Atheists Of The Deep South:
Stay In Your Closets!
Bill Garrett

    In an e-list dispatch mentioning a tentatively scheduled interview with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor which was later cancelled by Barker, Cliff Walker had written about what he'd intended to discuss with them:

I have some serious questions about the notion of atheist groups being an "oasis" from a predominantly religious culture, and like to think we should instead learn to get along and learn to work together.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bill Garrett"
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 4:14 AM

More and more I think that advocating and popularizing the "weak" definition for the word atheist is the answer to this and other problems within the atheistic and nontheistic communities. The "weak" definition says, "I lack a god belief: I have yet to hear a compelling reason to believe that a god exists" whereas the "strong" definition says, "I know for a fact that no gods exist."

The key, I think, is keeping the discussion focused on the fact that theists are making claims rather than allowing the discussion to assume that either a god does or does not exist. If we focus the discussion on claims we will all see the situation as it is: people making claims (either realistic or otherwise), rather than how we tend to see it: this or that reality.

I tend to agree with Alfred Korzybski and others that we are better off trying to see our world in terms of observations and measurements rather than trying to see our world in terms of the way the world really "is." Applied to the theism-atheism discussion, I think this would best come out in terms of claims rather than realities.

Thus, I recognize that those who believe the god-claims have their reasons for doing so, just as I have my reasons for not going along with those claims. If this is the case, then the debate of the existence or nonexistence of a god is, to me, the stupidest topic to get into fights over. (I can see how some theists would disagree with me on this, but fail to see how any atheist (of the "weak" definition variety, anyway) could disagree.)

Now that I think the god question is a stupid thing to get into a fight over (though certainly not a stupid thing to debate), what is left but to find out where we agree on the important matters, such as human justice, poverty, scientific progress, ecology, education of our young (and the rest of us), and other weighty matters of day-to-day living that have nothing to do with the god question?

And, since I acknowledge that believers have their reasons for going along with this or that god claim, why do I need to find an "oasis" from them -- or even from their views? If I can endure a little god-talk here and there (and I can just fine), certainly I can endure a god-talker -- especially when that person is an ally in helping make this a better world for us all. While I may be tempted to roll my eyes at times, the bottom line is that I am willing to roll up my sleeve to work toward attaining the real needs that we all share regardless of our views.
 

In discussing where Scientific Pantheism (SciPan) fits in the theism-atheism duality of the "weak" definition for atheism, I came up with what I think is a definite marker for whether one should be called a theist or an atheist. John Love-Jensen wrote to tell me that he believes in "god" (his lowercase; his quotation marks). His "god" is what I call the universe. I asked why he bothers using the word "god" at all, and why he does not simply say "the universe." He gave his reasons, which can be found in our dialogue, and which, ultimately, don't matter to me. The point is that he says that he believes in "god," but philosophically he is indistinguishable from most atheists.

Love-Jensen says that his SciPan is a third alternative to the theism-atheism duality, but I balked at this just as I balk at the agnostic's claim that agnosticism is a middle ground between theism and atheism. So, presupposing the theist-atheist duality for a moment, I wondered: which is he, a theist because he says he believes in "god" (the universe), or an atheist because his "god" is not a deity in the traditional sense?

Here's what I eventually came up with: The observer cannot disqualify his "god" no matter how unorthodox his description of his "god" may be: he says he believes in "god" and his is the final word on what he believes. Every god has some unique trait attributed to it, and Love-Jensen's "god" has the (almost) unique trait of not being supernatural and not being sentient (having awareness).

Who am I to say whether that description is valid? I mean, some Twelve Steppers are fond of telling newcomers that they can use a light bulb or a doorknob or an ashtray as their "Higher Power." This being the case, how can I call Love-Jensen weird or wrong? Love-Jensen says he believes in a "god" and I must accept his description of his beliefs -- even though when probed further about what precisely he believes, he proceeds to describe what I would call "the universe." So be it.

So, since Love-Jensen says he believes in a "god" this makes him a theist. In his case, this is the only thing that makes him a theist (his statement that he believes in a "god") and only according to my understanding of the theism-atheism dichotomy implied in the "weak" definition for atheism. Everything else that he says would place him firmly within the camp of atheism as far as I'm concerned.

The same holds true for Spong and the others: Spong says he believes in "God" (his capitalization, my quotation marks). Even though most of what he says is indistinguishable from atheism, Spong, like Love-Jensen and the Twelve Stepper, say that they believe in a "god" or in "God" or in a "Higher Power" (be it a urinal or whatever).

