inherent in non-racial bigotry differs from the superiority complex inherent in racism? How so?

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Saturday, January 27, 2001 11:20 AM

My problem with it was his attempt to reduce something as contingent as natural selection to a set of odds! Even the guys at the racetrack will tell you that their numbers are strictly for measuring out winnings, and not a realistic statistical analysis but rather a way of telling people how much money they're willing to put on the race. But this guy was very matter-of-fact in his assumption that natural selection, vastly more complex than the performance records of ten basketball stars divided by the number of dead spots on the floor, could be reduced to a statistic! That's as far as I went with that one, besides pointing out the differences between faith and where faith is not needed.
 

That ideology is not determined is, I think, an error. While it may be partially true for each of us, my ideology is based upon what I see and what I think is true. I cannot help what I have seen, but can only choose whether to consider what I have seen.

Besides, atheism is the faith of my fathers; I can just imagine how I'd see the world if I were raised Roman Catholic, instead of with a blend of the enforced sense of personal independence from a long line of Texas and Missouri half-breeds, combined with the quiet discontent of England and New England Unitarians, peppered with a vague respect for Islam, spit-shined by a family name that dates semi-heroically back to the American Revolution -- all this while being raised in a predominantly Catholic and somewhat Jewish middle-class neighborhood, and attending the school that was right next to the project which housed mainly European immigrants. And genetics, combined with my mother's having been a nutritionist, combined with the fact that I was a sickly child nonetheless, are other factors that weigh heavily on how I see things -- simply because these things affected the development of my brain, which works the way it works and that's that, and I've just had to learn to live with it.

None of these situations were chosen by me, though much of my ability and even my willingness to think the way I do comes from that varied history, combined with those specific conditions.

My perspective on bigotry began in the second grade, when it was discovered that I was neither Catholic nor Protestant (I changed schools about a year later, to the one near the housing project). That perspective was completed by in fourth grade when I was disciplined for refusing to even mouth the morning prayer. By then I kenw that something was seriously wrong; this was 1966, about the time there was much civil unrest, such as the Watts riots in Los Angeles. My decision to do something about the bigotry ripened in a jail cell, which I occupied for no other reason than that I refused, on religious grounds, a court order to undergo religious instruction in the form of mandated Twelve Step meetings. I eventually went to the meetings and spent several years tirelessly fighting the bigotry from within the Program (more often than not just lashing out, because, as I mentioned earlier, I have no formal training in the art of social change -- who does? -- but I have always been involved in activist work of some sort). I began formal work as an atheistic activist when, after becomming disillusioned with the Program, I started offering alternative meetings, and the local chapter of the Atheists wanted to support my efforts, so I became involved with the local Atheist group, later left the group, and still continue the work.

Had any one of these elements been different, I probably wouldn't be holding a dialogue with you at all. I certainly wouldn't hold the position that I do today, because I would never have seen all the things that I ended up seeing. Christ! Had Bill Bradley been elected President, I wouldn't have the momentum I have with this website now that the choice was between Bush and Gore. And after that innauguration fiasco, I don't think I'd have the nerve to give up this work even if I wanted to -- I certainly have changed my views during the past five days!

True, last year I came close to giving it all up and pursuing the domestic life, but I cannot tell whether those prospects failed in part because I find this work extremely fulfilling; perhaps I unconsciously undermined or even sabotaged the relationship, or perhaps my fuse was shorter than it would have been had a relationship been my desire. But had that situation worked out, I know that I would have been able to make some of the changes I would have needed to make in order for the relationship to succeed.

And I did spend almost three years as a Christian; I did change my belief system -- radically -- and back. But I didn't just up and decide to become a Christian one sunny day on my way to work. My life had taken several very strange turns, and when the evangelist began talking to me, I was ripe for a change. And any change would probably have done it for me: I could have happened upon a Marxist activist or a Hare Krsna devotee.

But I am not ready to say that my atheism is a choice. Nor am I willing to state that my anti-bigotry position is really that much of a choice. It's not like I decided that this is an angle that would make me money or gain me fame or a spot in history -- I just cannot continue living like this and must, at minimum, at least try to do something about it if I want to sleep well at night.

But I'm not schooled in all this. Experienced? Yes. Schooled? Hardly. I've read the anarchists such as Goldman and Alinsky, and listened to the poets from Ginsberg to Philips to Dylan to Biafra and many others. I distributed underground papers in high school, cheered the Oregon and California decriminalization of marijuana, pushed the limits of free speech during the punk era and beyond, helped bring art out of the closet in San Diego, went on the front line in the U.C. anti-apartheid movement, worked toward legalizing marijuana in Oregon, and worked supporting the passage of Oregon's Death With Dignity act.

I have all that experience doing this kind of work, but I still don't think anybody can learn how to effect social change. I think we can only see a need and do what we can to act on that need. That is what I am doing here, in my (perhaps feeble) attempt to raise consciousness regarding the bigotry that we endure as atheists.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Sunday, January 28, 2001 10:44 PM

To add one thing to what we've previously discussed:

The bigotry against Jews stems primarily from the doctrine that the Jews killed Christ, or that they rejected their own messiah, and are therefore accursed of God.

The bigotry against African Americans harkens from the (now virtually obsolete) doctrine that Africans, as the children of Ham, are accursed of God because of something that Ham's son did.

The bigotry against atheists, in America, likewise stems from a Judaeo-Christian dogma: in the Islamic world, it's a different Scriptural passage, but it's the same dogma nonetheless.

For this reason, and in this sense, I see very little difference between the three.
 

Those scientists who deal with the nuts and bolts of how the Big Bang happened, the physicists, tend toward the likelihood that our universe is either part of a much larger and older system or is an occurrence within what would have otherwise remained a pure vacuum. The way they describe it requires no outside intervention: to posit the Big Bang as having naturally is much less of a stretch than to posit an admittedly much more complex and much more powerful Creator. The existence of a Creator, in other words, is always harder to explain than the existence of what the Creator is supposed to have created. If creationists demand the the existence of the Universe needs to be explained, then it's only fair for me to demand that the existence of the Creator likewise needs to be explained.

Not only that, several aspects of what they say make the notion of an intelligent designer sound absurd; that is, there seem to be much easier, more direct ways for a designer to have accomplished what the Creationists, with their Anthropic Principle, say was the goal their Creator, the one posited by Christian religion. Just the evidence of the sheer randomness of the early stages of the Big Bang speaks strongly against the notion of an intelligent hand "guiding" this process. In other words, what we know occurred sure appears to have occurred naturally.

Also, many of the claims of the proponents of the Anthropic Principle have been shown to be inadequate. For example, it has been said that certain physical forces need to have been "just so" if we are to expect stars to be formed that would live long enough to form the complex elements needed to produce life. Victor Stenger has shown this not to be the case, and has shown that many of the properties of physics could vary significantly and stars would live long enough and burn hot enough to produce these elements. But the proponents of the Anthropic Principle still make this claim, as if it has never been challenged -- much less shown to be false.

Similarly, biologists and zoologists seem to think that evolution, being a natural process, can occur anywhere, given the right conditions. They also tend to say that wherever evolution it might occur, it is likely to bring about similar results and would most likely be a similar mechanism. This makes sense when we consider that many species have developed similarly here on Earth, but do not have a common ancestor. The eye, for example, has evolved at least five different times. Zoologist Richard Dawkins tells of three species of ants that developed remarkably similar traits, but have no recent common ancestor. He also describes how all the main types of mammals that we have found in South America are also represented in Africa and Australia: the independent hunter, for example, and the herbivorous herd animal. They are entirely different mammals, of course, with entirely different ancestral roots, but the main types are all represented because certain traits will inevitably come forth in any environment, and certain roles will be played by various animals.

It is mainly the scientists who are already religious who tend toward intelligent design, because there is not much of a need, any more, to posit intelligent design. The notion of a designer, in other words, becomes a much more complex scenario than the situation they are trying to explain when they invoke a Creator. As Dawkins said, "By definition, explanations that build on simple premises are more plausible and more satisfying than explanations that have to postulate complex and statistically improbable beginnings. And you can't get much more complex than an Almighty God!" (from "The Improbability of God").

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Concern from an Atheist
Date: Monday, January 29, 2001 3:08 AM

To me, if our goal is to solve this problem of bigotry, it is crucial for us to first try to understand it.

Also, if we can find some similarities between this form of bigotry and other forms -- particularly if those forms have been successfully reduced as a result of work -- then we might be able to utilize some of the means by which those other forms have been reduced.

Homophobia is a closer (that is, more obvious) example: Homophobia, too, is the result of a Scriptural taboo, and, unlike ethnicity, it is seen by many Christians as being a choice -- as much of a choice as atheism, in their eyes (my previous argument notwithstanding: this is how they see it). Well, if homosexuals have made great gains through the act of "coming out of the closet," then we do well to consider doing likewise on a wide scale.

Unfortunately, we are not set up with the right social structure to accomplish what Rev. Dr. King did for African Americans, because he did his work through -- er, the churches. Oh well! Win some, lose some!

By the way, I gave the anti-design business for practice and because we have many readers.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Kip Werking"
Subject: Re: Lack of a Solution.
Date: Monday, January 29, 2001 7:47 AM

I am specifically uninterested in trying to de-convert theists to atheism. That is the one area that I refuse to touch in my personal relationships. However, everybody who knows me knows my views on state-church separation, and many know my views on antiatheist bigotry.
 

The Big List of Quotations is, in part, designed to impart this knowledge.

We have put out a call for this one, due to the overwhelming response to the very letter you criticize.

However, I more keenly favor the absence of favoritism, which a list of atheist contributions to civilizations would thwart. I could justify it, though, due to the widespread hatred of atheists. However, I think that the religion element is blown way out of proportion.

My favorite anti-racism message was the song by Stevie Wonder called "Black Man." In it, various adults would ask, "Who is the person who [various accomplishments of heroism and invention]"; then the children would respond: "[Person's name]: a [various skin colors] ["man" or "woman"]." What was special about this song was that all skin colors and both genders were almost equally represented (unlike the modern "multi-cultural" movement, which seems to be about anything except white males).

Thus, I would have a problem listing the accomplishments of atheists, but would, in the interest of promoting my anti-discrimination views, support such a move. Still, the question of religion is, to me, one of the stupidest reasons to get into a fight.
 

Lecky's Rationalism In Europe is 800 pages of vivid descriptions of persecution.

It's surprising, however, how many Christians do not know a thing about Christian history, who are oblivious to the Dark Ages, and to the Colonial-American Puritans.

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

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