Category Archives: AAI Conference 2007

Anti-theism: Why Atheism Is Not Enough – A Reply To Reza Aslan

The Atheist Alliance International Conference (AAI) 2007: Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens. If you read Rezan Aslan’s latest article, this gathering had the potential for these speakers to lead a pogrom, taking all steps to eradicate the most dangerous virus imaginable: religion. To think the unthinkable on those that could not be cured from the God delusion.

Five of us young things at the conference were group interviewed by a journalist. She asked us if we would wish religion away, so everyone would be atheists like us. Her face dropped when we all replied no. People had to think for themselves and not have anyone forcing their beliefs on them. It seems the need for atheists to say why rejecting religion with vitriol is not the same as a slippery slope to extermination of people is needed no matter how educated a person like Aslan keeps reminding us. Our contention is religion has given too much cover for such harm, that it needs repudiating not replicating.

Aslan would probably argue us five interviewed at AAI fell into the 85% atheist category,  with the other 15% being “anti-theists” who would use the magic wand Sam Harris mentioned to eradicate religion. Thing is we do not believe in magic wands. In his piece he gives sound bite quote minded material, claiming “militant atheism” is a product of the enlightenment. That then gave birth to anti-theism which then underpinned Soviet society.

Except nowhere does Aslan mention Marxism or Communism as a factor. Which rather denies the bloody revolutionary legacy of Marx. You would think it was all from hating religion – rather than a sociological political power play that was anti-pluralistic in its desire for domination of thought and action of citizens in society in the name of the proletariat. A trait in common with religious fundamentalists wanting a theocratic state.

Just as Andrew Brown did in a previous piece, the aim by Aslan is to bypass communism, so as to lay the massacre of the religious as part of modern atheism hating religion. For anyone that knows the history of Russia, it’s not that simple.

For a scholar, as the article reminds us Aslan is, this will not do. If you actually examine the anti-theism that Hitchens mentions in “Letters to A Young Contrarian”, it is about rejecting the state or society laying any claim on the thoughts, speech and expression of it’s citizens via religion. There is no room for tyranny by atheists or theists here. People are the be all and end all – not chattel for priests or the state to use for their envisioned Utopia. The book is dedicated to the rejection by word thought and deed of communism in Europe, as you would expect by a writer that rejects authoritarianism in all its forms throughout human history. The contrarian should risk living their life as if you are already free.

Religion is never able to lay off how people should live their lives. Insisting no less on penalties that go beyond the grave. Never mind on the living by preventing them from being truly alive. Whether love, laughter, beauty or art religion attempts to lay claim not just to the sublime version (if it allows). They claim authority to regulate human perception to make what should be the broad joy of living into a narrow road. With the brief journey of existence fixed on obtaining the eternal afterlife.

The Old Testament commands genocide against the inhabitants of various cities as the Israelites go for the Promised Land. The concept of child sacrifice plays out in the old and new – Isaac to Jesus with daughters of generals sacrificed in between – as a virtue to redeem humankind. Let alone killing your family members if they think such a faith is not for them in Deuteronomy. While Jesus talks of setting families apart and against each other for he has brought the sword, not peace to humankind. Seriously, you want to claim religion is about peace?

Rape does not make it in the Ten Commandments. Coveting your neighbours property – which includes his wife like his oxen – really does not cover that. The violations of ones humanity should not be dependent on further diminishing them as property. Slavish devotion to it’s words should be enough to put you off such a book, which allows slavery, being the way society should be run.

Even the “golden rule” of love your neighbour as yourself cannot destroy slavery for the early Christians. Rather they are exalted to be slaves for Christ. Clearly we need to move beyond this text as a basis not only for human discourse but living our lives in harmony and peace. Cherry picking is the least that can be done. For I hold humanity is capable to live more morally and ethically now than these holy texts would have us do. The problem is those that do not wish to – the Boko Haram, ISIS, Lord Resistance Army and theocrats of this world  – have plenty of stuff to choose from in the suppression and subjugation of others in these books.

The bible is clearly written not by the hand of God. It is the work of men, with the story telling and ideas of it’s times. That people believe in divine authorship enough to suggest their interpretation should create a theocratic state, is what needs to be challenged. God is not great because he is the product of an osmosis of human emotion and needs. To be feared, loved, sated and praised. Hitchens did not suggest liberating humanity from an imaginary monster by declaring war on religious people.

