Highlights from the 2010 American Atheists Convention

This is the first time I’ve ever been to an atheist (or atheist related) convention. It was quite an exciting time, and I’ve come away with quite a lot of inspiration and ideas. What follows is not quite a full report but rather a skimming over of some of my favorite happenings at AACON 2010. It is also not strictly chronological.

As soon as we arrived at the airport, we met Eddie Tabash–I recognized him due to the fact that his name written all over his luggage. Obviously a seasoned traveller, this one. He was there to speak about how to gain more acceptance for atheists and atheist thinking in the culture in general.

Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus, explained the way in which religion can act like a virus in that it works to perpetuate itself. It’s a useful metaphor to me in understanding why I still get emotionally worked up about the religion I was raised in but not necessarily about any other version of religion. There are certain phrases, songs, and such that work as triggers are used to hold a person in, or bring them back in, to the “fold.” I have noticed this in my experience, and may write a more detailed post about that sometime.

One of the most fun parts of the convention was one for which I allowed myself to be drafted for participation: the “Back In Their Burka’s Again” song. (I’ve always been one to prefer participation over passive observation.) Here is a video that one of my fellow burka-singers has apparently just posted. I’m the one in black furthest from the camera.

We also got to hear from Cecil Bothwell about his work as a journalist to bust a corrupt sheriff in North Carolina, investigate Billy Graham, and being elected a councilman in Asheville, NC as an open atheist. Besides all that he is an entertaining speaker and has a great sense of humor.

Massimo Pigliucci, who holds Ph. D’s in genetics, botany, and philosophy, made the point in his talk that atheism is a philosophical conclusion, and a most reasonable one, but that it’s not a scientific one. The atheist position is very compatible with science, but scientific education does not necessarily lead to atheism.

Dan Barker told some of his story of being a former preacher of the type “you would not want to sit next to on a bus.” The crazy street preacher missionary type. He spoke about the mindset that he had as a fundamentalist, what a freethinker could have said to him at that time that would have impressed him, and the process that his transition to atheism followed. He is also a very engaging speaker.

Ed and I did not stick strictly to AACON activities. Since we had the kids with us, we did something else that was fun each day of the trip. Our extra-curricular activities included visits to the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, The American Museum of Natural History and Central Park.

I did a bit of an experiment by wearing a shirt I had bought at the convention around New York. The shirt says “Atheists Believe in You” in big black letters on the front, and “Secular Center” and “Godless for Good” on the back. (The image on the shirt is similar to the banner image on the Secular Center website.) Ed informed me that it triggered some amusement in the Natural History Museum gift shop, and I also got a thumbs up from random guy I passed on the way out of the museum. A friendly Jewish couple that asked to read my shirt in Central Park and told me that they were atheists too but still followed Jewish traditions. Ed and I had a fun time talking with them. I wonder what reactions I would get to the shirt in Louisville?

Over all the convention was very enjoyable, and I hope I will get to go again next year.