Fellow Traveller

Samuel Johnston

From: Samuel Johnston
To: Cliff Walker
Subject: fellow traveller
Date: Sunday, June 01, 1997 9:37 PM

I have really enjoyed this website. The Church and State issues are important but “An Atheist With Gandhi” is a welcome piece of thought provocation. Precisely because I continue to think and consider, I cannot say in good conscience that I am an atheist (or a not atheist). I am an abstention-ist. “Gandhiji found that though Gora loved to call himself an atheist, he was a sincere and serious-minded man.” Kant said that the only thing that should be correctly called good — is good will. I am one with you on the matters of Church and State and with your disgust with Christianity. Would I be an acceptable member or shall I just continue to enjoy “Defending the Pope” for free?

   

I am glad you found “An Atheist with Gandhi.” I typed that piece by hand from a photocopy of the book, and had the waitress at the “India Grill” restaurant check the spelling of my original-language graphcs. A very tedious project, this was indeed a “labor of love.”

I later sought and received permission to begin placing Gora’s material online. Lavanam sent me a foot-tall stack of printed material, and I purchased a small scanner and some OCR software.

An atheist, in the general sense, is someone who lacks a god-belief; it is not necessarily someone who has consciously rejected theism on philosophical grounds, although those are the atheists who would normally join an organization.

Do you have a god-belief? If you are not a theist, you are an atheist — even if you lack a god-belief because you are an agnostic or an infant or an imbecile.

   

The follow-up conversations to this exchange were discovered in a folder of saved e-mail in August, 2000, and were added at that time.

   

June 02, 1997

Thank you for your prompt reply. I understand that you have an political organization to run and likely do not have time for protracted discussions with every correspondent. Do you know of a forum where such subjects are freely discussed? I am dying for company out here in Alabama. I am grateful to find a person with any intelligent, informed opinion.

Under your definition I suppose I qualify as “agnostic or an infant or an imbecile”, although I prefer ‘infidel’. My philosophy teacher said that the term “god” was an “empty sausage bag” which the individual filled with his own content. Belief is the term that gives me the most trouble.

Christianity is about allegiance, not about understanding. I have no problem with the seer described by Mashruwala. “The seer should say simply, ‘I feel the presence of Something, which I am unable to comprehend and express. I have given the name God to it. I feel that I am inisolable from It. But I can say nothing more about It.’” Personally at times I too feel the presence of Something, which I am unable to comprehend and express. At other times I do not. It is dogmatic thinking that I reject. That is why I like your term, Critical Thinker.

“Even after declaring that God is beyond human comprehension, Gandhiji, too, settled down first to the comprehensible iti (limited) idea, ‘God is Truth’. Later, he converted this proposition into ‘Truth is God’ and regarded that as a better or more correct form of expression.” Is not the basis of your organization’s (political) complaint that the god men impose their will on others thereby showing contempt for the free choice of each individual? “Atheism is a reaction against this. But it, too, is a similar process from the opposite. It also develops into one or more labeled sects, as good or as bad as any of the former groups.” Are not the demands of mutual respect such that we are compelled to say that those who are not against us are for us? Politically speaking should not the free market place decide?

   

June 02, 1997

Thank you for your prompt reply. I understand that you have an political organization to run and likely do not have time for protracted discussions with every correspondent.

This is my role here, my job, as it were.
 

Do you know of a forum where such subjects are freely discussed? I am dying for company out here in Alabama. I am grateful to find a person with any intelligent, informed opinion.

Grateful to whom? (Just kidding!) I like AANEWS, a news service. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to:
     aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org
and put:
     info aanews
in the message body. AACHAT is (allegedly) for American Atheist members. To participate, contact the Moderator at:
     aachat@atheists.org

You can also contact the Internet Infidels at:
     http://www.infidels.org/
and see what else is available.
 

“The seer should say simply, ‘I feel the presence of Something, which I am unable to comprehend and express. I have given the name God to it. I feel that I am inisolable from It. But I can say nothing more about It.’”

This is agnosticism, literally, which comes in two forms: One who says we cannot know whether there is a god is an Atheistic Agnostic; having no god-belief, this person is an Atheist. One who thinks there is a god, but says we cannot comprehend the nature of this god, is a Theistic Agnostic; having a god-belief, however vague, makes this person a Theist.
 

Is not the basis of your organization’s (political) complaint that the god men impose their will on others thereby showing contempt for the free choice of each individual?

