Positive Atheism Forum
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Humor and Bigotry:
A Fine Line?

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What Readers Think
We only sent the first letter out to the list:
nobody on the list knew that the student later
admitted he thought the professor was making a
comment on the state of bigotry, not being a bigot.

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, October 20, 1999 7:29 PM

I read the joke sent to you by the student. Sadly, it is not all that far from the truth. Atheists are a maligned minority in this country.

As a fairly new atheist, I am constantly aware of how my admitting to being an atheist affects how I am perceived by another person-even someone who has known me for a long time. The response is rarely positive. It is almost enough to make me go back in the closet. Of course, I live in the bible belt where you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a church of some sort; therefore, my experience may be a little harsher than that of others. Down here even if you don't regularly go to church, you are still expected to profess some sort of belief in god and are shunned by some people if you don't hold to such beliefs. It is seen as normal to post prayers on the company message board and to ask new employees where he or she goes to church.

It may be easier to hide the fact that you are an atheist, but that is no way to change people's perceptions and show them that atheists are not evil people just waiting to take over the world and enslave everyone.

R. Cassidy

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From: "Stephen A. Lonsdale"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Wednesday, October 20, 1999 10:48 PM

Hey Cliff, don't let these jerks get you down! As soon as they resort to threats of violence you know you have won the argument -- there is no god!! In the meantime if you want a bodyguard I am your man -- pro bono!! I send you my web page URL to serve as resumé. Keep up the good work!!

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From: "Christi"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Wednesday, October 20, 1999 11:17 PM

I thought the joke was funny in a dark way. It put in fewest words how atheists are regarded here in the U.S. I wasn't offended by it personally. I think the religious folk are the ones being pointed out as bigots and are the ones who should be offended.

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From: "Deb"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Thursday, October 21, 1999 11:16 AM

Cliff,

I know I don't write in alot or respond to your email when I should, but I have to tell you my opinions and I know a few people that have the same feelings.

People are like sheep -- they follow, no matter what the reasons may be -- as in religion. They have this inner feeling they are not included unless they follow the pack. The only way for these people to feel important in their own right, is to use religion. They think it makes them feel powerful. I think it stems from childhood because most of all of us didn't fit into the "crowd." No one tells us what to do. But there is always religion -- a 'gang' of do-right people -- thinking they will save us all!!!

Most people are scared to voice their opinions because of ridicule. Personally I totally agree with Jesse Ventura -- they are small-minded people and personally I don't think much of people who push their religious views on others -- and to the point of taking someone's life! We are human beings and not human killings.

Don't try to save my soul, try to save lives instead. Put all your energy towards something more productive, because there will always be people just like me, who question. If not we would still be in caves!!!

Personally I like being an independent adult woman in this century. No one can distort or corrupt my views, and they never will take that away from me!

No matter the threat! I will not be pushed back to yesteryear.

Sincerely,

Debbie

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From: "Kevin Courcey"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Thursday, October 21, 1999 11:18 AM

Cliff,

It seems obvious to me that the teacher involved is saying, "All these people and scientists calling themselves deists were atheists. There is no difference between a deist and an atheist except that at the time, one was more socially acceptable than the other." I believe he was acknowledging the atheists' contribution, not belittling them.

Kevin

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: ambiguity
Date: Thursday, October 21, 1999 2:29 PM

Dear editor:

It depends. If it was simply a statement of fact unassociated with a hostile sentiment toward atheists, it was not bigoted. If the person who made the remark was hostile to atheists, then it was bigoted.

However, I think there are atheists who are invited to dinner. The host may be indifferent to the demand of an exclusionary event or privately hostile to the atheism of the guest, but with a practical motive for his social amiability. Aren't there cases where there are atheists and theists in the same family without a breach of familial harmony?

Religion is a service industry, and a commercial enterprise providing sustaining illusions to those who need them. While I would not accuse all religious functionaries of insincerely, it is an instrument of control and offers opportunities for control freaks. I'd better stop or I'll encourage belief in immortality by appearing to continue forever.

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From: "Bruce Gowens"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Thursday, October 21, 1999 8:08 PM

It seems to me that the teacher was making a positive point. That many atheists had to call themselves deists in order to be accepted or even to survive. Instead of being a bigoted remark against atheism, it was a correct assessment of the social condition of the age of reason.

It is possible to be both an atheist and to have too thin a skin (or be too defensive).

