My first meeting with fellow skeptics

Last night I attended both my first
lecture at the world-renowned Center For Inquiry (if you're reading this, I'm available for
volunteer work!) and my first group meeting with a new Buffalo-area
skeptics group, Drinking Skeptically. The lecture was given by author Ibn Warraq on secularism in the Muslim world (it was quite interesting).
While I looked forward to the lecture, I was really looking forward to
the group meeting afterwards.

Once again, I'll save some of you that
know me the trouble of leaving the following comment: "he would have
attended the event if the group was just called 'Drinking'". Ok, true
enough - adding "skeptical" on the end of it is just the gravy on the
turkey. Throw in a fat man and a tree and you'd have Christmas.

Um... moving along....

As I've said in recent blogs on my
personal site (, I had really been searching for an outlet
for these kinds of discussions. I think people were tired of hearing
examples of how psychics are scam artists and prayer is useless. It was
time to go be amongst my own people, if you will. I was curious to see
if other people had the same kinds of experiences and thoughts. And as
much as it is to quote lines from Caddyshack and Airplane (side note:
what is more fun than asking unsuspecting strangers if they watch
Gladiator movies?) after our ballgames at the bar, it was just nice to
talk to some grownups.

The first thing I noticed is how
comfortable I felt in the group. It was like that stupid Blind Melon
video where the awkward little girl in the bee costome didn't feel at
home until she found her bee colony. It isn't so much that I feel out
of place anywhere (I never do), it was just nice to be in a place where
you more or less no who you are with before you meet them. The term free thinker really does say so much. It says that you
are seeking truths and that you are not bound by dogmatic ideas or other
limiting factors. It (usually) means that you are interested in
promoting humanity and giving the most liberties to the most people.
And quite simply, it means that you've looked yourself in the mirror and
you've done some thinking. Not unlike the difference between atheism
and agnosticism, it means that you've done the work and are interested
in doing even more work. The horses are out of the barn and they aren't
going back in.

One of the main things that I thought I
would be most interested in hearing is how others came to find
skepticism. I know I've said this in other blogs but one of the things
that I find so telling about skeptics is that they found it on their
own. Nobody converts someone to skepticism. And the stories did not
disappoint. Some people found it as a child, others (like me) just
slowly started to pay attention to the world and realized that so many
things didn't add up. We did have an interesting side discussion about
how skepticism "feels". I believe that it gives me a real sense of
liberation and clarity. Not that I was "stuck" before, but that the
world seems so much... clearer. I don't know about you but I am often
referred to as "the serious guy" or "the guy that is against everything"
by people that do not understand skepticism. I wear it as a badge of
honor as I really think it means "someone that cares about it and wants
to do the work".

I was a little curious to see if most
people in the group were atheists or not. It doesn't matter at all to
me and it didn't seem to matter at all to anyone else either. I think
most skeptics really couldn't care less if you are religious or not -
you either "get" the idea of being a skeptic or you do not. We did
spend quite a bit of time talking about the various religions that we
had growing up. I think one thing that believers have wrong is that
non-believers had a bad religious experience and therefore hate god.
Last night proved again and again that this is not true. It seemed that
most people had the same experience - they were brainwashed as a child
and then slowly started to realize the absurdity of the statements made
by the man speaking to the flock. Before I forget, it was interesting
to hear Mr. Warraq tell of the large sections of the muslim world that
act just like large sections of the Christian world - people loosely
identifying themselves with a religion but in practice but not being the
kinds of fundamentalists that are causing so many problems in the world
today. It seemed that they - like us - found out the "joys" of
cafeteria-style religion.

We then moved on to ghosts and UFO's.
It was in these topics where there was probably the most differences in
opinion between the various group members. This is where skepticism
gets really interesting. I am of the mindset that unless I have proof
that something exists, I won't pay it any mind. Would I fall over in my
beer if an alien walked through the door? No, not at all. Would my
heart stop if long-departed Aunty Sally told me that the curtains were
ugly? Probably more so (unless it was conveyed through Sylvia Browne - I
could hear her saying "a non-descript older woman is trying to give me a
very generic message to give to you"). There were some believers of
both in the group and that is fine. After all, there are a lot of
unexplained things that have happened that make people think that these
things might exist. I am personally of the mindset that
unexplained is just that and not a drop more. See my thoughts on ghosts
here and my blog on the Ghost Hunters here (it is somehow at the top of the google
search "Debunking Ghost Hunters").

It has been said that when
predominantly male gatherings take place, all of the initial
conversation is really just filler until they get around to politics or
sex (I would add sports on to that list but that's just me). The
conversation in the various groups did drift into politics at different
times. While I loathe the idea of political parties I can talk politics
all night with a willing party. For me, these brief ventures were the
least interesting part of the evening.

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