It's the start of the ethnic Church festival season in my corner of Pennsylvania. I just feasted at the local Greek Orthodox Church, and it was smashing. The food is good. A nice mix of people from the church and outsiders (like me) mingle freely. There are kids running around. At some festivals, such the local Byzantine Church, there is beer, so the adults get to kibitz while the kids knock around. Yes, most of the festivals do have a vague religious overtone where little religious artifacts or books are sold. Most of them include a tour of the church and have craft sales. Yet, even the majority of the patrons are not with the church yet nobody cares because it's time for the church to make some money and get some positive community PR. I love it. Sadly, at the same time I as enjoying Greek treats, in contrast, online skeptics and others within the rationalist realm were sniping at each other. While not a fair contrast, I could not help but compare the good feeling at the festival with arguing online with the people with whom I share a similar world view.
As I have noted in the past there is nothing similar to festivals and fairs within the skeptical tent (or wider free thought camp). Yes, there are conferences. Yes, there are skeptics in the pub, and the various skeptic camps. I would not be surprised that at some of the more local events they are more community friendly. Still, skepdom has no place where people can hang out with skeptics, and not much in the way where skeptics and family and friends can just hang out. The skepticism is secondary and the social aspect is primary.
I am not saying that a local/regional skeptic group should have a street fair and invite the public. I don't know if that is ever likely to be possible, at least not in Pennsylvania anytime soon. Yet, I doubt the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church started on a large scale, and likely started with small social gatherings in someone's backyard or the old church basement.
What am I calling for skeptics to do? I am not exactly sure. Skeptics are far flung. There is a reason why conferences where skeptics meet are formal. It is a big deal to get more than a few skeptics in the room at the same time. The end of last year the idea of a skepticalpotluck went around a bit. It did not go anywhere that I know. However, it would be a nice start. Folks getting together with a similar underlying interest meeting not to raise money, or even for the PR but just to eat Mac and Cheese, deviled eggs, with a hot sausage sandwich followed by cake (There must always be cake) has benefits of its own. Put the internal and external politics on the shelf. It is not a festival, but perhaps over time this social strain could grow and I imagine in larger metro areas grow to be a more human skeptic face to the public.
--I am painfully aware I am the worst possible person to promote such social ideas. I am a introvert and in early modern Europe I might have even been a hermit. Still, I do appreciate the skepticism is missing key component to even the loose confederation of people and organizations that makes up current skepticism. I suspect I will be authoring something similar next year too.--