Wednesday, 17 March 2010

#AtheistCon - The Aftermath

So, a decent few days back from AtheistCon and the ripples we caused in the media are beginning to subside. It's been incredibly interesting to look at the fallout from a humble two-and-a-half days' discussion on what we don't believe in. I'd like to make a couple of (brief as possible) points.

  •  Questions of Faith - I'm genuinely torn over the coverage of AtheistCon by the Radio National blog 'Questions of Faith'. My previous posts will reveal a short exchange I had with the owners of the blog about the role ridicule has to play with religion - it was mostly go-nowhere, but then again, most blog comments are. The best way to summarise my thoughts is to probably go from negative to positive, because it will leave a better taste in the mouth of any impartial reader.

    Negative - Much was made initially about the militant tone that atheists take with the religious and, while I acknowledge that this tone exists amoung some of them, I found the hypocrisy to be a bit annoying. In the first few posts before the convention even began, we had Margaret Coffey and Gary Bryson making clicking noises with their tongues. Two accusations of discourteousness within two posts, followed by a cynical accusation against Richard Dawkins that he was likely going to be spruiking his latest book (anyone in attendance will tell you that this was certainly not the case). I was ready to give the Questions of Faith team the benefit of the doubt, but they made their stance on the convention known early. Something along the lines of "It might surprise us, but we expect it to be a bunch of muck-slinging and back patting" (NOT a quote). It was not in the spirit of the mutual cooperation they sought. Briefly on the negative side also: It bears mentioning that by allowing the Questions of Faith team cover the convention, the ABC let the whole point of atheism skip over their heads. Would they let the Grandstand team cover the This Is Not Art festival?

    Positive - As the posts went on and, particularly, when guest bloggers were invited to make contributions, I found the general quality of the blog went up. Some of the information provided could best be described as 'selective' (for example, mention of the terrifically moving speech by Taslima Nasrin was limited to a single post, in which the terrifically banal rationale 'there is no more that needs to be said' was employed. There is plenty that needs to be said on the issues Taslima Nasrin is facing), but overall there were plenty of points of view on offer. Like the general media coverage I found it to concentrate disconcertingly on the negative at times, but this is part of fair and balanced reporting and I take no issue with it here.

  •  General Media Coverage - There was a myriad of coverage about the conference that was, as I mentioned above, intially quite negative. In fact, for the first few days, it was left to convention speakers to defend the merit of the convention. If you have no time to follow the links, I'll summarise them for you: Dawkins gave a talk called 'The Pope is a Nazi and Steve Fielding is an Earthworm', then did the dead parrot sketch live on stage but replaced all the names with 'Mary McKillop. I was very disappointed to see this as the chosen line of reportage.

    Dawkins' talk contained extremely few references to god or religion. When directly asked by an audience member what he thought of canonisation, he indeed responded that it was pure Monty Python - but he did not refer to the current Pope as a Nazi. Rather, he was referring to Pope Pius XII, himself up for canonisation around the same time as Mary McKillop. Pius XII was the Pope during the second world war. Dawkins forgot his name and referred to him as Pope Nazi, due to his time as Pope during the regime of Hitler. It is worth noting also that Dawkins' supposed reference to Senator Fielding as having an IQ lower than an earthworm was entirely hearsay, attributed to him by a secondary source. Decide for yourself whether this, out of three days worth of lectures and discussion, was worth the headlines it got.

    Recently some more positive coverage has come out - interestingly, alot of them from British and online sources - that took a less sensationalist view of proceedings. I was happy to read these articles and to accept the messages embedded in them. The last thing we want is to be inaccessible to anyone but ourselves.

  • 'Atheism - Another Religion' - You'll see it in the articles I've already linked to and generally in discussion about the place. Atheism, it seems, is taking on all the hallmarks of a religion. I mean, look at those atheists - they've had one conference at which they categorically denied the existence of the supernatural! That's incredibly reli...oh...well, I suppose it isn't.

    There is nothing religious about atheism. This might take longer than I have to explain, but the differences are important. It's too easy to say that religions require faith where atheism requires nothing like that. It is more deep than that. Atheism is about critical thinking, arriving at conclusions that are independent of institutional doctrine, and inquiring freely on any given topic be it a secular or religious one. This is why, for example, one can appreciate Christopher Hitchens' views on religion yet disagree with him on his support of the Bush Administration during the invasion of Iraq. There is no dogma in atheism because there is no scripture, no structure, and most of all, no enforcement. As it was put by NonStampCollector (I suggest you look at some of his videos), 'If atheism is a religion, then not stamp collecting is a hobby, bald is a hair colour, and off is a TV channel'.

    I guess I don't have the time to go into it in full detail. Anaolgies between atheism and religion are cheap to make - I suggest a bit of careful thought before diving in headfirst.

Aaaand that's it for tonight. More coming, everyone - for now...sleep. 

Update - The Young Australian Skeptics, as usual, have said this way better than I could have.

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