Some general thoughts on the Rise of Atheism Convention.
Firstly, you may have noticed there were no links in the previous four posts I trust you are all smart enough to find anyone or further information yourselves. Additionally I’m hoping this will prompt you to join the Atheist Foundation of Australia forum and Twitter and get involved in the many discussions there and to find out what others thought of the event. If you are already on twitter, or sign up, check the hash tag #atheistcon for all the conversations, links, pictures and discussion concerning the convention. If you really don’t want to join twitter you can always go to the search.twitter.com site and view the atheistcon hash tag there.
The panel with the five women needed to go much longer, the convention was somewhat male dominated, and I think the women chosen for the panel could have answered many questions centred around their chosen topic of feminism and religion. I liked the idea of a panel, it’s a good way to get several viewpoints on the one topic, but it needed the full two hours for a good Q and A session. As it was they didn’t get to answer any questions as the section ran over time. Hopefully next time they will have a similar panel session but with a full two hour slot.
Which brings me to another point, the questions from the audience! This needs to be handled much better next time. No matter what your persuasion you need to be short and concise with your introduction and question, whilst you may think you are clever and important, not every one else may think the same. Also, you probably don’t have experience using a microphone, so don’t shout into it, but don’t be afraid of it.
I was happy to have a question from a theist and thought the reaction to her was a little unruly, even if she asked a very open question that could not possibly be answered in the few minutes alloted. Take note people, ask only one question and ensure it’s one that can be answered in the brief time alloted.
I’m not entirely sure how this could be handled better next time, or even if it can be. No matter what the topic you’ll always get some loon that wants to spout their own agenda, and you can’t know until they’ve started talking. I don’t want to censor anyone, but they do need to stay on topic. At the least the MC should reiterate the need to stay on topic and that you are allowed only one question.
Meeting up with people. I’ve never met so many new people in such a short time before. Met people I’ve known on-line for over three years, quite a buzz to finally meet them in real life. However, despite meeting so many people, I was a little disappointed that I missed so many people. Following the convention I have seen many people from twitter and the AFA forum discussing about being there, but I never saw them. Of course the big problem is that on-line many of us use a nickname and don’t have a photo of ourselves as our avatar, so it’s impossible to spot someone if you don’t know what they look like. A few of us had name tags made up by Praxis from the AFA forum and that helped a little, I’d love to see more of this next time. Twitter also came in handy by sending messages telling someone where you were so they could find you.
So for the next one, and I’ve been reliably informed there will be another one in two years time, make sure you are signed up on the AFA forum and twitter beforehand, get a badge made up with your real name and forum, facebook and twitter names and your avatar picture.Then get involved on-line with the extracurricular meetups and say hello.
The near fanaticism of Richard Dawkins and to a slightly lesser extent P Z Myers. Whilst Dawkins is a very intelligent man and outspoken atheist (it was his movie “Religion is the Root of all Evil?” that made me become an outspoken atheist) I’m not sure he warranted a standing ovation at the start and end of his speech at the convention. The last thing atheists need is to start looking like theists who idolise their gods or earthly representatives – eg. the Pope. We must still remain sceptical of everything he, or anyone else, says; just because he is at the top of his field doesn’t mean everything he says is right.
Friendliness. Most or the presenters hung around at breaks and seemed quite happy to have a brief chat with anyone and everyone. There were even a few other celebrities there namely Julian Morrow from the Chaser and Lawrence Leung to name a couple and they also seemed happy to have a chat or have a photo taken with them. People in general were friendly and happy to talk about all sorts of things, briefly got involved in a discussion on the ethics of the treatment of animals at the pub on Sunday night. We were all there to discuss one thing – atheism – but we are all human and have varied opinions about many other topics, whilst we didn’t always agree with each other, the conversations were lively, friendly and people were willing to listen to both sides of an argument. When presented with new facts people were willing to consider them, something you’ll rarely get from a theist. As mentioned before, my only disappointment was not meeting more people, especially ones I knew from twitter or the AFA forum; maybe next time.
Media coverage. There was quite a lot of it especially in the Melbourne papers, and the conversation is still going on on-line. Rather then list them all I suggest you go the to atheist convention website and check out their Media Coverage page. The coverage was both positive and negative, but even some of the negative coverage conceded that something must be going on for 2,500 atheists to gather in one place.
I had a few questions before I went to the convention and it seems like I wasn’t the only one, mainly; what will the convention achieve?
Was the convention just a fun way to meet like minded people?
Was it just a chance to see and hear some interesting and famous people?
Will the convention advance the cause of atheism?
What, if anything will the convention achieve? Or, as I was asked on twitter, “Achieve? What’s to achieve about a person’s belief philosophy?”
I think I’ll leave the answers to these questions for another post. Please leave other questions about the atheist convention, or your ideas on the above questions, in the comments.
One of my concerns during the convention was the amount of information my poor little brain was consuming. 🙂 With so many speakers each talking for about 45 minutes it was difficult to digest everything they were saying. I have been reliably informed that a DVD of the event will be released which will be great to re-listen to some of the speakers. I’ve also been hoping that the speakers will post their speeches on-line. At least one has so far – Philip Adams at ABC The Drum, also Kylie Sturgess has a whole page on her PodBlack blog dedicated to her Sex and Superstitions speech. I have been reliably informed that transcripts of most of the speeches will be made available, I’m suspecting about the same time as the DVD is released, perhaps on a CD with the DVD, now that would be a great package to buy! If any one does see any of the other speeches, or transcripts thereof, on-line let me know in the comments or via twitter.
Last but not least a great big shout-out to all the volunteers and organisers, a job well done. It was a very big event and it ran very smoothly, kudos to all involved. A thank you should also go to the Convention centre staff, I know they were being paid to do their job, but I think they did it exceptionally well. The food was excellent and plentiful and the staff all seemed quite cheery and helpful. I had wondered how many of them might have been staunch religious people and if it would have impacted their work having to deal with 2,500 atheists. But if any of them were they kept it to themselves and performed admirably.
It was fantastic to finally meet all the great people in real life who I’ve only known on-line, some for a few years. It was a pity I didn’t get to meet more people who I only know via their twitter account, maybe next time we should organise a giant twitter party? Speaking of which, there were parties everywhere, from small groups to bars full of atheists, it was as much luck as design which one(s) you ended up at. All the feedback I’ve received from the various after event gatherings has been very positive, pity I couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. 🙂
Hat Tip to the many people who provided input to this and the previous four posts.
Link to John Perkins talk “The Cost of Religious Delusion: Islam and Terrorism” (pdf file)