I Always Enjoy
Debates Between 2
Groups Of Dogmatists
Andrew Brusentsev

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Andrew Brusentsev"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Thursday, July 06, 2000 1:02 PM

Please define dogmatist and explain how I fit into that picture. Please also give examples of my dogmatism.

It has always been my goal to avoid dogmatism (as I understand dogmatism), but perhaps my personal understanding of what dogmatism might be could use more rigidity than I tend to give it.

I call my reality tunnel atheism because my reality tunnel fits the description given to that word by the majority of atheistic philosophers who have had the luxury of preventing their writings from being burned by the real inquisition. Many (including Wilson -- at least the last time I spoke with him) disagree with the majority of atheistic writers and philosophers as to who we are and what we think about the various claims for the supernatural, but "atheism" is what we call our viewpoint nonetheless. This is good enough for me.

If Bob Wilson, of all people, chooses to deny a group of people their right to self-identity, so be it. but much as I like him, I don't agree with him on this and one other point he makes: He thinks (or once wrote, anyway) that some building designers place a small physical barrier between each pair of urinals in the men's room to accomodate a psychological fear of some sort, something, I think, to do with penis size and one-upmanship or something of that sort. (Frankly, I don't remember all of it, and am kinda glad I don't, but since I did read it once, the main gist is, alas, with me for life!) Shortly thereafter, I came to a much different conclusion, having more to do with hygiene. These thoughts came to me upon feeling the sting of a tiny wet sensation on the back of my hand as the fellow next to me shook the dribble off the end of his dork after he'd finished peeing.

Sometimes we decide that we have to stop picking nits and get on with the discussion. Thus I state, time and time again, that an atheist, as we define the term here and as most thinking nontheists before us have defined the word, is simply a person who lacks a god-belief for whatever reason. It is this atheism that I am prepared to defend (and abandon if shown wrong), not the straw-man "atheism" denounced by Robert Anton Wilson, the Roman Catholic Church, and the author of the piece you mention.

At the risk of blaspheming your understanding of Wilson's dogmatic stance, there is a difference between imagination and perception. I would venture to guess that Wilson knows this as well as anybody does. I also know, from first-hand experience, that as a form of entertainment, Wilson loves to play with people's heads. In the process of accomplishing his (perhaps warped) sense of having fun, Wilson has become an accomplished expert at using our tendency to confuse imagination with perception, and can often entice an individual into mistaking one for the other.

Also, having read all his books, I have never known Wilson to condemn all of science (as you seem to claim here); Wilson rightly condemns some approaches to science, particularly that of Martin Gardiner and James Randi. While I haven't heard much from Gardiner (is he still alive?), and while Gardiner did later regret some of the "projects" he was involved in, I have come to respect Randi's current approach to debunking faith healers and parlor magicians who claim that their work is not parlor magic. A lie is a lie, but some lies do great harm to the liars' victims. These scoundrels are tricky, and one best enter into their "reality tunnel" if one expects to figure them out. Thus, I can respect both Wilson's and Randi's approachs without fully agreeing with either's definition for the word atheism.

Do you know which book or article he copied or derived this from? Did you write it? If he was just pulling my leg by placing all but the quoted matter at about a third-grade reading level and then doing a piss-poor job at cribbing the rest, it worked on me: our stated policy has always been that you write your own letters when you submit them here.

Meanwhile, how would you expect a "dogmatic" atheist to answer these arguments? How would what George H. Smith calls an "atheistic agnostic" or "weak atheist" (or what Michael Martin calls a "negative atheist") respond to these arguments?

Besides, do you have all day, every day, to sit here and unravel 30 to 100 e-mails point by point? (You do have one advantage over me in that you claim to be a philosophy major, a claim which I have never made for myself.)

Meanwhile, my opinion of his (alleged) tirade stands: The author is arguing against the wrong guy. I am an atheist, which to me means that I lack a god belief. I have yet to encounter a claim for the existence of a god that holds water with me.

The author of this excerpt is arguing against a small minority among atheism. Positive Atheism Magazine accepts this minority as being included within the bigger picture of atheism proper (as we see atheism) but at the same time we condemn this minority's approach (as he describes them) as being just as dogmatic as that of an Evangelical Christian. But then, even most "strong" atheists aren't the flat-out dogmatists that he makes them out to be.

I spelled it just like the author did, as is my habit (for the most part) when I encounter hostility plus pretentiousness on this Forum. I will leave your mistakes in as well: mistakes such as this often reveal a lot about one's claim to having had a formal education.

Crucial to understanding this particular discussion is that such mistakes, when riddled throughout the e-mail title but absent from the body, strongly suggest that the body text has been plagiarized by the person who wrote the e-mail title. One tends to begin noticing such discrepancies after fielding a few dozen hostile e-mails a day over a period of several years.

This is my prerogative as owner of this forum. I pay for most of this out of my meager pension, and I do this primarily for my own personal growth. Anybody who wants to watch is more than welcome to do so. Anybody who wants to participate does so entirely on my terms.

Is Kant God?

