It was nice to finally have an atheist convention in Melbourne that brought leading thinkers from around the globe to promote atheism. Even if only to watch these intellectuals repeat the same old arguments proving the astounding absurdity of theistic beliefs in the twenty-first century. But strangely enough, after a weekend of celebration I still find my fellow atheists as confused about atheism post convention as they were before it. Now you may ask, why?
Well for a start we atheists don’t like to be compartmentalised along any ideological lines or for that matter stereotyped in any way or form. As atheists or, as in my case, anti-theists, while we will gladly point to the religious injustices of the past (be it torturing heretics who tried promoting scientific inquiry, or stoning sodomites and adulteresses, and who can forget Christian and Islamic imperialists forcing their beliefs upon millions of indigenous communities to save a few souls), we are gravely reluctant to confront contemporary issues like gay or aboriginal rights or the rights of refugees fleeing god infested nations like Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, etc. Even when we are forced to confront these socio-political questions, after an initial ‘blame the religion’ tirade, a complete disengagement and lack of any resolve to work on issues like these will surface quickly. In short, we are happy to deliberate over wrongs of the past. However, to stand up against the inequities of our time would mean something more than a mere non-belief. It would force us to take sides on issues, instead of organising yet another talk fest. And this is the reason for my disillusionment with this Convention – and in particular with an amoral understanding of atheism.
Some atheists have decided that ‘Atheism’ is an end in itself in the centuries old struggle against religious oppression, when instead it’s only the beginning. By giving up the beliefs that have divided us for this long we can finally start our journey towards eradicating all artificial differences. We atheists know that religion has poisoned every aspect of our lives; it has used the codified doctrines of hatred to invent a whole new level of totalitarian theocracy. And we know that our religious masters for centuries harboured an unfortunate aim of not just controlling our actions but indeed our thoughts. However, we must not forget that to undermine their influence we need to start thinking about ethics, social justice and the eradication of centuries old confusion about right and wrong. Instead of just repeating endlessly an account of human rights violations committed across the globe under the veil of religion, we need to do more; we need to engage and analyse how to stand up for these rights and ideals. Else it’s all talk and no substance.
In this respect, while it was good to host an Atheist Convention in Australia, and those who organized it deserve to be commended on their efforts, it seems we missed a great opportunity to galvanize the atheist community and voice their concerns over the influence of organized religion in the public sphere.
Ali Sayed, is an anti-theist, final year law student at the University of Melbourne, an ex-Muslim and president of Progressive Atheists. He has strong beliefs on political activism and social justice and is currently working with like minded progressive political groups to fight homophobia, racism and fundamentalist religious ideas in our society. He is also involved in joint protest against the Northern Territory Intervention laws. And he is a co-founder of Progressive Atheists Inc who seek to effect a progressive social transformation within our communities. “We fight for secular ideals and freedom from religion: We are committed to voicing issues affecting Indigenous communities, women, minorities and all those who are disadvantaged and marginalized in our society; and we stand as a united front for promoting ideals of social justice and secularism.”