Franklin Graham Brings Roadshow to Hartford

Franklin Graham Brings Roadshow to Hartford
By William Cooney


Billy Graham would be so proud. His clone-like son, Franklin Graham, is carrying on the family tradition, a tradition that includes preaching, instructing, and otherwise mind-bending the masses of those either unwilling or unable to think for themselves. Franklin brought his message, thought by many to be intolerant, bigoted and hateful, to the steps of the Connecticut state capitol in Hartford today (September 1, 2016), and judging by the responses of the gathered throngs, it was frighteningly well received.

Graham is in the middle of a 50-city tour of every state capitol, urging his followers to get involved in Decision 2016, a not-so-subtle challenge to bring his evangelical brand of religion into the political process. Announcing that “our country is in deep trouble,” he prescribed a tonic of endless prayer and continuous solicitation for forgiveness from God for “all of the sins we have committed.”

Mr. Graham’s presentation on the whole was nothing less than a naked call for a theocratic nation-state, asking that people of God who may be so moved get into politics at every level, from mayor and councilman to representative, senator, and school board member. Graham suggested such a takeover was entirely within reach because, “there are many more of us than there are of them.”

It is the right, of course, of every otherwise qualified citizen to run for public office. Where secularists like us might have a problem is when religious people, once in office, try to infect public policy with their crude and tiresome dogma. As candidate Barack Obama said in 2006, religious people must express their concerns in secular terms rather than religion-specific terms precisely so that the reasoning being employed can be accessed by all.

A small and respectful band of protesters made our presence known at the rally, carrying signs and applauding at opportune pauses in Mr. Graham’s speech. Among the contrarians were Jason Heap, national coordinator for the United Coalition of Reason; Pat McCann, state coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition of Reason and president of Hartford Area Humanists; Klaus Kingstorf, president of Connecticut Valley Atheists; and Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Connecticut, among others.

It must be said that many of us were approached by members of Mr. Graham’s army of followers, and much to our delight they were almost uniformly pleasant, inquisitive, and non-combative. A number of friendly exchanges between the two sides took place in what can truly be described as a respectful parting of the minds. What many of us heard, however, was indeed tiresome. One attendee was overheard to say to a local media outlet that she “felt so bad that all of those people (pointing to us protesters) were going to hell.” Another zealot tried to explain to me how it came to be that we now know so much about how the planets arrange and keep their orbits. It seems the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a very religious person, and he came upon the laws of planetary motion by a revelation from God during a prayer session. Apparently all of those mathematical proofs were nothing more than a superfluous ruse.

One gets the distinct feeling, judging by all of the negative and desperate warnings, that Mr. Graham would not be on this tour if he didn’t indeed think that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Graham and his ilk are plainly agonizing over the inevitable diminution of their cultural hegemony. They see their dominance whittling away, and they are afraid of what it might mean. Religious people in America are not accustomed to being in the minority. The surge of secularism has them in a panic. The more normalized atheism becomes, the less influence their Christian ideology exerts. Our primary task may inevitably be to somehow convince them that this sea change offers nothing to fear, to show them that true religious freedom is, in fact, a cornerstone of the American secular message.

In the meantime, Franklin Graham’s assertions that atheism is the work of the devil, that homosexuality is evil, and that accepting Jesus Christ as lord and savior is the only way to find salvation, are all messages that we as a nation, once more fully evolved and enlightened, will see fit to reject.

Book Review: A Universe from Nothing

Book Review

A Universe from Nothing:
Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

By Lawrence M. Krauss

Review by William Cooney


Lawrence M. Krauss is no doubt among the most accomplished particle physicists of our time, and yet he and the scientific theories he expounds upon are brilliantly accessible in this, his ninth book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.

