The Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers are gathering tonight at 8 o’clock in the relative warm confines of the McFall Room of the Manteca Library for a lecture.
Several hundred feet away in the cold of the night congregations of the Place of Refuge and the Christian Worship Center will join forces in prayer a half hour earlier around the Library Park gazebo.
There are some who view what the secular group is doing as borderline blasphemy not as much for gathering but for their convictions.
At the same time some contend the two churches are being arrogant in openly demonstrating their faith near the atheists’ meeting.
To those may I suggest they ask themselves a few questions: What would Jesus think? What would Buddha think? What would Mohammed think? And what would Thomas Jefferson think?
In an age when those who disagree are more apt to get in each others’ faces, resort to name calling, or use electronic means to debate and not interact in person, what is taking place this evening is refreshing.
It goes to the core of what’s right with America.
Dissent and divergent views are what make this country great.
A wide repertoire of beliefs and convictions are part of our landscape because the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent Amendments are designed with tolerance in mind.
Jefferson, considered the key architect of the document that broke people free from the tyrannical bonds of kings and oppressive states, was far from perfect. But he did recognize the need to avoid a repeat of oppression often rendered by kings, governments, and the power structure of churches.
Jefferson was criticized in his day for his unorthodox religious views. He referred to himself at times as a Christian, a materialist and as an Epicurean — not exactly agonistic but one who believes man has free will and that gods exist but have nothing to do with man’s individual destiny. And while he didn’t describe himself as an atheist, there were atheists in America at the time of the revolution.
The document he helped craft makes it clear government should have no hand in the establishment of a religion. He took his cue from the travesties created by Henry VIII, King George, and the Church of England. He never implied anywhere that the symbols or words of churches were not welcome on public ground nor that one had to be Christian or religious to incur the rights that come with the concept that all men are created equal.
There is room on the village square for Christians, secularists, Sikhs, atheists, Muslims, agnostics, Buddhists, and others.
The Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers are simply gathering with those who share like convictions and inviting others of like mind or with sincere curiosity to attend.
It is no different in basic function than a particular religious group gathering to share their faith.
Do they have radically different outlooks on life? Well, maybe. One group believes in God, the other doesn’t. They’re pretty black and white on that point. But go beyond that and you will see common thread regarding many basic principles of how man should treat fellow man.
The sad truth is men, women, and children have been killed from the beginning of time up until today in the name of God, Mohammed, Buddha or a score of various deities even though logical reading of their respective faiths show that to be in stark contrast to core beliefs. At the same time men, women, and children have been — and are being — killed simply because they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhists, Sikhs, and for virtually any other religious affiliation you can list.
And certainly there are those who have no moral compass tied to a religion that could be categorized as atheists, agnostic, or secular who have killed others as well for either being different or simply having lives they didn’t view as valuable in the scheme of their own world.
Those of us without guilt — or sin if you prefer — are an extreme rarity. None of us are perfect. That’s what makes as humans.
What makes us Americans is our ability to help others in need that do not think like we do and to work together despite our differences.
Scoff the freethinkers and/or Christians all you want.
What they are doing tonight in an annex to a temple of knowledge better known as a free public library and beneath stately sycamore trees opening up to the heavens is what makes us strong. Individuals are exercising their freedoms to assemble as a group to talk about their convictions and to worship as they see fit.
It doesn’t get any more American than that.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.