Monday, September 8, 2008

Atheists Eat Oddity For Lunch

There was a time when Mark Boyd's truck sported a 'Darwin fish,' which is a parody of the Christian ichthys symbol. Then somebody ripped it off, broke it into four pieces and put it under one of the vehicle's windshield wipers.

Sometimes, it's not easy being an atheist in the Fresno area.

Boyd knows this, which is one of the reasons he helped form the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics. He wanted a group that allowed like-minded people to gather and discuss issues of common interest.

'It's a conservative city,' Boyd said of Fresno metropolitan area. 'It's good to have a way to find each other.'

On Sunday, about 30 people -- some card-carrying members of the group, some simply curious -- gathered at Letterman Park in Clovis for discussion, some debate and even a bit of chess.

Many Christians might well have been shocked by the conversation. But know this, too: believers in Bigfoot, homeopathic medicine, unidentified flying objects, ghosts and male enhancement drugs would likely have been offended as well.

That's because it wasn't simply a religion-bashing contest. Other areas some dubbed "pseudo-science" also were bashed.

Even some Christians attended, such as Bullard High School science teacher Scott Hatfield, who came to the event straight from Memorial United Methodist Church in Clovis, where he is music director.

Hatfield said there are "flavors of atheism." Some are evangelical in their non-believing zeal, while others may be questioning their faith. In his case, he is a Christian with a strong belief in critical thinking.

Such skepticism, he said, is vital to people who move in society, be it for voting or simply buying products. And because he is a Christian, he sees the good in others in the group whose beliefs steer strongly toward a nonbelief in God.

That includes people like Fresno writer Nick Lewis, who won a Bible at his church as a youngster and was turned off by the words inside. 'I was born an atheist,' he said. 'No one's going to change that.'"

-- John Ellis, covering the first-ever "Heretics Barbecue" in California, for the Fresno Bee.

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