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June,2001

We Exist. We're Atheist. Get Over It!
by Cliff Walker

Atheism is, at minimum, the simple lack of a god belief, and is seldom the outright opposition to religion. Most of us rarely if ever think about religion. Very few of us consider ourselves atheists. Religion often involves elaborate indoctrination: trained canvassers traverse land and sea to make a single convert. Atheists don't act this way in reverse. We shun, along with religion, the uniquely theistic tendency to concern ourselves with what other people believe.

Some have a tough time in religion and feel so liberated upon deconversion that we study our heritage as atheists. Perhaps We might offer assistance to others, since this transition can be grueling. Consider, if I decided to become a Christian, I wouldn't need to go very far to find any number of ministers willing to help me adjust from a reason-based viewpoint to one involving faith. Though hard to find, help unlearning the faith-based thinking style does exist. In the off-chance that someone may want help, some of us might mention our past.

Anyone having the audacity to reject fanciful absurdities is acquainted with the stigma usually reserved for an ex-felon. The press to make everyone Christians is all but gone, but you best believe in something -- anything -- or they'll act like you're a freak of nature. We fulminate about this, at times.

And to criticize religion -- well, there are some things that you just don't talk about in public -- unless you hold accepted opin-ions, of course. Theists may openly insist that we fall for The Old Canard, but speak out against tax-supported evangelism and they'll whine about their religious freedom.

President Bush's faith-based argument aside, if you challenge a religious claim made to justify this or that policy, you'd better duck. If it was organized religion who made the statement, you will be denounced as a bigot. With anyone else and on any other topic, it's okay to drop a few bombshells on the other camp, but to attack religion for its impact upon public life is still very much verboten. We do this at the risk of making even our fellow secularists see red.

So you'll hear from a few of us on a few things, but you won't hear from very many of us about religion or atheism. Rarely will you know an atheist as an atheist.

So what's the big deal? Why are several dozen atheist groups, activists, and organs joining forces this July and urging our fellow atheists to contact our public officials on July 17, and tell them, "I'm an atheist"? Don't almost all of us keep to ourselves? Besides, what could it possibly accomplish?

Bush and his ilk are hellbent on extracting tax money from us and relinquishing it into the treasuries of organized religion. He said he wants to give momentum to the anti-abortion movement. We shouldn't have to pay for this, but he won't listen to reason.

Perhaps they will listen to power.

Fully 10 percent of Americans describe ourselves as not religious. If we were an organized religion, we'd be one of the largest denominations in America. There are more nontheists than Presbyterians, Mormons, or Lutherans. In fact, there are many more atheists in the United States than there are Jews in the World.

Shouldn't they consider our views, too? Or do they even listen? Isn't it worth a try?

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Copyright ©2001 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon