Positive Atheism Creates
'Illusion Of Misconception'
Christopher Dillard

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How to mark your property

... thou shalt take an [awl], and thrust it through his ear..., and he shall be thy servant for ever.
-- Deuteronomy 15:17 (AV)

[from our "National Bible Week" Poster]

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Christopher Dillard"
Date: November 27, 2001 11:40 PM

Why do you accuse me of being compelled ("having") to "create an illusion of misconception"?

I have used a common, widely accepted, and entirely valid editing process, that of omitting words or phrases that not only do not pertain to the point being made but could even serve to distract from the point being made. Check any Style Manual and see if any of them give different guidelines for the use of the ellipses points for omitting quoted material. As long as one does not do what you have here accused me of doing, this practice is entirely legitimate.

So, let's look at what I did and see if that's what you accuse me of having done.

What were the messages I was trying to convey?

1. The Christian Bible honors the institution of human slavery to the point where it even provides instructions for marking one's "property" (the human slave)! This was an overt message.

2. Christians are patently dishonest when they refuse to address the fact that their very own "Word of God" contains such instructions! This was not an overt message, but was intended nonetheless by this information being included in the "National Bible Week" poster.

Can my use of the common, widely accepted, and entirely valid editing technique of making a passage more readable by removing portions that do not apply to the point being made be shown to have hidden or distorted any facts that would alter the point being made? Did I leave something out that would, if I had left it in, render the point I was trying into make a lie?

First, my use of the widely respected King James version rather than the patently biased and widely criticized New International Version shows that I was, at least with this passage, trying to get the most accurate reading of this passage.

Nevertheless, let's see if the omitted material changes any of the two points I was making:

1q. Does the omitted material pertaining to the voluntary statute of limitations (seven years) change the fact that the Christian Bible honors the institution of human slavery to the point where it even provides instructions for marking one's "property" (the human slave)?

1a. No. Even with the material left in (and even according to the New International Version's rendering of this passage), it is still shown that the Christian Bible honors the institution of human slavery to the point where it even provides instructions for marking one's "property" (the human slave)!

2q. Does the omitted material pertaining to the voluntary statute of limitations (seven years) change the fact that Christians are dishonest when they refuse to address the fact that their very own "Word of God" contains such instructions?

2a. No. In fact, this letter that you have sent to our Forum further fortifies the very point we were trying to make: that some Christians get so embarrassed that their own Bible endorses human slavery! This is the very Word of God, to these Christians, an alleged direct quotation of God, what He supposedly said in detailing precisely how He wanted humans to behave and what He wanted humans to do! (Bu t do they obey this commandment today? or is the Law of Man today a "higher law" than the Law of God?) In fact, the Bible endorses human slavery to the point that it even provides detailed instructions for marking one's "property" (the human slave): this is how seriously the Bible takes this commandment! it provides such subtle details! And we see (and have witnessed a demonstration) that certain Christians are so embarrassed by the Word of their God that they will even resort to patent dishonesty (and in this case, the vicious slander of somebody who has told no lies) in an attempt to deflect the truth of what their God is said to have said!

Ah, your slander of me has merely fortified the point I was making in the National Bible Week poster! By trying to discredit me, you therefore tried to discredit any messages we might wish to convey, thereby trying to run away from the fact that your very own Bible endorses the institution of human slavery! It was for this reason, that so many Christians try to run away from this fact, that I included the point about the Christian Bible's endorsement of human slavery.
 

Your dishonesty -- yea, your vicious slander of me -- has given me (and probably numerous readers) one more reason never to become a Christian.

First, I am a man of truthfulness and honesty; thus, I would never knowingly or voluntarily associate with dishonest people. By calling myself a Christian I would be associating myself with you (in a very remote and oblique way, of course). Some would even argue that if I became a Christian I would have to start calling you "brother": to have to do that would pose quite a dilemma for me!

Secondly, as a man of truthfulness and honesty, I would not want to associate myself with a dishonest institution, that being the Christian Church, which (as I pointed out both here and in the "National Bible Week" poster) consistently runs away from the fact that its very own Bible endorses the institution of human slavery.

