By Tim Thomsen
“Hon? I’m going to an atheist meeting tonight,” I told my wife as I got home from work.
“Really? Sure you aren’t going to Hooters?”
I sighed. My wife had a hard time believing that I would actually want to spend time with a bunch of middle aged white guys talking about how they don’t believe in god. And no, I told her, the meeting of the Connecticut Valley Atheists wasn’t going to be at Hooters, it was going to be at a church. Something that religion provides to many people is a large meeting place, a place for people to congregate and worship. We wouldn’t be worshiping anything tonight, however. In fact, I didn’t know what we would be doing. Would we be talking? Arguing? Would there be a secret atheist handshake? What if I couldn’t get in? What if I had to recite a sassy Christopher Hitchens quote to gain entry? I grew nervous. I started looking up my atheist facts to prove I was an atheist. My wife helped me pick out my outfit. Long sleeve shirt, jeans, Converse. Good paunchy guy clothing.
“All right, I’m off. I’ll bring you some wings,” I said.
And off I was, headed to my first meeting of non-belief! Into the night I drove, determined to prove my wife wrong, that I wasn’t headed into the arms of hundreds of buxom atheist waitresses. Those thoughts kept me warm on my cold drive, but as I pulled into the church, those thoughts quickly evaporated. Definitely a church. And as I went inside, I was greeted with that church basement smell, a combination of construction paper, old carpet, and possibly myrrh. I noticed a small group of people, and I quietly said hello. Surprisingly, they all did not resemble me (a white male, if I haven’t made that clear). There was an African American woman, the rarest of all atheists. There was a former Muslim gentleman, both eloquent and intelligent. There were other men and women there, both young and old, and all of us were gathered there for one thing: Pizza.
Yes! This group had its priorities! Four different pizzas, two heavily covered in meats. Jackpot! And it was free! These atheists were my kind of people! A true atheist will see the needs of his or her community, and give out all sorts of free stuff! And then the meeting began proper, and, uh-oh. What’s this? They started passing the jar. The kitty. They expected me to “pay my dues” for some reason. As I wiped the free pizza grease from my face, I thought about how this was another example of Big Atheism and the billionaire fat cats that wanted all of my money. Typical.
But then another thing happened: a lively discussion. I thought I would naturally agree with what I heard that night. But to my surprise, there were different opinions! Different views. Varying degrees of non-belief. The conversation was getting heated, back and forth. “Is prayer wrong?” “Does religion have its place in today’s society?” “Has mankind evolved beyond organized religion?” And I finally got to ask the burning question that has been tearing me apart: “Why the hell do I keep saying ‘God bless you’ after someone sneezes?” The room lit up, everyone had their support for me, and reassured me that I was still an atheist if that happened.
And then, sadly, the meeting came to a close. If I wanted more, I would have to attend the next meeting. A member announced “We are having brunch at a local restaurant this Sunday.” “Hooters?” I thought to myself. He continued “We are meeting at the Cosmic Omelet.” The Cosmic Omelet? That place rocks! Best eggs in town! Place is always packed too. Hard to get a seat. If these atheist guys could get me in for brunch there, I suppose I could work out some type of membership fee arrangement. Of course the reason I want to attend these meetings is further my ties to with the local atheist community, and to learn what atheists as a group can to for that community. But if I could do this while eating pancakes, that really is a win/win, right? I mean, I care deeply about being an atheist, I swear to God.