The Glenn Mitchell Show (NPR)

KERA-FM Dallas/Ft. Worth 90.1 Mhz

March 4, 1996 / 1:00-2:00 PM (CT)

Glenn Mitchell, host: If you call the hotline of the North Texas Church of Freethought, you get this message:

(Clip:) Hello, and thank you for calling The North Texas Church of Freethought. We are the church for the unchurched, offering Freethinkers all the social, emotional, and inspirational benefits of traditional faith-based religions, but without all the superstition. Our growing community of unbelievers provide a positive, affirming environment for leading the good life, free of the illogic and intolerance of faith-based religions. We hold Sunday services on the first Sunday of every month. Admission is free, and everyone is welcome. In addition, we hold a growing number of social events throughout the month. Here is an update on our next several events.

Mitchell: As intriguing hooks go, it's a good one, so I thought today we'd find out more. With me today are two of the founders of The North Texas Church of Freethought, Mike Sullivan and Deborah Gorski, and church member Susan Menchaca. Welcome everybody.

Mike Sullivan (North Texas Church of Freethought): Good afternoon, Glenn. Thanks for having us.

Deborah Gorski (North Texas Church of Freethought): Thank you.

Mitchell: Glad you could be here. First of all, Mike, the name. Why call it a church in the first place? 

Sullivan: Well, we are a church, Glenn. We have all the same trappings of any of the faith-based churches in town. We have a community of people who all share the same philosophical outlook. We hold regular services. We provide the same social network as faith-based religions. And why not call ourselves a church? The only thing that differentiates us from all the other four thousand churches in town is that all of the folks -- or we hope most of the folks -- that come to our services have no belief in the supernatural. And everything else about it is exactly like every other church in town, and we aim to do more of those things as well. 

Mitchell: On the other hand -- I'm sure we'll get to many heavy and serious topics here before the hour's over -- but you say it's like every other church in town. Who else juggles? Who wants to talk about juggling? 

Sullivan: Well, I will since I'm the guilty party. I'm the juggler. My wife and I, that's one of our other hobbies. And we needed something to open up our services with since we don't have hymns or old traditions to follow. So we said why don't we do something that some people haven't seen every day just to get the ball rolling at Sunday service and to get people's attention focused and also let people demonstrate a skill or a talent or some result of human industry that they can demonstrate and show their fellow congregations members and have a little fun while we doing it. So we open up most of our services with a little juggling skit, and it's a lot of fun. 

Mitchell: Deborah Gorski, who comes? 

Gorski: Well, we have a wide range of people. We have everyone from very young children that I have in the Sunday School area all the way up to many senior citizens. I think our age group is very, very wide as well as the socioeconomic levels we draw upon. We have a large number of people from Fort Worth, from Dallas, from Denton, Waxahachie. I don't know how far away. Mike, how far away would you say?

Sullivan: Crowley, Parker County, all over town. 

Gorski: We get lot of people who come in and are really excited about what we're doing because no one's ever offered it before. 

Mitchell: Susan, how did you find out about the church? 

Susan Menchaca (Church Member): I found out about the church through a message board on America Online, and I called the number and attended the very first service. 

Sullivan: That's right. Susan is one of our charter members, Glenn. 

Mitchell: How big was that first service? 

Sullivan: Oh, about forty people or so, and we've averaged about that or more, sometimes quite a bit more. We just had a service yesterday and I think we had nearly 50 people there -- which is not much when we consider that most polls show that about ten percent of the population, on average, are people like us, Freethinkers who are non-religious, have rejected the faith they were raised in. And so our feeling, Glenn, is that we could be the biggest church in this town, if we could just get ten percent of those ten percent, we'll have 4,000 or so members, quite a good-sized congregation, even in Dallas/Fort Worth. 

Mitchell: What's a service like? 

Sullivan: Well, we try and do a little bit of everything every month. They've all been different, some better than others as we still are finding our way. We try and mix a little bit of humor, a little bit of entertainment, some inspiration, give people something to think about, to talk about the next day. When 
they go into the office, they can say, 'I had great time at church yesterday. We learned about this-and-that, and it really gave me something to think about.' Debbie can talk about what the children's program is like. 

Gorski: Well, what we try to do is make it something that's applicable to a wide range of age groups. We usually try to take half the time and spend on a moral issue. For instance, to give you an example, yesterday, on Sunday, we covered anger. We read a story about Ghengis Khan that was in Bennett's Book of Virtues, as a matter of fact, that talked about anger and how to deal with anger. And then we spent a lot of time talking about a scientific topic. We talked about the weather, barometer, pressure, atmosphere, how it thins, why you have pressurized cabins in airplanes and in spacecraft. And we went through what is a thermometer and barometer and all those kinds of things. So we try to cover a scientific topic and a moral issue and give the children a good background. 

Mitchell: For the adults, then, does somebody get up and read from the 'Book of Mencken' or the 'Book of Bertrand Russell' or something? 

Menchaca: Occasionally there are readings from books. At yesterday's service, they read from Mark Twain's book called 'Christian Science. 

Sullivan: 'Christian Science.' 

Menchaca: ...and that was quite informative as well as entertaining, as Mark Twain often is. 

Sullivan: And we often have original writing. Tim, one of our other co-founders, is a prolific writer and usually cranks out what we call a sermon which is usually quite thought-provoking. And then we also invite many of our parishioners to come up and also provide input to the service with a demonstration or a reading or a skill or something like that. 

Gorski: Last year, we had an actor come in and act out a one-man play. So it depends on the issue. We try to make it a variety so it appeals to many different people. 

