August 9, 2013

Divisive Bloggers at Atheist Conventions

Convention crowd - Chicago  (LOC)
Convention crowd - Chicago (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
Two of the big atheist conventions recently announced their lists of speakers: American Atheists' 40th Annual Convention and Skepticon 6. From a quick perusal of the lists, it is apparent that these conferences are selecting a different sort of speaker from those featured at TAM 2013. While many potential attendees are undoubtedly thrilled to have yet another opportunity to hear from their favorite bloggers, others are asking whether conventions interested in promoting a cohesive atheist movement might be making a mistake by selecting speakers with a reputation for being divisive within the atheist community.

Good speakers are often controversial, as they tend to be opinionated and passionate about what they do. It is difficult to imagine a good atheist speaker who will not rub some people the wrong way. Of course, we are not terribly worried about atheist speakers who rub religious people the wrong way. This is why I italicized the words "within the atheist community" in the paragraph above. The concern some have expressed with some of the speakers these conventions have selected is not that they may be seen as divisive by religious individuals but that they have been divisive among atheists

Here is how Lee Moore (A-News Reports) explained his concern with American Atheists' selection of speakers:
Two of its headliners are known promoters of the infighting that has plagued our movement. I am of course speaking about PZ Meyers and Greta Christina from Freethought Blogs. Atheists who have continuously used their popularity and platforms to promote the idea that some of us are worse than others by misrepresenting their fellow Atheists (such as unfounded accusations of racism to detractors or PZ’s infamous attack on a heroic figure like Justin Griffith ) and misrepresenting our movement by claiming that it is hostile to women. This infighting has turned many new atheists away from our common cause and made us look like a joke to some of our theist adversaries.
Moore goes on to note that he plans to skip the American Atheists convention and that he has seen others saying that they plan to do so too. However, Moore says that he is in no way calling for a boycott of American Atheists, an organization he continues to support. He also does not ask others to skip the convention, asking instead that those who share his concerns but are attending might consider skipping the talks by PZ and Greta Christina.
All in all I am disappointed that some of our major groups continue to look the other way when popular speakers damage our community. We have quite a large list of Atheists who are willing and able to speak well at these events and who have never sullied their good names in the muck that is our infighting.
I think he is right that we have many atheists who would be amply qualified to speak at such conventions and from whom attendees could learn a great deal. I also tend to agree with Moore that it is disappointing to see American Atheists inviting a couple of speakers who are known for contributing to "the shit" Silverman has condemned. Still, there are several other interesting speakers on the list. If I was interested in attending the American Atheists' convention, I would not let the presence of a couple of divisive bloggers stop me. It would be fairly easy to skip them and find plenty of other interesting speakers.

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