Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heretic's Holiday

Winding down from another heretic's holiday. I skipped the non-prayer breakfast in exchange for an extra hour of sleep. The convention started with a rundown of all the states that were represented (I believe it was 37, plus Canada.) There was just over 600 participants this year, and a good majority of those were from right here in the Godless Pacific Northwest. We’re second only to Oregon as the most Godless state in the union. By Godless, I mean the lowest church attendance. There was a short presentation from a local woman, who had produced the book Frommer’s Seattle Day by Day, and she gave a little welcoming speech and a rundown of tourist traps, er…I mean tourist spots for the out-of-towners.

The first topical speaker was Barry Kosmin, who spoke on "The Rising Tide of Secularity in the U.S." He was a principal researcher of the American Religious Identification Survey, which showed that the nonreligious had grown to 15% of the adult U.S. population by 2008. I picked up on a new term this year that I hadn’t heard before: the “Nones.” These are the people who said "None" when asked their religious identity on the survey. They’re not necessarily militant atheists. They just don’t care. Mr. Kosmin gave an academic speech with lots of statistics and a little humor. I had to struggle to stay awake at times.

The next speaker was Daniel Everett, author of Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. He started off his life as a missionary to South America, and along the way morphed into an atheist, who is now chair of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University. His book details his time spent with the Pirahas tribe in the Amazon. This tribe is significant for several reasons, including the fact that they have no creation myth. They also don’t have numbers, or words for colors. They tend to live in the present moment, and someone like Jesus, who may have lived over two-thousand years ago doesn’t mean anything to them. The talk was very interesting, and unfortunately Everett’s time was limited, because he had to catch a flight to London.

After lunch, we had about a half hour to get back to the convention. The wait for the elevators alone was twenty minutes. The two speakers in the afternoon were quite good: Jennifer Michael Hecht, who authored a history of doubt a few years ago, was honored with the Freethought Heroine Award. She was obviously brilliant and could have easily filled a couple of hours with an interesting talk. Ursula K. Le Guin came on next, and she's a living legend in my book. She's in her 80s and still writing fiction, poetry and essays. She had a very poignant speech, re-interpreting the Emperor Has No Clothes fairy tale. This is connected to the fact that she was receiving the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award for speaking out truthfully, and without fear. I had Ms. Le Guin sign my hardcover copy of her translation of the Tao te Ching,and yes...I will treasure it always.

There was one speaker after the banquet this evening. But before the speaker was the annual ticket drawing for pre-“In God We Trust” money. For the last two years the people I have sat with have won a prize. This year was no exception, making it three years straight that someone at my table has won a Godless piece of money. This year it was my ex-wife of almost two weeks, who won one of the cherished bills. She will be in the group photo that adorns the appropriate issue of Freethought Today.

After the giveaway another Emperor Has No Clothes Award was given to former L.A. Times religion reporter William Lobdell. He wrote an excellent book entitled Losing My Religion about his years on the beat as the weekly religion columnist. During his tenure he covered the Catholic sex abuse trials, and that along with his coverage of such charlatans as Benny Hinn, led him to reject the notion of God. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and his tale is a very personal journey. Many aspects will ring true to anyone, who has ever questioned their faith, whether they’ve crossed over to full-blown atheism, or not.

Now it’s time to relax, but one beer doesn’t stand clear, and if it did it certainly wouldn’t be that Miller piss water. No, it’s time to relax by shutting off the computer and choosing some mindless movie from my collection to watch. I’m thankful that I don’t have cable, otherwise I’d be tempted to channel surf. Nasty habit, that channel surfing. Maybe it’s time to re-watch Superbad once again. It’s never too soon.

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