pww@spacsun.rice.edu (Peter Walker) We live in a society that is, nominally at least, Chri

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pww@spacsun.rice.edu (Peter Walker) We live in a society that is, nominally at least, Christian, though the United States' law (indeed, the Constitution itself) is highly secular. Why then, does the venom of theistic apologists issue forth toward this small minority of athiests with more ferocity than toward any other group (except, perhaps, homosexuals)? Even including the agnostics and floccinonfacists (from L. flocci non facio - "I don't give a feather"), the non-religious make up only a small segment of this society. Wherefore are we such a threat? Before I try to address this question, I must object to the manner in which atheists have been stereotyped as belonging to a single political/economic/ religious ideology. Atheism is not a belief in itself, but rather the lack of a belief-namely in divinity. An atheist may be a democratic secular humanist (eurapraxist), a communist, a hedonist, a Buddhist, even a Hindu, ad infinitum. To equate all of those who do not believe in a god with any one of these groups or idealogical doctrines is grossly unfair and prejudicial. I assert that those that dissent from within a religious society are perceived as dangerous because they demonstrate that the religious world view in not the unique set of lenses from which one might view the world. An athiest has, in a very fundamental way, seperated himself from the bonds of the community; especially so, if he was raised in a religion (like myself) and then chooses to abandon it in favor of non-belief of errant belief (indeed, this was the very definition of heresy in the Middle Ages). What is more troubling to the theist indeed, comes from the emotional bond the theist makes with these unseen, unperceived forces allegedly guiding the Universe. Whenever life becomes unbearable, the theist first turns to these agencies for support and relief, though no explicit answer is ever forthcoming. To see an atheist merrily going about life indiffernt to this bond, not needing it in a crisis, threatens the self-worth of the theist. Either the atheist knows something the theist doesn't, and the theist is a fool, or perhaps there really is no Divine Father to cuddle us and shelter us from our woes. That is, coming from a former Christian, a very frightening concept. Religions, especially of the messianic variety, rely on the appeal of salvation to draw both non-believers and back-sliders into the religion. But a religion can not be successful if it must reconvert every new generation. THus to hold the believers, two tools are used. Firstly, there is damnation or the fear thereof. Secondly, there is the sense of approval, community, and self-worth that comes from belonging to a metaphysical family guarded over by a divine father within a brotherhood of fellow believers. Under normal circumstances, this is like a warm hearth - it is comfortable, and more importantly comforting. But if ever one begins to have doubts about a religion's veracity, creeping guilt, fear and isolation (real and psychological) tend to bring one back into the fold. I can not describe the lonliness I felt as I first turned away from Christianity, not to mention the fear of hellfire and brimstone instilled in me by even one of the least vitriolic of Christian denominations(Methodism). I lost friends, and some family as a consequence of facing facts. But the barrier, the bond, was broken, and I have never looked back. We can not hope to disprove the existence of god - or rather prove his non-existence. What we can do is to point out the absence of evidence of the physical consequences of particular gods. We can discredit existing religions by demonstrating their internal inconsistancies, and demonstrate by use of other, older, and often dead faiths, that these creeds are nothing new, and more often were plagarized from older, wiser, and more oriental mythologies. We can show the tenuousness (indeed, the illusory nature) of the link between religion and morality, as experienced throughout many cultures in many ages. We can live our lives as best we can, forming our own communuties of sorts, teaching others about their religions' fallicies. We can die without fear of reprisal, or hope of reward. Next time: Mithra, the mythological Zoroastrian messiah on which the Jesus myth was probably based. Buddha: "If god permits such misery, he can not be good, and if he is powerless to prevent, he can not be god."

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