The Friendly Atheist at Atheists United

I read a few days ago that Hemant Mehta was going to be in LA this weekend, speaking at the Atheists United meeting. I’ve been a reader of his blog for at least 3 years, and love his writing style and the insights he brings to his posts. As I was thinking about it earlier, I realized that his blog was one of the first atheist blogs I started reading, and it’s definitely the one that’s made the biggest impact (as evidenced by it’s continued presence in my Google Reader).

I’d never actually been to an atheist gathering before, and was a little nervous before showing up. Although Leo was coming with me, I was worried that I’d stand out in some way. I’ve read stories on blogs about people being the only young attendees, or being the only woman, and I couldn’t help worrying that some scenario I wasn’t prepared for would present itself.

I shouldn’t have worried. We walked in and got our nametags, and were immediately welcomed by several people. I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, Leo had met Hemant, bought a copy of his book (I Sold My Soul on Ebay) and gotten him to sign it for me! The English major in me loves signed copies.

After milling about for awhile, we went in for his talk. It was entertaining, enlightening, and very informative. It wasn’t ever boring, which I always appreciate.

Hemant standing in front of a powerpoint screen
Hemant Speaking (taken after the talk)

After the talk, I was able to meet Richard Wade, also known as Ask Richard on Hemant’s blog. I was so happy to be able to tell him how much his “column” has meant to me. Coming from an Evangelical Christian family, I’ve often felt like I don’t have many people to turn to for advice on “coming out” or any other issues. Even though I’d never met Richard, reading his columns made me feel like someone out there could answer concerns similar to mine. He was nice enough to agree to take a picture with me for the blog!

Jessica and Richard standing in front of a white screen
Me and Richard (the lighting is a little weird)

Although I was really excited to meet Hemant (and get his book), meeting Richard was really the highlight of my day. 🙂

Afterwards, we sat down as a large group to eat lunch. It was awesome to be able to eat with a group of people (something I miss about church) but be able to discuss atheism and belief in a setting where I knew nobody would misrepresent or take offense at my views.

All in all, a great afternoon, and a great introduction for me to atheist events. Plus…books! My review of I Sold My Soul on Ebay will be coming soon!

Two books (I Sold My Soul on Ebay and The God Delusion) sitting on a blue background
Mine on the left, Leo's on the right.
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4 thoughts on “The Friendly Atheist at Atheists United

  1. I like your comment on the joys of eating with other people. I was raised, baptized, and confirmed as a Southern Baptist (though I have since gone in other directions with my spiritual beliefs, as well), and the two things I don’t look back on my church-going experience with jaded eyes is a) the hymns, and b) the after-service potlucks. I think preparing and eating food with other people could be a spiritual practice on its own!

    1. There’s something about eating with other people that most cultures seem to have picked up on…and you’re right, the singing was awesome too. We need some secular choirs that aren’t hard to get into 🙂

  2. It was a pleasure to meet you and Leo. I usually feel a little awkward when people want to meet me because of the column, because I just don’t see myself as a person of any importance. I have the urge to look over my shoulder for the person they mistook me for. But you have a naturally affable way about you, so I immediately felt comfortable. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to eat lunch with you. That would have been nice, but I didn’t see where you were in that crowded room.

    I have exactly the same nervous feelings as you described when I come to any new group. My very first atheist Meetup was on a Sunday in a restaurant where many people from the church next door came after services. I didn’t know anybody. Wanting to avoid an uncomfortable self-outing in my hometown, I stood in line waiting to order, scanning the groups at the tables looking for somebody who “looked like an atheist.” What the heck that look would be, I had no idea. It was as laughable as it was apprehensive. Finally I noticed a guy standing behind me who seemed to have the same furtive look on his face, so I said a tentative “Hi,” with a tentative smile, and a tentative raising of my eyebrows. He said “Hi” with all the same fight-flight hesitation. He ventured, “Are you here for the…” “Meetup?” I offered. “Yes!” he said, and we shared a simultaneous sigh of relief. Later I joked about how we need a secret high sign like the con artists in the movie The Sting. They rubbed the side of their nose when they walked into a room, so anyone else who knows the sign would recognize a comrade. As funny as such awkwardness can be, I hope some day I can get over that sense of risk.

    You’re right about sharing meals in a group. It does bond us and creates camaraderie. I think it’s very primal, going back to our hunter-gatherer days. Singing with a group would be great fun too.

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