Going in, I was prepared to be immediately overwhelmed by the subject matter, but was amazed by its uncomplicated reasoning as well as its consistently approachable sentence structure. As challenged as I was, I nonetheless never felt abandoned to an “only-another-scientist-could-possibly-understand-this-stuff” kind of desperation. Krauss has that rare talent as a writer, one that allows him to bring in—and hold—the attention of the most modest of intellects and readers, among whom I surely count myself.

To answer the question Why is there something rather than nothing? Krauss asserts that he must reassess the terms and parameters of the debate. “Nothing” must first be defined in order to make sense of this process. To the religious believer, nothingness is simple; it is the absence of being. Fair enough. To the cosmologist, nothingness is more accurately defined as emptiness, i.e., space wherein nothing—neither matter nor energy—exists. The only escape from the religious nothingness is the intervention of an all-powerful creature who must serve as the “first cause” of all things. The problem is that invoking a god creature to cease what is essentially an infinite regress is simply arbitrary; whereas, the scientist continues on down the hard road of inquisitiveness. After all, the question Where did God come from? surely deserves an answer as well.

The basic problem, according to particle physicists, is that “nothingness” is unstable. In a cosmological void, there appear, for infinitesimally short periods of time, tiny particles and their antiparticle cohorts, i.e., quantum fluctuations, that borrow energy from—and then annihilate—each other! Krauss seems to be telling us that this is the natural state of so-called nothingness—or emptiness. Religious thinkers, however, claim that this is not true nothingness. In a sense, Krauss must concede that in the cosmic void their does exist something, and that something is “potential.” But is potential real? As one can imagine, a slippery glide into a philosophical quagmire can soon follow.

Krauss also accedes, in a way, on another point: the idea that the nothingness he is referring to “exists” only where there is space and space-time. The astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) was the first to show that the universe is expanding, and to date his postulations have been widely affirmed. But it also appears that the universe itself is expanding at a rate faster than the speed of light! Does this mean that a more genuine “nothingness” lies outside the edge of this expanding universe, beyond space-time? And if so, would Krauss’s nothingness still hold the potential for these strange quantum fluctuations?

A Universe from Nothing delves into many of the fundamentals of the so-called Standard Model of physics and its four basic forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), among many other astronomical theories. And I, for one, am not qualified to make much sense of them.

The beauty of this book is that one needn’t be well versed in the scientific study of the universe and its origins to find comfort in the explanations Krauss is offering, as well as joy in the mere act of reading about them. Of course those with an astronomy or particle physics background will no doubt appreciate the book on another level altogether. But for the rest of us I say Take the plunge; let sink in whatever sinks in, and enjoy the ride!

Abuse of Power

Abuse of Power
By William Cooney


For some time, I have been thinking about just what it is that so readily gets my goat. After watching it afflict several people close to me, and after having experienced it myself, it occurs to me that abusing an imbalance of power in a relationship is indeed a foul act.

Is this what we today call “bullying?” Maybe that term fits as well as any. The point is someone is taking advantage of their superior station, or creating a superior station out of whole cloth, in an attempt to impose his or her will. And, in many day-to-day living circumstances, the other is often deemed to be the subordinate, the one who must defer, the one who must retreat.

Many of these superior-subordinate relationships are born of well-intentioned, even righteous, premises: teacher-student, supervisor-worker, parent-child. It is understood that one of them possesses the requisite authority, which they have hopefully earned, over the other. By virtue of experience, longevity, or advanced education, it is assumed that this relationship is proper and wholesome. But with this assumption of authority comes tremendous responsibility. Imparting one’s wisdom without condescension or belittling can sometimes be challenging. In fact, the true gift of the superior lies in cultivating in his pedagogical subjects a sense of intellectual nourishment and inquisitiveness without demanding even a suggestion of unseemly deference. This is the beginning—and essence—of true respect.

For many, however, this relationship is perverted by an outsized ego, one possessed of a malignant desire to dominate others. In Middle School this may take the form of a popular student riding roughshod over another student who is insecure or prone to intimidation; in the workplace it often takes the form of an ambitious supervisor trying to earn points with upper management; at home it sometimes takes the form of sick or immature parents subjecting their children to all manner of emotional, physical, or psychological abuse. In many churches, as we have come to learn, it often takes the form of deranged pedophiles looking to conquer their young subjects via sexual exploitation. In all of these examples, the powerful have abused their stations, their trust, and their authority.

For many of us Atheists, this abuse is all too recognizable—parents, teachers, and clergy having coordinated their assault on our minds and spirits with their relentless “holy” dogma. This is a kind of ritual abuse, one that resists forgiveness. And yet—it is forgiveness we are called to, forgiveness being an essential human attribute.

The abuse of one’s superior station is a common occurrence, and in religious circles it is the “modus operandi.” Getting children while they are young, while they do not possess powers of discernment, is critical to the success of their nefarious mission. It is at this point in time that these young subjects are all too willing to please the adult authority figures manipulating their intellects. A child wants to please his caretakers, and irresponsible, power-hungry caretakers know this. The minds of children are not theirs to do with as they please. They are their own and deserving of every opportunity to explore and nourish their uniqueness.

This freedom principle applies to everyone, even to those of us who are Atheists and have children with minds of their own. It would be wrong to blindly coerce even our own children into the ways of secularism. But hopefully, a basic introduction into the ways of logic, reason, and free inquiry will lead our children to comprehend the futility of faith-based, religious thinking.

I have had a unique and wonderful experience in this regard: I have a daughter who believes firmly in the existence of a higher intellectual power where thought precedes matter! But we could not have a better intellectual relationship. We often spar, into the wee hours, respecting and challenging each other’s views. And I would have it no other way. What we have achieved, in spite of our differences, is a precious common ground where the exchange of ideas is paramount, not some petty notion that only one of us is privy to the moral high ground. We respectfully agree to disagree about some of this “stuff.” I will not do to her what was done to me as a child. I will not impose any dogma—secular or otherwise—on her and her way of thinking. Those two wrongs would never make a right.

I am thankful to my daughter for every so often reminding me not to abuse my station in her life. Indeed, I tell myself at every turn that it is possible to learn from those who follow us into the days of life. The young often have much wisdom to offer.

There’s No Crying—or God—in Baseball

(The following originally appeared as a blog post in Living Without God—A Life of Reason in September, 2008)

There’s No Crying—or God—in Baseball
By William Cooney


One of my favorite scenes in all of movies occurs in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, directed by Penny Marshall. When one of the players on the all-women’s baseball team starts to cry after being excoriated for a misplay on the field, Jimmy Dugan, the gruff and disheveled manager charmingly portrayed by Tom Hanks, looks at her and incredulously exhorts, “You’re crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”

The Hanks character’s derision at the sight of tears on a baseball field is probably something most of us would also feel if we tried to imagine a dejected Derek Jeter sobbing uncontrollably after hitting into a double play costing his team a run at a critical moment. Manger Joe Torre would no doubt be as perplexed as the fictional Jimmy Dugan if he were to witness such an abomination. We understand baseball, and we understand crying, but we also understand that little voice inside our head that tells us the two don’t mix.

Which brings to mind the idea that maybe something else should be left out of baseball as well. In September of 2001—right after the infamous date of 9/11 to be more precise—the New York Yankees, in a proud display of patriotism, began having the song God Bless America sung during the seventh-inning stretch of all its home games at The Stadium. Its unifying and healing effect on a hurting city was plainly evident. The Irish tenor Ronan Tynan delivered on repeated occasions his masterful rendition of this anthem Kate Smith made so popular in her glory days.

But seven years later I’m left to wonder if this new tradition has already outlived its usefulness? The appeal of God Bless America is one of nostalgia. It hearkens us to a time when the country was more a country of Christians than not, when God was right up there with baseball, motherhood and apple pie as signatures of that which we held dear, and many people don’t want to see those days go away. The reality, however, is that our doctrine of religious freedom has evolved and matured. It now respects not only the multiplicity of religions practiced in America, but also respects—or at least should—the ranks of us not inclined toward religion at all.

