I live in Boulder, which was recently ranked the “smartest city in America” due to its large population of people with college degrees. However, I’d have to say that Boulder’s also the most delusional city in America as well. The entire place is ridden with new age crap, a half-assed embracing of Eastern philosophy, and a love of the mysterious and supernatural.
At no time was that clearer to me than at the Boulder Creek Festival, where I had, pretty much out of the blue, volunteered to work at an atheist tent. The Boulder Creek Festival is one of many large yearly events where members of the community can set up displays, and the displays are clustered by topic. The Boulder Atheists had set up a tent, and it had been assigned to the “Mind and Body” section, which placed it smack in the middle of pretty much every purveyor of new age mysticism in town. Directly across from us was the Psychic Horizons Center, who apparently employed a number of rather attractive looking women (if you dig the whole hippie thing), but also sold remote psychic readings for your pet (mailed to you on a tape) for $75 a pop, and apparently there’s a market around here for that sort of thing.
It was the tail end of May and we were starting to feel the heat of summer. The organizers of the booth had thought of a rather clever marketing campaign: they brought palettes of bottled water, and inkjet labels with “Boulder Atheists” on them as well as the URL of their web site (boulderatheists.org). We placed the bottles in an iced cooler, and had them on display in front of a sign that read “FREE WATER.” And man, did that make us popular. We drew plenty of attention, if only for people wondering “are you the guys with the free water?” It seemed like such an obvious idea for anyone wanting to draw attention to their booth. As one of the organizers quipped: “Leave it to the atheists to bring cold water on a hot day.”
The whole thing got pretty mixed reactions from the crowd. Some people liked it: “So, you guys have your own water now, huh?” Others were pretty disturbed by it. One lady took a bottle, started to walk off with it, then brought it back, saying “I’m sorry, I can’t accept this.” Another lady approached interested in the water, then flat out refused when she noticed it was an atheist booth. I wondered what we must look like to them, and the only thing I could think of that would make me feel that way was if I went to a booth to get free water and it was being offered by Scientologists or the KKK. I’d gladly accept free water from any of the nutjobs in the Mind and Body section (even the cdesign proponentsists who were there, dispensing some nice four color glossies of Michael Behe arguments).
As I was about to leave, a rather large, tattooed, shirtless man approached the booth, and began shouting questions at us like why we hated God. I was somewhat awestruck, as we were surrounded by practitioners of witchcraft and the occult. These were people committing outright blasphemy as a lifestyle. This man was not accosting them, but had zeroed right in on the people who were committing blasphemy by default by not accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. And he went off… the atheists certainly were not trying to be provocative, as this man seemed to be teetering on the edge of physical violence throughout the entire encounter. Eventually a friend of his drug him off away from the tent. The people in the tent all looked at each other, wondering “What was that?” and discussing what sort of mental problems the guy must have.
The most fun to be had was wandering among the weirdness of the Mind and Body asking what should be rather obvious questions about anything. With all of Boulder’s stupidity drawn together and localized into a densely packed collection, you got a quite a sense of unreality walking about the place. The Psychic Horizons Center was offering free psychic readings, and myself and another atheist walked over and started asking about how it worked:
“So this psychic reading… are you channeling psychic energy from my body or something?”
“We prefer to think of it in terms of auras”
“What kind of energy are auras made out of and why haven’t scientists detected them?”
“Well, I don’t know, I don’t think auras are something that can be measured by science. Why are you asking these questions anyway?”
“We’re from the Atheist tent across from you.”
I guess she wasn’t psychic enough to realize that…