The 33rd annual atheist convention
The 33rd annual atheist convention took place from April 5-7, 2007, Easter weekend, in Seattle, Washington. It is a yearly event that is held in different cities. There were oral presentations, lectures, entertainment, books for sale, lunches, a state directors meeting, and a movie. Since it is my business to stick my nose in other people's belief systems, I thought I would attend. After a short flight to Seattle, and rather difficult navigation through the complicated one-way street system of downtown Seattle (how do they do it?), I finally arrived at the venue on Thursday evening for preregistration. Two friends, John and Gerardo, decided to join me from Southern California, and the three of us managed to get our name badges. With that accomplished, we ventured out into the baffling city streets in order to get lost once again.
The next morning, we returned to the convention at 10:30 a.m. in order to hear Julia Sweeney (a.k.a. androgynous "Pat" from Saturday Night Live) give a lecture titled "Why I am an Atheist." Though the presentation was full of wit and humor, I found absolutely nothing of any serious consequence. There were no logical disproofs of God's existence, no critical questions asked and examined, and no deep philosophical points to ponder. I was disappointed. But, I need to give Julia the benefit of the doubt. After all, she's an actress, not a theologian (atheists can be theologians), not a logician, and not a philosopher. She's an entertainer who happens to be an atheist. After I accepted the fact that the lecture wouldn't contain any meat, I relaxed and turned my attention to the crowd. They laughed and applauded as Julia briefly described her journey to atheism. Okay, so that was an interesting start.
Later on there was a panel discussion solely inhabited by atheists, and the topic of their image was raised. They spoke about how they wanted to change how they were perceived by society as a whole. They were tired of being called "devil worshipers" (something I've never heard them labeled as), and wanted a more wholesome image. They talked about doing good works and various forms of activism to "raise awareness" of their cause. I agree with them; they definitely should be concerned with their image. But, when I went into the room where the books were for sale, along with various bumper stickers, I noticed they were rather insulting and condescending. There were also some book titles that would offend the average Christian, and let's not forget the promotion of "The Blasphemy Game" that would be played later on in the main room with atheists in gleeful attendance.
I spoke to the national communications director for the atheist organization, David Silverman, about the offensive bumper stickers for sale, the condescending and insulting comments that were often thrown from the lecture podium, and of course, the blasphemy game; which was, to say the least, very offensive. I told him if atheists were so concerned about their image, perhaps they might want to behave differently. Mr. Silverman was polite and respectful and told me that though he didn't agree with certain bumper stickers, that the convention was a place where the atheists would let off steam -- and he nodded towards the blasphemy game poster. He explained that they don't expect Christians to be in attendance. He also told me that atheists are ridiculed in society and that they were simply venting. All right, fair enough. But do two wrongs make a right? I told Mr. Silverman that if they were really serious about their image, they should begin working on it at their convention.
But back to the discussion panel. They spoke about how they did not like being misrepresented, vilified by Christians, and how they wanted proper representation politically and socially. But, I couldn't help notice that there were no Christians on the panel to provide a fair and proper representation of the Christian faith that they were so frequently ridiculing and often misrepresenting. Was I the only one who noticed this inconsistency between word and deed?
I had several conversations with atheists. The first one began with the issue of homosexuality, and David Fitzgerald (the blasphemy game show host and action coordinator for San Francisco atheists) jumped into the conversation and aggressively tried to shut me down. Maybe it is just me, but I noticed that he was very close, a little too close for comfort. Anyway, we spoke for about five minutes before he left. I had the impression he didn't want to continue the discussion when he found out I wasn't a typical Christian who would back down. I challenged him on homosexuals wanting special rights. He didn't like that. He said they wanted only to be able to marry who they wanted. I responded that marriage is lawful for anyone (of consenting age), and that they wanted "special" rights to marry someone of the same sex. It went downhill from there, and he left rather abruptly shortly afterwards. Maybe he had better things to do.
I then had a discussion later on with Bob, a man who could be Steve Martin's twin. Bob was a very polite atheist who tried to have a fair and honest discussion with me on the validity of atheism. I have to hand it to Bob for staying in there and offering polite discourse. We discussed abortion, atheism, Christianity, morality, rationality, etc. They all seem to be intertwined in atheistic conversations.
There were a couple of other discussions with atheists at the convention that I thought were productive. Of course, I didn't convince an atheist to give up his belief system, but I do hope I put some cracks in their atheist walls they have constructed to block out the light of truth. You never know.
