Letters to the Editor

For HumanistNetworkNews.org
Dec. 16, 2009

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Be good, with or without God

I can only appreciate the fair nature of the "Atheistic Campaign" recently launched by the AHA. But, as a seasoned connoisseur of the human nature, I am convinced that godless proclamations tend to reinforce the position of the believers, incrementing their intolerance.

I am an agnostic, humanist psychiatrist pursuing human rights, peace and universal values. I believe that we should not only be tolerant, we must also subscribe to shared values in order to achieve a fruitful interaction and a creative dialogue. (After all, we have always been completely tolerant, but reciprocation simply does not occur.)

I like to say that I have faith in our nature: we are born with an innate desire to help others and our brain is wired for empathy and solidarity, not only for aggression and competition as current cultural values suggest.

Of all faiths, this is possibly the most challenging and difficult to practice, given the daily bombardment of news emphasizing our aggressions, our miseries, our crimes and our errors.  Many believers, giving up on our "sinful nature," seek shelter and forgiveness in a Superior Being; their faith completely bypasses our tangible and mortal existence.

On the contrary, we humanists are convinced that the precepts for adaptive living come from our gregarious condition, our inner goodness and our intelligent capacity to select the best of our nature in the service of the social group. We do not have the need to create a God outside of our own lives. We may not be religious but we relish our essence–and why not? Our mysterious and miraculous existence is in such intricate connection with the rest of the universe.

We must thus allow believers to perceive the "faith" we profess and the "reverence" for our lives in order to preempt their polarization and their aggression. In the following example, I suggest a message that should certainly resist vandalism, invite to dialogue and keep our dignity intact in the eyes of the reader:

"God can be our goodness or Goodness can be our God, but be always good for Goodness sake or for God's sake.

–Manuel Orlando Garcia, M.D., Staten Island, N.Y.

Angry about being called an "angry atheist"

(Re:  Angry Atheists vs. Friendly Atheists, Humanist Network News, Dec. 9, 2009.)

Why is it that believers can state whatever hate message they want, (i.e. "God hates homosexuality") and that is just their beliefs? But if an atheist makes a heartfelt statement like "There is no God to hate homosexuality," that makes him an angry atheist.

How friendly do we have to be to be a "friendly atheist?" We don't use friendly statements because they just don't work.  Picture: "Gee, I don't think it is nice to encourage executing homosexuals in Uganda. I wish you guys would tell them not to do it?"

–Eileen Regan, Brooklyn, N.Y.

More than two kinds of atheists

(Re: Angry Atheists vs. Friendly Atheists, Humanist Network News, Dec. 9, 2009.)

In his column about Stephen Prothero's USA Today article on atheists, Hemant Mehta accepted Prothero's view of two kinds of atheists, without suggesting that this is an either/or fallacy–though he may have been hinting at this when he mentioned an overlap between the two types.

I don't fall clearly into either group. I mostly agree with the analysis of the New Atheists without accepting the need to be automatically hostile toward religion. On the other hand, I am quick to speak out against using government to promote religion. I do not tolerate well someone attempting to force their religious views on me.

Sam Harris would probably see me as one of the moderates whom he disdains. While I am not an evangelistic atheist, I will speak out against religious nonsense when it is used to justify public policy positions. I will also promote the values of humanism, which can appeal to both the religious and the non-religious, without getting into theism and non-theism.

–Lamar Hankins, San Marcos, Texas