Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations

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Frans de Waal
Primatologist at Emory University

Frans de WaalI've argued that many of what philosophers call moral sentiments can be seen in other species. In chimpanzees and other animals, you see examples of sympathy, empathy, reciprocity, a willingness to follow social rules. Dogs are a good example of a species that have and obey social rules; that's why we like them so much, even though they're large carnivores.
-- Frans de Waal, quoted in Natalie Angier, "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist," New York Times Magazine, January 14, 2001

Religions have a strong binding function and a cohesive element. They emphasize the primacy of the community as opposed to the individual, and they also help set one community apart from another that doesn't share their beliefs.
-- Frans de Waal, quoted in Natalie Angier, "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist," New York Times Magazine, January 14, 2001

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George Wald (1906-1997)
US biochemist

George WaldWe are the products of editing, rather than of authorship.
-- George Wald, "The Origin of Optical Activity," in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 69 (1957). quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

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Kenneth D Wald
Professor of Political Science

Kenneth D. WaldGiven the ambiguity of religious texts and teachings, the mixed historical record, and the empirical evidence, it would be foolhardy to assert that religious faith necessarily upholds democratic values.
Kenneth D Wald, Religion and Politics in the United States (1986), quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Organizational Development: The New Christian Right of the 1980s was dominated by paper organizations that were essentially the mailing lists of a handful of politicized ministers. Such organizations were better at issuing press releases than doing the hard work of political mobilization and advocacy. By contrast, the movement of the 1990s has generated a plethora of grass-roots organizations that allocate meaningful responsibilities to individual members. The goal is to create an army of grassroots activists who know how to stimulate political change.
Kenneth D Wald, "The Christian Right and Public Policy: Testing the Second Generation Thesis" (May, 2000)

Leadership: The first incarnation of the Christian Right was led by members of the clergy, specifically by pastors from conservative religious denominations in the evangelical Protestant tradition. Although skilled in entrepeneurship and recruitment, they often lacked much political experience, prudence, or the ability to appeal across sectarian lines. In the second generation, the dominant groups have recruited leaders with considerable political and organizational skills. Most of the new leaders, exemplified by Ralph Reed and Gary Bauer, are political conservatives who acquired extensive experience in political mobilization in secular realms. Compared to their clergy predecessors, they are less prone to embrace the rigid sectarian distinctions that inhibit cooperation across religious lines.
Kenneth D Wald, "The Christian Right and Public Policy: Testing the Second Generation Thesis" (May, 2000)

Language: Given its religious base in the world of evangelical Protestantism, it was not surprising that the rhetoric of the "first" Christian Right was harsh and uncompromising to the ears of people outside that world. As a movement that thought it was doing God's work, the Christian Right made no apologies for its fervor and was hostile to its doubters and opponents. The second generation recognized the political liability of this approach and foreswore the use of religious language and imagery. Rather than use sectarian appeals, the new leaders attempted to frame Christian Right arguments in the rights-based language of liberalism, the predominant political discourse of the modern era. "Mainstreaming the message: entailed both avoiding religious language and, if necessary, downplaying divisive issues during election campaigns.
Kenneth D Wald, "The Christian Right and Public Policy: Testing the Second Generation Thesis" (May, 2000)

Pragmatism: The original Christian Right evinced very little interest in compromise or negotiation. Rather, it wanted to impose its vision with little room for discussion and debate. Compromise was seen as moral weakness and cowardice. The second-generation leadership, schooled in the ways of American politics, has evinced a much more pragmatic style. Rather than demand all-or-nothing, the stance of its predecessors, the contemporary Christian Right is willing to engage in horse-trading by shaving back its proposals, supporting suboptimal candidates for strategic reasons, and deferring its claims to the interests of coalition partners.
Kenneth D Wald, "The Christian Right and Public Policy: Testing the Second Generation Thesis" (May, 2000)

Incrementalism: In the first generation, the goal of the movement was wholesale social and cultural transformation. Small, incremental victories were too little given the magnitude of America's moral decay. Since 1988, the new leaders have recognized that incrementalism is the surest path to success in political competition. The current movement is committed to securing small victories now, postponing for the long-term more fundamental changes in society and politics.
Kenneth D Wald, "The Christian Right and Public Policy: Testing the Second Generation Thesis" (May, 2000)

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Lois Waldman
American Jewish Congress: Co-Director of the Commission On Law & Social Action; Director of the Commission For Women's Equality & The Bio-Ethics Task Force

Most Jews intuitively know that if the evangelical right succeeds in Christianizing America, Jews will again find themselves an isolated minority alien to American culture.
-- Lois Waldman, "After Pawtucket," American Jewish Congress, July, 1985, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

