I'm An
'Evangelical Atheist'
And Proud Of It!
Bobbi Needham

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    From: marshall hall
    To: Positive Atheism <editor@positiveatheism.org>
    Subject: false Copernican foundation
    Date: Sunday, June 01, 1997 11:06 AM

    Cliff:

    As a former evangelical atheist, may I encourage you to get and read: THE EARTH IS NOT MOVING (328 pages, 2nd printing)?

    It is available thru: FEF, Box 866, Cornelia, GA for $14 ppd U.S.

    Marshall Hall BS MA

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Cliff Responds:

Is this some kind of marketing ploy?

If not, please state your case. My role here is to discuss philosophical and moral issues as they relate to theism. I'd especially like to know what an "evangelical atheist" is, considering that evangelism refers specifically to the propagation of the so-called Good News of Jesus Christ.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bobbi Needham"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Wednesday, August 02, 2000 5:48 PM

I did some research on Mr. Hall and The Earth is Not Moving before I responded (enough, anyway, to discover that Hall is a Biblical flat-earther), but I didn't check the alternate definitions for evangelical.

Yea, it's the sixth definition -- just like atheism can be seen as wickedness and religion can be seen as devotion to a cause. Evangelical is originally a New Testament term, and its primary meaning remains that.

I think it is an abuse of the language to call an atheist either "religious" or "evangelical" when describing him or her as ardent or devoted, as this can be seen as a slam. Politesse would find other words to use, and my remark was mainly to question Mr. Hall's sense of decorum.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bobbi Needham"
Subject: Re: Evangelical Atheist
Date: Thursday, August 03, 2000 2:24 PM

Good for you! I am still gun-shy from the experiences of being a member of United States Atheists (formerly Center for Rational Thought and Atheist Community Center) for several years. It's one thing to call attention to our existence and to popularize our position, but it's another thing altogether to be spiteful and vindictive about it, suggesting to observers that you may be an anti-religion bigot rather than simply an atheist who is striving for tolerance or (better yet) acceptance or (hope against hope) even dignity.
 

I can only imagine what that is like. I don't think my experience in the Twelve Step program even comes close, because, when I walked out of the church basement, there was a whole world out there. Living in any of the Bible Belt areas means that you have nowhere to go and that you must get along or you've got a tough road ahead of you.

The website adherents.com "a growing collection of over 46,000 adherent statistics and religious geography citations," shows that I live in the State with "the highest proportion of religiously-unaffiliated and self-identified 'nonreligious' residents" (about 17 percent).

Even with that, there seems to be a church on every other corner. The Darwin "fish" is very popular, and I've even seen a T-shirt that says, "Fuck God / Fuck Satan / We're Atheists," and I sometimes wear one that says, "Christianity Is Stupid / Give Up." But outspoken atheism is rare around here despite the fact that collectively we make up the single largest "religious sect" in the state.
 

Or more than that. The opposition is so fierce that many are prompted either to flat-out lie to others about their atheism or, just as often, simply give in and allow themselves succumb to the brainwashing-like effects of the Gospel message. Another thing that happens a lot is that people who begin to entertain honest doubt find themselves fearfully expressing those doubts to a skilled apologist who then counsels them back into the fold.
 

I want to know what being an "in your face" atheist can and does accomplish. I am fascinated with the question of where to draw the line between being "out of the closet" and being like the leaders of United States Atheists, where they gather together for their weekly dose of religion bashing.
 

Here you've hit two of the real sore spots that I'd like to work on in this forum. Both angles show what I think is our need to come up with a response we can use in cases like this. I call it two angles because one problem lies in the theists' attitude toward us (which I think we can change), and the other lies in some atheists' tendency to fight fire with fire, that is, to respond with a similar attitude toward the theists that they have initiated toward us.

For some time now, I have questioned whether religion bashing is even healthy for our cause, and have suggested that we rethink the spiteful, vindictive approach to atheistic activism that was popularized by Madalyn Murray O'Hair and James Hervey Johnson. This approach tends to just sit there and laugh at religion, calling it stupid, etc. By doing this, we come off as a hate group, as I observed in my December, 1996, column "How Do Others See Us?" My current thoughts want me to try to accept all religionists as having valid reasons for believing, and to suggest that whether a god exists is one of the silliest reasons for getting into a fight.

