Atheists in Los Angeles search miracle, miracle and network too

Within the chilly dim of a November evening, underneath the jagged cliffs of Zion Nationwide Landscape, Dani Hsia posed a query that mystics and spiritual thinkers have contemplated for millenniums.

“Why are we here?” she requested, a headlamp illuminating her handwritten notes as the primary stars started to emerge within the sky. “Why are any of us here? Why does the universe exist instead of nothing?”

Seated in a circle round her, their faces lit by means of a crackling campfire, 20 nonbelievers listened with reverent consideration. Like Hsia, that they had signed up for this yr’s Atheist Journey tenting shuttle to think about humanity’s private questions and enjoy miracle and miracle in one of the vital gorgeous grounds within the West — all with out the warning of someone bringing God into the dialog.

Dani Hsia, heart, a headlamp illuminating her handwritten notes, speaks to a gaggle sitting round a campfire as the primary stars start to emerge within the sky all the way through Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

“These are the people who I can openly talk to about who I am and what I believe in,” stated Frances Aragon, who made the seven-hour force from Boyle Heights to Springdale, Utah, together with her 9-year-old son. “I don’t feel like I’m an outsider, and I don’t feel like my religious views have to be hidden.”

Hsia, who used to be wearing a red and red polka dot monster dress that had the advantage of being each a slight foolish and particularly warm, stated communal atheist reviews like this tenting shuttle aid her develop a ethical and moral framework for her 3-year-old son.

Later rising up in a religious Bahai family, she felt that her very footing used to be swept away when she misplaced religion in God 8 years in the past. When her son used to be born, she apprehensive how one can mum or dad within the a lack of the faith of her adolescence.

“I want him to feel all these things — to feel humble and awe and connection,” she stated. “These kinds of events are important to me because they shape how I talk to him and help him understand how to be a good human.”

Yearning existential miracle and network — sans God

Atheist Adventures, now in its 3rd yr, used to be conceived and arranged by means of Evan Clark, govt director of Atheists United. Based in Los Angeles in 1982, Atheists United has lengthy presented nonbelievers in Southern California a welcoming field to attach with like-minded other people — a form of non secular network for population who eschew faith.

View of the Virgin River flowing via Zion Canyon from the Kayenta Path.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

Nowadays, the gang supplies grocery kits each and every generation to 150 households in want; sharp-eyed motorists will spot indicators alongside the ten and a couple of freeways touting its roadside cleanup efforts.

The crowd additionally organizes 3 Science Sundays a yr for its 200 individuals — all-ages guided excursions of scientifically vital parks just like the L. a. Brea Tar Pits or Mt. Wilson Observatory. It additionally sponsors 4 secular-community events, an occasional speaker sequence and a singalong each alternative generation at “Heretic House,” a six-bedroom Victorian in Echo Landscape the place the gang’s longtime president Bobbie Kirkhart lived prior to her demise in 2021.

Since turning into the group’s first paid govt director in 2019, Clark has driven it to develop communal reviews for its individuals, which is the place Atheist Adventures is available in.

“We started asking, ‘What are the needs in atheist communities?’” he stated. “We want to have deep existential experiences and we crave community when we do it. And culturally, let’s make it ours.”

About 4% of population within the L.A. metro section described themselves as atheist in 2014 in comparison with 3% who recognized as Jewish and a couple of% who recognized as Muslim, consistent with the Pew Analysis Middle. However maximum don’t see atheism as an id to hunt network round.

Clark needs to modify that.

“I always say that you can find community in your kid’s soccer league, but will they visit you in the hospital? Organize with you politically?” he stated. “And would you want them to?”

I Center Rationality

For an earthly activist, Clark, 35, offers off critical adolescence pastor vibes — good-looking, pleasant, top power and all the time on message. He doesn’t drink espresso or alcohol as a result of, “I love rationality and I don’t want to [mess] with it.”

Clark, who additionally led atheist tenting journeys to Demise Valley and Anza Borrego, tipped again in a camp chair one morning as he laid out plans for the after few days. He defined Atheists United’s no-tolerance coverage on sexual harassment and let everybody know that he’d positioned showers a shorten exit from camp. “Because this princess needs a shower every day,” he stated, gesturing towards himself.

There could be team hikes and enough of pace to hang around across the campground and peer via a 17.5-inch telescope introduced by means of Dave Hasenauer — an agnostic, no longer an atheist — who used to be invited to facilitate stargazing.

