Atheism In Europe vs. USA;
Values; Truth; Sects
V.A. Gijsbers

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Gijsbers V.A."
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Tuesday, March 28, 2000 4:19 AM

The United States is viciously religious, and huge organized groups work ceaselessly toward legislating not only their narrow view of Christian morality upon us all, but also to legislate Christian ritual upon everybody. Though not the majority, these groups are very large and hold much sway. In the Presidential election year of 2000, no candidate had a chance who did not publicly proclaim to have had "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

In the past 50 years, the words "IN GOD WE TRUST" have appeared on our money and the words "under God" have been inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. Now the move is to post the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in public schools and public buildings. There is little we can do about all this, mainly because there are so many more important things we must do that we lack the resources to garner enough of a unified voice, and would be spreading ourselves very thin if we spent much energy on it. However, we shouldn't have to lift a finger toward preventing these intrusions, because our Constitution forbids the entanglement of government in religious affairs, and prevents the government from endorsing any religion.

Thousands of millions of public dollars are funneled into religious charities, who then openly evangelize those they help. Then they turn around and boast about all the good things that religion does for the people -- with our tax money! They also work to bring unfair political and economic advantage to religious individuals and groups, even to the point of rendering legal for a religious person what remains illegal for a nonreligious person.

I have been jailed for refusing to participate in the patently religious Twelve Step program (and I didn't even have any drug or alcohol related charges). In public school, I remember being disciplined when they discovered that I remained silent during the (by then illegal) morning prayer. Later I was disciplined again for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A few years ago, when I testified before the Grand Jury (against a car thief), there was no way for me to affirm (rather than take the standard "God" oath) without attracting attention to myself. The District Attorney followed procedure by announcing that I would affirm rather than take the oath, and that this was due to my views on religion. (Fortunately, when I started speaking, a wink and a warm grin caught my eye: it was a man I had known during my court-enforced participation in the Twelve Step movement, who had watched me struggle relentlessly for what little dignity an out-of-the-closet atheist can earn in such a community. His facial expression and body language spoke clearly of his respect for me, probably because I was being true to how I see things -- even while testifying before the Grand Jury!)

While working for "WordPerfect Magazine," my position was phased out shortly after I came out of the closet with my atheism (although my work was amply superior to my Mormon co-worker who remained on the job in this predominantly Mormon company). I was also given a very tough time by the workers at a bar where I hang out, and the owner asked us not to fold, label, and stamp "Positive Atheism" in his bar (though others do similar tasks at the same bar while waiting for our turn to play or sing, and we've had no problems doing this at other bars).

This goes on and on, and the little things add up.

Three years ago, when that same bar was dominated by atheists and Satanists (atheists who wear black clothing, have a dark aesthetic, practice self-indulgence, and like to scare the daylights out of Christians), nobody slandered me for my views. Today, now that the bar is dominated and run by some deeply religious people, I have been treated in a condescending manner so often that I eventually started going elsewhere. Perhaps this exemplifies the difference between what it's like to live in a country where 40 percent of the people are openly atheistic, and a country where most of the atheists (10 percent of Americans) find that life is much easier when we remain silent about their views.

Also, it was one thing when I was young and in school. It's another thing entirely now that I am self-supporting, now that one bigot with more power than I can make a decision that will send me looking for work or will cut me off from long-standing social opportunities.

Unfortunately, many atheists in America would think nothing of treating theists the same way we get treated, were the tables turned. I still receive many letters (and even newsletters) with articles containing the pejorative "xian" in lieu of the word "Christian." During a recent discussion of my objections to this term, members of one list gleefully proclaimed: "the less I see of that C-word the better I feel." More than one saw me as "disgruntled" or a "curmudgeon" (an ill-tempered person). All I did was explain why I thought the public use of this term was a form of baiting, was disrespectful, and was harming our own cause. When the publisher disagreed, I humbly signed off the list.

If I am to demand dignity for myself, I must be willing to grant it to others. This is why my fiercest criticism is reserved for atheists, rather than theists. "Positive Atheism," as we use the term, is a proactive ethic involving self-consistency, a respect for truthfulness, and the promotion of fairness. I cannot discuss bigotry against atheists and omit mentioning bigotry perpetrated by atheists.

