Meeting Richard Dawkins
I don’t know if I am going to explain this very well, because, for me to have the opportunity to meet Prof. Dawkins is probably the greatest experience of my life (next to the birth of my daughter), and consequently hard to put into mere words.
But here goes, first with a little history:
About a month or so ago, Sapient and I were discussing show topics and guests, as we usually do on a weekly basis, and we were throwing around potential guests to each other for the show. (not literally, although there are some Christians that might qualify) Now, I being a recent addition to the show, (and I use that term loosely), generally defer to Sapient when it comes to ideas and guests for the show, for a number of reasons, but mainly because in reality, he actually does 99% of the work for the Rational Response Squad. I think most would agree that his vision has guided this project in ways unimaginable, and so, kiddingly, but with all respect, I think of him as my mentor, my “boss”, and the well deserved leader of the Rational Response Squad. That is not intended to take anything away from the other co-hosts, for I have a deep respect for the accomplishments of Yellow No. 5, Rook Hawkins, and KellyM78. All of which add their own flair and intellectual insight to the Squad. I’m just there as ‘eye candy’, although Kelly seems to get all the attention in that regard.
Ok, so getting back to the weekly discussions between Sapient and myself. I think that we maybe chat more often, one, because we live very close to one another, and two, because in a real stretch of familial wrangling, we are related. (no need for explanation, it’s just too hard to follow) As I said, about a month ago, in our talks I happened to mention, in a lighthearted way, that we should get Richard Dawkins on the show. Well, Sapients’ initial reaction was that it would be great but a near impossibility, (actually I think he called me crazy), but being the ‘glass is filled to the top’ sort of person that he is, he agreed that I should construct a letter to Prof. Dawkins, which I did, and we sent it off to the professor at Oxford, and to the Richard Dawkins Foundation.
This letter was posted on the RRS a while back, and you can read it here. I constructed this letter and submitted it first to Sapient, who in turn added his own comments to the letter. So while my named is signed to the letter, we, in fact, collaborated on this letter. At this point, Sapient in his usually constructive way took the ball and ran with it. He succeeded where the letter I feel had little impact, (we disagree on this point) and he secured the proper contacts to the RD Foundation and made the whole interview of Prof. Dawkins possible.
Enough history, lets get to “The Day that changed the Rational Response Squad" (11.2.06)
The day started innocently enough with an early morning meeting at RRS headquarters, where I was greeted by Sapient, who proceeded to tell me that Kelly would join us shortly. (she was actually upstairs at HQ, showering, and I’m sorry to say I couldn’t be of assistance) We sat around bullshitting, and patiently waited for Yellow No. 5 and Bark at the Moon to arrive. Yellow and Bark arrived with eager enthusiasm and we jumped in the RRS mobile(aka Kelly’s family van) and headed to downtown Philly, and the Free Library.
We arrived somewhat early, and there was a small group of people waiting outside of the lecture hall. We were promptly escorted into the hall, and took seats together about three rows from the stage, and waited patiently, (meaning we got up to smoke a couple of times), while the hall slowly filled to capacity.
Richard Dawkins was introduced to the show to a rousing ovation. It was here that a group of caterpillars was slowly forming cocoons in my stomach, with its eventual evolution to full fledged butterflies. That aside, I sat quietly with my friends and listened intently to the professor read some key passages from his book, The God Delusion. In my head, was his voice, as I imagined it, in the past, whilst I read, The Blind Watchmaker, A Devils Chaplain, and all the others. Today was the day I would meet the man, who so inspired my passion for life as an atheist and for life in general. Now, I have been unencumbered by god belief for nearly thirty years now, but this man, more than any other has given a value to my life, that will remain with me to the day my ashes are sprinkled on my adopted place of origin, Italy.
He was delightfully charming, and jovial as he read, and fielded questions later from the audience, including a ‘not well thought out’ question, from a theist interloper. This, I would suspect, Christian crack head, proceeded to ask Mr. Dawkins a question about why he thinks that logic could be used for debating god belief, or something to that effect. I suspect he was trying to make the usual argument that his God was outside the realm of logic and therefore not subject to its laws, which I would be somewhat happy with, since it would, in some strange way, relegate this god to some nether world outside of our existence, except that these Christians tend to pull him back into our realm, (the natural world, filled with laws, emotions and general ‘stuff’) when he is needed.
