Redefine Some Words
and Call Atheism a Religion

Jerry Simon

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From: "Positive Atheism"
To: "Jerry Simon"
Subject: WebMaster: Positive Atheism Index
Date: December 25, 2004

It is very important to examine the ideas put forth by a person's or group's web site when planning to issue criticism of that individual's or group's project or message.
 

I would hope that each generation would at least examine each of the more important (widely used) concepts handed to them and either upgrade them or verify ("rubber stamp"?) them as they see fit. It's not the simplest thing to unite an entire generation on this or that concept, especially with so many competing opinions as to where we ought to go and what we ought to do. Hopefuly truthfulness prevails, but unfortunately, humans are, for the most part, "a simpleminded, ae race" (as Bob Wilson remarks in the opening pages of Schrödinger's Cat), and tend not to worry about such things.

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It is possible for organized atheism to resemble organized religion in some elements of its behavior. This tendency (which, in fact, it is) happens to be one of the less important reasons I so adamantly oppose the concept and practice of organized atheism. Please consult our FAQ essay, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" written with Argentinean skeptical activist Juan De Gennaro (and reviewed by several others), on this subject. I think you will gain a world of appreciation for the Positive Atheism project after examining our ideas in this respect.

However, it is impossible for the absence of religion (atheism) to, itself, be a religion. To speak this way is a patent abuse of language as well as a degradation.

This is a very popular thing to say, too, and it's done mainly for the purpose of denigrating atheists. However, this behavior backfires in its very purpose: to blacken an atheist by calling him religious or by saying that he has "faith," the critic (almost always a religionist) ends up disparaging himself!

In order to misprize us he associates us with religion, but by vilifying anybody for being religious he unwittingly degrades religion and all who practice it.

To defame atheism he calls it "a faith," saying that it takes "faith" to be an atheist. But in so doing, he unwittingly tarnishes faith and all who engage in it.

This is the danger of trying to "bring one down to one's own level," so to speak.

I am not saying you had this in mind, I merely use this opportunity to warn against doing it. Usually when this one comes up my higher priority is in defending against an onslaught of unfair comparisons; at such times I haven't the luxury of simply discussing such things as a disinterested party.

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In certain situations, this is the case. Scientific inquiry is one case I can think of where it is more valid to suspend judgement than it is to think one has the answers.

But it can be a monumental waste of time to even wonder about certain subjects. Religious claims, god-claims, and claims for the supernatural, in my opinion, each fall into this category.

Notice my use of the word claims. I do not talk about "gods"; I do not carry it that far (I can't). Rather, I talk only about the claims being made regarding the existence (and subsequently the nature, will, etc.) of these alleged "gods," "goddesses," and their cohorts. ("Angels," "dæmons," "ancestors," "saints," and the like all started out as polytheistic deities, and were "demoted," if you will, when monotheism routed all rival sects and ideas.)

What we are dealing with, here, are claims being put forth by individuals and groups. These claims all fall into the category of the existential claim. By this I mean that people are making bold claims for the existence of specific things even though the question of those things' existence is widely disputed. Whenever somebody makes an existential claim, it is that person's responsibility to bring forth evidence and strong argument to prove the truthfulness of his or her claim. In lieu of that, I have no obligation whatsoever to think that said existential claim is truthful. In fact, if said claim is extraordinary (for example, if the truthfulness of the claim would overturn one or more major branches of science), then I am within my right to consider the claim falsehood if the person making the claim is unwilling or unable to bring forth such evidence and strong argument.

It is not as if they are claiming that the Sun exists or that pine trees exist. In this case, they admit that they cannot prove the truthfulness of their claims, but that I cannot prove the falsehood of their claims. Often the implication is that since I cannot disprove their claims, I ought to allow that their claims either could be truthful or, in some situations that their claims flat-out are truthful.

In many cases, I agree: many religious claims, such as those made by Hindus, can neither be proved or disproved: this was deliberate, I think, on the part of those who put worked out the tenets of the Hindu religion. However, many religious claims, such as the claims alleged by American Evangelical Christians, for example, would be fully provable, in my opinion, if and only if the claims were truthful from the beginning.

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Thus, I consider it a waste of time to entertain the claims of religionists who are unwilling (or unable) to submit their claims to the same empirical scrutiny that the mundane claims of any scientist must endure in order to have her hypotheses accepted as likely or valid by her peers. This pretty much includes any and all religious claims, because in almost 35 years of experience scrutinizing religious claims, I have yet to encounter anybody who was willing to submit their religious claims to such brutal scrutiny. I am not alone in this respect: this is the basis of the Skeptical viewpoint in regards to claims for the paranormal or supernatural. It is also the official motto for the State of Missouri: "Show me!"