Hitch stated quite clearly his view of religion – leave me out of it. Let my children grow up without this nonsense pushed down their throat. Do not fund churches and their activities out of my taxes to perpetuate it. To suggest as an anti-theist he, or any new atheist, would promote us towards violence to eradicate religion is a disgrace by Aslan.

In the end, Aslan is repeating the blood libel that atheists will massacre the religious just like Stalin and Mao. Despite mentioning polls that show atheists to be moved by principles of ethics, he cannot help but claim that using language to raise consciousness about the harm of religion literally means behaving like a militant fundamentalist awaiting the call to massacre. It is precisely because of the harm religion advocates, it’s intolerance to difference, the desire to harm non believers in this life or the next, that not only are we against religion but we do not wish to mimic its barbarity.

Atheism as a word just did not explain the danger and harm religion has inflicted on people. Positive or negative atheism as terms do not bring out the total rejection that religion should have anything to do with how society should be governed or considered a civic role to be involved in such a duty. That was why Hitchens used the term anti-theist.

He was for the liberty of people, not for the Gods or texts to control people via arrogant human animals who claim to exercise divine authority. You may believe voluntarily as you choose. The cry of the anti-theist is not to behead the believer, to make atheism the state belief, to prevent religious freedom, build chambers of death, or send out armies to kill religious people.

The battle cry is to leave me out of it, for the sake of a free and equal citizenship to build up that wall between church and state. That universal human rights are not to be denied because religion is claimed to reject it.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Hitchens, Religion, secular

Religious Freedom is For Everyone

20130614-194253.jpg

Thomas Jefferson liked to think, and for him free thought was more than just an inalienable human right. It was an essential part for humanity to make progress. How infidels of the past were viewed he was all too aware was how his compatriots (and fellow slave owners) would be viewed in the future. Religious freedom is an essential liberty, and in the Virginia Statute he created made this clear:

II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

It was not just a revolutionary thought then, written by the man who would become the intellectual provocateur with Thomas Paine for Independence. It still speaks to us that when we think of that wall of separation between church and state, and how a secular society functions.

No one should suffer on account of their religious opinions or beliefs, all shall be free to profess, and maintain their opinion in matters of religion.

The historical underpinning of religious freedom was to safeguard the plurality of religious thought – and the protection of infidels. As Jefferson argued to his nephew the inquiry into the nature or existence of God was one any such being if He existed would welcome, and without impediment such thought should be allowed by humanity.

We live in an age now where Alain de Botton can call the existence or non existence of God boring – like Jefferson he wants to separate the gold from the religious superstitious faith experience. Yet, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges whether you genuinely think there is or is not a God fundamentally changes the nature of your existence on earth – belief for him is wrongly making sense of the world for what appear to be valid reasons, a delusion. Peter Hitchens believes noting that there is no scientific evidence for God, and no divine mandate for humans to enforce on others but for him it makes sense to believe, so chooses to. Lawrence Krauss argues that you can have a universe from nothing.

The debate goes on, and the scientific advances in thought and empirical evidence gathering would have enraptured Jefferson as I imagine the debate today would have. However religion is still with us. Those values of religious freedom are still valid now.

So when we go on twitter we can express our religious opinion, and be challenged in that opinion. We can refuse to justify ourselves to anyone for our personal beliefs and we can can freely chose to argue for them.

We may never force anyone via the state or other coercion to suffer for their belief by those that do not chose to hold them, whether they be a minority of one or the majority. This secularism has remained from childhood student of Jehovah’s Witness to Atheist blogger.

Jefferson’s memorial is not just a monument for atheists, like the group I led above after the Atheist Alliance International Conference in 2007, starting at the memorial site onto the White House in support of religious freedom and the OUT campaign as atheists.

It is for all of humanity – and we have still to live in a world where those of faith, infidels and apostates have the religious freedoms that Jefferson wanted to be remembered for espousing.

Secularism is for the religious and the non religious – the cause of religious freedom should unite lovers of liberty and free thought alike.

20130614-194326.jpg

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

1 Comment

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Dawkins, Philosophy, Religion, Richard Dawkins, secular

In a restroom – Hitchens and Mother Teresa

What will follow is an article by Hitchens on Mother Teresa, but reading it reminded me of something that happened to me in the USA last year which I shall start with linked to the otherwise obscure title of this blog.

This was the first and hopefully last time I am ever accosted for my world view in a bar toilet. That convenience being a restroom in Virginia USA the evening of Hitchens talk at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Crystal City. Naturally wearing my branded A t-shirt I did stand out. That it said Staff Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science meant that as part of the OUT campaign I was out there with a Red A to a bull in the Men’s Room.

