Steve Perea isn’t trying to run anybody out of town.
The Christian Worship Center Pastor, who walked slowly among the growing crowd Wednesday at Library Park, said that he isn’t opposed to freethinking groups like the one that was getting ready to meet in the room on the opposite side of the building from where he was standing.
Two months ago an exchange between the two groups at the downtown Manteca venue ended up leading to a heated exchange on the editorial pages of the Bulletin and left both sides crying foul. The humanists (or atheists, as the churchgoing community refers to them) claimed that there were attempts at intimidation.The Christian community said that they were peacefully exercising their own right to assemble and nothing more.
So when Perea and fellow Assemblies of God Pastor Mike Dillman of the Place of Refuge worked to organize the second “Church of Manteca” gathering in Library Park Wednesday evening, they made sure to respect the space and the rights of those who were occupying the McFall Room – a combination of the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers and the Stanislaus Humanists – while at the same time carrying their own respective message.
“There was a time in Manteca when people would gather and actually hold a ‘March for Jesus’ event, and I think that the turnout at something like this shows that the seed has planted for something like that,” Perea said. “We respect their right to exist and we hope that they respect our right to have a gathering as well, and that seems to be the case.
“All that we’re trying to do is carry the theme that Jesus is love and he’s very much alive and a part of our lives and our community.”
There were people inside of the library that would disagree with that statement.
With Richard Carrier at the lectern, the group of more than 50 people that packed themselves into the room listen intently as the Columbia University PhD graduate used probability, mathematics and logic to show that some of the historical references in the bible – Carrier earned his Doctorate in Ancient History – aren’t very likely.
Using a theory of conditional probability known as Bayes’ Theorem, Carrier talked for roughly 50 minutes about how some of the more commonly held beliefs don’t hold up when they’re more closely examined and put through a series of challenges that test the argument from a fresh perspective.
The entire concept of his lecture was the basis for his latest book Proving History: Bayes’ Theorem and the Quest for Historical Jesus.
According to Stockton Atheist and Freethinkers co-founder Colleen Keenan, holding an event like the Colloquium – a bi-monthly meeting where speakers talk about issues prevalent in the humanist movement – is crucial because it provides a social and academic outlet for those who align themselves with that particular worldview.
Proclaiming oneself as an “atheist,” she said, has a negative connotation among most people, so being able to provide an arena where people can come and find like-minded souls is important.
“Humans by nature are social animals,” she said. “You want to find people that think the same as you, and there are benefits when you’re talking about something like being an atheist or a non-believer.”