As early as 382 AD, the church officially declared that any opposition to its own creed in favor of others must be punished by the death penalty.
-- Lois Waldman, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, 1983, from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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Alice Walker
African-American poet; activist

Alice WalkerWhat the mind doesn’t understand it worships or fears.
-- Alice Walker (attributed: source unknown)

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Cliff Walker
American social activist

Cliff WalkerFinding one's own purpose and creating a moral system or process for oneself is infinitely more important than trying to attribute objective reality or philosophical validity to what the opportunists of yore managed in order to intimidate the uneducated masses into obedience.
-- Cliff Walker, response to letter in Positive Atheism:Don’t You Feel Lonely Without a Loving Creator-God to Help You?” with Sherri Auer (July 30, 2003)

Numerous Christian antagonists (for example, Craig A Parton, author of God Does Not Believe in Atheists) refer to successful atheistic authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as “The Apostles of Atheism.” Most atheists I know don't see it that way at all. We don't see these men as leaders in any sense except the fact that they are more gifted than the rest, something that, even then, must be cultivated to be of any value. Rather, most atheists I know and have heard from have tended to be happy -- overjoyed, if you will -- that an atheist writing about atheism is finally getting the attention and recognition that atheist achievers have deserved but so sorely lacked in the past.
-- Cliff Walker, responding to the above-mentioned work by Craig A Peterson

The vast majority of atheists rarely if ever ponder even their own atheism: we simply don't care! ... The majority of us -- well, you would be surprised -- shocked -- to learn just who the atheists are in your life!
-- Cliff Walker response to the unsigned letter in Positive Atheism:What Do Atheists Believe About Heaven and Hell?” (December 16, 2003)

Chain Letter: Always remember, “What goes around comes around”
Cliff Walker: Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as karma. Besides, acting on one’s best behavior simply because one believes that “what goes around comes around” is not morality at all; rather, it is indistinguishable from bribery, coercion, and blackmail.
     Finally, if the god of monotheistic religionists actually did exist, then it would have been He who created cancer. In that case, why would He want to cure it? In any event, who are you to tell this “God” character that he’s done it all wrong and that he needs to change his tune? I mean, that is, essentially, what prayer is trying to achieve, is it not?

Cliff Walker response to a chain letter (of sorts) received on November 20, 2009

It is important to keep in mind that even for the full-time atheistic activist, atheism itself is rarely more than just a small part of any atheist’s outlook. This is because atheism speaks only to what we are not and says nothing about what we are; atheism tells you where we do not stand, not where we do stand; atheism simply distinguishes us from a different type of human, the theist. Were it not for the beliefs of these other people, we would not be atheists. There are any number of other issues (or positive beliefs) besides one’s atheism, that might come to mind when searching for an atheist’s identifying traits. Except for a few “village atheist” types, a person’s atheism is seldom even discussed in polite company.
-- Cliff Walker response to the letter from Juan De Gennaro in Positive Atheism,Why Advocate For Individual Activists?” (December 16, 2003)

The Day of Atrocity.
-- Cliff Walker's one-time name for what most now call "911," quoted from, "Atheists Come To Power" in Positive Atheism  Magazine (November 15, 2001)

Materialism would suggest that the conscious, aware "Self" is established by the structures and processes of the brain. When these structures are destroyed and the processes cease, the conscious, aware "Self" ceases to exist.
-- Cliff Walker describing the atheistic view of the notion of life after death as he understands it, in "What Do Atheists Think Of Life After Death?" with Janani of Zambia, (December 30, 2001)

I will not be going to the Christian Hell when I die. I have more confidence in this prediction than I do in a great many other things I think will come to pass for me. Why do I have such confidence in this statement? Simple. We hear about the Christian Hell by reading about it in the Christian Bible. In fact, this is the only source of knowledge regarding the Christian Hell (unless you have a vivid imagination or haven't been taking your medication like you should). I have examined the Christian Bible more closely than perhaps anything else that I have ever considered worthy of my examination, and I have found the Christian Bible to contain error after error after error regarding things for which we now know the truth: testable claims. Now, if the Bible is found to be untrustworthy regarding things we can know about (historical events, geography, whether this or that food is good for you, and so forth), then we we do well to distrust the Bible's untestable claims, specifically, claims such as for the existence of a Christian deity, a Christian Heaven or a Christian Hell, the validity of various moral codes (or lack thereof), or an entire plan of salvation (or whether we even need salvation). All of this gets defenestrated (right out the window) if we find we cannot trust the Bible regular, day-to-day, earthly information.
-- Cliff Walker, assembled (March 31, 2008) from several letters

