Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 8 October 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a Member: Bruce Gleason

Name: Bruce Gleason.
Where I live: Villa Park, Calif.
Where and when I was born: Long Beach, Calif., 1955.
Family: Two sisters.
Education: Long Beach State when I was younger and reading lots of secular books.
Occupation: Video producer. I produce swing dance competition DVDs around the country and do an occasional corporate job.
How I got where I am today: I’ve always been an agnostic and started my brush with religious dogma in my 20s, when I finally got around to reading the bible!
Where I’m headed: I’m an advocate of atheism and freethinking. I like to think of myself as if I were young, maybe 15 or so, and meeting my older “self” by accident (like in a time-travel scene from a science fiction movie). I’d have some of those worldview questions answered in minutes and probably be where Dan Barker is today!
Person in history I admire: Bertrand Russell. He combined the rare attributes of comedy and mocking to a new level in his relentless attack on religion.
A quotation I like: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” (Seneca the Younger, born 4 B.C.E.)
Things I like: West Coast swing dancing, producing documentaries, organizing secular events, woodworking and riding my Harley like the wind.
Things I deplore: Religious leaders who influence their “flocks” with ideas that change the congregation’s behavior. As most of us atheists agree, it’s not the belief system one inherits but how that belief system controls the mind through unconscious means.
My doubts about religion started: It seriously became an issue after 9/11. How can people commit such a horrible atrocity by believing in an ideology? After I read how this could happen in any culture, my desire to “change the world” inspired me to start Backyard Skeptics.
Ways I promote freethought: Five years ago, after visiting many secular meetup groups in the Southern California area, I decided to start my own. I have a nice-sized patio, so I called it Backyard Skeptics. We started having meetings with a semi-formal agenda (news, book and movie reviews). Meetings now have a topic, guest speaker or the occasional open-mic night. We now have almost 500 members in Orange County.
I debated creationist evangelist Ray Comfort at the Huntington Beach pier. I was a little worried because I had never debated, but soon realized that he was actually low-hanging fruit. His arguments, sorely lacking in logic, were easy to take apart. (To see the YouTube video, search for “Ray Comfort debates Bruce the atheist.”)
I started holding outreach programs about three times a year at the pier, holding signs saying “Good Without God” and “Live This Life Now — There Is No Afterlife.” Now we have about 20 members with a variety of signs to attract those who also do not believe in the big sky daddy and to talk to others who are on the fence.
In September at the pier, we decided to go a bit further by tearing pages from the bible. Even some of my atheist friends warned against doing this for fear it might backfire and would probably be misrepresented in the press. Near the end, I tore one page at random from a bible. Surprisingly, no one moaned or gasped. Maybe they were astonished at the verses they did not know were in their own holy book.
Activism is very fulfilling and enjoyable. Our purpose has shifted from monthly meetings and field trips to more activism. There’s a need to educate those who might be labeled “lazy atheists,” because once they know how close our country is to a theocracy, they’d probably contribute more time and energy to our cause.

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