Upon entertaining atheists

Saturday’s atheist group was the first that I unreservedly enjoyed, partly because we have finally gone from having one existing member to every four new members, to having four existing members to every one new member; and partly because I have stopped trying to be the perfect host. When you host up to three events a month, you just have to give up on having your dust bunnies symmetrically arranged. Here’s my report on last night’s meeting, and on the people who attended.

Steering Committee: We met an hour before the scheduled meeting, and discussed ways to handle our growing membership. We also decided to sponsor a support group for people who have been emotionally harmed by religion. This group was my idea, and I had done a lot of planning for it, so I assumed I would be in charge, but Mary volunteered, so I turned it over to her. This was hard for me, but since I’m forever ragging on everyone to take more responsibility, I felt that it was necessary. If we don’t attract enough support group members from our total membership of 73, we will reach out to the community at large.

The snacks. They were excellent except for some stale nuts. I tasted them in advance, and knew they were stale, but didn’t have the guts to say so to the man who brought them. I won’t do that again.

The drinks: Wine, juice, pop, and gin. I initially thought the gin was wine because it came in a corked bottle that was shaped like a wine bottle, so I poured myself a large glass, and ended up drinking it all. Since I’m well past the age when it seems cool to act loaded, I faced somewhat of a challenge.

The topics. Intuition—what is it; does it exist; how can it be explained; and are women more intuitive than men? Morality—if you’ve always been told that religion is the sole source of morality, what happens when you give up your religion? Dialogue with believers—how should atheists address issues of faith, prayer, purpose, and so forth, and does the abrasive approach of many of the so-called New Atheists alienate more religious people than it awakens?

The members:

Marian. She’s autistic and, at twenty, is our youngest member, yet soon after she joined, she had the guts to challenge a loud, large, and arrogant sixty-year-old man when he said something that didn’t make sense to her. I wish I had had such courage when I was her age.

Bella. At 88, she’s our oldest member and a treasure chest of experience if not of wisdom. If someone hasn’t spoken much, Bella will start trying to draw him or her out. We’re going to devote a major part of our next meeting to hearing Bella talk about anything she wants to talk about.

Steve. He has a gift for taking unpopular positions and calmly using his encyclopedic knowledge to turn them into teaching opportunities. I think his IQ is probably off the chart, but I would say the same about a few others. I rather doubt that I’m the smartest person in the group, but I have some good excuses for it.

Lee and Robin. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses until a few years ago, and this puts them in an excellent position to teach the rest of us about cultish behavior. I also enjoy the fact that Lee plays the role of the intellectual male and Robin the emotional female, yet they give every appearance of using these differences to complement their marriage—I know they use them to complement our group.

Bob and Mary. They both strike me as intensely emotional, although they wear a patina of calm. They’ve been together for a long time, and seem to have a happy marriage. If I had to use one word to describe them, it would be steady. Bob hosts our movie night, and Mary is going to host our support group. If the group ever needs a bouncer, I’ll appoint Bob because he’s the kind of guy who don’t take no shit from nobody.

Ruth. She gives the word ebullient a whole new meaning because she’s so childlike in her excitement despite her nearly six decades. She hosts our group’s game night, but her political activism often competes with her participation in other group activities.

Larry. He nearly always comes to meetings, but he seldom speaks unless someone asks him something. When he does speak, he expresses himself well and makes good points.

Victoria. She reminds me of a bird that seems ever poised to fly away, yet when she’s present, she brings good energy and interesting perspectives. Last October, she loaned me five extra chairs for the group’s use, and she hasn’t asked to have them back, so we’re still using them.

Richard. Although tonight was his first meeting, he acted like an old timer whose opinions were valued. I wish I could feel that wanted when I’m among strangers.

Kurt. He’s a man of depth, but he seldom speaks unless someone asks him something.

Edwin. He’s relatively new; he said little; and he left early, so I have nothing to say about him.

Rachel (a child). Brewsky (a cat). Bonnie (a dog). Every meeting should contain these three because they emit a sweet, casual and homey ambiance.

Blank and Blank. They were no shows. I hate it when people stand the group up because I have limited space, and this means that they might knock someone else out of coming.

Four hours and twenty minutes passed between the arrival of the first person and the departure of the last, yet I was sorry that they didn’t stay longer. That was a first for me.


kylie said...

so what are you going to do about the stale nuts, tell him?
and those chairs you borrowed, you know she's prolly wondering when you'll give em back?

sounds like you're doing well and enjoying it.
good for you

The Depressed Reader said...

Hi Snow,
This was an interesting post, and I liked your short character sketches of the different group members.

It is wonderful that things seem to be really taking off for your group, and the support group for people harmed by religion sounds like a great idea. We live in a world where people are often brainwashed to believe a bunch of things that are not true and make little sense, and from what I have heard, in the US it can be a big black mark against one's name not to be a believer. Good on you guys (and girls) for taking some initiative and trying to help out.

