Most attendees came away from the three days and three nights of being voluntarily entombed in the magnificent Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13 to 15 April with feelings varying from elation to euphoria. Some no doubt had slight disenchantments about various aspects of the proceedings, as it is impossible to please everyone, but none of these was enough to quell an overall sense of being involved in a part of making history.
Around 4,000 atheists cat-herded into one place at the same time and enjoying it is no mean feat. The largest gathering of a mind-set loudly pronouncing “there is probably no god” in one auditorium is a world first and a harbinger of a changing manner in which humanity is viewing existence in ever growing numbers.
Moreover, attendees paid for the privilege to be there. There was no bribe of a free ticket to heaven, earthly reward or an escape from the fires of an imagined hell to draw such a crowd. People wanted to connect to other atheists and freethinkers and hear from speakers whose clear thinking has filled many contemporary best-selling books. They wanted to bond to a part of society which rightly considers its voice diminished
by religious privilege exemplified in schools, bedrooms and politics.
From early Friday afternoon, when registration of the event began, until the Sunday evening after the last wrap-up party, the atmosphere was one filled by a powerfully exquisite joy inspired by camaraderie brought about by a unique experience found nowhere else. It is definitely the exception so many atheists and freethinkers found themselves together in such large numbers.
Yes, hidden in the crowd of smiling faces of the godless masses there was a sprinkling of religious folk taking in a happening that must have been surprising and exciting, maybe even enlightening. Seeing atheism as it is, without the clerical hype promoting a baby eating, extremist fundamentalist and satanic ideology threatening the very roots of civilisation, must have been a surprise to some.
From Friday night onwards, starting with down-to-earth comedians, through world-class philosophical, scientific and sociological professionals, the weekend built to a crescendo of intellectual significance in the closing panel comprising Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Missing from this heady group was Christopher Hitchens, also booked to appear but who died last December from complications of terminal oesophageal cancer. A lengthy and spontaneous standing ovation ensued and was deserved.
Analysis of the three days is open to interpretation of the beholder with criticisms overwhelmingly drowned in an ocean of accolades. To put on such a massive and complex show such as the 2012 Global Atheist Convention and expect to please every one of the thousands of people in attendance – whose only commonality is they don’t consider there is a god – would not be possible.
Atheists at the convention didn’t have to go far to witness the opposite of informed open-mindedness, a characteristic promoted that weekend. One had only to look out the gigantic windows of the MCEC to see an important result of denying a fully rounded education to young people and producing adults with placards protesting at the very existence of atheism.
There were Christians using amplified sound, carrying banners, trying to save from hell the souls of “sinners”. They sparsely surrounded the building in small groups praying for the deliverance from eternal damnation of those inside the building. This was done without an inkling of knowing they had lost their minds to childhood indoctrination.
Muslims were carrying large signs pointing out Christopher Hitchens was in hell and Ayaan Hirsi Ali would soon be following him there. Both of these groups are demonstrably blinkered by delusion in “knowing” their faith is right and the other wrong. The cultural inculcation of religion into the minds of children has a lot to answer for. Combined with the restriction of other views this is a recipe for an unstable world. Such methods of mental entrapment are neither ethical nor beneficial.
The lesson, that the organisers of the convention had to go to extraordinary and expensive lengths with security arrangements designed to thwart any acts of religious idiocy, doesn’t seem to bother those who themselves feel sheltered in their faith. It has to be wondered if nightly television news has reception problems in areas in which they live. Of course, that is not true, it is not poor television reception; “It is those wicked extremists and others who believe fanciful stories without evidence – not like me?”
It is unnervingly disquieting that many disregard evidence that the process of religious inculcation in itself can produce random mild or maniacal adherents. Those in support of the process must bear some responsibility for the harm and atrocities created by it.
Now the event is over the afterglow still burns brightly in the thoughts of attendees from being enthralled by an intellectual stimulus noteworthy for its call to celebrate reason. The message to a wider community is to not follow the dictates of people who say they have a direct line to a god. To bring to task people who have no qualms in indoctrinating children to believe with un-evidenced threats and promises their particular slant on their particular religion as being the correct one.
April’s “Celebration of Reason” has taken its place in history. It is helping show the way for those who have always had the sneaking suspicion the beliefs they loosely hold are just not true; they are seeing that the emperor, which is religion, is in fact, naked.
The 2012 Global Atheist Convention was and is a significant factor in the ever-expanding awareness we have no supernatural friends in high places protecting us in this life or offering another when we die. This is the only existence available and making it count for others, ourselves and the planet is of paramount importance. We have to make it on our own. Therein lays the most vital message delivered over this extraordinary three-day period which will not soon be forgotten.
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