The philosophical basis of our organization is the active rejection of Theism (gods and the supernatural and the afterlife) on philosophical grounds. As I said earlier, not all Atheists actively reject Theism, as not all atheists have encountered Theism (infants, imbeciles, etc).

The political basis of our organization is the separation of State and Church.
 

“Atheism is a reaction against this. But it, too, is a similar process from the opposite. It also develops into one or more labeled sects, as good or as bad as any of the former groups.”

This is one of many manifestations of Atheism. To represent it this as a comprehensive definition of atheism is incorrect and incomplete. Atheism is simply the lack of a god-belief, for whatever reason. To call Atheism anything more can cause confusion and necessarily needs much clarification. This also sets Atheism up for unfair prejudice and inaccurate assessment at the hands of Atheism’s opponents.

Of course, with this definition, Atheism becomes one part of many diametrically opposed philosophies of life, such as Communism, Objectivism, and Hedonism. What Gora seeks is a political entity which actively opposes Theism, and what he fears is that Atheism will divide its powers into various sects. I respond: “Naturally! Atheism is simply the lack of a god-belief, as Theism is simply the presence of a god-belief.”

Some subdivide Atheists into two groups: those who simply lack a god-belief, and those who actively reject Theism on emotional or philosophical grounds.
 

Are not the demands of mutual respect such that we are compelled to say that those who are not against us are for us? Politically speaking should not the free market place decide?

No.

The United States Constitution protects the minority from the tyrrany of the majority. Just because most people believed that the world was flat didn’t make the world flat.

   

June 04, 1997 2:10 AM

you wrote

The philosophical basis of our organization is the active rejection of Theism (gods and the supernatural and the afterlife) on philosophical grounds. As I said earlier, not all Atheists actively (or vehemently) reject Theism, as not all atheists have encountered Theism (infants, imbeciles, etc).

The political basis of our organization is the separation of State and Church.

I Thank you for your reply and information concerning other websites and have visited them. I appear to qualify as a Skeptic, a Freethinker, and a Humanist, but not an atheist, according to your definition (which I tentatively accept since you have obviously thought about it a long while). I have carefully considered your response to my note and am not comfortable with your organization’s aggressive stance. It simply goes too far in order to achieve political ends. I fail to see either the necessity nor the desirability of an allegiance to atheism. This is not critical thinking, but dogmatism. It is precisely the allegiance to a creed which enforces the group think of Christianity. By contrast, allegiance to the Constitution is one of contract or form only. It impinges on conduct, not on thinking itself. If your goal is not political but persuasive, then I fail to see the need of an organization. Politics masquerading about as religion is simply a proper description of the history of the Catholic Church. Politics masquerading about as Philosophy is the last thing that we need.

Mashruwala describes Gora seeking out Gandhiji and demanding recognition for his (Gora’s) views. Gandhiji ultimately provides a place for him at the table. “The converted formula seemed to satisfy non-theists, atheists, agnostics also. It allowed him to give an equal place to them in his Congress of All Religions. Atheists, provided they accepted Truth as the Supreme End, had an equal place in his Sarva- dharma-samabhava (equal regard for all religions), with theists.”

I am with Gandhiji . Lets us seek to include all men of good will who seek the truth. What we need is morality and a sense of justice. For this all men can qualify, but no organization can. We should therefore take care to limit the powers and activities of our institutions. For example, the churches should be taxed on the same basis as other organizations. They should certainly not be allowed to make tax-free profits, et cetera.

Take a lesson from Gandhiji. If you expect this to happen in our lifetime it must be done by the members themselves out of a sense of justice.

   

June 04, 1997

I apprecite your enlightening words about Gandhiji and the book by Gora!

However, I fail to understand your position, as it does not incorporate an accurate understanding of our organization. I’m sorry you think this way and I wish I knew what I said that prompted you to come to these conclusions about us.

To us, atheism is not a belief, but the lack of a belief. Atheism is most certainly not a religion, but the very absense of religion.

This is, among other things, a political organization dedicated to the separation of State and Church. As an educational organization, we challenge the notions of theism, faith, superstition, the supernatural, and the afterlife. As a social club, we provide a forum where atheists can enjoy an atmosphere free from the pressure and degradation of religious claims.

Atheism, being the absense of a god-belief, is a very broad category. Of course there will be dogmatic atheists who qualify to join our organization, just as there are thinking people who qualify to join various religious groups that encourage faith and that discourage thinking for oneself. That’s kinda the way it goes.

   

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