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Atheists, freethinkers gathering at Manteca Library

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POSTED January 8, 2014 1:52 a.m.

David Diskin doesn’t want to offend anybody.

He’s not trying to proselytize. He’s not trying to get people to abandon their beliefs.

Through his work with the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers, Diskin – a college professor that works part-time at the University of the Pacific – just hopes to throw up a flag to those who share similar beliefs and let them know that they’re not alone in the typically conservative confines of the Central Valley.

Sometimes those are rather large flags.

The group has been responsible for placing full-sized billboards along Highway 99 in both Manteca and Stockton. It was a move that has generated media interest and a minor amount of controversy as people started to ask why they were there and where they came from.

And on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. Diskin and the organization will welcome Sacramento State philosophy professor Matt McCormick to the Manteca Public Library to conduct a lecture that points out the parallels between the Salem witch trials and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is essentially focusing on how he believes historical evidence about magic in Salem is far greater than evidence about Christ’s ascension to heaven.

“With any group you’re going to have people that don’t like your message,” Diskin said. “We’re not here to try and convert people. That’s not our goal – that’s not the reason we post the billboards or try and reach out like that.

“What we’re basically trying to do is say, ‘If you’re like us – if you share a passion for science or skepticism then come be with us.’ We know that people aren’t going to like it. But fortunately we live in a society that is governed by the First Amendment.”

But offering up a differing perspective can be a delicate matter.

In 2005 members of the Friends of Ripon Library cried foul when certain members of the Ripon City Council – including then-Mayor Chuck Winn (who was recently tapped to serve another term in the position) – objected to a library program that would have featured a psychic that had planned on contacting the dead.

The volunteers – who were footing the bill – claimed that the city threatened to pull its supplemental library funding if the program went through (a claim they denied) and the event was ultimately scrapped. It was held several months later without the direct-contact portion.

Diskin said that the group doesn’t expect or anticipate any major roadblocks to holding their event in Manteca. The group, he said, is non-confrontational and exists solely as a way for those that share the same views on the meaning of life to come together.

And they’re not exactly strangers to the spot – the Colloquium series, which McCormick’s presentation falls under, are always on the third Tuesday of the odd-numbered months (his Wednesday appearance is a special deviation).

It’s been a while since the billboards went up along the arterial corridor of the Central Valley but Diskin said it’s an extremely efficient way to raise awareness of the group and attract a fair amount of people – more than one would expect, he said – that wouldn’t know that they existed otherwise.

“You’re always going to find that there are people out there that share the same beliefs – when we do the billboards there’s always a jump in membership, and when the media picks up on it we get a lot of Facebook traffic as people check-in to see what we’re all about,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to say, ‘Come be with us.’”

McCormick’s presentation on Wednesday, Jan. 15, takes place from 8 to 9:30 p.m. For more information about the group or the event itself, visit www.stocktonaaf.org.

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