I've never been a member of any atheist groups, but in Australia I think being non-religious doesn't really matter, and in here in Japan most people are de facto atheists anyway. But we all need some kind of community to belong to, and I'm glad you're creating one in your area.

Snowbrush said...

I threw the nuts out, babe, a whole pint of them. I doubt that Victoria is losing any sleep over her chairs. Yeah, I am enjoying the group. It gives me a sense of mission, of importance, of community, and is a source of interest and stimulation.

Skepticat said...

I'm so glad that your group is going well. It sounds like an amazing group of people. *envious*

I love the idea of having a support group for people who have left religion. Trouble is, where I'm about to go, I doubt anyone will be brave enough to either leave or admit to having left. I guess time will tell.

Snowbrush said...

Depressed, you responded while I was writing. Yes, you are 100% right. Being religious--or at least not anti-religious--is important in America. For example, most people here say that they would vote for a completely unqualified Christian who was running for president before they would vote for an eminently qualified atheist. Atheists are assumed to be bitter, arrogant, and immoral troublemakers. As with homosexuals, it's easier to hate them from a distance, and this is part of why I write so much about the subject on my blog.

Snowbrush said...

Hey, Skeptikitty, you too wrote while I was writing. You guys gotta stop that, you hear? Yeah, I'm glad it's going well too, and I thought about you specifically while I was writing this post. By moving from Mississippi's coast to the northern part of the state, you're moving from the frying pan directly into the fire as far as any support for your atheism is concerned. Listen, kid, if you should ever want to move to Oregon, I'll go all out to help you because I know what it's like where you are, and I came here specifically to get away from all that. So, I would like to see you get out too. But if you stay, it at least sounds like you might find some support over in the Huntsville area.

You know about the atheist blog in Jackson, right? They might be a useful resource for you in making contact with others.

kylie said...

actually, i was joshing on the chair thing!
i like you calling me babe, too!

as for your comments (to someone else) about people electing a Christian over an atheist:
at the time of our last federal election we had a choice of an untried, atheist woman who appeared to have some clue what she was doing; or a known buffoon who calls himself a Christian. i heard Christians say they would vote for the buffoon. to me thats idiocy. even if you want to see Christians in office they have to be able to do the job, not to mention if he is a twat in general his faith will probably be no better informed (and i know that to you people of faith are uninformed but what i'm saying is for me, as a person of faith, i want to see it used intelligently, not as a vote buyer)

Snowbrush said...

Kylie, since you're an Aussie, I'll tell you something about America that you might not know, and probably haven't experienced where you are. A lot of business people here will put a fish symbol on their listing in the phone book. I don't know if this is supposed to imply that they are better workers, or more honest, or just more deserving of your business, but I don't think that using religion for financial profit was quite what Jesus had in mind, so even if I were a Christian, I wouldn't hire such people.

Mad Mind said...

Snow, you told Kylie about the fish symbol here in America. I feel they are just putting on airs. Too many people sit in a pew on Sunday morning and think that will make them appear to be good people. The reality is that the biggest hypocrites are the ones sitting in those pews. For that reason alone religion should be banned.

Natalie said...

Snowybabe ~ We have the fish symbol too here on business advertising.
Australia (generally speaking) has far more tolerance for difference than America seems to have.

Seems like I am between a rock and a hard place. See my post 'Love is a Doing Word'. I am neither 'religious' nor am I an atheist. I would have loved to be at your 'intuition' meeting...stale nuts and all. :)

Snowbrush said...

Mad said: "religion should be banned."

I don't know if you meant this literally, but we can't very well ban religion in what we still like to call a free society, and I don't think it works so well to do so in a totalitarian society either. I would like to see religion completely removed from public observances and decision-making, however, and I would like for religious institutions to be taxed.

Natalie, Bella introduced the intuition topic because she thinks she intuitive. When asked for an example, she said that she realized intuitively one day that the cure for cancer is a strong immune system. Well, cancer isn't caused by a weak immune system anymore than allergies are, so her example--although satisfying to her--crashed and burned completely with me and, I think, everyone else. This is what I run into all the time with people who believe in psychic--or near-psychic--kinds of things. The evidence for their position simply isn't there. Of course, I know that you and I differ completely on this, so all I can say is that I'm glad we're friends anyway.

The Blog Fodder said...

As long as stale nuts doesn't apply to the participants, i guess you are OK. I would never deal with a business that promotes itself as Christian unless I had references from others that it was honest and did quality work. Too many Pray on their knees on Sunday and their neighbours the rest of the week.

Gaston Studio said...