I hope you read some more of my editorial columns and continue to comment on them (and also to comment on what I have written here). I take all ideas into consideration when writing for "Positive Atheism" Magazine. It is only through discussion and hard work that we will make some headway and (perhaps) approach the situation that I hear exists in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Gijsbers, V.A."
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2000 5:14 AM

Among America's scientists, biologists are the least religious, with about five percent claiming to believe in a personal God. The rest who are theists at all say they believe in something akin to Spinoza's god -- which, to me, is practically indistinguishable from atheism. It is the mathematicians who are the most religious among America's scientists. Among members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, religious faith drops dramatically.

Fortunately, those who are the most fundamentalistic among America's religious are the elderly and the poor. African Americans also tend to be quite religious, but their religion means something much different to them than it does to whites. African Americans tend not to be seriously fundamentalistic, but rather, the church serves the role of a social anchor for many. The group with the lowest rate of fundamentalism (and the highest rate of atheism) is the under-30 crowd. This is a good thing, and gives me much hope for the future.

Unfortunately, it is the fundamentalistic Christians who are the easiest to whip into a political frenzy and the easiest to get to the polls. Thus, if you want to make something happen, find a Scripture to support it, claim that you're on God's side, and you will have large chunks of the electorate following you. The whole system reminds me of a circus side-show.

This is the best summary of my position I have seen. I would like to use it as the quote on our front page.

Victor Stenger makes a good case that the tendency toward credulity has been (un)naturally selected into our species over the past ten thousand years. (See attached.) By systematically persecuting the thinkers and rewarding the followers, humanity has push into the background any genetic tendencies toward inquiry. Since the dominant religion can no longer burn us at the stake or confiscate our children and our estates, we are free to pursue what we see to be the truth. Since the tendency toward credulity is so strong, we will naturally see many people choosing to "believe" in something. With America's free market of ideas (and it's glut of advertising), there are lots of those "somethings" out there to grab your attention.

Stenger says that the tendency toward credulity no longer serves a survival function, and I expect it to slowly move into the background (but never go away). While Europe has the Inquisition (and other catastrophes spurned by loyalism) still fresh in its cultural memory, I can see why Europe would outgrow the tendency toward credulity faster than America. >From the time of the Revolution to the time of the Cold War, we had about a 150-year break from loyalism. It was during the Cold War that religion and loyalism gained its strongest foothold in America (although the times preceding the Prohibition, when alcohol was banned nationwide, marked a high point in religion's power, it was still minor compared to the Cold War). Today, more people are more religious even than during the Cold War, but the hysteria is not as fierce as it was when the morphine-addicted Sen. Joseph McCarthy issued his reign of terror upon our nation's finest thinkers.

What I think will happen is that this last generation of fundamentalists will die off and there will be very few younger fundamentalists to take their place. The New Age movement doesn't bother me, because it is so scattered and eclectic that it could never unify into a dangerously large group. Even if it did, it would probably serve only to counter the block of Evangelical Christians, but it will never unify because it is simply too eclectic.

This is the most crucial of questions.

Thomas Paine said that if I want Liberty of my own opinion, I must be ready to grant the Liberty of opinion especially to those with whom I disagree the most.

But who are we, as atheists, to determine that non-theism (and non-theists) have a monopoly on truth? This is no different from what the Christians do when they insist that only religious people are qualified to teach children.

What is better? The methods of liberal scientific inquiry. This basically says that everybody is entitled to their opinion, but nobody is entitled to have their opinion respected unless they are willing to submit their opinion to fierce public scrutiny, and to abide by the results of that scrutiny. This one thing, says Stenger, is what makes America's graduate schools among the best in the world. He fears that it is being squashed out of the undergraduate schools and has virtually disappeared from the high schools, but it is still very strong in our graduate schools.

I have, for much of my adult life, practiced a form of liberal scientific inquiry in my personal life. I am constantly asking others what they think of this or that idea that I have. I am not satisfied with an idea unless someone else has had the opportunity to try to find its weak points. I could only wish that young people were taught this very simple value, at a young age and on a very wide scale.

Others who know me tend to think that my atheism is a very important part of my philosophy -- simply because I edit an atheistic magazine -- but really is it not. My atheism is a very minor part of my outlook because theism has never meant very much to me (except during the two or three years that I experimented with Christianity). Of course, to a theist, my atheism is obvious; but to me, it is not. I am a person and occasionally people approach me and try to persuade me to believe this or that god claim. It is then, and only then, that I am an atheist. All the other times, I am simply a person (who, by the way, happens to lack a god belief).