Now that it is possible to publicly be an atheist without being burned at the stake, I think the record should be set straight: The deist founders of the US were really atheists, and this is an atheist country! (That statement ought to set some teeth on edge.)

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From:
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Saturday, October 23, 1999 6:45 AM

May I draw your attention to Pyrrho, who existed well before astrology was proved to be BS, evolution was specified, and ideas of equal rights existed.

Of course, Greco-Roman mythology is very unique in that they can be applied as a secular fable. Not like Judeo-Christian mythology, which is total BS (seeking knowledge and enlightenment gets you kicked out of Eden, for example).

But either way, Plato expressed very clearly his views on atheists, that any of them who preach their ideas should be killed, because religion is vital to a society.

But either way, Plato expressed very clearly his views on atheists, that any of them who preach their ideas should be killed, because religion is vital to a society.

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From: "Monica A. Harris"
To: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: Question: Humor and Bigotry: A Fine Line?
Date: Friday, October 22, 1999 3:14 PM

Dear e-base,

I am forwarding this personal correspondence to you because it includes the work of my dear, dear friend, Cliff Walker, the publisher of Positive Atheism magazine. Now, if any of you are interested, you will have direct access to what I consider one of the only worthwhile sources of genuine knowledge and controversy on the www. (Other than the sex sites, obviously!)

Monica A. Harris
a.k.a. blue

Cliff,

I loved this! You are a brilliant man, Cliff Walker, and a gifted writer -- the two qualities that most impress me in anyone. Not that you are trying to impress anyone -- clearly, you are only trying to educate, and perhaps, inspire others to think for themselves!!!

I have pneumonia today, an unfortunate result of having destroyed the filia in my lungs when I was a very young workaholic creating a new line of fashions from my sub-zero studio in Bar Harbor, Maine. When other folks get a flu, I get pneumonia. Anyway -- I had a presentation scheduled at 8 a.m. this morning for the close of a job to provide the full-color graphics for a fleet of 30 commercial trucks, followed by the delivery of a marketing plan to launch a new high-tech broadcast production studio. And since I am now a workaholic with some grey curls amongst the black, of course I had to make the appointments!!!

On my way home I stopped at the market to buy some chullah bread & sweet butter. While putting my groceries into the car, a Black woman jumped out of the car beside me.

"I didn't mean to startle you," she said, shoving a "Watchtower" issue towards me, "but..."

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I am a zen Buddhist."

Sensing a potential victim who had not as yet been saved, she began: "For how long?"

"Thirty years," I told her. "And through the many challenges and crises of my life, zen has been an inspiration to me and a source of insight. But I do occasionally go to a Black church, the Apostolic Church of Brotherly Love in Pompano. They are straight out of Africa there, with bones still in their noses, and they play the tambourine and draw clothes hangers over washboards and pour olive oil on your head and lay on hands to drive out demons. It is very, very sexy!"

She was silent for a moment, which, for a Jehovah's Witness is a long time. Then she broke into her rap about the difference between the JW's and regular old Christians.

"Well," I told her, "I love the music at Church, but I don't subscribe to a belief in God."

"But then, how do you believe we all got here?" She asked me.

"I don't believe in anything," I answered, "I think we just grew."

After a few more minutes of banter, she subsided, the way a man does at a bar when he knows that no matter how good his rap is, he's not getting lucky with this one. I shook her hand, told her she looked hot for her age, and left her standing there with Watchtower still wringing in her hands.

It occurred to me then that I have never felt a need to convert anyone to any way of thinking that I happen to hold near and dear at any moment of time. And it occurs to me now that I have never, ever, in any of your writings been struck by the conversion urge. You simply speak your truth, quietly & clearly, just as the Desiderata advises, and also give others the platform to speak theirs- whether in agreement or adamantly averse. If I were a Christian, I would suggest that you were a holy man for this!

Oh, and that Black church that I told my JW person about. I can't go there anymore because the Pastor Emma Jean Green Brown, who was my dearest friend in this whole wicked (synonym for atheist) world, had the audacity to die on me a year ago September. I wrote a story that included her, dedicated it to her, and read it to her at a waterfront luncheon before she died. It is called "The Little Church by the Sea." It will be the very first film that I produce, done all in sepia, along with the illustrated book. All the monies ever generated from this work will be used for children's advocacy.

You already know that I love you but I insist on reminding you and so, I always will.

blue

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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.