Tuesday, March 25, 2008

34th Annual American Atheists Conference

The 34th Annual American Atheists conference (we no longer refer to them as conventions) was held in Minneapolis, MN. Among the speakers was Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and Dr. Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist and cosmologist who gave a fascinating lecture entitled “Much Ado About Nothing: A Cosmic Mystery Story” regarding the structure--and future--of the universe.

It was my pleasure to introduce one of the speakers at the convention (most of my one-liners fell flat): Robert Lanham, author of the book The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right, containing humorous profiles, and indicates by their level of importance to the movement, the wing nuts at the center of the Evangelical Right, e.g., Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggart (who was seeing a male prostitute, unbeknownst to the author at the time), and includes some of my personal favorites: Joyce Meyers, Jimmy Swaggart and the inimitable Jack Chick. If you've never heard of Jack Chick you've probably seen one or two of his little cartoon tracts. They are approximately 3"x5" booklets of about a dozen pages and usually feature stories depicting a young person being seduced by Satan and then burning in Hell in the last frame. His tracts are very popular and are widely collected by believers and non-believers alike. I have a small collection of my own. Nobody doesn't get it like Jack Chick doesn't get it. I consider him to be the Garry Trudeau of Assholes.

I also managed to tape four segments of one of my cable shows, "NYC Atheists Live! (On Tape)"; two with Dr. David Eller, a professor of anthropology at a state university in Denver, Colorado. I interviewed him three years ago at the Philadelphia convention. At the time he was promoting his book, Natural Atheism, which is a great introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the subject. This time we discussed, in part, his new books, Atheism Advanced and Introduction: Anthropology of Religion, the latter being more of a text book. He dispelled many of the misconceptions of what religion is "about." It is not, for instance, about "God," a shared experience, morality or mythology, although they each may be included in a given religious view. His speech to the convention was entitled, “Religion is Not What You Believe: How Religion Works without Belief or Meaning to Colonize Experience.”

The other interview I did was with Jack Richter, a gay man from the St. Cloud, MN area who is an ex-member of an "ex-gay" organization called EXODUS, a Christian organization devoted to "curing" gays. I asked him about his background, etc. and how he found his way into--and out of--EXODUS. Unsurprisingly, there is much hypocrisy connected with the organization and much cheating on the program. He is also a trained opera singer and has a mellifluous voice, having studied in New York.

Among the items discussed is one of the great ironies of the extreme Evangelical Right: their homophobia is based upon the King James translation of the Book of Leviticus in the (misnamed) Old Testament. King James was notoriously, unapologetically, IN YOUR FACE gay. I think it is one of the great tragedies of human literature that King James didn't do the translation himself instead of commissioning contemporary scholars. If he had written his own bible we would now know what Jesus was wearing. How much better off would the world have been if instead of fire and brimstone the Gospels had been written thusly:

"As He gave His Sermon on the Mount Our Lord looked FAAAAAABULOUS, fresh as a daisy and all ready for the beach in his cherry red terry cloth robe and cowl combination with sandals from Caesarea.

He spake thus unto the multitude: 'Blessed are those who save their receipts!'

And the multitude clicked in the air three times and responded, 'You go, girl!'"