Truthfully, my aim is in no way to see God removed from public life altogether, but rather to see the influence of organized religion removed from institutions of government. But the Yankees are not an institution of government, so why my trepidation?

This is a valid question. If the Steinbrenners (owners of the Yankees) want to have God Bless America sung during the seventh-inning stretch, my hunch is they have every right to do so. One leg I might have to stand on in favor of returning to Take Me Out To The Ball Game may lie in the fact that baseball does enjoy a special social status in America (to say nothing of a special legal status owing to its exemption from antitrust laws). Given baseball is that unique institution in America whose appeal is so broad it permeates virtually every segment of society, in the course of its business it should refrain from identifying with any constituent that does not share its broad and inclusive philosophy.

Being a Yankees fan, I watch a lot of their games on television, and whenever the seventh-inning stretch of a home game comes around these days, I find myself suddenly in need of a comfort break. This is the same person, mind you, who couldn’t tear himself away from this spectacle in the weeks immediately following 9/11. It was strange. I was comforted, not by the singing of God Bless America, but by witnessing the comfort it gave others. I was struck at just how uplifting and healing this song was to so many people, especially when the inspiring sight of a bald eagle flying through the stadium air was employed to even further incite the patriotism already swelling amidst the crowd.

It concerns me that those of us who do not believe in God might be considered less patriotic than those who do, which is, of course, a myth. We’re only asking whether or not this one swatch from the fabric of our culture is best left outside such a universally appealing phenomenon as baseball.

It would be foolhardy to dismiss the enormous impact God, faith and religion have had on our culture. But for the sake of their very own survival, it is probably better that ostentatious displays of God, faith and religion be restricted in certain cultural arenas.

In the meantime, we don’t need to repeat the spectacle of Yankees manager Billy Martin going to pieces after being fired for the fourth time. It was not a pretty sight.

Some things are best left out of baseball. ▪


From Living Without God—A Life of Reason; self-published, 2010


A Birthday Message From Within

A Birthday Message From Within
By William Cooney


Two days ago I turned 60. In some ways I have never felt so young, in others—never so old. But thanks to my Atheist and Humanist friends, I now know enough to live a small part of each day as if it could be my last, and another small part as if I may have a million more to go.

“Make now the most precious moment of your life,” Captain Picard implores of his ‘daughter’ in the Star Trek TNG episode The Inner Light, one of my favorites. (The others being Where None Have Gone Before and All Good Things.) Why is it that we have so much trouble with the here and now? We readily look back to learn from the past, and we always have a sense of hope for the future. Why do we resist basking in the present? Whatever the reason, I am determined to find it, seize that moment, and make the most of it.

In all honesty, the arc of life points much more steadily toward the light these days. Rather than staring into the abyss, I find myself gazing into a pasture of green delights. Yes, the demons persist, but I am much more confident of my ability to smite them—with the help, that is, of caring and compassionate friends and family.

What does turning 60 really mean? Literally, it means I have existed long enough for our planet to make 60 revolutions around the sun. In one sense, this is little more than a blip on the cosmic radar; in another it is even less important considering the earth has been in existence for over four and a half billion years. The paradox of our purpose lies in the fact that our uniqueness is to be found amidst our insignificance.

So Happy Birthday, Billy. May you have 60 more! And, may you keep and find as many wonderful friends in the future as you have in the past five years. Here’s to a long and fulfilling life.

Letter to the Editor, Cromwell Chronicle, May 13, 2016

Letter to the Editor, Cromwell Chronicle, May 13, 2016
By William Cooney


Dear Editor:

On April 15, 2010, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb issued her brave and thoughtful ruling that the federal law calling for a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. But, as was not totally unforeseen, the ruling was reversed on appeal on technical grounds saying the plaintiffs “lacked standing” to sue. And now the unholy alliance between church and state continues even to this day.

