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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

Celebrating a lack of faith

Posted Friday, April 29, 2011, at 11:35 AM

Last weekend, on Easter Sunday actually (coincidence wink wink), the atheists from around the country converged on Des Moines to hold their national conference.

They expected about 700 to attend. Are you kidding, 700? C'mon there are more than you that that. Really atheists, step your game up!

I'm just curious though, what do you talk about?

At a religious event of that nature, the focus would be on God, Jesus, faith, etc.

What exactly do you discuss at an atheist conference? You didn't come all that way just to reaffirm that you don't believe in God or faith - or did you.

Anyone with a bit of insight into this, please jump on board and share. I find the notion of non-believers conference fascinating.


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A friend of mine from Des Moines invited me to the national convention. I'm intrigued in what atheists believe (or don't believe) and why. The few atheists/agnostics I know have had at least some sort of experience with Christianity. How does that change and why? I'm interested in finding out.

I asked my friend about his experience at the event. He said he didn't go because it was costly. I guess that's the expense of hosting it at the Embassy Suites? Sounds pretty classy. Anyway, maybe that's why the numbers seem low to us, though we don't know what the numbers normally are. Plus, some might think, "Iowa? I don't like potatoes," and decide not to come. I jest, but only in part.

An agnostic friend gave me this response when I asked him about attending the conference:

"I MAY have the wrong impression about the atheist convention, but I assume that anyone who care enough about "not" believing in something to travel to a convention of other like minded disbelievers has an ax to grind. I don't.

There are a lot of things that some people believe in that I don't believe in, and I don't go to conventions about not believing in them either. It sounds like a gathering of people who will smugly pat each other on the back for being smarter than those fools who believe in gods. Whatever."

There are some thoughts that I thought I would pass on in order to get the conversation going.

-- Posted by Gabe Licht on Fri, Apr 29, 2011, at 3:29 PM

I have invited two of my Facebook friends who are members of Siouxland Atheists over to this blog to possibly comment. When I went to the SA Facebook page, I discovered I actually have six Facebook friends who are Siouxland Atheists.

Of the two I have so far invited to comment on this blog, I know each of these individuals pretty well and I believe they're more agnostic (not enough evidence to know if there's a God) than truly atheists, but they should clarify for themselves.

Their belief that God does not exist is rooted in their intellectual view of the world. While neither of them has ever asked me, "How can a smart cookie like you believe you're going to be saved by a sexist, vindictive sky daddy?" they seem to have taken a reductionist view of the truth of the bible. They also point to scientific evidence of evolution, the age and method of formation of the earth, etc.

One of them, in fact, posts outrageously cool videos from Carl Sagan of the universe and other natural wonders -- he actually is a very "spiritual" and passionate individual.

The other is intensely justice-minded, compassionate, fair, generous and loving. Atheists are not these scary outsiders. We may not understand how they can believe there is no God and wish fervently it was possible to convince them otherwise, but ultimately I believe in St. Augustine's, "Volo ut sis." I want you to be. People need to be who they are and especially intelligent people will not be preached into change.

My entire body of creative work since 2007 has been essentially a gigantic love letter to the atheists, agnostics, skeptics, cynics, heathens, Asatru, pagan, Wiccan and other non-Christian people in my life to invite them to consider, "What if it was true?" They're not Left Behind type creations or like a movie Kirk Cameron might make. I'm putting my life and soul into making them amazing literary and theatrical creations that will appeal to the passion and intellect of the most mindful people on earth, yet honor God by exploring whether there is sainthood in all of us, among numerous other big questions.

So, getting off me for a moment, I'm interested to hear from some of our skeptical, agnostic and atheist friends, because I probably would disagree with Gabe's friend. I'm very familiar with the stories of two of my very dearest friends: one has become pagan, the other a heathen, earth-based religion -- each was raised in a Christian home. The Christian church hurt them.

That's maybe not entirely true. People hurt people. And to be clear, these are entirely different individuals from my atheist friends I mentioned earlier. The woman was severely physically and mentally abused by her mother in the name of Jay-sus. The man was served by guards in prison who constantly quoted the bible but in the next breath made it clear they regarded him as subhuman, and in the next footstep beat him with clubs. [and no, he didn't molest any kids or anything -- he did a stupid thing when he was 24 and remains in prison today in middle age -- not to debate the merits of his incarceration or its length at all.] Both these intelligent, talented individuals could have been shining beacons for Christ and it's "Christian" people who have driven them elsewhere to find meaning and nourishment for their souls.

