How Can One
Be Against
What Doesn't Exist?
Duval Cellai

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Duval Cellai"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Monday, August 14, 2000 1:04 PM

How can you be said to be speaking English when the definitions you are using are ancient Greek?

Atheism, since the Enlightenment, has meant "without theism." This is the definition we use, and our statements to this effect are very hard to miss. To use your logic here, it would be wrong for me to say, "I don't believe in Santa Claus," because to say that would presuppose the existence of Santa; I would simply be denying Santa's existence. Thus, I can speak of Santa or God as conceptual entities, or as concepts themselves, and all but the most anal-retentive atheophobe will understand what I intend to say with my words.

I am against the gods in the sense that I oppose the prospect of a society ruling itself according to the dictates of alleged gods and goddesses. I am against the gods in the sense that I oppose not only the conceptual gods, but I oppose the very concept of gods or God.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Duval Cellai"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Monday, August 14, 2000 10:45 PM

Atheos means "godless" according to Encarta World Dictionary.

I have discussed the notion of a new name extensively, most recently with Michael Shermer, and he wants atheist to refer to dogmatic "There are no gods" atheists, and nontheist to replace both "weak" atheist and agnostic. This view is also popular within Atheist Alliance and Internet Infidels. American Atheists seems to be silent on the issue for now.

In lieu of his model gaining popular acceptance, I prefer the traditional way: one either has a god belief or one does not. If one does not, he or she is an atheist (of either the "weak" or "strong" variety). This is called the "weak" definition for atheism, though this definition in no way implies that all atheists are of the "weak" variety (a common misunderstanding among "strong" atheists who write to Positive Atheism Magazine).

Where I do draw the line is when theists and agnostics insist that atheists are people who dogmatically assert that no gods exist. This is not the traditional viewpoint held by most post-Enlightenment atheistic writers.

Other than that, I have no problem with others calling us atheists, because atheism is the lack of theism, the lack of a god belief. Theism, though incorrect, is the majority viewpoint, and it is good to have a word that distinguishes us from the majority -- particularly considering that the majority is in error.

I would support this move if you can come up with a new term, and if you can come up with a plan to popularize it that might work (which includes acceptance by such notable atheistic philosophers as Michael Martin, Antony Flew, George H. Smith, Michael Shermer, Ellen Johnson, Chaz Bufe, and Lavanam; getting such groups as the Skeptics Society, the various Humanist groups, American Atheists, Atheists United, Atheist Centre, Indian Rationalists, Internet Infidels, SCICOP, Atheist Alliance, and possibly but not necessarily religious groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, the major Protestant Denominations, the Jewish groups, and the major Islamic groups; such reference publications as Mirriam-Webster's, Oxford English Dictionary, and Encarta World Dictionary).

In lieu of such prospects for wide-scale acceptance, I will continue to see it as much easier simply to try to educate the public as to the traditional meaning of the word atheism. I certainly don't see a problem with the (possible) fact that theists originated the term as a stumbling block, though I do wince at the common use of atheism as an epithet (Shermer's argument for abandoning the traditional meaning).

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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