What we’re about
"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall." —Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American revolutionary, pamphleteer, and atheist, "The Age of Reason"
Had enough of astrologers, psychics, homeopaths, and spirit channelers? Yearning to talk with someone rational for awhile? Meet up with other local skeptics for some refreshing and sane conversation.
If you've got some kind of event or opportunity that's commensurate with what we're about (as described below), we'd love to hear about it and publicize it to our 1000+ members. E-mail your idea to RichardSRussell@tds.net and we'll either schedule it or explain why not.
What is a skeptic, anyway? It's someone who lives by the Missouri state motto: "Show me!". Does some claim seem too good (or amazing) to be true? Well, that's because it's probably not. Having an open mind isn't the same as having holes in your head.
OTOH, doubting everything makes you a cynic, and suspecting everybody makes you a conspiracy theorist. Skeptics who ARE shown something are willing to accept it. A couple of cases in point:
(1) Even little kids notice that the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa look like jigsaw-puzzle pieces that should fit together. DID they, at one time? In the early 20th Century, skeptics scoffed at the idea. "Just coincidence", they said. And rightly so. There was no known mechanism for how anything that big could be moved. Then Alfred Wegener showed evidence that continental drift had definitely happened, and later Arthur Holmes explained how plate tectonics was the mechanism behind it. With those in hand, skeptics were convinced.
(2) For most of human existence, people believed the Earth was only a few tens of thousands of years old. Skeptics concurred. If the Sun were made of wood or coal or petroleum, it couldn't possibly keep burning for much longer than that. But there was all this other geological evidence that indicated the planet was millions, if not billions of years old. What to believe? Skeptics openly admitted they didn't have the answers. But as soon as we discovered the amazing amounts of energy that could be produced by nuclear fusion, the source of the Sun's longevity was revealed, and skeptics settled in on the proper scientific answer.
We skeptics take our cues from people like the Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who pointed out: "I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in this: they keep arguing that it is possible. And that's true. It IS possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it's possible or not, but whether it's going on or not."
In other words, "show me".
Upcoming events (1)See all
- NeocultsLink visible for attendees
It’s been said that “The difference between a cult and a religion is that in a cult there’s a person at the top who knows it’s a scam, and in a religion that person is dead.”
We’re all familiar with religious cults. Back in 1989, Anthony Hoekema’s book identified (for America) The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, [and] Seventh-day Adventism (promulgated by, respectively, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell [no relation], Joseph Smith, and Ellen White). And we know about various suicidal personality cults, such as (Jim) Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate (Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles), and Branch Davidians (David Koresh), plus the murderous ones like the (Charles) Manson Family and Aum Shinrikyo (Shoko Asahara), some of which had religious overtones.
But religion and charismatic personalities aren’t the only things that can serve as the basis for cult formation. Holocaust deniers, people who claim that the climate crisis is a hoax or the Moon landing was faked, anti-vaxxers, and flat-Earth societies gained followers over the Internet, and once the gullible started getting sucked into siloized rabbit holes, they behaved as cultishly as any of the classic examples.
And then there’s politics. A useful overview of political cultism is provided by Mike Rothschild’s 2021 book The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything. QAnon itself had a pseudonymous originator, Q, who could hardly be said to be charismatic, since he never appeared in public or via any form of media; he was known only thru his cryptic all-text posts, many of which predicted various forms of disaster, none of which came to pass. This steady record of failure dissuaded followers at about the same rate as the failure of prayer ever discouraged religious believers.
QAnon followers plugged into the larger MAGA (Make America Great Again) personality cult surrounding Donald Trump, as evidenced by their prominence at the Capitol insurrection of 2021 January 6.
Altho Q stopped posting at the end of 2020 (aside from a small flurry of probably fake posts in mid-2022), the QAnon movement continued to chug along, but started to splinter (some would say metastasize) into various plausibility-free offshoots, such as Frazzledrip, describing how Hillary Clinton ritually murders young children so she can drink their blood (a theme shared with Pizzagate) and the JFK-return movement. The latter claims that Democrats John F. Kennedy Sr. (born in 1916, assassinated in 1963) and Jr. (born in 1960, killed in a plane crash in 1999), both direct descendants of Jesus Christ, had faked their own deaths and would be returning to public life Real Soon Now, both of them in support of Republican Donald Trump. Hundreds of believers in this amazing narrative gathered in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22 (the anniversary of the senior Kennedy’s assassination) the last couple of years so they could be present at the second coming.
This was reminiscent of the thousands of 19th Century followers of William Miller, who in 1844 sold all their worldly possessions and traveled to mountaintops so they could be among the first to be raptured up to heaven when Jesus returned. Jesus’s failure to return on that occasion was referred to as The Great Disappointment but didn’t dissuade the true believers, who invented excuses for it and went on to organize themselves into a formal religion, the Seventh-Day Adventists.
Does that suffice for this month’s discussion topic, or do we also need to get into the reptile people passing as human, hidden Atlantis, and the hollow-Earth stuff?
This will be a virtual meeting conducted via Zoom. A link will be sent out at noon on the day of the event to people who’ve RSVPed.
Homework (not required, but covers stuff most people aren’t familiar with):
CNN’s special report, “Waiting for JFK: Report from the Fringe”, described here:
Aum Shinrikyo’s still-unexplained murder rampage: