Some Questions About
Atheism vs. Theism
To: Cliff Walker
From: Jeremy Novey
Subject: Research Project
I am a student at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona, doing a research project on atheism. During my research I have repeatedly come across your magazine and articles. I respect your work and writing. However, I have some questions. If you could take the time to respond, I would greatly appreciate it.
Your answers will be of great assistance to me, not only to reinforce my project, but also in my personal search for truth. Also, please send any additional information you feel is important. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "jeremy novey"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Friday, April 13, 2001 10:00 PM
If the claims of theism cannot be shown to be true, then one who refrains from claiming theism to be true is more firmly rooted in truth.
The advantage of skepticism is protection against hucksterism that exploits religious themes to gain power, influence, and money.
The disadvantage of atheism is the firmly institutionalized bigotry against atheists.
We achieve hope just like everybody else, because those who believe do not have assurance that God will answer their prayers or will take care of them. Whenever they do claim that God rescues them from a tragedy, they always call it "a miracle" or they use other language that clearly suggests that this was a special case, that it was not business as usual in any sense.
So, if we cannot depend upon God to rescue us from every tight spot we get ourselves into, then what's left?
First, most humans work very hard when we know that working will result in achieving our goals. Those few who would sit in their closet and pray for food, and then expect God to slip a hot dog through the keyhole, find themselves extremely hungry within a few days. The few who aren't hungry by then have either worked out a scam to convince other humans to bring their hot dogs to them, or they have been declared insane and become institutionalized (wherein other people still serve up free hot dogs on a plastic platter).
Secondly, regardless of the rhetoric coming from certain theistic quarters, most of us realize that humankind is an essentially helpful and nurturing species. That theists realize this is shown most poignantly when they pester atheists by asking us where we get our morality from if we don't believe in God. Even if there is a God, He provides resources "to the just and the unjust alike," as Jesus is reported as saying.
Thirdly, just the fact that we exist as a species and thrive in abundance shows two things: (1) Our biology is very formidable and resilient to many of the perils which we face in our various environments. (2) Our environment is not so harsh as to make the prospects for peril overwhelming.
Finally, much of what used to be very mysterious (and therefore attributed to "God") is now neatly explained by science as being natural. What is now mysterious to some (such as the psychological quirks of certain teenagers) is still attributed by some to the influence of a personal "Satan." While most of us realize that there probably is a natural (albeit complex) cause behind a kid taking a gym bag full of guns to school, a few of us still haven't caught on to the fact that science has a habit of doing away with supernatural explanations offered up by religion in lieu of a quest for truth.
So, religion is not really a comfort at all, but is more along the lines of getting drunk to solve one's problems. We may not feel those problems at the time, but that does not make them go away. Most people know this -- religious and atheist alike -- and live their lives accordingly. Religion is playing a smaller and smaller role even in assuaging grief over the demise of a loved one.
Even among those who firmly believe that their friend has gone to a better place, very few dance and celebrate the loss of their friend. I suspect that almost everyone probably realizes that death is the end, because to maintain a belief in the afterlife usually requires daily or weekly doses of reaffirmation of the dogma. It's not a belief that is easy to maintain without rigorous practice -- lest we lapse back to the obvious answer that nature all around shows us: death is the end of life and is the end of everything having to do with that individual's personal existence.
If theism is falsehood, and if theism introduces an inaccurate understanding of our world and how to thrive in it, then an entirely atheistic world would, in that sense, be superior to one where people are impaired by the myopia of theistic faith.
But if people enjoy the fictional world which religion paints (much like people enjoy getting lost in a novel or a film), then religion has its rightful place in the world. Theism is also a convenient way either to explain or even induce the mystical experiences that many humans enjoy. (I only last week discovered that I've been inducing mystical experiences in myself for most of my life.)
Over all, though, I think humans would be much better off discovering the actual causes of their experiences and working from that frame of mind, rather than attributing all mysteries to "God" or thinking that there is no natural explanation for what they think is the supernatural.
Positive Atheism, as we advocate it, is a small, very recent angle applied to atheism in general. It's stated goal is to benefit atheists, which could ultimately benefit society. Originally, it was developed in India as a social or ethical system to meet the social needs in India. The Indian version is much more involved in society than ours.
