Published: August, 2001.
July 23, 2001
I have been receiving PAM. Thanks.
Bobbi Fraguadas wrote: “Lost on the reporter was a common slam against Cliff Walker, publisher of Positive Atheism and advocate of individual activism ... the article paints Cliff’s work as a group that can muster only Cliff as its ‘sole member’” (June, 2001).
If this is true, why do you advocate for individual atheist activists? Do you advocate for individual skeptical activists, too?
Please, if you would, clarify this for me.
Juan De Gennaro
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Juan, thank you for all your support!
I will first discuss our position regarding individual activism versus organized atheism. This should provide enough background for me to explain Bobbi’s remarks to the Oregonian newspaper regarding their coverage of the Symposium. While she was knocking the newspaper’s coverage, Bobbi also took a few shots at the Symposium leadership and finished up by summarizing what we both think of organized atheism in general and a few of the Oregon groups in particular.
Basically, certain Symposium leaders had been making a little “joke” or slander against PAM for some time. The reporter overheard the joke and misunderstood what was said — so their private little joke got reported as fact in the paper! The joke was a reaction to my perceived opposition to organized atheism, which is part of the reason why I will set these opinions down in writing for you. Even at that, I expect certain individuals to misunderstand.
Positive Atheism’s target audience consists of atheists who strive or desire to be activistic in their atheism, people who consciously let their atheism play at least some role in their lives. We produce this magazine and web page for the benefit of individual activistic atheists, rather than for the benefit of organized atheism. The most important work that gets done in behalf of atheists is done by individuals rather than organizations. To popularize atheistic activism among individuals, we make this a frequent topic of discussion.
This does not mean that we intend the magazine and web site only for atheists who don’t join groups. Certainly group members and even groups themselves can benefit greatly from what we offer. All it really means, at bottom, is that when we put this thing together, we have in mind a picture of the reader; when we make statements, it is to the individual atheist that we imagine we are speaking; when we raise questions, we picture ourselves asking an individual, who may incidentally be part of organized atheism. We do not focus anything specifically for the benefit of organized atheism; what we do is always intended for the benefit of the individual atheist.
It is important to keep in mind that even for the full-time atheistic activist, atheism itself is rarely more than just a small part of any atheist’s outlook. This is because atheism speaks only to what we are not and says nothing about what we are; atheism tells you where we do not stand, not where we do stand; atheism simply distinguishes us from a different, specific type of human, the theist. Were it not for the beliefs of these other people, we would not be atheists. There are any number of other issues (or positive beliefs) besides one’s atheism, that might come to mind when searching for an atheist’s identifying traits. Except for a few “village atheist” types, a person’s atheism is seldom even mentioned in polite company.
Nevertheless, a god belief or the lack thereof can influence any number of areas in a person’s life. Of course there are the obvious socio-political issues, such as the separation of religion from government, which we can expect almost all atheists to support (if we agree on nothing else), even though many if not most theists support this as well. Somebody may become passionately involved in social and political change with an atheistic outlook where this might not have been the case with a theistic outlook — or vice versa.
We can go further by suggesting that an atheist might differ from a theist in a few of the more common attitudes toward life: Perhaps atheism is somebody’s rationale for what might be called moral behavior. If this is everybody’s only chance to live, hopefully an atheist relates to all people with this fact in mind. By realizing that nobody is “up there” looking out for humanity, the atheist sees that progress results only from human involvement.
With no Cosmic Revenue Agent keeping score for any Final Tax Return, the atheist might work to bring about justice here and now. Since Armageddon is not just around the corner (as Ronald Reagan and James Watt once reasoned), and since this is and always will be our only home, an atheist might consider trying to treat it as such. Firmly established as citizens of our respective nations — not “sojourners” or subjects of any “Heavenly Kingdom” — we might take an active interest in the government of our home country. These are just a few examples of how atheism can affect people’s outlooks — and subsequently their actions — even if they are only dimly aware of religion and atheism.
