Atheist Alliance Internationalís 11th Annual Stars of Freethought Convention - Some Afterthoughts
Published April 04, 2006
The Atheist Alliance International in association with Atheists United as the host association in the alliance, held the 11th annual Stars of Freethought convention from March 25th to 27th 2005 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. At a time when secular values are under pressure everywhere in the world, the convention aimed at emphasizing the ethical nature of atheism as an ideology, discussing unique problems associated with society and governments in the world in the present and also invited speakers who had come out of different religions to share their personal experiences in doing this. The convention featured names like Richard Dawkins and Michael Newdow who are known to almost everyone in the atheist and freethinking community but it also introduced new names which were no less interesting. From young artist Joel Pelletier through actress Julia Sweeney and Air Force Academy lecturer Carlos Bertha to magicians like Penn and Teller who have devoted their profession! al life to exposing miracles and activists like Jon Nelson and his wife Laura who are school teachers, Sameer Wahaj (a businessman who does a show about his leaving Islam) and MM's host Alan Levin among people who came to offer their time and opinions and to learn from others. Personally, I learned good news about Mukto-Mona that should delight every member here, but that is to come in due course. I cannot let the best news out of the bag at this stage, can I?
If there were any doubts about the sheer courage that atheists have been known to display down history, it is my personal opinion that the credit for dispelling these at the conference went to two individuals. Dr Carlos Bertha, who, as a lecturer in the Air Force Academy, talked about the theory of "Just War" and bravely said in public that the present war in Iraq was an unjust one in his opinion and Sameer Wahaj who revealed his real name to the members at the convention when he talked about his journey out of Islam as a religion along with his sister. As someone who has been under threat of personal injury despite his taking a witty and non confrontational approach unlike his contemporaries Ali Sina and Abu Ibn Warraq, Wahaj struck an instant chord with his audience and left everyone who attended his session feeling that he should have been allotted a lot more time than the schedule there allowed him. His talk was broken into several parts: 1. "Born again Human" - what it took to break out of "the matrix" and see the world as it really is 2. Contradictions in Islam 3. The inequality of women in Islam 4. The American Muslim today and 5. Coming full circle - Why the term "American Muslim" is a paradox. It is to be hoped that we would receive his participation on MM and he has agreed, in principle, to do this.
In a time when many view the secularism debate as a debate that is also one between superstition and science, it has been common for proponents of religion to drag the name of Albert Einstein into their arguments as Einstein was fond of using the term "god" in several letters and writings. Alan Levin presented a landmark talk on "Einstein's Religion" at the convention to analyse what Einstein meant when he talked about a god. The talk found favour with the large body of scientists at the convention, not the least with the man described as the world's most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins himself.
The keynote address by Richard Dawkins dwelled on his latest project, a television serial on religion and a book that he would be writing alongside the serial for ITN in the UK. Prof Dawkins led a long discussion with members of the audience on various topics that they would prefer to see covered in the serial and the book. The discussion is to continue throughout the filming on e-mail and those who prefer to send their suggestions may do so via his publishers or ITN television.
Due to a paucity of time, there were three or four sessions run simultaneously and that was the only unfortunate aspect to the convention in my personal opinion. There was a lot to learn and not being able to attend some sessions because of attending others only meant that less was learned overall. But then, this is a problem with any large gathering of this type and it only renewed my personal determination to attend next year's convention wherever it is conducted.
And then on to the good news - Leo Igwe, Co-ordinator of the Nigerian Humanist Movement was awarded the Freidenker's Award for an outstanding contribution to world atheism. He is, as readers know, a contributor to MM and the facts about the movement's problems in Nigeria were brought out to the audience, not the least of which was that the movement did not even have a computer. An impromptu collection was raised to collect money to buy a computer and the computer and the award would be sent to him very soon.
Now comes the best news of all, something that everyone here should be proud of. Alan Levin announced that Mukto Mona is currently the website with the fourth highest rate of traffic among all atheist websites in the world. This is superb news indeed and I hope that we shall be able to slowly make our way to the top of the list in a sense of friendly competition with out peers in this field. Please watch out for articles which would be coming in from time to time.
Mehul Kamdar is currently moderating Mukto-Mona forum. He is from Chennai, India, currently living in Wisconsin, USA. He was the editor of The Modern Rationalist under the late M D Gopalakrishnan; and associated with various rationalist movement.