Of course, I make many decisions as an atheist that I would make differently were I a theist. But those decisions are based upon my entire outlook, not upon my atheism. I would like to test and perhaps develop this concept. Perhaps you would care to try to pick some holes in it.

The Evangelical Christians vehemently oppose any government social services. It makes me suspect that what they want is for the churches to control all social services. I can think of many possible motives for this, including gaining (false) credibility for the churches and allowing them opportunities to spread their message to a captive audience of impaired people. The Twelve Step movement has been wildly successful at doing just this in America. I heard that the Twelve Step model of disease and abstinence is still pretty much of a laugher in most of Europe.

To the "real" Satanists, "Satan" is a metaphor and not a real entity. Anybody who insisted that "Satan" is a real entity would likely be called an imposter by this and similar groups. I know many Satanists, and have had friends throughout my life who have been Satanists, and they are indistinguishable from atheists once you realize that much of what they say about "Satan" is a metaphor. When a Satanist says, "Hail Satan!" he or she is really saying, "Hail Me!" I wrote an editorial about this called "Ethics and the Aesthetic of Satan."

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Gijsbers, V.A."
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Thursday, March 30, 2000 2:10 AM

I think the issue is not "What is truth?" but rather who is qualified to arbitrate what we will call truth. Mine is a trick question because I think nobody and everybody is qualified to arbitrate what we call truth. In this sense nobody is special and everybody is allowed to participate in the process.

The process is this: I, like all humans, am entitled to my opinion. However, I am not entitled to have my opinion respected by others unless I am willing to submit to certain game rules. First, I must be willing to subject my opinion to public scrutiny -- in fact, I do well to welcome this scrutiny, to invite it. Secondly, I must be willing to abide by the results of this scrutiny. In other words, if someone can show that I am wrong, I must be willing to abandon my opinion and, at minimum, keep looking for answers. After all, this is the quest for truth: in such a quest I would hope that we would happily abandon a claim were it shown to be false. As you said in an earlier letter, "Obviously, if anyone could PROVE God I would than stop being an atheist, but I still would not 'believe'."

With this process, no person or group is more or less qualified than any other to say "This is true and that is false" (that is, nobody who is playing by these rules). We don't need (or want) any "Truth Police" because the process itself polices our quest for truth and prevents us from making very many grave errors.

Also, we then term our statements similar to: "This is what the current understanding of Physics (or whatever) thinks is the case, but this understanding might be overthrown by some future discovery." I am very fond of saying, "This is how I see things, for now, with my current level of understanding." I learned a lot when I conducted Korzybski's experiment by writing several essays without resorting to any form of the verb "to be." I did not allow myself to say that something "is" thus and so, but had to form my statements as personal observations, instead. Several statements that I had wanted to make had to be jettisoned entirely, because they could not be stated as observations: they turned out to be nothing more than presumptions on my part.

I question whether it matters what individuals believe about souls and the like. It certainly is not my responsibility to straighten them out, and I question whether (in terms of dignity) I have the right to even try. But what people think is not important to me. As Jefferson said, " does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

The important things are what people do. Most of the damage that humankind has done to itself has been through ignorance and through loyalistic clannishness and tribal totem thinking (such as what prevails in America during a Presidential election year, and what always occurs in fundamentalistic religions).

What is happening in America is frightening: the Evangelical Christians are circulating phony "quotations" allegedly from our Founding Fathers, which would lead the unwary reader or listener to believe that they founded this nation upon biblical principles.

I read a variation of one of these quotations in the letters section of the newspaper just this month (March). Eventually, when this lie is repeated enough times, it could topple the First Amendment's power in America and could turn this nation into a Christian nation.

No. We agree to abandon our opinions only if they are proven to be untrue.

No. Because we say that we seek truth, we openly invite others to scrutinize our opinions. If truth is what we want, then we go wherever truth leads. Since our abilities to perceive and reason are very limited, we do well to let others examine our work to see if we are missing something or are entirely off base.

I hope I introduced a little more clarity in the first section above.

Here is where an understanding of atheism come into play. To me, atheism is the default. We are born without beliefs, and we only acquire them through learning them (usually at a very young age). Were it not for the evangelists and preachers, we all would be atheists. So, I consider myself normal, lacking a god belief; faith, to me, is something that has been added to the human experience.

You are right in saying that should I come to a belief in the supernatural, that my outlook would change drastically. However, this would first require that I hear a god claim and afterwards that I believe the claim.