Sullivan: Right. 

Mitchell: James, good afternoon. 

James (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to inquire--I wanted to ask for a phone number and an address. 

Sullivan: Why, sure. You can call us 24 hours a day at 214-880-9201. That's the recorded message that Glenn played at the top of the show. 

James: Okay. Can you say that one more time, please? 

Sullivan: Certainly. 214-880-9201. 

James: Okay. And your address? 

Sullivan: Our mailing address is Post Office Box 111894, Carrollton, Texas, 75011. That's also on those sheets I gave you, Glenn. 

Mitchell: And if you missed that, you can call us later and we'll give it to you. 

Sullivan: That's right. 

James: And one other thing. Has your church qualified for a property tax exemption? 

Sullivan: We don't have a building yet. We do have a building fund established, but for the time being, we don't need a property tax exemption since we don't own any real estate 

James: Where are the services held again? 

Sullivan: You can call our information line. Most of the time, our services are held at the Wilson World Hotel in Irving, Texas. And maybe later in the show, Glenn will let us give out our Worldwide Web address which has all of this information on it as well 

Mitchell: Appreciate the call. Thank you very much. Does the church have a legal standing yet? 

Sullivan: We're set up almost exactly, if not exactly, the same way as almost every other church in Texas. We're an unincorporated small business. We have not sought non-profit status. We have received information from the IRS that makes us pretty much work the same way as other churches as far as donations from our member go. The four founders have capitalized the church to get things going. And just like every other church in town, we're going to make it or break it based on the donations given freely by our members There are no dues. We're not a club. We don't send people bills when they come to our service. So in that way, we're also exactly like every other church in town. 

Mitchell: Bill in Dallas, good afternoon, 

Bill (Caller): I was thinking about this. Other than the social aspects, you don't have what's called a spiritual component, why bother? I mean, why show up? You might be better off just staying in bed or watching the television news shows or whatever. 

Mitchell: You beat me to one of my questions. And Susan is, right now, leaning into the mike. Go ahead. 

Menchaca: Well, one of the major issues for Freethinkers is that they've been very alone for a long time. We're often spread far apart. We don't know other Freethinkers. Fellowship is just as important to us as it is to other people. And it's been a wonderful experience in my life to be able to meet people who I can share an important part of me with, and they understand. 

Sullivan: Most of the Freethinkers we meet tell us the same thing, Glenn, that they thought they were the only person in town who didn't go to church every Sunday. And now they can go to church on Sunday and feel good about it and meet other people exactly with their same philosophical outlook and be part of a community. And let's face it: that's what a big part of church life in America is all about. Our guess is, you could go into most churches in town on any Sunday morning and find not a few people in each pew who don't believe all the stuff that they're hearing from the pulpit yet they're afraid, or don't want to, disconnect from the social network that the faith-based religions provide. Well, we aim to do all of those same good things for Freethinkers. As we often say, there's nothing bad about church life in America that the elimination of superstition couldn't cure. And that's what we're trying to do. 

Mitchell: Kelly in Irving, good afternoon. 

Kelly (Caller): Hi. I'm really interested to hear this. I am a Unitarian Universalist. Most of what I've heard really applies to many Unitarian Universalist churches. For example, there are some people who consider themselves Deists but who, in reality, have a very different idea and really are maybe more of a pantheistic believer than someone who believes in a supernatural being. Are you familiar with Unitarian Universalism and, if so, what is the difference? 

Sullivan: All right, Kelly. 

Mitchell: Kelly, you beat me to another one of my questions, so we'll get an answer for you. 

Kelly: Thank you. 

Mitchell: Thanks very much. Yeah, wouldn't you be just as happy at a Unitarian church? 

Sullivan: Well, many of our members, Glenn, tell us that they tried Unitarian Universalism and still found it riddled with too much superstition. I guess it depends on which U.U. church you go to in town, but many of them still would be termed Deist. They believe-Unitarian comes from the term, as opposed to Trinitarian, believing in one god instead of three, as the Christians do. And most Unitarians still light candles and sing songs that some people just can't accept in good conscience. At our church, we believe in just one less god than the Christians and even some Unitarian congregations. And many of our members, again, started out at U.U. churches and find that they like our approach a little bit better. 

Mitchell: Let's get a call from Michael in Richardson. Good afternoon. 

Michael (Caller): Yeah. Actually, I think my question's just been answered. I had the very same question on the Unitarian church. And I would just add that, yes, it probably does depend on which Unitarian church you go to, but I would say a good 50 percent of them are very Freethought. They're accepting of all religions or no religion whatsoever. Many of them don't have pretty much a steady sermon that they give. Many of them don't even mention anything religious throughout the entire ceremony on Sunday. It could 
be pretty identical to what your panelist was saying there about just brining up some topic. It could be on anger. It could be on doing good to your fellow man, you know? So I'm not hearing really a whole lot of difference here between this Church of Freethought although, to remain open, I guess I should probably go and check it out. But it sounds very, very similar to the Unitarian church. 

Mitchell: Okay, we'll try that one more time then. 

Sullivan: Well, we've had people tell us that they've gone to Unitarian Universalist churches where they've had a guest speaker come in and talk about Gaia, the idea that the Earth is a god and so on. And I guess, again, it depends on which one you go to and what day you go. But many people have told us that they still regard Unitarian Universalism as superstition du jour, a little bit different each month. Now, if that's what works for people and they enjoy it and they're having a great time, we're not out to proselytize for anyone to come to our church in the same way that we don't expect to be proselytized to join anyone else's church. 