Thus, I am curious as to how you responded to this one (or how you would have responded in retrospect).

See my latest Dispatch Question, "Moving Beyond Just A Polite Response?" by Jane, for the case of a youngster who doesn't want to pray when dining at her girlfriend's house. I tried to prompt readers to come up with some ways to respond so that the this reaction (ranging from misunderstanding to outright bigotry) can be reduced. I'd like to come up with some tools we can all use.

In the letters "Atheists Of The Deep South: Stay In Your Closets!" by Bill Garrett and "Your Style Of Atheism Could Reduce Atheists' Stigma" by James Darpinian, I try to make the case that advocating the "weak" definition for the word atheism could be a key to softening the blows of the antagonism from exclusivistic Christians.

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Most of all, though, we do well to keep our own side of the street clean, and to have as fair and as reasonable an understanding as we can concerning what is going in the mind of the Bible believer (and others). Here are some thoughts about r

First, religion often demands that you believe (or say you believe) some Absurd Dogma that any outsider would find laughable. This is often the key to being part of the club: that you believe in this one quirky Absurd Dogma or practice this one Strange Ritual. Otherwise reasonable, educated, and intelligent people will do this to be part of the club. Eventually, the mind gets used to this, either because the Absurd Dogma was instilled (and the mind thus numbed to it) at an early enough age, or else through rigorous retraining of the thought processes.

Secondly, and this is fortunate for the vast bulk of our day-to-day living, belief (or stated belief) in the Absurd Dogma does not, for the most part, affect one's skills in other areas.

Thirdly, folks will give lip service to the Absurd Dogma and the Strange Ritual because they think it is good for other people to do it (but not necessarily needed for themselves). For example, George Washington used to say that religion is good for the populace, but his actions regarding the Strange Rituals were indistinguishable from those of an atheist. He is even said to have shunned the prayer at the family meal, and it is well known that he'd duck out before Communion was served (during those relatively rare occasions when he'd attend at all -- see Franklin Steiner's "Religious Beliefs of our Presidents" for more on Washington).

I developed some thoughts in this regard toward the end of the letter "The Value Of Truthfulness" by Tyler McMillen, which is going out in the July, 2000, print edition later this week.

As for the thought that you are worshipping Satan, an alleged quote from Jesus is the culprit here. He (supposedly) said "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matthew 12:30). Combine this with various passages such as First Corinthians 10:19-22 which suggest that what is not of God is de facto of the Devil: "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God."

While we cannot change this binary thinking prompted by Bible belief, we can challenge it, perhaps gently, in such a way as to get someone who says this to think a little about what he or she has just said. I don't know of a sensible response to this particular one, though. I do know that when I interviewed cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick during the late 1970s, he suggested to me that we can ask questions whose answers lie outside the cultic world view. (This was mentioned in a book from that era called Snapping by Conway and Siegelman; Patrick's book is called Let Our Children Go.) Though Patrick was quite fierce in his anti-cult approach, resorting to kidnapping and the like (for which he was later imprisoned), I think his views on how the mind works have some validity. Perhaps we can use the approach of asking pointed questions, but do so in a gentle, respectful, and dignified manner.

and

Do you even have any friends left?

If this is the extent of "in your face" atheism, loudly and vocally proclaiming that you are an atheist and proud of it, then I'm all for it! If they "twirl their middle finger" at you (as the Sports pages so aptly put it), you might respond by blowing them kisses or the like!

I do urge for developing other approaches I mentioned above, though.
 

Yes. I commend you for your efforts.

My only question is, how do we strike a balanced approach that will not (rightly) be seen as bigotry?
 

Hey! You've been an integral part of this whole operation for years, and I thank you for all your input. You are one of the stars in our Letters and Forums sections.

I may twitch and squirm at some of the challenges you level against me, but that's the whole point of this forum: perhaps in doing this we can eventually come up with some concise methods that our fellow-atheists will find useful, and perhaps we can change things for the better. The gay and lesbian rights groups have been busy for decades, now, and have made great strides in their struggle. I wonder if it didn't take not only the quiet persuasion and hard political work, but also the seemingly senseless and sometimes bigoted tomfoolery of groups like Act Up. What you are doing seems to be somewhere in-between these two approaches.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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