Global Atheist Convention 2012 in Wraps
Well the Global Atheist Convention for 2012 has come to a close, finishing yesterday afternoon at around 4pm to the thunderous applause of some 4000 attendees, the largest event of its kind to be held in the southern hemisphere. The event was a smashing success, and the feeling of camaraderie and good will was apparent even before the first speaker went on stage. It was two and a half days of reason, rationality, politics, and the occasional philosophical pondering. Rarely did the topics stray very heavily into religion bashing for the sake of bashing religion, as one might expect if it were simply a rabble of people angry at religion. This was much more, and something I’m proud to have been a part of.
Rather than a highlight reel of the individual speakers, some of which I may explore in further blogs, I’m going to write today about what I think a convention like this means, and what it hopes to achieve.
The theme for the convention was “A Celebration of Reason“. As opposed to the last convention whose theme was “The Rise Of Atheism”, a title which I thought was unnecessarily confrontational and leading, this year’s theme goes to the core of the reason I write so much about atheism, religion, culture and politics.
We are not anti-religion. The general consensus was that people can believe whatever they like, so long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights and lives of others. This is a bigger topic than might be expected, as was illustrated by the talks of the presenters, and more important than it may seem on the surface. Numerous examples of religious beliefs being used by individuals to have their way in a wider culture were highlighted, including; the Australian Chaplaincy in Schools Program; the lack of a separation of church and state in the Australian constitution and its divisive interpretations as outlined in section 116*; the use of religion to undermine science education coming from primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions; the push in the USA for control over the reproductive rights of women coming from political conservatives; the general rights of women worldwide and the problems faced stemming from irrational thought coming from an apparent religious basis; the political and social corruption perpetrated by the Catholic Church on and the effect it has had on the lives of children at the hands of child molestation; and the dangers of the conservative rise of Islam in North Africa and the Middle East.
Each of these topics were covered, and when put together like this, one can see that organised religion in and of itself is not the innocuous and seemingly harmless personal entity it is so often portrayed as. In fact it is much more insidious, persuasive and destructive than those from the religious organisations would have us believe.
Let me just reiterate, personal religion is none of my business, and those who feel they need their trust in a higher power to make sense of their lives are not the problem. It is much like imagining that all of the hard questions about life and death are taken care for you, are given to you by someone or something which knows better. It is comforting for some, and others would claim it gives their lives meaning.
It is when a religious worldview or organisation impinges upon the basic rights of humanity that matters. It is when a religious worldview or organisation is used as an excuse to stifle the rights of women, thereby perpetuating the misogynistic society that we now live in, that matters. It’s when religion is used as the basis for learning at the expense of scientific and rational thought in our education system that matters. It is when religion s used as a threat against those who don’t follow it, pressuring the unbelievers into drastic action like suicide that matters. It’s when people use religious bias to condemn homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sex before marriage, non reproductive sex, living in sin, and other areas involving sex that matters. It’s when the Catholic Church uses its power “above and beyond” the normal standards that the rest of society is expected to live by to hide a grooming school for child-predators, then provides them with the safety to do this behind the closed doors of the church, that matters. It is when a theocratic state, whose doctrines call for the end of the world in a ball of flame just to see their prophecies fulfilled, obtain just the means to do so, citing their religion as the guiding hand behind this kind of decision making that matters. It’s when our tax dollars are used to prop up any organisation that believes in a higher power, and exempt it from paying property tax that matters
And this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Walking away from the Global Atheist Convention yesterday afternoon I felt that the simple fact that we can organise 4000 people from around the world to get together to discuss these matters is a sign of changing times. It is time to shake things up a bit. Hardly anyone is calling for an end to religion, although there are examples of people who do wish for that. What we are calling for is an end to the special privilege, and end of specific religious influence in our schools, and for people to stop seeing the religious organisations as “above the law”. As an adversary, they are not scary, they are just people too, and should be held accountable just as the rest of us are.
*Australian Constitution – Section 116 – Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.