To Harassment And
In behalf of Evangelical Christians, I apologize for any harassment directed toward you (and other Atheists) whether intentional or otherwise. For any intentional hostility, there is no excuse. After a while, it ceases to be debate and becomes mindless chatter. I've noticed, in particular, the same or similar arguments directed toward you by a multitude of people.
To be sure, these arguments don't come from a lot of people suddenly having epiphanies regarding the various issues. They generally come from books with cookie-cutter solution authors. Indeed, I have attended churches which promote this sort of rhetoric, to their discredit. Clearly (please ignore my proof surrogate), if a significant number of people independently (or semi-independently, at least) arrive at a conclusion and thereby accept or reject a certain philosophy, their notions will not be so easily debunked. I am a proponent of reason and rhetoric being taught in schools from an early age. Even if schools find their hands tied and are unable to show examples of constructed philosophical frameworks, they can at least give students the tools to critically examine worldviews as they are presented to them in life.
Regarding the following responses to (and notions of) Evangelism as practiced by Christians and other philosophies which mandate such expression, you are free to post and respond. Should you choose to do so, however, while I have no qualms having my name shown, please blot out my email address. I am as much of a fan of spam and absurd emails as you. :-) My hope is (if I have nothing else to offer) that Atheists of various sorts, as well as Evangelicals will benefit from this analysis of Evangelism in practice from someone who has been on both the giving and receiving end.
Certain philosophies, including Evangelical Christianity, believe they have something worth sharing with the world. The Christian worldview holds that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is someone worth knowing. No doubt, you have come across individuals who have become militant in this regard and you are justifiably frustrated with their advances. Some who don't begin in this way become so when it is revealed to them that you are an Atheist. You may have even noticed the inconsistency between the philosophy, and the way in which it is communicated.
Understand that many (especially those who don't have a background in debate) take it as an attack when you tell them that you don't accept the statements they are making. It is a sort of inverted ad hominem in that what you say is not intended as an attack, but it is perceived as such.
In this, the best you can hope to do, is explicitly tell them that while you don't hold their philosophies, you're not attacking their persons, and that you don't wish to discuss it. Generally, when I encounter other people performing outreach (be it Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.), if I have time, I'll converse with them about it. But I don't feel obligated to do so. If I don't have the time, or the desire, I tell them that this is the case without revealing my own philosophies because if I do, they then feel obligated to respond.
Many of the instances of harassment arise from such misunderstandings. It is true that some people are just pushy and need to have the last word, but I think that understanding the other person's psychology is half the battle. As an aside, and speaking to Evangelists (in case this gets posted),
If someone doesn't want to talk, then take a hint. You don't need to have the last word.
As for e-mails from people who are blatantly antagonistic, well, I don't know how to advise you. I can only apologize on their behalf, particularly on the behalf of those who are outright insulting.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Will Leiserson"
Subject: Re: Responding to Harassment
Date: August 26, 2003 10:28 PM
Thank you for your wonderful letter!
There really is no changing anybody. Besides, who am I to tell somebody else that I know better than they what their core values ought to be? For this reason, Positive Atheism Magazine currently advocates (but does not always practice) an attitude that says, "All theists have (or think they have) perfectly valid reasons for believing the way they do." (See our FAQ piece, "Introduction To Activistic Atheism," particularly, "The Theist Has Reason s to Believe.")
A lot has changed in the four or five years that have passed since we started advocating this advice. Many atheists have awakened as the direct result of the events not of September 11 but of September 14, 2001, when George W. Bush willfully and arrogantly left us standing on the outside of the official Ceremony of Remembrance for those who were murdered during the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. (See my Front Page Column for September, 2001, titled, "Lamenting the American Way.") On this day, we had to come up with our own ways to process these events.
And during the weeks to come, while undergoing this processing, many of us appear to have come to grips with the true nature of our atheism, our simple lack of religion, in the context of life as Americans. Shortly after the attacks, an extensive study of American religious adherence was published by the City University of New York, titled, "American Religious Identification Survey."
In my analysis of this and several key observations I had been making (my last major work before I fell ill and was forced to spend most of my time just trying to stay alive), I showed how a very large chunk of the atheistic population appears to have awakened to the need to "come out of the closet," at minimum, and boldly proclaim both the dignity and advantages of an atheistic viewpoint as well as the apparent folly and unseen disadvantages of theistic faith. (See "Atheists Come to Power.")
For this reason, as I clear up a few of my health problems and slowly return to work, I will be reassessing this position -- out of sheer necessity. As a result, letters such as yours will move toward the center of our focus in our quest to reduce or eliminate the stigma and bigotry that is leveled against our class from all sides and at a level never before felt by any class.
The only thing that prevents atheists from actually feeling the results of this bigotry is the fact that unlike race, sex, and, for the most part, sexual identity, we atheists have the convenience of being able to lie about our atheism and thus avoid the sting of bigotry altogether -- so long as we are willing to be dishonest!
But for me, and for such predecessors as my mentor Gora, his friend Mohandas K. Gandhi, my mentor Joseph Lewis, and our mentors such as Emma Goldman, Robert Green Ingersoll, Ernestine L. Rose, Thomas Paine, and many others, hiding in the closet will not do.
For the above-stated reasons, my colleagues and I have our work cut out for us. Our path is unprecedented. We do not have the resources enjoyed by Martin Luther King, Jr. Many think we do well to keep a cautious step or two from the homosexual rights movement, although I think doing this could backfire. (Both are probably right.)
In my pièce de résistance toward setting the stage for what has since come upon us all, I urge atheists to stop being atheistic activists and to become activistic atheists, joining activistic efforts run by religious groups, if need be. Remain silent unless asked, and then speak only with great caution. This, I think, is a role that a large number of the newly awakened atheists can run with and perhaps even come out with some gold for us all. (See "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?")
Positive Atheism Magazine
Eight years of service to people
with no reason to believe