Many of the comments this blog has already received imply that there is no real possibility of conversation or dialogue between atheists and religious believers. In the words of one commentator, “By using phrases like “from both sides” you are proposing another valid side to the argument.” Andrew Hamilton has a thoughtful reflection in Eureka Street on the value of conversation as opposed to argument and/or knockdown blows, and the particular affinity conversation, rather than argument, has with religious faith (those soapbox speakers notwithstanding).
He writes that the polemical exchange is not conducive to the expression of reasons for religious faith: “Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.”
Interestingly, the Parliament of the World’s Religions considered that it was worth trying to cultivate conversation between religious believers themselves and with atheists and agnostics also. Atheists and secular humanists were invited to participate, which they duly did, in a session titled “Living a Good Life: The Secular Way” . The session panel included the President and Secretary of the Rationalist Society of Australia, the President of the Secular Party of Australia, the President of the Humanist Society of Victoria and two academics who describe themselves as humanists and/or atheists. (Check it out in the PWR program on p 306 here). This session was well attended. Moreover, Harry Gardner, education director of the Humanist Society of Victoria, was invited to participate – and did – in the session on “Religion and Belief in Public Schools”. (Check it out on p 283 of the program here).
Apparently, this openness of the Parliament of the World’s Religions to conversation has not been reciprocated by the 2010 Global Atheism Convention. No-one from the Parliament organisation has received an invitation, as far as I am aware. This is curious when one considers that the interfaith organisation in which many of them are involved, Religions for Peace in Australia, has publicly supported the teaching of Enlightenment Humanism in government schools in this country.
Can this blog encourage conversation? Are you able to help achieve this?