Dave Hasenauer hikes alongside the Watchman Path all the way through Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

Christie Swords of Las Vegas friends on the moon via a 17.5-inch telescope introduced by means of Dave Hasenauer — an agnostic, no longer an atheist — who used to be invited to facilitate stargazing at the Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

After all, deny job used to be necessary.

“One of the values in atheist communities is freedom, so you can have as much as you want,” Clark stated.

Zion Canyon used to be named by means of Mormons within the overdue nineteenth century, and alternative landmarks bearing non secular names abound — Corridor of the Patriarchs, Tabernacle Dome, Cathedral Mountain. However as Clark reminded the gang, the historical past of the ground dates again a lot additional than those names.

The pink and white sandstone cliffs elevated masses of toes above a slender inexperienced canyon had been carved by means of the Virgin River over the latter million years. The river is affectionate and gradual maximum days, but if it floods it turns into a formidable agent of trade, ripping cottonwood bushes out of the farmland and tossing immense boulders throughout the terrain.

Cliffs glimmer orange because the solar units on a peak referred to as The Watchman in Zion Nationwide Landscape.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Occasions)

Participants and buddies of Atheists United jerk within the view date resting alongside the Watchman Path all the way through the gang’s Atheist Journey 2023

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

That morning it used to be meandering quietly via a rocky riverbed because the Atheists United team disembarked from a trip bus that deposited them on the first mountain climbing web site, the 1.9-mile Riverside Path. The sky used to be sunny and the surroundings staggering. Each and every little while somebody opposed to jerk an image as they mentioned what introduced them to Zion.

Rick Leff, a retired firefighter from Upland, stated this used to be his fourth talk over with to the terrain and his first with Atheists United. He old to jerk a habitual tenting shuttle with a gaggle of folk and buddies, however now he and his spouse are not invited. Even supposing he’s been wondering faith since he used to be 10 years timeless, he thinks that over pace his condition as a nonbeliever changed into extra of a barrier for some individuals of that team.

“Listen,” he stated, his blue visible stern. “I was in the military and I’ll stand with you if you’re religious, but don’t tell me what I can and can’t do because of religion.”

This shuttle to Zion used to be an experiment to peer what tenting with alternative nonbelievers used to be like, he stated. Thus far, it used to be going smartly.

For Christine Jones, a semiretired track tutor from Los Angeles, this used to be her 3rd Atheist Journey. She changed into concerned with Atheists United in 2011 later becoming a member of its choir — Voices of Reason why. She used to be dwelling in Orange County on the pace however incessantly made the force to Los Angeles to be with others, who like her, had been disappointed by means of the get up of Christian nationalism . Nowadays, she sees development an atheist network as core to Atheists United’s undertaking.

“Community is not the exclusive domain of religion,” she stated. “All humans have the right to community, whether or not one believes in God.”

As the gang returned to the trip, Dan Feldman, a tool developer in Ladera Heights, recalled the hour he learned in 2008 that he used to be a nonbeliever. Raised Jewish, he hadn’t puzzled faith till he started studying “The God Delusion” by means of Richard Dawkins, a cherished prophet for plenty of atheists. “I was on Page 26 and I said out loud, ‘Oh my God! I’m an atheist!’ ” he stated.

Even so, Feldman nonetheless seeks out non secular reviews.

“I would define spirituality as something that is emotionally overwhelming and that touches a deep spot in me,” he stated. “When I saw Victoria Falls in Zambia, this massive, straight current of water …”

He trailed off as his visible full of tears.

“It’s happening to me again,” he stated.

Tents glimmer as nightfall settles in on Watchman Campground all the way through amassing of atheists and buddies at Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

Nearest that evening, the gang accumulated across the campfire underneath a glittering sky. The dialog touched on courting date secular, the mental foundation of demonic ownership, the get up of astrology-loving atheists (“You’re kidding!” “Oh my God, I’m not!”) and the way to reply to non secular other people who insist that their morality is connect to their trust in God.

“Whenever somebody tells me, ‘If I didn’t have God I would rape and kill people,’ I’m always like, ‘then NEVER LEAVE GOD!’” Clark stated. The others laughed loudly.

Aragon, who has been attending Atheists United’s secular Latino team for the occasion yr, pulled a blanket round her shoulders as she shared with the gang her try to not fall again on her Catholic upbringing when chatting with her son later their cat died.

