When Does It Become Time
To Step Into The Ring?
Gil Gaudia

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Gil Gaudia"
Subject: Re: Have_Atheists_Done_Anything_For_The_Good_Of_Man?
Date: Sunday, June 24, 2001 10:56 PM

The Steppers would tell you that keeping it bottled up takes its toll. I'm not sure that I agree with that method of therapy, but I certainly engage in my fair share of it here on the Forum. Not that my goal is the therapeutic value (if any), it just happens a lot around here. This is the atheist page, after all!

A lot of what the Christians and Steppers say to me goes beyond a philosophical discussion of the issues, beyond something that's merely academic. Much of this stuff touches a raw nerve with me. Part of the reason I even do this is because I have endured abusive treatment like this in real life ever since I was a kid, and I would like to at least hope that kids yet born might one day avoid this treatment. Since it hurts, I think a complete response ought to cover the emotional element; since I am an artistic type, that response will occasionally stray from a strictly prosaic style.

My reply to Rich Zawadzki, as you can see by all the "Response" links, took a small toll on our readership. Oh well, "To thine own self be true." To me, it is positive to point out (at least on this Forum) where I thought Zawadzki was coming from. Sure, I could have done it differently -- but I didn't. And the Zawadzki reply is still one of my favorites. I am not convinced that I did the right thing in telling the Twelve Stepper to fuck off, though, but I am still quite angry that so many hundreds of them have looked me in the eye over the years and told me "It works! It works! You are wrong to criticize the Program!" -- when it's clear to anyone who shows up to a few meetings that the Program does anything but help people learn to stay clean and sober. It angers me because the sheer popularity of this lie has profoundly and adversely affected my life.

Being a lifelong counter-culture type, I've lost more than a few friends to drug addiction -- be they literally dead or just part of the gone dead train of the drug habit. I had just lost another former friend who wouldn't get help because she had been told that AA was the only thing going. And this clown told me to hush with my criticism of AA! If you could make a solid case that a popular philosophy had directly inspired twenty or thirty of your close friends (and countless others) to commit suicide, would you remain silent? And if some fan of that philosophy kept pestering you to shut up about it, urging you to do something more constructive with your life, wouldn't you eventually use some very stern language?

I don't do this outside of the Forum -- not very much, any way. I try to see there being a time and place for discussions such as this. I will introduce little things like the fact that "In God We Trust" was placed onto our currency during the McCarthy Era, but will never get into a full-blown discussion at a bar -- or anywhere where people are known to be drinking. When I know people in real life (friends or potential friends or family members), I try to agree with them that the God question is one of the stupidest reasons to get into a fight. We have so many more important things over which to unite -- we have so much more in common than this one little thing over which we differ.

But the Forum is a legitimate place to engage in these discussions. It's also a great place to watch someone else in action and see where you might do it differently -- in real life, anyway. If an adventure film is vicarious entertainment, I guess this Forum can also be seen as a vicarious adventure, of sorts: "That's right, Cliff! Let 'em have it!" But I don't walk out of a Clint Eastwood movie and slug a wino because called me an asshole for not giving him a cigarette. Part of me may feel like pounding a guy like that, but I don't go out and do it.

Philosophical discussions are just that: philosophical discussions. This is a learning experience for me and little more. I display it so that others can learn and also to test my ideas against the scrutiny of others. I take that knowledge with me to know it, not necessarily to use it.

I also find it quite entertaining to do this, and several readers have said they enjoy reading what I have to say. If so, that's a plus. But like my singing, I do this for me.


The crux of the biscuit is: If it entertains you, fine. Enjoy it. If it doesn't, then blow it out your ass. I do it to amuse myself. If I like it, I release it. If somebody else likes it, that's a bonus.
     -- Frank Zappa, interview, Playboy, May, 1993


While it is tempting to take the statements of certain religionists more seriously than we ought, I have learned how not to take them all that seriously. My main tool is my presupposition that all theists have or think they have valid reasons for believing the way they do -- even if I think those reasons are stupid -- even I know that the preachers know that there's a sucker born every minute (I guess I'm mad at the preachers, not the suckers). Also, there are people who are so utterly dishonest that I wouldn't want them as friends. And if their only expression of dishonesty is over religion, then I can easily see that it's the religion that's done this to them, it's not really them. It's very frustrating to watch people get taken for a ride like that, but in real life there's not much I can do about it (nor ought I), because this is how they choose to live their lives -- even if they are not working with all the facts.

So, when I get back home, I log on, don my gloves, and take it out on a Zawadzki-like character who has volunteered to step into "The Ring" with me. The ways this Forum differs from real life are not unlike the ways the ring at the gym differs from the streets. At least someone who tangles with me here can expect my unrestrained response -- even if they're like Zawadzki and part of their goading is to insinuate that I ought to keep my gloved hands down by my side. No, I keep my ungloved hands by my side when I'm not in The Ring, when it's a real-life situation, and I engage in discussions such as this only in the Forum -- just for the record -- and never because any of it really matters to me all that much. I don't care what Zawadzki thinks, I merely respond to what he says to me on this Forum.

