If More Public Figures
Had the Courage
of Ron Reagan
Jackie Stewart

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Jackie Stewart"
Subject: Re: FYI
Date: June 26, 2004 08:51

Thanks for writing!

The only radio I have is my cell phone. Besides, I think Larry King switched over to TV a few years back, didn't he?   d;^)

Yes, there would be a strong impact if more people would point out this and similar facts about atheists. However, we have been suggesting that at least two other things need to be said if we want to "hedge our bet" and make the most out of such (increasingly frequent) testimonials. These other ideas include the notion that atheism is not (necessarily) the positive belief that no gods exist, as is popularly thought, but is simply the absence of theism, the lack of religious faith. Similarly atheism means little if anything to the average, "rank-and-file" atheist; our atheism defines us according to what we are not, saying nothing about who we are or what we stand for. They need not be stated simultaneously with the testimonials: I'm not suggesting that we expect those who "come out" like this to explain what they mean. Others of us working in the background, writing letters, holding discussions and forums meeting with clergy and others, and

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First, if we use, as a generic definition for atheism, "the absence of theism" (that is, "an atheist is anybody who is not a theist"), or if we at least agree to reiterate that this is true for "nontheists" (the best-yet proposed synonym for atheist), then we would have a distinct group defined and outlined. We would also show that when we (atheists; nontheists; humanists) say "atheist," we do not (necessarily) refer to someone who is frothingly opposed to religion but simply someone who is not religious.

When I tell you that I am an atheist, I have told you one thing, and one thing only: I have no god-beliefs of any kind. I have said nothing as to how strongly or vehemently I hold this lack of belief, or even whether or not my lack of belief is rightly described as disbelief. To most English speakers, atheism says "There is no God." And, indeed, occasionally an atheist says just that. Most often, though, the atheist (nontheist) simply lacks a god-belief, usually out of sheer indifference. This leads right in to our next point.

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The second thing that we need to point out is that the vast majority of atheists (nontheists) rarely if ever even think about their own atheism. Theism, being a set of positive beliefs ("this is" and "that does" and S-and-so" shall"), has a definite object around which theists unite: God. The fact that this is no more than the appearance of God in the theists' imaginations, does not preclude this appearance from being a definite object around which the theists orient their lives and their communities. Atheism has none of these things. Even organized atheism still lacks the central unifying object (unless that object is hatred, in which case you have bigotry disguising itself as atheism).

Atheism is not the counterpart to theism (it is not a godless religion or even a godless ideology -- as godless is an oblique synonym for atheistic), rather, atheism is simply the absence of religion ("my atheism is how I distinguish myself from theists should that need arise -- which it rarely does").

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I think that to popularize these two ideas about atheism could do a world of good for how we are seen by the general public. They are powerful enough, I think, to override even the fact that Sunday after Sunday atheists, as a class, are slandered and denounced across the land. And because of position of respect held by those who are doing the slandering, we face an overwhelmingly uphill battle.

To exacerbate things, we will never unite as a political force because unlike Blacks and women, we atheists can simply lie if that's what it takes to ensure that our children have food, clothing, and a decent education. The other highly despised social classes do not have this "luxury"; they must unite, struggle, and overcome the bigotry that is everywhere against them if any of them are to have even these personal gains.

Thanks for your letter and for the tip on Ron Reagan's quip: I'll try to track it down and put it into the Big List of Quotations. If you like any of the ideas I expressed above and would like to formulate any of them into a Letter to the Editor or Guest Editorial in your local paper, be my guest: you don't need to cite me on any of it if you agree with the thoughts.

Take care.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight-and-two-thirds years of service
      to people with no reason to believe

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