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We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further.  ~Richard Dawkns



Fundamentalist what?   Yeah, you read that right.  I consider myself a fundamentalist atheist and this blog entry is part explanation of what that means and part rant about how believers misuse the words atheist and atheism.

Recently, I have been involved in yet another annoying conversation about what it means to be an atheist on a forum I frequent at Delphi Forums. It is annoying because some of the theists, aka believers in gods and goddesses, and one annoying agnostic participating in the discussion about religion are determined to claim the right to define what I and the other atheists on the forum believe about their (the believers’) gods and why. It is annoying because when those of us who ARE atheists speak up and disagree with their assessment of atheists and atheism we are dismissed as if what we think about ourselves and our beliefs is irrelevant. 

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying I have been an atheist for over 25 years. This is not a position I took easily nor one I continue to take lightly. Suffice it to say that the road that led to my disbelief was difficult and emotionally draining.

My lack of belief in gods and goddesses may be the most definitive aspect of my persona because it effects every other aspect of my life to one degree or another. My lack of belief in the Christian god in particular colors my thoughts about my roles as a human being, a citizen of Wisconsin and the USA in general, a woman, mother, writer, political junkie, etc., etc. It is annoying as all get out to be told that I MUST believe ABC to claim the distinction of atheism by people who are determined to portray atheists and atheism in the worst possible light.

One of the most egregious claims by believers is that ALL atheists, by default, positively deny the possibility of the existence of gods or goddesses and claim to know without a doubt that NO higher power or supreme being exists in the universe. This leads to the next ridiculous claim that an atheist’s beliefs requires just as much faith as a theist. These theists (and one extremely annoying agnostic)  often go one step further and claim that atheism is just as much of a religion as any Christian sect or denomination such as Catholicism or Southern Baptist or religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or Islam.

All of these claims are absolutely untrue. There is only one criteria to be an atheist. That is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses.  Let me say that again.  The only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses and that is basic or what I call fundamentalist atheism.  Why fundamentalist?  Because a simple lack of belief is fundamentally what makes an atheist an atheist regardless of any other position they take on gods and goddesses.

Lack of belief does not equal the complete denial of the possibilities that could be true. Gods and goddesses could exist. They might even actually exist. I know quite a few atheists online and offline. Very, very few of them actually claim that they do not believe that gods or goddesses could or even might possibly exist. I certainly don’t.

However without knowledge that they do, atheists such as myself simply cannot believe they do.  For us, belief requires knowledge that is based on verifiable, objective, empirical evidence–material things that we can experience directly through our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). The preponderance of a lack of such evidence for any of the gods and goddesses posited to date certainly makes me skeptical that any exist but there is no evidence that would cause me to know that none exist and substantiate a claim that they do not.   So I don’t make such a claim.

It is true that some atheists will positively state that gods do not and cannot exist but they are few and far between.  Theists who claim that atheists who completely deny the possibility that gods and goddesses exist are correct when they say that that position takes just as much faith on the atheist’s part as their own belief.  Since faith is belief without evidence, any atheist who states uncategorically that there is no god is basing his or her beliefs on faith (belief without evidence). However, since the vast majority of atheists do not take this position, theists are being disingenuous in applying such criteria to all atheists or they just don’t understand what atheism really is.

As for the assertion that atheism is just as much a religion as any other theological belief, that is just plain bunk. To quote Penn Gillette, one of my favorite atheistic celebrities, “Atheism is a religion like NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.” Aside from our lack of belief in gods and goddesses categorizing atheists into neat little boxes based on our beliefs is like herding cats. We have no creed or dogma that all atheists must subscribe to in order to qualify as an atheist aside from that simple fundamental lack of belief.  There is no umbrella organization that all atheists could or would join that would represent our lack of belief.

Part of the confusion and the cause of these misconceptions is that the people who do believe in a god(s) or goddess(es) and make these claims can pull out a dictionary (or several) and point to the definition of atheism found in it. For example:

 

Onelook Dictionary atheism

 

 

noun

the belief or theory that God does not exist

more…


Provided by Macmillan Dictionary


 

Quick definitions from WordNet (atheism)


noun:  a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods
noun:  the doctrine or belief that there is no God

 

Theists who want to argue that atheism is a religion requiring faith  will completely ignore the “lack of belief” definition if that is even included in the dictionary they consult and focus on the belief, theory, and doctrine parts of the definitions. Unfortunately, while I am very fond of dictionaries, I have to make the assertion that the popular desk dictionaries on the market and online can be and often are wrong. They are good guidelines for understanding the way language is used by a social group or culture but they are not the end all and be all of definitions.