My favorite cousin is agnostic because as a scientist (nuclear engineer) he cannot reconcile biblical truth with the evidence before his eyes -- his mind simply won't wind its way around it.

What's causing decent people to run screaming away from the message of Christ? In many sad cases, it's Christians!

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Fri, Apr 29, 2011, at 4:02 PM

Randy, why does a group of like minded people coming together surprise you so much? What do people talk about at high school reunions? I know people who are quilters who get together on occassion to talk about quilting.

I am an atheist but did not attend the conference. If I lived in Des Moines, I probably would have gone just to converse with people who view the world approximately the same as I do (isn't that part of the reason for attending church? All the other stuff could be done in the privacy of your own home).

-- Posted by DaveMunson on Fri, Apr 29, 2011, at 5:17 PM

I was raised a Christian, took the lessons I learned and kept them and just moved on. I don't really call myself an atheist or a Christian or anything. I'm just me. I don't need to travel to Des Moines to meet a bunch of strangers that probably have different views on spirituality/religion/whatever else anyways. I live my own happy life with family, friends, my hobbies and interests.

I hope you don't see non-religious people as outcasts.

-- Posted by qMarq19 on Fri, Apr 29, 2011, at 8:07 PM

I attended the convention and absolutely loved it. I'm looking forward to doing it again next year.

Why does everyone think we sit around these gathersings chuckling to ourselves about how we're so much smarter than those stupid christians? It's nothing like that at all. The topic of conversation is more along the lines of how we cope in a world that generally hates us for no good reason and what we can do to stop the religious right from forcing their particular beliefs on us. If you don't believe me, listen to people like Michelle Bachman and Huckabee for a while.

It's a great feeling to be amongst a bunch of people that share your view of the world without fear of being preached at or accused of being a devil worshipper.

But even while we were at the embassy suites, we still had to deal with protesters outside and even people sneaking into the hotel to preach to us and leave religious tracts laying around.

So, if that is how your daily life is, wouldn't you appreciate a chance to (almost) escape it for a few days?

-- Posted by hank_hill on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 12:38 AM

@AmyPeterson, to answer your question of what makes people atheists, it's extremely rare that it's because of a bad experience with religious people.

At least amongst the other atheists I know, their lack of belief is more to do with studying religion and oddly enough, studying religious books like the bible. It's very common that atheists are former religious people that began studying their own religions closely instead of just doing and believing what other people told them. We talk about this a lot in our local atheist group; once you begin to deeply study your religion, you're on a slippery slope towards atheism.

It's not unusual for atheists to know the bible and other religious documents extremely well. At the convention, I heard atheists correcting protester's bible quotes a number of times. So, it's not like 'I hate christians because they were mean to me', it's more like 'this just doesn't make any sense to me'. In general, we're atheists not because of bad experiences but because we started researching our own religions closely.

To quote Mark Twain, "It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

-- Posted by hank_hill on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 1:04 AM

Hank, well said. Does Spencer have an atheist group or is this local group elsewhere? I would be interested in hearing more about this group.

-- Posted by DaveMunson on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 7:22 AM

Hank_Hill, thank you for responding. I apparently did not make it clear that I was talking about people I know who have a variety of experiences that led them to where they are today. What the ones who choose an earth-based religion, for example, have in common with the atheists is that they gave Christianity and the bible a chance and for solid reason it did not resonate enough with them. Either because of Christian hypocrisy or because the bible does not match with facts, as I did state in the case of my scientist cousin.

The individuals who are now pagans whom I refer to, spent some time as atheist/agnostic/secular humanists and it was a community of pagans in each case who bothered to make a connection with them. In those cases where they feel they were harmed by Christians, and therefore Christianity, it was as though the earth based religions provided healing for them. My point about that was not really directed toward any atheists who might post here but rather to the Christians to say that more often than we think, people have given Christ a chance and as a whole, we screw it up with hypocrisy, misinformation (I have no doubt many atheists know the bible better than many Christians) and general arrogance and imperialistic attitude.

