Monday, August 28, 2006

Report on freethought events this past weekend

I was fortunate enough to be able to get away for a while and attend the Food and Fellowship gathering of the Humanist Assn. of Tulsa on Saturday. We met at TeKei’s, and there were twelve of us there. Attending were Larry, Julia, Polly, Randy, Elaine, Audrey, Dave, Ron, Dawn, Marilyn, Howard, and myself.

The Salmon salad I had was excellent, but even more enjoyable was being in the presence of my friends and hearing what they have been up to. We began by talking about letters which appeared in the Tulsa World that morning. Larry was the author of one of the letters, and he remarked that a small portion (in my opinion the best part) of his letter had been excised by the newspaper. I hope that Randy will be able to post the full unexpurgated text on the HAT web site.

In another letter in the same issue of the newspaper, one writer made reference to a previous letter written by Polly Mark. Polly had objected to the newspaper giving the religious affiliation of political candidates. The writer said she wanted to know the religious affiliation of candidates, presuming that if she knew what religion a candidate adhered to she would know enough about the political views of the candidate to vote either for or against the candidate.

Larry said that the drought up in Kansas was getting so bad that the Catholics were looking into converting wine into water.

Randy and Dawn talked about their climb up Pike’s Peak earlier in the month. What was it? Nine miles of walking uphill? I think of that as quite an accomplishment, especially since neither Randy nor Dawn are exactly spring chickens? Congratulation to you two on this feat of physical prowess. I am in awe of you both.

Julia told us about hunting fossils in the Dakota Badlands while deftly handling her food with chop sticks. She is pretty skillful at it. I should take up eating with chop sticks; I’m sure I would lose weight. We all learned a new word from Julia: fossiliferous. Had to look that one up in my Webster’s to see if I were spelling it correctly. I’ve found there’s a lot my spell checker doesn’t know. Fossiliferous soil is soil that contains fossils. As Will Rogers might have said, That’s a two-dollar word for a 25-cent concept. I will have to see if I can work the word into the conversation at the next meeting.

Another topic we talked about is the difference between a news article’s headline and content. Sometimes a headline seems to suggest one thing, but then when you read the article the content contradicts the headline.

Julia recommended the film V is for Vendetta. She owns a copy on DVD and has offered to bring it to Movie Night sometime. Randy said that Netflix was a good deal. It gets around the problem of going to the movie rental store and finding that the movie you want is not available.

Other conversation topics included the misreporting of the number of deaths in the Iraq War, how voting can be manipulated by voting machines, and whether people who will be supposedly “raptured” will make the journey with or without their clothes. Can’t you just visualize a church congregation floating away in the buff?

We also remarked about the fine d├ęcor in the restrooms with piped in, not music, but lessons on the Chinese language.

At the end of our meal the waitress brought us fortune cookies. One read “Skepticism is the first step toward truth.” We found that very appropriate for our group.

I am sure there were many other things we talked about, but I was seated at the north end of the table. What Audrey, Elaine, and Ron, who were seated at the south end of the table talked about, I cannot say.

Sunday morning I attended the service at All Souls Unitarian Church where the guest speaker was Bishop Carlton Pearson, formerly or Higher Dimensions Church in Tulsa, now minister of New Dimensions Church. In case you missed what happened to Pearson over the last several months, he has undergone a theological shift. He no longer believes that God operated a cosmic concentration camp where He tortures for all eternity those who beliefs are religiously incorrect. He has become a Universalist and believes all people are “saved” whether they know it or not.

The idea did not sit well with most congregants at Higher Dimensions, donations dried up, mortgage payments could not be met, and the church was lost. I guess some people are just not happy unless they can be told that a certain number of their fellow human beings are going to be tortured for being wrong about their religion. But all did not abandon Pearson. A small following stuck with him, and they meet in the sanctuary at Trinity Episcopal in downtown Tulsa on Sunday afternoons.

I thoroughly enjoyed the service. Pearson’s sermon was the best I’ve ever heard. Of course, being an atheist I’m not in the habit of taking in a lot of sermons. The place was packed. Thirty to fifty people were standing in the outside aisles.

The service began with UU minister Marvin Lavanhar telling a story to the children who gathered at the front. His story was about a frog who lived in a well. He had lived there all his life, and the well was all he knew. One day another frog falls into the well. The new frog tells the other one about the ocean, but the well frog cannot fathom the idea of a larger world outside of his well and tosses the ocean frog out of the well.

The symbolism was obvious. Pearson was a frog who had discovered a larger world – a world of a new dimension. His church and denomination had tossed him out.

Following the frog story, the New Dimensions Chorale sang. There were just twelve people in the choir, but they sounded like 40. They sang with strong, powerful voices. Their singing reminded me of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock. At the end of their first song the room erupted in applause as everyone jumped to their feet to give the singers a standing ovation.

The pianist was quite good as he sprinkled in jazz riffs in the selections the choir sang. I would love to hear this choir perform again.

Pearson’s sermon was titled “Get the Hell Out of my Bible.” I tried to take notes but found it difficult to listen and write at the same time. I hope the talk will be made available in transcript or on audiotape.

He spoke of dual loyalties to Jehovah and to Satan. There is the inspired word of God and the expired word of God. He said there is a little bit of Hitler in all of us. He spoke of moral dysfunctionalism and of deacon possessed churches.

As he wound down, his pianist came in on cue and Pearson broke into song. Pearson is also known for his singing, having made several vocal albums. The song was “I Can See Clearly Now.” He sang a verse and then asked the congregation to join him in singing the verse again.

It took quite a while for the sanctuary to empty since many people stood in line to shake Pearson’s hand.

I must say I felt somewhat abandoned in the afternoon at the Atheist Meetup at Border’s on 21st St. You never can predict how many people will come out to support this event. As it turned out, there was just Ron, Elaine, and myself. We talked a bit about various freethought organizations and their publications.

I read two selections. The first was the poem “Sarah” by Philip Appleman. In this poem we have Sarah, wife of Abraham, recounting some of the history of her times. She tells of Abraham’s courage in bargaining with God in an attempt to save Sodom and Gemorrah from destruction. Starting with an agreement to spare the cities if 50 righteous people can be found in them, God eventually agrees to spare the cities if only 10 righteous people can be found. If it seems that God is too easily persuaded to spare the cities, it is because he has no intention of keeping his word. Yes, God lied to Abraham, and it’s there in the Old Testament as well as in Appleman’s poem.

The poem ends with these words:

But whenever I think of Sodom…Well,
what had those people done that was so bad,
anyway—some dice and booze,
some frisky girls, willing boys,
a little fooling around—I know
it’s not exactly orthodox, but
to kill them all? To peel
the cooked flesh off those one-year olds,
just learning their first words?
All I can say is,
God must have a weird set of values,
and if there’s a Judgment Day,
as some folks think,
He’s going to have a lot to answer for.


I also read an essay by James Haught titled “Why Would God Drown Children?” Haught asked why some 80,000 children lost their lives as a result of the tsunami which struck Asia the day after Christmas in 2004. He quotes John Scarp as saying, “Natural disasters like this reveal the ultimate weakness of nearly all religions…. The desperate attempts of religion to justify them as part of God’s plan simply reveal the delusional nature of religious belief.”

I appeal to you, my fellow freethinkers, to support freethought activities, to keep freethought alive, with your attendance at freethought events.

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