Jewish Journal


October 10, 2010

Atheists gather in LA to mock ‘ignorant’ religious yokels


I’m in Vegas for the weekend. Had to get out of Los Angeles. Too much hedonism there.

Think I made the wrong choice? Not according to my quick run at the poker table yesterday. Or according to this story from the Los Angeles Times. It turns out that Los Angeles played host this weekend to a conference for atheists, agnostics and other skeptics:

Religion was dismissed as “nonsense” and “superstition”; those who believe were described variously as “ignorant” and “stupid.”

Fellow nonbelievers were not spared, however, as lines were drawn between “new atheists,” who encourage open confrontation with the devout, and “accommodationists,” who prefer a subtler, more tactical approach.

Such a debate “would have been incomprehensible 10 years ago,” said Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, which held its 30th anniversary meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. But the 9/11 attacks and a growing interest in atheism have emboldened the in-your-face wing of the movement and led to internal debate and dissension.

That rift cracked open recently when Paul Kurtz, a founder of the secular humanist movement in America, was ousted as chairman of the Center for Inquiry, a sibling organization to the Council for Secular Humanism. One factor leading to his ouster was a perception that Kurtz was “on the mellower end of the spectrum,” Flynn said.

The tension was evident at the Biltmore, where about 300 nonbelievers from across the United States and Canada gathered for three days of lively and, at times, gleefully blasphemous debate. (“I have a personal commitment to committing blasphemy every day,” biologist P.Z. Myers said.)

Myers is no doubt a committed true believer in nonbelief. Remember his desecration of a communion wafer?

Strategy is an old debate among the anti-religion crowd that I’ve been writing about for a few years now.

Not everyone is Richard Dawkins (aka Dicky Dawkins). Others choose a more subtle, even proven, tact of old-school outreach. Success for either has been modest.

That this rift has ruptured is an interesting, though not entirely surprising, development. Though, aside from Kurtz’s ouster, I wonder how much wider the chasm has really grown.

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