No Trace Of Hurt
Or Bitterness
Terry Peck

 

Cover art for The Tards: ''I'm Just Like You,'' an eight-inch vinyl record circa mid-1990s. The Tards are post-punk industrial music pioneer Boyd Rice (Non) and publisher Adam Parfrey (Feral House). I forgot the name of the fellow whose likeness this is, but he lives in Portland, Oregon. I was also told that the artwork involved in this image was quite a chore, as this was shot in the bakery where this fellow works, and that background was removed ''by hand'' and replaced with what you see now.
Cliff Walker discusses
state-and-church separation
with a Twelve Stepper.

 

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "The Peck's"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2000 9:48 AM

Hey! He's a remote friend of mine, and two very famous post-punk industrial musicians used his photo for their album cover. He's real happy about that and has a copy of the album on his wall. "God" kinda botched is brain somewhat, but he still survives as a baker and looks forward to the Special Olympics each year.

If you don't like it, tell your "God" to stop making people retarded.

If you don't like my bitterness, tell your "God" to stop making people retarded, because that's why my only brother is no more; that's why my only brother never lived long enough to learn how to talk.

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

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "The Peck's"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 3:30 PM

I apologize for returning low-class sarcasm with more of the same. This letter, of all letters, I should have simply ignored.

Oh yeah, that's it! That explains it! It's his brother!

And he fits the stereotype of the spiteful, vindictive atheist.

Never mind the thousands of hours he's spent studying both sides of the argument, his decision is an emotional one, after all.

I hope that's not what you're trying to say, here.

No. People receive my vitriol only when they earn it through boorishness or the like, and for no other reason. Please read through the many letters from atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, and polite Christians. (Polite Christians not only exist, they are the majority -- but very few polite Christians would not bother an atheist, so they do not get much representation on our Forum.) Any bitterness I show is heartfelt if I have encountered attitudes such as indignity, hypocrisy, bigotry, and exploitation.

Meanwhile, my brother got what he got and there's no "should" about it because that's what happened and we cannot change it now and we couldn't have changed it back then.

Graphic Rule

The only opportunity we even get for living results from how DNA works, with the natural selection of random mutations. If there were no mutations either way, there would never have been any advancements. But there are mutations; we aren't still the original self-replicating molecule (which molecule could never survive in the atmosphere and at the temperatures that exist today). Most mutations are destructive, as what happened to my brother; some of them actually cause advantage and those are assimilated into the gene pool. This is part of doing business with DNA: you cannot have any advancements without mutations, and most mutations turn out to be destructive. DNA or some similar method for natural selection of random mutations of a self-replicating molecule, I think, is the only basis for any life or consciousness to form. I can conceive of no other way for natural processes to eventually result in beings who are self-aware to the point of having dialogues such as this one here. I think self-awareness can only be had through a nervous system, and I think a nervous system can develop only through natural selection. Nicolas Humphrey, in his piece called "On the Wings of a Dove," goes so far as to say, "We can be the optimist who brightly says, 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' or the pessimist who gloomily nods his head and says, 'How true.'"

So, all we can do is, in our dreams, wish it could have been different for my brother. Apart from that we are powerless to do anything except appreciate what we do have and make the most of what little we get. We cannot say "should" because what happened to my brother is the price we pay just to have an opportunity to live. And the death that is the common fate of us all is the price we all pay for the chance to live at all, because death is crucial to the processes natural selection -- and natural selection is how we even came to exist as we do. I would think that an intelligent creator (and particularly a benevolent one ) would surely have side-stepped much if not all of the suffering that we observe on Earth, which suffering makes perfect sense in light of natural selection being the only way we can even advance to the life forms we see and are.

My brother's experience showed me, early on, that the tales describing a benevolent god micromanaging our affairs here on earth don't hold much water with me. Between the experiences of my brother and my grandfather, this likelihood was made clear to my whole family, all the way back to the grandparents. Nobody in my immediate family (that I know of) is religious from either grandparent on down -- Spinoza's-god Unitarians and Spinoza's-god Masons at most, going back to all those great-grandparents who were described to me by their offspring. Only the second-cousins (grandma's sister's kids) are in any sense religious at all, and most of them are pretty liberal.

We just don't see it. Religion does such a poor job at explaining situations such as I have described above, while natural selection makes perfect sense in light of our observations. Religion, for the most part, advocates an extremely flawed sense of morality. And, it lends itself so easily into the hands of the exploiters, to the point where even if I did have many reasons to believe I'd still have a hard time associating myself with such a crowd.
 

