Category Archives: SLFT Blog

Siouxland Freethinkers Primary Blog

A new board and a new direction for SLFT

We have elected a new board, and, with that, a new direction for Siouxland Freethinkers. We have always been – at heart – an educational advocacy organization with special emphasis on Atheism. However, in the age where a Betsy DeVoss can be head of the department of education, placing the emphasis on education advocacy is both timely and necessary.

While we have no plans to abandon the Atheist movement completely, the emphasis of this organization going forward will be to advocate for quality, affordable education in our public schools and universities.

The work has already begun and the response so far has been very positive. We are lucky in some ways here in South Dakota that quality public education is not just taken seriously, but it is a high priority for the legislature.

We cannot rest on our laurels, however. During the next year, we will use our resources to maximum effect to build our membership up, network with leaders and build bridges in the community.

If education is important to you, we encourage you to get involved with us and help us advocate for high standards in education.

SLFT Annual Holiday Toy Drive

Every year, Siouxland Freethinkers has a holiday toy drive for the Children’s inn of Sioux Falls and this year is no different.

Members will be buying and collecting items to donate to Children’s Inn and bringing them to one of the next 2 member meetings.

Deadline to donate is December 13th.

A document with needed items can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GfsXtIHmtw3Z-4qOwcgt25WjTsT0l1ffs1Ljv6DyyD0/edit?usp=sharing

SkepDakota a success

SkepDakota, South Dakota’s first major freethought convention, was an incredible success. We had an amazing speaker lineup that included new and familiar faces in the freethought movement.

Videos of the speakers can be found on our YouTube page in case you weren’t able to attend.

We would like to thank the organizers, volunteers, sponsors and speakers who made it all happen.

Freethought Journeys: Jerry

My life was always a traumedy—a comedic tragedy, if you will—from the very beginning. My parents were not so much into going to church on Sundays, but they were believers. My dad was Lutheran and my mom was a Jehovah’s Witness. I went to church for a while when I was 6 and 7 years old, and again at 12 at the Kingdom Hall while my dad was in Texas trying to get a job.

I was bullied from Kindergarten until the end of 9th grade. I was also physically abused by my dad from age 4 through almost 9. I was told this god was watching over us, but I certainly wasn’t getting any help for my struggle! As I was attending my mom’s church, the PTL Club began (1980). I saw that they were heavily asking for money all the time. If you didn’t tithe, you were looked down upon as a sinner! So, my view on church changed. It was a business!

During high school, I was arrested for underage consumption. I attended AA for the last two years of my high school career. It was there that I learned about spirituality. I tried prayer for the first time. Nothing really happened. I think it was more of a distraction than anything, but I started to feel better about myself until I went into the Navy.

As some of you may know, I was raped by another male while I was stationed in Great Lakes, IL right before I was to leave for an assignment to the fleet in Norfolk, VA. I lost my spirituality during this time in place of deep depression and self-hatred. I was molested by two other men in my first week in Norfolk. I knew little about PTSD back then. People still called it battle fatigue, from the Vietnam War Era.

I suffered through 6 months in this depression before being suicidal and being discharged for medical reasons from the Navy. I hated this god person for what happened to me! I became a Satanist for awhile, delved into the occult, and basically was extremely angry at the world. Part of this was because I was engaged to a girl back in IL whom broke up with me the day I was discharged! I was already feeling unmanly and shameful for what happened to me through my assault before that happened! It was the beginning of a string of bad relationships, including my first ex-wife!

My first marriage ended after two abortions and my suicidal attempt. I can’t say I blame her. In 25 years, I would say I have healed from those wounds! I remember asking this god person for forgiveness—even though I was a Satanist! Through proper medical treatment, I obviously lived. Now, I was homeless, car-less, jobless, wifeless, and childless. I lived in my grandfather’s house for a time. He was in a nursing home then. I returned to AA. I somehow owed my life to this god person for saving me. Man, was I wrong!

I got married 4 years later to the mother of my two sons. My older son was born before I was married. I was going to join the Army and get the hell out of South Dakota! Unfortunately, my past caught up with me. The past of an unstable mind for being discharged for behavioral problems. I certainly couldn’t talk about what happened to me in the ’80s! The Army wanted to perform a psychiatric evaluation on me to even qualify for enlistment! I declined, of course.

