Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sci-fi, Fantasy, Religion

Another tale from a rural, mid-American atheist.
Because what is commonplace here might just make an interesting story somewhere else.

A bit of rambling backstory first.

With a houseful of rapidly growing children who are receiving their education at home, we are keen on opportunities to get the family out of the house for worthwhile activities and socialization.  Trips to the feed store, library and dentist are great, but they don’t quite cut it.  There are doubts that the weekly homeschool playgroup we’ve attended the last two years will come back together this fall, so we have been discussing our options.
Farra, "dark elf" age 14

Freed from the religious bondage that kept wizards, witches and Klingons at bay, my children have all blossomed into sci-fi and fantasy fans.  My wee ones run around with wands carved by their older siblings, casting spells in Latin with delightful British accents.  My oldest girl and boy have begun working metal, wearing elf ears, and experimenting with stage make-up.  (The cloaks are not new, however.  Cloaks are always in style.)  Our van will soon sport a Star Trek logo with “WWDD” by it:  What Would Data Do?

The children are writing stories about interstellar space travel, cursed elves, magic dogs, and hillbilly children named after, uh… plants.  The creative juices are flowing.  My oldest, at nearly fifteen, shared with me that she would like to be a traveling costumer and writer.  The most benign children’s games can turn into life-long hobbies and careers, you just never know.

So how do we, as parents, foster these seven creative geniuses and their unique skills and interests?  We start a sci-fi & fantasy club.  Duh.

Bonuses:  it involves other members of the community, feeds creativity and imagination in all, encourages each one to set goals and offers the support needed to reach those goals, and helps them develop social skills (especially as we hand over leadership of the group to our older children).  It’s like Scouts.  For geeks.

We put a little extra thought into creating something that would cross the religious bounds of our community.  No atheists or believers here, just sci-fi & fantasy fans.  In our community there are oodles of activities if you are a child of christian parents, especially in the summer with camps and vacation bible schools. There aren’t enough secular families to justify starting a secular group of any kind; besides, who wants to discriminate like that?  Nope, everyone would be welcome in our group.

So, our first meeting of Fantastic Worlds was last night.  We had only a few people outside of our family in attendance (still getting the word out, and it will be interesting to see if we get more or fewer people when school starts next month).  We discussed the purpose of the group, our favorite books, movies and characters, and we were in the middle of making the cardboard and duct tape daggers that one of the moms had bought for a project when in strolled a man that I at first took for a teenage boy.  Second glance put him maybe around thirty years old; he was short and awkward.  He was wearing a dress shirt, tie, and dark slacks.  He had come to inquire after one of our crew members, a fourteen year old boy who’d apparently skipped his piano lesson to join us.  The boy introduced us.

This boy happens to have a special place in my heart.  His grandparents used to live across the creek from us and when he would stay with them (just one of the many places the unwanted chap was passed around to) he would cross the creek to visit with us.  I’ve known him a few years; he’s bright and remains tender-hearted in spite of the neglect of those responsible for him.  Church is one place he’s been well-received and shown love; if not genuine love, then at least attention, and “good, clean” attention as far as our community is concerned.  (The best place for a troubled youth is church, right?  Where else is he going to learn morals?)  As it turns out, this piano teacher was an acquaintance from church.  I overheard my friend talking with him about the next Fantastic Worlds meeting, which would fall on an evening the church was hosting a revival (a hyped up, week-long church service).

The church man turned to me to ask if he could make an announcement.  I guessed he wanted to announce the revival and invite everyone.  Yep, seriously.  An evangelical christian knows no limits.  If there is a group of people gathered, for whatever reason, or even a single person, he or she will take the opportunity to try to get you to their church, or at least get you to believe you are a worthless human being in need of a bloody salvation.

Trying to think quickly, I decided to let him say his piece, but not without putting a word in myself.

His invitation was awkward, but sufficient.  He jazzed it up by saying, “You all are into sci-fi and fantasy.  Well, what I’m offering is even cooler.  All kinds of miracles happen.  People dance with their eyes closed and don’t even bump into things…”   He trailed off.  That was it.  I swear to pasta, that was the miracle he had to share with us.  Frankly, I was slightly embarrassed for him.  I would have been even three years ago, when I was a christian myself.  But my embarrassment for him didn’t prevent me from speaking my piece.  When he hopefully looked my way I took a deep breath for courage and a chuckle escaped me before I said, “Um, no.  Been there, done that.”  He looked at me, puzzled.  “I’m an atheist,” I said, clearly, proudly.  Maybe it was my imagination, but the look on his face turned to wonderment.  I like to think he was an atheist virgin and that I was his first.  Ha.  I continued, “I was a believer for many years before that.”

“Oh,” he stammered.  “Do you mind my asking what happened?”
“Sure,” I smiled, as friendly as I could be.  “I studied my way out of the Bible.  I was really steeped in it, but I studied and found out the god of the Bible was not real.”
“But he is real.  This stuff you guys are doing here, it can all be disproven, but God can’t.”  He almost found his feet there for a moment.
“Sir, I make no pretenses about what we do here, this is entirely and admittedly fiction.  As it turns out, so is God.”
He had nothing else for me.  He began to back toward the hall he’d entered by.  I had one more comment for him.
“But this group is open to everyone, believers or not.”  I didn’t want to misrepresent the group, make it seem like an atheist gathering.  I’m not sure he heard me as he turned and shuffled toward the door.

He retreated.  He actually turned and retreated at my words.  I have mixed feelings about that.  Part of me feels good for standing up and making it known that his church propaganda was not entirely welcome, that there are people who aren’t interested, people who know better.  Obviously to him we don’t “know better,” but I want people in my town to know that there are unbelievers here, that they are not the only ones around, and that if they are going to go into random places, uninvited, and share their “good news” then at least this one unbeliever is going to stand up and be noticed.  Yeah, I’m the kid that pointed out that the Emperor was bare-ass naked.  My only hope and purpose is to give others the courage to think about what it is they believe, or don’t.

A greater part of me wishes I’d handled it entirely differently.  I wish I’d thought more quickly when he asked if he could make an announcement.  I didn’t necessarily want to make a scene.  I wish that, knowing what he wanted to announce, I had asked, confirmed it.  Then I could have told him that although everyone is welcome in our group, religion isn’t, unless it’s acknowledged as the science fiction or fantasy it is.  Then, had he asked, we could have talked about my unbelief.  I feel this would have been a far nobler approach. 

Sigh.  I’m learning.


  1. nice. I'd have been hiding behind a tree but nice.

  2. You'd have been in luck. There were a few imaginary trees in the room. I think we were on the edge of Mirkwood forest, actually.


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