No Longer
Waiting To Exhale
Heidi Mapp

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Heidi Mapp"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: February 09, 2002 9:09 PM

Thanks! (Yesss!)

As I was reading this, various response-comments kept popping to mind for when I hit the Reply button -- but it's clear that you don't need us (unless you enjoy good companionship, of course!)

(This is where I had intended, only moments ago, to place my signature, but now I am so inspired that I must share the geyser of feelings now erupting within me, not as a response, but simply because I just can't keep it in!)

Your story is the epitome of what we've been trying to say all along:

1. Figure this thing out for yourself.

2. Even though we all do well to compare notes (that drat fallibility, you know!), as only things that we can add to anybody's experience are our own experiences with which to compare notes.

When I was a kid growing up in a family consisting of generations of atheists (who allowed me absolute freedom to "find my own path," as the Wiccans say), I often wished there was some guidance available to me for these choices. Now I realize that all I needed were some notes with which to compare. These notes were there all along, but back then (I'm 45), they were not easy to find. Today, such notes are available at various downloading speeds, ranging from a 22.8k free Juno account to Broadband cable, dish, and DSL. They are also no further than down the street at your nearest park or playground or tavern (for us "of-age" folks who still see the benefit of comparing notes, though we always urge caution regarding the topic of discussion any time alcohol is being served).

Churches will work in a pinch, too. Having recently moved to the middle of nowhere, my only real-time, in-the-flesh conversational companion (that person I can call when I need to shed some tears) is an out-of-work Baptist Pastor. Of course we both realize that each must "translate" what the other is trying to say. Nevertheless, I got real lucky this time: I could have found any number of closed-minded Christians, even closed-minded Baptists. (Hell! There are some pretty closed-minded atheists in these parts, as well!) But one thing that's unique about the Baptist denomination is that they insist upon each individual interpreting the Bible his or her own way. Thus, you do have a chance of coming across someone who has done a lot of thinking on the subject, who thus realizes that there are some areas where we'll never find anything even remotely resembling hard-and-fast answers!

So I realize, up front, that this guy won't give me any hard-and-fast answers when it comes to atheism. Then again, neither will an atheist! Why? Because there aren't any hard-and-fast answers, period!

So, then, what is left when you admit that there are no answers?

Simple! What's left is a companionship!

Of course he wishes that I'd convert to Christianity. Maybe he realizes that I have similar desires for his sake, although that he become an atheist is not one of them. But I do see some directions he could take that I think would drastically improve his prospects for personal happiness. And that's all his desire for my conversion is, when you boil it down! True, he's a Pastor so his thinking style and his thought habits naturally turn in that direction: it's his job and it's what he has tuned and tailored himself to do for 40 years or so. But that difference happens to be vocational and perhaps cultural. Strip that away and his desire for my conversion becomes, very simply, his entirely human desire to give something good to someone who is a friend, someone who probably could stand a leg-up in this world (or whatever), someone who (face it) is a potential asset to his life (in this case, the potential assets include financial and similar benefits for him; this can be seen as an investment, of sorts, though the relationship is not limited to this aspect).

Aha! That's what I learned this week!

I thank you for sharing with me (the previously unknown person who answers e-mail at PAM) and with us (the readership, in case this is posted or printed) those things that you have learned as well! What your gift brought to me was a spark of inspiration, a spark of confidence (call it human love if you like) to look into myself and see what I have learned lately, and to try to return to you that unspoken feeling I got when I read your letter. I could just as easily continued to see only the overwhelming problems I've been facing these past few months, several personal crises and setbacks, any one of which could qualify as being the most catastrophic that I've endured in the past decade or two. Indeed, many who have written, who have followed my excuses for being so behind in the work around here and who have wished me well (even the few who have wondered where their magazines are, etc.), have heard more than I perhaps ought to reveal. But this operation, like any operation, is entirely human. As such, I celebrate humanity -- my humanity; all humanity -- for what it is. I do not (and cannot) "celebrate) what I might wish it could have been, not what I might pretend that it is.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Heidi Mapp"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: February 11, 2002 4:41 AM

Thanks!

To tell you the truth, much of what goes into making this web site is making it so that I can use it myself! The subdivisions in the Navigation Bar and the way the files and indices are laid out are designed so that I can easily look something up if I want, or so I can pour over a large amount of information. The "Introduction to Activistic Atheism" has all the information that I found myself looking up again and again and again. So I put it all into one place and filled in the blanks to make it readable as prose.

