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The second coming
Atheists, Christians returning to downtown
Christians led by Christian Worship Center Pastor Steve Perea gathered to pray in Library Park in January while freethinkers and atheists gathered to hear a talk yards away inside the McFall Room at the Manteca Library. - photo by HIME ROMERO

What started out as a few like-minded souls sharing their collective worldview in a public setting back in January turned into a massive community gathering that left people on both sides of the aisle trading barbs and crying foul.

And while the back-and-forth hasn’t started yet, the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers will once again be turning to the Manteca Public Library for its bimonthly colloquium meeting next week when the group welcomes Columbia PhD historian Richard Carrier for a talk about the “search for the historical Jesus.”

The hundreds of people that surrounded the building during the group’s initial meeting to show that Manteca was a “God-based” community aren’t going to miss their chance to send a message either. 

According to Christian Worship Center Pastor Steve Perea, his congregation will be joining forces with other churches in town on Wednesday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Library Park to offer prayer and testimonial to not only the existence of Jesus, but the positive role he has played in the lives of those that have felt him.

“We will definitely be out there to talk about how Jesus is alive and the power that he has in each of our lives, and it’s something that we’re expecting to be well-attended,” Perea said. “There was an impression after last time that we were out there to protest and to picket and to oppose another group from being there, and that’s not the case – we respect the right that they have to hold a meeting. 

“But we believe that Jesus is alive and well right here in Manteca, and that’s something that we want to meet to talk about and testify about and I believe that the church community supports that idea.”

Perea said that he’s only calling for a peaceful gathering of Christians and the group will be actively removing anybody taking a militant stance or attempting to provoke a reaction. The event in January went off without any problems, but several members of the Freethinkers group said that they felt the group tried to “intimidate” them by placing security guards by the back door during their meeting and maintaining an ongoing presence. 

But if you ask David Ewert, all of the hoopla was actually good for the society of San Joaquin County skeptics. The awareness, he said, that the night generated in the press helped bring as many as three dozen new members to the organization, and having somebody as nationally-recognized as Carrier – he’s included in the book “Who’s Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists and Non-Theists” and has been featured in many academic journals and texts – will only further provide a diverse range of viewpoints for the group. 

Having a place where freethinkers can come and gather, Ewert said, is the main draw of the group – not unlike the church atmosphere that people seek out on Sundays. 

“We’re social creatures by nature and we love that feeling of community and social network,” he said. “The main goal of our organization is to provide a network for people, and this event is doing just that.”

For more information about the upcoming event – which will take place on Wednesday, March 19, at the McFall Room of the Manteca Public Library at 8 p.m. – visit the group’s website