Mitchell: Deborah? 

Gorski: Well, I was just going to say that my own experience was that I went into a Unitarian church that had a presentation on New Age, and for me personally, that was not something that I cared to continue or wanted to continue in my own life. So I wanted to look specifically for a church that would serve my needs and be non-superstitious because to be non-superstitious was a very important ingredient, especially as I'm raising my children, and I wanted to bring my children to something I felt very comfortable with. 

Mitchell: How did each of you wind up here? Susan, let's start with you? I don't mean here at the station today, I mean at The North Texas Church of Freethought. 

Menchaca: I was searching for a church-like environment to take my children to, and I was considering a Universalist Unitarian church, and I had gotten some advice from some people through the Internet, and that's when I found the message about The North Texas Church of Freethought which really sounded something more along the lines of my personal feelings. I called their line. At the time, their message wasn't quite as fancy, but it did say that they would call me back. And I also called a Universal church, and got a recorded message and no chance to leave a message of my own. And they did call me back within the hour. 

Sullivan: We were hungry back then, Susan, as we still are. 

Mitchell: Deborah, what about you? 

Gorski: Well, for me it was very important, like I said, to find something for my children that was not the kind of situation that I had been brought up in. 

Mitchell: Which was? 

Gorski: I was brought up Roman Catholic and I did not want to raise my children in that faith. So for very many reasons, I had decided that I wanted to look for something that was non-superstitious. And, like I say, I had tried a Unitarian church, gone to Unity, I think, a number of different churches in the area to look at what was available and what people were believing. And it looked like there really wasn't anything that fit what I was and what I wanted for my children. So basically, my husband and I, we were talking with friends. We spoke to the Sullivans, and they felt the same way we did. And we thought, 'Gee, there must be a lot of people out there that are like us and are not finding what they want.' And so we thought that we-it was really because of the Sullivans, also, that we decided to get together and do this. And we said, 'Let's see how it goes. How many people will we draw in?' And we're really excited to find out how it's grown and how many people have been so receptive to what we're doing and, like Mike said, coming in every week and saying, 'Gee, we didn't know anything like this existed. We weren't going to any church. We're really excited to be coming here.' 

Sullivan: They don't have to sit at home alone anymore. They can be part of a big community of people just like them and feel good about it. 

Mitchell: Suzanne, good afternoon? 

Suzanne (Caller): Hi, Glenn. How you doing today? 

Mitchell: Just fine 

Suzanne: Great. My question was, what does The Church of Freethought teach about religion? Do you teach against it or do you teach that it's another lifestyle? How do you view religion? 

Sullivan: Well, the term Freethinker or Freethought implies someone who forms their opinions based on an examination of evidence and not based on tradition or authority or what it says in some old book. So bringing up children in the Freethought philosophy would mean simply teaching your children to think critically, teaching them to examine claims on their own and look at how those claims stack up against the evidence presented for them, and then make their own decision about which, if any, faith they wish to adhere to. And so, I'm sure Debbie will agree that that's the way she's bringing up her children and many of our other members of our congregation are as well, simply to examine evidence and then make your opinion after you've examined evidence in support of it. 

Mitchell: So if your children, after this upbringing, grow up to be snake-handling, tongue-speaking, etcetera etcetera, then you'll say, 'Well, I tried.' 

Sullivan: As long as it-I think everyone would feel good about that as long as it has been the result, not of the accident of birth-in other words, I think most people today go to a certain church simply because that's the church their parents went to and for no other good reason. Very few people have surveyed the entire universe of religions out there and then finally picked one and said, 'Yes, this one has the best evidence in support of it. That's the church I'm going to go to.' Freethinkers are among that group where they've surveyed the evidence in support of various religions and rejected them all, based on a lack of evidence to support the claims made for them. 

Gorski: We certainly-in the Sunday School, we talk a lot about The Bible, for example, along with the 
Greek myths and the Persian myths of Mithra. And we certainly don't put Jesus Christ any differently than we would talk about Zeus or that we could talk about Mithra. But we cover many different stories of mythology because I think it's very important from an educational perspective that the children understand there are many, many religions are out there and what they are. So, yes, that's very much a part of our... 

Sullivan: It's also good for the children to learn that most of the world's religions make similar claims. 

Gorski: Exactly. 

Sullivan: Most of them claim pretty much the same thing, from singular truth, to everlasting life, to eternal damnation if you don't believe. And that's good for children to know and to understand as they're growing up. It adds to the tolerance that they have when they meet children of other faiths. And certainly we've seen plenty of examples of the intolerance faith-based religions can achieve in the world, and we think that Freethinkers raise their children, and behave themselves, with much more tolerance because they have the world view. There are many competing claims for truth, and Freethinkers usually adopt claims based on fact and reason, not on myth and legend. 

Mitchell: Let's get a call from Rick in Fort Worth. Good afternoon. 

Rick (Caller): Excellent topic, Glenn. 

Mitchell: Thank you. 

Rick: What-two questions. What do the leaders of the church worship? 

Sullivan: Well, worship as in supplication? 

Rick: Worship as in communion with deity. 

Sullivan: Well, by definition, atheists reject the existence of a deity, a supernatural power outside of nature. 

Rick: Oh, so you are atheists? 

Sullivan: Oh, yes. 

Rick: I see. Well then, are you trying to separate religion from fear or people from religion? 

Sullivan: What we're trying to do is separate superstition from all of the good things that go with being part of a church. That's the whole idea behind The Church of Freethought. 