You’ll notice that the Onelook website has links to 47 dictionaries that define atheism. Most of them will contain very similar definitions of the word atheism or atheist. Very few pay attention to the etymology of the word or the way in which atheists define themselves which is where the truth about what being an atheist means is to be found.

Cheap modern desk dictionaries record the popular usage of words and since the majority of the populous tends to be theistic, atheism is defined on their terms and not by atheists themselves. Unfortunately a really good dictionary like The Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is terribly expensive even online. You would probably be able to find an unabridged dictionary at your local library (my local library will look a word up for you if you call the reference desk) but very few people have ready access to one. Luckily for me, for the purposes of this essay Austin Cline includes the definition from The Oxford Dictionary on his About.com website.

 

Oxford English Dictionary

atheism: (from Greek atheos, “without God, denying God”) Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. Also, Disregard of duty to God, godlessness (practical atheism).

First the etymology of the word is very plain. It stems from the Greek theos or the feminine thea which simply means gods or goddesses(Thea was one of the Titanic Greek Gods, mother of the dawn, Eos, the sun, Helios and the moon, Selene. Reference:Theoi Greek Mythology) Being a theist means to believe in the gods and goddesses. According to Robertson’s Words for a Modern Age,  adding the prefix “a” to make the word atheism simply changes the meaning to without belief in gods or goddesses: (a=without + theos = gods). Atheism is simply a lack of theism much as asymmetrical means a lack of symmetry.

More importantly, the way atheists define and describe themselves should be given primary consideration. They are, after all, the ones who have come to the conclusion that they cannot believe in gods and goddesses. Netizen_J, a self-described atheist who also posts at the same Delphi Forum  I do, eloquently puts it this way:

 

Failing to believe that a deity exists is NOT the same thing as believing that no deities exist. KNOWING that there is a paucity of actual evidence FOR any deity is not the same as a BELIEF that no deities could possibly exist.

 Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

 

Austin Cline, a philosopher who writes for About.com,  has published an entire series of articles dealing with the definition of atheism and the myths about atheism that exist versus the way atheists define themselves. His personal definiton of atheism can be found in his FAQ.  Cline includes a couple of pages of definitions of atheism by more prominent atheists on About.com’s  website. My favorite is from Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist:

 

It turns out that the word atheism means much less than I had thought. It is merely the lack of theism […] Basic atheism is not a belief. It is the lack of belief. There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god — both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter […].


 

Absence of belief (fundamental atheism) requires no faith because it leaves the question of whether or not gods and goddesses exist open. There is no positive denial that gods and goddesses cannot exist. Just a simple assertion that the atheist lacks the belief any gods or goddesses do. The reasons for that lack of belief are about as varied as the Christian sects and denominations that exist but generally it includes the fact that there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence for gods and goddesses. There is no dogma, philosophy or creed connected to the absence of belief that every atheist must subscribe to.  There is no umbrella organization an atheist could join even if they wanted to that requires any adherance to a set of principles or guidelines to be a member so it does not qualify as a religion.

What do I mean when I say I am an fundamentalist atheist? Very simply, I lack belief in any of the gods and goddesses that have been posited to date because there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence that any of them do exist. That is the fundamental criteria for atheism, in my opinion. It is the only thing that all atheists will agree on.

I’m not wedded to atheism—should someone actually provide such evidence I would happily change my stance and become a believer/theist again. Most atheists would. Do you have any?

 

 

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People are talkin, talking bout people
I hear them whisper, you wont believe it…

Lets give them something to talk about
A little mystery to figure out
Lets give them something to talk about
How about love, love, love, love?

Bonnie Raitt

Today on The Poll Vault over at Delphi Forums we were talking about how Al Gore was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last February. Here’s a new’s article that details why:

Al Gore Nobel nominee

The fight for the global climate is a fight for peace, say members of parliament Børge Brende and Heidi Sørensen, and they have nominated former US Vice-president Al Gore for a share of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The two green-thinking MPs suggest that Gore share the prize with Inuit Sheila Watt-Cloutier, in recognition for their efforts to put the danger posed by climate change on the global political agenda.

“This is clearly, absolutely, one of the important efforts to achieve conflict prevention. Climate change can lead to enormous flows of refugees on a scale the world has never seen before. Fighting climate change is immensely important work for global peace,” Heidi Sørensen, member of parliament for the Socialist Left Party (SV), told Aftenposten.

A guy who goes by the handle of MrAGent asked me “What has Al Gore done to promote PEACE? (Please note the word “PEACE” is highlighted).” And yes, he actually wrote the word peace in red. MrAGent is a Republican’s Republican. A sort of caricature of a conservative in my opinion. He keeps the debate on the forum interesting but one has to wonder how anyone can be THAT blind to life as it is on planet earth.

My good friend MerlinsDad had made this comment later in the thread which helped me clarify my thoughts on what I thought were Gore’s contributions to world peace:

Effectively handling the consequences of global warming will require the efforts of the whole world. I suggest that the impact of global warming on the underdeveloped countries of the world could be greater than any war in man’s history. That alone easily justifies Gore as the leader among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. Global warming is about world peace.

This was my answer to MrAGent:

What do I think Al Gore has done to promote peace? I agree with the people who have nominated him. Global warming presents a very clear danger to world peace. Drought and famine are a cause for conflict for obvious reasons. Mass migrations of people in search of food and shelter are cause for conflict.

Gore has done more than any one person in the USA and perhaps in the Western world to bring this subject front and center and into every day conversation. Whether you believe what he and the experts he has consulted say is the truth or not you are talking about it. It has become part of the American experience to think about, investigate, and draw conclusions about these issues and the science behind them. We have Al Gore to thank for that.

As a community we will be able to make decisions based on our conversations with each other and the experts the majority of us choose to trust rather than something imposed on us by an authority. The decisions we make will have an impact on our relationship with the rest of the world. If we decide to be selfish and arrogant and ignore the truth we do so at our peril. We have the choice in our own hands now. That is what I think Al Gore has done to promote peace.

The thread got a little more sticky after that as threads are wont to do on forums where liberals and conservatives discuss politics. MrAGent and I are sworn mortal enemies now I think because he made a huge tactical error and I got to call him on it. I am going to have to watch my back.

Other conservatives and liberals chimed in. There were a couple of funny moments. I love forum discussions.

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Well I got a hammer,
And I got a bell,
And I got a song to sing, all over this land.
Its the hammer of justice,
Its the bell of freedom,
Its the song about love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.
Its the hammer of justice,
Its the bell of freedom,
Its the song about love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.

Pete Seeger and Lee Hays performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary

My Delphi Forum friend MerlinsDad (who I met at the Political Circus and now hang out with at the Poll Vault over at Delphi Forums) was feeding me large chunks of Drew Weston’s book, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotions in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” and got me so darn interested in it that I just had to have a copy which arrived in the mail yesterday. Drew Weston is decidedly liberal and he has set out to change the way Democrats run their campaigns.

This promises to be a better than average good read. MerlinsDad says it is. He’s going to be reading along with me the second time through and we’ll discuss. I’m going to try to get him to start his own Blog so it will be a permanent record of rational discourse between two friends. Actually I’m going to try to bully him into it because I’ve tried convincing him he has plenty to say in a Blog that is worth saying and he keeps giving me this “Aw shucks, attitude.” I’m a fierce bully when I want to be. ;^)

I tried to start reading this last night around 10:30 pm and promptly fell asleep three pages in. I guess I was a little tired. The heat has been getting to me and we’ve had a respite. It’s 8:54 am and the temperature is 69* with 86% humidity. It was raining earlier but the sky is partly cloudy and we’re looking fo a high of 86*. I hope the humidity clears up as the day goes by…

Well, let us begin the discussion. I’ve read the forward and 12 pages into the first chapter. Weston is a neuroscientist who has been studying how the brain processes political and legal information as well as a clinician who trains psychologists and psychiatrists in understanding the “nuances of of meaning in what people say, do and feel.” The central thesis of the book is that the assumptions of the past from the time of Plato and Socrates and the Enlightenment have been that human beings think rationally and when presented with contradictory information the will examine all of the data and come to a reasonable conclusion.

Weston contends that this is not the case. He asserts that the politically partisan brain of the die hard Democrat or Republican will reject contradictory information about their candidates based on what he calls “gut feelings” and he set out to prove it by watching the brain at work in real time with the advanced technology we have at hand today. He and his colleagues set forth 4 hypotheses about what they expected they might find during their studies.

1) Threatening information about candidates would produce negative emotions that would activate neural circuits associated with negative emotional states

2) They expected to see activation of the part of the brain that is associated with regulating emotions .

3) They expect to see a “brain in conflict” as indicated by activations in a region that monitors and resolves conflict

4) Since they suspect that people “reason with their gut” or emotions they didn’t expect to see activation in the brain that is normally associated with reason or rational thinking.

