The Rise of Atheism – 2010 Global Atheist Convention: Afterthoughts

On the weekend, I attended The Rise of Atheism – Global Atheist Convention at the Melbourne Convention Centre. I’m not going to write a review of the event, as I often like to do, because it’s been done a number of times already. Instead, I will just go over a number of thoughts/feelings/issues that have stayed with me and I’ve thought about a lot since the weekend. 

  1. My eyes were really opened as to the extent of religious influence on virtually all aspects of the world. Whereas before I thought of atheism as a natural extension of science with maybe a little philosophy involved, I now realise that fields such as economics, feminism, environment and politics are intrinsically and inexplicably related. In particular, Taslima Nasrin’s talk, along with the women’s panel (who all should have been given their own speaking slot IMHO) really made me aware of the role religion has played over the last 2000 years in oppressing and denigrating women. The blame placed upon Eve in leading Adam astray in the garden of Eden is pertinent today in relation to the Bingle/Clarke/Fevola debarcle. Whatever Lara’s faults may be, the fact is she had a picture taken of her in the nude, clearly against her will and somehow she is the one in the wrong? The cries of ‘homewrecker’ and ‘slut’ are sickening and these attitudes can be directly attributed to those in the bible and perpetuated through the history of Abrahamic religions.
  2. For a group of people who would universally consider themselves intelligent, the mob mentality that reared its head during question time of Richard Dawkins talk was really disappointing to me. I know that many people, such as PZ Myers think the questioner got exactly what she deserved and that she was trying to somehow catch Dawkins out. I’m not so sure. What a lucky woman – to get a 2 minute crash course on DNA from one of the worlds most well known biologists! Is it hypocritical of me to laugh uproariously at Sue-Ann Post, Catherine Deveny and Jamie Kilstien’s ruthless mocking of believers, whilst not participating in a massive crowd boo at someone in a semi-public forum? I don’t know, but I thought it was a really rude and totally unnecessary response nonetheless.
  3. I went into the convention hoping to come away with a clear direction or course of action that I could take to support this cause that I feel so strongly for. But the realisation of exactly how far reaching the influence of religion is left me feeling more lost and confused about what I can do to help. Should I write a letter to my MP expressing offence at the saying of the Lords Prayer in parliament? Should I donate to Oxfam or similar to raise the education levels of those in the 3rd world? Should I support human rights charities that stand up for women persecuted at the hands of religion? I’ve come to realise that despite wanting to funnel some of my spare time into a ‘cause’ of some description, that cause is not going to be atheism. I do not have the patience, self-confidence, diplomacy, lightning-quick wit, vast repository of debunkifiers to spend my time arguing with/debating/converting/enlightening strangers who have failed to recognise the falsehoods of religion. I am not interested in convincing people of ideas that they are so reluctant to acknowledge. And although I found every single speaker interesting and educational, the one moment of the weekend where I felt a real spark of passion was a passing moment in Ian Robinson’s session where improving the teaching of science to primary school children was mentioned. If I ever take on any type of active role related to atheism, it will probably be in relation to politics, the separation of church and state and so forth. Because this feels to me like an area where real change can be affected. However, having said this, I will be a very happy person if I see in my lifetime, a gradual change in attitudes that allows ‘normal atheists’ like myself to be able to refer to my lack of faith in casual conversation without someone crying offence, or causing some sort of argument.

Overall I’d have to say my experience at the convention was wildly positive. I learned a lot, met some interesting people and was really impressed to see most of the speakers mingling at the breaks. The Convention Centre is an excellent venue and I’m sure the organisers would have been really pleased with the weekend. Thank you to everyone who helped to organise the convention, volunteered, attended and presented. I will remember it for a long time.

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