PAM's Tactical Approach
Treats Theists
With Kid Gloves
Knut W. Barde
(formerly, "Why Treat The Theists With Kid Gloves?")

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Knut W. Barde"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: October 20, 2001 9:51 AM

If you'd look at our FAQ piece, "What is Positive Atheism?" you'd notice that we don't use the term "positive atheist" the way Michael Martin uses it. Rather, we are developing and advocate a philosophy called "Positive Atheism" (with capital letters and ending with an "m") that was begun by Gora in Vijayawada, India.

I'll let you use this opportunity to begin your objection over, now that you realize that we don't use the term the way your letter presupposes.

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

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Knut W. Barde"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: October 20, 2001 9:34 PM

Precisely!

However I am after more than just survival, I am after dignified integration through accurate understanding of what atheism is and is not. And since the "weak" (or "negative") definition is historically the most popular, we can get away with describing the overall big-picture of atheism that way. This does not infringe on the individual's choice either to be a "strong" (small-"p" "positive") atheist or a "weak" ("negative") atheist.
 

I leave this to the individual. Since I advocate for the individual and do not recognize the point of forming atheist-only groups, the only collective sense of atheism that I talk about is atheism as a whole, an abstract concept, not a specific set of people. And the only thing I really use this for is in advocating that we define atheism as a whole in terms of the "weak" or "negative" definition: "An atheist is somebody who, at minimum, lacks a god belief, although many atheists go so far as to assert that no gods exist or that the statement 'God exists' is a false statement."
 

I admit that I don't have the power to close down the playground. I also realize that to even try would only make things worse. As one who submits to Liberal Scientific Method, my hope lies in the ability of the most successful ideas to prevail in the common forum ("successful ideas" being those most likely to make accurate predictions; those which withstand the scrutiny of a wide variety of people in an open discussion).

Most of all, though, my innate sense of fairness tells me that I really don't have the right to anything that I'm not willing to grant to all. If I want to have opinions, I need to let them have theirs, regardless of how dangerous or despicable I think their opinions may be.

My values along these lines are much more important to me than even my atheism; I spend much more of my time and energy pondering and working with these issues than I do with atheistic issues.

But then, atheism is a different animal in one sense: atheism, to me, is not a positive belief but rather is a reaction, a way to distinguish myself from people who do hold a specific set of beliefs, saying, "I'm not that way."

To me (and according to the "weak" definition of atheism), atheism is the default position when it comes to religious opinion. Atheism is normal humanity that has not installed that added attraction of religious belief. Thus, atheism is no big deal.

I have begun to explore this viewpoint in two recent editorial columns, "Atheism: But A Small Part" (April, 2001) and "To Symbolize That Which Is Not?" (August, 2001). I go to great lengths to get into some detailed defense of this new viewpoint in the exchange with Argentinean skeptic Juan De Gennaro, "Why Advocate For Individual Activists?" This is as thorough of an expression of this new direction as I have formulated, and though it's been out for a few months, I'm only beginning to get some reaction to it. Though it's hard to tell from the perspective of being in the middle of it, I can imagine some people saying, "You must be wa-a-ay out there, Captain! Over!"

I'm not sure even how to describe it or, rather, what to call it. It's not exactly "deconstructing" atheism, but I'm certainly taking a radically minimalistic approach when compared to all other expressions of active or organized atheism that I've encountered.

However, I think this approach most accurately reflects the majority viewpoint among atheists, because most atheists rarely if ever even think about religion or atheism. We certainly don't hear from them. They just live their lives, and religion is not a part of their lives. Nevertheless, I am raising a few eyebrows among atheistic activists and those who organize atheist groups. If I think about it, though, this is the atheism with which I was raised: we never used the "A"-word but a fifth generation of us is crawling on a carpet in California.
 

I'm not sure all god-talk is nonsensical. I like Drange's bit about if you could portray a deity as a character in a motion picture, such as the "God" in De Mille's "The Ten Commandments," then the god-talk is not entirely nonsensical.

Now, when you start to insist that "God" is simultaneously omnipotent and omniscient, then you start speaking nonsense. The same occurs when you compare the claim that "God" is omnipotent and omnibenevolent with the existence of evil.

But mixing sense with nonsense is a classic ploy of religionists.

I urge atheists to try to stick to those expressions of religion that are intrusive, exploitative, or dangerous. Sure, some will argue that they're all that way, but we have only so many resources and must choose our battles wisely. I think most theists aren't really hurting anybody, just like most drinkers and pot smokers aren't really hurting anybody.
 

In Vic Stenger's new book, his whole point is that many theistic claims are scientifically testable. He concludes that none of them pass those tests, but he says that they are testable nonetheless.

Drange and others say that the more sophisticated the god-claim, the less able are we to verify or test it. In other words, Hinduism (very sophisticated) freely admits that their god-concept is unfathomable by humans. However, the classic Jewish and Christian concepts (and to an extent the Islamic concept) is fathomable, to an extent (less sophisticated). The volcano god who belches out smoke and fire whenever somebody sins is almost entirely fathomable (patently unsophisticated).
 

This is one of the main reasons I submit to Liberal Scientific Method: any claim to truth is more easily verified if the same test will produce approximately the same results no matter who conducts the test. This prevents there from existing a special class of people who are privileged with knowledge or who are allowed to arbitrate "the facts." Some physicists (and several others, particularly computer scientists) have emphasized this "equal access" principle in an odd but poignant way: their ultra-casual mode of dress, which seems to be saying, "We're not special!"
 

Yesss! That entire paragraph! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Drange has the mumbo-jumbo theory of some religious language, which goes as far as saying that if you learn to recite slogans and then learn to tell people that those word-combinations express what you believe, this is not rightly called belief at all! A belief must have substance to actually be believed. If there is no meaning to the stated belief, it is not a belief at all. It is just a bunch of words strung together: mumbo-jumbo.
 

You got a point, there.
 

Yeah, but there's this big sign on the elementary school that says, "God Bless America." That slogan is the new war cry for the effort to use the reaction to the Day of Atrocity as precedent for bringing George Bush's personal religious views into the center of the public (government) discussion. "In God We Trust" wasn't enough for them, they've got to have more, more! Putting "under God" into the Pledge wasn't enough, now the principal of Glenn Stephens elementary school in Madison, Wisconsin, in her staff bulletin for the week of October 15, has instructed teachers to reveal the names of students who are not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance.

She wants them to snitch on kids who don't honor the "under God" part!!!

Where the hell do we start?
 

That's what the word atheist means to me: it is the most inclusive word we've got because all it means is "without theism" -- "without a god-belief." Some atheists carry their atheism much further than I do, and they are rightly called "atheists" as well.

My particular angle with activism is to urge atheists to examine their behavior as a possible source for the stigma and bigotry we endure.

Believe me: I don't have to do much more than call myself "an atheist" in order to annoy and offend. In the classic sense of gay rights activist Luke Sissyfag, decked out in his pink chiffon, that word is more than enough to attract more bigotry to myself than I can even handle: I have plenty of opportunity to expose the bigotry for what it is.

Hey! I'm having to find a new apartment because the noun used to describe me is atheist and there's not a thing I can do! I've been helping people in this very situation for years. Now that it's my turn, this asshole's got me wrapped up so tightly that I cannot even make a sound until I'm safely out of here. By then, it's too late to save this tenancy which has lasted ten years, now!

And when I'm done with that, spending time with religionists who mind their own business is a warm, welcome relief from a hard day.

No! I will work on those expressions of religion that are intrusive, exploitative, and dangerous.
 

They have bigger guns than I do (see previous).

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

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