When the "R"-subject comes up, I don't even go near the Bible any more. Since I consider religion to be an "added attraction" and atheism (the absence of religion) to be the default human condition, I never place very much weight or emphasis on religion. Instead, I will place all my emphasis on humanity -- our mutual humanity.

Sometimes they insist. Sometimes they simply won't take "No" for an answer. They feel compelled to "set me straight" when it comes to my religious beliefs (rather the lack thereof).

Instead, I ask them why it is so important for them to try to change my opinion? Then I let them start explaining this to me (letting out some line for them to play with, as the fishermen would say). Then, after I have firmly established that they do, in fact, not only want to change my opinion on a light subject but instead want to change my core values, I then ask them if they do this because they are somehow superior to me. Check out our exchange with Cam Pearl and see how I identify the indignity and bigotry -- face it: the superiority complex -- behind simply announcing that you'll pray for a known atheist.

People don't like to hear this: The Post-Enlightenment age has thoroughly ingrained within the mindset of Western humanity the notion that "all men are created equal" (or however you choose to deal with the words men and created). And that's not the only barrier to go up whenever I bring up that possibility: Roman Catholics, for example, are slapped silly from infancy onward at the slightest notion of the Sin of Pride. Many a young Catholic has been as baffled as I have ever been at the notion that thinking good things about oneself could possibly be wrong; thus, this question will produce a double-whammy, of sorts, in many. Roman Catholicism isn't the only religious outlook to use this line of reasoning, and this line of reasoning is not the only one over which flags are thrown whenever I even hint at the notion that their evangelism might just display a superiority complex of some sort.

However, I must keep in mind that it is not the religionist that I am after, it's the religion itself, as expressed in the religious thinking instilled into the religionists. Thus, I must be very, very careful when I do this, and must realize that it really is a no-win situation. The religionist will think I'm going after them, personally, and nothing could be further from the truth: if I'm going to even bother to respond, it's because I care about the individual.

However, even when I succeed in pointing out that it's the religion I'm objecting to, then the religionist becomes very protective of the faith. Most of this comes from years and hours of training, intricate, subtle, powerful indoctrination designed to instill loyalty to the group. These techniques have been honed to perfection by this one group for almost 2,000 years; since they probably picked them up from elsewhere, these methods for conditioning the thought processes of youngsters and adult converts have been in the making for a long, long time. Even if I set this aside, there's still the element of pride (natural, unspoken, human dignity) that becomes challenged, even hurt, when I suggest that the individual might have made a foolish decision by choosing to join this religion (or to remain active in it, or whatever).

But, if I can swim through all that, the only point I have to make is that I consider it degrading to be prayed for or evangelized. I can be as careful as I want with their feelings, but there comes a time when I must look out for my own feelings. When I do, in situations such as this, my goal is generally to get the religionist's behavior toward me to stop.

For this reason, I am beginning to favor approaches that sidestep the confrontational elements of such conversations altogether. The most effective that I've found are along the lines of admitting, up front, that the God-Question is one of the silliest reasons to get into a heated argument: we all have much more in common than we'll ever have differences, so I try to transcend it all. In personal conversation, I'm constantly trying to come up with ways to change the direction of the conversation away from the God-question. After all, this is not a question that I ever ask, it is not a subject that I ever bring up! It's not a subject that means anything to me. I'd just as soon talk about everything else. (Well, I don't think I really want to even think about atherosclerotic plaque, you know? Yeah, okay! Sure! We can talk about propitiating the deity through the blood of the Lamb if that's what you want to talk about!).

The only reason that religion is even an issue is because I was finally thrown into a position of having to confront religious bigotry and, in my case, religious persecution, head-on. Now, the "r" subject comes up now and then and it doesn't matter -- again -- like it never mattered before I had to bury myself in this line of activism for several years in order to even see what's happening so I could try to at least state the problem if not come up with some solutions. If you're going to fight bigotry, you must first learn how to make yourself an object of the very bigotry you intend to fight. And the only way to do that is to get so close to it that you can almost taste it; in this case, get so close to religion that I can practically see myself becoming a religious bigot! Now that I have a pretty good idea as to what gets them agitated, I can walk in an entirely different direction if I want.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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