Why So Argumentative In
Your Letters Responses?
Nate

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: Nate
Subject: Re: positive atheism
Date: Friday, August 18, 2000 8:52 PM

I get tough when people try to pull tricks on me -- especially when what we are doing here is trying to discover the truth of various situations. The use of dishonest arguing techniques for the purpose of convincing me of the alleged truthfulness of this or that claim warrants the sternest response I can muster.

The following excerpt from a recent review of our magazine and website says it all: "'Cliff provides a positive forum that demands proper use of logic and the scientific method -- two processes that I can identify with heartily,' said reader Todd Smith of Peoria, Ill. 'The second thing I particularly like about Cliff's Web site is his letters section. Cliff's welcoming of opposing viewpoints indicates his quest for knowledge and truth is sincere.'" This so succinctly summarizes my approach to life in general that my friend and I almost fell down laughing when we read it.

As you will notice (if you bother to look), I get tough only when I detect the use of falsehood in making a claim for truth. Unless I detect the use of such ploys, I am as cordial as anybody, as you will notice in many of our letters. Occasionally, I will think someone is doing this when the truth is that I simply misread the letter and responded inappropriately (as with the letter from Andrew Wallace, of Sweden, who asked whether we attack only Christianity; I misread his letter and responded inappropriately to it, and then later apologized when he called me on my manner of response.) However, I have no respect for someone who writes to us and holds us accountable for thinking what we have never stated, or who criticizes us for being a certain way at all times, when the truth is that we are only that way during specific situations.
 

I am not here to sell subscriptions to Positive Atheism, I am here to publish Positive Atheism and to engage in discussion with other atheists (and with anybody who is willing to engage in an honest pursuit of truth). "Positive Atheism," the magazine, is the vehicle for artistic and philosophical self-expression, as well as an organ for social advocacy. Anybody who wants a copy or three may receive them for the asking. Anybody who appreciated what I do is welcome to donate in the form of subscriptions, but this has never been required to receive the magazine.

I will also note that our Letters section is hands-down the most popular section of the website. When I take a break and neglect the Letters section, I hear about it from readers who frantically ask when I'm going to get busy and post more letters. Because I received so many requests for more attention to the Letters section, I recently abandoned some other projects I had going in my life so that I could spend more time working on the Letters section. When our server reminded us that we were over our quota (40 megabytes), I considered removing some other sections, but then realized that I could post the Cliff's Kittens section and many PDF archive files on xoom.com for free, though with a significant reduction of speed for this admittedly optional material.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: Nate
Subject: Re: positive atheism
Date: Saturday, August 19, 2000 4:24 PM

What is atheism if it is not a response to the claims of theists? Without the claims of theists, we are not atheists, we are just people. It is the existence of theism that makes us atheists; we are distinguished from theists in that we do not share their beliefs: the property of theism is absent in us (for whatever reason).

And what is a proper response to a lying theist (who lie in their presentation of their claims; I not here calling the theistic claim itself a lie)? Can you think of a better way to respond than my exposure of these wiles and my and stern denunciations of dishonest arguing techniques? Not all theists act this way, but those tend not to write to atheistic forums. A few have written here, though.

Meanwhile, I know of two other (basic) alternatives practiced by atheists: (1) become vitriolic toward all manifestations of religion regardless of how reasonable they may seem to some of us (like Madalyn Murray O'Hair); (2) ignore the issue entirely (like my Father).

What I do is somewhere between the two. As far as I'm concerned, if we can entice even a few atheists away from these two extremes and toward the middle that I and others envision, my work here will not be in vain. My hope is that atheists recognize that most theists are potential allies in the human struggle to make this a better place to live, and that the behavior of some theists is worthy of exposure and stern denunciation. My picture is of a thinking atheist, and I consider the two extremes to be non-thinking, gut-level reactions (if you could think of the lack of a reaction in the second case to be a reaction; if you could think of apathy as a philosophical position).

The main difference is that I would enjoy learning some better techniques for doing what I do, even if that involves becoming less argumentative -- and even if it involves becoming more argumentative. If you now of some better ways to do what I wish to do, or if you think that my approach is inferior to the other two methods I mentioned, or if you think there is a fourth approach that I don't know about, please inform me.

Also be aware that I am not this way in my personal life. I think that the question of whether or not a god exists is the stupidest topic over which to get into an argument. Thus, I reserve my discussion of this topic for forums such as this, and have created this forum specifically so I can engage in such dialogue. This is the proper setting for such talk.

