Yesterday my wife, Laurel, and I made a non-religious pilgrimage northward up I-5, where we (and three other faithless Salem friends) took part in the first-ever Portland Atheist Festival.
Laurel volunteered to walk around with an "Atheists rock!!" sign and handouts. Which, not surprisingly, she handed out to people who wandered over to check out the booths in downtown Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square.
This video shows Laurel taking part in a "coming out" feature of the festival, as described in an Oregonian story, "Upcoming Atheist Festival hopes to coax non-believers out of the closet."
This Thursday, one person after another will step up to a microphone in Pioneer Courthouse Square to boldly tell the city what he or she believes.
Or doesn't believe.
It is, after all, an event for atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and freethinkers.
I did my own "coming out" thing on stage. However, since I shamelessly used the microphone to plug this blog that I started in 2004, my deep skepticism toward religion wasn't exactly a revelation.
Best I can remember, this is the gist of what I said:
Religions come in both Western and Eastern varieties.
Back in 1970, it was the time of the Beatles/Maharishi, psychedelics, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Timothy Leary, sex, drugs, rock and roll. Like so many others I wanted more reality, more life, more living.
So I was attracted to an Indian guru who promised that with several hours of meditation a day, I and other disciples could experience higher regions of reality. We could leave this world behind and soar with our astral self, causal self, soul self.
I ended up writing several books for the guru's organization. I gave talks about the teachings. In most of the talks, I'd quote Philip K. Dick, a science fiction author: Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
But often when I'd mention in a talk that I hadn't yet experienced those higher regions of reality -- cosmic light and sound -- sone fellow disciples would come up to me afterward and say, "Thank you for saying what you said. I thought I was the only one who wasn't experiencing those things."
It turned out that, so far as I could tell, nobody was.
So it began to dawn on me that when I and others stopped believing in the guru's teachings, when we stopped thinking about them, the supposed Extra Reality of which those teachings spoke did indeed go away.
Thus the hours I was spending each day in a dark room, meditating, actually was taking me away from reality -- the reality of this world, the only evident reality there is.
Now, I still meditate. Just for twenty minutes a day or so, though. And I don't try to escape from this world to some supernatural realm. Rather, I focus mindfully on my breathing and whatever else I'm aware of in my surroundings.
Reality is a terrible thing to waste. Embrace science and this physical world, not religion.
Here's a few more photos from the Atheist Festival (and the surrounding area):
I felt ever so comfortable after I entered the Cathedral, joining others who enjoy worshipping at the altar of all things Apple. Who needs the promise of God when, seemingly, an upgraded MacBook Pro lineup is supposed to be announced next month?