Usually, conferences have positive, forward-looking themes. Here are some recent and upcoming examples in the atheistic/skeptical world:
- American Humanist Association, 2008: E Pluribus Unum: Reclaiming Humanist Values
- Atheist Alliance International, 2007: Crystal Clear Atheism
- James Randi Educational Foundation, 2008: The Amaz!ng Meeting 6
- Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, 2007: The New Humanism
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]