Rick: Without spirituality? 

Sullivan: Yes, in the supernatural sense of spirituality. I think that most people would agree that there is a human spirit, a goal or a desire within people to feel good about themselves and their neighbors and to feel good about the world, and we certainly try to achieve those things in our services as well. 

Mitchell: Let's get a call from Dick in Dallas. Good afternoon. 

Dick (Caller): Oh, hi there, Glenn. Mike, is it true that this is the only Church of Freethought in the United States and maybe the world? 

Sullivan: That's our understanding, Dick. As far as we know, this is unique on the planet. 

Dick: This may be the groundswell of something that may turn out big eventually, huh? 

Sullivan: We certainly hope so. Wouldn't that be wonderful? 

Dick: Yeah. Have you ever noticed that if you walk up to someone and admit that you're a Freethinker or an atheist, they seem threatened by it? I've never quite understood that. To me, it's not threatening. It doesn't hurt them. 

Sullivan: No. As Thomas Jefferson said, 'What should I care if my neighbor believes in one god or a thousand? It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.' 

Mitchell: Thanks for the call Let's try Kim in Fort Worth. Good afternoon. 

Kim (Caller): Hi. I was just curious if The Church of Freethought does any sorts of social service activities, like helping the homeless or the hungry. And I'll hang up and listen. 

Sullivan: Yes, Kim. Although we're fairly new, just over a year old, we have considered and are now getting organized to do just that, social service and outreach programs. We're considering a number of things, for example blood drives, Habitat for Humanity. We're open to a lot of ideas. We're looking for 
some type of social work or charity that we can support in good conscience. 

Menchaca: An off-season food drive. 

Sullivan: Right, things like that. It's very easy to be charitable during the holiday season, the Christian holiday season. We would like to find something that our members can support in good conscience year-round. 

Mitchell: David, good afternoon. 

David (Caller): Yes. Excellent show, Glenn. 

Mitchell: Thanks. 

David: Say, I was wondering, have they ever heard of the book The Gods of Eden? I think it's William Bradley or something like that. 

Sullivan: We're drawing a blank here. 

Menchaca: The name Bradley sounds familiar. 

David: Well, it's a pretty interesting book. I thought they might be interested in knowing about it. It's hard to find a copy. Sometimes you can find them at Paperbacks Plus or something. 

Sullivan: Well, thanks for the info. We'll check it out. 

David: I also had a question. Have they ever heard of Dr. Carl Baugh? 

Sullivan: Yes, we have. 

David: Have you ever had a debate or anything? 

Sullivan: I personally haven't, but we have associates and colleagues that have debated Reverend Baugh. We're going to make a visit down to Glen Rose to see his museum in the fall when we'll have a world-class tour guide give us a tour of the dinosaur prints down there as well. 

Mitchell: Thanks very much. Who is Reverend Baugh? 

Sullivan: Carl Baugh runs the Creation Evidences museum just outside the entrance to Glen Rose State Park down there. 

Mitchell: Gotcha. Let's go to -- where shall we go here? -- George, good afternoon. 

George (Caller): Hi, good afternoon. I heard a little while ago that basically you like to study other religions and the basic premise, of course, is that you are atheist. I wonder if you ever had a lecturer regarding a person who is atheistic but has a very unique church. His name is Anton LaVey, and he founded The Church of Satan. Satanism, as defined by him, has nothing to do with child-killing or any of that nonsense. Are you familiar with his works? 

Sullivan: No, we're not. We've only had 15 monthly services so we have a huge list of topics to exhaust before, I think, we'd call Mr. LaVey. But it seems to me to be another spin of superstitious belief based on things that are unseen and claimed but for which no factual evidence exists. So I would think that we'd probably reject that after examining it. 

Mitchell: This is a country in which religion plays a big part... 

Sullivan: No doubt. 

Mitchell: politics, in sports, in everyday life. Do you feel- do you feel crowded by religion? Susan, let's start with you. 

Menchaca: Sometimes yes; in my basic everyday life, no. I get a little nervous with politicians like Pat Buchanan. I was actually raised Seventh Day Adventist, and one of their basic beliefs is they will be persecuted, so being an atheist can't be any worse. 

Mitchell: Okay. Deborah, what about you? 

Gorski: I'm going to put the question a little bit differently. I think- I don't necessarily feel crowded by religion because, for a long time, I just didn't go to church at all. So for me, it's not like I felt - there were just a lot of pieces of it that I could not accept and, because of that, I wanted to find something else in my life, something that would draw me to people like Susan and Mike that would be non-superstitious. Basically the people would all agree that this is basically the same as Zeus, and let's go on from there, and let's live our lives in a good way. And I think that that's what's really most important. 

Menchaca: And we're now able to expand beyond just the church. Deborah and I went out with another church member last weekend and had a wonderful time at the Dallas Symphony. My roommate is making some costumes for Scarborough Faire for some other church members. We're beginning to socialize and have the kind of experience that a lot of us have missed for a very long time. 

Gorski: And I think one other thing. A lot of people have mentioned spirituality. If I think of somebody's inner experience as being something that is spiritual, I would say that many of the sermons and the things that are done in our church services really appeal to that in human beings, because so much of what we do is art, whether it's great literature or whether it's great ideas. And I think they're presented very, very well, and they do speak to that inner experience that all of us have. And in that sense, I think we are very spiritual. 

Mitchell: Mike, we didn't get your life story. Were you ever very religious? 