Ultimately, this rule-of-thumb works across the board. If I were to criticize Love-Jensen's concept of "god" to the point where I would call him an atheist (even though he says he believes in a "god"), then I could conceivably carry this to extremes: Since I can make a good case that Jesus was a man (if he even existed at all), then the Christians don't really believe in a god (or God) at all. They may think they believe in a god, but they really believe in a man. Since they don't believe in a god (because their god isn't real), this would make them atheists. However, anybody can see that this is absurd.

Thus, I call someone a theist when they say that they believe in a god or a deity or a higher power or some other concept of reality. In other words, if someone is going to capture the language of a theist, I will call that person a theist.
 

I know what you mean. At least Johan Grahn was able to see the difference, having grown up in a completely different culture. The problem is that many Americans have been desensitized to it, and as a result, cannot even see it when it is pointed out to them. I'm not talking about the people who think atheophobia is a good thing, but the people you'd think would know better the people who would jump right down an anti-Semite's throat without even thinking about it.

I subscribe to several humor lists, and yesterday one listmistress sent out a long list of Will Rogers quotes. One of the quotes said:

"Fanatical religion driven to a certain point is almost as bad as none at all, but not quite."
                    -- Will Rogers

I pulled this quote and wrote to the list owner and said:

Grrrr!

(Could you imagine the reaction you'd get if such a slur were made about Judaism or about African Americans?)

The list owner wrote back:

Cliff ... you know I respect you and enjoy our correspondence and all that, and I'm really glad to have you as a reader, but with all due respect ........ WHAT?? How is this a slur? How could the sentence even be changed to include a reference to Judaism or African Americans?

It's Will frickin' Rogers, Cliff. He was very much entitled to his often very beautifully and succinctly expressed opinion, and I'll defend to the death etc. Suggest you get over it.

Well, I don't care who says something, if it degrades me, I will speak up about it. So, I wrote back:

This implies that religion equals morality and that no religion at all (which is atheism) equals immorality. That's all. Rogers says that bad religion (as in exploitation, hypocrisy, or murderous loyalism) is preferable to no religion (atheism).

Look up the word atheism in Mirriam-Webster's and you will see the synonym "wickedness" listed. We have struggled with the stigma of atheism equaling wickedness for centuries, to the point where the two words are now listed as a synonyms (not because they are synonyms but because this use has been so popular over the centuries).

Meanwhile, more Americans think it's okay to discriminate against atheists than think it's okay to discriminate against homosexuals. I wonder why, considering that we are considered to be evil by so many. Rogers, here, is furthering this problem.

Even when more vicious slurs than this come our way in public talk, any move on our part to say something about it is met either with righteous indignation or feigned misunderstanding: "What are you talking about?" However, as often as not, when I swap the term atheist with the term "Jew" I can just see the outcry and I can just see heads roll politically. Had Rogers taken something truly bad (such as bad religion) and compared it favorably to being Jewish or being African American (as Henry Ford the racist might have done), any editor their right mind would have silently deleted the quotation from their featured list.

This is all I'm saying: to denigrate Jews or African Americans the way this quotation denigrates atheists would lose you many readers and might even spark public outcry. But it didn't denigrate these people, it denigrated atheists, and all you got was a "Grrr!" from me. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it is so vastly popular to denounce the lack of religion that we are desensitized to this denigration on a mass scale. Even we atheists are desensitized (or, in some parts of the country, still frightened). We tend not to see it as the denigration that it is, but rather see it as a form of propaganda.

Thanks for letting me exercise my mind on this subject. I have lived with being relegated to second-class citizenship (or worse) since the second grade, when I could not answer the question "Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?"; since the fourth grade when I was held after class and disciplined for not even mouthing the morning prayer (two years after Murray v. Curlett); since I refused, on religious grounds, a court order to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings -- without the benefit of a drug- or alcohol-related charge, much less a conviction -- I was returned to jail for 30 days, after having served every day of a 180 day sentence for shoplifting because I was too sick and crippled to support myself.

Jailed simply for refusing to undergo religious instruction! My only "crime" was contracting several major debilitating illness in the course of a year and becoming so disoriented from an inability to even function that I became homeless. Too disoriented from deafness to get along in the Rescue Mission scene, and crippled from tumors in the soles of my feet -- barely able to walk more than five blocks in a painful hour, I ended up shoplifting oysters and sardines just to survive. I did this for an entire fall and winter while I lived on the icy streets of Southeast Portland.

I'd hope that any one of these injustices would make an activist out of most people. I assume that all these injustices combined would inspire anyone to try to figure out what's going on, and then to speak out in hopes of effecting some change so that no other second-grader ever gets beat up for not being religious. I mean, they stopped their infighting for a moment and joined forces to come after me! What an introduction to madness!

How could bad religion such as this possibly be preferable to the ignorance I had before that incident?

I'll keep you up on any response from the list owner.

This was more of a test to see if my point is even understood at this juncture; for now, I don't care if they agree with me, I'd just like to be able to make the point. I've been honing this one for some time now, and may soon be ready to present it on a wider scale. I have touched on this in a few columns and in several letter responses, and would like to start working on a column to this effect.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Bill Garrett"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 9:33 PM
 

I'd hope that any one of these injustices would make an activist out of most people. I assume that all these injustices combined would inspire anyone to try to figure out what's going on, and then to speak out in hopes of effecting some change so that no other second-grader ever gets beat up for not being religious. I mean, they stopped their infighting for a moment, and joined forces to come after me! What an introduction to madness!

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org> To: "Bill Garrett"
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Sunday, July 23, 2000 10:14 PM

But I call Love-Jensen is a theist, because he says he believes in "god."

Love-Jensen admits that only a quarter of the members adamantly use the religious terminology, that half of them reject it and another quarter don't care. Thus, the religion itself may be atheistic, but I call Love-Jensen a theist because of what he says (not because of what he actually believes, because I can only take his word for it on that).
 

But one can argue that Tillich's use of the term god here is not meant in a theistic sense. Thus, I don't think I would use this definition in the theism-atheism discussion.
 

I read Why Christianity Must Change or Die and in it he came off as someone within the weakest realm of theistic agnosticism -- on the verge of atheism but, like Love-Jensen, unwilling to abandon the religious language. Hey! If Spong became an atheist, he'd have to go to work! Meanwhile, I hear Gerd Lüdemann did just that: Internet Infidels announced about two years ago that Lüdemann renounced his faith altogether and quit his posts in the German church.

I am not coming down on Spong at all, and consider him one of my most powerful allies (even though I have never contacted him); I am merely taking pot shots at Spong's position as a cleric who must believe in order to keep his job. I was once about to enter Seminary when I realized that my faith was not strong enough to guarantee that I'd still be a believer once I graduated -- and I knew I was too honest to be an atheist in clerical garb. It was Spong who inspired me to completely shun the "oasis" mentality of many atheist groups and fully embrace all of humanity as potential allies in the struggle to make this world a better place to live. Spong, I'm sure, has inspired countless theists to consider the atheistic position as very reasonable, and thus I give Spong some of the credit should any reduction of atheophobia ensue.
 

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bill Garrett"
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 3:01 PM

Yeah, perhaps even calling them pot-shots is unjustified. I am trying to comment on the concept of being a cleric and then losing one's faith. This one means a lot to me, as I once seriously considered entering into the ministry, and knew, at the time, that my faith was not set in stone and that I could eventually lose it. So, even while that faith remained, I ducked out of that career plan. Even then, my intrinsic honesty would have prevented me from even remaining loyal to a body whose teachings were diametrically opposed to mine -- and part of me (rightly) suspected that I would not be able to keep up with the faith for very much longer.

I must acknowledge, here, that I think Spong can do much more where he is than he ever could by resigning the ministry. In essence, I agree with Spong's approach in Why Christianity Must Change Or Die though I disagree with what I tend to see as his quasi-pantheistic tendencies. I think that if a god existed, this would be evident to all (just as the existence of the sun is evident to all). This is especially true when I think of the god concepts that claim that God loves us and wants us to know about Him. But, most people are religious and will remain religious despite any questions I will ever raise, simply because most people have good reasons for believing the way they do. At least clerics such as Spong can show more believers that fundamentalism is not what it's cracked up to be, and thereby help us resist with the tendency of Christian Fundamentalists to try to impose their narrow views upon us all. Again, Spong can do much more in this respect by continuing to wear his collar than by giving it back to the church.

