Some Thoughts on Change – The Global Atheist Convention

March 20, 2010 § 10 Comments

It is difficult to talk on the subject of religion without sounding, to some, like a fanatic. Some people I have encountered in life think I am as fanatical in my disbelief as a fundamentalist Christian might be in theirs. Some even say that my Atheism is a religion in itself, or at least that my fervour for atheism is on par with religious fanaticism. So let me put this to you.

Because my atheism is a lack of belief rather than a belief, what exactly am I writing for? If there’s nothing to write *about* as such, why do I keep writing? Why do I care so much about something that doesn’t factor in my understanding of the universe?

I hope this blog entry will answer this question.

In my previous entry, I spoke about the Global Atheist Convention and my initial thoughts on the convention weekend. The weekend was very intense, a lot of people spoke, we all laughed, we all cried, we all ate and drank. It was a merry time had by all. But the main point of the weekend was sharing information, for every person who spoke had a different story to tell and a different point to make. If I had to give you one single thing that they all had in common, I’d have to say it was “a strong desire for change”.

Well I guess it doesn’t take a genius to know that we live in challenging times. There’s a lot going on in our little planet, and we can see everything going on in the world at any given time, with newsfeeds, Twitter, blogs, online data coming from millions of people all at once. We know that climate change is real (whether it is caused by man depends on which “independent” study you read), and that economies are false (just look at the Zimbabwe dollar). The challenges we face are huge, humanity will go through some pretty tough times in the future. One could easily just be overwhelmed into inaction, which is a challenge to overcome in and of  itself.

“Change from what?” you might ask.

The problems are many and varied, but the BIGGEST problem humanity faces is inequality. The reason for inequality  is very complex, but when you boil it down to its essence, this inequality stems from the very place that so many base their lives, and deaths upon. And of course that base is organised religion.

But organised religion is a very soft target, and too many people write off the religious masses as “stupid” or “ignorant”, which is a sweeping statement, and is simply not true of all religious people. The REAL problem is what are the rudimentary elements of the religions themselves; the nature of religions to place one person above another based on arbitrary differences, in defence of the religion, and to the advantage of the male gender.

“WHOAH!” I hear you say, “That’s a big statement right there!”

I’m not going to write about or cite the individual passages in The Bible or The Koran that implicitly say that some men are better than others, and that women are barely human, because that would be a book, or a series of books in itself. But I can summarise these points for you. So let’s look at that “big statement”;

Placing one person before another – Religions say that a person who follows THAT religion is to be favoured over one who follows another religion. In some cases, the person of the other religion, if they don’t convert, should be put to death. This is the cause of, or at least the excuse for many wars, crusades and other altercations.

Arbitrary differences – This includes the belief in another deity or no belief at all, clothing, geography, skin colour, sexuality, life choices, language, culture and political standing. Organised religions feed on the differences between people, amplify them and then nurture a culture of “US versus THEM”. This amplification leads a religious person to feel threatened by the differences in people. This kind of attitude also feeds xenophobic reactions to others, and violence against those who are “other”.

In defence of religion – Religions can take this xenophobia to an extreme by stating that anyone who does not follow this “one true god” should be shunned, excluded, exiled or killed.

To the advantage of the male gender –  this is the “elephant in the room”, religion’s treatment of women; religious texts state that man is superior over ALL women, that women are to come second, if at all. These texts treat women like possessions, breeding machines to deliver sons and to keep out of the way and servile. Some would say that this is an antiquated notion, that these kinds of prejudices toward women are a thing of the past, that anyone in a western “1st World” society doesn’t believe for a second that this attitude toward women holds any sway for us. Unfortunately our societies have been build on this rotten foundation, and once can’t simply say that “this attitude is wrong” to undo the damage that it has caused. It’s more deeply ingrained than we would like to believe.

This injustice to women can be seen in many facets of western society, in pay rates for women vs men, in the objectification of women as sex-objects, the beauty and fashion industries, and in corporations where CEOs and top-paid executives are for the most part men. It’s deeply rooted, and will be difficult to address.

The biggest injustice is served, however, to “3rd world” populations, where the men not only treat the women as possessions, but will regularly beaten, mutilate and kill women in the name of their god. This is written in their scriptures. It is abhorrent.

Time to grow up.

Religious texts were written “by men for men”, to control people, especially women, and to keep the followers in line. One does not need to be a theological scholar to see this. We need to work to keep religion out of politics and the social sphere. We can’t make decisions based on the words of the scriptures, as this will just lead to more hatred, more inequality, more genocide and more war.

The convention was a fantastic experience, and I hope that all in attendance were able to walk away with something of value. But remember, the convention was not what we are striving for, rather it is the first step on a very long and difficult journey. Let’s not become complacent and feel that we have achieved our goal.

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§ 10 Responses to Some Thoughts on Change – The Global Atheist Convention

  • ed klein says:

    Interesting article Martin and I think that on the whole i agree with you. I encounter the “fanatical atheist” tag as well – from my ex-partner as well but I agree that change is needed and whilst Dawkins (I think) said that we will see change over the next few decades I do believe that people like ourselves will help exact that change at a much faster pace. I met so many people who have left religion behind at the convention because they conversed with atheists – look at Dan Barker for example.
    Great blog – one of my new favs! Ed

  • This is very insightful and thought provoking – exactly what a good blog post should be. I have also recently been thinking more about the tie between religion and misogyny, and atheism and feminism. In America, thanks to the religious right, the very word feminism is mired in controversy and is often used to insult people in the same way the term ‘liberal’ is used to insinuate that a person is weak, whiny and ineffectual. Calling a woman a feminist here is the same thing as calling a woman loud mouthed, ‘butch’, or bossy. It’s almost entirely ignored that these same qualities when found in a man are seen as POSITIVE traits (Loud mouthed woman = assertive man, butch woman = strong man, bossy woman = natural leader when male) and of course whenever someone points this fact out, they are labeled a liberal or feminist with all the negative connotations heavily implied.

