Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This piece was written a few months ago after viewing the web site of the church named below. Enjoy, John

According to the web site of the Landover Baptist Church, Mr. Bush the Elder was quoted to have said the things with which I open my article on Atheism. A need to put the record straight prompted me to write this. I do not know if this topic is something that would be of interest to your readers, but I am sending it to you because your paper enjoys wide circulation in areas where, I believe, the topic of God is frequently discussed on an intelligent level. All the information in this article is quite easily verified, much of it was acquired through Wikipedia and other sources on the Web. I hope that you will find it interesting and, if you decide that you like to use it, I would appreciate it if you could let me know. Living, as I do, in Central Mexico, makes it a bit difficult to get hold of your paper on a regular basis. And if you decide that you do not want to use it, I would appreciate knowing that as well.


John de Waal.

By John de Waal.

"I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
-President George Bush (the elder).
Well, Mr. Bush, I am one of the 36 million American citizens who do not belief in a God. It’s not because I want to fly in the face of religious people, but because the God idea makes as much sense as believing in Santa Claus, which flies in the face of everything, but at least is fun. Thus, you can call me an atheist, but you cannot call me as someone against God, because how can I, or any atheist, be against something that isn’t there in the first place?
For your information, Mr. President, atheism is not new or unique and certainly not vile like the ideas of Landover Baptist's Pastor Deacon Fred and Brother Harry Hardwick, who consider themselves the world's foremost Christian experts on atheism. Their idea is to give an 18.4 minute inspirational presentation at countless Atheist conventions in exchange of a fee, twenty-four hour room service and first class airfare. When they are done they take a relaxing walk through the parking lot outside the convention to harvest hundreds of car tag numbers for the FBI's computers for which your Mr. Ashcroft pays a dollar each and that, they say, adds up to a complimentary tour of the hotel gift shop! No, Sir, atheism is a bit more sophisticated than that!
The history of atheism began at about the same time as the history of religion. But unlike religion, atheism is not a group-think, but a philosophy that most acquire by using their own, innate intelligence. Speaking for myself, I came by the certainty that there is no God easily. You see, each of my parents was of a different religion: one Roman Catholic and the other Reformed, and as loving parents, they decided that it would be more fair to raise me without tying me to one of their religions, but let me pick one when I would be able to think for myself. I did receive religious instruction, but on an academic level, there was no indoctrination. When I was in my teens, I shopped around for a religion and when I was sixteen I joined a youth group of a Humanistic organization. Humanism and atheism has been my life ever since.
However, for many folk, Atheism doesn’t come that easily. For instance:
Gina Allen, an author of several books and articles for adults and juveniles, told her story in “The Night I Saw the Light”. She read the Little Blue Book by Percy Bysshe Shelley “The Necessity of Atheism”. At the time she was sixteen too. She had been a very religious young woman until then, although she had found it difficult to defend her religious beliefs to her free-thinking boyfriend’s satisfaction, and her own. “In one memorable night”, she wrote, “Shelley's logic shattered all the Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, and sermons I had been exposed to for years”.
Gina confronted her father the next day and asked: "You can't possibly believe all that god stuff, do you? You're an intelligent, educated man!”.
Indeed, he was a trustee of the local Presbyterian Church, supported the church financially and attended services every Sunday. Yet, he told her that ‘no, he didn't believe what the church taught’, but he did believe that without the church there would be no morality in the world, children learned right and wrong in the church, and adults lived righteous lives because they believed in God and heaven and hell.
Gina observed that this attitude is not unusual among many who appear to be religious. They are less concerned with their own spirituality than with the conduct of others. They see themselves as superior, able to understand their religion as mythology and still conduct their lives morally. However, they don't think that the ordinary person can do that, so they count on religion to keep the masses under control. Indeed, she says, this attitude has been used throughout history to regulate slaves and subjugate women.
She went on with her story and said: “When I told my boyfriend that I had seen the light, he was glad. Then I told him that now we could sin together: drink, smoke, and have sex. He looked at me as if I were crazy. I could do those things if I wished, he said, but he was in training as an athlete”. It slowly dawned on me that I hadn't been "a good girl" because I believed in god but because I love my family and friends, enjoy my studies and music, and because I wanted to prepare myself for all of life's possibilities. I have stopped being personally furious with the Christian religion that duped me as a child, but I continue to be alarmed when it hurts people, stunts their growth, and practices sexism and racism”. So, Gina did not return to religion, nor has she missed it. Her associates are people with whom she shares common interests and goals, all are trying to make this world better, rather than hoping for heaven and all are moral people because they love our earth and those with whom they share it.
Indeed, Atheists are moral people and can most often be found among the cream of our citizenry, Mr. Bush. Just take five minutes to watch the video “Atheist” on www.youtube.com/watch. When reviewing all the atheists on this video, one realizes that America would not be the place it is today and if it wasn’t for politicians like you, Mr. Bush, it would probably be a lot better.

