The newspaper men report on the atheist convention

Lots of other bloggers have already covered this (eg. see Pastor Mark’s comments here), but now it is my turn. Just briefly, the Atheists Convention here in Melbourne last week failed entirely to win friends and influence people.

The newspaper men especially were not convinced. See here for Barney Zwartz’s review and here for Andrew Bolt’s.

I must say that Barney tries to be charitable, but still is unconvinced. Bolt wasn’t even trying. Both reviews increase my wonder at C. Hitchen’s claim that “religion poisons everything”. The best comparison is, as I have said before, with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Now, I have my criticisms of the latter event also, but it never descended into the kind of ridicule and self-congratulation that the Atheists Convention did. Rather it was truly a positive event which welcomed one and all and which did a heck of a lot of really positive things about how the world could be made a better and more wholesome place to live in. Even the likes of Hans Kung and Joan Chittester didn’t sour the event in the way that the Dawkins crowd did last week. Once again, proof in the wisdom of our Victorian and Australian governments in refusing to give a cent in support of this latest gathering. The fact is that the Parliament injected a great deal of really uplifting and inspiring energy into the cultural and religious life of this state, whereas the Atheists Convention was entirely, utterly negative.

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8 responses to “The newspaper men report on the atheist convention

  1. Paul

    Thank you, David for the links to the newspaper articles. I think it is instructive to read the comments the internet readers make to these articles. The usual features of these comments are:

    – there are a lot of them. More than for any other issue.
    – the same issues are repeated, over and over again.
    – there is a lot of talk, but no listening.

    The thing that disappoints me about things like the GAC is that the speakers and supporters define themselves being against the idea of God, but then offer nothing else. They don’t engage in the moral issues that face us, as if that has nothing to do with them. If they reject the ethical structure of Christianity, they have to tell us about their alternative. There certainly are atheist philosophers who propose an ethical system, but it is never talked about at things like the GAC. Either they don’t care or, more likely, they know that the answers they have to offer are unconvincing.

  2. Paul

    I forgot to mention that there was an article by Mike Carlton in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald about Richard Dawkins’ performance at the GAC:
    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/heavens-above-this-pofaced-cynic-gives-atheism-a-bad-name-20100319-qm1r.html

    Mike Carlton is a TV, radio and print journalist who has a long and complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. I think he now sees himself as an atheist and opponent of almost everything the RCC (or CC or whatever) stands for.

    He is also on the political left and often sharply criticises Andrew Bolt.

    However, Richard Dawkins has managed to unite Bolt and Carlton. Bravo!!!

    By the way, if the organisers of the GAC complain that the media reports of rude and arrogant remarks are a misrepresentation of the GAC, well, welcome to the real world. The media has been misrepresenting Christian events for a long time.

    • Thanks for that link, Paul. I laughed out loud at this:

      “When I saw Andrew Denton interview him on ABC television a few weeks ago he was so insufferably arch that I itched for someone to barge into the studio and toss a cream pie at him.”

      Oh, that would have been good…

      • Paul

        FWIW, I didn’t find Dawkins especially rude on Q & A (and I don’t think he made the “earthworm” comment publicly).

        I think Dawkins’ problem is that he has absolutely no sense of humour, to the point of intellectual disability.

        If I could offer a little well-meant advice for the next GAC, it would be:

        -lighten up
        -get rid of the motley array of “comedians”, they give you a bad name, and aren’t very funny
        -invite some religious people, and take them seriously, listen to them, and by all means, disagree with them, preferably politely
        -include on the speakers’ list of topics at least one whole day of presentations and discussions of atheist ethics, and don’t mention the word “religion” at all on that day.

        Who should I send my advice to?

  3. Peregrinus

    I think it all comes down to practice.

    For the past 150 years or so the conventional atheist wisdom was that religion was on the way out; that with the spread of education, reason and enlightenment it would die a natural death. Athiests might, tactically, speak, work or campaign against religious influence in the public arena – opposing bishops in parliament, say, or church schools – but there was no need to work for the death of religion as such. Arguably, it was positively bad to pay any attention at all to religion, since reasonable and intelligent people paying attention to religion attributed to it an importance and a relevance which, in the mind of right-thinking atheist, it did not and should not have.

    Nor did atheists particularly need to talk to one another. Athiests, after all, are defined by something that they don’t believe; That doesn’t mean they have a great deal in common to talk about. Within atheism there might be more narrowly focussed philosophies – e.g. secularism, humanism – and they might generate movements and conventions and organisations and so forth. But a convention of atheists – of people who lack a belief in God – made about as much sense as a convention of people who don’t have brown eyes, or a convention of people who don’t speak French, or a convention of people who aren’t materialists.

    So atheists didn’t feel the need to engage with religion, and they didn’t feel much need to engage with other atheists either.

    It’s only in the last ten years or so that we see a new strain of atheism which actively seeks to engage with religion, and to motivate other atheists to do likewise. Richard Dawkins is a prime example; for a man who dismisses religion as unimportant and irrelevant and not worthy of any sensible persons’s attention, he puts an awful lot of time and energy into thinking and talking about religion. The atheist bus campaign is a concrete instance; it would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

    We can speculate about the reasons for the emergence of this phenomenon; the failure of religion to lie down and die, as predicted by the conventional atheist wisdom, probably has something to do with it. This may also explain why the atheist attention paid to religion has a distinct note of rancour. These atheists are angry that religion won’t follow the script.

    But, whatever the reason, we perhaps should not be surprised to observe that atheists aren’t terribly good at talking either to religious people, or to one another. Dialogue isn’t a skill they’ve had much occasion to develop. But perhaps in time . . .

    • Paul

      I think Dawkins and others would complain that religion has too much influence on politicians and received too much money from government. However, I think its true that our political leaders talk more about religion that they did 20 or 30 years ago. I’m cynical enough to think that is partly because they hear about it from their electors.

      On the subject of atheist conventions, don’t you think it is fair to expect them to have conventions and talk about their ethics and suggestions for leading a virtuous life? Even a convention of people who don’t speak French could tell us about the pleasure and rewards of speaking Chinese or Russian or English.

      • Peregrinus

        I dunno, Paul. I mean, it’s their convention, not ours. We don’t get to decide the purpose, objects, agenda, etc.

        And its not as though the project of developing secular or non-theist ethics is one that remains to be tackled. There’s a huge amount of thinking, writing and discourse about this already, from Seneca to Singer. I don’t think we can accuse anyone of shying away from this.