Story by: Mark Matsuura
MSUM Mass Comm Major
“(a freethinker) makes up their own mind on faith and human origin”, explained Jon Lindgren the president of the Red River Freethinkers, “they don’t take the word of clergy or government.” Lindgren is a former Fargo mayor and is still involved in the community.
The group was formed more than 10 years ago in the area. Made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists and religious skeptics the group boasts more than 50 members within a 100-mile radius and growing. The organization meets once a month at various venues in the area, such as colleges and hotels. They also hold “brain food” dinners at local restaurants where members gather to discuss and debate. The group also holds monthly showings of movies related to freethinking.
Local Freethinkers history
The Red River Freethinkers (http://www.redriverfreethinkers.org/) is more prominently known for being an activist group dealing with issues between religion and government. Most famously the group brought suit against the city of Fargo, claiming that a monument of the Ten Commandments sitting outside the Fargo City Hall was unconstitutional. The group argued that the fact that the city voted to keep the marker in 2007 gave the monument religious purpose. The group’s suit was thrown out by a judge this year not allowing the group to challenge the city’s decision. The organization continues to move forward challenging the City of Fargo.
Law making activism
Lobbying officials and having voter influence is a recent goal of the group. Most recently the Freethinkers have taken aim at a petition attempting to put a “religious liberty restoration amendment” on the North Dakota voting ballot. The law basically gives people the right to do or not do something based on religious beliefs. The Red River Freethinkers argue that this would allow people to use religion as an excuse to not follow laws. They are currently advocating against the petition for this amendment and have plans to inform voters about it.
First annual Project 42 convention held downtown
The Red River Freethinkers held their first annual Project 42 Freethought Convention in downtown Fargo on September 18. The all-day convention played host to five guests from throughout the region. The convention was scheduled on Sept. 18 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with related activities all weekend. With almost 130 attendees registered the turnout was better than Lindgren and other organizers expected.
Project 42 is a strange name
The name of the convention comes from Douglas Adam’s influential novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. The supercomputer named Deep Thought is asked to answer the ultimate question, and it gives the answer 42. The only problem is that we don’t know the ultimate question. The organizers saw this name fitting for a convention of people always thinking about questions of this magnitude.
Outspoken atheist speaks out
Dr. PZ Myers, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota Morris, gave an hour-long lecture on his many views at the conference. Myers is a self-titled “gnu atheist” a play on the word ‘new’ since as he explained atheism isn’t a new idea. Speaking to a packed room, with people gathering outside the entrance, he had the audience thinking but also laughing. Myers writes a well-known blog named Pharyngula (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/) covering as he said, “anything, personal, atheism, religion, stuff like that.” His lecture, heavily steeped in science related points, explained his view on religion and his beliefs.
Mr. Deity has the last word
Later in the day Brian Keith Dalton, the creator of the online comedy films Mr. Deity, spoke to the attendees. Dalton’s “Mr. Deity” (http://www.mrdeity.com/) is a humorous way to communicate his theological views to an audience. Speaking out for his skepticism of religion and his questioning of organized religion, his series takes a theological look at beliefs that bring laughs but can also make the listener think.