While visiting family, an older cousin started flicking me some tough Creationist questions (he's not a Duane Gish young-Earth type, but of the more sophisticated "Intelligent Design" variety, and can hold his own in The Ring). But just an hour earlier, I had bolted the party for a long smoke after overhearing his wife go on and on about how the schools are teaching "situational ethics" (as if there's another kind of ethics besides what boils down to "situational ethics"?). And even though she was the one who advanced much further in the same career than he did, he was the one who knew how to think (and may have played no small role in helping me to learn these skills way back when).

So he heard that I am an atheist and put on his "gloves" -- right at the dinner table! I tried to keep a lid on what I thought, and tossed out Victor Stenger's bit about the Universe having required neither energy nor order to form, and about how the universe is almost pure randomness with only tiny pockets of order here and there. He asked, "What about before then?" Well, that's the question that even I dare not try to answer, because we cannot (at this point) know if there even was a "before then." I responded by saying, "I'm not really responsible for knowing about those things, I can only say what I know to be true" and quickly turned back to conversing with his sister, who had been explaining to me her version of tolerant, admittedly agnostic Christianity. Maybe I'll even get invited back some day. But had I gone much further -- had I prevailed in the same way that I often do here on the Forum -- I definitely would have worn out my welcome. Again.

And leaving it alone certainly didn't harm anything: he knows how to live a happy life without my help.

My current speculations as to when it is proper outside of The Ring correspond with my views on intrusive religion versus private religion. If you keep your religion to yourself, within your family, or within your specific religious community, I have nothing to say. Only when you force me to support it or abide by it do you earn my opposition -- and my opposition is always staged within the public forum. There is always at least someone else watching: it's hardly ever just between myself and the other person.

For example, I don't care about the argument over biblical errancy. I do not currently have a big list of "Bible errors" like some atheist websites have. I don't care if people think the Bible is the "infallible, unchangeable Word of the Living God," as this notion is so utterly preposterous as to not warrant a response from me. I do the Fig Tree Enigma just as my way of showing that the Bible does have some serious problems. With a few occasional exceptions, that's all I have to say about it.

The only two issues which really call for me bringing biblical errancy into play are Creationism and the "Hang Ten" movement (seeking to post the Protestant abridgement of the first tables of stone of the Hebrew Ten Commandments).

With Creationism, I will point out the plethora of discrepancies between the "Elohim" creation myth (Genesis chapter 1) and the "Yahweh" creation myth (Genesis chapter 2). This list is summarized in the letter from Charles Gause (one of my first few dozen letters). If they want to get rid of evolution (the best explanation that science has yet to devise), then they need to replace it with an explanation of their own, don't they? Well, the Genesis accounts not only contradict what science has shown, they contradict themselves! To me, showing these discrepancies is crucial to the argument against teaching Creationism in the public schools. Some Creationists seem to agree in that they are moving away from "biblical Creationism" to a more generic form of Creationism -- to the chagrin of their more fundamentalistic brethren.

As for the Ten Commandments, our "Which Ten Commandments?" poster says it all: The Hebrew, Roman Catholic, and Protestant lists differ significantly one from the other. If you look closely, you will see that the list on the second table (Exodus 34) differs entirely from the first set (Exodus 20) which the Moses character supposedly smashed to pieces in a fit of rage. These two "editions" are not even close! This difference is so blatant that most do not even see it, but tend to think that the list was not inserted into the text. But this is the natural reading of the text, and I make no apologies for Ezra (or whoever did the final editing of the Torah) not noticing this discrepancy. I will point out that this problem is being swept under the table today, as a deliberate cover-up. And I only bring this up when speaking in opposition to the move to post these things on our schoolroom walls. I also point out how inappropriate the Ten Commandments themselves are for kids, especially when it's the government who is promoting them by posting them in the schools. But the discrepancy argument speaks powerfully against the wisdom and fairness of posting these religious tenets on public property.

But I always do this in a public forum: writing letters to the editor and to public officials, public awareness campaigns, and the like. I still have no problem with somebody posting the Ten Commandments on their own child's bedroom wall. (Well, I do -- this religion is not for kids -- but I really have no business saying anything about it!)

I hope this reopens the discussion as to when it is and is not appropriate to engage in a religious debate. It really depends on what you want (how important having friends is at this or that stage of one's life, etc.), but this is a rough draft of how I currently do it (which is not the same way I did it only six months ago). This Forum is, among other things, just practice: it is a way for us to compare notes and try to determine how we will conduct ourselves in our own lives. I wish life were simpler -- I wish it was okay to discuss these things freely without risking losing friends or teeth over it. But that's another issue, involving bigotry against atheism as well as addressing the dangers of fundamentalism and tribal loyalism.

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

Graphic Rule

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