Last weekend I attend the second Global Atheist Convention run by the Atheist Foundation of Australia in Melbourne. The convention attracted over 4,000 attendees to listen to extraordinary line up of world class speakers from a variety of disciplines on a wide range of topics.
The convention began with a comedy line up including the brilliantly hilarious and observant minds of author Ben Elton, Stella Young, Mikey Robins, and Jim Jefferies (whose jokes may have over stepped the mark in some places). All great comedy has an element of truth mixed with tremendous absurdities, which is why religious belief is such a fertile ground for comedians.
Leslie Cannold opened the even on Saturday by pointing out Australia does not have a separation of church and state due to the “reading down” of section 116 of the constitution during the DOGS case. Not withstanding, this does not diminish the importance of truly secular education which is not impeded by religious dogma. This topic close to my obviously heart as evidenced by my “Stop the National School Chaplaincy” page, and my efforts to bring attention to this issue.
Daniel Dennett gave an amusing speech on self unaware atheists. Much like “The Sixth Sense” we see atheists everywhere – and they don’t even know they’re atheists! Some, like the panel of “The Project” still consider “agnostic” as a midway point between atheism and theism, which is simply wrong.
The brilliant theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explained the space between galaxies contains most of the mass of the universe, which is critically important when you’re trying to work out its mass, and therefore our ultimate fate.
Geoffrey Robertson Q.C. spoke about the evils of the Catholic Church and its convenient and changing self classification when deciding to be a country, a city, or a religion. He says the Vatican is no more a country than “Disney World”, which sparked laughter and applause among the audience.
The incredibly brave, mildly spoken, and gentle Ayaan Hirsi Ali pleaded with the Western world to help her Islamic sisters more, and hold the authorities to a higher standard when investigating cases of religiously inspired violence and oppression.
Sam Harris, the Jedi knight of atheism, had us all spell bound with a presentation on death, purpose, and living for the moment. At one stage he effectively hypnotised 4,000 atheists and converted them into Buddhists. I am not kidding; it was sublime.
All of these presentations, and more, were thought provoking, intelligent, rational, reasonable, logical, and inspirational – which was a stark contrast to the religious protesters who gathered outside.
On Saturday we attracted Adelaide’s Rundall Street evangelicals who wore t-shirt stating:
“I fear god and give glory to him” Revelation 14:7
They also waved signs warning “church gossips, drunkards, abortionists, thieves, sex addicts, druggies, liars, atheists, and homosexuals” that “judgement was coming”. The odious woman on the microphone was not there to listen, but to spew her brand of hateful nonsense to the skeptical crowd, who mainly sat quietly and ate their lunch. This was a sign of thing to come, as we discovered later.
These are seasoned street preachers who will ignore any question posed to them by all but one person. Their tactic seem to be talking at someone for extended periods until they surrender in disgust. Seems their god enjoys tirades of venomous and irrational pronouncements.
Having failed to convince a single soul on Saturday night, the Christians gave up and let the Muslims have a turn. On Sunday the crowd (inspired by PZ Myers fiery lecture were greeted with obnoxious Muslims shouting pathetic threats. While I did not stay to listen to their rantings very long, I did manage to understand the basic message.
Apparently the lovely Ayaan Hirsi Ali is destined for an eternity of suffering – not because she wishes people to live free from the bonds of slavery, beatings, submission, and oppression, but because she changed her mind about Islam. Due to this unforgivable sin their all loving god will throw her into the pits of Hell to meet with Christopher Hitchens (whom they also condemned). Many of their number seem keen to assist their god in making this a reality. One must wonder why people always perform these “acts of god”.
The contrast between what happened within and without the convention could not have been more pronounced. While inside we were learning about the cosmos, mediating on the moment, contemplating our demise, laughing with each other, discussing the deep questions of life, and formulating a plan for a society of built on peace, tolerance, understanding, equality, and science our religious cousins were screaming for death, judgement, and torture. Which one seems more appealing?
It was this moment of reflection which occurred to me while departing Victoria early Monday morning, that it struck me; We have it all. We, the atheist, have all the laughter, logic, compassion, reason, reflection, humility, humanity, learning, and love, while the religious attribute these things to the ethereal spy camera. We can be good without god, in fact I would argue we are good without god, since we do not have our minds poisoned with toxic, illogical, and unverifiable deities.
We have not fallen. We are not evil. We do not need salvation. We do not need Gods. We have everything we need.