Love your descriptions of the attendees and would love to meet some of them. Glad you're enjoying yourself Snow and I, too, would throw out the stale nuts. Yuk!

R. J. said...

It sounds like an intense group. The sense of community that you have found by forming a group with a common cause is the very need that seems to draw many people to herd themselves into a religion. Having grown up in a methodist environment, the social interchange is compelling, the mythology, not so much. I left that organization while in college, but the temptation to join groups is still there. I am reluctant to join a group with a "cause". It sounds like an interesting gathering of people in your group. Do they relate in other areas and find common ground on other subjects also? I ran across this article which was interesting, and I don't agree with all of it, but I tend to keep arms length from the whole subject. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/22/my-take-there%E2%80%99s-no-such-thing-as-the-bible/?s-no-such-thing-as-the-bible/?hpt=Sbin

Snowbrush said...

Natalie said: "We have the fish symbol too here on business advertising. Australia...has far more tolerance for difference than America..."

Natalie, I think it's tacky to use your religion as a means to boost your income, so if my opinion qualifies as intolerant, then I'm intolerant. Yet, I would never dream of restricting such things because they are freedom of speech issues pure and simple. I wouldn't be the least surprised that yours is a more tolerant country precisely because it's a less religious country. Even in America, the amount of tolerance differs broadly from place to place depending upon the prevalence of religion.

Blog Fodder said: " I would never deal with a business that promotes itself as Christian unless I had references."

But other businesses you would? I don't think that's what you meant though. Anyway, my assumption about people who use their religion as a part of their advertising is that they are ethically challenged as demonstrated on the basis of that action alone, and I take this as a mark against them. Still, if they were friendly, their prices were right, and they had raving reviews, sure, I would hire them, that is if I got so far as to even consider them in the first place, which isn't something I would ordinarily do.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, even though I believe what I believe and you believe differently, I get such a kick out of your meetings. I always enjoy what you have to say.

Take care my friend!

ellen abbott said...

I'm glad the group is going well. re your discussion. a friend one time accused me of having no morals because I didn't believe in religion, christianity specifically. I was a little dumbfounded especially coming from him. In his defense though, I think he had gone crazy by then. And his other actions certainly shored up this opinion.

sounds like an interesting group.

Natalie said...

Definitely about religion.
Our country is not as religious as yours,so naturally it is more tolerant of Atheists.

I have come to accept, (but not endorse or condone) that most humans will make a buck any way they can.Fish symbol or no fish symbol. ♥

rhymeswithplague said...

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think what you have there is a church in the original sense. The Greek word ekklesia (from which our English word "ecclesiastical" comes) meant merely an assembly, a group of people who had come together for a common cause; for example, the inhabitants of the city-state of Athens constituted an ekklesia.

Because of its New Testament use, the word came to mean a group of Christian believers gathered for worship of God, but originally it meant just what you have there without any religious connotation at all.

The Tusk said...

I also liked the descriptive nature of the characters present at your meeting, that you so cooly portrayed. It's quite the chorus line. I think you shjould revisit this arena of character portrayl and add to your already Wiki on these members. Oh boy will the blankety blanks be upset when they finally do show. I'm sure they will, make em sit on the floor. It seems you need a Socrates and a courtesan, then I might fly out to drink the Gin like wine. No need to explain, but your proffessionalism was certainly on the line. I hope it wasn't to badly tarnished. That would be your proffessionalism as reputation goes.

I was wondering why you hadn't commented on my Cull post, as I know this is a topic of your past, does it touch to close to home to speak about. I immediately followed it up with a Love, Courage and Conviction post to mask the post and then withdrew it as it just wasn't up to snuff. It was about addiction, but it missed the mark as it was hastily written.


Chrisy said...

Sounds like you're gathering some interesting people together there Snow...it's great that you've been able to organise and host...am hoping that your pain has settled a little...as always, enjoy your writing very much...

Selina Kingston said...

You painted a great picture of your group - I felt as if I was sitting amongst you. I'm sorry though if you have been emotionally damaged by religion

All Consuming said...

Great stuff, an excellent idea, I look forward to hearing about the meetings.

"Since I’m well past the age when it seems cool to act loaded, I faced somewhat of a challenge."

HAHAHAHAHA, oh you do make me laugh, which is always a good thing. x

The Elephant's Child said...

Ann O'Dyne referred me to you AND SHE WAS RIGHT. I love the idea of a support group for people damaged by the practise of religion. And in your earlier post I was wrapped that you challenged the doctors. Thank you.

lyptis said...

Aw, that's sweet. Loved reading your description of everyone. Would love to come around too, but too far for me.

Thanks for coming by my blog every now and then. I might be back blogging now but who knows..
Hey and there is nothing wrong with having your dust bunnies symmetrically arranged..

Strayer said...