Once again, thank you. You seem like someone with whom I'd like to kick back and have a discussion sometime -- about propane and propane accessories, the origins of the universe, that sort of thing.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 7:30 AM

@iowaskeptic, I'm not from Spencer, I actually live in Newton and I'm a member of the Iowa Atheists & Frethinkers. Remember the bus ad controversy in 2009? Those bus ads are in my basement :-) I don't know of any groups in the Spencer area myself, but there may be. If you want to connect to other Iowa atheists & skeptics, you might want to join our facebook page at http://goo.gl/1VV1R

@AmyPeterson, ha, as you might suspect, my name isn't really Hank. I just go by that because I'm a closeted atheist. I'm concerned mostly about work associates and my friends at the mostly conservative hunting and fishing club I'm a member of (Isaak Walton League). As far as christians screwing things up with hypocrisy, that doesn't affect my relgious beliefs at all. I don't believe in religion because it just doesn't make sense to me. Christian hypocrisy though does affect how I treat religious groups and it affects my level of atheist activism quite a bit.

I believe that people are free to believe or disbelieve as they see fit. It's a personal decision we all make in our lives and I'm more than happy to let people believe as the choose. I would never attempt to try to convert someone to my point of view. Generally, atheists do not proselytize.

However, when I hear people like Bob Vander Plaats say things like gay sex is comparable to second hand smoke, I get mad and motivated to become more politically active. I'm not going sit on the sidelines and let people like that run roughshod over me and my country. I'm not gay, but I'm not going to let anybody talk like that about my gay friends.

So, if the religious right would stop trying to replace the US consitution with the book of leviticus, and if they would stop trying to force everyone into their belief system, I would leave them alone. Until that time though, I will remain politically active and will do everything I can to show the rest of the world that Iowa is not composed entirely of people like Vander Plaats and Steven King. I think American Atheists' decision to have their convention in Des Moines was a good example of that.

-- Posted by hank_hill on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 9:10 AM

Amy, I am not an atheist because of the hypocrisy of christians. Such hypocrisy might make me reject organized religion, but not god itself. I reject god because I find it all very unconvincing. Knowing the history of the bible and having read it, I find the arguments for god to be lacking. I also find that I have no need for a god. I do not need god to explain the universe (I will use science for that - and I am OK with unanswered questions; in fact it makes it more exciting to hunt for such answers). I do not need god to give my life meaning or purpose (my life gives itself meaning in the things that I do to try to make this world a better place). I do not need god to comfort me in a time of death (I am OK with this life being all there is).

As far as getting together in conventions, I have to agree with Hank about the negative view many have of atheists. In the Des Moines Register there was a letter about a week ago (in response to negative attention about the convention) in which the writer proclaimed that many atheists have done good things in this world. A few days later another writer felt he must counter this argument by claiming that the worst genocides in history were committed by atheists (now I do not want to get into a debate about whether more people have been killed by atheists or theists - that is really beside the point). The point is that this writer was trying to equate genocide with atheism; as if atheists support genocide. This is the type of view we have to put up with so sometimes it is just nice to be able to talk about these things with people feel the same way.

For those believers who may be reading this blog I would like to ask you a serious question - why do you reject all other gods? There have been and are still many gods that have been worshipped over the years. Why do you reject Thor, Zeus, Horus, Krishna, etc.? Most of your reject all gods except one - I just go that one extra step and reject them all. If you truly think about why you reject all other gods, you may begin to understand why I reject yours.

-- Posted by DaveMunson on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 9:39 AM

Great topic, and amazingly temperate discussions here.

I don't think his comment was original, but an atheist friend of mine in Iraq said to me (in as many words) "I'm okay with this Jesus guy. And I would be more interested in going to Heaven but apparently it's going to be filled with Christians. That sounds like Hell to me."

-- Posted by Paul.Dalen on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 6:46 PM


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Randy Cauthron is the managing editor of the Daily Reporter. He has been with the paper since 2003 and has worked in the newspaper business since 1993. Randy enjoys entertainment and sports. He has wife, Leah and six children living in Spencer. Randy enjoys sharing his opinion on everything from entertainment, pop culture, politics and sports.
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