I spent this past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia attending the 35th American Atheist National Convention. The convention was at the Emory Conference Center, a hotel connected to Emory University on the north side of town. We had very good attendence, especially on Saturday, when Richard Dawkins spoke. Unlike many previous years, there was no speaker who really stood out as being especially good, but then, unlike some previous years, there was no speaker who was a real dud either.
I describe the various speakers and events below, but I’d like to emphasize that the real value of these conventions, in my mind, is the connections I make and conversations I have with my fellow Atheist activists from across the country, which go on before, in between, and sometimes long after the official events each day.
On Thursday night I caught part of an act by “Pastor Brother Harry Hardwick”, who’s with the Landover Baptist Church, an Internet comedy site.
On Friday, after welcoming ceremonies and speeches by recent interim president Frank Zindler and current president Ed Buckner, the first speaker was Michelle Goldberg, talking about her new book, The Means of Reproduction. Her thesis was that fundamentalists of all stripes are uniting and their opponents should do the same. In her opinion, which I find myself basically in agreement with, the central issue of this conflict is the control of women’s bodies. If I had to pick a best speaker of the convention, I’d probably pick Goldberg.
That afternoon the first speaker was Mike Malloy, who is an openly Atheist radio talk show host based in Atlanta.
The next speaker on Friday was John Lombard, a Canadian who’s just recently ended a fifteen year stay in China. His thesis was that the recent surge of religion in China is due to the fact that although Chinese education is explicity Atheist it does nothing to teach critical thinking, thus leaving people prey to religious proselytizing.
Finally, Herb Silverman spoke. He’s the president of the Secular Coalition of America. American Atheists has applied to become the tenth member of the coalition. My impression was that acceptance is mostly just a matter of formality.
That night, after dinner, they had an awards ceremony. I was greatly surprised to win the State Director of the Year Award. I was also very flattered, especially since I can think of several state directors whom I wish I could be half as effective as, convention chairwoman Arlene Marie of Michigan being a good example.
The first speaker on Saturday was J. Anderson Thompson Jr., a psychologist who discussed various psychological reasons people might be religious.
The next speaker was the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, identified in the program as “perhaps the most famous Atheist in the World”. He talked a bit about former British P.M. Tony Blair and his recent promotion of faith as the answer to the world’s problems. He then discussed times when he, and others, have had their statements taken out of context and distorted by the promoters of religion. Personally, I think Dawkins is much better writer than speaker. He’s not a bad speaker, by any means, but I’ve heard him twice now, and if I had never read any of his books I wouldn’t have been especially impressed with him.
The next speaker was better than I had expected. He was Nate Phelps, son of Fred Phelps, the “God Hates Fags” preacher. Nate told some harrowing stories about his upbringing, described leaving home literally the minute he turned 18, and talked about his eventual realization that his father’s mental sickness was far from the only thing wrong with what he’d been taught about religion.
The final speaker was James Morrow, a speculative fiction novelist whose books include one about the sister of Jesus, born of a virgin in modern America, and a trilogy about a ship towing the corpse of a recently deceased Jehovah.
Later that day we took an oath to blaspheme. This was in response to the U.N. resolution condeming blasphemy. After that we had a debaptizing, done with hairdryers.
At supper that night they auctioned off a signed copy of Hickhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Dawkins bought it for $3500.00.
On Sunday I visited the High Art Museum (on my own, although I ran into a fellow conventioner there). On Monday I returned to Connecticut. On Tuesday my luggage returned to Connecticut.
Dennis Paul Himes
Connecticut State Director, American Atheists
President, Connecticut Valley Atheists
Nisus ait, “Dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt,
Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido?”
- P. Vergilius Maro