Does this seem weird to you?
…Sunday morning I joined 2500 other atheists streaming into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for The Rise of Atheism: the 2010 Global Atheist Convention.
First of all, guys: next year can we pick a less sinister name for the convention? The Rise of Atheism sounds like the subtitle in a science fiction trilogy, like maybe the title should be No Help From Above, and I fear it neatly feeds the input slots of the conspiracy theory processors whirring across the anti-atheist basements of America. How about I Got 99 Problems (But God Ain’t One)?
The real notion I snagged on here is that atheists want to organize. My experience of nonbelief is that it not only comes with a built-in hole in the place of anything to rally around, but that it also makes me resistant to joining ideological groups.
Last week I gave an interview on a Christian talk show, and my interlocutor asked, “When I say you’re a SECular JEW from BERKeley, CaliFORnia, people pretty much know where you’re coming from, don’t they?” And I said I wasn’t so sure, because labels aren’t particularly helpful in defining someone who doesn’t subscribe to any organization. I resist the idea of letting an institution present the tenets of my morality.
But when I give the atheist convention a chance, I realize we do have some things to discuss. Do we share a gravitational center of morality if it isn’t god? How about the corrective powers of conscience and man’s duty to man? How do we interact with believers?
I was disappointed to read that “many participants came looking for techniques to discuss atheism with religious family, friends and door-knockers,” since the bossiness of evangelism to me only seems redeemable by the sincere (if misguided) belief you’re rescuing someone from eternal suffering.
And I have two other concerns about this atheist convention. The first, demonstrated here:
However, when a Christian stood up to ask a question of [evolutionary biologist Richard] Dawkins, there was a vibe not only of hostility, but impatience and frustration – even a sense of violation, as no one expected anyone with honest-to-god beliefs to pay the not-inconsiderate ticket price to learn about atheism.
Friends, that’s the same fearful insularity poisoning many churches. Atheists should welcome questions and challenges from believers, shouldn’t we? Why shy away from a little repartee?
This leads me to the second thing troubling me, something I smashed headlong into last week when a Q&A I did with Benyamin Cohen, author of My Jesus Year, went up at The Huffington Post, and spurred a flurry of responses, some of which suggested I wasn’t really an atheist if I wished to have the comforts of religion, or if I had nice things to say about Christians.
It’s an odd position to put me in. How do you prove you don’t believe in God? Because I don’t. I never have (in spite of some very public efforts to force myself), and although I also don’t believe in psychic powers, I doubt I ever will.
And so here’s what I worry about: that anybody has the right to accuse anyone else of not being a true nonbeliever. How silly is that? That this convention could be part of a gathering movement toward the exclusionary attitude that if you don’t not-believe the way they not-believe, you’re actually not a nonbeliever.
Whoa, double negatives. Sorry.
In other words, that variety within the kingdom of nonbelief is unwelcome. Isn’t that the same exclusionary arrogance that rankles many atheists about religion?