But the most important moral reason to avoid the Christianity religion is her endorsement of human slavery itself. I would never affiliate with an institution that would do that. Never.

Finally, though, the most important reason to avoid Christianity at all is philosophical: the Christian religion is just plain falsehood. Her claims are demonstrably false to the point where those who try to defend her, who justify continued involvement with the Christian religion, must not only lie about Christianity but must go so far as to slander her critics in their attempts to divert attention from Christianity's shortcomings.

Why do so many Christians try to harm me just so they can justify propagating someone else's idea? Christianity is not even their own idea! True, harming another human in an attempt to bolster one's own idea would be highly immoral, particularly if that idea turned out to be falsehood! But to do this in defense of some other person's (or an institution's) idea is worse than simply immoral: it's downright tacky!

Why is it that Christians seem to be unable to further their religion through honest means? Why do almost all Christians find it necessary to lie, to "create an illusion of misconception," as you have so vividly (and falsely) accused me of doing?

Could it be that the Christian religion cannot be propagated by using truth? that the only way to further the Christian faith is to lie about Christianity and to lie about Christianity's critics?
 

You know what? Have a nice life! As far as I can tell, it's the only one we get to live. I will therefore live mine in such a way that I will end up having harmed as few people and animals as is possible and still exist. I do not wish for my life to have caused pain for anybody.

Thus, when I have anything at all to say about anyone, I will try first to be sure of my facts, thereby reducing or even eliminating the risk of my ending up slandering somebody. Having been on the receiving end of more slander at the hands of Christian apologists alone than most people even see in an entire lifetime, I know only too well what it feels like to be lied about just because somebody wants to make a point. Worse, these Christians are trying to tarnish my reputation in order to defend an idea that is somebody else's point altogether!

That is what I find so baffling!

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

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Added: November 28, 2001

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Christopher Dillard"
Date: November 28, 2001 8:32 AM

If the passage in question is removed from its context, then it could be construed as describing a system of human slavery in which all slaves come to their position voluntarily. However, when you look at the rest of the laws concerning human slavery, then you see that most slaves become slaves unwillingly, through violence, having been captured from neighboring tribes, etc.

True, after seven years (if the law is obeyed, and who is to say that it ever was?), such slaves are given the option of going free. If not, then they get the awl treatment described in the passage that I used as my example of the Bible's endorsement of human slavery. However, seven years have passed: now that the slave has no more family, no more land, no homeland, and worst of all, now that they are are what the Bible calls "strangers," a class of people who do not have any business advantage, etc., the option of remaining the slave of a Hebrew becomes quite inviting by comparison.
 

I accept that as having been well-meaning but misguided. Nevertheless, the damage remains, regardless of the intent. It is for this reason that I bother to point out the consequences of such behavior to begin with. A little girl doesn't really care whether it was drunkenness, a stroke, carelessness, a criminal chase, or a mechanical failure that caused the other vehicle to cross the center divide and end the life of her only Father: a mistake of some sort has been made (except in the case of the stroke) and as a result, her Daddy can no longer be.

The good in all this is in the potential for learning, the potential for change. As long as this possibility exists (either in you or perhaps in a reader either now or hundreds of years from now), I will continue to try to learn to do my best and to share what I have learned with others. My specialty happens to be in the realm of the dignity of atheists and the way atheists are treated today and have been treated in the past.

I do this two ways:

First, when I post a statement, I am exceedingly careful as to what I say and how I say it. A passing remark in the Response to a Letter is one thing, but when I create a work that I intend to achieve wide distribution (such as the poster), I must be exceedingly careful as to what I have said. Thus, there is only one statement on the entire poster that can be even remotely seen as having been "misconstrued" or "taken out of context" (the one about the hole in the door, but this one is hilarious precisely because of how it can be misconstrued: several fit this motif, but that is the one I chose).