The fish symbol, know what that means to me? It's like a My Kid Is an Honor student bumper sticker on the back of a van used in heists. An allusion, to delude people to blindly believe you are something, without you being that something.

Well whatever. I should join your damaged by religion group because I certainly qualify and keep on qualifying.

I see the Adventists are in the news, somebody got molested at the youth camp, Big Lake probably and the Adventists covered for the molestor. Boy, big news, eh? But everytime they're in the news, my neck starts hurting, where they beat me, on that damn psyche ward. I sure qualify as damaged by religious thugs and molesting religious fathers. I qualify. Undoubtedly I qualify. How do I get in?

Phoenix said...

Really liked this post. My atheist friends and I love getting into lively debates and getting better about not taking things personally. I think atheist support groups are incredibly important since we live in such a puritanical society that definitely seems to frown and ostracize those who have chosen not to believe in a higher being (and even more ostracized are those who have left a religion behind.) I'm glad it went well - I know from earlier discussions with you that you don't always enjoy support group meetings and I'm glad this one was different. :)

Looking to the Stars said...

Good post, enjoyed it! I like the idea that you have a support group for people who have been hurt by religion, that is a very needful thing in today's world.

Religion is used to control the masses. The Catholic church has abused that power to the max, they know the truth. Why do you think they worship Mary & not Jesus.

Like you, I don't know to much about the JW's. Your friends will be able to give you insight into that world.

I know people who go to church & try to be the best they can. I also know those who go so they can be thought better of but who do not practice their beliefs.

I think the God thing is highly over rated and I think you are doing a good thing helping people that have been hurt by religion :)

C Woods said...

Snowbrush ---I'm not sure if you are interested, but there is an online site www.meetup.com on which you can post your group's events and attract new members. If someone moves to your area and is looking to meet with like-minded people, they can find you.

I believe there is a small fee (only a few dollars per month) but if you ask for donations at your meetings, the fee would be covered and probably give you a few extra dollars to pay for other expenses. If space is limited, you might want to look into holding dinner (or breakfast, lunch or brunch) meetings at a casual restaurant. As long as everyone orders something, most don't charge a fee. If you ask what night is slow for the restaurant (usually Mon or Tue) they will be glad to have you.

I recently joined a local group that I found on MeetUp. I am in the next county and they hold regular meetings in an area that is difficult for me to get to and where it is even harder to park, so I won't be joining them often, but they met at a Unitarian Church near me last Sunday to see Dan Barker (Freedom From Religion Foundation) speak about FFRF's case (now being appealed by the opposition) which declared unconstitutional the president's declaration (mandated by Congress) to hold a National Day of Prayer every year.

I wrote 2 responses to your comments on my blog about the lack of free college classes for seniors in your area. Check them out because there are some classes that are not free, but inexpensive, in your area.

Lee Johnson said...

I thought it was a great discussion that night, and your post provides a good summary, right down to the nuts. (Boy, those were bad, weren't they?)

I've never seen the fish symbols in the phone book (my generation believes that phone books are free door stops), but I will avoid businesses that overtly display their religious leanings (I used to avoid them when I was religious too, so this didn't work to their favor either way.) For the same reason, I'd never move to Utah. There are bee hives in every business window and I'd never be able to shop anywhere.

The Blog Fodder said...

I prefer recommendations for any business but without them I will NOT deal at an overtly religious "Christian" business. They tend to live by the bible verse that says "He was a stranger and I took him in". I prefer those that walk it and don't talk it.
Don't know if you know any Mennonites, but they are very active in the mission field but do NOT preach. They help in whatever way is needed and most effective. I like that approach from anyone.

Anonymous said...

The only purpose of a meeting is to schedule the next meeting. I'd be an alcoholic but I would refuse to go to AA.

I follow my own path and listen without comment when others robotic-ally say "thank god" (who think it makes them sound trustworthy and pious). I've learned to avoid them and have managed to not join any group that will welcome me just because I'm another ass to fill a seat.

Snowbrush said...

C Woods said: "National Day of Prayer every year."

Oh, man, don't you just hate that kind of thing? When I think of Obama, I often remember the man whom I met on a rainy winter's day the ten months before the election. All by himself, he was going door-to-door to campaign for Obama. So many worked so hard and believed so much only to get the same-old same-old.

Fodder, there is a Mennonite community not far from here, but the only Mennonite I've known was an ex-Mennonite who loathed her former religion due to the fact that she felt the people ignored the fact that she was sexually abused as a child. I do see women Mennonites in stores sometimes. They are easy to pick out because they find it necessary to wear the most unattractive clothes they can find--or, more likely, make--and to keep their heads covered.

Dana said: "I've learned to avoid them and have managed to not join any group that will welcome me just because I'm another ass to fill a seat."

You mean that literally, no doubt.