The agnostic claims a lack of certainty, specifically that certain subjects (such as "God" and the supernatural) lie beyond the scope of human knowledge. One claim, however, seems to evade this lack of certainty, namely, the certitude with which numerous agnostics hold this very opinion: that thus and so is beyond the scope of human knowledge. Okay, how would we know this? How would we know that a subject that is supposedly beyond the scope of human knowledge truly is beyond the scope of human knowledge?
-- Cliff Walker, letter to Jerry Billings (September 28, 2007)

She doesn't remember anything. There's nothing there with which to do the remembering. She doesn't remember me, and he doesn't remember you. They don't remember living, they don't remember dying, they don't remember their final moments. All that's left is here -- now -- you and I, and the rest of us who are still alive.
     This is a very hard concept to accept, emotionally as well as conceptually, if all we've ever lived with have been thoughts and talk that always included an afterlife of some sort.
     However, I've found one thing that's harder to accept, even, than that. Whenever somebody tries to describe to me their concept of afterlife, that is, how it works, what happens, and all that, I have always ended up getting completely lost. One person talks about a god physically rebuilding your body, and I have to ask, is that really me, then? Another talks about this thing they call a "soul" and I wonder, if we can exist just fine without a body, then what was the point of even having a body in the first place?
      And they all talk about me being re-created (or whatever) later on: if Gabriel or Peter or the 72 Virginians (or whoever) can make a new "Me" later on, what's to stop them from making another "Me" right now? Can you imagine the other "Me" walking in that door over there? I can see out of all four eyes, and can feel with all four hands -- otherwise the other "Me" would be nothing more than a clone, an exact replica, but with a different conscious, aware "Self."
    In other words, when I look at myself, I'm also looking at myself. I am looking at myself and looking at myself at the same time. It just doesn't make sense.
     The one doesn't fly no matter how I try to look at it, and the other, though almost impossible to accept, really has nothing about it that makes me go, "Hey! Wait a minute -- what about..."
     And being the type who finds it impossible to deliberately fool myself, I am forced to accept the scenario that often makes me cry when I think about it. It's like telling myself, "I'm sorry, Cliff, but that's the way it is."
-- Cliff Walker, in a conversation with a not-so-recently-widowed friend, having himself lost a partner many years earlier. (2008)

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Edmund Waller (1606-1687)
English poet

Edmund WallerThe fear of hell, or aiming to be blest,
Savours too much of private interest.
     -- Edmund Waller, Of Divine Love, canto 2, quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations


Josiah Warren (1798-1874)
Reformer, inventor, musician, writer

Josiah WarrenThe disconnection of Church and State was a master stroke for freedom and harmony.
-- Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce, 1855, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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Lemuel K Washburn

If the factory pays taxes and the church does not, it follows that the church will some day own the factory.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

The man who gets on his knees has not learned the right use of his legs.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

The feet of progress have always been shod by doubt.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

The cross everywhere is a dagger in the heart of liberty.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

Whatever tends to prolong the existence of ignorance or to prevent the recognition of knowledge is dangerous to the well-being of the human race.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

A miracle is not an explanation of what we cannot comprehend.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

A dogma will thrive in soil where the truth could not get root.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

The man who accepts the faith of Calvin is miserable in proportion to the extent he carries it out.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

The person who can make a loaf of bread is more to the world than the person who could perform a miracle.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

A true man will not join anything that in any way abridges his freedom or robs him of his rights.
-- Lemuel K Washburn, "Is The Bible Worth Reading?"

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George Washington (1732-1799)
The first President of the United States (1789-1797)

United States Flag

    • Check out George Washington's Silent Lack of Theism

George WashingtonIf I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.
-- George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition ... In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.
-- George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793, in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol 1. p. 497, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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Wilson: Early Presidents Not Religious

"The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity....
     "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831, first sentence quoted in John E Remsberg, Six Historic Americans, second sentence quoted in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15

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Roger Waters
English singer and songwriter for Pink Floyd

Roger WatersBy the cold and religious we were taken in hand -- shown how to feel good; and told to feel bad.
-- Roger Waters, The Final Cut

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James Dewey Watson (born 1928)
American biologist who with Francis Crick proposed a spiral model, the double helix, for the molecular structure of DNA He shared a 1962 Nobel Prize for advances in the study of genetics

James Watson (photo: The Nobel Foundation)The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was that my father didn't believe in God, and so he had no hang-ups about souls. I see ourselves as products of evolution, which itself is a great mystery.
-- James Watson, from the Discover interview: the question (a trick question, really) was an attempt to mystify human existence to the point of seeming to demand a supernatural explanation: "I've been told by some geneticists that humans are essentially organic machines and that one day we will understand how we work. If so, what happens to that unexplained mystery of what makes us human, where we draw our passion, our poetry -- our soul, if you will?" Quoted from "Discover Dialogue: Reversing Bad Truths" in Discover (Volume 24, Number 7; July, 2003)