Positive Atheism, as we advocate it here, hopes to reduce the stigma and bigotry against atheists by encouraging active atheists to improve their expression of their atheism and by popularizing the traditional definition for the word atheist as one who simply lacks theism.
Part of this goal involves eliminating coerced participation in religious expression -- ranging from "In God We Trust" on our currency to the public funding organized religion in the form of tax exemption and, more recently, the public funding of religious groups under the guise of "charitable choice," which George W. Bush has admitted is nothing more than a ruse to bring more power to the anti-abortion movement.
Thus, the issue of separation of religion from government (the proper way to say "the separation of church and state"), is crucial to atheists, and, we think, ought to be crucial to theists as well. Only through absolute government neutrality, allowing all religions to stand or fall on their own merits in the free market and requiring all groups to pull their weight for the common good (that is, pay their taxes), can we most effectively promote religious liberty.
To me, the bottom line would be, if an act is legal for one, it must be legal for all; if it's forbidden for one, it must be forbidden to all (examples: peyote; polygamy; getting away with not paying your fair share of taxes; getting free endorsement of your views on the nation's currency; posting your specific religious tenets in a courtroom, in full view of the jury box; forcing school children to participate in the religious rite that your religion advocates, such as prayer or silent meditation).
Positive Atheism also suggests dignifying private expressions of theism by presupposing that theists have, or think they have, valid reasons for believing the way they do. We don't have to agree with someone in order to understand why they would believe the way they do.
Be aware that Positive Atheism is not namby-pamby in the sense that we will let the theistic majority walk all over us to the point of usurping our very sense of self-definition. We do insist on the right to insist on truthfulness and dignity in all affairs, and we do insist on the right of atheists do define what atheism is (as opposed to what the dictionaries say it is).
Thus, when challenged with a god-claim we will respond to it and explain why that claim is not sufficient to warrant our assent. Similarly, when fielding an unjust criticism of atheism (one that presupposes atheism to be something that it is not), we will defend the traditional definition for the word atheism and will only respond to criticism of that position -- ignoring or denouncing any straw-man pot-shots.
We also will call people on their expressions of bigotry against us -- such as announcing to us that they are praying that we'll come around to their way of thinking. It's one thing to pray for us, but it's an act of sheer arrogance to explain to us that we are so utterly inferior to them that they've enlisted the power of the Heavens in their desire to see us change our ways.
I don't log on to Christian websites and post derogatory statements along the lines that Christians are deluded fools (whether or not that is my genuine opinion of them). I have nothing to say to a theist, and there are many theists that I'd just as soon remain theists and continue stumping for theism! I certainly have no desire to try to straighten anyone out.
The question of whether or not gods exist is one of the stupidest arguments over which to get into a fight. We humans have much more serious problems facing us, and so I have joined up with several overtly theistic groups and joined them in their efforts to make this a better world.
True, I am very careful not to support a group whose ulterior motive is to stump for theism or for a particular sect -- no matter how much good otherwise results from the project. I would never donate to a Rescue Mission simply because one must listen to a fundamentalist Christian sermon in order to get food. The Rescue Mission system's ulterior motive is disseminating fundamentalist Christian propaganda, not feeding the poor; the food line is nothing more than the hook for their propagandizing and their ruse for obtaining government, secular, and religious funding (in that order), very little of which actually pays for food because most of the food is donated because it is beyond the pull-date and cannot be sold. But I have donated to the Saint Francis Soup Kitchen because the Roman Catholics have nothing to say to those who eat in their cafeteria: their ultimate motive, from all appearances, seems to be to feed the hungry, not to bring credibility to their religion, pat themselves on the backs, or even to get Brownie points from Christ. Would that all organizations who tell the public that they feed the poor had feeding the poor as their ultimate goal.
By improving the lot of atheists, I feel we can make the rest of society a better place. By popularizing the traditional definition for the word atheist, we will reduce or eliminate the hatred toward atheists which impairs the reputation of ten percent of America's population. If by so doing we can wrest society free from the shackles of distrust against this significant chunk of the population, our society cannot but improve. Making it easier for a person to publicly admit that she or he is an atheist will significantly reduce the problem of hypocrisy in the churches, because we will no longer feel compelled to pretend to be religious just to get along with our neighbors.
My immediate goal, though, is to try to improve the quality of life of my fellow-atheists by urging them to work toward this goal.
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
people with no reason to believe
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