Republican, Democrat
-- Or Atheist?
Johan Grahn

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Grahn, Johan"
Subject: Re: Republican, Democrat... or Atheist
Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 12:48 PM

I think challenging an individual's religious beliefs on a one-on-one basis is different from speaking one's mind. Both are different from disseminating propaganda, such as what I do on my website. (I use the term propaganda here in its purest sense of advocating a viewpoint, not in the derogatory sense that the McCarthy Era popularized.)

I truly believe that atheism is a better viewpoint for us all, but I have no right to tell people what to believe. I can only challenge claims presented to me, and argue against them (or, in certain cases, accept them -- but never without a challenge, as this is the liberal scientific method, which I loosely apply to my philosophical studies).

In a free society, we all have the right (and some would say the duty) to advocate for what we think is best. This is part of the discussion, which I hope would be conducted along the lines of the liberal scientific method. This is not always the case, though, and there comes a time when a James Randi-type must go out and actively debunk outright frauds that are harming ignorant people. Where to draw the line, though, is a tough one.

I had a friend in the Twelve Step Program who eventually went back on heroin. Meanwhile, I had left the Program and pursued Rational Recovery, becoming, at one point, one of the best in the country at teaching that method (according to RR's founders).

Anyway, I bumped into Gary and he announced that he had found Jesus and was staying clean that way. I'd been there, and spent three years "staying clean for Jesus" -- but never during that time could I tell you how I was staying clean. It was a big mystery, and I admitted as much to anyone who asked (much to the chagrin of my fellow-Christians). Nowadays, I know how to stay off drugs and even know how to accomplish controlled drinking.

When I faced Gary, I had a choice: should I intervene and show him a way that I know works better than the way he was practicing at the time? I took the middle ground and simply mentioned that I had figured out the trick to staying off drugs, and had helped thousands to do just that. I offered to spend some time with him, and he knew how to contact me. He never did.

A little over a year later, I looked him up so I could buy an office chair from him (as that was his business) and discovered that he had died of an overdose almost a year before, leaving a wife, three kids, and Hank the one-nutted wonder pup. Damn! I miss that guy! I still cry when I think about him (I am crying right now). I'm still not sure that intervening (like I could have done) is the best approach, though. Gary made choices and he knew the risks of his behavior.

By the way, this is my "project" that I am sometimes "in between," making time available for other pursuits. My other pursuit is singing, having currently suspended my pursuit of feminine companionship. While this is the worst time of year for the pursuit of companionship, it is the best time to be spending time on Positive Atheism, as many students have some free time to jump into the fray and get some real thinking done.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Grahn, Johan"
Subject: Re: Republican, Democrat... -Or atheist?
Date: Friday, July 14, 2000 2:44 PM

I am not making any claims as to the existence of the supernatural. I lack faith, and am satisfied that the supernatural probably doesn't exist. I live my life according to this view in that I don't pray, consult mediums, or attend faith-healing revivals.

If I were a scientist, I would study phenomenon and try to come up with new things. I would present my findings to the world and let the others try to pick them apart -- if they could.

As a lay philosopher of sorts, I ponder questions and make my views and findings available for discussion. Maybe changes will occur as a result, but I am mainly here for the discussion.

I present the atheistic view from many different perspectives.

I do this primarily for my own edification, as a way to open discussion with others.

Close behind, I would like to see other atheists have some of what I have had, and would like to see them have some things that I never had when I was struggling with some of these issues. It's the least I can to do those who took the time to help me out, and it's the least I can do for those who might eventually go much further than I ever will simply because I was there for them at a crucial time in their lives.

Finally, others (theists) are welcome to watch and to participate, although this is never the purpose of this forum, this website, or this magazine.

This is a tricky one: As a despised minority, it is tough for me to feel open to even mention my views on religion. So, this might color my approach to this somewhat.

What I don't do is attempt to talk people out of their religious views. I do not care what others believe, and I respect that people have their reasons for believing, which they all think are valid reasons. I will answer questions, discuss issues, make the case for atheism, and discuss (debate) various arguments, but I am never trying to convert anyone. If I bump into an evangelist (who is making claims and seeking to change my mind), I will give him or her all I've got. I will tackle any question or problem she or he throws at me. However, I will never approach the evangelist and try to de-convert him or her. Other atheists disagree with my approach, but this is the one I feel most comfortable with; this is the one that I think is the most dignified.

The closest I come to suggesting that a theist give up religion is my challenge to Christians that I will engage in a one-on-one discussion, lasting two years, if necessary, and will convert if they make their case with me. I ask that they be willing to renounce their faith if they don't make their case with me. Many have considered trying to duke it out with me, but no one has taken me on, because it soon becomes evident that we will be discussing claims and that they will have the burden of proof, not me. It will be their job to convince me -- I need only show why this or that is not necessarily true or that there are other more reasonable options to this or that point. Finally, if they cannot make their case, they lose their faith and every social and economic perk that goes along with being a believer or being a member of a clan.

