Saturday, early start, glad I’d had a fairly early night.
Opening by Kylie (podblack) Sturgess, who by the way did an excellent job of MCing all weekend, and also presented an interesting lecture herself.
First speaker Philip Adams “Atheists as Honest Brokers” Adams theorised that religion is self imploding and dying not because of our (atheists) efforts but because of their own internal disintegration due to the majority of believers disagreeing with their hierarchies edicts. He has confidence that atheists should assist the demise by befriending the religious and that many religious people are just as nice as some atheists. Adams surmises that we should not be so strident to-wards the religious all the time,
Second speaker Russel Blackford discussed the need for atheists to support liberty, particularly freedom of speech and separation of church and state. He discussed the need to ensure that the religious fully understand what separation of church and sate really means. Blackford encouraged atheists to be “Defenders of liberal principles”. A good speech ruined a bit by problems with his powerpoint slides which detracted from his message. Though as someone said “who wants death from powerpoint anyway”.
Getting religious people to understand and concur with the policy of the separation of church and state is a very valid and worthwhile venture and something we atheists should be doing more about. It’s all well and good to rant and rave about the lack of separation of church and state in Australia and to try and remedy the situation, but without the majority of the populace in agreement this may never happen. Atheists need to find a good way, backed by valid, mutually agreeable arguments, to encourage the religious to assist us in making Australia have proper separation of church and state policies and laws.
Third Speaker Max Wallace, discussed his idea that a film needs to be made to show how much money, via taxes, the church makes. I agree and have said so before, as Wallace pointed out the majority of the populace doesn’t really know, understand or care; mainly due to lack of information. A film may be the best way to get the message out. A good question came from the floor, regarding the current problem with the church of Scientology and that the government is reluctant to pursue because it may mean they will have to investigate all religions, eg. the ‘can of worms’ problem, Wallace agrees as do I.
I’ve argued this before, and did again with a few people over the weekend, Scientology is the easiest target because it is so outlandish even to Christians. When differing religious groups get together Scientologists are often left out because they are not seen as a deity worshipping “religion”. So if religion’s influence is to be countered, going after Scientology is perhaps the best ‘foot in the door’ we may have. However, despite some politicians around the world wanting to stop calling Scientology a religion, thereby taking away all the benefits of it being a ‘religion’ (eg tax breaks) they are somewhat afraid to because they realise that then all religions, quite rightly, should come under the same scrutinising and possible loss of government and tax support.
Morning tea, mingle, coffee and biscuits. As an aside, the catering at the convention was very good. They had book signings at each of the breaks with different authors (seemed like every speaker had a new book out, but then again they were all doing this for free, so I understand) as well as many other books for sale thanks to Readings book shop. Additionally some of the speakers and a few media personalities were wandering around during the breaks, all of whom seemed quite happy to have a quick chat. PZ Myers said he seemed to have a camera in his face just about all weekend, but he didn’t appear to have been bothered by that.
John Perkins from the Secular Party discussed the need to concentrate on the Muslim faith, ensuring reason and education are used to combat Islamic fundamentalism, not just military strategies and forcing democracy on them.
Following Perkins was Taslima Nasrin who presented a very good speech. It was a heartfelt personal account of becoming an atheist after growing up Muslim, about being run out of her own country and then India because of her non-belief and her outspokenness against religion. She received a standing ovation at the end following her last comment “I have no home but the home of the people who love me”. Very out spoken about Islam, and rightly so, and she does have first hand knowledge of it. How anyone could still be Muslim, especially females, after hearing her speak is amazing; but we know it happens all the time!
Both speakers discussed the necessity to be allowed to criticise the Islamic faith, and all faiths, and to make sure that no faith, particularly Islam which is the biggest culprit, is allowed to introduce their own laws separate from the countries laws in which hey have moved in to.
Both speakers stated unequivocally that Islam is NOT a peaceful religion and it’s stated aims is to basically Islamise the world and the rest of the world should be aware of this.
Lunch, more food, more mingling.
Following lunch a panel of four women chaired by another, who’s name I didn’t get (original panel chair got sick at the last minute), each speaker only had about 10 minutes which for at least two of them wasn’t enough. As the panel chair said at the end, they should each have had an hour like everyone else. They each discussed a feminist point of view of religion, and (if I remember rightly) Leslie Cannold made a good plea for this convention to achieve soemthing constructive from the event. Something I would have liked to have seen followed up by the organisers of the event. I also enjoyed Lyn Allison’s speech, pity there aren’t more people like her in parliament.
Whilst I’m not sure if all of them could have spoken for an hour they definitely needed more time. As it was they went overtime and couldn’t take any questions, which was very disappointing. I would like to see a similar panel next time but given two hours, with each panelist having 15 minutes to speak leaving about 45 minutes for questions. I think we could have got some very interesting responses from the panelists especially from the feminist point of view that the panel was discussing.
The next speaker Tamas Pataki whilst he had a few good points was rather boring and way too academic, his main point that religion can have some benefits for society and that it seems that there is some innate desire to be religious has some validity (to be debated another time). I’m hoping a transcript of his speech is made available.
AC Grayling talked about the difference between science and religion and that they are incompatible, discussed how religion despite squashing science for many years now tries to use it, and twist it to their own needs and then attempt to use it to make religion look legitimate. Also talked about humanism and spirituality. A good speech and another one I’d like the transcript of. As yet I don’t have any of his many books but I intend to get some, he sounded like a very clever, articulate person. Oh and everyone loves his hair, there’s now even a facebook fan page for it!
Finished with P Z Myers, who started off with with a short video of him talking to god, very funny. An excellent talk about how science and religion are incompatible, with some good references to Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. He gave a big serve to Ken Miller a noted scientist who is also a devout Catholic but has some very crazy theories. He also presented a good argument that just because you are one thing and a member of a particular group doesn’t mean everyone in that group is the same. eg a serial killer who is a christian doesn’t make christianity breed serial killers. Something that both sides of the argument (atheists and theists) should remember. Oh, and everyone liked his crocoduck tie.
The end of another day. Sort of.
Race back to the hotel, frock up then back to the convention centre for the formal dinner. See the next post for details.