Why would anyone have something against praying you might ask? It is important to note that while atheists, humanists and other free-thinking secularists in this country have serious doubts as to its efficacy, we in fact vigorously defend anyone’s right to pray—anywhere, anytime. What we oppose is a law, passed by Congress in 1952, that instructs the President of the United States to set aside one day a year and calls on citizens to pray in observance of a National Day of Prayer. As Judge Crabb rightly pointed out in her ruling, this was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment establishment clause, which prohibits the creation of any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”

So why wasn’t Judge Crabb’s ruling upheld? This is a fair question, and the answer no doubt relates to how and why religion enjoys such vast privileging in our culture. One might also ask why religious people—and religious organizations—even bother to seek the endorsement of government when carrying out an activity that is plainly religious in nature. And again the explanation seems clear: to continue currying political favor with the governing class thereby rendering those who do not pray second-class citizens.

In last month’s Facing Your Faith column in the Chronicle, Rev. Scott B. Jones of Hilltop Covenant Church wrote, “if you are not a person who prays, why not remember our nation, military, leaders, etc., in your thoughts Thursday, May 5?” That’s a great idea, Reverend Jones. Why don’t those of you who do pray do so without seeking the imprimatur of local, state or federal government officials? For the same reasons a nativity scene doesn’t belong on the lawn of the local town hall, public prayer should be practiced without the endorsement of government. The message it sends is not unifying; it is divisive.

William Cooney

Embracing Your Humanity: Finding Purpose without a God

Embracing Your Humanity: Finding Purpose without a God
By William Cooney


What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does it matter? These are questions mankind has asked of itself for a long time, and the answers are by no means trivial.

Where we look for these answers says much about who and what we are. The secular perspective values humanity itself and its capacity to reason, learn, love, and evolve. The religious perspective assumes the existence of a “supreme” being, one who commands its subjects to live according to its dictates. For whatever reasons the religious meme has proved dominant in most cultures for a very long time. But perhaps times are changing.

There are many myths perpetuated by religious people about Atheists. Among them the idea that without a god and faith there is no purpose to life and no hope for the future. This is a shallow criticism devoid of any meaningful consideration. The truth is the secular worldview is a decidedly hopeful worldview, one brimming with purpose. While Christian doctrine proclaims man’s failures, brokenness, and sinfulness to be his most defining characteristics, the atheist/humanist vision is founded in man’s reason, potential, and thoughtful self-examination.

We Atheists are often asked, “Where do you turn to—or whom do you turn to—in times of trouble or need?” Our answer is straight forward: We turn to ourselves and to one another. We find strength in each other’s personal character, material skills, emotional experiences, and capacity for love. Put simply, we find strength in each other’s humanity. We are fully aware that navigating this wonderful yet challenging world cannot be done alone, but we see no need to conjure a being whose very existence is a matter of serious debate.

This does not mean, however, that we see no reason to engage our religious brothers and sisters. Somewhere between our common need for food, clothing, and shelter and our profoundly differing perspectives about life and its meaning, there no doubt lies much more common ground. And the most readily accessible terrain for this lies in our shared experiences. We may disagree about whether or not a god exists, but surely we can agree that feeding someone who is hungry, clothing someone who is naked, and giving comfort to someone who is troubled or otherwise suffering are all things we can—and should—aspire to. To be sure, there is nothing uniquely Christian about tending to our fellow man. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of our religious or non-religious views, to look out for each other’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

As far as our purpose in life is concerned, the most meaningful is simply that which we assign to it. And it is more than sufficient to serve as a motivating force in our quest to be the best human beings we can possibly be. Beyond that, it is common scientific knowledge that we were born of decaying stars, i.e., the elements that make up all of the matter in the universe came into being when great stars spent their fuel and ended their life cycles. And whether we choose to accept it or not, returning to the stars is our fate. Not a single atom of our bodies is lost when we die; they merely change form and become less organized. We leave it to others to contemplate the notion of an everlasting soul that survives us. That it may provide comfort is understandable, but the fear of death should not be so disquieting as this.

