Two Fleas Arguing Over
Who Owns The Dog
Kathy McNicholas

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kathy McNicholas"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Thursday, January 11, 2001 8:40 PM

My beef is not with theism, but against the tendency of so many theists to misrepresent the atheistic position. My beef is against the tendency of so many theists to represent atheists as second-class humans, and to represent the atheistic position in such a way as to make it sound stupid (as you have done in this letter).

As a result, I and others like me must remain in the closet if we wish to get along at all: we must lie about the honest thoughts within our minds if we want to get jobs, be able to go to this or that bar in peace, get along with neighbors, etc.

It's one thing to remain silent about one's theism. It's another altogether to let it be known that you are an atheist (that is, that you recognize that you lack a god belief).

Thus, whenever someone misrepresents our position in a way that makes it sound ridiculous (such as "two fleas arguing over who owns the dog," rather than what this is really about -- the dignity of being left alone in a world that is overwhelmingly dominated by intrusive religion), I will stand up and say something about it. My position is this: None of the god claims I've heard are convincing enough to warrant my assent; so, why do so many people lie about me and seek to destroy me -- simply for admitting, publicly, that I don't see any merit in religion? I don't get it! But this bigotry has so seriously impacted my life that I have made full-time work of combating it.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kathy McNicholas"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Saturday, January 13, 2001 10:38 PM

Not everyone who does this does it intentionally, but the effect is the same nonetheless: we atheists are relegated to second-class citizenship and worse. Thus, we encourage all atheists to stand up for the collective dignity of all atheists. One way we seek to accomplish this is to point out the effect of certain actions that are perpetrated perhaps without thought, but are still harmful. Regardless of the motive, such actions (misrepresentations; ridicule; the "straw-man" ruse) still foster bigotry against a class of people who, as a class (but not necessarily as individuals), have done nothing to harm anybody and who, as a class, do not deserve the stigma and bigotry that we everywhere endure.

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

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Added: May 15, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kathy McNicholas"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Monday, January 15, 2001 11:11 PM

I distinguish between the intent of an action and the effect of that action. Many who are sympathetic to our cause will, through ignorance, describe our position in less-than-accurate terms. They mean no harm, but harm is done nonetheless.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kathy McNicholas"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2001 6:03 PM

I understand this, and wish I could have made my position clearer in my first response: I am not trying to lash out (which would be inappropriate) but trying simply to point out that our position is constantly being misrepresented and that this is not done without harm. The best we can hope for (in this or any particular instance) is not to focus on the harm done any further than it takes to point out that harm is being done and then move on to a more productive way to discuss the issue.

Since you said you were writing a paper, I responded much differently than I would have had you been a simple curiosity seeker. It is my assumption (because it is my hope) that writing a paper should be considered a formal quest for truth, and I will treat it as such even now. But alas! Just as you did not ask questions without offending, I discover that I did not provide insight without offending!

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As I explained in my first response to you, atheists, as a group, are one of the most widely and viciously despised groups in America. We have it much worse than homosexuals and are almost as bad off as the mentally ill in some respects, having it worse in others since atheism is almost universally seen as a deliberate choice. In any event, this stigma, this widespread hatred of us, severely impacts our lives to the point where many of us have given up and simply accept our lot -- or worse, we lie about our atheism and do what we can to cover it up.

Part of the stigma against atheists cannot be helped because religious dogma, such as the Bible and the Koran, utter forceful teachings condemning atheists. So, there is not much we can to to protect ourselves against people who are simply following the tenets of their religion, and doing so without thought of the harm they are doing to their fellow-humans who happen not to share their religious views.

But there are many who are not fundamentalists who seem to be going along with tradition out of the force of habit. Many agnostics, for example, find the typically Roman Catholic definition for atheist to be quite useful. The Roman Catholic position is that atheist "deny" the existence of God. This is convenient, because we all know that it is impossible to disprove an existential claim (such as "God exists"). So, if atheism's response to that claim is, ("No he doesn't") then we can easily see that the atheist is holding an illogical position. Thus, it becomes easy, by portraying atheists this way, to make the atheist appear to be willfully denying an important moral truth: that God exists.

However, most atheistic writers have seen atheism as the simple lack of a god belief -- for whatever reason; very few atheistic philosophers or writers have asserted, "No gods exist." In this sense, atheism is the simple response to theism's god claim; were it not for the claims of theists, we would not even be atheists at all -- the subject would never come up! We would have no opportunity even to think upon the subject because a god is not what we see when we open our eyes and look at our world. Similarly, I would never have pondered the concept of flying carpets were it not for the Arabian Nights tales I heard as a child.

Nevertheless, many agnostics (whom we'd hope would be much closer to being our ideological allies) tend to take issue with the traditional definition for atheism. This is because the traditional definition (called, in our writings, the "weak" definition, and elsewhere called "negative atheism") unwittingly relegates the agnostic position nonexistent. Agnostics tend to see their position as a "middle ground" between dogmatic theism and what they see as the dogmatic assertion that no gods exist. To an atheist, though, an agnostic who does not know if any gods exist is an atheist because that agnostic lacks a god belief. Subsequently, some of the most vitriolic attacks we get are from agnostics.

I feel that one thing we can do to reduce the stigma against atheists is to popularize the "weak" definition for the word atheism. Doing this is no easy deal because in so doing we can expect to ruffle more than a few feathers.

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The specific issue I needed to bring up with you was your portrayal of us as being here for the purpose of trying to set theists straight on their theism. Nothing could be further from the truth: we are here to try to reduce the maliciousness against atheists. Indeed, to suggest that we are like fleas arguing over who owns the dog is a slander against our stated (and obvious) purpose.

Dig this:

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WE DON'T CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE BELIEVE!!

 

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We do, however, demand two things: (1) we demand that our government stop endorsing or supporting religion with our tax dollars; (2) we demand that people stop treating us as second-class citizens (or worse) simply because we don't go along with the dominant fairy tale.

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Now, should someone come up to me and try to argue for the existence of gods or Jesus or whoever, I will consider those claims and will respond to them according to how I see things. This always takes the form of the theist making claims and me either accepting them or rejecting them and explaining why I reject them (and obviously I have yet to do the former, accept a religious claim). I'm not going to sit there and argue about it: either your claim flies with me or it's back to the drawing board. That's how I work it and that's how I recommend that other atheists respond to the claims of theists.

But, I have never approached someone and tried to dissuade them from their religious folly (rather, what I see as folly). My only objection to religion at all is its tendency toward intrusiveness: Many religious people do not want to let me live in peace, but want to force me to go along with their foolishness. One method for attempting to accomplish this is to portray us as being something we aren't. Hence my desire to at least make known the truth about atheism.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kathy McNicholas"
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2001 8:59 PM

Our main interest in truthfulness regards philosophical discussions and ponderings. Thus, when discussing an opponent's viewpoint, it pays to be truthful about that opponent's views. It is this misrepresentation of the atheist viewpoint which, more than anything else, promotes the bigotry against us.

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

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.