Though I was a bit disappointed at not seeing more cogent and competent defenses of atheism at the convention, Mr. Edward Tabash, a Los Angeles lawyer who supports abortion and legalizing prostitution between consenting adults (tabash.com), presented a lecture giving several reasons why God could not exist. Mr. Tabash has been involved in numerous debates, and my understanding is that he is touted as one of the better defenders of atheism. His lecture consisted of a handout (which I have since misplaced) listing various arguments against the existence of God. Now, I am trying to be fair here and not be disrespectful to Mr. Tabash, since he is not in the room with me as I write this article and cannot offer a defense against my generalized criticism. But, I found his arguments to be weak. In my opinion, if someone wants to present arguments against God's existence, he should at least deal with some of the answers to the objections raised instead of parroting standard arguments without addressing competent responses. This seems one-sided and insincere. I was, once again, disappointed.
Dr. Robert Price
Robert Price has a degree in New Testament, and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Drew University. He's an atheist and a member of the Jesus seminar. I had the privilege of interviewing him on my radio show in 2006. He was articulate and polite, but I found his lecture on "Damnable Syllogism: The Logic of the Christian Atonement” to be substandard -- no offense meant to Dr. Price.
His lecture began with a fairly accurate description of Protestant theology, dealing with Adam's fall and the substitutionary atonement of Christ. But I thought his lecture went awry when he tried to raise possible problems with the Christian atonement teaching. He mentioned the problem of future sins, and how were they atoned for? (CARM's answer: the same way past and present sins are, by Jesus on the cross.) He asked, if there was a rebirth and regeneration then why do Christians still sin? (CARM's answer: Because we are not yet glorified in our resurrected bodies and are at war with our sinful natures.)
Dr. Price delivered his message with an occasional ridiculing tone that was peppered with sarcasm. I noticed in one particular instance he assigned motives to Christians and then attacked those motives. There were several straw man arguments that he constructed and then destroyed. In all, I think Dr. Price tried to represent Christianity fairly, but he failed to deliver a challenge to the Christian atonement theory.
Amidst the cacophony of anti-religious rhetoric, I managed to extract a few quotes from various speakers. These are the ones I was able to write down accurately. A lot of others were spoken so fast that I wasn't able to capture them accurately. But, these six I managed to get amidst the applause and approving mumbles of the audience.
- "Religious indoctrination of children is the cause of mental illness."
- "Supernaturalism leads to brain damage."
- "Christianity created the problem in order to provide the solution."
- "The atonement doctrine has nothing to do with justice."
- "If logic works, then everyone would be an atheist."
- "Atheism is the cure for Christianity the disease."1
What do you think? Would you like your elected officials to hold these views? Would you feel comfortable if you knew the people in power held to such strong anti-Christian opinions? I wouldn't. It is a good thing we have a Bill of Rights which prevent those in power from hoisting their views upon the backs of those over whom they rule.
But, aren't there already liberal judges in power? Aren't there liberal politicians running for office? Aren't there people who trample the constitution under foot to suit their agendas? Isn't society moving more and more towards the secular, and carrying along with it the opinions of those who are now in power and will soon be in power? Of course!
Remember that in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
He said that our rights come from God, not from the state whose whims sway in accordance with the ebb and flow of social opinion. If the state is run by secularists, it becomes the servant of the opinions of those in power. If the state is run by those who know they are subject to a supreme God from whom our rights derive, then they become the servants of the Almighty and the watchdogs of the people because they fear divine retribution if they misuse the power with which they were entrusted. Therefore, our government is best run by those who fear God, not by those who do not. This is why President John Adams said on Oct. 11, 1798,
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."2
In all, I enjoyed mixing it up with atheists in their own environment. I'm glad I went, and the more I think about it, the more I suspect I might want to attend another. I also would like to add that I was treated politely. Though there were a few people in small groups who threw glances my way and apparently spoke about me under their breath, no one called me names (to my face), no one yelled at me, and no one was rude -- well, one guy was when he walked away in the middle of a discussion. But, it was a good experience and I recommend it for well-grounded Christians.
Is anyone interested in joining me in attendance at their next conference?
- 1. On an atheist website located at http://friendlyatheist.com an atheist, who attended the convention, wrote in a later blog that all the quotes were from the same individual. He is incorrect. They were from at least two individuals.
- 2. Federer, William J., America's God and Country, Amerisearch, Inc., PO. Box 20163, St. Louis, MO 63123.
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