Sullivan: Oh, yes--raised in a strict Roman Catholic family, Glenn. My brother went to seminary and was just nine months from being an ordained priest before he rejected the teachings that had been pounded into him for so long. I woke up when I was a teenager. And since then, until about five years ago, thought I was the only one in the world who had rejected Catholicism and no longer believed what I was told in grammar school and then was only too happy to meet Tim and Debbie and find that there were, indeed, many tens of thousands of people just like us if only we could find them all. 

Mitchell: Let's go to Larry in Fort Worth. Good afternoon. 

Larry (Caller): Yeah, good afternoon. I think this is great idea that you have. I left the dogma of mainstream religion that I was brought up in a few years back and vowed never to return. I consider myself a Freethinker. I've actually done thought experiments on the very topic, I guess mainly because I come out of the tradition of reading a lot of science fiction, maybe. But I have a question concerning- you know, there's a lot of government bashing, and some of it seems to be centered from a number of different religious organizations. How do you- how does your group and how do you all tend to relate toward our great government? 

Mitchell: Thanks. 

Sullivan: Well, Larry, we decided when we set up the church that we wanted to remain apolitical and that our congregation was smart enough to look at the issues on their own and make up their mind. They won't have to be told who to vote for or what political party to join. We value reason and evaluation of claims as Freethinkers, and will remain apolitical, not endorsing, not telling our followers how to vote, because we respect their intelligence in making up their own minds and making those decisions for themselves. 

Mitchell: Let's get a call from Dave in Plano. Good afternoon. 

Dave (Caller): Hi. This is a very interesting topic. I find myself in the same position as probably a lot of your callers of having been raised in a particular religion and having decided later that was not for me. And I'm wondering how you handle the issue of the lack of evidence. For example, if you examine nature, do you see no intelligent design there or do you simply say, 'We're not really sure what this means'? In other words, is atheism a necessary prerequisite for your church or do you have a tolerance that says 'If something manifested itself with very hard evidence, we would believe that we were created'? 

Sullivan: Let's start at the beginning there. Do we see evidence for an intelligent designer? So far, no, but the jury is still out as science continues to work on it. One piece of evidence could come in tomorrow to absolutely convince all of us that we were created intelligently by some force outside of nature that we don't know about now. But I would have to say that most Freethinkers do not accept that position without evidence in support of it. The overwhelming mountains of scientific evidence that's been examined to date argues against an intelligent designer to nature. Do our members have to be atheists before they walk in the door? No. We have many people who are somewhere along the continuum between believer and atheist, are still searching the idea through in their minds. All they know is that they can't accept the things they are hearing said at their faith-based churches, and they want to at least explore what it's like from the atheistic philosophy that we embrace at our church. 

Mitchell: Thanks very much for the call. How do you handle the people who say, 'There is historical evidence for Christianity; there's historic evidence for Islam; there's historical evidence for Judaism.' Let's see, can I come up with any others? 

Sullivan: There are hundreds and hundreds. 

Mitchell: For Buddhism, for example. 

Sullivan: Well, as we say in our information brochures that we'll send to people when they call, there are terrific claims made for every religion in the world, and compelling evidence, if you look within their own texts that, yes, you should believe in XYZ. When you compare that they're all making basically the same claims, it gets harder and harder to find out which one is really true. Most people, again, have not surveyed the world's religions to find out which faith they want to adhere to and, more or less by accident, they found themselves in a faith-based religion. For people who have started to think about it on their own, who have examined the evidence and found the evidence wanting, they'll usually turn into a Freethinker before long, and we hope they'll find our church if they do. 

Gorski: I think there's also a history of Freethought that goes back to the earliest times... 

Sullivan: Oh, yes. 

Gorski: ...because there were an awful lot of people throughout time who had problems with whatever faith or whatever were the prevailing beliefs of the time. Certainly we can point to people who started our own government in the United States. We can point to Voltaire. We can go back to the Enlightenment. There's always a group of people that have had problems with that and have been Freethinkers. So I think we have a very rich history as well. It's just not compiled into a single book. 

Sullivan: In the absence of other evidence, though, most people at our church would have to accept the Bible for what it appears to be, which is a book written by humans with internal contradictions and outright falsehoods that are very evident to anyone who reads it, in our estimation. And it's very similar to most sacred texts of all the other world's religions and, therefore, found wanting by people who value reason and evidence based on facts before they form an opinion. 

Mitchell: To Ivan in Dallas, good afternoon. 

Ivan (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say that Dallas really needs something like this church of Freethinkers. The Bible Belt could use a little bit of unbuckling, I feel like. And I hope you give a contact address again. I just tuned in about 20 minutes later. I wondered if your guests are at all familiar with I don't know how to describe this -- it's sort of an atheist comedy church called The Church of the Sub-Genius. 

Sullivan: Reverend Ivan Stang here in Dallas. 

Ivan: Yes, I'm flattered. 

Sullivan: Yeah, we've heard of him. It is a comedy enterprise more than anything else, I think, although he does have serious followers. 

Ivan: Well, we try to be ... 

Sullivan: He's got a good thing going, and we... 

Ivan: ...zombies... 

Sullivan: Yeah, Dr. Stang certainly has- Reverend Stang certainly has a good thing going, and we don't want to mess up his business... 

Mitchell: Thank you, Reverend. Appreciate the call. 

Sullivan: we won't proselytize his members. 

Mitchell: Where can people get in touch with you? 

Sullivan: They can reach us by telephone 24 hours a day, Glenn, at area code 214-880-9201. And if you like, I can give out our World Wide Web address. We have a home page with most of our information on there. Can we do that? 