Positive Atheism says very little about the manner in which individual atheists express their atheism, commenting only on public acts of atheistic activism. Since activism affects us all, we consider it our duty to speak up if somebody stumps for atheism in an irresponsible manner. But how somebody expresses (or does not express) their personal atheism is neither our nor anybody else’s concern.
Positive Atheism recognizes the fact that a majority of the world’s atheists are only vaguely aware of their atheism — if at all. The subject of religion and atheism does not occupy the minds of very many nonreligious people, and we accept that. Most of us just don’t think about it at all. Perhaps we pondered it a bit as teenagers or read the Ayn Rand books or something like that, but quickly decided we’re not interested and haven’t touched the subject since then.
Speaking virtually alone among the voices of atheism, Positive Atheism is content to leave such atheists be. We neither encourage passive atheists to become active nor stigmatize closeted atheists for being silent — apart from the occasional and gentle plea to join our struggle to reduce the stigma so often leveled against atheists.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair said:
Actually, I don’t like Atheists very much — at least most of them — because they are not motivated to move into the community and attempt to correct the injustices which are everywhere apparent against them.
— Radio Address #151
And she’s right: it’s tough to be a lone voice crying out for change. To speak up for the plight of atheists can be quite fearsome in itself, but it’s all the more frightening when you’re the only person saying anything. For this reason, we will always desire that more atheists “Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights,” as the Bob Marley song goes. But not everybody considers Liberty, truth, and dignity to be the most important issues. (This explains the motivational songs of Marley and many others.) Getting to the chores of life can be taxing for those of us who haven’t the luxury of “fighting the good fight.” Even if some are lazy or don’t care, we’re not in a position to judge; thus, we choose not to stigmatize any atheist, granting to each the dignity of making such decisions.
The god-question is no big deal. Were it not for the persistent intrusions of zealous religionists, any activism on our part would be wholly unwarranted. While the concerned atheist looks with scorn upon the indifferent one for standing off to the side and watching the struggle from afar, the neutral atheist sniggers at the futile interference of the militant one. And we are foolish if we think we can just make the problem go away. But we can strike a balance: if the few of us who do get involved can get enough moral support to keep from giving up, we can at least hope for some change. All we activists ask is to let us try — let us at least dream.
The public hears quite a bit from activistic atheists — mostly those who speak on behalf of this or that organization, which itself alleges to speak in behalf of all atheists. We don’t hear from passive atheists, those who comprise the bulk of the nonbelieving subculture. Atheist organizations frequently recognize the “closeted atheists,” but very little hard research has been done to find out their actual views.
One particular type of atheist seems to get completely lost in the shuffle. This “nether-world” of unbelief is occupied by those who are conscious of their atheism, but who choose not to take part in any form of organized atheism. We asked one reader what role she thinks Positive Atheism plays in atheistic activism. She observed that we meet the needs of atheists who do not belong to groups. This came as a pleasant surprise from an enthusiastic supporter of numerous groups.
What she said simply sounded nice at first, so we incorporated it into our self-description, listing it among the other aspects of our particular role in atheistic activism. We now see that most atheists who carry a conscious awareness of their atheism tend to shun the group scene. Organized atheism just does not cut it for most of us, even those who otherwise proudly wear the moniker “atheist.” 676 2ese groups seem to tailor themselves to become that much more attractive to Left-leaning individuals. At times, the group itself will promote atheism as almost an aside to the main dish of Liberalism. (See the piece by Jim Versluys in the July, 2001, issue, for a deliberately heavy-handed look at this particular situation.)
The Liberalism complaint is middling, though; we hear mostly from those who don’t care for groups and organizations, period. Another frequent protest wonders why atheists need to organize into groups in the first place. Theists make this query as well, evidenced by the many inquiries I received while I was still doing this for a group. Naturally, hard statistics would be tough to come by. These are our observations based upon responses to questions and simple off-the-cuff remarks during other conversations.
