According to a group of atheists speaking at a 2007 atheist in Northern Virginia (1), religion must be destroyed and science must help do it. God does not exist and children ought not be brought up in any religious faith. Present at the conference were names such as Ayann Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Matthew Chapman, Julia Sweeney, and Tom Wolfe.
The keynote speakers differed in their approaches on the question of atheism and religion. The conference hope to tackle some big questions and ideas from the likes of atheism’s identity, to the wider movement and the collective enemy they face.
In his speech, Dawkins painted a black and white battle between atheism and religion, denouncing the “preposterous nonsense of religious customs” and compared religion to racism. He was also critical of moderate or liberal Christians which he said was “simply an evasion.” Regarding “moderates,” 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?”
Dawkins also believes that religion becomes evil when it conflicts with human reason, particularly that which intends to understand humanity’s place within the universe, “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.”
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, which it evidently hadn’t at this point in time. He also discussed spirituality, mysticism, and called for a greater understanding of spiritual phenomena. Harris would further caution atheists against painting all religions with the same brush, “All religions do not have their extremists. Some religions have never had their extremists”
Harris also stated that “Rather than declare ourselves atheists, I think we should emphasize reason.” It appears that Harris’s reflection and critique of atheism was not appreciated by the few hundred in attendance. While the audience gave Dawkins a standing ovation for his delivery, Harris received only a gentle applause.
Despite the differences in approach and the emphasis they placed on different questions, the speakers (particularly in Dawkins and Harris) agreed that contempt should be shown for religion and that faith had to be challenged and ridiculed by secularism and reason.
Dawkins was also critical of parents who raised their children and identified them with a religion, such as a “Catholic child” or a “Protestant child.” He believes that children should never be identified as subscribing to any particular religion, and that forcing religion onto a child is tantamount to child abuse.
Besides the keynote speakers there was also a performance by an atheist rapper, Greydon Square, who wore a shirt that read “The Black Carl Sagan.” Although the conference was well attended it received little publicity and media attention. The convention also experienced several technical difficulties, particularly during Dawkins’s presentation.
1. Deets, D. Crystal Clear Atheism- A Conventioneer’s Delight! Available.
2. Crystal Clear Atheism Conference. 2007. Sam Harris – Acknowledging Differences. Available.