Even at that, I do not seek their conversion, I only seek to show how the "weak" atheistic position works in the real world of Christian evangelism (and this offer, I have found, is a shockingly vivid demonstration). Perhaps if enough people see this, they will change how they treat atheists. The most important way to do this, though, is to help my fellow-atheists to come up with some answers in this area, to popularize these discussions, and to tidy up how we engage in these discussions.

Of course I express my opinion -- all the time! The apartment manager hears from me on various matters, as we hope to keep working toward making this a better place to live. When I go out and sing, I'm often perfectly satisfied with how the place is run, but sometimes I know a better way to do something. When a worker's incompetence (etc.) starts to degrade my experience, I can either: leave it alone; suggest change; leave. And I often make just that progression, first trusting that they will figure it out; later showing that there is a way at least to solve this or that problem; getting out the entertainment guide and finding other places to spend my time and money. The same holds with the apartment and just about every other situation I can find myself in (barring uncontrollable situations like loss of health or freedom).

And yes: I can powerfully impact a theist without actively seeking his or her conversion. To seek their conversion would seem so arrogant on my part.

I will take on, for example, a Creationist on those issues (but not on theism itself, unless they bring it up) and I will take on a Promise Keepers adherent on separationist issues and United States history (but not on theism itself, unless they bring it up). I can and do powerfully advocate for legalized abortion; liberalized drug, sex, and marital laws; stricter penalties for real crimes that actually damage others and many other social issues. But theism is a personal issue, not a social issue. It only comes up when theists wish to impose theocratic rule over me, and I can usually handle these things without having to resort to a discussion over whether a god exists.

Were it not for Christians' tendency to evangelize, I would never find myself involved in a discussion as to whether a god exists -- except in the realm of pondering and wondering, as I do with many who are not out to seek my conversion or who are already agnostic or flat-out atheistic.

The Methadone Program has been somewhat successful in the United States for three decades now. Many are on it for life and will lead long healthy lives as a result. There is a clinic about eight blocks from my home, and I have known many who are on it.

The problem is that it is difficult to monitor whether the patients are abusing it by supplementing their dose with illicit drugs. I am not sure this warrants taking them off the program, because the whole point of the program is to provide an alternative to street drugs, and forcing them to resort to street drugs does not increase the likelihood that they will stop using them (and thus reduce crime, AIDS, etc.).

One celebrated legal case involved a New York bus driver who tested positive for narcotics when the transit authority's drug testing program started. It turns out he had been on methadone for many years and was living a normal life. They took his job anyway, saying that he could not drive while on methadone. Both sides brought out their big-gun medical experts and the court appointed a panel of experts to hear the arguments. It turned out that a person who is physically addicted to narcotics is "normal" when on the narcotics, and the driver got his job back.

I have always supported the methadone program, though it is very controversial both among moralists and among Twelve Steppers and other abstinence-based recovery advocates. Rational Recovery wisely took the middle ground on this one, stating that methadone is a prescription drug: RR urges abstinence from alcohol and illicit drugs.

I currently practice a variation of the moderate drinking approaches that are popular in Europe, and I avoid illicit drugs altogether.

I don't play, but anything along these lines takes practice. I'd approach it by singing without the guitar (karaoke) and pantomiming the rhythm while singing. I suspect this would be easier than starting with the guitar and mouthing the words while playing. Eventually you should be able to consolidage the two actions into one. Then, start with something you can either play or sing in your sleep and perfect it. Folk songs from the 50s and 60s are great for learning to play and sing at the same time.

I love to sing blues and classic rock and a few old-timey songs. I also indulge in a little Sinatra, Bennett, and Darin, as I have their basic vocal range and this stuff is very popular. My latest songs to learn are "Summertime" in the style of Janis Joplin (keyed down one octave) and "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen (keyed down one whole tone). I also do "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, "Beginnings" by Chicago, "The Pusher" by Steppenwolf, "Cry Me A River" in the style of Joe Cocker, and "Tom Traubert's Blues (Waltzing Matilda)" by Tom Waits and probably 200 others. The Waits song was covered by Rod Stewart, and the karaoke is of that version, not Tom's. Rod Stewart keyed the song up six whole tones. If I key it back down four whole tones (since, unlike Rod, I still have all my equipment and can't sing that high!), it fits my vocal range and the music doesn't distort (as it is almost entirely strings). To key it back down six whole tones is impossible in most machines and sounds awful when it is possible.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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