What’s your name? And tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Larry Gott. Larry is my given name (never been a Lawrence). I’m now 73 years old, retired, and spending way too much time rooted to a chair in front of my computer. I live in a shared house with four other seniors, one of whom is also an atheist. I’ve invited her to the ACSJ meetups, but she has declined, saying she’s not a “joiner.” I don’t push.
How long have you lived in San Jose, and why?
I’ve been in the area for a little over ten years. I moved up here from Southern California because I have a brother in the area. I like it here better than Southern California.
Do you think it’s important that San Jose has an atheist community?
Yes. I have watched it grow from a handful to several hundred in not much over two years. That is very gratifying. People need to know that atheists are good citizens, too, and that we are not, as some liars contend, devil worshippers or baby eaters.
What do you believe/don’t believe and why?
I suppose I do believe in a sort of binary good/evil nature of things. Like Christians I’ve been familiar with my whole life, I have no evidence for that. It’s just what I think. Call it positive/negative, yin/yang, good/evil – it seems to exist. But I don’t think it is ordained by any god. Good just is, and so is its antithesis. Reason tells me that if there were an all-good god who created everything, there could NOT be a devil. That even religions accept that their god created a devil puts the lie to any concept of any god being ALL-good.
What do you identify yourself as specifically?
These days I call myself an atheist. I hold no belief in a supernatural deity of any kind. Earlier I would have said agnostic, although I’ve leaned toward atheism since I was thirteen.
When did you publicly come out as an atheist?
When I joined ACSJ. I had mentioned my atheism to people at the Winchester House, and was happy to note that nobody cared much. Before that I had written essays for an online message board and done videos on YouTube that made my status clear.
Why did you join ACSJ?
I was retired. I wanted to get involved in something where I would be seeing other people. When I first came to this area the only people I knew were my brother Jim and his wife. Then I moved into a shared house with four other seniors. I got a job as a tour guide at the Winchester House, which satisfied my need to be around people, but when my knees gave out I had to quit (forty staircases, you know).
How did you find the ACSJ?
I started looking online for a group of freethinkers or atheists. That’s when I found ACSJ.
Describe your first ACSJ event you attended.
It was in the small (and I do mean small) back room of a Round Table Pizza place in Los Gatos. There were only about ten (maybe fewer) people at the time, few enough that each of us could get up and introduce ourselves and tell everyone how or why we were atheists.
What is something other community members probably don’t know about you?
In the eighties I did some acting in community theater, non-union equity waiver and dinner theater. Most of the plays were musicals. I was once a singer. Don’t ask, I don’t sing in public anymore! ;^) I started taking piano lessons at four, and my mother wanted me to be a concert pianist. I loved to play, but hated to practice. I quit when I was about fourteen. By then I had taken up the trumpet, I had ten lessons at a music store, then joined a youth band. Through high school I was in the marching band, but liked to improvise at rehearsals. A lot of the kids called me Satchmo.
Why do you continue to be a regular part of the ACSJ?
I attended a meetup and immediately liked the people.
What public figure atheist do you most admire, and why?
Although he’s gone now, through his books, and Internet videos on YouTube he is still as viable as a public speaker and religious iconoclast as ever, my favorite has to be Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens always expressed so well his thoughts on religion, and in a voice very pleasant to hear. I find it deliciously ironic that his first name and my last are both forms of “God.”
What was your favorite speaker event so far?
Probably Seth Andrews, but I have enjoyed many of the speakers.
What’s the hardest thing about leaving religion?
When I was thirteen, religion left me. My family was cast out of the cult I had grown up in. The leader was my mother’s father. We were cut off from the church, which was our entire society, literally everyone we knew.
What regular philanthropy event interests you most?
The ones I can do. I have physical limitations that keep me from beach and park cleanups, and from anything that would keep me on my feet. I donate blood every two months and regularly make boxes for all the standers, sorters and packers at Second Harvest. If you can come up with sit-down stuff, I can do it.
When was the last time you went to a church?
I attended the funeral of a friend.
What are your favorite type of event?
I have enjoyed the picnics and restaurant meetups we’ve had.
What is the best thing about the ACSJ?
The people. I’m terrible with names, but I love the people. And the certain knowledge that we are not alone.
In terms of atheism, what are the important issues to you?
The most important without question is separation of church and state. I don’t imagine that religion will die out completely by itself in any foreseeable future. But I believe for there to be any peace anywhere, religion must not ever again have control. I don’t care what others believe as long as they leave me alone.
How long have you identified as an atheist/agnostic/freethinker/non-believer?
I started being a skeptic when I was about thirteen. I had grown up in a stultifying religious environment. I started reading the Bible myself, without asking the “authorities” what it meant. Even at that age I could see glaring contradictions.
How has the ACSJ effected your life?
It has given me a family of friends.
How do you think the ACSJ will grow in the future?
I hope it will continue to grow at the rate that it has.
What do you do to help the ACSJ?
I show up!
Do you think the ACSJ has/can change the way people perceive atheists?
I hope so. I think when people see us together at blood drives or Second Harvest or street cleanups and the like they will go away with the impression of good people and not some kind of strange, clannish freaks. (I’ll never tell!) ;^)
Did you follow any religions, and why did you stop believing?
I grew up in a cult founded by my grandfather. Completely escaping that has taken a lifetime.
Who is the most interesting god?
I’ve pretty much lost interest in all of them, except in ways to avoid them.
What is the most interesting religion to you?
I don’t think “interesting” is the word. Fearful is better. Today Islam is the one most to be feared. But Islam is no worse than Judaism or Christianity was in their days of power.
Have you ever read the Bible/Quran/Torah etc and what did you think?
I have read the Bible, including the Old Testament (which is the Torah and Tanakh). I think it’s about as historical as any other fiction. Sprinkling a few real names and places about doesn’t make it historical. Someone said that it was much too complex to be fiction. That person obviously hasn’t read Tolkien.
What’s the most difficult thing about being an atheist?
Living in the Bay Area, it isn’t much of a struggle. People here are more accepting of differences than elsewhere. I imagine that in the Bible Belt it would be actually difficult. In fact, one atheist friend I have in Virginia was hounded out of a job because coworkers found out she was an atheist.
Do you have meaningful debates/discussions with theists?
Yes. A very good friend of mine from college was an agnostic who hadn’t set foot in a church in twenty years. Then she had some kind of epiphany and became an evangelical Christian. We discuss religious topics fairly often, but always with civility, keeping in mind that we want to stay friends. Online there are several people I’ve had long, private message talks with.
What is/was your career?
Varied. My last “permanent” job was as a data analyst for Menasco Aerosystems, a manufacturer of aircraft landing gear. That was over in 1992. Only temp work was available after that as I was then in my fifties.
What are you favorite hobbies?
I spend a LOT of time on the Internet. Does that count?
What is your favorite book? (atheism related or not)
My favorite novel is East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.
What is your favorite movie?
My favorite film is The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, Mildred Natwick, Arthur Shields (Fitzgerald’s brother IRL) and Ward Bond. It’s a grin from beginning to end and a few belly laughs in between. I love that picture!
What’s your favorite religiously themed film?
I haven’t seen a religiously themed film for a very long time, but I’d say The Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn, and The Cardinal, starring Tom Tryon (Yes the novelist Thomas Tryon) were both excellent.
Who’s worst: Ray Comfort or Ken Ham?
What’s the worst argument you ever heard?
Someone tried to justify the baby killing in the Old Testament genocides by saying God knew how those babies would turn out so he was justified in ordering them killed.
Th-th-th-that’s all, folks! :^D