Is Atheism Simply
No Belief In God?
Bryan

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: Bryan
Subject: Re: Atheism?
Date: Monday, August 21, 2000 8:34 PM

Atheism itself is simply the lack of a god belief, that is, a-theism is the absence of theism. Most atheists simply lack a god belief, but some adamantly assert that no gods exist. To say that someone "does not believe in God" is to presuppose that God exists: it's a language thing.

A wonderful article discussing the definition of the word atheism is called "Defining Atheism" by George H. Smith. Positive Atheism Magazine accepts Smith's definition and advocates popularizing this definition as a way to reduce the stigma against atheists.

Some dictionaries list the word wickedness as a synonym for the word atheism, and this notion has got to go! Miami Mayor Joe Carollo vilified the agents who captured Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez last spring by calling them "atheists." A recent Gallup poll placed atheists well behind homosexuals and other traditionally despised minorities when it comes to whether Americans would vote for members of those groups for President.

Thus, many atheists call themselves Humanists or nontheists or agnostics or even Unitarians. Others pretend to be theists, even going to Church to avoid the stigma and the wide prejudice against atheists. In countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, an atheist must pretend to be a theist or else face possible execution under Islamic law or death at the hands of a vigilante mob. The original European immigrants to the American continent sought to escape similar treatment; thus, "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" (from the Treaty with Tripoli, 1797, drafted by the Washington administration, passed unanimously by the Senate, and signed into law by John Adams).

Our approach to this problem is education. This is why I carefully draft an original response whenever this question comes up on our Forum. We hold that a wide-based understanding of what atheism is will significantly reduce the amount of bigotry that exists against atheists. Then it will be easier for us to "come out of the closet," so to speak. Many atheists think that "coming out of the closet" first is the key to the wide-spread acceptance of atheist in the United States. Positive Atheism Magazine recognizes some people's need to keep their views under wraps, and will never criticize anyone for hypocrisy in the face of bigotry, discrimination, and persecution. So, we actively encourage "out-of-the-closet" atheists and the more open-minded theists to promote understanding regarding atheism.

First of all, we seek to educate atheists and the general public as to the meaning of the word atheism and as to the basic philosophical position of most atheists. The most important message that we can convey to the public is that atheism is not "the denial of God" but the lack of a god belief. At minimum, we have yet to encounter a claim for the existence of a god or gods that holds water. In other words, theists need to keep trying. They should provide us with some convincing arguments, and should stop lying about us and discriminating against us and, in millions of cases throughout history, persecuting us.

A second thing to realize is that one's atheism is merely one small part of anyone's overall philosophical outlook. Thus, atheism is a component in a wide variety of outlooks, from Humanism some forms of Buddhism on one end, to Communism and nihilism on the other. Atheism is a feature of the Raelian religion which is a creationist religion (the ETs did it) and atheism is espoused by the World Church of the Creator which is a white supremacist group.

The only real thing that all atheists have in common is the lack of a god belief. Atheism itself is not a moral or ethical or social or political position -- unless those positions are based upon loyalty to a group rather than upon philosophical outlook.

Our atheism can influence our outlook in other areas of life. Many have drastically changed their outlook upon realizing that the gods they learned about as children do not exist. Others have looked upon their environment and have become atheists as a result. So, it works both ways: our outlook can influence our atheism and our atheism can influence our outlook.

Most atheists are materialistic in that verifiable physical reality is all we can go on when assessing our environment (thus, we don't acknowledge any "spiritual" realm). Most of us are humanistic in that the human is the most intelligent being with which we can communicate. (There are no gods or angels or spirits -- though some atheists do believe in the existence of spirits and ghosts, but these people are rare among atheists.)

In science, we cannot rely upon "prayer" of a "gift of knowledge" in order to communicate information and gain knowledge. We must study our environment and come up with these answers on our own. We cannot rely upon "anointing with oil" to heal our sickness, but must develop medicines and other procedures, and study nutrition, mental health, and bodily exercise in order to learn how to take care of our bodies. If this is the only life that we know that we get, these things become very important to many atheists.

In the realm of ethics, most of us realize that we are on our own when it comes to determining right from wrong (or whether life is even rightly seen in terms of right and wrong). Since we cannot rely upon a divine "revelation" to tell us the answers to life's tough questions, we must work these problems out on our own. If everybody acknowledged that we must work out our own problems as a species, there would be little argument over right and wrong. But since many people and powerful interests insist that this or that god has spoken, and that the word of this particular god is final -- forever and for all -- our species loses many opportunities to develop workable solutions to our many problems.

Finally, most atheists rarely if ever think upon the matter of theism. We just live our lives and perhaps know a few people who happen to be religious; the topic of religion rarely if ever crosses our minds. This is the vast majority of those who are atheists, that is, those who lack a god belief. In this sense, we are atheists only in the context of people making claims for the existence of gods. We are regular people in all other respects.

This is why Positive Atheism Magazine urges that the god question is the stupidest topic to argue over. We hold that every believer has valid reasons for believing the way they do. We encourage atheists to instead seek out allies of every persuasion and to work together to make this a better place to live.

Again: atheism is atheism only in response to a claim that a god or gods exist. Thus, we hope atheists will stop trying to woo theists to atheism or actively trying to "educate" the public as to the "follies of theism." Instead, an atheist should wait until a theist tries to evangelize an individual before beginning to argue against that specific god claim. It is futile to try to argue against theism without a theist first making a god claim and without the theist actually describing the god being claimed. As George H. Smith says, in Atheism: The Case Against God, "if no intelligible description of 'god' is forthcoming, the conversation must stop."

I hope you find this short essay useful in understanding your lack of a god belief, and that you are able to learn how to express your atheism in such a way as to prevent the intrusiveness and outright bigotry that we all endure.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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