Being Forced Out Of
The Local Atheist Group
Timothy Gorski

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Timothy Gorski MD"
Subject: Re: Question
Date: Friday, December 24, 1999 4:47 PM

I posted the full dialogue (which I was not allowed to print) at:
[URL removed because it was the wrong one.]

Although the leaders pretended (while people were watching) that I was still welcome, I can assure you that that was not the case. If I wanted to, I could have simply stayed there, to the chagrin of the leaders, but I will not support an organization whose leaders act this way.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Timothy Gorski MD"
Subject: Re: Unwanted(?) remarks
Date: Sunday, January 02, 2000 11:59 AM

Oops! Error in pasting!

"Fallout Over Cliff's September, 1998, Column"
http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/eml9954.htm

Expelled? No. Hounded out? Most definitely! I can make a case that I was forced out because they knew me well enough to know that I would respond to their move by leaving.

And the main "friendships" I lost were those of the very people who committed the evil deed. (How could they!?) I can handle the loss, it's the sense of betrayal that makes it hard to form new friendships elsewhere.

Similar things are going on at the bar where I used to sing. The new staff is cussing me out for no reason and accusing me of these awful things (they are doing this to a lot of the patrons who show up frequently and spend less, favoring those who go out once or twice a week and spend lots). I have retained a few close friendships from there, and have found three other bars, two of which have resulted in some close friendships and the third of which has muttered something about a possible job opening.

Life is looking up, and about the only thing that is really holding me back is the pain from the upper back injury. I had given up hope on it until two months ago, when I ended up in the ER from being unable to move at all. They carefully talked me into taking a narcotic (which, until then, had been out of the question in my mind). I now realize what kind of social life I can have when the pain is adequately reduced. However, the regular doctor has freaked -- to the point where he is even approaching the ER docs as to why they gave me the stuff. I'll tell you why: it's my body; I know what I'm doing when it comes to that class of drugs (I can live with the mild side effects and am not affected by the most unpleasant side-effects); the other drugs have severe side-effects such as wrenching stomach pain on one and migraine and hallucination on the other; I have endured this pain for eleven years, worn it on my face, and now it's time for me to have a crack at living some semblance of a normal life.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Timothy Gorski"
Subject: Re: Unwanted(?) remarks
Date: Tuesday, December 28, 1999 1:12 PM

I certainly concur with much of your opinion about protests, although I have joined forces with various protest actions (notably: anti-Vietnam War; anti-Apartheid; legalize marijuana; anti-homelessnes; anti-Gulf War; anti-George Bush). I don't like doing it, but one part of me thinks that there are times and places when doing it is appropriate. I played a role in the final anti-Apartheid actions at UCLA which preceded their decision to divest several billion. Once this happened, governments and universities began divesting left and right, and actions were unnecessary.

But you are right. The UC action would have been ineffective without our having spent months and months on that campus, and without our having been right in the middle of the plaza during the graduation ceremonies talking to anybody who would listen and encouraging all to at least lend their name to the effort (we had a huge petition which ended up being several hundred feet long). The UC actions also would have faltered if we had allowed ourselves to focus anywhere except upon our stated anti-Apartheid message. (This was the mistake that the protesters in Seattle made recently: I still have no idea what they wanted.) Finally, it is conceivable that UC would have divested when they did even if we hadn't disrupted that Regents meeting in June of 1986. Maybe not. Long-time Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (then candidate for Governor) spoke at that UCLA protest, as did Senator Alan Cranston, and I think their endorsement of the cause was the biggest factor in its success.

As for my break with USA, it's all about deceit and theft, and has nothing to do with the protest action.

I had thought my role there was to raise questions (as a careful reading of the September 1998 column will show). It turns out that their concept of my role there was to stump for the organization -- right or wrong. This I cannot do for anybody, any group, or any issue.

Another thing I cannot do is to appear to condone the deceit and the theft. If I could think of a way even to step into that building without appearing to condone what they did (and some other despicable things some of their leadership has done), I would probably be in that building at this very moment. At present, I cannot think of a way to be even casually involved in that group without appearing to endorse their style of atheistic activism (which I find very objectionable). More importantly, though, I cannot think of how to do it without appearing to endorse their style of running an organization (which I have discovered to be patently immoral). The atheism that I advocate is, in one sense, the essence of morality and the beginning of morality, because in atheism we discover the true source of morality: humanity.

The acts of any leadership are, ultimately, the responsibility of the membership because we all have three choices: do nothing; work for change; leave. The first is not my style, not within my current framework of abilities. The second is what I attempted, to no avail. The last reflects my current position with USA.

I think I'm getting more done doing what I do. I think that my integrity shows both in my work (writing, etc.) and in my actions (e.g., my refusal to appear to find Billings's deeds acceptable). While people may disagree with my views, very few have accused me of deliberately lying.

Meanwhile, my mailing list is now larger than theirs ever was while I was there (and I was there from the inception). Also, everybody on my mailing list has requested to be on it; I send nothing out unrequested, set an expire date for everyone, and review any account about to expire. My page has had over 20,000 hits since mid-August. We have over 40 paid subscriptions. Our e-mail list has grown to almost 500 this year. All this has happened with absolutely no active promotion on my part: I have restricted my activities to simply doing the work and have done nothing to promote the site since I sent out a one-time sample and offer to USA's list. I know more people (cyber-friends) than I ever have before.