Before I met my second wife, I wrote hundreds of dollars in bad checks. I was arrested during a traffic stop with my son on board. I left this god person in the jail cell. I wish I had kept him there! However, my second wife wanted a divorce in ’01. After being in a depression for a year, I picked up this god person while having suicidal thoughts and telling my older son that if it weren’t for him and his brother, I would kill myself! Who does that! Seriously!

I literally ran to AA for the third time! I thanked this god person for keeping me alive and sober for 11 years then. I even swore I would work on my spirituality until I was a good father, better husband in the future, and the kind of son my parents wanted! That’s how I got into Christianity, church, and the bible. However, because I never got treated for PTSD at all during this whole time, I basically existed…miserably!

During my 5 years of solid Christianity, I got married a third time, gained a step-daughter, started a disability file through the Veterans Administration, went to school at USF for (ironically) psychology, got put on medication (with dire side effects), went to therapy, was hospitalized three times, attempted suicide when my daughter was to move away, and arrested twice for domestic assault. How my wife stayed with me, I’ll never know! I’m glad she saw the worst of me, so she could see the best of me now!

After the suicide attempt in ’07, I began to question the whole god issue. I tried to continue in it for the next four years. I was more afraid of losing everything like I did in my first marriage if I totally rejected this god person. In ’10, I left AA forever because of their views on mental illness and medication. Then I weaned myself off of the medication! My son left that year due to a major fight my wife and I had. A year later, I came out as an atheist.

Has it been an easy road? No, not at all. My in-laws are devout Christians. Some home school with Christian books. Some are judgmental about me. I had to deal with these people for nearly four years now! However, I have freedom and peace of mind! I used to completely hate homosexuals because of my own shame and idiosyncrasies about my assault. I used to judge people as sinners because of their lifestyles. I was a total dick! Now I’m warm and friendly, wanting men, women, children, and the LGBTQ community to have equal rights!

It’s hard for people like us—the freethinking community—to survive in a state like this. In my recent journeys to the deep southern red states, there were churches everywhere, followed by billboards for churches, Jesus, god, and pro-life. I saw one billboard for the Orlando CoR in Pensacola. Otherwise, for such a Christian-rich society, there were a lot of adult super stores and strip clubs everywhere!

In South Dakota, we have seen the discrimination in the laws our legislators try to pass. Luckily, most of these bills have been shot down. We place restrictions on the woman’s decision to be pro-choice by having religion involved in it, yet we still have capital punishment as a legal procedure for the worst of our criminals! Why is one life-form more precious than another? Also, why can’t we prevent the reasons to make the choice for a woman to have to have an abortion? This is just one of many contradictions Christians infiltrate into our state laws!

One of the main things I learned by being a freethinking atheist/humanist is that prayer definitely doesn’t work! If it had, I wouldn’t have been bullied, abused, raped, suicidal, divorced, etc.! This whole god person’s plan stuff of allowing children to die of starvation, yet someone’s keys get found, a parking space suddenly frees up, and a touchdown happens is pure bunk! Prayer does nothing but cause a temporary distraction from the real problems one can face in life!

I was more of a follower than a leader in the past. I wanted people to like me. Today, I try to fight for people’s rights and people who have been through many of the things I lived through! I think with reason and logic these days. I look for evidence of truth in today’s society. I’m not easily swayed anymore about things like prophecy and myth. After all, Adam and Eve had two sons. One died at the hands of the other. And then…he had a wife! Where! How!

In closing, I hope my story of realization has helped someone in our group who may still be on the fence of who they are, or could be. I was on the fence for a long time myself. I’m glad I came out as a freethinker four years ago! It made me a stronger, happier, and better person all around! I hope it can do the same for you! My thoughts and my love are for you!

Volunteering at the Design Challenge

By Leigh Spencer

On Saturday, March 28, several members of SLFT volunteered at the Washington Pavilion for the annual Design Challenge.  This engineering event, for students ages pre-K through 12th grade, has both an at-home element and an on-site competition.  The theme this year was “Survival: Stranded on the South Dakota Prairie” and the challenges included designing a water filtration device with what they had in their backpacks and addressing the needs of their team as they waited for rescue.

