Over the past three days, atheists from around the world have been meeting in Melbourne, Australia for the 2010 Global Atheist Convention. Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, and PZ Myers were just a few of the atheist luminaries on hand to bolster the atheist community and inspire them to increasing confidence and boldness in a world (supposedly) dominated by religion.
I have been tracking the blog of this event hosted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion Section with interest over the last few days. As far as I have been able to tell, the event has, predictably, contained a bit of the juvenile “let’s make fun of how stupid religious people are” mentality but also some thoughtful and reflective voices wondering about what role atheism might play in public life in the twenty-first century. The whole blog is worth checking out as there are a number of very interesting posts by theists and atheists alike.
I was particularly intrigued by one of today’s closing posts containing an interview with one of the conference attendees because it highlights the simple truth that atheists and theists alike are motivated by some of the same things. In response to the question of why he came to the 2010 Global Atheist Convention, an atheist named James had this to say:
I guess one of the biggest reasons is the quest for community. We’re all very similar genetically and there is a need for people of no faith to have the same level of community that people of faith have. In the secular world we haven’t created a good alternative to the communities that people of faith have.
I think that one of the things I find is that the secular world is not as good at talking about emotional stuff. There’s definitely a need for that sense that you can open up to people and talk about things that trouble you. My view of the church and religious organisations is that they create the environment where people can walk in off the street and talk about what is going on in their life. In the secular world it can be very lonely if you don’t have the right kinds of friends.
I think the next thing the secular community needs to address, which is far more important than taking on religion, is looking after our emotional needs and creating that support base.
A quick scan of the blogosphere will quite quickly provide numerous examples of how not to talk about differences of belief. The rhetoric from and about the new atheism can be (and often is) divisive, polarizing, and just plain nasty. But this interview seems to be one small example of a better way. It makes me cautiously optimistic that in a world divided over religion and the role it plays, we can still sit down as human beings who have common hopes and longings and discuss our differences civilly and respectfully.
Read the rest of the interview here.