Sorry, PE, you missed your chance for that “night out” with Catherine Deveny. She is one of the speakers at the “sold out” The Rise of Atheism 2010 Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne 12-14 March 2010.
There was a bit of bruhahah last year about the fact that the Government gave financial support to the Parliament of the World’s Religions and not to this Athiest Convention. The reason is fairly simple, I think, and has nothing to do with the State supporting religion over secularism (as if). It is the simple fact that the Parliament was, to all extents and purposes, a “multi-cultural” event. The Atheist Convention isn’t.
Just look at the line up of speakers. There are one or two non-Anglo-Saxons. There are women (eg. Deveny) involved – mostly on one panel – but the majority of speakers are male. There are no cultural events besides comedy (and you can be sure that they won’t be laughing at themselves). No food, no dance, no ritual, no art, no song, no music. Where are the indigenous, who were so well represented at the Parliament? Where are the third world representatives?
As far as I can make out, the Government sponsored the Parliament of the World’s Religions because it was a creative event that was seen to enrich our vibrant multicultural society here in Melbourne. They didn’t see the Atheist Convention in the same light.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ of Eureka Street has an interesting take. He says he is about as excited about this event as he would be if Melbourne were hosting a “an international convention of Christian evangelists”. Mmm. Says a lot about where Fr Hamilton is coming from. He later clarifies in the comment string that “When I referred to Christian Evangelists I did not mean groups in denominations other than Catholic, but people who focus on ‘selling their message’ aggressively.” Okay, well, we’ll leave that well enough alone and let it speak for itself, and look at what he says about how we should engage our atheistic brethren and sistern:
The wellsprings and justification for religious faith, and for other foundational views of life, are to be found in qualities of human experience that are not susceptible to large, knockdown and narrow arguments. 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.
Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.
In conversation we can tease out the subtleties of our intuitions, and the ways in which we account for the beauty and the complexities of our world. We can explore why people find religious faith persuasive, and also come to see how people put together their lives and their world without it.
Now, in one respect, I think that Fr Hamilton is right: we should be engaging in conversation with the Atheists, Rationalists and Humanists. In fact, the Commission for which I work is doing just that, and have started by inviting a member of the Rationalist Society to our Interreligious Symposium on Death and Dying (Lyn Allison, who is coincidentally appearing at the Atheist Convention also).
But in another respect, I think he is dead wrong. The “wellsprings and justification for [Christian] religious faith” is NOT “to be found in qualities of human experience”. Christian “Faith in God and in humanity” is NOT “rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation”. This is because the Christian faith, unlike the religious philosophies of the East (for instance) are not built upon “the subtleties of our intuitions”, but upon the eye-witness verified fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not say that we cannot have a fruitful dialogue with our Atheist pals about religious experience and intuition. If you can find an Atheist who is prepared to acknowledge that such a thing exists in the first place. Its just that this is neither the “wellspring” nor the “justification” for our faith. Just as their atheism is (according to their claim) based on ration and demonstrable facts, so is our Christian faith. To forget this is already to have moved yourself into a position of checkmate.