Thursday, June 25, 2015

My first (Thinking) Atheist event

Last night I attended a presentation by Seth Andrews, host of The Thinking Atheist podcast. It was hosted by The Atheist Community of San Jose.  He was promoting his book, Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition around the World. During the presentation, he went over various bizarre beliefs like snake handling, "Sabbath mode" appliances, and some odd Bulgarian thing involving spinning some poor dog around. It was a pretty funny and informative speech, and at the end he got a bit more personal and talked about his personal difficulties involving his family's unwillingness to accept that he no longer shares their beliefs.

For those who aren't familiar with his podcast or videos, I recommend them. Seth's story is an interesting one, as he used to be a DJ for a Christian radio station in Oklahoma. Eventually he found himself seriously questioning his faith, and then he started creating videos on Youtube under his "The Thinking Atheist" banner. (Seth always insists that he's not The Thinking Atheist, and that the logo and name are supposed to symbolize how we should always be thinking, exploring, and questioning what we believe.) For some time, he remained anonymous, but he eventually came out and revealed his true identity at a Freethought convention.

Seth on the left, me on the right.
I've never been to any kind of organize atheist event before. I've never really seen the need to, and I'll admit that for some time after admitting my atheism to myself, I would kind of scoff at the idea. After all, I didn't like going to church when I was a believer. Why would I want to submit myself to something similar when I no longer had the fear that I was making some deity angry? Eventually, I came around and realized that this attitude was a bit of a privilege on my part, as I didn't lose a ton of friends when I came out as an atheist, and I wasn't disowned by my family members. Not everybody is as lucky as me, and for those folks, atheist gatherings offer a chance for them to be with people who embrace them for who they are. So, while I'm still not personally big on atheist gatherings, I'm glad that they exist.

Got a copy of the book, and got it signed.
I will also say that I'm glad that I attended this one. I've been a big fan of Seth's for some time now, ever since I saw his "The Story of Suzie" video.


Lately, I've been steering away from atheist books and podcasts for the most part, as I've had my fill for the most part. Still, I continue listening to his podcast. For one, it's really professional. He keeps each episode to about an hour and there's no blathering on about pointless things. Sure, sometimes he digresses and talks about his dog or things like that, but he keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Also, he has a really positive vibe about his show. I realize that the video up above might make you think differently, but his show is never about calling people stupid or implying that believers are "mentally ill" or other such nonsensical things that some atheists are wont to say.

I'm on the left, toward the back.
Another thing that was really cool about last night's presentation is that I got an old friend to come along with me, and he brought his two kids. The two of them have had their fill of church experiences, as their mother (my friend is divorced from her) takes them on Sundays - and one of the ones she's gone to was pretty rabidly fundamentalist from my understanding. It was great to have them along so they could see a positive face for nonbelievers outside of just their father. Seth also took the time to talk to everybody before and after the show, and he had a great message for them: 1) take care of each other, and 2) keep looking for answers and the truth no matter what it might be. (Those weren't his exact words, but that was the gist.)

No, I didn't take my son. He's only four, and I doubt he would have appreciated it. (My wife would have, but she was unable to attend.) Considering he's not going to be exposed to a whole lot of religion, it's not a high priority for me to take him to things like this. I suppose that if he was older and expressed interest, I'd be happy to, but I have no interest in pushing him one way or the other. I'll be honest about my beliefs, and I'll encourage critical thinking, but I'm not looking to do some sort of equivalent to what the faithful do.

Part of me wishes that some of my faithful friends could have come along, as they probably would have enjoyed it far more than they would expect. Plus, it's always good to show a good side of atheism considering that so many people are given the message that we're horrible. I mean, yeah, we did sacrifice and eat a baby when everything was wrapped up, but lots of groups do that.

In all seriousness though, I'm glad that Seth took some questions at the end, and even better, he was asked, "What do you think the best reasons are for why there is no God?" He took the time to explain that he would never word it that way. Most atheists, like myself, don't take some sort of dogmatic position like theists do when they claim with certainty that a God exists. Most of us don't take the other extreme, as we have no way of knowing that. The best that we can say is that we find the argument for the existence of one to be totally unconvincing. If given evidence, we'll change our minds. But that evidence hasn't appeared, and when it does, it comes in the form of anecdotes, specious reasoning, and appeals to emotion - in other words, not actual evidence.

So, would I attend another event like this? Sure. I had a good time, and if I did, I'd want to bring along some people with me - especially my wife, but maybe even an open-minded theist friend as well. If you're an atheist, especially one who has lost out on friends and family members as a result, then you definitely gotta check out Seth's website and podcast. He always refers to his fans as a community and family, and I don't think that's too far off. Here's hoping Seth will find his way out to California again.

1 comment:

Deron Murphree said...

I've listened to every episode of his podcast. All of his videos are entertaining and informative. You are so fortunate to have been to an event like that. I wish I could have experienced one of his speaking engagements. Hopefully, he'll make it up to Michigan someday soon. It's nice to know that there are others like me who appreciate Seth's wonderful talents. Great article and thanks for sharing!