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250 express faith or disbelief
The faithful circle library where freethinkers hear lecture
Manteca Christian Worship Center Pastor Steve Perea, front, prays with nearly 200 people at Library Park in the direction of a meeting of the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Almost 250 people gathered to hear words in downtown Manteca on Wednesday.

For about 50 assembling inside the Manteca Library McFall Room it was words of logic. For almost 200 others it was “The Word.”

Sacramento State philosophy professor Matt McCormick wasted no time in mapping out how the story of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – which was chronicled over a 100-year period and took multiple sources to get the right narrative – is commonly believed to be true by nearly all Americans that identify themselves as Christians.

But by using scientific methods, Matt McCormick pointed out that there is actually more evidence that witchcraft took place in Salem during colonial times – hundreds of pages of sworn affidavits and testimonials from eyewitnesses – that are much more concrete than anything that originated during the time that Jesus Christ walked the face of the earth.

If, he said, he actually did walk the face of the earth.

But his message – and the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers that invited him out to deliver it – wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by all in the Manteca religious community Wednesday night.

An hour before McCormick was set to speak, upwards of 200 people gathered in nearby Library Park as part of a joint show of solidarity between the Christian Worship Center and A Place of Refuge. It gave Christian believers in the community the chance to let their more skeptical counterparts know that Manteca is a faith-based community.

“I think that a gathering like this shows that the Church has left the building,” said organizing pastor Mike Dillman. “This shows that Manteca is a God-fearing community that loves our country and is willing to come out and show that.”

Angie Geten wasn’t pulling any punches with the cardboard sign that she was waving as she danced her way through the crowd that got even larger as the night went on. The event turned jovial as the atheist and humanist group inside got underway.

In bold, black letters, Geten’s sign read “God is Real” and she wasted no time in clarifying what that meant to her and the church organization that she was there to represent.

“I know that God is real – I believe in God and I believe that God is Jesus Christ,” she said. “ This is all about that loving fellowship that we follow in his name.”

Not everything, however, went smooth between the two groups.

Stockton Area Atheists co-founder David Diskin said that he was caught off-guard when he walked outside and saw that a group had formed a prayer circle all the way around the Manteca Public Library.

Several young men were getting loud and boisterous near the back door of the McFall Room while McCormick was trying to wrap up his lecture. It led to a somewhere terse exchange when he stepped outside and asked them to be quiet.

 “For the most part it’s been cordial and we’ve had a pretty good turnout tonight,” Diskin said. “I think that it freaked people out a little bit at first – seeing upwards of 200 people holding hands and chanting – but it was peaceful.

“There’s no reason these two groups can’t coexist. They just look at things differently.”