You will notice (if you read enough of our letters and my responses) that I have some very kind things to say about the way many people practice religion. My saber-rattling (if you will) is against two types of theist: (1) those who wish to impose their narrow system upon the rest of us by force, through legislation; (2) those who wish to impose their narrow system upon the rest of us by guile, through trickery.

The first group will not get very far because our country is too pluralistic, but this does not absolve us from having to work very hard to counter their every move. I think we will always be too pluralistic for them to get any further than they did in the 1950s, and it is this very pluralism that will help us maintain our efforts to keep a lid on the Christian religion's intrusion into government and public life.

The second group is countered through education and public awareness, mainly because that group is comprised mainly of rank-and-file theists who have been convinced that dishonest methods are a legitimate way to communicate their faith to others. I'll grant that these ways are effective but I will not call them legitimate because they involve using falsehood in trying to convince others of the truthfulness of their philosophical position.

I am doing my part by writing and developing (and popularizing) our FAQ section on logical fallacies, and posting several similar articles by other, more competent writers. I also work in this respect on those who write to our Forum, who use those logical fallacies in their attempts to establish the truthfulness of their religion (usually Christianity). This, I think, is what you are seeing when you say that I am being argumentative. If I were simply to respond, "Well, whatever," I might as well go to the bar and engage in some drinking and philandering.

I also encourage that children get an early start in understanding the basic concept of Liberal Scientific Method (so aptly and succinctly described in the book The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought by Jonathan Rauch). By gaining an understanding of that ongoing discussion known as science, and by having a working grasp of the game-rules of that discussion, the dishonest theists will be hard-pressed to convince very many people of, for example, the historicity of the Noah's Ark tale. This looks promising because even though 40 percent of Americans are young-earth creationists, these are mainly the aged and the poor. The under-30 crowd displays a healthy skepticism toward this brand of religion.

Meanwhile, please examine our exchanges with theists such as: Chaplain Al Holm; Jim Adams, President of The Center for Progressive Christianity; Mike Calvert (whose questions were so compelling that we entered our response into our FAQ); Jeffery Frieden (whose questions also became part of our FAQ); The Bean Bag Philosophers and Jennifer; Vivian Haney (who, in my opinion, was asking for it, but did not get it from me!).

Please also note that Roger Baker is a Seminary student and is also a charter member of our informal advisory committee. I have, more than once, called him our "official Pastor." While he has contributed to a few of our Forum discussions, most of our exchanges are very personal and are not suitable for posting, but I will review all our exchanges and see what I can come up with. We do have one ongoing discussion which has not been posted but is slated to be posted soon. For what it's worth, Roger seems to appreciate the confrontational style of my responses.

And I have taken on people in our own camp, such as the Skeptics Society's founder Michael Shermer and United States Atheists' president Nancy Powell and treasurer Jerry Billings. I even wrote a column called "Atheism &anp; Fundamentalism" which focuses on what I think is wrong with the popular approach to atheistic activism (where your complaint, I think, is more appropriately directed). So, I cannot be accused of being one-sided; this refusal is, perhaps, the one thing that prevents me from gaining wider acceptance among organized atheists.

I was roundly criticized for my unwillingness to confront various ideas in our exchanges with leaders of The World Church Of The Creator and the Raelian religion (although these two groups fit the description of atheistic). I was also criticized for deliberately ignoring the racism of the person who forwarded to us the religious spam "The Ant And The Contact Lens" and later for refusing to post that criticism.

There are many exchanges where my response may seem, at first glance, to be argumentative, simply because I am disagreeing with the writer or explaining where the writer is mistaken in this or that respect.

However, I think you'd be hard-pressed to make a case from these letters that a response from someone who disagrees or who notices mistakes such as these could be any less argumentative without simply rolling over and saying, "Whatever!" Besides, what would be a more proper response to some of these letters? (Or are you concerned only with whether I gain popular support for my position, and suggesting that I compromise what I currently think is the most effective approach I can muster in order to gain such support?)

So, I ask again: What alternative do you suggest? I am not willing to become a flat-out opponent of all forms of religious expression just to gain the acceptance of those who think that approach is healthy. I am not willing to roll over and simply live and let live when it comes to those brutes who wish to impose their religion upon us all, the parasites who seek to funnel even more public money into church treasuries, or the charlatans who use guile and trickery in order to propagate religion (especially when they do this for personal, financial, or political gain).

I think I have a healthy and productive balance, and think that we would do well if more atheistic activists would approach this balance that I seek.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

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.