Christian Says
'Listen To The Atheist'
Bruce

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bruce Karen Ross"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Wednesday, December 27, 2000 12:14 AM

There are many different interpretations of Jesus. For example, many have portrayed Jesus as poor and homeless because they focused on the Gospel of Luke, which emphasizes the virtues of poverty over the evil of riches. Garner Ted Armstrong, in his book, The Real Jesus, portrays him as, among other things, quite wealthy.

What happens on our Forum is that some Christians think Jesus is all tolerance and love, while others see him as a narrow-minded exclusivist -- what we would call, in today's parlance, a bigot (though they'd never use that word). It's these tribal totem types who tend to want to come over to our place and set us straight. Those who follow a loving, inclusive, tolerant Jesus seem to want to leave well enough alone, who go out and sow upon more fertile ground -- if they sow at all. Most Christians I know are too busy trying to make this world a better place to live, and haven't the time to wonder about ideology.

To me, a case can be made for any number of Jesuses, depending on which information you include in your study and which information you either ignore, downplay, or otherwise write off. That is why I have lately decided to become the "Jesus Agnostic" described in the book Deconstructing Jesus by Jesus Seminar scholar Robert M. Price (the Introduction of which was excerpted in Positive Atheism, September, 2000). Ultimately, suggests Price, the "Historical Jesus" you come up with is often simply a reflection of your presuppositions -- a theology, of sorts. The only scholar of note not to fall into this trap, says Price, was Albert Schweitzer, who, after he tried to find the historical Jesus, admitted that he was quite shocked by what he found. If Price's scenario has any weight, then perhaps these "thugs for Christ" have imposed their own personalities onto their understanding of Christ, rather than allow Christ to transform them (which I think is the idea behind Christianity -- whether this be seen as literally, through a spirit, or symbolically, by emulating an ideal).

Certainly it is possible to read some of what they say into the Bible's description of Jesus -- as long as one emphasizes certain parts and ignores other parts. You can see me playing with this concept during my recent discussion. "True Follower Of The Real McCoy," where I mockingly call his concept the real Jesus and the loving, tolerant concept a false Jesus. In that letter, I have in mind those passages which can be understood the way he takes them -- the "for me or against me" and "it is not meet to give unto dogs" passages. If the writer of that letter is looking for a hateful example to follow, he can find it in Jesus if he reads some passages and ignores the rest. Had he wanted a loving, tolerant, inclusive Jesus, I think he would have found more than enough passages to justify that concept.

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

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bruce Karen Ross"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Wednesday, December 27, 2000 9:45 AM

When I was recovering from one of several long series of bouts of illness, I ended up on the Campus of UCSD. Anti-Apartheid was what was happening, so I decided I could survive by fitting in -- and I knew I could fit right in if I kept relatively quiet and learned what I had to learn. Thus, I learned how to justify Marxism, particularly, the tenets of the Social Democratic scheme of things. Mind you, I didn't actually believe that way of thinking, but I justified it verbally and made quite a name for myself.

I had only comparatively recently emerged from a three-year stint as a Christian -- a fundamentalist blend of charismatic Calvinism, tempered by my own views on several issues (for example, I was pro-choice because that's what I thought the Bible taught, and also proudly smoked tobacco). But part of why I went through the depressive phase which led to the ill health was because Christianity is so foreign to my upbringing and my essential personality that doing this to myself (Christianity) almost did me in physically. The inner conflict that I ignored wore me down and I eventually became very, very ill.

Later, I caught a virus in the soles of my feet which rendered me barely able to walk, and at the same time suffered an infection which took out most of my hearing. I moved back to Portland because I knew homelessness activists Michael Stoops of Portland and the late Mitch Snyder of Washington D.C. I knew that Portland was one place where I could survive even in that state of ill health. I was, by then, emerging from both the Christian fog and now the Marxist fog: you cannot expose yourself to these dogmas without remaining unaffected by it all.

Unable to get along at Baloney Joe's (a secular "Rescue Mission" get-up which eventually flew apart amidst allegations that Stoops had a fondness for underage lads), I ended up living with a woman in a purely platonic relationship. During those times, I shoplifted to survive and helped her feed her little boy. She later died of cancer, but not until we had spent almost two years together, letting all who knew us assume we had quite the love affair going (we did, but we were both too shredded, emotionally, to actually play out that role).

Eventually I was jailed, sentenced for 180 days for shoplifting. On the 179th day, the judge hauled me into court and ordered me to undergo psychiatric treatment and to attend a Twelve Step program. I understood the need for medical treatment, but I refused to go to the Twelve Step program on religious grounds. That was the first time I ever used the term atheist to describe myself. Back then, to me, an atheist was still someone who asserts "No gods exist"; I only later learned that an atheist is someone who simply lacks a god belief, and that I'd been an atheist most of my life.

So, for refusing to undergo religious instruction, the judge placed me on a 30-day hold. After serving 24 days of that hold, I became willing to do what the judge told me to do. I went into the Twelve Step program for a full three years, and learned to justify some but not all of the Twelve Step dogma -- as you can see by reading my writings from those days (1989 through 1992) now posted in our Recovery Watch Index. You learn to get along within whatever situation you find yourself in.

