Some time back, I was an enthusiastic member of the local skeptics' meetup. It was a chaotic, free form get together where people talked about, just about anything. People got to know each other, discussed their experiences, and I felt a sense of community.
About a year ago, the meetup changed. There was movement toward a more formal meeting, where people sat around one table and each person spoke in turn. That change was largely instigated by one or two outspoken members who came to dominate the meetup. When there were "side conversations", people were told to stop talking, it was too hard to hear the important people talk. It was not said, specifically, that some people were more important than others. Rather, some people were told to be quiet so others with "something to say" could be heard.
There are so many great conversations and interesting, kind, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, insightful, experienced people on Nexus. Maybe what I sought was not monitored topic discussion, but rather flesh and blood, face to face, fellowship. The fellowship here on Nexus means the world to me. But it's still nice to explore the in-person aspect. Shake someone's hand, see their expression, personal nuances that add additional feelings to being alive. Make me know I'm not the only person in town who thinks this way. And feel a sense of contribution to the local community.
I haven't been to the local skeptics meetup for about a year. I attended a meetup yesterday.
It was still, just what I didn't care for - roughly 20 people sitting around a table, each speaking in turn. Impossible to have a real conversation. The moderator would ask questions that, I guess, were intended to illuminate certain topics.
A lot of time was spent discussing agnosticism vs. atheism. There were 3 self-avowed agnostics. The moderator said, he was an agnostic because he does not have the arrogance to say if there is a god or not. A pretty arrogant statement, I thought, but I didn't say anything. A lot of that discussion went into the law of conservation of energy, with several people stating that it proves life after death They regard their consciousness as a form of energy, so cannot be destroyed by death. I wanted to say "compost" but did not.
Another member was also convinced, his house was infested with poltergeists. The "spirits" moved pictures of the previous owner out of a box, and put them on the wall. The previous owner was a bad guy with a lot of negative energy. I wondered if the speaker was being spoofed, but did not say anything. Another member also noted experiences with poltergeists. Their house was filled with the energies of prior inhabitants.
There was talk about space aliens, and how humans may be different from other animals due to space alien influences, and religions may be vestiges of our confusing aliens with gods. Someone said humans are special because we have self awareness, and animals do not. There was no discussion of what self awareness is, why is it special, how we know other animals are or are not self aware, and whether all humans are self aware. No skepticism. I did speak up there and ask, how do you know that? and was pretty much brushed aside.
I left after about an hour. This did not feel like fellowship or community. It felt like a sunday-school composed of credulous, not-so-critical-thinking, so-called skeptics. It was flesh-and-blood, but I didn't enjoy it. I don't mean to criticize the folks who attended. But the format and moderation left me feeling like this was clearly not for me.
Some day I hope to wander around the country and meet more of the folks, who I meet here. That will be the flesh-and-blood part. I know, a gathering of the nonreligious can not be expected to meet my personal needs. Just because other people self-identify as skeptics, does not mean they are.
In a world containing billions of people, I feel very fortunate to find the folks on Nexus, diverse, likable, and interesting. Thank Gore for the information superhighway, to find this needle in the human haystack. No intention to attend another such meetup in my community.
(Illustration source Commons.wikimedia.org. Gustav Doré English Bible, 1866. They do not illustrate actual events or members at the Skeptic's meetup).