Embracing our humanity is precisely what gives our lives meaning. Making “now” the most precious moment satisfies our need for finding purpose without a god.

“Mystic Shoreline” — A Short Poem by a Visitor

My daughter Alycia wrote this poem while tending to her senior-year high school English assignment to compose a memoir. This was one of my favorite entries:

Mystic Shoreline
by Alycia Cooney
Written May 15, 2008

The shoreline
The sea air
On the beach
With no cares

No worries, no stress
All my troubles laid to rest
Everything drifts away
Leaving me feeling safe

Watch the boat in the harbor
See the people in the shop
Life just seems to stop

The shoreline
The sea air
Just sitting here

A place of peace
To spend the day
Away from the city
Oh how I want to stay

No tall buildings to block
A perfect view
Of the ocean
So beautiful and blue

Clear day, clear mind
Relaxation is easy to find
Here on the Mystic shoreline


Review: David Silverman Ignites at the Mark Twain House

Review: David Silverman Ignites at the Mark Twain House
By William Cooney


American Atheists President and self-described “firebrand” for the cause David Silverman spoke at the Mark Twain House and Museum (MTH) in Hartford Thursday night (January 21, 2016). The evening’s presentation was nothing less than transformational. Mr. Silverman is the real deal for a real cause. Just like the organization he represents, he is forward, assertive, and unapologetic about his views on atheism and religion and why the latter needs to go away. His first book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, appears destined to be widely read and seriously critiqued.

Silverman was introduced to the audience by American Atheists Connecticut State Director Dennis Paul Himes. The discussion was hosted by MTH Director of Communications and Special Programs Jacques Lamarre. Lamarre had his work cut out for him being point man for the interview as Silverman’s excitability became something of a challenge, albeit one that at nearly every turn was jocular—often to the point of hilarity.

Son of a very traditional Jewish mother and a closeted atheist father, Mr. Silverman emerged from his early childhood experiences more disenchanted than wounded. He rather ingeniously managed to keep his mother happy while at the same time surreptitiously forging his own skeptical views about God and religion. Silverman regaled the audience with engaging tales of duplicity as he kept his early atheism a secret while at the same time pretending to commit to and prepare for both his Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation.

At several points throughout the conversation, Silverman adamantly made the argument that “religion is the greatest scam ever conceived,” swindling people of their hard-earned money and taking advantage of a decidedly undeserved tax-exempt status. He also warned against thinking of religious people as stupid or delusional, suggesting instead that they are victims—victims of the great scam of religion. “This,” says Silverman, “makes them deserving of our help and support.”

Silverman gives his audience a preview of his book, indicating it is chock full of graphs and statistics, something he admits having a mild addiction to. A most interesting aspect of his data is that they reveal an America much more secular than one would think if one takes into account all manner of skeptics, doubters, posers, pretenders, and those otherwise closeted. By this measure the United States population is more than 25% “atheist,” and comprises a segment of society larger than even a number of religious groups. Silverman’s argument is that many Americans—if they could only get past their aversion to the term—are indeed atheists but for many reasons refuse to acknowledge it. Silverman says that atheists are winning the war to de-stigmatize the term, and that most notably people under the age of 30 are particularly skeptical and proudly embrace their atheism.

Silverman weighed in on topics such as presidential election politics, Islamic extremism, LGBTQ rights, the Overton Window of  political viability, the national motto (In God We Trust, and why it is a big “lie”), and many others. The evening ended with a spirited Q&A session followed by his lobby book signing which, judging by the long line, was a big success. In the end, Silverman provided precisely what was advertised: a no nonsense, firebrand presentation for the cause of atheism propelled by an enthusiasm like no other.

First Meeting!

First Meeting!
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.

“Ha ha.”

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.