PAM takes this question as far as any of our readers do: We ask whether there’s anything about atheism itself to make it conducive to forming an alliance. Religion naturally lends itself to organization, particularly groups who install authoritarian figures, conform to a creed, or invoke a confession of faith designed to distinguish members from the rest of the world.
We question whether atheism plays an important enough role in anyone’s life to warrant associating with like-minded individuals. Can atheists justify organizing around our mutual absence or lack of belief (compared to religious people who organize around a set of concrete beliefs which members hold in common)? Said plainly, should we organize around how we differ from the norm? Although many will say yes, we feel we must at least raise the question.
I’d been the local atheist group’s newsletter editor for over three years when we had a falling out. At that point I created Positive Atheism and continued where I left off, making the new magazine a complete reflection of what atheism means to me. At first I thought I’d miss the group, having been active with them for about one-sixth of my life. Not only did I not miss it, I felt a big relief from the start. I do miss several of the people, to be sure. But very few of them would have wanted to be my friends apart from our mutual involvement with the group. None would have associated with me apart from my role as an atheistic activist.
My discovery that loyalty to the group lay at the bottom of all my friendships within the group began for me a period of questioning the validity of socializing with others simply because of our mutual atheism.
I can state with confidence that any benefit I could have derived from being involved with an atheist group can be obtained in greater quantity and quality elsewhere. In other words, mingling with people because of mutually held ideology actually impairs my prospects for quality social contact. It’s not just atheism, either: the same things happened in the church and in the Twelve Step Program. I have much better luck with mutual interests, such as music, than with ideology.
Over the years of being involved with groups, I’ve heard people justify forming atheist groups for three reasons. Using a group as a vehicle for political activism and social change is the most common reason I’ve heard. Many seek to propagate atheism to the public and see groups as an effective means for doing this.
The third reason I’ve heard is what I’ll call the “oasis approach,” the notion that atheists need a refreshing getaway from a world mired in religion and superstition, even if for only one evening each week.
I can see associating specifically with another atheist, that is, when a theist just won’t do. To help you study your heritage as an atheist you’ll want another atheist. And only from someone who’s been there can a newly deconverted atheist get help adjusting from a faith-based outlook to a viewpoint that gets structured by human reason. These situations can be addressed one-on-one, and don’t need the organized backing of a whole group.
I will examine the above-mentioned reasons attempting to justify establishing a formal, atheists-only alliance, and see if I find any to be valid. I’m not pretending to have exhausted all possible reasons for forming groups: these are just what I’ve heard and what I can think of right now.
If anybody thinks I have missed any valid reasons, I’ll gladly address whatever you submit. If any reasons seem valid to me, I will announce my change of mind.
I do this to promote discussion on the validity of organized atheism in general and atheist groups in particular. My hope is for individuals to decide for themselves if organized atheism is worth their time and support. I hope that individuals will remain active in their own way and under their own power even if they do not agree with the notion of atheist groups. The position of atheist groups is voiced every time a reporter stops by and starts asking questions. To balance that, I present my version of the other side of the argument.
My approach to this question will be consistent with my approach to just about everything else I do: I don’t care if people form or join atheist groups!
Of course, my saying this will not be good enough for some people. That’s just the way it goes. Suggestions that this is simply a reaction to recent or past events will line my cat-box or will remind me to empty out the Deleted Items folder.
For now, the following is my opinion:
Most atheist groups have one thing in common. Almost every activistic atheist works toward the separation of religion from government. This work can include the struggle for atheist dignity, but unless this deals with public policy it is more of a public awareness issue than anything else. Socio-political struggle is the only remotely valid reason I can imagine for organizing as atheists, but several things keep it from being entirely convincing.
If a group is organized solely to engage in lobbying for state-church separation, you’d think they would warmly welcome all separationists to join the group! Far from being the only people with a vested interest in the separation of religion from government, atheists are most likely the minority among active separationists in the US. In other words, if you formed a political action committee that dealt solely with separationism, and if you opened up membership to all interested parties and invited everybody to join, I predict that more theists would join than atheists.
“What about atheist dignity?” someone asks. Many theists are quite interested in promoting atheist dignity. Those who encourage openness and celebrate diversity, who want to learn to get along with various types of people, surely do well to put atheists on their list. Such theists might even give us some pointers, considering that almost every theistic group has, at one time, been the despised minority.
The picture of an atheist charity feeding the homeless (for example) seems as absurdly ridiculous to me as the notion of a Christian outfit feeding the homeless. If we do it at all, let’s all work together and leave ideology out of it! Few theists would contribute to a charity if a chunk of the money was earmarked for propagating atheism, or if it meant giving atheism an inordinately good name for itself (by suggesting that philanthropy is more a trait of atheists than of others). The Christian Rescue Mission industry forgets all about this when soliciting donations from the public. I finally called and asked them to stop sending their junk mail each month. Their only purpose is to indoctrinate a captive audience of impaired people into their hate-filled fundamentalism through fearsome trembling about fire and brimstone, and then gloat with smooth talk about how loving and giving Fundamentalist Christians are! — when We The People paid for the food at the point of a gun with our tax dollars and then paid the Christians to serve it!
May atheism never be seen lending her name to a racket like that!
If they are doing this to feed people, why is the food always so utterly lacking in nutritional value? Because feeding the poor is an extremely profitable business venture the way things are set up today. On top of the profits, they get paid to sell their hard-shell fundamentalism. Without the sectarian identity to distract them, a group working to feed the poor would work much more effectively at all levels.
I don’t see a single socio-political issue that only atheists would want to take on. Theists and atheists alike have joined together in every struggle that has ever been taken up by an atheists-only group. If we can work together, we can do the work that much more effectively. We’re doing even better if we find common grounds that could to reduce animosity in both directions.
But atheist groups whose mission statements describe them as agents for social change do not welcome theists into their ranks, even though doing so would make their work easier and more effective. Thus, when I hear that a group of atheists has formed solely for the purpose of political activism, I find myself disbelieving their claim. Something else is going on besides or in addition to the activism.
Associating with others and forming groups is an extremely effective way to go about changing the world in which we live. Social and political change are valid reasons for organizing, period. But I don’t see activism as a valid reason for establishing an atheists-only group.
Very common among atheist groups is the desire to propagate atheism as a philosophical outlook suitable for all and woo people out of their religious affiliations. But what is propagating atheism besides debunking religion? The only message atheism has for theists in this respect is that they ought to dump their religious views and commitments.
In a similar vein, Skeptics tell us that we need to expose, denounce, and refute the various forms of religious quackery and fraud. I can see the Skeptics’ point: I am all for organized debunking efforts as long as we’re extremely careful to focus only on the more destructive manifestations of charlatanry.
But not all religion is trickery. Most religion consists of people’s sincere efforts to do what they think are the right things to do. Almost all religionists have, or think they have, valid reasons for believing the way they do. Benign and even healthy expressions of religion abound. Thus, I do not support indiscriminate or gratuitous attacks against religion in general.
The most I have to say about atheism in this respect is that I am an atheist. If theists try to convert me, I can tell them the reasons why I do not accept their claims. We can deal with large-scale religious movements the same way we would any trends: in the public forum.
Besides, religious groups see the same problems with religious quackery that we atheists see. Check out any church library and you will see a substantial collection of books warning people about cults and other forms of religious monkey business. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out, theists perform “the office of a censor morum over each other.”
Similarly, not all hucksterism consists of hawking religion. Although the two do overlap, creating the appearance of a connection, any conclusion along these lines is premature.
I recognize potential allies in religious people and even some forms of organized religion. Most importantly, though, many of my fellow humans happen to be religious. Another person’s religion (or lack thereof) is none of my business. People’s religious views do not indicate whether they’re good, moral, trustworthy, or even good candidates for friendship. Religion is a private matter unless a person chooses to tell me about it.
Therefore, I propose that theists and atheists have a lot more in common than we have differences. We do well to work together in identifying and addressing the serious problems of religious chicanery which seriously impact everyone’s quality of life. Again, this work will be much more effective if we work together, not simply as atheist groups. Atheists working alone run the risk of being seen as having a general-purpose anti-religious agenda, but this won’t happen if we cooperate with theists.
Promoting a widespread and very general understanding of logical and rhetorical fallacies would be the best use of our energies in this respect. We shouldn’t do this as atheists; rather, we should do it as human beings. Given a solid background in rhetoric and sophistry, a youngster can use these skills to see through any form of deception, including religious contrivance. A child from a religious family is more likely to take such a warning seriously if it’s issued from a religious person in a religious context using religious language. If kids see theists and atheists working on this together, they know that this is not about ideological polarizing but about devious attempts to deceive and exploit.
I leave people alone when it comes to religion simply because it’s the only way I can rightly demand freedom from religion. If I try to deconvert religionists, I can’t really complain when they try to convert me, and I have no compelling response to their high-profile evangelism campaigns. Telling others that they need to change their core values is the very indignity that I wish the religionists would stop heaping upon me! I don’t like being told what to do, think, or say; I prefer to trust people to make their own decisions as to how they will run their lives. Other atheists may do what they feel is right: I will not try to dissuade them from trying to deconvert theists. But I couldn’t consider doing this a wise use of my time.
I do not recognize atheistic “outreach” as a valid reason for forming organized groups simply because I don’t see the point of propagating atheism at all.
The final reason for associating with atheists that I will discuss is the “oasis approach,” mentioned in my July, 1996, column, “Getting Along Outside the Oasis.” This argument suggests that atheists make superior company over theists, that congregating with one’s fellow atheists is like an oasis in a desert of irrationality. Some have suggested that we form a support group to help each other cope with those things that many of us endure. These include bigotry and the stigma that goes along with being an atheist in a society dominated by exclusivistic monotheists.
Sometimes it is difficult to get along with those who see the world quite differently. The shortcomings of the oasis approach start to show themselves when we notice that some religions urge their followers to see us as being unworthy company. Certain religions place a huge gap between the True Believer and the rest of the world. It follows naturally for us to ask ourselves, should we act similarly? Have we no choice but to respond in kind?
As an atheist, I don’t have an authority figure telling me about any differences big enough to justify separating myself from regular people. Besides, theists who think they should avoid atheists are already out of the running, so to speak. What we have left are those theists who are still allowed to keep company with atheists, plus every atheist in the world. Between these two remaining groups, an atheist has an entire rainbow of people from which to select friends and associates.
I object to the oasis approach on two grounds, the first is philosophical and the second is practical. First, to even think of atheists superior to theists in any respect opens the door to accepting this practice on the part of theists. Many theists talk of atheists as being somehow inferior and in need of change. We are the focus of entire “outreach” programs. I am given special attention simply for not seeing eye-to-eye with them about religion.
I don’t care to be treated as if I’m not up to par — even if I’m not up to par! (That’s the biggest downside to being disabled!) However, I may object to such treatment at the hands of theists only as long as I do not treat theists along the same lines.
On the practical side, why would I want to take a “vacation” from theists? Why does someone’s religious belief need to be that big a deal? So what if someone says, “God bless you” when you sneeze — and so what if a few of them actually mean it!? And of course theists will pray for you: Isn’t that what theists do? Prayer doesn’t hurt us!
At times I’ll point out how it feels when they condescendingly inform me of their prayerful concern over the fact that I’m an atheist, pouring out sympathy usually reserved for those who recently learned of a terminal illness, mingled with unsubtle derision of the caliber only atheists and tobacco smokers usually endure. But I’m a big boy and I know how to handle the indiscretions of others.
If a theist’s zeal gets in the way of our having a healthy association, particularly if their motive for even associating with me ends up being their hope of seeing my eventual conversion, that’s a special situation and I can address it on its own terms. Special situations call for special treatment under any circumstances.
My vigilance is best focused by standing alert for those who would hang with me only because I am an atheist! Would someone dump me if I suddenly had a religious conversion experience? even if this was as benign as becoming a Buddhist? This is of much more concern to me than whether somebody is a theist, and was a substantial concern of mine while part of the atheist group. Was this or that friendship real? or was it simply based on someone’s usefulness to the group? I hate to say that this was the situation more than once. I may or may not have fallen victim to it; however, I know of a few others for whom this was definitely the case, having spoken explicitly with the perpetrators.
The people who stump for the oasis approach most adamantly tend to be the ones most likely to abandon your friendship should your ideology change to the point where you’re no longer active in the group. I saw this in the Christian groups, in the Marxist groups, in the Twelve Step groups, in the atheist groups — and even among the drug culture.
This is the main reason I won’t use ideological similarities as criteria for meeting potential friends. I can see meeting from mutual involvement in a hobby, so involvement in a group can't be too far off. And if a friendship happens out of a contact initially based in mutually held ideology, that’s fine. But seeking friendships will never again be my goal when associating with people simply because we both hold similar beliefs or values.
I suggest that we can more effectively combat problems stemming from being the minority if we deliberately associate with theists. By avoiding them, we accomplish temporary (and false) relief at best. What little we get out of it doesn’t begin to cover the true cost of this practice. But by getting in there and making ourselves known and heard — by becoming a part of the scene (any scene) despite our differences — we can rout this problem from both ends.
From the one end, if we isolate ourselves, we’ll never learn how to cope with being a minority in a world that is set up to suit the needs of people other than ourselves. By “getting our hands dirty” and trying to function even though the world is geared for others, we stand to become that much stronger than those who don’t need to adjust (the world already being tailored to their needs and whims).
Secondly, allowing a single group of people to dominate amidst a great variety of subcultures can only cause problems. If we in the minority remain silent and unnoticed, the rest of society (that is, the majority) will never be forced to endure the occasionally destructive consequences of tailoring public life only to the needs of a single group (those in the majority). But if we boldly try to function anyway, even if it causes problems for some (even if it causes problems for us!), those problems will attract attention and perhaps more people will have a vested interest in seeing that society needs to have the ability to stretch and meet the needs of a wide variety of people.
I don’t think that isolating ourselves with other atheists can solve any of the problems that its proponents talk about. If anything, it can even aggravate the very problems it alleges to solve. I see this as anything but a valid reason for forming atheists-only groups.
I can even picture myself gritting my teeth and joining up with a group of atheists if that’s the only opportunity I can find for engaging in socio-political activism. And I might even be talked into propagating some of the more clear-cut advantages of freedom from superstition, and even doing this with a group which happens to consist exclusively of atheists.
But I cannot picture myself becoming part of a group whose stated purpose is to avoid theists or mingle exclusively with like-minded individuals whose commonality is atheism. Oasis? I just can’t see it as such.
Bobbi has been my closest friend for five years. She has attended three separate Symposium events with me, watching me struggle each time just to be allowed to showcase the PAM display. The opposition has usually taken the form of leaders attempting to change the rules so that we (conveniently) no longer qualify to participate except as spectators. She has watched this happen to me over the years and is as baffled about it as I am.
This year, in order to qualify for a table, we had to become cosponsors of the event. As a result, the opposition to our involvement stopped moving along the lines of rules and policy, and instead turned to vicious personal attacks. We still have no clue as to why they don’t want us!
On numerous occasions during the planning, people would write or speak of our “group” and call us “the Positive Atheists group” instead of our name, “Positive Atheism Magazine.” It occurred so often that I eventually voiced my concern that the literature might mistakenly list us as “the Positive Atheists” — until then, it seemed as if they never got it right!
