One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Usually, conferences have positive, forward-looking themes. Here are some recent and upcoming examples in the atheistic/skeptical world:

Which is why I’m surprised by the choice-of-theme for the Center For Inquiry – New York City’s upcoming conference:

The Secular Society and Its Enemies.

I’m not sure where I stand on this.

At first glance, it seems hostile. Yes, of course there are fundamentalist threats to a secular lifestyle, terrorism in the name of God being the most vivid example. But not all religious people are like the fundamentalists.

CFI says one of the topics that will be addressed at the conference is: “How do we seize this moment of opportunity to address secularism’s many challenges?” It doesn’t start by labeling non-atheists as “enemies” when we could use help from many of them who are on our side. Of course, this is only the case if “enemy to the secular society” is referring to anyone who is religious. There are religious people who want to maintain the Wall of Separation between state and church, and if we’re excluding them in the theme, my problem with it virtually disappears.

There are other minor concerns as well. It’s very easy for the Religious Right to use this title as a call-to-arms for Conservative Christians: “We’re the enemy?! They’re waging a war on Christianity! We must fight back!” (Then again, the mere presence of several atheists in one room could do that by itself…)

You could say this is a much bolder choice. And as a result, CFI will draw in a different (perhaps more passionate?) crowd than the more “Kumbaya-ish” conferences.

When you look at many of the CFI conference’s speakers, though, they have their popularity because they address science and atheism in a way that’s not necessarily anathema to religious people: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, Eugenie Scott, and Nica Lalli, to name a few. I don’t think they, along with many of the other speakers, would use the word “enemy” to describe the people they hope to reach.

I’ve been looking at the site for a couple days, and I’m still not sure if it’s a good or bad idea to have the theme be what it is. Right now, I’m leaning toward “bad idea,” but I could be persuaded otherwise.

This could all become moot. The $289 registration cost (plus $69 for the VIP Reception and Awards Presentation) might be a deterrent to most people (and just about all students). But if you’re interested, here’s more information.

On a side note (speaking of going against the grain…),

Rudy Giuliani’s daughter is supporting Barack Obama (?!)

(Thanks to those who let me bounce ideas off of them, and offered their own, for the CFI topic)


[tags]atheist, atheism, American Humanist Association, E Pluribus Unum: Reclaiming Humanist Values, Atheist Alliance International, Crystal Clear Atheism, James Randi Educational Foundation, The Amaz!ng Meeting 6, Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, The New Humanism, Center For Inquiry, New York City, The Secular Society and Its Enemies, God, religion, terrorism, Wall of Separation, church, state, Religious Right, Conservative Christians, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, Eugenie Scott, Nica Lalli, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama[/tags]

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson, what he’s done to Nova is awful. I can’t watch it when he’s on. If I wanted that kind of stuff I’d buy cable and watch the Discovery channel.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Olvizi…. finally something we agree on!

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Well, I was an atheist for a while before I was interested in communities, books, conferences, etc. The only reason I am interested now, is becasue of the enemies of secular society who have been making great strides in destroying everything I hold sacred, both here in the US (fundamentalist Christians, among others) and overseas (radical Islamists, among others). If the radical religionists were not attacking my way of life, I would find no reason to attack them. But since they are trying to silence and/or convert me, I feel that they are a serious enemy (not only of me, but of free, democratic society) and I must fight. So I’m interested in this conference precisely because of the name.

  • Pingback: The Secular Society and its Enemies at Blueshifted

  • Maria

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson, what he’s done to Nova is awful. I can’t watch it when he’s on. If I wanted that kind of stuff I’d buy cable and watch the Discovery channel.

    who is that?

    the enemies of secular society who have been making great strides in destroying everything I hold sacred, both here in the US (fundamentalist Christians, among others) and overseas (radical Islamists, among others). If the radical religionists were not attacking my way of life, I would find no reason to attack them. But since they are trying to silence and/or convert me, I feel that they are a serious enemy (not only of me, but of free, democratic society)

    I find myself agreeing with this more and more. I’m not overtly hostile at all to liberal religion that stays out of people’s way (and where I live, it really does. luckily, the fundies are a minority here, for now). but I’ve heard recently that liberal places of worship are in decline and the “fundies” of all religions are gaining more followers. and that scares me very much.

    about the website, well from what I saw, it doesn’t seem too hostile, but I didn’t read all the links just the first page. the only really hostile person I recognized was Christopher Hitchens. I’m not familiar with many of the others though, except for Nica Lalli, who I like a lot. I was surprised they didn’t have Dennett or Dawkins or Harris or Ellen Johnson.

  • http://lifewithoutfaith.com/ Richard

    Except for the DeGrasse stuff, I totally agree with the feelings here.

    I feel the time is long past when we can just keep our beliefs to ourselves. The religious right is forcing a fight in almost every are of life. They are redefining and interfering with science and they are trying to redefine the history of America. Not to mention their refusal to grant rights to all Americans. They have started the fight and I think we need to be friendly and defend ourselves.

    Richard
    http://lifewithoutfaith.com

  • http://FVThinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    My interpretation of the conference is that the enemy is dogmatic thinking . . . and they are right. It does not connotate attacking the people, just the mode of thought. I am certainly with them on that.

    I, too, have no problem with liberal faith and would vigorously defend a person’s right to believe what they want. It is when those people try to retard education, health care and public policy that I get my pants in a bunch. I cut NO slack in that case. I don’t even mind them trying to convert me, as I am always up for a good debate. Without tooting my own horn, though, I am probably better equipped (as are most on this board) than most of the population to refute the theist arguments.

    As far as DeGrasse-Tyson . . .
    To my knowledge, he is only on the Nova ScienceNOW science magazine. He is genuinely excited about science and I appreciate Nova creating the additional magazine format to reach a shorter-attention-span crowd. Nova is still the gold standard, but there is a place and value for ScienceNOW.

    Now if we can just get PBS and Nova to investigate [debunk] the religious truth claims!! The Bush administration already tried to stop funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because he didn’t like Frontline’s portrayal of them. I don’t think they would like a show that said “there is no God”! :-)

    Best to all,

  • http://www.humaniststudies.org Matt

    The name is a riff on the classic Karl Popper book, “The Open Society and Its Enemies” Popper was positive about the Open Society but negative about its totalitarian enemies of Nazism and Marxism (he wrote the book during WWII) which he traced back all the way back to Plato. I would expect this conference to do the same: outline a positive vision of secular society but also highlight the threats to it.


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