Volunteers from our group helped with judging the event (both at-home and on-site), resetting the on-site challenge, and event registration.  I assisted with judging the on-site challenge for high school and middle school teams.  For the on-site challenge, the teams were given a crate with supplies (similar to what was in their fictional “backpack” for the water filtration challenge) and a list of survival tasks to complete within a specified amount of time.  All the teams had to construct a shelter for their team.  They also had randomly selected additional tasks, which included treating a broken arm, collecting water, or identifying edible plants.  The younger students had variations, with fewer possible tasks, and the youngest groups just had to build a shelter.

The best part for the spectators (and the judges, in my opinion) was the “wild card” that the students had to address during their time.  Each team was assigned one of three possibilities: a mountain lion in their area, a snake near their “camp” or a prairie wildfire.  Most of the teams handled their challenges well, although I personally wasn’t too thrilled that the students found it necessary to kill the snake.  (Couldn’t they just move it?)  Watching the teenage boys who were resetting the challenge dress up as mountain lions was definitely a highlight.

As a judge, I had a set score sheet that made my task fairly easy – just circle if they completed each task or not.  It was fun watching the different approaches each team took to problem solving.  The teamwork was great, too; a few teams had clear leaders who took charge, but mostly they planned as a team and worked as a team.  The high school teams were quiet and serious.  The middle school teams were serious, too, but seemed to be having fun at the same time.

It was a very fun event, and I’m glad the Pavilion asked us to come and help.  If the opportunity is available next year, I’ll sign up and I think you should, too!

 

SkepDakota!!!

skepdakota
Steve, our mascot. 🙂

Siouxland Freethinkers is hosting its own conference on August 29th! It’s going to be a fun weekend with social events, amazing speakers, vendors, networking, and all around awesomeness.

We’ve managed to put all this together for some really good prices, and are offering a special VIP experience as well. But here’s the deal – earlybird pricing ends April 30th.  So that means that you’re going to want to buy your ticket in the next 24 hours or so to get the very best deal possible. How? Head over to http://skepdakota.com/ and click on the “tickets” link. There’s also a link to a special on hotel rooms there as well.

We are so excited to be hosting the first conference of this kind in South Dakota! We hope to see you in Sioux Falls in August!

Support your Local Non-Prophet

Siouxland Freethinkers is a 501(c)3 tax exempt non-prophet non-
profit. The organization is just about four years old, and has really turned into something pretty great in that short amount of time.

It started with eleven people in the back room of a coffee shop, each thinking that they were the only atheist in the state. Fast forward four years and we have grown into a 501(c)3 organization, a Volunteers Beyond Belief team, and an affiliate of American Atheists. We also helped form the South Dakota Coalition of Reason, and as such did a state-wide billboard campaign. We’ve tabled at events, walked in parades, adopted a highway, and collected school supplies for underprivileged youth, toys for the Children’s Home Society, canned goods for Feeding South Dakota, and feminine hygiene products for local homeless women. We’ve raised around $19,000 for Autism Speaks, tabled in the state Capitol building and talked to legislators about why the proposed intelligent design bill wasn’t right for South Dakota’s students, protested John Edward when he came to town, and hosted lecturers. We have volunteered numerous hours at science themed kids events, written letters to the editor, advocated for the separation of church and state, and opened a city council meeting with a secular invocation.

More than those things though, we’ve created a community; a place for like-minded people to go and feel comfortable being who they are. A place where people can share their experiences, stories, and a cup of coffee. A place for people to connect; a place for friendships to grow. Siouxland Freethinkers is activism, advocacy, support, humanism, and so much more.

If you want to support this kind of work happening in South Dakota, imgres here’s a way you can help. Everybody already shops on Amazon, right? Take a minute to sign up for Amazon Smile & select Siouxland Freethinkers as the recipient. When you’re shopping on Amazon, start at Amazon Smile instead, and Siouxland Freethinkers will receive 0.5% of each purchase you make.