Western Atheism has long history. It goes back to pre-Socratic Greek philosophy. The 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher Diagoras is known as the "first atheist," and he strongly criticized religion and mysticism. Critias viewed religion as a human invention used to frighten people into following moral order. Socrates himself was accused of being an atheist for impiety on the basis that he inspired questioning of the state gods. He was ultimately sentenced to death.

Epicurus also disputed many religious doctrines, including the existence of an afterlife or a personal deity. He considered the soul purely material and mortal. While Epicureanism did not rule out the existence of gods, he believed that if they did exist, they were unconcerned with humanity. Questions posed by him some three hundred and seventy-five years before the composition of the New Testament and over one hundred years before the composition of the latest books of the Hebrew Bible remain unanswered today. Christians do not want to ask the questions he asked, because they do not like the obvious answers.
Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent!
Is he able but not willing? Then is he malevolent!
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Epicurus and his followers weren’t rebel rousers. Their ideal was to "live secretly, to get through life without drawing attention to yourself, to live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc”. and they emphasized minimizing harm and maximizing happiness of oneself and others. I have been trying to live my life this way as well. Perhaps I should call myself an Epicurean?
The Roman poet Lucretius also agreed with Epicurus views. He said:
“If there were gods, they are unconcerned with humanity, and unable to affect the natural world. Humanity should have no fear of the supernatural”.
And the Roman philosopher Sextus Empiricus held that one should suspend judgment about virtually all beliefs, that nothing was inherently evil, and that “peace of mind" is attainable by simply withholding one's judgment.
The meaning of "atheist" changed over the course of classical antiquity. The early Christians were called atheists by non-Christians and were executed for their rejection of the Roman gods and Emperor-worship. When Christianity became the state religion Christians reversed things and heresy became a punishable offense.
In the Early Middle Ages William (1288 - 1348), an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher from Ockham, was (and still is) considered one of the major figures of medieval thought. This atheist was at the center of the major intellectual and political controversies of the fourteenth century and is commonly known for his Ockham's Razor, a methodological procedure that states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Also called the "law of parsimony" it is often paraphrased as "All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one." It is still used in debates about God today.
The espousal of atheistic views was rare in Europe during the Middle Ages because of the Inquisition, which was designed by the Roman Catholic popes to do away with anyone (i.e. murder him or her gruesomely and publicly) that posed a serious threat to the Church. Somewhat like Guantanamo, although I do not think that we actually murder people there but just torture them, right Mr. Bush? There were, however, movements at that time that forwarded sacrilegious conceptions of the Christian God, including differing views of the nature, transcendence, and the understandability of God. Individuals and groups maintained Christian viewpoints with pantheistic tendencies (the belief that God and the material world are one and the same thing and that God is present in everything). Nominalistic limitation of human knowledge to singular objects (which is the philosophical doctrine that there are no realities other than concrete individual objects) asserted that the divine essence could not be intuitively or rationally apprehended by human intellect.
The Renaissance did much to expand free-thought and skeptical inquiry. Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, sought experimentation as a means of explanation, but this era witnessed a proliferation of new religious orders, confraternities, and popular devotions in the Catholic world, as well as the increasingly austere Protestant sects such as the Calvinists. This era of inter-confessional rivalry permitted an even wider scope of theological and philosophical speculation. It led to advance a religiously skeptical world-view.
Criticism of Christianity became increasingly frequent in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France and England. In the late 17th century, Deism came to be openly espoused by intellectuals of the Enlightenment. They advocated a rational approach to philosophy and government. Baron d'Holbach also expressed disbelief in God when it became a less dangerous position and David Hume, another atheist, probably was the most systematic exponent of Enlightenment thought, developing a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, in particular its foundations, scope, and validity, grounded in empiricism (the philosophical belief that all knowledge is derived from the experience of the senses), and undermining the metaphysical basis of natural theology.
