Monday, November 12, 2012

How Skepticon is and isn't like going to church

Is: Skepticon is a gathering of like-minded people on specific dates.
Isn't: The particular dates don't matter, except that that also mostly encompass a weekend, but purely for reasons of travel and availability. There is no such thing as a skeptical Sabbath.

Is: Skepticon involves speakers getting up before an audience and issuing proclamations.
Isn't: Those proclamations are not from an agreed-upon text. There is no official doctrine or dogma.

Hemant Mehta compares the drawings by an eight year old
in Sunday school of a good Christian boy (well-groomed,
carrying a cross) and an atheist boy (tattooed, drinking)
Is: Speakers talk about what's important to them, and to members of the audience.
Isn't: What's important is not furthering belief in supernatural entities.

Is: There is a sacrament.
Isn't: It's beer.

Is: There is a lot of talk about religion.
Isn't: Not generally in a favorable light.

Is: You get to hear "God" a lot.
Isn't: It's likely to be followed immediately by "damn."

Is: It's free.
Isn't: Nobody passes a basket. At least, not literally.

Is: There are protesters.
Text: "The Scientific Reliability of The Bible
Psalm 119:138
If the Bible is not true then nothing really
matters. If the Bible is true then nothing else
really matters. [sic]"
Wait, wait, wait....that's an "is"? Yes. Where (and when) I went to church, there were protesters.
Isn't: Somewhat different kind of protesters. But not terribly different.
Sign: "If You Died Today, Where
Would You Go?"

Is: It happens on a regular basis.
Isn't: Skepticon happens once year. People travel hundreds of miles to reach it, because there isn't anything equivalent happening closer to them.

Is: It's very segregated. You could make pretty accurate arrangements to meet up with someone by saying "I'll see you by the black dude at 4:00."
Isn't: There was somebody making an issue of this. Unfortunately, a lot of people (including myself...I had to get on the road) weren't around to hear it.

Is: People feel a surge of enthusiasm and joy from the knowledge that they are amongst others who sympathize on something very important to them. As one was quoted, "Hanging out with people who agree with me recharges and revitalizes me."
Isn't: Well...

This quote was mentioned by James Croft on Sunday morning (fittingly) during his talk on skeptical and atheist communities. In light of the fact that "non-religious" is the fastest-growing "religious" faction in America, with 1/3 of people under age 30 fitting that description, Croft was encouraging attendees of Skepticon to join and/or start local organizations for the non-religious in order to have that revitalizing and recharging sense of community more often, and to engage in the kind of proactive ethical pursuits that churches often do (collecting food, toys, etc. for the poor) as secular communities, all over the country, when conventions like Skepticon aren't taking place. Croft was encouraging everyone to become more active, to translate that feeling of inward belonging into outward action, which-- if we're to be fair-- is like pulling teeth to get church members to do. People who live fewer than two miles from their place of worship, from the supposed locus of attention of the ever-loving deity who created the universe. I guess they figure he'll take care of it for them. Skeptics don't have that to fall back on.

I think impatience in this case is easy, actually-- particularly if you're the sort of person who has no problem finding people who are very accepting of skepticism and secularism as an important or even necessary element of their day-to-day life, which is also your day-to-day life. It can be easy to discount the comfort that can be found in people who think similarly if you are not one of those (like a secularist in the midwest) who spends every waking moment around people who largely don't.  

I know, I know, it's a messy issue. Routinely, the community of skeptics/atheists/secularists runs up against such concerns, and runs up against them hard. Croft bent over backwards in his talk to make the idea of gathering together seem as palatable to secularists-- who, incidentally, had already made quite a significant show of being willing to gather together at least once a year, for a couple of days, for the sake of common interest and the comfort that comes from that, and for some socialization. Like cons are known to be-- gatherings of enthusiasts.

For me, it was an opportunity to socialize in particular with a friend I've known for a good fifteen years (thank you, internet!), but had never met in person.
Gretchen and Ed Brayton
Damn sure it's not going to be another fifteen years.


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