Mitchell: Yeah. This is where you have to go slowly, though. People mix up the dots and the coms. 

Sullivan: So that I get it right, will you hand me one of those sheets that I gave you earlier? Yes. Our World Wide Web address, of course, starts with the ubiquitous h-t-t-p- (colon) (backslash-backslash) -- now here's the important part -- [backslash] -- and now the tricky part -- a tilde, and that's usually a shift-l on some keyboards -- a tilde, and then the letters F-R-E-E-T-H-G-T. One more time: That's our Web address. And our phone number once again, 880-9201 in the 214 area code. 

Mitchell: Deborah, good afternoon. 

Debra (Caller): Hello? Yes. This is a very interesting program. I didn't hear the very beginning of it but I just got, from what I heard, that you are located in Dallas, is that correct? 

Sullivan: Well, we don't have a physical building yet, Debra, but we do hold services in Irving right now. We're trying to be equally inconvenient for everyone in town. 

Debra: For everybody. 

Sullivan: Yeah. 

Debra: Over here in Fort worth is a little bit tough. 

Sullivan: Right. We're in Irving just south of the airport at the Wilson World Hotel. That's on the first Sunday of every month. 

Debra: Okay. I have had a very difficult time finding an ability to fit into the community for some of the reasons that you've been discussing. And without having- getting to spend more time with you, one of the things I wanted to ask you, have you ever- or do you know of Joseph Campbell? 

Sullivan: The- from the PBS myth/mythology series. 

Debra: He was popularized by Bill Moyers on PBS. 

Sullivan: Uh-huh. I know of him. I can't say that I've seen his shows or read his books. 

Debra: Well, he's a wonderful scholar and its somebody you might explore with regard to studying in your group. It would be something that I think would be very enriching. He talks about myth being the experience of life. And one of the problems that I have with religion is, first of all, that everyone tends to mistake mythology as fact. If you can't accept it as fact, then forget it, you're out the door. 

Sullivan: Right. 

Debra: But myths are very important. They're important for children to understand. They're important for adults to understand the meaning behind it without having to say it's true or it's not. 

Menchaca: Debra, I know several of our members who are actually big Campbell fans, and if you'd like to come visit us and check it out, I'd love to introduce you to them. 

Debra: I'd love to because I try to find people to discuss this with. He's just such a fantastic person. Unfortunately, he's dead now, back in the mid-'80s. But he's wonderful. I'm glad to hear there are people there who are interested in discussing it. I'll have to get a hold of you on your number. I just wish we had something a little closer. 

Gorski: Let me just tell you, we do have an adult discussion group that's going to meet this coming Sunday at 11:00 in Irving at the Spring Creek Barbecue. That's on 183. So you may meet some people there who are Campbell followers. 

Menchaca: And we have some members who come from Benbrook. Maybe we can hook you up with a ride. 

Debra: That's even farther away than I am. That's very interesting. Maybe we could get something started a little closer. 

Sullivan: Sure. And all the details on our events are on our information line again, 880-9210 in 214. 

Debra: Well, that's great. 

Mitchell: Thanks a lot. 

Debra: Thank you for talking to us. 

Mitchell: To Carl, good afternoon. 

Carl (Caller): Hey, how are you? 

Mitchell: Fine. 

Carl: I think I'm going to be a voice of opposition here. I think the name The Church of Freethought is a misnomer because I find it highly offensive to refer- I think Roman Catholicism was referred to as superstition. I think it's a bit arrogant to say that. Number two, you should know from Logic 101 what you're trying to disprove is a negative, and you seem to discount any ideas of religion but yet you offer no evidence to counter. And number three, your whole rationalist belief structure is based on the belief that people act rationally all the time, and I think this really discounts the notion of faith, which is very real, and I don't think it should be discounted. Thank you. 

Sullivan: Susan, do you want to take a piece of that? 

Menchaca: That was a long diatribe. 

Mitchell: Disproving a negative... 

Menchaca: Well, no, we're not trying to disprove a negative. We're not trying to disprove it at all. We just see absence of proof. 

Sullivan: We're not the ones making the claims for these fantastic, supposedly miraculous events, so the burden of proof does not fall on us; it falls on the claimants. As far as the idea of a church being offensive: well, we're sorry. We don't think that Christianity should have a monopoly on the idea of a bunch of people who have the same opinion on getting together and calling themselves whatever they wish. 

Menchaca: I believe the original Greek of 'church' is 'a place of fellowship.' 

Sullivan: Right. 

Mitchell: He raised the question about faith. In one of your publications, yesterday's service, as a matter of fact, it says: "If a person can be said to have faith that the sun is going to rise again tomorrow in the east, it is because of the huge mountains of objective evidence supporting that opinion. A better word to use would be confidence. Faith should be reserved for superstitious claims where no objective facts are in evidence

Sullivan: That's right. And as we said yesterday, Glenn, in our service, faith is not necessary when you have evidence. Faith is only needed when you don't have evidence and, therefore, people don't talk about having faith that the Cowboys won the Super Bowl last year. That has been proven. There's objective evidence that can be examined for that claim. So faith isn't necessary when you have evidence. 

Mitchell: If I could play, if you'll pardon the expression, devil's advocate here for a second, it's not--there are some times -- and I'm not suggesting that you're doing this -- Freethinkers, atheists will occasionally give the impression that those who are believers are somehow deficient in the brain. They're missing a piece there or otherwise they would be able to see, obviously. And they sort of do this in such a way as to disregard brilliant people throughout the ages who have also been religious. 

