Source Citations
For Quotations?
M Periculum, Esq.
[Our response was modified slightly to clarify some wording.]

From: "GGC"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, January 13, 2001 10:42 AM
Thank you for your site. It is most informative.

About the pages where our Founding Fathers were quoted. I do not, and cannot, support so called Christians who attempt to re-write and fabricate evidence of our nations alleged founding on Christianity.

Your points listed from the re-print of the articles were well received. However, that being said, I was also disappointed as an academic to see very poor referencing of the quotes opposing those listed previously to the countering of the religious right's perspective.

What I am getting at, is that your site too uses the same tactics. That in itself is very hypocritical and open to rebuke. I have already scoured the links you have provided with very little success.

You must be one step above those you wish to expose or your integrity too will be in question.

I would strongly urge you to list all of the references, and not just from one book. That person could have easily fabricated them as did Barton.

You owe it to those who read your disseminations to provide accurate and impartial facts... not easily repeatable blather.

Yours,

M Periculum, Esq.

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "GGC"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Saturday, January 13, 2001 5:31 PM

I do not quite understand what you're trying to say, so please bear with me. I want to emphasize up front that I agree with your point about integrity: integrity is, to me, the single most important ethic. Also please keep in mind my respect for an idea that (I think) came from Thomas Paine: the idea itself is much more important than which person gets credit for coming up with the idea (source unknown -- but I agree with that idea wholeheartedly and will thus post a quip just because it contains a wonderful idea that has been worded just right).

If you're talking about our Big List of Quotations, we do the best we can with what we've got: nobody can do more. Some of these quotations are just floating around, but are excellent ideas regardless of where they came from. I wouldn't have the resources to read everybody's life's work in order to get chapter and page for each quotation; Bartlett doesn't work alone either, and probably never did. I work alone, and this is what I can do. And I'm taxing my system, at that.

If you're talking about the handout, "Political Figures Talk of Separation, Religious Freedom, and Religion," I referenced all the primary sources that I had available to me. If all I had was a secondary source, I referenced Positive Atheism Magazine's Big List of Quotations in the interest of space on the page, and tried to use only quotations for which I had at least a secondary source (few if any "source unknown" quips made it on to this work). PAMBLOQ, for the purposes of this handout, qualifies as much as a secondary reference as many of the secondary references I have used: it has been around for over four years, and it's at least as large as James Haught's 2000 Years of Disbelief and is, perhaps, over 100 times larger than Menendez and Doerr's The Great Quotations On Religious Freedom (which, I hear, is out of print and very tough to find). I did try to find the primary source for each quotation on that piece, and still have letters from the likes of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library and many other institutions. I spent three weeks, full-time, just trying to track down primary source citations for this piece. But, I am just a man, and a physically impaired man at that, with very little money and an even smaller ability to get around and do the research needed to make this a Merriam-Webster's-quality project. If I could come up with primary sources for this material, I would rewrite that pamphlet in a heartbeat, perhaps this time setting it as a small booklet.

Most lists of quotations found on the Internet (including most of the commercial endeavors) contain no source citations of any kind, even when the source is well known (case in point: Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" as the primary source for his famous line, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people"). I run a search of at least one phrase from each quotation I post (if I don't have a primary source citation) and try to find out where it came from -- usually coming up with nothing, but not always -- often viewing as many as 60 links in my quest for the primary source of a single quotation. If I come up with only a secondary source (especially if that source is how I came to know about that quotation in the first place), I am honest enough to place the name of that source in our list, as well as the primary source, if I have one.

If what I wanted to accomplish was another Bartlett's or another Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, I'd have to come up with the millions it would take to put together a research team. (And I'd love to do just that -- but I haven't the resources at this point in my life!) If somebody or some group or some institution wants to see this done, I am willing to work on such a project and would be willing to lend our name to it and even oversee it.

It is literally a cause for celebration around here each time I replace the "(source unknown)" tag with a source citation. This is a big part of the work that goes in to the list, and I would wager that our list would be much larger if I didn't spend so much energy trying to document what we already have.

However, for you to call me hypocritical and to describe what I do as "tactics" is, I think, unfair (at minimum), and certainly misjudges the nature and purpose of this project.

My Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations, like James Haught's book-length work, 2000 Years of Disbelief and Joseph Lewis's book-length works, Ingersoll the Magnificent and Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine, began as a personal database of sayings, the sources of which meant little to me at the time. I would use these sayings to punctuate my own writings or, more often, as inspiration for ideas; it didn't matter because my audience was fewer than 100 people when I did the initial work (and the list stayed on my computer; it was not posted until much later). I would have never guessed that I would have struck out on my own, and would just as soon have continued working for an organization. And, I could never have dreamed that my work would achieve the success that this work has (particularly the Big List of Quotations -- which started off as a DOS text file but now occupies about 60 hours of my time per month).

Graphic Rule

Refuting someone like Barton takes much more than simply finding the source citations of material quoted. Following Barton's popularization of the phony James Madison "Ten Commandments" quip, historians John Stagg and David Mattern, editors of The Papers of James Madison, went through the entire known works of Madison and issued the following statement:

"We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private." (Letter dated November 23, 1993, to which the editors refer all inquirers.)

Unfortunately, Barton's lies have some advantages over truth: (1) it is easy to sling words around and it is easy to spread rumors (such as, "so-and-so said this"), but it's very difficult to get to the bottom of such chicanery, mainly because it is impossible to disprove an existential claim: I can make any claim I want, and you cannot disprove my claim, you can only weaken its integrity or bring forth evidence that seems to contradict me; (2) much of what Barton says is music to the ears of those who would seek a simpler life and who imagine that such a life can be found in the past (as if the past were any simpler); thus, people more readily accept what Barton has to say, and cannot (and will not) find the patience to hear the whole story.

I do think that quotations such as the one from the Treaty of Tripoli, many of the Jefferson and Madison quotations, and others, serve to counter the ideas put forth by Barton and his ilk. Many have done more, but my health and my financial situation prevent me from doing any more than the little that I can do. It's not for lack of willingness, it's just that for me to do any work at all is a slow and tedious (and often painful) process. I'd love to have some help, but thus far, very few donors have come forward, and even fewer volunteers.

I agree with your point about integrity (which is the primary ethic advocated here), but I am not perfect, and am unwilling to invent lies just so that I can appear more perfect than I am.

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

Graphic Rule

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