Philadelphia skeptics set to poke fun at Friday the 13th

Posted: May 13, 2011

Skeptics, heathens, and infidels can have a field day Friday night, smashing mirrors, walking under ladders, and sipping cocktails with famously outspoken atheists.

All the Freethought Society needs is a black cat to complete its Friday the 13th antisuperstition party, planned for 7 p.m. at the Corinthian Yacht Club of Philadelphia in Essington. All are invited for $10.

The local society, founded in 1991, includes atheists, agnostics, rationalists, skeptics, and questioners of all stripes. It holds antisuperstition parties on a Friday the 13th every couple of years.

This year is relatively lacking in Friday the 13ths, with only May's 13th day falling on a Friday. Next year will have three, in January, April, and July.

But 2011 might make up for its dearth by having an apocalypse this month. According to various news sources, this latest end-of-the-world prophesy comes from a radio evangelist who predicts that on May 21, a Saturday, God's true believers will be lifted to heaven and saved.

According to another group of skeptics, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PHACT), those not invited to the Rapture are still welcome to attend its annual banquet at the Sorella Rose restaurant in Flourtown on May 21 ($30 a person, $20 for students).

Though these skeptics can't promise heavenly bliss, they are expected to have a decent buffet.

There will also be a talk by Thomas Beebee, a professor of comparative literature and German at Pennsylvania State University who will speak on the topic of "The Long-Awaited Apocalypse."

The PHACT newsletter runs the following disclaimer: "Sorry, but if this day is in fact the start of the end of the world, we can't promise a refund."

Of course, one upside of the apocalypse is that this would be the last Friday the 13th.

The Freethought Society's founder, Margaret Downey, said there was a serious side to fighting such superstitions. "We want people to know they are in charge of their destiny and life choices," she said. And some superstitions, such as the African belief that albino children bring bad luck, are cruel and dangerous, she said.

In the unlikely event anyone at the party takes Friday the 13th seriously, Downey said, she would be dressed as a nurse and would administer various antisuperstition treatments.

How the date got such a bad reputation remains hazy. Some say it's related to the fact that there were 13 apostles at the Last Supper and that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, attaching double bad karma to that combination forever. Also, according to Pennsylvania State University professor and folklorist Robert Lima, some believers think Friday is the day Eve tempted Adam and got them both kicked out of Paradise, the day the great flood began, and the day that confusion broke out at the Tower of Babel, creating "ongoing havoc of international misunderstanding."

The party will include three special guests: author and Free Inquiry magazine editor Tom Flynn; American Atheists president David Silverman; and evolutionary biologist and writer P.Z. Myers. Myers is a professor at the University of Minnesota Morris who writes an irreverent and popular evolution blog called Pharyngula.

Downey said the guests would not give talks, but would be on hand to participate in the ladder limbo, umbrella dances, and other games. Perhaps Myers will explain what a pharyngula is.

Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or


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