Sullivan: Well, I don't think any of us think that, but in the same way, we are offended when religionists tell us that we're missing the boat in some area, and that if we only knew their version of what they call the 'supreme and only truth,' that we would certainly be believers again. Again, almost everyone in our church was raised in a very faith-based religious environment and rejected it after careful examination of the facts. 

Mitchell: Let's get a call from Claire in Dallas. Good afternoon. 

Claire (Caller): Good afternoon. I'm really enjoying this program. 

Mitchell: Thank you. 

Claire: I also was reared a Catholic and became an atheist and am searching right now, and I'm wondering if you're familiar with the writings of Deepak Chopra. 

Sullivan: Yes, he's of transcendental meditation school, pretty wild stuff, not anything close to medical science, that's for sure. But he sells books, and I'm sure there are lot's of people out there who believe everything he writes. 

Mitchell: Appreciate the call. I don't want to lean on one religion over another here, but is it a fair statement that, say, the stricter religions, the less giving religions, the more doctrinaire religions tend to produce more Freethinkers? 

Menchaca: Yes. 

Gorski: Yes. It seems like we do have quite a wide range, though, of people who have been through everything from Judaism to almost all the Protestant denominations. 

Menchaca: I do my work as a host in the ACLU area on AOL. I have met at least a couple of hundred atheists from across the country, and the Roman Catholic church has produced a large number of them. 

Mitchell: You don't find many liberal Episcopalians who become atheists. 

Sullivan: We have a lot of different folks, though, Glenn. We have Church of Christ; we have Jehovah's Witness- former Jehovah's Witness; we had a fellow yesterday identity himself as a former Christian 
One thing I've noticed among our congregation are that a great part of them are newcomers to Dallas and were raised in the northern part of the country where religion is not nearly so pervasive in everyday life. And they got down here to Dallas and said, 'Whoa. It's a whole different way of doing business down here. I have got to find something to connect to.' That's not the way it is up north where I was raised and Debbie and Tim were raised. 

Mitchell: To Steven in Plano, good afternoon. 

Steven (Caller): Yes, I had one question and a comment. I was wondering what affiliations you have with skeptic groups, such as the North Texas Skeptics. And the other comment is, you keep saying that you 'were' this and you 'became' an atheist. Isn't it true that we're all born atheist ... 

Sullivan: Yes, that is true. 

Steven: ...and get turned into religionists by society? 

Sullivan: That's very good, Steven. It's very true. All children are born without theistic belief. They have to be taught that in school. And kids are natural skeptics. They doubt everything their parents tell them, including 'don't put your hand on the stove when the burner is on.' So children have to be taught to believe in the unbelievable. They're natural skeptics. 

Your first question, part of the question, was are we affiliated with any other skeptical groups in town. No, not formally; however, just by coincidence, many of us, including some of the founders, are formally associated with the North Texas Skeptics and other educational and scientific organizations. 

Mitchell: Let's go to Lee in Garland. Good afternoon. 

Lee (Caller): Good afternoon. Good show. Good talk. 

Mitchell: Thanks. 

Lee: I just had a couple of comments, and your guests can comment on my comments. I consider myself an atheist as well, but I'm not a member of their church. I had a long discussion with a friend of mine, a very staunch Christian at my work, and he was belittling me because of my atheism. And I told him that he was an atheist, too, and that I was just, by degree, slightly more of an atheist than he was. 

Sullivan: That's right. 

Lee: And he couldn't believe that. So I say, 'Do you believe in Zeus?' And he says, 'No.' I said, 'Do you believe in Buddha?' And he said, 'No.' And I said, 'How about Brahma, or Zoraster, or any of these others?' And he said, 'Oh, no.' And I said, 'Okay, how about the Judeo-Christian God?' And he says, 'Oh, yeah, I believe in that God.' And I said, 'Well, I don't.' 

Sullivan: You just believe in one fewer god than most other people do. 

Lee: That's right. 

Sullivan: That's right. They don't believe in hundreds and hundreds of gods. They've chosen one to believe in, usually for not any good reason. 

Lee: And then I pointed out to him that early Christians were considered atheist by the Romans... 

Sullivan: That's right, because they didn't believe in Mithra. 

Lee: ...because they didn't believe in the Roman sect. 

Sullivan: That's right. 

Lee: The host of the show here today made some comment about being- formerly religious. I consider myself religious, even though I'm an atheist, because I live with a religion. A religion I believe is a code of ethics, not belief in a supreme being. 

Sullivan: That's right. Another thing that we've found with the church is people are very glad to find other folks who believe, as they do, that you do not have to believe in the supernatural in order to lead a good, moral life. 

Lee: Oh, exactly. And I found a church home in the Unitarian church. So I'm a member of a Unitarian church And I'm among several other atheists at my home church here in Garland. 

Sullivan: Very good, Lee. 

Mitchell: To James in Dallas, Hi. 

James (Caller): Hi there. Well, I'm going to challenge just a little bit. Let me first state that I am not a Christian. I don't view myself that way. Like most of your callers, I'm probably in the spectrum there, a deist or something like that. Let me state, though, that for the Freethinkers on your show, I find it somehow the height of arrogance to state that you've examined all the evidence and can declare there's no reality beyond your perception. 

Sullivan: None of us said that 

James: Okay. All right. Let me just go on here because I've got a couple of short points. I don't like the word supernatural -- if you want to call it ultra-natural or whatever. Also I'd like to comment that the Founding Fathers, almost all, of this country were Deists in one form or another. They were definitely Freethinkers and had some pagan bent of one form or another, and they certainly didn't want religion messing with their politics. 

