The atheism plot thickens

This past week I was thrilled to see the reaction that my May 13 column on the battered atheist sign on the Glendale (2) Freeway garnered on our paper's website. It "grew legs," as a former professor of mine told me over the phone on Friday.

Most of the responses I received from around the nation — and Canada — were via e-mail. They ranged from attacks on my writing ability to answers to the question I had posed: "What is it about atheists that people just don't like?"

In case you're wondering, no one has come forward to accept responsibility for the vandalism. But plenty of people had things to say about atheism.

Brian R. Patterson of Morgantown, W. Va., writes: "Your question was 'why?' I think there are a number of reasons. I would contend that atheists, by their mere existence, are an affront to theists. By being atheist, they are in effect saying, 'you're wrong.' What's more, religion tends to be a deeply held belief and a central part of lifestyle and sense of self. The atheist's presence suggests that someone thinks they're wrong on a large scale."

A writer who gives his name as Mad Hamlet, and describes himself as an atheist, writes: "Some people who believe gain strength from their faith, others are, I think, glossing over a weakness. Anything that attacks or is critical of that gloss is considered a threat and attacked accordingly. I could argue that the reaction is akin to the automatic punch that is triggered by a 'Your mother is so fat ' insult."

The words of the Rev. Jason Cook, a Unitarian pastor in St. Louis, surprised me. Cook writes: "Well, it's much of the same reason I don't like some members of any religion — they get in your face about it. They seem to feel they have something to prove, or have to correct you because they think you are wrong. They have to convert you. They are not content to simply say, 'That is what you chose to believe, and I am OK with that. So long as you don't force your beliefs on me.' Each person needs to be judged based on who they are, not on their religion, or lack thereof. So I don't hate all atheists. Just the annoying ones."

Casey Doran of Seattle scolded me, as others did, for not defining atheism correctly. "I wonder how much you bothered to research what atheism actually is before you wrote this piece. Atheism is the rejection of the claim of a positive belief that god(s) exist, not the assertion that no god(s) exist. It's an important distinction, the default position is a response to a claim, not a claim in and of itself, and I would hope that the press (especially the print press) would work a little harder to get it right."

My exact words were: "Atheists simply believe there is no God, or no evidence to support the existence of God." Isn't "rejection of the claim" similar to a belief (claim) there is no God?

Atheists reject the positive belief there is a God. Well, I accept the positive belief there was a man called Jesus; that is my belief, but that doesn't necessarily hold true in some people's eyes.

Just because a person claims there is no God — that is their belief — doesn't necessarily make it true in some people's eyes.

I open this statement up to discussion to anyone who wants to tackle it!

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