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Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Week's Athiests Talks in Review

I went to two events this week sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists.

Talk #1 Panel Discussion of Religion and its Effects on Women's Rights

This panel contained an impressive smattering of faiths including two atheists, a Hindu, two "Women of Virtue"* (i.e. Christian), two Muslims, and two Baha'i. But the great disappointment was that no one actually talked about the topic of the effects of religion on women's rights.

All sorts of religious rhetoric spewed forth completely unconnected to whatever intelligent question was posed: quoting scripture, citing accomplished religious women, and random personal testimonials. The atheists were just as guilty of giving ranting, self-indulgent, poorly constructed answers.

Heres an example.
The Question to Panelists: "Define what feminism means to you"
Answer from a "Woman of Virtue:" "I was gay before I met the Lord but now thanks to Jesus I've been delivered."

What the heck does that have to do with anything?!? Thats kinda how the whole talk went - at least the part I stayed for.

*The Women of Virtue have a pretty scary description on their website:
Women of Virtue is ministry that helps college-aged women understand and embrace the important biblical role women play in their families and society. The far-reaching consequences of modern feminism adversely effect many aspects of society. Our desire is to see women restored to true biblical femininity and for them to bring this restoration to a world that awaits this precious and vital dynamic.


Talk #2 Hemant Mehta talks about Selling His Soul on Ebay

Hemant is a good speaker with a clean conversational style. His talked focused on publicity - how he got it, how atheism is a hot topic, and that atheists shouldn't try to get press by insulting the religious folk.

He makes a good point that many Christians are not extreme evangelicals, actually want separation of church and state, have no interest in dictating anyone else's rights, and are therefore our allies. However, I think religion is granted way too much protection from criticism in our culture and therefore being "nice and friendly" while not compromising rationality is a mighty tricky thing.

Imagine a really rich and politically powerful group of people who are highly offended by the fact that the sky is blue because they have swept their fear of mortality under idea that the sky is green, and that will somehow save them from death. Do you just pretend that it makes no difference (as long as they don't want to force you to believe the sky is green too) because their money and power are valuable enough to contort reality in order not to offend?

It just seems wrong to act like its OK for religion to make stuff up.
More "why be nice?" discussion on the Hemant's Friendly Atheist Blog.

Lastly, my two most dreaded meeting situations occurred at this meeting. I was approached by a member of the group because I was young, and "as I could see there were a lot of grey heads" and they need more young people AND I got hit-on by a guy using the old "This is my first time at one of these meetings and I'm new in town" approach. Even though Hemant was a good speaker and the event was well conducted I think it would take a lot to get me to go back to a MN Atheist meeting.

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