Others enjoy pondering the religious (etc.) claims of those who market these things.

Still others swear by the truthfulness of this or that set of religious (etc.) claims (while simultaneously insisting that said claims are neither provable nor disprovable -- go figure).

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Yes, I consider the act of pondering religious matters a waste of time -- a monumental waste of time!

(I say this feeling as if I've set some kind of record when it comes to being on the receiving end of religious proselytization: I'd bet that I've probably fielded more god-claims in my 48 years than have at least 99.99 percent of the individuals who've ever lived! I'm saying that one in ten thousand has fielded more invitations to "accept Christ" [etc.] than I have! Ah, but this figure seems so low!)

Because of this, my response to your suggestion is a resounding no. I say that it is not "more important to keep asking questions" about the various claims made by religionists -- not in the context within which you bring up this question.

However, at the same time, I consider it an equally monumental waste of time to "insist on fact," as you say, if such insistence is "out of the blue." I simply don't care. If someone makes a claim and goads me to consider it, that's a different matter. But to sit around and simply "insist on fact" just because it's Tuesday or just because there are ads for churches in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory or just because people happen to have offered up existential claims for our general scrutiny is as much a waste of time as it is to "keep asking questions" about subjects which I think do not matter or which, by my experience, have a very remote likelihood of being shown to be valid.

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Now, if somebody approaches me and begins pressuring me to believe their claim, then yes, I will insist that they prove the truthfulness of their claim, even though ultimately I don't care. My experience shows it to be very unlikely that they'll even try to pass muster to this degree, much less succeed in such an endeavor. In that sense, then, I insist on fact; however, this insistence is conditioned on their having instigated their sales pitch against me. Without it, my attention is best spent being focused on other, much more important or more entertaining matters.

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This is inherent in the claims made to me by the religionists I described above. They want me to accept their claims as truthful, meaning self-consistent. To be self-consistent is to be logical. There is more to logic than self-consistency, to be sure, but self-consistency is fully within the realm of being logical.

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Some physicists, particularly those who wish to sell books, pretend that this (poorly worded) question is one that is not "all but settled among physicists." However, when they go back into their labs (if they even have that kind of a job) and put on their physicist outfits and don their physicist hats, almost all of them do so with the presupposition that we can pretty much accept the stability of the physical characteristics of matter-energy under certain specific conditions -- as far as our education and research has thus far revealed. "Within" or "inside of" Planck space might be an exception that comes to mind; the hypothetical (and certainly controversial) "before" or "beyond" the big bang might be another exception.

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Thank you for your letter!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
    to people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism"
To: "Jerry Simon"
Subject: WebMaster: Positive Atheism Index
Date: December 27, 2004

In my quest to discover (at least some of) what it will take to reduce the bigotry hurled against the unchurched, I have come to place a lot of stock in understanding the nature of atheism and definition of the word atheism, both the popular slanders as well as the traditional self-definitions favored by a majority of scholars within the class itself. To end up spending a great deal of time and energy thinking about this subject (as much as any other individuals working in this field) is thus part of my role in this project. It is an experiment, to be sure, but one for which, as I said, I place very hopeful odds.
 

All!?

That is quite a broad brush, don't you think?.
 

Once more, it is extremely important to first examine the ideas put forth by a person's or group's web site prior to issuing criticism of that individual's or group's project or message. I cannot overemphasize this under normal circumstances; with you, however, I must rest my case.

Think what you want about me: it is not my burden to straighten folks out who make up their minds about me the moment they see the big word atheism at the top of our Front Page. Who I am, what I'm about, what I do (and don't do) in respect to activism (not to mention atheism), and why I work alone (that is, why I shun organized atheism, my frequent use of the editorial we notwithstanding), is prominently posted for all to see.

So readily available is this information that any who opines about me but misses this much has earned any reputation for being slothful that she or he might otherwise enjoy. When someone who says that claims to have read beyond the "Webmaster" link, we rightly write them off as lacking candor.

In your case, I even pointed out where to find the very answers that could have prevented you from making such an embarrassing mistake.

Have a nice life, nonetheless!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Entering our 10th year of service
    to people with no reason to believe

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