Sunday, April 24, 2011

People Protesting the Atheists Convention

Donna Holman of Keokuk makes her Christian beliefs known on this sign she holds Friday outside the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines, which is hosting the American Atheists National Convention through Sunday.Standing in the drizzle outside the Embassy Suites, Larry Carter Center and Dan Holman somehow found themselves arguing about the Bible.

You don't see much of that on East First and Locust streets, even on a Good Friday during the American Atheists National Convention.

Most of the atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and secular Americans were inside chatting collegially with one another, waiting to hear how they have become the fastest-growing segment of the population and how organized religion is heading for extinction.
It wasn't the typical Easter sermon because this wasn't the typical Easter flock. Carter Center, who ran for City Council in Des Moines before moving to South Carolina, said he founded the atheist and freethinker group in Des Moines many years ago.

He also said Holman, of Keokuk, was "worshipping a fictional character from a torturous and pornographic book."

He proceeded to cite Ezekiel 23:20, which says something about lust and donkey genitals, which Carter Center translated into sex with donkeys.
"It's in there," he said. "Read it."

"It's not in there, Larry," Holman said. "You're a liar."

Then Larry mentioned Isaiah and started shouting "rip open the bellies of pregnant women." After that, he moved on to Kings.

"I know the Bible," he said.

"You don't know the Bible."

Larry accused Dan of being insane and a fool and needing help. Dan uttered what might turn out to be the quote of the convention: "Larry, you're going to hell. God hates you. And I mean that in the nicest possible way."
Wait a minute, Dan, do you really believe God hates Larry?

"Certainly, it says that right in the Scriptures. It's right there in Psalms."

By this time, Larry was walking away, spouting more chapter and verse, shouting something biblical about "horse semen."

As Larry walked away, a woman waiting to cross the street asked Dan why he was so angry.

"I'm not angry," Dan said. "God is angry. We're here to give them a friendly warning before they plunge into hell. We've had good conversations out here with everyone but Larry."
That might be because most of the nonbelievers aren't out to convert believers. In the president's address, Dave Silverman said he isn't recruiting theists. Instead, he's after "church pew atheists" who secretly believe there is no God.

"Our only course of action," Silverman told the ballroom crowd, "is to address the church pews directly and coax the atheists out of the pews."

But back to Dan and Larry and the woman waiting to cross the street. Ann from Mason City said she was in Des Moines with her husband, who was attending FBI National Academy training.
She said she was Roman Catholic and told Dan he should put his energy into praying really hard for Larry.

"If somebody's house was on fire," Dan replied, "you'd warn them, wouldn't you?"

"I also believe in a God," Ann said, "who no matter what you believe in, when you die, if you've led a good life, God is going to forgive you."

Larry disagreed with Ann, who disagreed with Dan, after which they traded more Bible verses.

When Ann finally got around to crossing the street, another woman put down her protest sign long enough to say she disagreed with Dan, too. God doesn't hate anyone.
Her name is Ruby Hopper and she'd come in from Clinton with her husband, Dennis. (Dennis Hopper. That is correct.)

"We believe God loves everyone equally," Ruby said.

"He just hates what they do wrong," added Dennis.

Ruby said the godless people going in and out of the hotel were very friendly.

It was true. Inside, people were registering, buying lifetime memberships, looking at the books and the hand-made ceramic jewelry. The "Scarlet A" and "Darwin Tree" necklaces seemed to be popular.
They were checking out the bumper stickers that said things like, "I was born all right the first time."

Amanda Metskas was singing the praises of Camp Quest (slogan: "It's beyond belief!"). The camp offers most of the normal camping activities in addition to "Cafe Socrates," which is for kids who want to be philosophers when they grow up.

Silverman welcomed the group to "the largest American atheist convention ever."

He called himself an atheist extremist: "I hate being called a militant atheist. Militant Christians blow up abortion clinics. Militant Muslims blow up trade centers. Apparently, militant atheists put up billboards."
When Silverman asked the ballroom crowd if this was their first atheist event ever, most people raised their hands.

"Des Moines isn't a Christian city," he said. "It's an American city."

Silverman got the ballroom going again when he said atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and secular Americans were the fastest-growing segment of the population.

Silverman alluded to a scientific study using census data that found religion in nine countries — Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland — is set for extinction.
He mentioned the big million-man type of event planned for the summer of 2013 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

It wasn't the kind of Easter sermon Iowans are used to, but the ones in the ballroom room seemed to approve.

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