Here’s the linky: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/46-1046177
You know what to do!

Thanks for your support – we truly appreciate it!

Excerpts of this post originally posted in Fan Mail Fun on Thinking Unenslaved.

A Busy March 14!

Siouxland Freethinkers had an very busy Saturday on March 14th!

The day started with a Pi Day Pie Sale at All Souls Unitarian Universalist church in the morning. We were able to raise nearly $400 for SkepDakota, the freethought conference that SLFT is hosting August 29th, 2015! For more information about SkepDakota, visit SkepDakota.com. A HUGE thank-you goes out to all of our bakers, organizers of the event, All Souls for letting us use the space, and everyone who stopped by and bought some tasty treats!

In the afternoon, SLFT made its third appearance in the Sioux Falls St. Patrick’s Day parade. Our inflatable dinosaurs were a big hit, and we had a lot of fun celebrating the day!

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Freethought Journeys: Kathy

My skepticism of organized religion came at a very young age. For me, it started with the hypocrisy and narrow mindedness within the church. My father was a Methodist pastor. As a preacher’s kid, I was always expected to put on the front of the “good girl”. I questioned this role the older I got, because of what I was seeing and experiencing behind the scenes. Parishioners would arrive at our parsonage or the church office at all hours of the day with their complaints/problems. My father spent many hours helping families in crisis. Women would show up crying because their husbands were cheating on them, or there was some type of abuse going on within the family. There would be phone calls asking my dad for help with picking up the drunk at the bar, an intervention on a drug addict, or bailing someone out of jail. With maturity, I of course learned these are all personal problems that require our empathy. Things we have all had to deal with in one way or another in our life. However, the challenge for me came when I had to go to church on Sunday with some of these righteous individuals. For some reason, it was acceptable to judge others with similar problems especially if they did not attend church or the correct church. We moved around a lot so I came in contact with a number of churches in eastern South Dakota. My experience with the rural church in particular, acquainted me with some of the worst people I have ever met. There is an extreme judgmental, self serving attitude that I have never been able to understand from many of the professed devote Christians. I found it harder and harder to have any respect for these people who stated they believed in the words of Jesus Christ or the Ten Commandments. They certainly didn’t practice them in reality.

Please don’t get me wrong; I did meet several very kind and caring families. The problem as I saw it was these good people would see the same noxious individuals as I did, but often did not speak out about it. If the subject of someone’s behavior or actions did come up, the answer would always be that we needed to pray for them. Even in my young mind, I thought there has to be more that can be done than just prayer.

When I started middle school, my father quit the ministry and became a Social Worker for Minnehaha County. I think he understood how hard it was to be the preacher’s kid so he decided to give it up during my teen years. However, he and my mother were still very much involved with the Methodist Church. As I began my teen years, another aspect of church that turned me off was the sermons preached by ministers, and the teachings at bible school. When I would listen closely and analyze what was being said, the bible stories sounded like fiction. The young intellect in me would question how can this really be true? I would think …”God just sounds like a malicious, spiteful, sexist jerk”. I have always been introverted so I rarely spoke out loud. In addition, I feared my questions would just hurt or upset my parents. At the time, the “good girl” just didn’t want to make waves. Many a Sunday, I would feel so out of place. I really thought there was something morally wrong with me because I didn’t have the faith to accept what was being said. I truly believed that some part of me must be evil.

I can’t tell you how much I hated bible school and camp. I can laugh about this now, but the young girl at the time was devastated. One of my worse experiences at bible camp was when they had us conduct a little experiment regarding our trust in Jesus. I was blindfolded and another girl was instructed to lead me around. I was to put my trust in her as I would for Jesus. For whatever reason, this girl decided to guide me out on a fishing dock. I bet you can guess what happened. Yes…I tripped and fell off of the dock into the water. I remember the shock of it, the excited chatter, and laughter of the other kids as I was being pulled out. The head counselor of the bible camp thought she would create a “teaching moment” out of what had just happened. She made me stand in front of the other kids dripping wet, and told them when you don’t trust Jesus bad things will happen to you. Besides being distraught, I can also remember being very angry with such a stupid analogy and the fact that she would not let me dry off right away. The other girl cried hysterically through the whole ordeal believing it was all her fault, when it was really just a silly accident. Thinking back on that time, I am sure that girl was just as humiliated as me. After that incident, I couldn’t stand the thought of ever having to go to bible camp again. The only thing I did like about bible school/camp was sneaking off into the woods and smoking cigarettes and playing poker with the other so called immoral kids.