The lecture lasted about an hour, with a subsequent book signing, which we eventually skipped with the knowledge that our personal audience with “our god” would include our own private book signing. We left the library, and congregated outside for a few minutes to decide on a place to fill our gullets with much needed food and liquor. We were swarmed with questions from attendees of the lecture about the Rational Response Squad, as we were all “representing” as Sapient would say. Yellow No. 5 and I lamented that we hadn’t brought any Squad literature with us, suggesting a business card, for us to hand out to potential members.
At this point it is about 2pm and the cocoons in my stomach were starting to crack. We would arrive at our choice of restaurant, Bridgids, myself with a belly full of chrysalises (which might sound like some fine wine, but it is really just a load of ‘pupa’). Although I had prepared as well as time would allow, meaning, I had read half of the book, formulated questions for our guest, and took care of logistical duties for the show, I was still quite nervous to meet such a man. Sapient, by the way, was ‘as cool as a cucumber’ which, I might admit, annoyed me just a bit. I think Yellow No. 5, experienced some degree of anxiousness, which he voiced to me outside of the library, but not nearly to the extent of my raging psychosis. By the end of the meal, which I was surprised I was able to keep down, the caterpillars had morphed into fully formed butterflies.
We arrived back at RRS HQ around 3:30 and proceeded to prepare the studio for the coming event taking place at 5pm, only to be greeted by Sapients significant other telling us that our guest was arriving in ten minutes.
OK, forget the butterflies, apparently they were just eaten by the large bats that now inhabited my gut!!! Crisis mode ensued, and we scrambled at 10x speed to get things into order, (and by that I mean, we had a smoke first) setting up cameras, show literature and the like. All the while Sapient is dealing with a shutdown of the website (an explanation for which you can find in his blog, with nary a bead of sweat dripping from his brow).
What a trooper!
Then from upstairs I hear, ‘He’s herrreeee’
I guess the bats began to fly away when this man walked down the stairs and into the studio. He is a rather unassuming man, small in stature, not like the ‘devil’ as he is sometimes referred by Christians. A kind of like grandfatherly appearance, his dress reminded me of Albert Einstein, with the sweater, jacket, glasses and layered clothing. I suspect that my perceived uneasiness of a man of his stature visiting a small group of internet radio personalities in a northeastern neighborhood of Phila. is what eventually calmed my nerves.
After a few glitches, eventually worked out by Sapient, we got right down to business, and started to discuss directions for the show. Prof. Dawkins seemed unwilling to conduct another one of countless formal interviews, and who could really blame him, being at the final leg of a world tour, and most likely exhausted from the already long day he had, already completing a morning interview, an afternoon lecture, and subsequent book signing. One could just imagine us having to shake him a few times, just to keep him awake. (and for good measure, I kept a finger ready for some poking)
We proceeded with the interview, following his lead, and suggestions for a roundtable type of discussion. His accent is most pleasing to the ear, and the smallest of jokes emanate as prose from his lips. He claimed, most matter of factly, that he doesn’t like ‘fun’, but this to me seemed contradictory from a man with such a ‘point on’ sense of humor. Some questions were personal, some technical and by our surprise, the professor wanted to ask us a few.
Like myself, the man seemed generally troubled by the state of religiosity in the States, but unlike myself, cautiously optimistic that all will be right in the world. (meaning, the three major religions will suffer the fate of their predecessors) I, having the same dream am not optimistic that I will even witness a major shift of religiosity in my lifetime, but of course, I would love to be proved wrong.
At one point in the interview, the subject of financing for the book tour was raised, and it was at this point that Sapient presented him with the ‘big check’, we had designed to present to his foundation, to help in his continued battle with religious oppression, most of which was generously donated by RRS Members.
Again we at the RRS thank all those who donated so thoughtfully to an extremely worthy cause.
Having completed the interview, we presented him with a few items to sign. (actually I think it was about a dozen or so), myself bringing the six books I own, did not have the heart to ask him to sign but two. We all then adjourned upstairs and took a few pictures, shook hands with our ‘god’ and extended our deepest thanks for his visit to our studio.
The entire experience was no more than a ninety minute slice of my life, surreal to be sure, but something that I will never forget. I am so thankful to Sapient and Rook for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of such a worthwhile adventure.
Guess that’s all folks……..until next time.