One book I read from Inter Varsity Press (a Christian publisher in the U.K.), whose title I have woefully forgotten, described how changes in philosophy progress through a given culture. First it is the poets, then the scholars, then the public, and finally the church (or something like that -- I would dispute the poets bit and may even be remembering this incorrectly). Anyway, I think we can all agree that the church is usually the last to go along with social changes. Thus, for Spong (and most Anglicans) to stump for homosexual dignity (not simply homosexual rights) is a good sign, and the church needs to go through this process before we can advance in this respect. Spong is doing his part in this advancement by helping his church (and many others) come to grips with this problem and to effect major changes.
 

Okay. Let me look it up.

Here's a hint: If I like anyone, chances are I've found their website and have listed it in the Web Guide under People. Lüdemann is no exception and neither is Spong.

When I first heard about Spong (Why Christianity Must Change Or Die had recently been published), I had just purchased Lüdemann's book The Unholy in Holy Scripture: The Dark Side of the Bible. So, I put pieces by Spong, Lüdemann and John Bowden in the magazine. This marked a pronounced change in my approach to atheism that was tempered by the sad times I was experiencing that month, and the scary days would endure shortly thereafter.

The Tennesean says that "His views on faith have gotten him in trouble at Göttingen University in Germany, where he is on the faculty but is banned from teaching students for credit." The "Preface to the U.S. Edition" of Lüdemann's book The Great Deception (1999) Gives more detail as to the history and purpose of the History of Religions School, saying: "The term History of Religions School is used to describe a group of German Protestant theologians from the end of the Wilhelmine empire, most of whom were New Testament scholars. Their main conviction was that religion is not something fixed; it develops and is subject to human history." Lüdemann said that the President of the University of Göttingen "confirmed my membership in the theological faculty, but at the same time renamed my chair in New Testament. It is now a chair in the 'History and Literature of Early Christianity.' The aim of this renaming is, on the one hand, to withdraw me from the training of pastors in the theological faculties and, on the other, to continue to guarantee the freedom of research to which I have a right, protected by law, as a professor of theology appointed by the state."

The Tennessean says Lüdemann "He publicly renounced Christian beliefs in 1994 with the publication of a book that denies the Resurrection" but this is misleading. As recently as 1996, when his book, "The Unholy in Holy Scripture: The Dark Side of the Bible" was published, Lüdemann titled Chapter 5 "A Criticism Of My Church," clearly allying himself with the church at that point. Later, in September, 1988, we reprinted an article by Jeffrey Jay Lowder of Internet Infidels titled "Gerd Lüdemann Renounces Christianity, Publishes The Great Deception." It says that "at the time of the debate ... between Christian theism's hired gun, Dr. William Lane Craig, and Dr. Gerd Lüdemann ... Dr. Lüdemann identified himself as a Christian, though obviously a very different sort of Christian than Dr. Craig. However, that is no longer the case. Dr. Lüdemann has informed Internet Infidels, Inc. that he no longer considers himself a Christian in any sense of the word. Indeed, Dr. Lüdemann tells II that the Secular Web is one of his favorite web sites and that he surfs it frequently!" Thus, Lüdemann may have renounced his Christian beliefs (such as the Resurrection) but he had not renounced his faith which may be another thing altogether, since many faithful Christians dispute this or that doctrine held by much of the Church.
 

Oh, I love Jesus books and have quite a diverse collection -- ranging from "archaeologists have found the skeleton" (The Jesus Scroll) to "we cannot possibly know who Jesus was even if a Jesus existed" (Deconstructing Jesus). It was Hyam Maccoby who helped me to come down from Christianity once I had lost my faith, with his books on Jesus and Paul. So, I've actually been tempted to buy this book, but either couldn't justify affording it at the time or couldn't track down a cloth edition (very important -- get the cloth edition if you can, I say).
 

Yeah, if there was a church that would allow an atheist to work, I'd do it in a heartbeat. My problem is Attention Deficit Disorder: this has prevented me from getting anywhere in any school situation -- except those years when I took lots of drugs, which seem to mute the noise in my head long enough to get things done. This is what I like about the pain medication I'm currently taking, and you'll notice the drastically increased activity on this Letters section as a result. Before I began this work, I had spent several months working on my karaoke habit and trying to get marriage plans off the ground.
 

