Atheist Booth 02/13/16

Another great day in San Diego.

Helped set up around 10:00am. We moved to the shaded side of the Prado in anticipation of an 80f + afternoon.

The morning was busy with quite a few atheists stopping to talk and to let us know that they are glad we are out representing.  Some very interesting people – locals, people from other states and a few from Europe.

In the early afternoon I spoke with a Christian gentlemen from Iran.

He was born and raisejackpot_talks_to_jesus_recruitersd Muslim but converted to Christianity after some research into different religions. He seemed to be a person who at least tried to make rational decisions regarding his beliefs but I was soon to learn that was not the case.

He started by stating that what non-believers think as evil and immoral actions by god in the Old Testament are just gods way of teaching his children how to behave properly.  He said his father had taught him the right way to act towards other and assumed my father had also done the same for me.

He felt that God issued rules for slavery and stoning people to death so we could learn those action were inappropriate.

I pointed out that my father and, I assumed his, did not teach us to own other people or stone people to death. I was taught the exact opposite – treat people like I would like to be treated and don’t hurt others.

He ignored the obvious error with his analogy and said all that doesn’t matter because Jesus provided a new covenant and all the Old Testament rules no longer applied.

I asked him if that meant that eating shell fish was no longer an abomination. He said “Of course. We no longer have to follow the Old Testament rules.”

I quickly asked if that meant that gay sex was no longer an abomination. He stated that that was still forbidden because it was evil unlike eating shrimp. I guess all abominations are not created equal!  Hail the shrimp eaters!

Our conversation was than hijacked
by a Christian woman. She wanted to know what evidence atheists had that God did not exist and if we could not prove it, our viewpoints were equal.

I mentioned that the burden of proof was on believers because they are making the extraordinary claim, but she felt that everything needed to be believed if it could not be shown to be false. I then presented Russell’s teapot analogy.  See Russell’s Teapot.

She did not believe it was true but could not provide any evidence it was false.  Still she failed to make the connection.

So I asked her for evidence that God was real. As you can guess, she quickly went to the standard circular reasoning fallacy.  God exists because the bible says so, the bible is correct because it is the word of God.

She did not see any problem with that and said ” All evidence is circular reasoning.”  I was dumbfounded by that remark. Does anyone know what that even means?  I muttered “Jesus Christ” under my breath over that one!

They both decided Pascals Wager was their last recourse but I wasn’t playing along anymore.

Before they left, the Iranian guy mentioned that he was part of an international skype group called “Tune In”.

They broadcast from Australia, North America and Europe using absat (which is the Arab Broadcasting satellite) and the Trinity Channel.

He invited me to join in their conversations as the dissenting voice. Perhaps I will.


Ask-An-Atheist Booth Log: Feb 13 2016

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.

How to Start your own Ask-an-Atheist Booth

We mostly meet tourists at our Balboa Park Ask-An-Atheist Booth, and we’ve had more than a few discussions about what is involved.  I would love to see this happen across the country, and around the world!

I’ve only encountered one other person who was involved in a booth like ours, and his group set one up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  At the center of the Bible Belt, they were worried about how they would be received… they signed up 2,500 members just while their state faire was in town!  That is awesome!

I’m sure I’ll be able to add to this page as time goes on, but here is my first draft: Advice for your Ask-An-Atheist Booth.


Outreach Booth Idea: Century Heaven Real Estate

It’s always fun to think of new ideas for getting religious people to actually THINK about their beliefs, and attempt to apply logic to the concepts they claim to follow.

The idea of heaven is always a fun one because it’s so full of logical contradictions.  I’ve been told by many religious people that in heaven, you don’t have to live with the effects of injury, disease, or aging because you get to pick your own age of life in heaven.

hOK, but this creates a problem — what if your grandma decides to be in her 20’s in heaven.  When you’re both dead, you’re not going recognize or identify her, and even if you do locate or connect with her, she’ll have no idea who you are — or who your parents are, because they weren’t conceived yet.

Even worse, consider the case where you and your father die and meet in heaven — and he’s chosen to exist there as a rebellious teenager.  Not only do you have the recognition problem, but he might hit on you for sex… AWKWARD!  But all totally plausible under Christianity’s concept of “heaven”.

If you’ve ever been to any community’s ‘street fair’ you’re going to find at booths sponsored by a real estate company, and one for the local church.  Both make money, and LOTS of it… tax-free for the church.  My idea is a combination of the two:  Real Estate in Heaven!

That’s right!  For a “small” down-payment, you’ll fully own a beautiful mansion in the “Beverly Hills” of heaven.  Yes, you’ll be the envy of other religious nutjobs with a signed deed showing your ownership in the most prestigious zipcode in the sky!

Out booth display would look much like your typical real estate booth, but with a large shimmering gold cross in the center, with photos of mansions we are “selling”.

Every agent needs a good catchy name, how about Reverend Billy Grahamhole, and Reverend Jesse Jackcracker?  Maybe Rev. Joel Ohsteamy, and Brother Popolube?

The agents could pitch these heavenly mansions, but before a purchase is made, the buyers will have to be qualified.  Wearing glasses?  Nope, God doesn’t allow those with eye defects into heaven.  Wearing clothing of many fabrics?  Nope.  A man with long hair?  NOPE.   A man without a long hair?  NOPE.  Ever had a divorce?  NOPE.   Don’t hate your kids?  NO.  The rejection letter can be equally hilarious.


Ask-An-Atheist Booth: Jan 16 2016

Today was another beautify day in the park, with lots of tourists strolling by enjoying the 70-ish weather.  A perfect day to Ask An Atheist!

dante1 Dante brought his… I don’t know what you call it, the “Japanese thing” that makes the very Japanese sound when you play it.  He’s quite good, although he tells me he’s randomly strumming it instead of playing an actual known piece of music.  Lots of tourists stop to listen and a few even dropped some money into his guitar case.

Unfortunately I arrived later than usual today so I expected to the Ask-an-Atheist Booth to be in full swing, but when I arrived it was so swamped that I couldn’t even see it!  There was a large crowd (about 40) people around the booth, most of them in the same blue t-shirts, which usually means we’ve been visited by a church group!  Yay!

Sure enough, as I approached, I could see that the group was from Pepperdine University, a very religious college in the hills above Malibu, California.  Church groups sometimes visit the booth to shout some nonsense and run away (“Jesus lives!”), but others have come to the booth for honest discussion and dialogue… and that’s something we very much welcome.   From the smiles on everyone’s faces, it was easy to conclude that this was the latter.

While I didn’t get a chance to get involved in the discussion, I’m told it was very positive and they were genuinely interested in hearing what we had to say.  This large group spent at least 1/2 hour at our booth, and before they departed I asked if I could take a couple of pictures of them with their new atheists friends.  They agreed and I took the photos you see below.

I’ve had the chance to speak to a surprising number of young missionaries from the bible belt over the past year, and I am very encouraged by their willingness to come over and talk to us.  Usually it’s a young couple, and they start with the basic questions about what we think happens after death, how we decided we were atheists, have we read the bible, etc.  But after the basics, I’ve seen a pattern – the questions get better and more logical, as you would expect from someone who is forced to sell a product they think might be bogus, and are looking at the concepts that actually make sense.  Usually the interactions are about 30 minutes (again, a LONG time for an unscheduled visit to a park where you only have a few hours), and usually one of them gets uncomfortable that the other seems to be “believing” what the atheist is saying.  In one case the guy was becoming so enthusiastic that his finance physically pulled him away from the table and the bodily language as they walked away suggest he was getting a scolding for thinking.
group1 group2