Sullivan: That's right. 

James: And lastly, I would say that- somebody made a comment about children being atheist. If you could do some type of experiment and take a bunch of children out and let them, you know, kind of grow up on 
an island, they would probably develop some type of Deist structure over time. I think mankind appears to be- it's kind of the chicken and the egg type of thing. I mean, we didn't just come up with all these religions because somebody else told us to. We need this kind- we need to impose upon ourselves, it seems, some type of a bigger belief system. I'll leave it to you guys. 

Mitchell: Thanks a lot. Somebody talk about that. There is a sense- it's been suggested that if we didn't have God, we'd have to invent him. 

Menchaca: I think they developed pretty much the way the boogie man did. Someone had to control someone else, so they needed a threat. 

Sullivan: In the pre-scientific age, before we knew the causes of the events that we see in nature and the results of those things, it probably was convenient and reassuring to invent a supernatural deity. But now that we have a pretty firm grip on how things work, most Freethinkers don't find a need to believe in the unknown, unseen, unprovable, unfalsifiable in order to explain our daily lives. 

Mitchell: Let's go to -- where shall we go? -- J.P., good afternoon. 

J.P. (Caller): Hi. Isn't this great we can just talk like this to people we've never even met? This is just a wonderful experience to be able to do this. The use of science as such dogma approaches the religious fervor with so many people. And being a scientist, there are so many attacks, things like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and so many tenets of science that show it to be a very inexact thing. 

Sullivan: That's right. It's not dogma, and that makes it different from religion where you start with all the answers and there can be no questioning. 

J.P.: And there tends to be a high dependence on rational thought as being an absolute standard. And that's kind of hard to swallow all the time, to say that that's the only way to perceive this. 

Sullivan: Well, the reason that most Freethinkers accept science fact and evidence is because it's so gosh-
darned reliable. 

J.P.: Well, I don't necessarily agree with that, but... 

Sullivan: We climb into airplanes and launch ourselves into the sky not based on Christian aerodynamics but based on aerodynamics as founded on the laws of nature that are obvious, once examined, falsifiable, objective. Everyone around the world builds airplanes the same way. 

J.P.: The problems that seem to arise in things like quantum mechanics and even further, some of these absolute laws break down. They appear to work in one series of parameters, but then when they're extended to others, they seem to break down. 

Gorski: But nobody has every said that we know everything there is to know about science. Science is a growing body of knowledge, and it will continue to grow over the next centuries, forever. 

Sullivan: And that's the chief distinction between science and religion is that science continually re-examines itself, and all of science can be refuted tomorrow if the proper evidence is produced. 

Mitchell: J.P., appreciate the call. Let's try to get to at least a couple more people here. Jim in Garland, good afternoon. 

Jim (Caller): Good afternoon. I was just a little curious. I've been an atheist, declared, since I was 12 years old, and I'm now 37. And it just seems a little strange to have the idea of an atheist church. Just exactly what do you do? 

Sullivan: Jim, we do all the same things that all the nice folks in all the other 4,000 churches in town do, except we do it all without superstitious background to it all. We enjoy each other's company. We learn from each other. We have fun. We support each other. And we just do it all without a superstitious underpinning. 

Jim: Is there still singing, prayer, this sort of thing? 

Sullivan: None of us are any good at music just yet, so we haven't included music, but we probably will before too long. 

Mitchell: It's interesting to speculate what your songs might be. I'11 have to think about that one for a while. 

Sullivan: Oh, Debbie has a few. She has nursery rhymes. 

Gorski: Oh, we have a few. We have quite a few for the children. One of the things- children do like ritual - and one of the things we want to impress on them is that they do want to be good people. And one of the things we've come up with, for example, in going to sleep at night, my husband wrote this: "Now I lay me down to sleep, 
To happy dreams and slumbers deep, 
For in the morning when I awake, 
I will be good, for goodness sake." 
Again taking out any idea that someone might go to hell, but basically on the same type- we don't really call it a prayer as such, but it's an idea that the children say that, they recite it, and they really like it, the idea that, yes, I'm going to be a good person; I'm going to do what's right. My husband's written quite a number of other ones as well. For the children, I think it's been very, very helpful. 

Mitchell: Let's see, quick call from Dan in Wichita Falls. Hi. 

Dan (Caller): Hi. Thanks a lot. I recently, less than a year ago, changed from a very conservative Protestant Christian background to a liberal position, very close to what's being talked about here, and I became a Unitarian. I was wondering what the difference is because I really don't see that your positions are incompatible with Unitarian Universalists. How are you different? 

Mitchell: We've done this already, but we'll get you a quick answer. Go ahead. 

Gorski: Well, just to give you an idea, one of the things I did was, I went to the Dallas Council of Churches. I thought that, in terms of serving the community--I know several people have mentioned what kinds of social things we were going to do in the community--I approached that group because they do, as a group, do some of these types of things. And I was told one had to be a Christian, a Christian. You had to believe in Jesus Christ and God in order to belong to the Dallas Council of Churches and that the Unitarians fit that and that's why they were listed as one of that grouping. All I can tell you is just what I had been told by the Dallas Council of Churches. It just seems like there is at least at some level a belief in a single god. 

Mitchell: We're out of time. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much. 

Sullivan: Thank you, Glenn. It was great being here, 

Mitchell: Mike Sullivan, Deborah Gorski, and Susan Menchaca from The North Texas Church of Freethought.