People keep saying this, but perhaps I don't know what bash means. You will notice that I am extremely stern when people write here and start lying to me or about me. I like what Todd Smith of Peoria, Illinois, said about me in the Modesto Bee: "Cliff provides a positive forum that demands proper use of logic and the scientific method." Yup: demands! When I read that to my guest the other evening, we laughed so hard that we would have fallen onto the floor -- had we not already been sitting on the floor to begin with!

My compassion for others, if it comes from my atheism at all, comes from my atheistic Mother. She always stressed compassion toward humans and animals, and taught that the only way any person or animal will get needed help is for us to do it. I also was shunned at school at an early age, partly because I was not a member of one of the two major religions, but found that the handicapped and disadvantaged kids (the guy with real thick glasses; the guy who talked "baby-talk"; the guy with the leg brace; the guy with webbed fingers; the guys whose Dads were killed in Vietnam) made wonderful friends. With friends like these, I didn't need to be part of any group, and didn't miss it a bit. I also learned about compassion and acceptance and what that feels like. Today, it is second-nature, in theory, but my shyness and my depressive disorder and my outspoken atheism combine to make it tough for me to maintain a one-on-one, in-person friendship for very long.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bill Garrett"
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 12:27 PM

I'll have to think about this one: I can to along with along side the church or in cooperation with the church, but I'm not sure about inside the church. This is a pluralistic society and it cannot be said that Muslims and Jews are "within the church."
 

You could do much worse -- unless your motive for attending services is to meet young ladies!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Bill Garrett"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2000 7:58 PM
 

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bill Garrett"
Subject: Re: comment
Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 1:20 AM

Unfortunately, most churches are not about cooperation or truth, but are about fostering tribal loyalism. I wish there were a way to discredit this element of religion on a wide scale. It is this totem mentality, still evident in modern religion, that sets my teeth on edge. Many will do anything -- anything! -- in the name of the totem.

Why do you think they are shooting for our government allowing churches administer welfare and charity? (It is everyone's responsibility to help the poor if it is anyone's responsibility at all; this is the job of government.) Why do you think they now are moving to allow faith-based organizations to skirt the limits for building loans -- in the name of being able to administer government-sponsored charity?

"Under a new bill introduced on capitol hill, credit unions would be permitted to ignore their federally mandated lending caps as long as they were making loans to faith-based groups like churches involved in community social welfare projects. The measure, known as the "Faith-Based Lending Protection Act" (H.R. 4701), amends sections of the Federal Credit Union Act by providing that any member business loan originating with a credit union would not count toward the total amount which can be disbursed as provided by federal statutes."
            -- from AANEWS from American Atheists
                written by Conrad Goeringer July 26, 2000

This is where I come out with both guns.

Did you hear the political rhetoric on the so-called national motto, "In God We Trust"?

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved a resolution, H. Res. 548 encouraging display of the "In God We Trust" motto in public buildings.

Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.) declared that the motto "unites us as a people and has made us the greatest country on the planet. We should not run from it. We should endorse it and embrace it." The move comes after the Board of Education in Schaffer's home state of Colorado recently adopted a similar resolution urging that the slogan be posed in public schools and other government buildings.
            -- from AANEWS from American Atheists
                written by Conrad Goeringer July 25, 2000

Er, this motto "unites us as a people"!? Excuse me? No! This motto divides us (unless what he's thinking about is making Christianity the State religion -- usurping Alcoholics Anonymous, which is currently the de facto state religion, in that judges routinely sentence people to undergo religious instruction at AA meetings -- almost all of which close with a group recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 commonly known as "The Lord's Prayer"). No! No no no! We must move quickly and strongly to restore "E Pluribus Unum" ("Of Many, One") as our national motto!

And I think more than a few major denominations would support such a move!

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But as for these groups opening up their thinking, I am skeptical that this would even be good for them. You see, any group gets most of its support from a core group that is loyal to the unique totem-doctrine that makes a given group stand out from the rest. If you water the message down to be more inclusive, you lose that core group, and the rest don't care anyway and will be satisfied with just about any group. So, I think it might be crucial to many of these groups' survival to retain their distinguishing dogma. I see this in the Lüdemann fiasco, where it's clear that Lüdemann's opponents probably see eye-to-eye with Lüdemann. But Lüdemann is threatening to upset the apple cart by challenging the unique dogma of Christianity, all things in the Confessions that the laity holds sacred and by which heretics are identified (in that heretics reject the tenets of the Confession), and this could endanger that core group's support.

However, Spong may know more about human nature than I'm giving him credit for knowing in this above analysis. Perhaps Spong can see the writing on the wall and has reasons for hoping that the laity will accept a whole new ballgame (which cannot be a dogma: with Spong we are talking about a wholesale rejection of the very notion of dogma and the loyalistic style of thinking that goes along with it).

I, for one, despite my respect for the dignity of humanity, do not hold out much hope for such prospects. Modern humanity is exceedingly superstitious: in spite of all we know about science, more and more people are embracing belief in the supernatual. The only explanation that make sense to me is covered in Victor Stenger's book Physics and Psychics.

In chapter 4, Stenger runs down the history of superstition as it relates to the emergence of the city. He shows that the tendency toward credulity was naturally selected into our species over the course of the past 10,000 years, and that the tendency toward independent thinking was naturally selected out of the species during the same period. (I prefer to say "unnaturally selected.) This is because conformity to the totem dogma (almost always based in superstition and belief in the supernatural) meant survival, whereas rejection of the tribal dogma brought swift ostracization if not the death penalty.

In other words, the tendency toward credulity, according to this model, is at least partially genetic. And I haven't even pondered what role culture plays in the tendency toward credulity. If we could study the religious patters in the Soviet Union states over the past 100 years, we might be able to tell more about the social influence over the tendency to believe in the supernatural, and could even cast serious doubt on the model Stenger uses.

That Spong still has a job is a surprise to me. A promising surprise, I'll say that, but a surprise nonetheless.

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As for a sense of wonder and awe, I just spent the last week conversing with a theistic pantheist, and the main topic was that sense of wonder and awe toward the universe that leads him to call the universe "god" and which I have yet to discover a way to express or communicate. In it, I stumble upon a surprising new possiblility for what "Positive Atheism" may mean to me, as the philosophy I have been developing for the past two years.

What this means to me is this: I wish to abandon as inadequate the theistic language and conceptualization of pantheism, and I never felt much for the grandeur of religion, either the ritual or anything else. I am aware of the movement of atheistic Episcopalians who attend church for the aesthetic value, and I can respect that, though I'm not into it. And this is not what the pantheist means, anyway.

Meanwhile, I'll post that link to CIA on my next upload.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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Dear Mr. Garrett:

Progressive Christianity, which Jack Spong serves as an Honorary Advisor. The Center is a nonprofit corporation that encourages the presentation of the Christian message to those who have found organized religion to be ineffectual, irrelevant, or repressive. TCPC supports congregations that embrace the search for meaning-rather than a particular brand of certainty. Through conferences, a newsletter, our Web site, and correspondence we are building a network of people who have an interest in recovering our Christian symbols and in redefining what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Congregations that agree with our eight-point definition of what we mean by "progressive" are listed in the Directory of Progressive Churches, which is posted on our Web site.

In June of 1996, we held our first major event, a forum in Columbia, S.C., called "Out of the Whirlwind: Claiming a Vision of Progressive Christianity". The 1997 national forum was held in Houston, and our 1998 gathering took place in Seattle. Last year, we gathered here in Cambridge to explore the intersection of creativity, diverse spiritualities, and Christian traditions in a forum called "Risking Art, Risking Faith". Our most recent forum-held June 1-3 in Orange County, California-featured Marcus Borg and focused on "Faith Communities in Transition: Will progressive churches live or die?"

We are now in the process of creating educational resources for progressive churches. The first available was Setting our Hearts-Progressive Faith for a New Era, an introductory course designed for inquirers and seekers. Most recently we have published a Study Guide for the Eight Points by which we define Progressive Christianity, which will give congregations a useful framework for self-assessment.

If you would like to be part of the growing network of progressive Christians, send me your postal address, and I'll add you to our mailing list.

Jim

James R. Adams, President
The Center for Progressive Christianity
"encouraging churches to care about people who find organize religion
irrelevant, ineffectual, or repressive"
99 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Web site http://www.tcpc.org

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I am an atheist, and could be considered pantheistic if the concept of "poetically" could be seen as valid: I stand in awe poetically, and in that sense, I could be called an atheistic pantheist, of sorts.

However, I would prefer to come up with new language to describe how I feel toward the universe.

Here's a bold thought: Perhaps popular opinion will one day abscond with the term Positive Atheism and, using it differently from the way I now use it, will use it to describe (among other things) that sense of awe that I have for the universe.

Perhaps this would not be a bad idea! Let me think about it a while.

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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.