So, after my obligation to the Twelve Step program was up, I hovered around a bit but found Rational Recovery. It was here that I learned to describe in precise English the crimes that the judge had committed against me: I hadn't even been accused of drug or alcohol abuse; the judge admitted to me that she was using a "shotgun" approach to try to get me on my feet. Had I had the luxury of focusing entirely on psychiatric or psychological matters, I think I would be much better off today than I am, as I wasted over three years in the Twelve Step program and another seven trying to come down from it. Only this year have I normalized from that experience.

Part of my "recovery" from the Recovery Program was becoming involved in state-church separation issues. And part of that involvement included active membership in the local atheist group. I never liked it there, but while I was there, something strange and wonderful happened: I found myself, as they say. Rather, as I described in an old editorial column, "On Truth And Credibility," I defined myself, discovering only my limitations.

One of those limitations is that I cannot get along in a religious environment. I must be free to reject the claims of theism in thought, word, and deed. I cannot go along with it and I cannot pretend. The ability to do this is not part of my nature. I was raised without religion, my emotional makeup does best without religion, and I now choose to pursue a religion-free life.

Not only that, had there been people (that I could relate to) who had been available to help me through some of this stuff -- the Christianity and the Twelve Step program -- I'd be much better off today than I am. So, since part of my self-therapy has involved learning a lot about activism in this area, and since a lot of my thinking has gone toward improving the scene as I found it, this is what I do.

I am an atheistic activist who is trying to develop a philosophy of activistic atheism. Part of doing this is being able to handle at least the most basic claims of theism, which claims I have rejected a long time ago. Part of it is being able to recognize the wiles of a charlatan when I encounter such individuals. This is only a small part of it, but it sells magazines, brings attention to the website, and brings people (who are now in the very fog I used to be in) back for more, and hopefully they will go beyond the theist-atheist bickering, relegate it to the nineteenth-century Freethought movement where it belongs, and consider some of the more advanced, more modern approaches that I am now suggesting here in this Forum, and also in my editorial columns and in most recently in my "Introduction to Activistic Atheism" (no-frames version here).

I admit that amidst all this I have stooped to "just making a point." But the difference that I see is that this work -- for the first time, and unlike the other work I have done -- involves my core outlook. It takes me back to primitive childhood, when I was goaded by the other second-graders for being neither Catholic nor Protestant. It takes me to the "faith of my fathers," as they say, and my grandfathers and my great-grandfathers (and their wives). This work involves not merely justifying an outlook, but describing reality as I see it, and as I have seen it all along.

If I do have a purpose in life (and I doubt I have any purpose other than the very meaning that choose to I give to my life), it is to do this. If someone believes in Fate or Destiny or Providence and looks at my life history, they would be justified in thinking that almost everything I've been through has led to me doing what I do right now, to do it well, and (hopefully) to eventually make a few important contributions in this respect. I don't believe in fatalism, but I wouldn't fault anybody for coming to this conclusion about me -- because I am sometimes tempted to see it that way myself, when I ponder the course that my life has taken. The problem is that if Providence is true, then Providence has led me to teach falsehood concerning Providence.
 

If I was still doing this only for my own sake, this would be true. However, I have been taken in by clever fakes -- clever fundamentalist fakes -- and have had to grope my way out of that fog with no help and with no guidance or examples to follow. Those who find themselves in situations similar to the ones I found myself are more fortunate because they have at least one person who is there for them -- not necessarily to help them, but to be able to say, "This is what I did and this is how I did it."

Thus, when I "bicker" with a fundamentalist, I am putting on a show, of sorts. Were it not for that audience, I wouldn't waste my time with it. I don't give a rat what anybody believes.

But, atheists are the most widely and viciously despised minority in America. I have felt this bigotry my entire life. I have even caved in to it, joining up with the very bigots who once had it in for me (though I don't think I ever did to an atheist what so many Christians have done to me). There is a better way to respond to this widespread bigotry than simply to cave in an go along with it -- to act as if it's okay for them to do this to us. I have found at least one way to respond: dignity. So, I teach dignity, both to theists when I encourage them to think about what they are doing, and to atheists when I encourage them to demand that this behavior come to an end.

Without this backdrop, though, my arguments would be about as useful as a debate as to whether Santa exists.
 

We are not sitting at a bar trying to come down from a tough day; such talk might be considered inappropriate where alcohol is served and where people go to escape stressful situations. We are engaged in an important discussion and we are doing so in a legitimate venue. The whole reason I maintain this Forum is so that we can engage in such discussions without fear of retaliation. I am here to learn, and anybody who writes here (including "jeff") gets the dignity of my presupposing that they're here to learn as well. Even if it's clear that they're not here to learn, I will go ahead and try to treat them as if that was their reason for stopping by at our place. After all, that is the stated purpose of our Forum.

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

Graphic Rule

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