FreeOK quick thoughts

Well, I'm back. And no, I'm not headed to the afterparty, although I'm sure that would be a grand time. But here's my initial report. As I said yesterday, I didn't attend the whole thing. Partly because I didn't know who most of the speakers were, but also because I really just didn't want to sit on my ass for eight hours (at least, not without a guitar and a glass of Scotch). So my friend Sherrie and I got there around 1:30, in time for the afternoon speakers. Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, was supposed to speak at 9:00 that morning but it was announced yesterday that he'd been bumped to the afternoon because of a flight delay. He had to be bumped again, so we saw him last (there was one more speaker, but we weren't interested... and we were hungry).

Me with Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists

So we saw Hemant Mehta, Abbie Smith and Dave Silverman. All three put on great talks. Hemant talked about the obstacles facing young non-believers and how we can develop avenues to help them connect with like-minded people. Abbie talked about viruses. I thought it would be a bit too esoteric, but it ended up being a fascinating talk that  touched on many relevant issues, including the importance of evolutionary biology in medicine and thus the imperative to give young people a sound science education. Lastly, Dave talked about leveraging the progress from the Reason Rally back in March to continue to work for religious equality, and the steps being taken to combat religious privilege (and that, in the courts, we're winning).

I'll have more on the talks later, but I just wanted to share a quick thought.

I've always been a bit hesitant to get involved in 'atheist communities'. Firstly, because, well, I don't believe in astrology either, but I don't care about starting any non-astrology clubs. And secondly, because I'm leery of the hive-mind that is so pervasive in religion, and I very much value my independence.

But... the reality is that if the majority of people in the country were astrologers, and non-astrologers were ostracized and mocked, and if astrologers tried to usurp astronomy in science classrooms and tried to leverage their numbers for political influence and legal privileges, then I would definitely form a 'non-astrologer' group. Despite my cynicism, I've definitely come to see the value in connecting with a community of like-minded individuals.

The cool thing, too, is that we aren't really connecting over our non-belief, but on our many shared positive values. We value social and religious equality; we value science and science education; and while we may think the world would be a better place without religious doctrine and we certainly love a good debate, we don't want anyone ostracized or marginalized for their beliefs. We aren't looking to turn the tables and put, as Dave joked, "In God We Don't Trust" on money; we simply want to eradicate the pervasive privilege enjoyed by many in the majority and erase the stigma often associated with being an atheist.

All in all, an afternoon very well spent. Attendance was a tad over 500, which is nearly double last year's attendance. Considering we're smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, I think it's a success.


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