Once I started high school, I became very rebellious and started hanging out a lot with the wrong crowd. This ultimately got me into trouble. My senior year in high school… I became pregnant, got married, had a child, and graduated from high school in that order. I was in complete denial that I was pregnant for the first couple of months, because I didn’t want to deal with the shame of it. I was also a stupid young kid who thought she was smart and had taken precautions. As you all know, nothing is 100%. I considered an abortion, but in 1977 you had to go to Minneapolis to get one and it was expensive. I also knew there was no way my parents would give me permission to do this. My parents were extremely hurt when they found out, but they were supportive of me. They tried to get me to give up my child for adoption, because they thought keeping the child would ruin my life. The father of the child ultimately convinced me to get married to keep my family happy. You can imagine the stigma of the situation, and the disgrace I felt I had brought to my family. How it felt being around some of those awful church people with their holier than thou judgments. It was then that I stopped going to church unless it was for a funeral or wedding.

In the beginning, I attributed my dislike for church as teenage rebellion and what had happened to me as a young woman. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize that it is much more than that. I have never studied religion to fully understand the contradictions stated by those who are non religious. For the longest time, I wanted nothing to do with studying religion. For the later part of my life, it became a “gut feeling” that religious faith and the bible were nonsense. It is only through recent conversations, books, and presentations by some of the Free Thinkers that I am learning some of the historical truth.

I have spent a lot of years, just keeping it all inside. It is still hard considering my family background and because I am not much of a talker. With the exception of my immediate family, I have never really had much opportunity to express how I feel. I have made my beliefs known to my husband and kids, but they still don’t fully understand my need to be around others who are non religious. A lot of this has to do with the fact that they haven’t had to grow up with all the conflicts with faith. I never took my children to church. It was always explained to them that they could make their own choice as to whether they wanted to attend church or not. If they had questions, they could talk to their grandfather about it.

Unlike many in the SLFT group who know exactly who they are, I don’t generally define myself as Atheist or Agnostic. I have not yet come to terms as to what to call myself. I have never been very comfortable with confining myself to a definition. I haven’t found the word that encompasses everything I believe. It could be there just isn’t one? If asked, I will definitely state I don’t believe in god, Jesus Christ as the son of god, or heaven and hell in the traditional sense. I did grow up in the church and I do believe in many of the “teachings” of Jesus Christ. When I am in the midst of nature, I feel there is something out there. I just don’t know what to call it. Living my life by not subjecting myself to the false expectations of religion has worked for me up to this point. My journey is still and may always be in transition.

On a final note, I just want to say that I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to find the SLFT group. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. It is just such a comfort to talk to and be around like minded people. I genuinely hope my blog did not come across as primarily Christian bashing. Yes, I have had some horrible dealings with the church. However, I don’t believe that all Christians are depraved. My own parents are examples of what I would consider a good Christian to be. They do a lot of volunteer work to help the poor and they vote Democrat! There are many exceptions in all aspects of life’s experiences.

Thank you Amanda for coming up with this forum, and giving me the opportunity to let some of those internal views flow.

 

Freethought Journeys: Abby

Commonly, the conversation of why people leave their faith is happening without those who left. Straw man reasons for atheism circulate among believers. Something awful must have happened to shake her faith. She’s angry with God. Sometimes the nonbeliever’s character is questioned. She’s arrogant. She just wants to live a sinful lifestyle.

Because of this, it’s common to feel misunderstood and alienated after sharing disbelief. I certainly have and it has motivated me to share my freethought journey.

It’s necessary to mention – when I did believe, I was sincere. My Christian faith was very important to me. Growing up, I didn’t question or doubt. I was certain there was a God and he loved me.