Secondly, when someone still accuses me of impropriety, even after I have taken such diligent precautions, I will look at my position again -- just to make sure -- and if I still agree with my initial assessment, I will let it fly. At this point, I stop wondering if there might have been a mistake made, and will simply argue the case itself. In your case, I cannot enter into the domain of your mind and verify what you say about your motives, I can only say that I have made similar mistakes and thus I accept your description of what happened. However, it is crucial that I make a record of my response to your challenge because as an activist my goal is to try to find ways to reduce what could easily have been a move whose motive was malicious. We get plenty of letters from people who are obviously acting maliciously (who even admit that they are doing this). And I'm not the only one who gets treated this way: the vilification of atheists is almost universal in the West as well as in the Muslim world. If I can inspire someone else to put their foot down and say, "No!" then I have done some good. If, also, I can help someone to formulate a response for when it becomes necessary to say "No!" (and this is inevitable in the life of an atheist in the West), then I have done even more good.
 

This is what happens when you give your loyalty over to someone else's ideas, rather than examining all ideas and deciding for yourself which earn your assent and which earn your disdain. This is the difference between religion and philosophy: a philosopher can tell you not only her opinion on any matter she has pondered, but can also tell you the steps she took to come to that position. In addition, a philosopher can also tell you what it would take to overthrow her current position; that is, what would cause her to stop holding this position and to bring her over to a different point of view.

This is why I recommend (even to Christians) that we all take each of the ideas we encounter and think them through on our own, deciding for ourselves what we do and do not hold about certain things. Many Christians now consider the Bible to be metaphor, and consider the personal religious experience to be the ultimate guide in their religion, thus freeing up their minds and human reasons to decide for themselves what is and is not right. This brand of Christianity, though not entirely self-consistent, does have advantages over Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in that the Christian is no longer committed to a viewpoint simply because that's what the Bible states: the modern "Progressive" Christians openly admit that many parts of the Bible are pure fiction, though they still turn to it in order to find certain inspiration in coming to their own opinions and guiding their own experiences in religion.

Of course, were I a man who gave a rat about what others think, I might recommend the Progressive style of Christian religion over the more fundamentalistic varieties if they could not make the leap of saying, "I cannot tell you, in all truth, that a god exists, and therefore remain an atheist." However, the truth is that I do not care what people think; thus, I don't make such recommendations either way.

However, when somebody comes to me and tries to hold me to one of the more fundamentalistic expressions of religion, I will set my foot down and tell that person (and anybody within earshot) exactly what I think about what they told me. This especially goes when my reputation has been placed on the line during the conversation: I do my best to post only those statements that I have thought through, those ideas on whose truthfulness I am willing to stake my reputation, those positions to which I have come to my own conclusion after having made the effort to think then through according to my own understanding of what is and what is not.

Thus, my initial reaction to the fundamentalistic expression of Christianity remains: I will not and cannot respect any institution which honors the concept of human slavery even in principle -- and that's what the Evangelical and Fundamentalist expressions of the Christian religion do when the call the Bible the "Word" of its "God": they must take the good with the bad. They are not allowed to differentiate and still be accepted by their peers as "orthodox" believers.

Thus, even though the Christians were forced, through the Enlightenment in Europe and through the Emancipation in America, to abandon the notion of human slavery (to stop thinking that it is a good thing in spite of what the Bible teaches about it), just the fact that human slavery is endorsed in their Bible is enough to exclude biblical Christianity from the domain of reasonableness in my mind. Until the Enlightenment and the Emancipation, most if not all the arguments in favor of human slavery rested on biblical teaching. However, like my Enlightenment Era and Emancipation Era forebears, I will not and cannot go along with it. Even if I must reject the Bible as worthy of my trust and respect (and I have done just that), so be it. I cannot go along with a god-idea that now does or has ever endorsed human slavery under any circumstances (except criminal justice, in which case uncompensated work still ought to be optional, an alternative to "rotting" in an empty cell). And if, by some fluke, the god-idea in question happens to be accurate, that is, if there were such a deity as would call human slavery "good," I would not honor or "worship" that deity. As I mentioned once, in the monthly editorial of precisely one year ago, "if a god like that existed, I'd spit in his eye."

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

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