However, the fact that some people believe in the supernatural does not influence me one whit. It rarely enters my consciousness (and only because of Christianity's intrusive nature) and it rightly should never enter my thinking at all.

What's left is me, the human, doing the best that I can with what little I have.

If I were a theist, you could say that my theism powerfully influences my outlook and my world view. I'm not convinced that it works both ways. I don't think my lack of theism changes me from my normal state, which, to me, for a human, is the lack of theism. The normal state is the lack of this additional belief which is not self-evident, which is never discovered through investigation, and which does not come naturally, but must be learned.

Now, were I speaking from the point of view of a theist, I would be tempted to say that an atheist's atheism profoundly affects his or her outlook. I might be persuaded of this were I not a theist but simply conditioned by a society in which vestigial forms of primitive theistic thinking still prevail. (This would certainly be the case if someone were to have been condition toward theism from a very young age, and to have abandoned that viewpoint as an adult. Such is not the case with me, because I was raised an atheist.)

What I am trying to show is that theism is learned -- added to the human experience -- and is not innately a part of humanity. Thus, it is theism which affects one's outlook, not atheism. This is not unlike telling a young man that remaining single would drastically affect his outlook. I don't think this is the case: for him to marry would drastically change him; to remain single would not introduce these changes. In the same sense, accepting a belief in the supernatural changes people from what they would have been had they continued life without accepting those beliefs.

Crucial to this argument is the fact that the claims for the supernatural (and for the existence of gods) have never been demonstrated in a forum which practices the liberal scientific method. Theists do not encourage skeptics to try to prove them wrong. On the contrary, we are always told that certain claims must be taken "on faith" precisely because they cannot be proven.

Theistic claims are just that: claims, and nothing more than claims.

Alcoholics Anonymous began as the side-ministry of an extremely fundamentalistic sect of Christianity known as the Oxford Group Movement, later renamed to Moral Rearmament. AA left the Oxford movement shortly after the beginning of W.W.II, because it's leader, Frank Buchmann, had earlier sang the praises one Adolph Hitler.

AA teaches that "alcoholics" have a disease, and are powerless to change their drinking habits. Thus, says AA, only the aid of a benevolent rescuing deity can help. AA has been determined by several U.S. Federal courts to be "unequivocally religious" when it comes to the First Amendment definition of "religion." Nevertheless, America's addiction treatment industry is completely dominated by this movement: one cannot find work in this field unless he or she is a member of a Twelve Step group (such as AA) and adheres to (and teaches) its defeatist doctrines.

It is called the Twelve Step movement because its principle doctrine is the Twelve Steps -- six of which make a direct reference to a deity ("God" or "Him") and a seventh which makes an implied reference to spirituality and a "Higher Power."

Because the courts still routinely sentence people to attend AA meetings (which almost always end in a group recitation of the Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer), I have proclaimed that AA is America's State Religion. I am not the only one who feels this way, and in the past ten years, several groups have become popular which counter the Twelve Step dogma to varying extents. The group I became involved with, Rational Recovery, is the only one to dispense with the entire AA philosophy, advocating self-recovery. On January 1, 2000, RR announced the dissolution of its recovery group, thereby putting its money where its mouth is. I was instrumental in introducing the idea to RR's leadership that to hold recovery meetings was hypocritical, considering that the only message we had at that point was that you are better off solving your own problems.

This is a term that the born-again Christians themselves use to indicate that they have had a life-changing religious experience which they attribute to Jesus Christ. The term comes from the alleged conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

Since the Jesus character in this story was deliberately obscuring and mystifying his message, I will not venture to guess what it means. Those who claim to know what it means claim more than is revealed in this passage. Perhaps this is where faith comes in: they tell me that it picks up where reason leaves off. As feeble as human reason may be, I fear that it is all we have to work with when trying to discover truth.

Satanism admittedly puts on the cloak of religion, and does its thing in a blatantly religious motif. However, its core philosophy is flat-out atheism and the supremacy of the individual human.

I don't know where you got the part about all paths being equal; this doesn't sound like something Anton Szandor LaVey would have said (but perhaps he did -- he was, after all, a carnival huckster at one point). I would expect to hear something along the lines that all people are fully competent to make their own life decisions. That is the Satanism I have known all these years.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Gijsbers, V.A."
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: Tuesday, June 06, 2000 2:30 PM

This is a long story:

Christianity claims that it began from a single source, Jesus Christ, that it grew and spread to the Greek world, and that it then became corrupted by heresy. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Mt. 13:24-30) describes this position and is often used to defend it. In it, a farmer sows wheat in his field, and an enemy sows tares (weeds that resemble wheat) in an attempt to sabotage the farmer's crop. The wheat represents the true doctrine (or the body of true believers) and the tares represents the false doctrine (or the false believers).