Generally scientists don’t get everything on their wish list when they set out to do a study like this but in this case, Weston studied 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans and in every case all 4 hypotheses were verified. Humans are not the rational, reasoning creatures we have been taught they were all these years when it comes to politics. We operate on a very emotional level and this has some serious consequences on the campaign trail.

This may explain why I just can’t get into Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t turn me on emotionally. I don’t really dislike her all that much perse. I’m sort of neutral. She’s blah. There’s nothing exciting about her. Nothing that grabs me and makes me say, “YEAH, shes my candidate!”

I really want to feel much more strongly about the first viable woman candidate for President. I want to be excited that there is a woman running for President who actually might win. I mean when that Republican woman ran some years back I was excited. But Hillary is just not cutting it for me.

In truth, I’m far more excited by the prospect of Bill Clinton being the ‘First Gentleman’ in the Whitehouse than I am in Hillary sitting in the Oval office. I get a huge giggle at the thought of the ire of the Republicans imagining Bill lurking in the halls of the Whitehouse giving advice. Truth is, I want Bill back far more than I want Hillary back and that will probably be why I vote for her in the primary. More’s the pity.

If I had my druthers, I’d want Dennis Kucinich in the front runner position. Now there’s the Democrat who moves me emotionally! Listening to him give a political speech about his policies and the Democratic Party in general is like listening to an old time Evangelical Revival stump Preacher. HE MOVES ME! To tears.

B

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Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Scott Adams (1957 – ), ‘The Dilbert Principle’

Last night or I should say very early this morning I finished sewing up that tie dyed butterfly bock print maerial I just had to have from Hancock Fabrics out at Westgate Mall. I’m pleased with the way it turned out but it turnned out to be a much more complicated project than I ever envsioned and took about ten times as long as it should have.

First of all I choes the most complicted patterns for the tunic and skirt I could possible have chosen. Why? I’ll be damned if I know. They just looked so “kewl” when I was looking at the patterns an I got grandiose and decided I could deal with that. And I could but it was a struggle and it wasn’t all that enjoyable. The skirt alone has eight pieces and I’m not talking about gores, I’m talking about pieces that make interesting flattering asymmetrical lines that go together like a jigsaw puzzle. The tunic is nearly as riidiculous. Note too self: try to use some sanity when you choose patterns.

Another huge probelm was that the fabric shrank when I washed it. Thank goodness I didn’t skip that step because it would have been a dissastor iif I had. When I went to cut the pattern out I didn’t have enough material for the entire outfit. So I had to punt and “rob Peter to pay Paul.” Luckly I had some royal blue that went with the tie dyed fabric nicely. The project it was meant for will simply have to wait or better yet, I’ll punt again.

At any rate, once I got all these peieces of fabric cut out, seing them togethr seemed like a daunting task, I kep hearing Mrs Gardner and my Mother telling me my seams weren’t straight enough or precisely 5/8 of an inch from the edge of the fabric and that that point where the two different colors of fabric met wasn’t crips enough. It really took awhile to tell them to STFU and go sew their own stuff perfectly. I am an adult and if I can live with my perfections it’s none of theri damn business.

My gawd, I’m 54 years old and this shit is still playing out in my head, paralyizing me. I really need to get over it already. Eventually I do because I did get this project done but lord gawd the fear of screwing it up was intense for awhile.

Now see, I don’t have that fear when I do things that are typiclally thought of as guy typpe things. I’ll pund hole in the wall and hang shelves with abandon. When I drove, I changed my oil and tires by myself and kept track of transmission fluid and water levels with no problem and complete self-confidence that I was perfectly capable of doing these things by myself. No agita as my new freind MomtoGoats (Mindy) at the Delphi Forum Poll Vault would put it.

Agita is my new vocabulary word for the week. It’s italian aand means acid indigestion. I love it!

Now that I’ve gotten it done, I’m pleased with it and I think I’ve done a creditble job. Not quite up to Mr’s Garner or my Mother’s standards but certainly good enough. I’m happy with the finnished product znd that’s what counts most here.

I’m planning to wear my new outfit to tonight’s Rythm & Booms! show down at the Memorial Union. You couldn’t pay me me to go to Warner Park where the close up and persoal fireworks display is. Supposedly Rythm &Booms is the biggest fireworks disply in the midwest and it draws huge crowds. Even at plaes like the Union which is across th lake from Warner Park. I took the kids there when Madiso first started biling itself as the biggest and the best back in th 80s and even back then the traffiic mess trying to get home was such a hassle we decided to stick with the small town displays. If we planned carefuly we could see three different sets of fireworks.

My son is coming over today to help me put up a shelf in the closet and move my computer desk into the bedoom. Soon in fact.

B

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