Monday, September 29, 2008

I had a nice time at the Atheist Alliance International Convention down here on the Queen Mary (it really is hard to compete with the fun I had at TAM6 however). Definitely a mature crowd at this event, a lot of gray hairs for sure.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to be the secret recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award. Her active role with defending women's rights in Islamic societies has made her a target for Islamic extremist and has forced her into hiding. Despite the increased security (metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, etc.) her appearance had to be cancelled at the last minute by the Long Beach Port Authority and Homeland Security due to bomb threats. The AAI managed to save the day by patching her in via a live video feed for her acceptance speech. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a true hero for which she received two standing ovations, with love and admiration from the attendees.

Mikey Weinstein gave a fired up talk about his current legal battles and his role as the founder of Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He is a serious bad ass who pulls no punches when it comes to the subject of church and state separation and with stopping the growing evangelical takeover of our military, work for which he has also received large numbers of death threats.

PZ Myers, too, another speaker (and the nicest person you could meet in person) receives countless death threats for being an outspoken Atheist and for poking fun at organized religion. It is sad that these educated, rational, free thinking people could inspire so much hatred in others. These are folks, non unlike our country's fore fathers, who want nothing more than to have a secular government and a society free from religious (or non-religious) prosecution. One wonders how often death threats have been written by Atheists.

All in all, I am glad I went, but my passions are skeptic first, Atheist second. I think the toolset of critical thinking learned by scientific skepticism provides the natural path of questioning god(s). Dare I say that skepticism is a gateway drug to Atheism? The lack of young people at the conference was much of a bother for me. Atheism certainly has its branding issues, sadly, Atheism is not sexy. While TAM had a noticeable focus on science, and science education (and science can be sexy), this conference devoted too much time whining about the "in god we trust" and the "under god" issue -- while I agree with, but I am not about to march to DC with picket signs over it (but I would march over the values of science education). There was no discussions about attracting one of the fastest growing segments of the non-religious-- our country's youth!

Michael Newdow gave an amusing performance with his satire of his Wasp Side Story. It was basically the music from the West Side Story with the name "Maria" replaced by Supreme Court Justice name "Scalia". I was squirming a little in my seat as he sang... this musical is older than I am... and I am 40 now! No wonder the room was full of so many retirees. Atheism has a long way to go if it wants to become sexy again.

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