I have no reason to believe that a god exists, but when speaking to a theist, I am capable of entering that person's world view for the sake of discussion, or in order to make a point. This is easy because for three years, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I tried to be a Christian. I had become so disoriented that I felt I had to do something drastic, so I sincerely tried to believe. I immersed myself in Christian apologetics and worked full-time toward learning it well enough to be able to teach it (my technique for learning anything has always been to learn it well enough to be able to explain it to someone else). So, I know what that's like because I have, myself, "told God" to stop making people retarded and to stop allowing people such as my grandfather to suffer the way he did).

I can also feel I am being truthful when I declare that God did not make my brother the way he was.

After this experience, this brief fling with theism (which is not the "faith of my fathers," as they say), the two cases against the existence of a God have become, for me, nonbelief and evil. I came to the argument from nonbelief after pondering just how few people qualify for the Christian Heaven and just how many will go to the Christian Hell by default -- just to satisfy the "justice" of the Christian god. I think that if a benevolent god exists who wants us to know about Him, more of us would be in agreement over whether He exists and who He is. My discovery of the argument from evil is easy to see from our exchanges, and also works itself into the argument from nonbelief: if a God exists and wants us to know about Him (much less honor Him), then I would think He would have made it so there was much less suffering and premature death than there is. I am not asking that sons never bury their mothers, but any god who would make a situation where mothers routinely bury their sons cannot be called good. I go further and suggest that no such god exists, and that natural selection better explains what I have observed (what we all observe) than does any scheme of religion I have studied.
 

True. I never blamed God for what happened to my brother, because I didn't start believing until at least twelve years after I last saw him (a brief fling with religion in high school, followed by a much longer one later).
 

I never even got to know my brother as a person; he wasn't around for long enough and I was too young. So I can't say that I love him as an individual, but I do feel an overwhelming sense of compassion knowing that this was his chance at living, knowing that his very conception was against all odds, and that even this stroke of luck didn't do him much good.

I do get a very powerful feeling, though, whenever I am around friends or relatives who have brothers who grew up with them. (I have a sister who is much younger than me, and we never really got very close -- perhaps because I didn't want to risk again the loss I endured when my brother got sick and was taken away by the State.) So, I'd say that not only did I never get to know him as a person, I never got to grow up with him in what would now be my longest lived companionship (we were almost two years apart). This is not the same as though he had never existed: I have a brother but he is dead. His life was cut short before I got to know him. Also, he never developed any cognizance to get to know me during the two years he was around. So, I live with the sense that this long-lived companionship which others enjoy was taken from me. It's not the same as if I'd never had a brother. I live with the fact that had we grown up together and both survived, we would have a kinship that I currently have with nobody -- the likes of which I have watched other people even take for granted.

And I have no real companions today, certainly nobody that goes back very far. I've known a few of my current friends as long as three years. I do have two friends living in other states, one whom I've known for twelve years and the other whom I've known casually for twenty-five, he's been my best friend to for seventeen years but I haven't seen him since 1986. My difficulty in finding friends is not because I shun theists or because I see theists as inferior -- quite the contrary. Theists have something that I could only dream of having: the ability to see something that I don't see. (Whether or not theism is real, one can point to theism's benefits -- especially considering the current environment that so viciously stigmatizes atheists.)

Four years ago, I was hoping to marry a very devout Christian woman. I loved her with a special love that I've felt for nobody before or since, and when she would try to convince me of her position, I'd just sit there and enjoy the music and rhythm of her voice. Although I found her views quite disturbing, it did not disturb me that she held these views; her viewpoint did not in any way tarnish my love for her. The only qualm I had was a vague and remote suspicion that part her motive for paying so close attention to me was to see my eventual "salvation." Part of me sometimes wonders if this suspicion on my part may have destroyed the friendship, but I don't think that's what happened.

Earlier this year, I had plans to marry a woman who can best be described as a theistic agnostic ("God is, and I can see Him and feel his presence, and He inspires me toward ethical behavior, but I cannot say any more than this about God"). The only person I would currently consider a companion had not thought about religion through her entire adulthood until she met me. I would now consider her an atheist (though I think she's probably been that all along, she just couldn't describe her views until she's watched me struggle with mine for several years). My uniform experience on the dating boards and at bars seems to be that the moment I divulge my religious viewpoint it's cold shoulder time. So, I satisfy myself with casual companionships that are based primarily on my two hobbies (singing karaoke and casual drinking) and spend the rest of my energy working on Positive Atheism.