The French Revolution took atheism outside the salons and into the public sphere. At its climax, the more militant atheists attempted to forcibly de-Christianize France, replacing religion with a Cult of Reason. The secularizing measures of this period have remained a permanent legacy of French politics. The Napoleonic era institutionalized the secularization of French society, and exported the revolution to northern Italy, in the hopes of creating pliable republics.
In the latter half of the 19th century, atheism rose to prominence under the influence of rationalistic and free-thinking philosophers. Many prominent German philosophers of this era denied the existence of deities and were critical of religion. They considered God to be a human invention and religious activities to be wish-fulfillment. Atheism in the 20th century, particularly in the form of practical atheism, advanced in many societies, under names such as: existentialism, objectivism, secular humanism, nihilism, logical positivism, Marxism, feminism, and the general scientific and rationalist movement. Logical positivism and scientism paved the way for neo-positivism (the theory that knowledge can be acquired only through direct observation and experimentation), analytical philosophy, structuralism, and naturalism (a belief that all religious truth is derived from nature and natural causes, and not from revelation) and emphatically rejected the existence of God. The natural world was considered to be the basis of everything, denying the existence of God or immortality.
The 20th century also saw the political advancement of atheism, spurred by the works of Marx and Engels. The Soviet Union and other communist states promoted state atheism and opposed religion, often by violent means. The Albanian government announced the closure of all religious institutions in their country, declaring Albania the world's first atheist state. The communists’ regimes enhanced the negative associations of atheism, especially in the United States where anti-communist sentiment was strong. However, E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Periyar), a prominent atheist leader of India, fought the good fight against Hinduism and Brahmins for discriminating and dividing people in the name of caste and religion.
In 1966, TIME magazine asked "Is God Dead?" The article cited the estimation that nearly one in two people in the world lived under an anti-religious power. However, it is difficult to quantify the number of atheists in the world. Different people interpret "atheist" differently and it can be hard to draw boundaries between atheism, non-religious beliefs, and non-theistic religious and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, atheists may not report themselves as such, to prevent suffering from social stigma, discrimination, and persecution in certain regions. A 2005 survey published in Encyclopedia Britannica found that the non-religious make up about 12% of the world's population, not including atheistic religions, like the Buddhists. A November–December 2006 poll published in the Financial Times found that Americans are more likely than Europeans to believe in any form of God or Supreme Being (73%). Of the European adults surveyed, Italians are the most likely to express this belief (62%) and the French are the least likely (27%). In fact, in France, 32% declared themselves atheists, and an additional 32% declared themselves agnostic.
A letter published in Nature in 1998 reported a survey suggesting that belief in a personal God or afterlife was at an all-time low among the members of the National Academy of Science, with only 7% who believed in a personal God as compared to more than 85% of the general U.S. population. But this is not as strange as it seems because study after study, forty in all carried out between 1927 and 2002, found an inverse correlation between religiosity and intelligence. This, according to an article in Mensa Magazine.
Atheism, Mr. Bush, rather than being a cult of low lives and undesirables, is a philosophy that appeals to the educated and they tend to have a relative larger influence on their fellow humans than similar numbers of unthinking masses of believers. Atheists therefore are typically dangerous only to those who preach the gospel, because they are skeptics, tend to think for ourselves and cannot be controlled by them. This is why we are often a target for these religious zealots and short-sighted politicians, like you. We are not only skeptical of religious claims, but also of those made by other commercial entities. As a result, many of us are vegetarians as well. Because we are peace loving and abhor violence, we also tend to be pacifists. And politically, we think liberal and are independents. We are, and always have been, tolerant of anyone’s beliefs and we will not ridicule or otherwise attack people for their outlook. We just do our best for our families and our communities. How many religious people do you know, Mr. Bush, that show these qualities?

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