Naturally I did not expect a conversation to start in a restroom with an American, let alone one wearing an Arsenal football top. But he noticed my T shirt and asked about what I was doing. Mentioned that I had just listened to Hitchens and then the fun began.

Because what was worst of all for this young man of catholic faith was the books that Hitchens had written on her –  The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice – was for him all out disrespect for a great person. Now being taken literally on the fly, I pointed out that letters she had written revealed that she did not actually have faith in the supernatural – her belief in belief actually drove her to take a stand which did not help the poverty of people, notably on birth control and safer sex. As a woman that happened to be a nun with a world platform she spoke against the social reform to end poverty – the emancipation of women on equal terms with men in the economic, social and political sphere.

No doubt charity, vaccinations, food, clothing and shelter do give much needed comfort to the poor. These things were much needed in Calcutta (Bengal). It seems less obvious that strict catholic dogma was what above all the poor needed; or that the only way the necessary aid was going to happen was through faith organisations that were promoting the tolerance of the social norms that allowed the poverty to fester.

As I washed my hands, noticing that in the Gents there were baby changing facilities and thinking how good that was he remonstrated with me that it did some good. As I used the hand dryer I pointed to the baby changing facilities pointing out that I had never seen that in England, but it seemed a good idea. I was open to better ways of doing things compared to rigidly defined social and gender norms.

He said well I guess that a heathen atheist would never understand the good people do because of god. I replied that someone wearing an Arsenal top could not be all that bad. I accept that being that close to Washington DC I was in a bubble that is perhaps a different experience to the rest of the USA. Having said that, where else can you get a discussion with a complete stranger in a toilet about Hitchens and Mother Teresa – pity it did not happen at the bar. Would have been more comfortable. Definitely more restful.

Below is the article that brought forth those memories by Hitchens entitled “Belief in Belief”. Enjoy.

A question that interests me very much (and always has) is this: I know that I do not believe in either any god or any religion, and I can give my reasons in a manner that the other side can at least understand, but can the same be said for those who claim that they do believe? A shorter way of putting this is to ask whether our antagonists in this ancient argument truly mean what they appear to say.

The recent disclosure that Mother Teresa had for almost half a century been unable to feel the presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the ear of God listening to her prayers, is of great importance here. (See the recent book of her despairing letters, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.) Not even her most fervent admirers regarded this woman in any sense as an intellectual, and she evidently struggled to combat her doubts in a highly traditional way—namely, by making ever-more extravagant and even masochistic professions of “faith.” This would be superb confirmation of Daniel Dennett’s hypothesis about “belief in belief”— the strange idea that, though faith itself may be ludicrous and incoherent, the mere assertion of it may possess some virtues of its own.

Even though I have sometimes described her as a fraud (for her collusion with rich oppressors of the poor like the Duvalier family in Haiti and for her other corrupt dealings), I would now hesitate to put Mother Teresa in the same category as a Falwell, a Haggard, a Sharpton, or a Robertson. These men have never done a day’s real work in their lives and are or were simple parasites who pinch themselves every morning at their good fortune at living the easy life of exploiting the gullible. For them, religion is nothing more than a trade, or a racket.

The same, I think, can be said of the numberless clerics convicted of child-rape (why on earth do we allow ourselves the silly euphemism of “abuse”?). Their foul crime is not one of hypocrisy. No priest who sincerely believed even for ten seconds in divine judgment could conceivably endanger his immortal soul in this way, and those in the hierarchy who helped protect such men from punishment in this world are equally and obviously guilty of a hardened and obscene cynicism.

But the racketeering and exploitative side of religion, as with its no-less-marked tendency to generate wars, atrocities, and repressions, isn’t the whole story. What of those who try their best to help others and lead a decent life, attributing this conduct to their belief in a Virgin, a Prophet, or to the story of Exodus, or any other such fabrication? I never cease to wonder, in dialogues with such people, whether they are really saying what they mean or meaning what they say.

To any humanist, for example, it’s perfectly obvious that the city of Cal­cutta would benefit from an influx of volunteer nurses, doctors, inoculators, sewage experts, and others, just as it would not benefit from the attentions of people who regard poverty and death as a secondhand share in the “mystery” of the Crucifixion. There are actually quite a good number of activists of the first type (I spent some time there once, watching the great Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado do his work for UNICEF documenting the massive campaign for vaccination against polio), but for some weird reason the only person anyone can name is a woman who spent her entire life campaigning against birth control—a stupid campaign that Bengal most definitely did not and does not need.