“I just wanted to tell him so bad, ‘You’re going to see your cat again one day,’ because I felt that would ease the pain,” she stated. “But instead I just had to talk to him and have a conversation about how the cat was beautiful and he was loved, and he’s going to stay in our hearts forever.”

“Don’t you think that was better?” requested Katie Mandel, a piano and resonance tutor sitting to Aragon’s proper.

Aragon nodded. “I do feel it was better,” she stated. “But then he was asking, ‘What’s going to happen when you die?’”

Adam Tapia, 9, roasts a marshmallow as individuals and buddies of Atheists United convene round a campfire all the way through the Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

Towards the top of the night, any other query got here up: whether or not thriller and the unknown are an very important a part of the enjoy of miracle.

“I take issue with the idea that wonder can only come from the unknown,” stated Duncan Mandel, Katie’s husband and chairperson of Santa Clarita Atheists and Freethinkers, later taking a sip from a flask of whiskey. “Is it really all that surprising that a group of atheists could come to a place like this and just be flabbergasted and amazed and incredibly moved by what they see? I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t we?”

Carly Turro, an actor and essayist and Clark’s female friend, nodded emphatically. It used to be gorgeous to seem via Hasenauer’s telescope and spot the celebs up near, she stated, however much more fantastic is the data that the items are 100 million light-years away.

“I got chills,” she stated. “The fact that we have the ability to figure that out made it more meaningful. The science added to the wonder.”

‘In Cindy We Trust’

The after month, Feldman and Kelly McCauley, a retired engineer at the beginning from Alabama, had been sitting at a picnic desk, watching on the mountains sparkling orange within the morning solar.

McCauley, who now lives in Las Vegas, used to be raised in a quite conservative Lutheran church and saved his atheism to himself for many years. “I couldn’t talk to anyone about it,” he stated.

Feldman nodded knowingly. “It’s very isolating when you first de-convert,” he stated.

In Alabama, faith used to be throughout him, McCauley stated. “You join a running club and before you know it, someone is saying a prayer or saying God got them through a marathon,” he stated. “I just don’t want to hear that.”

A sparkling curtain of H2O flows off a cliff into Decrease Emerald Lake

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Occasions)

Participants and buddies of Atheists United soak up admirable perspectives on the Weeping Rock on Atheist Journey.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Occasions)

Sooner or later he joined a Myspace team for atheists in Huntsville the place he met his past spouse, Christie Swords. “There you are looking for mutual support compared to other places where [atheism] is a more usual thing,” he stated. Now he and Swords have breakfast with alternative atheists in Vegas once or more a presen. “We enjoy socializing with other nonbelievers,” he stated.

Clark deliberate the hardest, and possibly most lovely hike for Saturday — the two.4-mile Kayenta Path to the Emerald Swimming pools. The rocky sandstone path do business in expansive perspectives of the principle Zion Canyon and the Virgin River gleaming within the daylight. At its apex, guests set in at a flat outcropping with tiny swimming pools of H2O surrounded by means of sheer pink cliffs.

At the trip bus to the path head, the gang used to be thrilled to as soon as once more have a driving force named Cindy, who talked merrily about rockslides, river floods and tarantulas.

“The all-knowing, omnipotent Cindy,” Clark stated, grinning.

“Cindy, our new God,” joked Turro.

“In Cindy we trust,” added Swords. “I’m going to start putting her on my money.”

That evening Clark had organized for Hasenauer, who volunteers at Mt. Wilson Observatory, to speak about the evolution of the telescope prior to pointing his personal telescope towards the heavens. Hsia used to be tasked with introducing him.

The surroundings suns casts a colourful palette within the skies above Zion Canyon on the finish of the Canyon Forget path.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Occasions)

Status prior to the gang in her not going dress of Sulley, the immense hairy creature from “Monsters, Inc.,” Hsia spoke in regards to the perennially human function of peering into the countless and in quest of solace within the cosmos. She described stargazing as some way of shaking fingers with the universe — a deep come across with one thing gigantic and historical and shared by means of all humanity.

“As members of Atheists United we may not gather in churches, but we understand the significance of experiencing awe, and tonight we are here to do just that,” she stated. “We stand beneath a moonless night in the heart of this natural wonderland to feel into the infinite and feel awe that binds us together.”

No person stated “Amen,” however the peace conveyed a palpable sense of assent.

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