I think the picture would best be described by telling of a farmer who planted a flower garden with hundreds of beautiful flowers, but one of them, a vine, grew to such proportions as to choke and kill all competing plants. The hundreds of flowers are various ancient religions from which so-called orthodox Christianity eventually derived its "history" and its body of doctrine. Eventually, the church of Constantine became the state church, and its version of history was put into place, while all competing sects and versions of history were suppressed.

In either case, the verifiably original Church (of Constantine; what we now know as Roman Catholicism) reigned, but not without dissent. Since the Catholic Church's body of doctrine cannot be reconciled into a unified picture (there are way too many internal and external discrepancies to do this), you can expect individuals and groups to branch off. Eastern Orthodox is one branch which has survived and could predate the Catholic Church.

Protestantism opened the door for independent sects to form, and within Protestantism, this is perfectly legitimate. Luther had a following (Lutherans) and Calvin had a following (Presbyterian and Reformed).

Later, Smyth and Helwys founded the Baptist church, which signaled several major doctrinal breaks from Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist thinking in the Baptist views against infant baptism (one is responsible for one's own salvation) and its views against the notion of a State Church. Baptists were seen by the others as heretics.

After this, the Wesley brothers formed a student group on the campus of Oxford. Methodism challenged the Calvinistic notion of predestination, and taught that humans can and do reach out to God of their own accord. (Calvinists teach that mankind is so depraved as to be incapable of even seeing God, and thus needs for God to enlighten those whom He has foreordained from the foundation of the earth.) This message took hold, and is very popular among most of the other sects -- although it is tough to justify this position using only the Bible. One must resort to human reason in order to make the case for this Wesleyan doctrine (which, by the way, predates Wesley but never became popular until Wesley).

Still, most of these sects are today seen by the others as legitimate sects of Christianity. Though the Catholic Church officially condemns Protestantism, and though many sects of Protestantism see Catholicism as a form of idolatry (the image worship, and such), most rank-and-file members now accept members of other sects as bona fide Christians. This has not always been the case, and as each new sect emerged, it was seen by others as heretical. Of course! Each had a major beef with the other, otherwise they wouldn't have branched off! The truth is that each can make a solid case for its own position and against the others' positions. The Bible and other resources, as I have said, are very inconsistent, and it is easy to make a case for or against almost any position if one uses the Bible. The Evangelicals (biblical fundamentalist) set themselves up for having the most problems when it comes to determining truth, as the Bible is very, very self-inconsistent.

Some sects (particularly several American sects) branched off and, to this day, are seen by the others as heretical. Smith allegedly received a revelation from an angel, and his supposed revelation is now the main scripture for Mormonism. Mormonism is such a far cry from the other sects that it barely resembles them under close examination. Mormonism teaches that all other sects are heretical, that they are the chosen few. Russell founded what is now the Jehovah's Witnesses, and they deny the divinity of Christ -- a doctrine which the mainstream Christians usually deem crucial to salvation. The Jehovah's Witnesses likewise teach that all other sects are heretical, that they are the chosen few. Eddy founded Christian Science, which is such a far cry from the traditional understanding that it is recognizable only by its use of the name Christian.

Other controversial sects include: the Seventh-Day Adventists (Miller; later, Bates and White); the World Wide Church of God (Armstrong); the Pentecostal movements (Tomlinson and others); the Unity School of Christianity (the Fillmores); the Unification Church (Moon); Calvary Chapel (Smith) and countless others. Even within the various sects, factions arise. There are, for example, hundreds of different sects of Mormonism -- which itself claims to be the one true church!

Most started by someone rebelling against a larger group, some began with specific spontaneous "revelations," and many had combinations of both. Common to all is that one group disagrees with the others on some doctrinal point so viciously as to find it necessary to leave that group -- otherwise, the members in question would have remained happy members.

In all these cases (when one uses Constantine's Catholic Church as the starting point), the Parable of the Wheat and Tares appears to hold true: all these others deviate from Catholicism (which is circular reasoning any way you look at it!).

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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