According to a group of atheists, who spoke at a 2007 atheist conference in Northern Virginia (1), religion must be destroyed and science must help do it. God does not exist and children ought to not be brought up in any religious faith. Notably present at the evident were the likes of Ayann Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Matthew Chapman, Julia Sweeney and Tom Wolfe.
However, the speakers differed in their approaches. For example, in his speech Richard Dawkins painted a black and white battle between atheism and religion. He denounced the “preposterous nonsense of religious customs” and compared religion to racism. He also was critical to moderate or liberal Christian believers by saying that “so-called moderate Christianity is simply an evasion.”
However, the conference clearly suggested that there is much tension within the atheist ranks when it brought into focus a divide among atheists over their identity, the wider movement, and the enemy they face. Rather dumbly Dawkins would ask “If you’ve been taught to believe it by moderates, what’s to stop you from taking the next step and blowing yourself up?” Equally a religious person could ask: “Since atheists don’t believe in God then what is to stop them from committing immoral acts (like rape, money extortion, or intimidation) since they have no-one to be accountable to when they die?”
However, Harris’s speech was more geared at critiquing the atheist movement itself (2). Harris went on to say that he believed science must destroy religion (something that evidently hasn’t happened as atheists have hoped). He also went on to discuss spirituality, mysticism and called for a greater understanding of allegedly spiritual phenomena. Rather wisely (at least for a New Atheist) Harris would caution atheists from putting all religions into the same boat: “All religions do not have their extremists. Some religions have never had their extremists” (obviously he wouldn’t say that atheism has, and still does have, its fair share of extremists too).
However, Harris would go on to say that “Rather than declare ourselves atheists, I think we should emphasize reason” (though I am still waiting for an atheist to show how reason can exist on his worldview). Obviously Harris’ honest critique about atheism was not respected by the few hundred atheists who attended. While the audience gave Dawkins a standing ovation for his vitriol Harris only received a gentle applause (which shows that atheists are often an uncritical bunch when it comes to their own worldview). Despite their differences, however, they agreed that contempt should be shown for religion and that religious faith had to be challenged & ridiculed by secularism and reason.
Subsequently, Dawkins would contradict himself for in his speech he would say that “Religion is not the root of all evil, but it gets in the way of [determining] how we got here and where we find ourselves. And that is an evil in itself.” This claim is made even though, previously, Dawkins denied the actual existence of good and evil; he previously claimed that in our universe there exists “at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (3).
Dawkins was also critical of parents who raise their children as a “Catholic child” or “Protestant child.” He believes that children should never be identified as subscribing to a particular religion. Of course, Dawkins wouldn’t object to someone’s child being called an atheist child.
Besides the invited speakers at the convention there was also a performance by atheist rapper Greydon Square, who wore a shirt that read “The Black Carl Sagan.” Sadly, however, many atheists at the conference were turned off from Christianity as a result of their fundamentalist Christian parents. Such parents condemn any questioning of the Bible, as one atheist said: “It wasn’t easy [telling my parents I was an atheist]. I still haven’t entirely told them. I just say I’m a humanist, which they don’t seem to mind.”
I sympathize with atheists who are fearful of exposing their beliefs. But, on the same note, it’s no good to make it one’s own goal to anonymously mock other people for their beliefs.
Although the Crystal Clear Atheism was well attended it received little publicity and media attention. The convention also experienced several technical difficulties, particularly during Dawkins’ PowerPoint presentation. When Dawkins was asked what the main difference between believers and atheists was, he would answer: “Well, we’re bright.” What to make of that I’ll leave with readers.
1. Deets, D. Crystal Clear Atheism- A Conventioneer’s Delight! Available.
2. Crystal Clear Atheism Conference. 2007. Sam Harris – Acknowledging Differences. Available.
3. Dawkins, R. 1995. River out of Eden. p 131-32.
Also see: Purple, M. 2008. Religion Must Be Destroyed, Atheist Alliance Declares. Available.