When Pam Whissel asked us to give a talk at the 2017 American Atheists convention on Righting America at the Creation Museum, our response was that if the American Atheists did not mind a couple of Catholics crashing their party, then we would be happy to speak!
Because of classes starting here at the University of Dayton, and because we have children to get off to high school, we could only be there for the first full day of the conference, which was this last Saturday. All the presentations were in the extraordinarily cold ballroom (the farther south one goes, the lower the thermostat on the air conditioning!) of the North Charleston [SC] Marriott. Cold as it was, the ballroom would have been even colder if it had not been packed.
It was nice that our talk came late in the afternoon, because that meant we had the opportunity to hear a full slate of presentations before it was our turn to speak. And the presentations indeed were fascinating. Here are highlights from four talks:
- David Silverman, President of American Atheists, gave the opening greeting . . . and when the attendees did not respond with sufficient enthusiasm he exhorted, “Come on! Are we Unitarians or are we Atheists?” (We were not the only ones who thought this was hilarious.) Interestingly, Silverman noted that while “big tent atheism” is his mantra, the events at Charlottesville – particularly the fact that there are alt-Right atheists – require the organization to affirm that it will not tolerate intolerance: “If you believe white supremacy is reasonable, if you think bigotry against certain groups is ok, then our tent is too small for you.”
- Yvette “SciBabe” D’Entremont went after food and health “gurus” such as David “Avocado” Wolfe , Vani Hari (“The Food Babe”) , and Mamavation. (If you have never ever heard of these folks, well, we hadn’t either, but apparently that is because we are not up on the pop culture of food, as these folks are making lots of money.) Having noted that while “science corroborates itself, bullshit can’t get its shit together,” D’Entremont concluded her presentation by admonishing attendees that: “You should not think of any of atheism’s leaders as gurus. We must be questioned.”
- Marsha Botzer – former co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – gave a talk in behalf of LGBTQ equal rights that was, in her cadences and her pathos, progressive revivalism at its best (think a non-gravelly Bernie Sanders). Better than Sanders, and more in keeping with Barack Obama (she was, after all, co-chair of the Obama Pride Campaign), she evinced a remarkable ability to turn a memorable phrase, including “we are diversity, not pathology,” and “atheism is not against religion, it is without religion.”
- But it was Fernando Alcantar who gave the real-deal revival sermon. This is not surprising, given that Alcantar – who is now an gay atheist activist – was formerly a denominational leader in the Foursquare Church in Mexico and the United Methodist Church in the US, as well as a global missionary for Azusa Pacific University. Much to our surprise, Alcantar did not talk about his conversation to atheism. Instead, he told the story of his stepfather’s death and how it was evangelicals took care of him in his time of pain. He then admonished atheists and humanists that there is more than just the intellect, and that they should take a page from evangelicals in being present for youth who are hurting.
An atheist speaking in behalf of evangelicals. Just one of many surprises at the 2017 American Atheists convention.