Marriage Plans Trashed By
Bigotry And Group-Think
[name withheld]

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: via What is Positive Atheism?
Date: Sunday, May 21, 2000 11:30 AM

1. Atheists have one thing in common: the lack of a belief in a god or gods.

2. Either one has a god belief (is a theist) or one lacks a god belief (is an atheist). Agnosticism also splits into these two binary categories: either one believes there exists a god but that we can know no more than this (has a god belief, however vague, and is thus a theistic agnostic) or one does not know if there is a god (lacks a god belief and is thus an atheistic agnostic).

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: via What is Positive Atheism?
Date: Sunday, May 21, 2000 2:10 PM

Believers tend to think that faith takes over where reason leaves off. Atheists think it is dishonest to go further than reason. As feeble a light as reason is, it's all we've got.

Fortunately, most theists do not resort to faith when it comes to important matters such as medical care, but will accomplish all that can be done with medicine while praying on the side or when medicine can provide no further hope. The bottom line is that most (but not all) theists resort to faith only in matters of religion -- a realm where atheists do not tread. In all other matters (including almost all the important matters) most theists and atheists agree on the basics and differ only in the details.

Unfortunately, many theists and atheists alike are trained to think loyalistically in matters of religion, as if these things make much difference in day-to-day living. We differ mostly in matters that don't really matter, but are killed because parties on one side or the other are whipped into a loyalistic frenzy.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To:
Subject: Re: via What is Positive Atheism?
Date: Sunday, May 21, 2000 9:42 PM

As to bigotry, I am prepared to be more direct this time: Bigotry is often a result of tribal loyalism. Many theists have an excuse for being bigoted toward atheists (and toward other theists): their religious dogma demands that they treat people according to whether they are members of the tribe.

Atheists do not have this luxury. We have no dogma and thus have no valid reason for being anything but baffled over the fact that some people believe things which we see as unverifiable (at best) or outright false (at worst). Since atheists should be able to see that we humans are all in the same boat, one would expect compassion; however, this is not always the case.

True, many atheists remember the past injustices done to us by theists, and many others reel under the weight of current injustices. This is still no excuse for hatred. It is one thing to defend one's atheism against the attacks of theistic evangelists or even to struggle for freedom and dignity; it is another altogether to go out and do what you describe.

Before I am accused of being unfair, let me say that we are placed in a sticky situation. All around us, theists insist that we are inferior or evil because we do not share the theistic delusion. Many want to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us. We endure this day after day and it is hard not to "stoop to their level," so to speak (as if this were a fair way to put it -- which it is not), by acting toward them the way many of them act toward us.

Another problem is posed when people's superstition adversely impacts their quality of life or that of the community. In America, this is most readily seen when parents refuse, on religious grounds, to provide adequate medical care for their children. In India and America, charlatans abound and take money from the gullible. Do we take a stand and intervene for the children? I think so! Do we try to spread the word that superstition is not what it's cracked up to be? I would hope so.

Your question seems to regard what happens when we activists do our work in a manner that makes us appear bigoted (or worse, in a manner that is bigoted). While most independent atheists can easily defend their position without lapsing into an "us or them" mentality, joining an atheistic group tends to lend to the same fervor that drives all tribal loyalism. I see it again and again, and it is the main reason I felt so uncomfortable when I was a member of United States Atheists: this mentality abounded while I was there, and still does today (if their most recent newsletter is any indication). It's almost as if the theism vs. atheism question has, in these organized atheists' minds, been elevated to a level of importance as that parallels the more crucial life-and-death struggles we all face. I say no: the question of the existence of a god question is not and has never been that important.

To address your question about which is the norm, I would say that joining a group makes it much easier to fall into the trap of bigotry than remaining independent. I cannot tell you which is the norm, I can only tell you that Positive Atheism Magazine's purpose is (among other things) to promote dialogue and ending bigotry from both sides -- starting in our own camp, by trying to end it within organized atheism. Positive Atheism also exists specifically to support those who choose to practice atheistic activism but not become part of a group.

I would urge you first to determine if the behavior you observed is flat-out bigotry or if it merely appears this way. Then I would suggest promoting the notion of exploring ways we can accomplish the responsibilities of atheistic activists without practicing bigotry -- and ultimately, without even appearing bigoted.

The best book I have read on bigotry is called The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought by Jonathan Rauch. I discussed some of Ruach's ideas in my piece "Atheism and Fundamentalism" and hope to spend much more time discussing this subject in the future.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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