The big “clue” came out in a rather hostile e-mail from the planning committee's chairperson. His reason for dismissing the concerns I had raised revolved around the fact that I had quit my involvement in an atheist group three years earlier. He concluded with the remark: “It may be the reason you now have your own group.”
We begin to see volition in what we initially thought was a simple mistake. Little did we suspect, even then, that it was a full-blown slur against us — all because PAM has no Board of Directors!
Here’s the logic behind the joke, as far as I can tell: PAM is not a group but an individual, they mutter, and this Symposium is for the groups. When mockingly twisted into a slur, they suggest that I am an atheist group, but have only managed to round up a single member: myself!
The Oregonian article referred to me as: “Cliff Walker, founder and sole member of Positive Atheism.” This was obviously derived from a remark made by one of the group leaders. I’m reminded of the opening scene to the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a group of primates intimidates its opponents by puffing themselves up and pounding their chests in a seeming attempt to control their turf.
In her letter, Bobbi was being sarcastic from beginning to end. Bobbi is the queen of cynicism and there is no king. Yeah, I can see a reader getting confused. For her first two points, Bobbi took shots at the newspaper: the first, because they missed the punch line to Shermer’s big joke; the next, for refusing to take seriously those at the event. For her third point she switched gears to target the Symposium leaders for their little joke about PAM. Lastly, she had some fun with organized atheism itself, reminding the reader that most atheists wouldn’t be caught dead at a Symposium such as this, even if it had been run with more of a dignified air.
I thank you for your support and most of all for your concern. I have taken very seriously all our statements regarding the purpose, stand, and position of Positive Atheism. I go to great lengths trying to write these statements so clearly that anybody can understand what I’m saying.
Regarding Skeptics, I don’t distinguish between atheists and Skeptics to a very great extent. To me, we’re pretty much the same, just shades of meaning, angles of emphasis, and intermittently important boundaries of inclusion. Sometimes I’m an atheist because I’m explaining to someone that their god-claim is unconvincing. Other times I am a (small-“h”) humanist because I’m laughing and joking among the most intelligent beings with whom I can communicate: my fellow humans. Increasingly I have become a full-blown Skeptic, having encountered a full-blown religious nut who is bent on watching me roast over a full-blown barbecue.
Mostly, I’m just me. When I’m not sitting at this terminal working on the Positive Atheism project, I don’t think about God or Satan or Jesus or Mohammed or Quetzalcoatl or atheism or politics or dignity or any of that stuff. I try to live my life and be the best man that I can be, treating others with as much respect and compassion as I can muster.
Some atheists refuse to call themselves Humanists because they don’t think very highly of their fellows. Others call themselves Humanists or Skeptics not wanting to deal with the “A”-word. Some Humanists and Skeptics are, in fact, theists.
When I talk to a Skeptic I’m conversing with an atheist who has at least thought about the issues (most atheists simply lack a god belief, not having given much if any thought to the matter). When I’m talking to a Humanist, I speak with an atheist who has not only thought about the issues but has come up with some proposals for describing and living life to its fullest. To say “atheist” says none of these things.
But to say “atheist” covers the widest possible spectrum. The atheism spectrum includes Skeptics, Humanists, agnostics, Infidels, Freethinkers, and, most importantly, those who haven’t thought about it and don’t care to think about it. That’s the main reason I say “atheist”: I want to include as many into my perspective as I can. I want to qualify as many people as possible who could benefit from the resources I provide and from whatever else I have to offer as an activist.
Atheist? Humanist? Skeptic? Secularist? Freethinker? I am all of these things — all of these things and, as a human, a whole lot more. Member? Nope. I am a member of no organization except a few honorary memberships which have been bestowed upon me over the years.
— Cliff Walker, Publisher
Positive Atheism Magazine