Is it not possible that the missionaries of “faith” regard the objects of their charity as mere raw material—human subjects for a tortured experiment in their own psyches? It seems that, the more Mother Teresa lost conviction in the teachings of her religion, the more energetically she silenced her doubts by ostentatious crusades against divorce, abortion, and contraception using “the poorest of the poor” as her backdrop and her excuse. And does this not degrade such work as she actually did? For her, the helpless beggar was just that—helpless, to be sure, yet for that reason easily available for her own exhausting propaganda. The case for assisting starving Bengalis is complete on its own terms, but most of the money raised for the “Missionaries of Charity” went—as Mother Teresa herself happily admitted—to the building of convents that were consecrated, in effect, to her own ambition and her own very extreme teaching of Catholic dogma. These preachings went dead against the only certain cure for poverty—the emancipation of women from the status and condition of breeding machines—that the human race has ever discovered.

In other words, “faith” is at its most toxic and dangerous point not when it is insincere and hypocritical and corrupt but when it is genuine. At that point, its energy of certainty and self-righteousness can be used, not only to reinforce the Church but also (as Mother Teresa’s continuing reputation demonstrates) to impress even the secular. The evidence now is that this is how she and her confessors squared the circle. Repress your misgivings, overcome your despair, redouble your efforts, and we will make you a saint and later claim that you cured the sick even after your death. It’s at this point that the cynical loops round to meet the naïve and say in effect that anything is permissible as long as it keeps the illusion alive. Again, one has to stand amazed before a clergy who can use, as a recruiting sergeant, a wretched old lady whose own faith, as they well knew, had worn to a husk.

2 Comments

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, Hitchens, OUT campaign, Religion

Photos of Atheist Alliance International 2007 and RDFRS – Part 2

At the White House

Jefferson Memorial -

Realized that the best of the photos I had put on myspace but not on my blog. Rather a miss of me, but that shall be rectified now. Have great memories of the event in Washington DC as this blog will attest to. The blasphemy challenge in front of the White House and the march there from the Jefferson Memorial, and helping out the stall below and meeting up with others of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science that I had only spoken to via the internet before was truly a memorable experience. 

 In March 21-3 will be going back to the states for the American Atheists Conference in Minnesota. Looking forward to going back and maybe will see you there on the RDFRS stall!

At the Stall at AAI

RDF hanging out photo!

 One question though perhaps is why would you go to a conference, spending a lot of money to fly over, stay over, when usually you can watch the thing free on the internet? The key thing is networking and socialising. This was not just about getting a chance to hear writers I admire but also to meet many activists that could inspire and give advice. To that end I am very grateful to Linda LaScola who when I told her I was being very star struck by it all grabbed me by the hand and introduced me to everyone. That led me to approaching Dawkins with the signed £10 note idea for the auction. The rest as they say is history which can be read on the AAI Conference 2007 (this will be the first blog and all the others after that in the category are the ones relating to AAI).

Thing is you have to be forward. It is not that you have to be great at socialising or witty, smart or anything like that. Socialising in the bar afterwards was an experience as we talked about ideas and controversies. I remember seeing the Mayor of San Diego reverse his decision on same sex civil partnerships and it was moving to watch with other delegates.

So the company, socialising makes it worth every penny (or nickle) in addition to being there.

Linda LaScola - she got me networking

1 Comment

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, Dawkins, Personal

Round table Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens – The Four Horseman

The Fab Four

Oh to have been a fly on the wall I thought, as we marched from Jefferson Memorial to the White house during the Atheist Alliance International Conference 2007, as I had got wind of this Round table discussion happening but kept my mouth shut sworn to secrecy. So it is with great delight that the discussion between Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens is now available to watch on the internet, and will be on DVD next month.

In many ways the Round table discussion is better than the talks. Because they are bouncing off ideas, anecdotes, and experiences between them back and forth – and dealing with the common criticisms that they have encountered. Do enjoy, about two hours split in two parts below or watch via this link here

Part One

Part Two

4 Comments

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Religion, Sam Harris

URGENT APPEAL: Please Help Protect Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I had the pleasure of meeting Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the AAI conference this year – and was fortunate to get a copy of her book Infidel which people were trying to buy off me as I went to queue up to get signed. I praised her for her courage and sincerity.