    I have been told multiple times that I’m a feminist because ‘that’s what ugly girls say to make themselves feel better.’ Much like the misconceptions about atheism, the only way to help educate people about the misconceptions of feminism is to keep speaking out. Thanks for being part of the solution!

  • Andrew Skegg says:

    This is a good meta summary of the event. Thanks for posting.

  • There is action afoot Martin, precisely because of the convention. There were a great many who attended who felt the need to move past talking of injustices, to doing something about them.

  • godlizard says:

    I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said here without spraining something. Religion(s) were invented by persons who had a desire (or felt a need or whatever they’d call it) to exert more control over society, and to impose authority through fear. The people who tend to do this sort of thing are generally not kind, generous, secure individuals, so most religious beliefs are divisive, oppressive, and often aggressive.

    To put this behind us would be to truly “grow up” as a society, because the primitive forces that persist to this day require a great deal of time, effort, energy, and money to maintain — wasted resources that, if put toward good, would utterly transform life as we know it.

    It’s a big dream, but it’s good to know there are more and more of us who are working towards it.

  • Coran says:

    Good post Martin. To follow on from what Ed said, Dan Barker was telling people that they _should_ be out and proud atheists. He said that maybe he met atheists when he was evangalising and they kept quiet out of politeness. “Don’t do that!”, he said. As much as I find myself uncomfortable suddenly finding myself that loud guy who keeps banging on about his atheism, I hope that maybe it’s giving others the confidence to talk quietly about it amongst themselves.

    In the subject of feminism, one great post I read on the subject was by Greta Christina: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/09/race-sex-atheism-2.html. The thing that I took home from that post was that sometimes, when you’re part of a privileged class, you don’t realise it, and you don’t know what you’re doing to perpetuate your discrimination until it’s pointed out to you. If you want equality, you have to be prepared to listen when you’re told you’re part of the problem and you have to be prepared to give up privilege you might not have known you had. I’d like to think that atheists might find that easier than some, on average.

  • Chrys Stevenson says:

    Well said, Martin. I posted the following comment on the Radio National site today responding to similar sentiments by Ali Sated if Melbourne’s Progressive Atheists.

    http://blogs.radionational.net.au/atheistconvention/?p=650

    I think my response to Ali bears repeating here:

    “… your words reflect my own concerns. I had hoped that
    the Convention would include a set of resolutions to be put to the
    government on behalf of attendees, or at least some calls to action –
    but these were sadly lacking.

    While I think that the Convention was an exceptional event and the
    organizers are to be congratulated for pulling off such a mammoth task
    in such spectacular style, I fear that it ended with rather a whimper
    with no concluding comments from the organizers or any suggestions as
    to how delegates could move forward.

    There was clearly plenty of energy and enthusiasm in the room which
    could have been harnessed better.

    As you [Ali] know, those of us who think similarly, met at the Waterside
    Hotel in Melbourne during the Convention and have determined to forge
    a dynamic, project-based, goal-oriented alliance of Australia’s
    diverse atheist groups.

    There are local groups spread across Australia which have, until now,
    been working independently. They have now agreed to come together to
    provide greater strength for local action, and to enable a unified
    voice for state and national action.

    It is time we stopped just talking amongst ourselves. We need to move
    forward with well-considered, responsible and representative
    affirmative action. The nation-wide enthusiasm and support for this
    new atheist network shows that at least some of the energy generated
    by the Convention will be channeled into direct action. “

  • Lori says:

    Great Post! I totally agree with you! Women have had it bad in most religions. I grew up thinking I was inferior because I was female. Sad. I am linking your blog to mine. 🙂 Feel free to link to mine. 🙂

    Lori (AKA Treehugter on Twitter)

  • bcmounty says:

    I know this thread is semi-old, but wanted to reply anyway. I am a person who has many questions right now and dont even know where I stand on God at the moment. But talking about feminism, I believe a feminists are not just those fighting for equal rights, but one who strongly believes that women are 100% equal to men. I am not a male chauvinist, but the powers of observation prove this is not true every second of every day. I believe that women should be treated as equals for the most part, but there are some things that I feel women should not do nor imply. For example, I worked inside a maximum security prison. I personally dont think women should work in a male facility and vice versa. If there was a disturbance in an open dormitory housing more than 150 inmates with multiple subjects involved, would you call upon COs Sally, Jill, Niki, and Monique to respond? Or have the best female football players in the world make a team to compete against the worst NFL team? And people say things about women not getting the things they deserve in the workplace which we know is sometimes true, but what about those that receive things based exclusivly on the fact that they are women, not on their job performance? This also happens everywhere and just as often. I hope that this has just offered a different perspective on a key in this thread.
    Good post.

    • Cary says:

      That’s a VERY slippery slope to say the least. If, to use your example, prison guards need to be of a certain minimum strength then surely those prerequisites are already part of the employment requirements, right? I’d be willing to bet they aren’t. Furthermore, if you actually think that all men are not physically weak and that simply being physically strong says anything about one’s ability to restrain someone, handle the mental rigors of being a prison guard, and the ability to handle prisoners in non-physical ways you are mistaken.

      If a job has requirements, it has them, and if someone meets them then they should be considered for the job the same as anyone else. If, on the other hand, the people trying to fill the job made stupid, sexists assumptions about who would apply for it and didn’t spell them out, then, they were at least passively stupid and sexist (if not willfully) and have now left themselves open to legal repercussions.

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