(Do you even understand Kant? I don't, and don't know very many who do. Being a man with multiple disabilities, I have only a few hours of productivity per day. Even at that I am much slower than able-bodied people with similar skills and education levels. Detailed study of Kant is a luxury most of us cannot afford.)

Is Bueller God?

What do you perceive to be Bueller's "ism"? If elements of Bueller's outlook were common enough to be summarized by an "ism" (friendly or hostile or otherwise), what would you call it?

Also, would Bueller condemn "anti-isms" and "lack-of-isms" as well as "isms"? Would Bueller condemn someone who uses the convenience offered in conventional language in order to state that he rejects a particular "ism"?

In the case of my atheism, the word means that I am not a theist. Were it not for theism's claim that gods exist, there would be no atheism.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Andrew Brusentsev"
Subject: Re: Thank's for replying back
Date: Thursday, July 06, 2000 9:11 PM

After I served 24 days of a 30-day "hold" for refusing to undergo religious instruction, I got off the fence (and got off my ass) and got busy. True, the moniker atheist is no way to win friends and influence people in a Twelve Step meeting, but the fact that I am an atheist is the truth nonetheless (no matter what Wilson and the Pope think the word atheist means). My atheism even came up in the breakup of my engagement with Pam. Shit!

Yes, this is a reality tunnel, but I don't need to go around wondering if this is all a dream or if I have my head completely lodged in a dark, dank place. I do have senses and they appear to be consistent enough as to be almost somewhat trustworthy. With this, I can get on with the business of living.

It would be difficult for me to do this with my level of education, but I think it could be done.

I rest on two presuppositions: (1) things exist; (2) those things have characteristics which distinguish them from other things.

As long as I were granted these two presuppositions, I could probably make a fair case that there is a difference between imagination and perception.

I like the story (I forgot where I read it: Probably George H. Smith's book) of the student who almost killed himself after he had privately convinced himself of the solipsist viewpoint (if you could call it that!). Later, after he came out of it, he saw another student in the same condition, and feared he might kill himself, if someone didn't intervene quickly. He took the solipsist into the woods and pinned him by the throat to a tree with a pitchfork, and left him there for over a day. The authorities charged him with assault or attempted murder (I don't remember) but he was able to argue that he was saving the guy's life and got off pretty easy.

To me, the distinction is much different: If I were to assert that my version of truth was unassailable, then I would be dogmatic. My willingness to see all opinions (and scientific "laws") as being up for grabs is what prevents me from being dogmatic. This is my current understanding of dogmatism, and is derived in part from Jonathan Rauch's book The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. (This book, by the way, is everything I wished "The New Inquisition" could have been, and more. Unlike Wilson's book, this book is actually useful in the "real world" of day-to-day living, whereas Wilson's book's value is more academic than anything.)

Yes, I think it is possible for someone to be a dogmatic relativist (as you define above). I even think this was what Wilson was doing (tongue in cheek) to all but show the "infinite regress" that is likely if one takes the relativistic position too far.

To understand a crucial (and somewhat unique) element in Wilson's writing style, read his novel The Mask Of The Illuminati (which is not part of any trilogy). In this mystery, he walks around the solution again and again, ever so carefully avoiding it but approaching it time and time again. In some of Wilson's philosophical (or occult) writings, he sits there and, while accusing someone of some philosophical error, commits that very error on purpose, hoping the reader will catch on to what he is doing! This is why I am very careful as to who I will loan a Wilson book to. (I have all but the newest two and have loved him for over two decades. Several times in my life, when things were looking bleak for me, a Wilson novel or book literally fell into my hands and I have come out of the experience with new energy and new hope.

And yes, I wrote several pieces without resorting to the verb to be and found it exquisitely effective in getting my point across.

I read the precursor to "The New Inquisition" aloud on the radio about ten years ago, and I credit this one experience with preventing me from later approaching atheistic activism with the dogmatic arrogance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Jerry Billings (aka PlaneMan) and others. Part of the point of Positive Atheism Magazine is to counter this approach to atheistic activism, and I am already seeing the fruits of this effort after only five years.

Did you see my sparring match with Shermer on the meaning of the word atheism?

I am, nevertheless, still bent about the Reich incident, and still hold it in the forefront of my mind every time I get tempted to "set somebody straight" about anything. Not that I think Reich had much going for him, but that I have felt the long arm of censorship and political correctness more times for one person ought to endure. For this, I tend to let most people make their own mistakes, and I encourage my friends and associates to do likewise in everyday situations.

Thanks for this. If you want to put together a piece on atheism's abuses of the Razor (however it is spelled), I would gladly consider it for publication. Like I said, I am just as willing to take on views within atheism as I am to take on theism. In fact, to take on some elements in atheism is more properly my role here.

Hell, I use only half of Thomas Paine's views on religion, but have found that half to be a wonderful springboard for my own thinking on the subject.

