In the Company of Skeptics
I don't remember exactly what link led me there--probably one left by a commenter on one of the blogs I read--but somehow a while back I found myself at this page: a very negative review of a certain play. The play certainly didn't sound appealing to me, though that might have been partly because of a bias in the way it was described, since the reviewer was a heavily-agendaed self-described "conservative behind enemy lines in liberal Hollywood" who was apparently obsessed with trying to prove that the film industry supported terrorism. However, there was one thing in the review that caught my attention: "The show was appropriately held at the Center for Inquiry, some kind of meeting place for the atheist crowd."
A "meeting place for the atheist crowd"? Hm...sounded like it could be interesting. And, conveniently, the phrase "Center for Inquiry" in that sentence was a link.
So I followed the link, and got to the page for the Center for Inquiry West. Which, as it turned out, was located pretty close to my apartment. I took a brief glance at the page, and it looked interesting, so, while I didn't really have time to look through it in depth right then, I made a mental note to get back to it and take a better look later.
(And I suppose at this point, after having avoided mentioning it up until now, I've pretty much given away my location, since the address of the Center for Inquiry West is on the page I linked to above, and I've just said it's close to where I live. So, yeah, for what it's worth, I live in Los Angeles--in Hollywood, more specifically. Though the population of Los Angeles is large enough I don't suppose that narrows down my identity too much.)
It took a while, but eventually I did find some time to take a look around the page, and see what the Center for Inquiry was about, and what was going on there. I figured it might be interesting to drop by some time, and after looking at the calendar I found that the next meeting I would be able to make it to was the December meeting of the Skeptics' Book Club, which met the second Tuesday of every month.
Which, of course, was tonight.
The meeting was at 7:00, but I got there a little late. Nobody seemed to be bothered by this, though. The book under discussion was Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, by M. G. Lord--the author herself being present for the discussion. Not having known what book would be discussed ahead of time, nor having a copy of it (though I did purchase one there and have her sign it), I of course hadn't read the book, but I was still able to participate a little in the discussion, especially since the book was about rocket science and, well, I was a grad student in a physics lab where rocket science was performed.
The turnout was...a bit smaller than I expected. Los Angeles is, after all, a big enough city that I thought there'd be more people at something like this, but counting me (and not counting the author) there were only fifteen people there. Although M. G. Lord had to leave, most of the others stayed around afterward to talk. I felt a bit awkward at first, since, even if I now considered myself an atheist, I still attended church, albeit only for social purposes. But then someone brought up a question about Mormonism, and I volunteered the answer with the explanation that I'd been a Mormon myself for thirty-plus years...and then went on to say that I still attended the church, with an explanation as to why; I figured I might as well get it out in the open to begin with. To my relief, everyone there was very understanding, many of them having been in similar situations themselves. I was invited to visit the CFI again whenever I wanted...and I think I'll probably be going back this Saturday, when there's a meeting of the Independent Investigations Group, which "investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint".
So, all in all, that went well, and I'm glad I went. I'm still not ready to come forward with my atheism to my family and my friends in the church...but starting to associate myself with other atheists like this is I think an important step in the right direction.