Nearly half a millennium ago during the Spanish Inquisition, a person professing a lack of faith was declared a heretic and either jailed, tortured (back into the faith), excommunicated or executed. The best tactic was to make outward expressions of faith, but privately (that is, in one’s mind or amongst likeminded friends and family) challenge the status quo. Such were the times. But the times have certainly changed, so much so that atheists are now cultural forces and celebrities, making speeches at an increasing number of conventions and debating clerics on television.
One might mistake these conventions for the atheist equivalent of an Evangelical mega-church service, but one encourages a free, rational exchange of ideas, while the other demands supplication before God and clergy.
From April 13 to 15, Melbourne, Australia held “A Celebration of Reason” at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, where scientists, writers and speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Eugenie Scott, A. C. Grayling and Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke. On a more somber but touching note, there was a tribute to Christopher Hitchens, who passed away in 2011 from cancer. Hitchens, one of the 20th century’s great writers and orators and, indeed, free thinkers, was the rock star amongst atheists and his presence must have been sorely missed.
At any rate, such was the cultural import of “A Celebration of Reason” that a group of Muslim protesters—freely expressing their hatred and intolerance of anything that challenges their religion—stood outside holding signs that read “Atheism is the Cancer / Islam is the Answer” and “Christopher Hitchens Final Destination: Hell Fire.” In response to the former, well, there have been a variety of “answers” throughout written history and beyond, and it’s only been in the last 3,000 years that the Abrahamic tradition made an art out of a religious delusion and arrogance that thrives on ignorance, and which took root when intellectual power was reserved for kings and clergy and not the masses. An age of superstition, not of reason and science.
Of course, the faithful such as those Muslim protesters are free to believe what they like, but no atheist is going to wish eternal plagues upon their souls—that’s just a load of nonsense. The worst the Muslim protesters got was a counter-protest staged by two gay men and sealed with a kiss. Sublime.
The Melbourne event, however, is not the only atheist convention on the slate for 2012. The American Atheists National Convention was held March 25-26 and involved many of the aforementioned speakers, featuring talks such as “Living a Lie – My life as a closeted atheist preacher,” “Coming Out: What Can the Godless Learn From the Queers,” and, more humorously, “He was dead, but now he lives: Zombie or vampire?”
The 1st Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Convention, hosted by The Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society, will be held in Manila, Philippines on April 21. Billed as “Filipino non-belief – are you ready for this?,” it is being hosted in a country that is 90% Christian, 80% Catholic and anywhere from 5 to 10% Muslim. Things could get interesting.
From May 18 to 20 in Kamloops, BC, Canada, the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought will host the AAI North American Convention “Imagine No Religion 2.” May 25-27 IBKA will host the AAI European Convention “The Atheist Perspective & Our Future” in Cologne, Germany.
A year for the celebration of reason, indeed.
One question, though: Where the hell is Ricky Gervais?