That courage is going to be called on once again. The Dutch government has refused to honour a previous commitment to protect her unless she lives in Holland. Paradoxical as the security costs would actually be more if she was in Holland (as the risk would be greater there).

The risk to her life is real, but she is having to look to others to finance her security. For those that value free speech and the empowerment of women now is the time to put your money where your mouth is.  

Below is an article that Sam Harris has recently written please support her:

 http://www.samharris.org/site/security_trust/

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the most prominent advocate of free speech and women’s rights in the Muslim world, and for this she must live under perpetual armed guard, even in the West. Unfortunately, on October 1st of this year, the Dutch government officially rescinded its promise to protect her. Now, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s friends, colleagues and admirers must come to her aid.

I have created a page on my website that links directly to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust. The money raised by this trust will pay Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s security expenses. In the event that money remains after these costs have been met, it will be used to encourage and protect other dissidents in the Muslim world.

The ongoing protection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a moral obligation. It is also a strategic one: for here is a woman doing work that most of us cannot do–indeed, would be terrified to do if given the chance–and yet this work is essential for preserving the freedoms we take for granted in the West.

If every reader of this email simply pledged ten dollars a month to protect Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the costs of her security would be covered for as long as the threat to her life remains.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Sincerely,

Sam Harris

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
In 2005, TIME included Ayaan Hirsi Ali in its list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People. If you would like to know more about her, please read Christopher Caldwell’s fine profile in the New York Times Magazine. You can also read the essay that Salman Rushdie and I recently published in the Los Angeles Times, or the one that Christopher Hitchens wrote for Slate.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris

A religious non-believer?

It has been brought to my attention that an article has been written by Michael Brendan Dougherty about Fundamentalist Secularists and the Atheist Alliance International Conference (my write ups on can be found here or on side bar).

 Now I like the way he goes for the argument. For example talking about Margaret Downey as the “dippy hostess”. I found her considerate and making time for delegates, keeping us informed and always approachable for ideas. Without her efforts Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens would not  have been in the same venue. That of its own was worth the airfare.

I further find interesting his take that Harris being met by silence is an embarrassment for non believers. My blogs here demonstrate that I am all for Harris’ position – I understand were he is coming from. That we may have differences of opinions (unity of ideas proof that we are always right?).  The bumper stickers that were on sale did make me laugh – “Keep your theology off my biology” was one I bought. I find it amusing that he takes such seaside postcard humour seriously. Humour breakdown.

 Next he goes for Julia Sweeney. Shame he takes what she has to say as “I bet she must be fun on dates”. Well, you should be so lucky mate! If this was the argument that is meant to counter why AAI happened then really if only it was about good argument winning the day. For a reason why read my blogs on Jehovah’s Witnesses and Introduction.

 Mind you I like the thing where he mentions what would Harris say to his response if he sneezed. My line at the AAI conference was that we were becoming so puritanical that if someone sneezed we should say “May all be well with you!” Though I said that a few times I reserve the right to say “Oh god” when cycling in the pouring rain or when reaching the heights of orgasm – I know nothing in the English language comparable to reacting to those experiences. For me the expression is beyond belief – it is a lexicon that can be used.

 Then of course he says that come Sunday everyone is asleep, too tired. No mention of when Margaret Downey announced the tour (now called march but what the hell!) of Jefferson Memorial to the White House which we did after the conference. Ah well never mind pity he did not come with us and see us all in our A shirts standing OUT.

Am I a secularist fundamentalist? No I would not kill faith school teachers. I would not throw stones at children attending such schools. Nor would I wish those that want a christian political state to burn in hell nor would I wish their freedom to worship the way they wish impeded providing it did not infringe on my freedoms as a non believer. I will work on a Sunday and I am glad that I have had consensual sex before marriage (only in recent times in British law has rape within marriage even been recognised since 1994)  or else I would be approaching thirty a virgin.

Lifestyle? Well maybe we choose what we think will make us happy. Some of us may even choose what makes us smug. When it comes to choose what makes me want to live the life I want to lead I have forsaken obeying anything unquestionably, nor take things as an article of faith.

The fact that people found Harris’ speech uncomfortable should be an indication of the herding cats mentality. People will think for themselves when it comes to non-belief. We are freethinkers not fundamentalists.

As to his hair comment you may want to read this blog here. Please note this blogger does exhibit modern teenage language but he is the person in question in the Conservative article 🙂

Leave a comment

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Sam Harris