The only thing I really lack is flesh-and-blood fellowship, and not simply with other atheists. I currently seek fellowship in bars, which is tough because I don't get loaded at all, and chronic pain keeps me from doing this as often as I want. I have been discussing with Conrad Goeringer of American Atheists the role that atheist groups play in one's social life, and he seems to agree with me that much of what we do socially has very little to do with our atheism.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Timothy Gorski MD"
Subject: Re: Unwanted(?) remarks
Date: Wednesday, December 29, 1999 1:49 PM

United States Atheists' president, Lanny Swerdlow, gave me the go-ahead to publish the October 1998 issue, but United States Atheists' treasurer, Jerry Billings, publicly refused to reimburse my girlfriend and myself for the expenses for October and for other expenses incurred earlier. He never even paid the amount that he publicly agreed that United States Atheists owed me (the earlier expenses). Two individuals privately compensated Bobbi and myself the full amount due in exchange for me agreeing not to bring it up again in a United States Atheists meeting.
 

First, wrongdoing is wrongdoing, and I don't think of this as a style.

Secondly, one style with which I disagree is how United States Atheists is administered (privately; secretly; authoritatively; undemocratically).

Thirdly, another style with which I disagree is United States Atheists' basic approach to the defense of atheism: indiscriminately attacking anyone who is a theist, without acknowledging that people are entitled to their opinions.

First and foremost, though, is that United States Atheists' style of administration has no built-in protection against wrongdoing and no avenue for the redress of grievance. The style appears to have led to the wrongdoing.
 

I have spent most of the past year or so at home, in a great deal of pain and also acutely depressed from having severed several friendships which, it turns out, were based entirely upon our mutual loyalty to United States Atheists. Only recently have I been given a reprieve from the pain in the form of medication from an ER doc (which lasted six weeks: now I'm back where I started because of many doctors' fears arising from America's War on Some Drugs: I could buy this stuff over the counter in most nations). I took advantage of this reprieve by going out every night and establishing three solid bases for social interaction. Since I do not work, I do not have the workplace available to me for pursuing friendships. Since I am not religious, I cannot use church loyalty as an opener for meeting new friends. Many people are taken aback by my inability to "dumb down" when I talk, and others read into my (depressed) facial expression more than is there. I have never been a social butterfly. All these things make meeting people more difficult than it probably is for most.

In American and European culture, public houses are a legitimate venue for seeking companionship and for pursuing long-term friendships. It is my experience that a significant fraction of people who go to a bar do so because of the bar's featured activity (music; singing; pool; darts) do not drink. I'd say 20 to 30 percent at the bars where I hang don't drink. Perhaps 10 to 20 percent gets too drunk, depending on how strict the bar is (I prefer the strict places). This leaves me with 20-30 percent completely sober, plus 50 to 70 percent drinking asymptomatically (i.e., mildly stimulated but under full control and capable of healthy social interaction).

I love music and I love to sing, so karaoke joints and bars that feature open-mic bandstands are a natch for me.

Most of all, for one who once had an alcohol problem to be able to feel comfortable in bars (and to stay sober) is, to me, the epitome of success. I spent years struggling within the Twelve Step programs, trying to meet stable people who were willing to be my friends -- all the while being told to avoid bars. Very few of my NA friends are even alive today. You are not going to find stable people remaining within the Twelve Step programs for very long. Only those most in need of the programs' "help" will stick around, and many of them never learn the knack for remaining clean and sober (as the programs don't teach this skill, focusing, instead, on group loyalty). I do not find nearly the level of "dysfunctionality" in bars that I did in the program: those who joined the program are usually those who were unable to function in the bar scene.

Also, for me to disprove the notion that atheists ought to seek companionship among atheists (that we cannot overcome our own bigotry or work around the bigotry of others) is also a form of success. In regular society, whenever someone tells me about their god (most often a concept that lies somewhere between Jefferson's god and Spinoza's god), I say, "Hey, I know what you mean! I've thought that myself." If someone has a look of shock upon finding that I am an atheist, I say, "You know, most people don't understand the word atheist. To me, atheism means that I have yet to hear a religious claim that makes sense or holds water." Very few (usually the fundamentalists) have a problem with these responses, and one fundamentalist woman is still very friendly with me despite these differences. We have agreed to disagree and to continue socializing when we're both at the same bar.

My January, 2000, column will describe an encounter that took place at a bar -- which, according to both of us, was a delightful success. Unfortunately, the individual in question lives in California. But if nothing else, I have that learning experience under my belt as well as the fond memories of lovely evening, in the company of a sweet, extremely intelligent woman and her father. (I even got along with the father who is a strict Pentecostalist.)

As for fellowship specifically with atheists, I think I can (and should) learn to do this without coming to depend upon a specific group or a local group. True, advantages can be had from joining a group -- if such a group exists, and if such a group meets one's needs and standards. (Religious people have every variety of choices, and don't necessarily encounter this problem -- although I never got along in any churches, even when I was religious: methinks the problem was me, not the groups.)

However, if a group is not available, or if involvement in the group is problematic (as was my involvement with United States Atheists), then the obvious choice is to go it on your own. Such is the fact of life for some. Despite my previous experiences, severing my ties with United States Atheists spun me into deep depression for almost a year. Thankfully, Bobbi has stuck with me through the entire thing, having had to watch me from a distance which she finds uncomfortable and unsatisfying. I also realized that for her to be my only friend, the only person who can name any of my cats (much less all of them) is unhealthy.

So, shortly before the back pain made a turn for the worse, I decided to focus much of my meager energy on meeting more friends. I have some friends, now. My contribution revolves around my enthusiasm for karaoke and my generously loaning out my collection of rare karaoke songs to anybody who wants to sing from them. I am doing remarkably well despite the fact that two weeks ago I stopped going to a bar where I have gone for three years. My situation is much better than it was even two months ago. Nothing's perfect, and some have it better than others.

Perhaps I need more, but this is what I have now, and it is with this that I must make the most of things. Perhaps next year I can move back to California to be with my sister, who recently returned from a 15-year stay in London.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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