As for claims for the existence of God, all I can tell you is that they are claims: on this we can all agree. Since they are claims, I need for the person making the claim to do two things: (1) describe what is being claimed (and most theists I encounter cannot even do this); (2) make a case that the claim is true, or at least worthy of my consideration. I have found this to be so convenient. The only problem is that many theists and "strong" atheists (of the "There-Is-No-God" variety) and even agnostics tend to mistake me for an agnostic. For this reason, I popularize the traditional definition of atheism as defended in Smith's works, "The Scope of Atheism" and "Defining Atheism." The problems of being misunderstood notwithstanding, this has made my work much easier, if for no other reason than that it is how I have approached it all along.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Andrew Brusentsev"
Subject: Re: Thank's for replying back
Date: Friday, July 07, 2000 4:11 AM

To sentence people to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is routine in America, although several federal courts have ruled that it is illegal for them to do this to us. The Supreme Court has refused to overturn at least one of these rulings. It's the law: they cannot do this, but they do. What's sad about my case was that I had no drug- or alcohol-related charges -- much less convictions. I had become extremely ill, crippled, in fact, and was rendered homeless. The only way to survive that I knew of at the time was to shoplift (as the Rescue Missions were very rough, and with my inability to walk or hear, I had no defense and was beat up several times, so I squatted in the suburbs and fended the best I knew how). I was convicted of shoplifting and sentenced to drug rehab.

I am the same way. The Fundamentalist Christian woman I discussed in my May, 2000, column was later prevented by a bus driver from distributing her literature. I spent several hours on the phone with the bus company mouthpiece, the district attorney, and the American Civil Liberties Union trying to see if we could do something about this travesty of justice. It turns out that nobody can distribute any literature of any kind on busses, and the ACLU made a convincing case to me that this prohibition is just and proper. I tried, though, notwithstanding the fact that I abhor hustlers and I hold nothing but disdain for the brand of Christianity she was pitching.

Yea, Wilson taught me to do this as well. He suggested subscribing to at least one publication which advocates a viewpoint you abhor. I belong to many e-lists, even a couple of white supremacist lists -- as shown in the "Ant and the Contact Lens" letter.

I have been working toward opening atheists up to some of the more reasonable religious points of view, and to the fact that some theists are our greatest allies -- greater than some of the atheistic activists supposedly looking out for our interests.

Part of the untold story in the United States Atheists flap is a rumor that the woman who was the main antagonist in this whole thing was seeking to find an excuse to hold a secret Executive meeting so she could be elected to a powerful office in the group and thus take control of the organization. It turns out that (according to both of my sources) she was elected vice-president during the secret meeting which was held on the auspices of having me thrown out of my position (a meeting which I had been promised would be available to me so that I could present my side of the story -- alas, most theists are not that dishonest).

So, it is not necessarily true that they couldn't handle what I said (though they said that they couldn't handle what they thought I said). This may all have been just a ruse to get rid of me and to justify stealing over $200 from my girlfriend and myself. Nevertheless, it is their official position that they were offended by (what they thought) I wrote.

To this day, I am not on speaking terms with either culprit in this matter, and have very little respect for those who were too timid to speak out against what they knew was a grave injustice. In fact, PAM will have a booth at an atheist convention later this month, and my helper will be instructed in the Miss Manners method of avoiding an exchange with these two (as were my helpers last year).

Either way, we both agree when something is blue, even if what you see as blue is what I see as orange. We still detect the same wavelength and still call it "blue."

Remember that Wilson is countering what he sees as dogmatism, what he sees as jumping to conclusions on either side of the argument. To do this, he points out that it all boils down to viewpoints (and he does this to an extreme -- even to the point of practicing the very dogmatism he criticizes just to see if the reader catches what he is doing).

Once the reader can see that it all boils down to individual perception, then (I would hope) the reader will carry this new perspective into the "real-life" world of day-to-day living (where it is way too cumbersome not to make assumptions about the "real" world) and hopefully become less bigoted. He even claims, at one point, that by practicing what he calls "quantum psychology," it is impossible to be a bigot. Maybe this claim is farfetched, but I think that by eliminating such words as "all" from one's vocabulary it becomes harder to lapse into bigotry, simply because it is harder to generalize without such language. You'll see me point this out a lot in our Forum.

Wilson's main point in many of his pieces and snippets is that the language we use defines how we see things. I am not sure of the chain of causality, here, but he (and Korzybski) have a realistic-sounding point. When I was teaching the Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy of Albert Ellis, which claims that what one believes influences one's emotions which, in turn, influence one's behavior, I tacked the Wilson-Korzybski angle onto the beginning of Ellis's chain: language influences belief; belief influences emotion; emotion influences behavior. Thus, I suggested, perhaps changing our language might help (and in my case, I taught people to recognize and eliminate the defeatist language of addiction "treatment" from their vocabularies).

Now, I'm not currently convinced of the validity of either angle (Ellis's or Wilson and Korzybski's) but at the time I found it very useful in helping people overcome seemingly insurmountable problems by showing them that it was our use of language that made them seem so insurmountable. It made some situations easy to chart out and thus made it easier for the person involved to step back and take a look at what's going on. Also, it gave the person hope (albeit a possibly false hope) that they could change their behavior and thus get out of trouble and remain that way. In this, I suppose, I was not much different from what many theistic leaders teach to their followers. I will admit that I still use the techniques I taught to make life easier for me. I have a whole list of self-defeating terms that I have eliminated from my vocabulary.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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.