When I was a middle schooler, I was told Christians have a moral obligation to tell others about Jesus – just like a watchman in a tower has a moral obligation to warn others of approaching danger. If I failed to tell people about Christ, I was tacitly allowing them to go to hell. I took this charge seriously. I knew kids from different faith traditions at my school and naturally I became concerned for their souls.

One night after school, I was chatting online with one of those friends. I took the opportunity to proselytize. I don’t remember the exact exchange of words, but I told her Jesus is the only way to heaven, that he died for our sins and rose from the dead, he was God’s son and loved us very much – and if she didn’t love him back and accept him into her heart, she’d go to hell. (Yeah, I went full Jack Chick.)

I got an unexpected response. She kindly said she knew all that, but her family was Buddhist and she believed something else. Up until then, I had been told that people need Jesus and that hearing the Gospel could bring grown men to their knees. My witnessing was not the Jedi mind-trick I believed it to be. I was in awe – she had shrugged off the most powerful message in the world.

I had a realization then. She was Buddhist because her family was. I was Christian because of my family. She was following the traditions and beliefs taught to her – and so was I. The only difference between us was geography. Her family was from the Asian-Pacific, I was not. If I had been born there, I wouldn’t be a Christian. If God is in control of everything, why was I given an unfair advantage at birth? Why was I born into the correct religion and she wasn’t?

This experience got me to study comparative religion as I got older. The diversity of belief around the world astounded me. I was under the false assumption that because Christianity is the largest religion in the world, it meant that the world is mostly Christian. I was wrong. Only about a third of the world is Christian. That leaves two-thirds of the human race – the majority – hellbound or, at the very least, believing something different than me. And probably just as sincerely. I couldn’t accept that billions of people would be separated from God after they died.

During early high school, I listened to a sermon from a Universalist pastor and my problems were solved. He spoke about universal reconciliation and it made perfect sense. After all, Jesus died for the sins of everyone. God loves unconditionally, why would he send anyone to hell? I decided everyone must go to heaven, independent of their beliefs or deeds in life.

I considered myself Universalist for awhile. I still believed in the divinity of Jesus, but I didn’t take the Bible literally. I was weary of dogma and said things like “God is love” – as if that meant anything. My beliefs became so indistinct that I could barely call myself a Christian. (In hindsight, I was a humanist who couldn’t let go of the comfort of religious belief. I had no reason to either. It made my family life infinitely easier to proclaim I was a Christian.)

In early 2011, I became pregnant with my son. My relationship with faith and Christianity was no longer just my concern.  I had to decide how I was going to raise him and what I would teach him.

A few months into my pregnancy I bought an NIV Study Bible and hunkered down. Nonbelievers who come from a Christian upbringing can commiserate – anyone can be a Christian, but doubters must become Bible scholars. And for about a year, I read the Bible and spent time in prayer.

To quote Isaac Asimov, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” For the first time in my life, I didn’t read the Bible in a devotional sense. I allowed myself to read it critically without the presupposition that it was God’s word. It didn’t take me long to become convinced it wasn’t divinely inspired.

A month after my son was born, Christopher Hitchens died. I read an article online about his life and became interested in his work. I read his books and watched dozens of debates between him and Christian apologists on YouTube. In all of them, the apologist was demolished, and so were the last few tendrils of my belief. My previously silent and guilty doubts were synthesized into legitimate criticisms of religion and the revelation it claims to have.

From there, my love for reason, logic, debate, philosophy, and science strengthened. I read about topics I previously considered taboo or inconsistent with my worldview, including evolutionary biology and modern cosmology. My eyes were open to an infinitely more beautiful world in which supernatural causes were replaced by fascinating natural explanations.

My faith was gone. And I haven’t looked back,  I haven’t wanted to either.

I claimed to be certain of unknowable things when I was a Christian and it never fit me. I don’t struggle anymore with the cognitive dissonance my faith created in me. Now, I delight in unanswered and difficult questions.  I no longer “battle” with doubt – I celebrate it.

I was moved to reexamine my beliefs because I wanted to raise my son in the best way possible. In the process, I let go of my faith, but what originally motivated me hasn’t changed. I will raise my son in a home filled with love, curiosity, reason, empathy, and respect -without belief.