The weather was absolutely perfect today — mid 70’s, a light breeze, and clear blue skies! It’s also a holiday weekend, which brought the tourists out in droves to Balboa Park, where our Ask-An-Atheist Booth was ready for business as always!
We had barely finished setting up when Jackpot and I were approached by a 50-ish man in jogging gear who told us he had been running the park for about a year and had seen us here, and thought it was time to come see what we were about. He told us that he grew up in a religious family who ostracized him when he came out as a gay man. He said that at first his anger drove him to atheism in response to losing his family, but he also spent time reading the bible and realized how awful it was for everyone, not just gay men.
We gave him some ideas for talking to his family, starting with the fact that the anti-gay sections of the bible are in the same sections as scripture forbidding people from eating shrimp, touching anything related to a pig (included leather, footballs, etc) and wearing clothing of multiple fabric types. So, if his family does any of those, they are hypocrites. We also told him about the parts of the bible that supported polygamy, and of course the 1,000+ biblical contradictions. He was so happy that he took down notes. What a great way to start the day!
Next up was an older couple, I’m going to say 60-ish with an strong Italian accent. The man told me he is a practicing Catholic, “but with many doubts”. He asked about my opinion of what happens to souls after death. I told him I think that I am entirely temporary, there is no part of me, including a soul, that continues on, just as I don’t think there was a soul of me before I was born. He asked if that wasn’t a fearful situation for me – I told him it wasn’t. Most fear is over the concept of hell, which I don’t think exists either. No one can threaten me with something that isn’t real. To go further, it seems a bit arrogant to assume that I’m so great I MUST live on forever — I simply don’t. He then asked how I thought the Big Bang happened, and clarified with him that he was asking about the current scientific theory. Since our volunteer who has an extensive background in astronomy was present, I passed this guest off to him.
2 20-ish girls were standing to the side watching, so I motioned them to come over and asked if they had any questions. One told me they were from China, and were curious about what we were doing here. We told them about our group, and discussed atheism in China and we began to discuss the censorship situation. This seemed to make the less talkative one a bit uncomfortable and they left.
As the afternoon progressed, we had a bunch of drive-by thumbs ups and one family in on a bike-carriage that yelled something about Jesus as they rode by. An atheist guy stopped in to see if we had any literature, and said he was moving to San Diego from Kansas and maybe interested in joining our group. As he left a couple from Seattle come over to profusely thank us for being there and spreading the word of atheism.
Next was a very stern looking 60-ish woman, who came over to my table and carefully looked over everything on it. I asked if she was an atheist, and she told me she was ‘on the fence’, and wanted to read more about it. She seemed distressed – she took a flyer and logic test without saying a word.
A 30-ish couple with a baby stopped by, telling us that they are atheists visiting from New York and were interested in hearing about the kinds of questions we are asked. #1 remains “where are the bathrooms”, and a top 2nd is “What kinds of questions are you asked?” I told them I was working on a website to document the questions and the answers.
As usual, many people were taking photos of us. Some are obvious about it some pretend they are fumbling with the phone that happens to be pointed at us, but quite a few go to the walkway behind the bushes where they think it’s hard to see them…. but I’m used to catching them, and I then assume my ‘prayer’ pose. Occasionally some will come over and ask to take photos, and 3 20-ish girls from Denver did exactly that. I gave them my 3 best poses – happy praying atheist, angry atheist, and atheist finds god (pointing skyward).
Next up was the most interesting group of the day, a family of 7, and the mother had some basic questions about atheist beliefs. What was different about this is situation is that usually only 1 or 2 members of a family are interested in talking, but here all 7 leaned in to listen. She told me that she is Hindu, and thinks that God is inside everyone and that is the source of love and morality. I told her that I disagree, because the evidence shows the opposite to be true. As an example, many animals show that they love, have grief, have a set of social skills, have a sense of fairness, and so on — and no animal is taught religion or prays as required. We talked about this for a bit, and another family member asked me the same question that was asked earlier about souls continuing after death. They had to leave for a planned event, but I told them to come back when they have time. They were very pleasant to talk to — very willing to listen and consider ideas that I realize were very strange to them, very attentive, and very polite.
Some time later, there were 2 very attractive girls standing a few feet away in the walkway, watching me. They weren’t really talking to each other, and both had a sort of 1/2 smile, like they were up to something. I called them over and asked of they had any questions, and one responded that they were both raised atheists. I still was expected to get punked or something — they stood a couple of feet back from the table, and didn’t seem to know what to say. Then a 3rd girl joined them, not saying anything, so now the 3 of them was standing there — perhaps they thought we would do a sermon or sales pitch? I don’t know. They stood there a moment before waving goodbye and moving on. Strange. I would normally have asked others what they thought was going on, but Rob and Jackpot had been pinned down for 2 hours by a couple from the Jesus booth down the road who were seemed to think they were going to get a convert with their circular arguments.
Finally, my last guest of the day was 50-ish couple who said they are “long term members of FFRF” (Freedom From Religion Foundation) and loved what we are going. I asked them to join our group, but they said they were comfortable with face to face confrontations that might occur.
We packed up the booth as the sun went down and called it a day.