Today, the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire adherence to religious principles.
-- James Watson, _Molecular Biology of the Gene_, 4th edition by James D. Watson, Nancy H. Hopkins, Jeffrey W. Roberts, Joan Argetsinger Steitz, and Alan M. Weiner; Volume I, page 3, on the first page of Chapter 1: "The Mendelian View of the World." I

In the last analysis, there are only atoms. There's just one science, Physics; everything else is social work.
-- James Watson, lecture at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1985, quoted from "God, Atheism & Secular Humanism''(NFB, July 18, 2001)

I don't think we're here for anything, we're just products of evolution. You can say, "Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don't think there's a purpose,' but I'm anticipating a good lunch.
-- James Watson (attributed: source unknown)

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Richard Watson

Atheist, in the strict and proper sense of the word, is one who does not believe in the existence of a god, or who owns no being superior to nature. It is compounded of the two terms ... signifying without God.
-- Richard Watson, A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (London, 1831), quoted from George H Smith, "Defining Atheism," in Atheism, Ayn Rand, and other Heresies

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Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D (b. 1921)
Austrian-American philologist, psychotherapist, philosopher

Dr. Paul Watzlawick (photo: 1994, Die Presse/Michaela Seidler)It follows from the assumption of a universally valid ideology, just as night follows day, that other positions are heresy.
-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, The Invented Reality (1984), thanks to Laird Wilcox, ed, "The Degeneration of Belief"

As I have already said, the belief that one's own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous or all delusions. It becomes still more dangerous if it is coupled with the missionary zeal to enlighten the rest of the world, whether the rest of the world wishes to be enlightened or not. To refuse to embrace wholeheartedly a particular definition of reality (e.g. an ideology), to dare to see the world differently can become a "think crime" in a truly Orwellian sense as we get steadily closer to 1984.
-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, quoted from "Watzlawick's Disciplinary Matrix" on The Home Page of Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D

If we search our subjective experience in comparable situation, we find that we are likely to assume the actions of a secret "experimenter" behind the vicissitudes of our lives. The loss or the absence of a meaning in life is perhaps the most common denominator or all forms of emotional distress; it is especially the much-commented-on "modern" illness. Pain, disease, loss, failure, despair, disappointment, the fear of death, or merely boredom -- all lead to the feeling that life is meaningless. It seems to us that in its most basic definition, existential despair is the painful discrepancy between what is, and what should be, between one's perceptions and one's third-order premises.
-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, quoted from "Watzlawick's Disciplinary Matrix" on The Home Page of Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D

Dr. Paul Watzlawick (photo: Mitteilungsblatt der Stadt Villach)Man never ceases to seek knowledge about the objects of his experiences, to understand their meaning for his existence and to react to them according to his understanding. Finally, out of the sum total of the meanings that he has deduced from his contacts with numerous single objects of his environment there grows a unified view of the world into which he finds himself "thrown" (to use an existentialist term again) and this view is of the third order.
-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, quoted from "Watzlawick's Disciplinary Matrix" on The Home Page of Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D

If we have dwelled on Godel's work at some length, is it because we see it in the mathematical analogy of what we would call the the ultimate paradox of man's existence. Man is ultimately subject and object of his quest. While the question whether the mind can be considered to be anything like a formalized system, as defined in the preceding paragraph, is probably unanswerable, his quest for an understanding of the meaning of his existence is an attempt at formalization.
-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, quoted from "Watzlawick's Disciplinary Matrix" on The Home Page of Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D

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Dr. Paul Watzlawick (photo: 1976, Dimitry Fedotov)But the solution to the riddle of life and space and time lies outside space and time. For, as it should be abundantly clear by now, nothing inside a frame can state, or even ask, anything about that frame. The solution, then, is not the finding of an answer to the riddle of existence, but the realization that there is no riddle. This is the essence of the beautiful, almost Zen Buddhist closing sentences of the Tracticus:

    "For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist..."

-- Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D, quoted from "Watzlawick's Disciplinary Matrix" on The Home Page of Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D


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Watzlawick quotes
critically edited by Cliff Walker.
Emphasis per original.

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Evelyn Waugh (Arthur St John) (1903-1966)
England's leading satirical novelist in the 1930s

Evelyn WaughThe better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh uncooked in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop.
-- Evelyn Waugh, Scoop (1938), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

There is a species of person called a "Modern Churchman" who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.
-- Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.
-- Evelyn Waugh (attributed: source unknown)

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