The main reason why most of my attempts at friendships fail, I think, is because I refuse to be silent about my atheism: I refuse to pretend even to believe in astrology. I would never try to talk someone into becoming an atheist. (I cannot see anybody wanting to subject themselves to the indignity and bigotry we atheists endure. I'd never wish this on even an enemy!) But I will not be silent about my views. Whenever I'm asked or whenever the subject comes up, I will explain that I have yet to encounter a convincing argument for the existence of God and the supernatural. All the arguments I've heard so far sound like rubbish to me. At the same time, I make it clear that I respect the fact that people believe. I readily acknowledge that most believers have what they think are perfectly valid reasons for believing. The only time anybody will hear from me is when they try to convert me (or when they ask out of curiosity -- or visit this website which has, as its target audience, not theists but atheists).
 

I am a permanently disabled man who has realized that I am better off taking the pension and returning that favor through volunteer work. This way, my ability to produce (or lack thereof) does not impact my survival because my income comes from one source and my work goes somewhere else: it is not a direct exchange, the one depending upon the other. I qualify for several perks, including half-price fare on the bus (but I must always show my ID because my disability is not obvious to the casual observer). Thus, I have no qualms about being seen as disabled.

My disability is not primarily physical but results from a combination of depressive disorder and attention span problems. I also have since developed curvature of the spine that is so painful that I can now lift about 20 pounds tops. I cannot tell you which is more of a challenge when it comes to seeking feminine companionship: being emotionally "difficult" or being physically weakened.

The stigma against being disabled is intense, but it is unjustified (just as the stigma against atheists is intense but unjustified). Some think I am getting something for nothing, but I do more work and give more to my community than most workers give for their wages. Some think I am playing the "wooden leg" game, but I think thirteen years of being unable to hold a job for more than a few months, while always being the most skilled at what I did in any situation, speaks volumes. I am not a doctor, so this is all I can say about it. I am an intense personality -- the look in my eyes, my large skeleton, my ample vocabulary and careful style of speech, my ability to instantly process almost any topic and respond to it. This makes it hard enough for me to get to know people. I am also extremely shy, and this shyness gets in the way my dealing with anybody who has not known me for a while.

But this does work out for the best, as far as I can see, and based upon my personal values. If someone wants to stigmatize me for being disabled or for being an atheist (or whatever), they are simply informing me that they are not they type of person with whom I would want to spend any of my time. Now, if I were a genuine exploiter or a bigot or boorish or haughty anything along those lines, any stigma against me would be just. But I can honestly tell you that I work very carefully to keep a lid on these and other tendencies. I even keep my weight down, tend to my hygiene, and try to dress nicely. What's left over are things that I cannot control. So, if someone wants to avoid me or shun me for these things which I cannot change, that's their prerogative. However, I would not and do not find myself enjoying the company of people who would do this to anybody. So, you might say that I am blessed in this sense.

It's not unlike Thomas Edison who was grateful for his hearing loss because he knew that most of the casual conversation he missed concerned topics that he'd just as soon avoid anyway. I don't miss the company of people who would reject me (or anyone) as a potential friend because of things that are not valid reasons to reject prospective friends. This came to light in 1984 when, after meeting a wonderful young lady with whom I'd hoped to grow old, we went out to meet several of my friends. She commented that each one of my friends was a wonderful person. I replied that those are the only kind of people who could handle someone like me. She became vehement that I would denigrate myself in this manner, but I was serious: at that moment I saw (and could explain in English) what I have just described to you above.

Yeah, sometimes I walk by a church building and see all the people (under the steeple) and sometimes I feel like walking up and saying that I'd like to join the organization because I need an organized social outlet and could use some help in that area. But then I realize that such organizations rally around a common ideology, and that in order to fit in (even in the most superficial way), I'd need to confess to the ideology. I am not one who can lie about such things; to do this is beyond my abilities: I cannot even imagine people doing this to themselves or others. Not only could I never hide my viewpoints, I could never hide myself. So, I continue to present myself as an individual -- like it or not -- and refuse to let ideology be a factor determining whether I will hang with someone.

In any event, I appreciate your thoughts and thank you for clarifying your earlier sentiments.

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

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.