Reflections on Imagine No Religion 3

Some thoughts and comments on Imagine No Religion 3, a conference for freethinkers from May 17-19, 2013 in Kamloops, BC.

For the third year in a row, Bill and Kathy Ligertwood invited over 200 of their closest freethinking friends to visit them in Kamloops for a weekend of imagining a world without religion. The weekend featured speakers from Romania to Bangladesh, with moving personal stories about fighting persecution in religious households and tools for advancing rationality.

If I had to give a theme to each day, Saturday focused on compassion. K. Sohail discussed his Secular Humanist approach which involves sitting down with people of different faiths and discussing commonalities and how to make the world more peaceful. Philosopher Peter Boghossian gave a crash course in “street epistemology” and how to move people from faith to reason by sidestepping the debates over god or revelation. Aruna Papp’s incredibly touching story of growing up in a patriarchal Seventh Day Adventist family in India and her path to humanism and defending South Asian women brought the audience to tears.

In the second half of the day, Richard Carrier gave us a Bayesian (mathematics based on statistics) approach to the historicity of Jesus – turns out he’s more likely myth than historical figure, while Louise Antony stirred the pot by disagreeing with many of the speakers over the biases of scientists and the dangers of American exceptionalism. Finally, Brian Dalton gave us a humorous conclusion with his character Mr. Deity.

Sunday was then the day for action in the face of the dangers of religion. DJ Grothe, speaking for the James Randi Educational Foundation, argued that while skeptics, Humanists, and atheists share much common ground in the wider rational movement, there is a necessary division of labour with groups like his tackling testable paranormal claims while others build communities. Next, X-Files co-star William B. Davis (the cigarette smoking man) told his story as he developed skepticism even while working on what Richard Dawkins once called a dangerous show that promoted irrationality. Davis finished with a call to arms against religious extremism in our government and anti-science attitudes that threaten our ability to fight climate change. This call was echoed by Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, in the afternoon. We also heard from Romanian Cristina Rad and Texan Aron Ra, who both promote atheism over YouTube. We also had Victor Stenger discussed physics and the atom.

The day finished off with Taslima Nasrin who spoke on her life fighting the religious patriarchy of her homeland, Bangladesh. As Islamic extremists have begun to consolidate power in that country, atheist bloggers are facing growing persecution and her writings have gotten sent her into exile as fatwas have been issued against her. The only home she now has is among freethinkers around the world as she is not allowed back to her homeland.

Finally, Daniel Dennett took to the stage to provide the keynote talk. Dennett, best known for Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, spoke about The Clergy Project, a community for priests and religious leaders who have lost their belief in god but are dependent on their careers as ministers to maintain their livelihood. Dennett argued that the next 10 years will see more change in organized religion than the previous 100 years, which was more dramatic than the previous millennia. It wasn't all good news though as some of the crumbling will lead to growth of extremist cells, even as the number of non-believers grows exponentially.

Overall it was a fantastic weekend and I can’t give enough praise to the entire crew that made it happen. Look forward to Imagine No Religion 4 next year.

Photos from Fred Bremmer

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