Rationalist Festival in India Given the Go-Ahead by Court

Chennai Central, from Wikimedia Commons.

A court in India has reportedly given the OK to an atheist organization to hold a “rationalist festival” in the city of Chennai in September, after being denied permission by local police. The particular organization is unnamed in the media about the event that I’ve seen.

It doesn’t sound like your run-of-the-mill egghead convention that we are familiar with here. As reported by the Times of India, the event would have included “walking on burning coal and piercing sharp objects through cheek and tongue.” I mean, maybe that happens after hours at our conferences, but come on.

Apparently, organizers had to promise that the festival would not be used to change or denigrate anyone’s existing religious beliefs, but rather raise awareness of their own constituency (maybe that’s what the piercings are for).

Opposition to the event, expressed by the state advocate-general A L Somayaji, rings with a recurring theme in all justifications for silencing nonbelief:

Strongly opposing any indulgence for the organization, advocate-general Somayaji said the organizers hurt the religious sentiments and beliefs of believers and it would infringe the fundamental rights of worshippers.

Yeah, I’m not sure how a festival infringes on anyone’s rights, unless of course we now all have the right not to be offended, or the right to not have to think too hard.

Of course, India is home to a great deal of anti-atheist and anti-skeptic sentiment, exemplified by the arrest of novelist Yogesh Master (which I blogged on just yesterday), the persecution of skeptic Sanal Edamaruku, and the recent murder of skeptic activist Narendra Dabholkar. The fact that this festival is apparently allowed to go on (though this report is obviously less than comprehensive) is at least something.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • LesterBallard

    Fucking India.

    • Regina Carol Moore

      Wow, dude, really?

      • LesterBallard

        Yeah, but prayer is keeping me alive. I mean, medical science is keeping me alive; people praying is making them feel good about themselves.

        • Regina Carol Moore

          Prayer doesn’t keep anyone alive or accomplish anything ever.

      • TCC

        In fairness, seeing the kinds of things going on India makes me have a similar reaction, which is not one of complete dismissal. I feel the same way when I see the POTUS supporting prayer before government meetings: “Fucking America.”

    • Joe_JP
  • Guest

    Let’s hope it goes alright. I don’t get this ‘offending believers’ arguement. Surely every religion is offensive to other religious believers? The more fundamental ones, at least. Christians think Muslims and Hindus are totally wrong about God and, depending on denomination, mat even believe that they’re going to Hell. Muslims think something similar. Hindus think Christians are wrong to eat cows and wrong about Jesus being God, or at least think he wasn’t the only incarnation of God. Yet they’re allow their festivals. The Qu’ran calls Jews apes and pigs and threatens unbelievers with hellfire, but it’s not banned as hatespeech. Christians are allowed to call atheists fools and to think that the jews missed the coming of their own messiah. Jews can call themselves chosen people. So why shouldn’t atheists have a little festival? Everyone’s offended by something, but if that something is happening in a building you don’t have to go to, what’s the problem?

    The burning coals and piercings might be a skeptical demonstration, to show you don’t need faith to endure extreme pain; I know some hindu rites involve extreme piercings. Or maybe they’re into that, who knows?

    • Brian Westley

      Walking on coals isn’t painful — I’m sure this is a debunking demonstration. It’s something James Randi has done. It’s not magic, it’s physics!

      http://www.randi.org/encyclopedia/fire%20walking.html

      The spikes too:
      http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=31579

      • Guest

        Thanks, Brian, that was enlightening. I guess ‘Fakirs’ is just a misspelling of ‘fakers’ after all!

    • 3lemenope

      I think the reason religious discomfort with atheism is more profound than that directed towards other religions is that it is perceived as an attack on the entire category. Religious people, when pressed, will usually admit that they have no access to information that could show that their take on the divine is the right one, but they will all report emphatically that the divine is real, whatever it ends up happening to be. The existence and presence of atheists calls into question the whole affair of religion in the first place, that the details that everyone religious sweats pale in comparison to the fact that they are all completely full of it.

      It’s like the old chestnut about negation; opposite loving a thing is not hating it, but ignoring it entirely. Indifference is a more total rejection than enmity, because hating shows you care.

  • J.R. Robbins

    I’m sure any religionist would admit that challenging their faith is not only offensive to them, but strengthens their faith. It can thus be argued and proven that an atheist or skeptic convention would strengthen people’s faith left and right.


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