Sunday, November 15, 2009

More on the Texas Freethought Convention

          Continuing on with the rest of the speakers at the 2009 Texas Freethought Convention......

          After more socializing, Stuart Bechman, the President of the Atheist Alliance International (AAI), spoke about building freethought communities. He started out by outlining the mission of AAI as to help local atheist and freethought organizations to grow and thrive. These types of growing atheist communities have already been a phenomenon that has been gaining speed, making large strides over the last 20 years or so.
          Bechman went on to make it clear that one of the biggest walls that we face is that most people don't know what kinds of people atheists really are, and we need to concentrate on becoming more noticed and visible as a community and a part of out society, Matt Dillahunty had stated in a brief introduction to Bechman, that we need to get the word out that we are not baby killing monsters! The AAI, Bechman said, is focusing on being a face for atheism and focusing on doing this from the grassroots. In fact, the AAI is actually actively working around the globe to have an international effect in showing the face of atheism and humanism.
          The Out Campaign, originating from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, is an example of our campaign, as atheists, to be as visible as we can and be out there. And campaings like The Out Campaign or the atheist billboard campaign (like the ones put up around the country by the CoR) are not just to say "hey, look at me, I'm an atheist", and start trouble. No, these types of campaigns are to get more visible, and get the word out that we are a large community of normal, decent people that deserve our place in society, that we have a voice, and we are here to stay.
          Bechman states that AAI looks at atheism based on such aspects as moral values, compassion, and living a valid life of integrity. He stressed the fact that we've had no strong history of secularism in this country and we, as atheists, are used to being inundated. However, the truth is that atheism is a world view based on knowledge and rationalism. Furthermore, freethought is about saying, "I think that there is a more moral way (to raise kids, family, etc.)", and we can't rely on the's all up to us. And finally, we are here to let society know that we are here, that we should and we deserve to be respected, and that our views should be respected.
          Bechman continues by bringing to mention that, although many don't realize it,  the United States military is actually the largest exporter of religion to the rest of the world. Proselytizing our soldiers and sending them out to proselytize to the rest of the world is a huge enterprise in the US military. US military chaplains,  for example, used to be expected to cater to all faiths, not just their own. This changed however, when the Regan administration passed legislation, unnoticed by many, which ended this. Now, decades later, the US military is the largest purveyor of christianity in the world. Soldiers are given coins with bible verses on the back of them and bibles all to be passed out where they are at, and a huge piece of the military budget actually is spent on this.
          In closing, the talk turns to these "faith based initiatives", put in place by Bush, and continued by Obama, which upon a closer look, reveal some disturbing aspects. This year AAI applied for a grant to help with AIDS/HIV medicine and treatment in Uganda, and was astonished to find that amongst the quidelines were requirements to:

  • NOT talk about condoms!
  • DO talk about male circumcision
  • Get permission slips from the top 5 religious groups in Uganda
  • To show how we will be encouraging local citizens to look to their local religious leaders for medical advice!
          These are amongst the reasons why we need be a part of this movement, be open, get out there. Nothing will be done without us getting out there and letting officials know that we are out there, we are organized, and we have political power. Atheists all need to speak out and become role models in our communities.
          Bechman then took questions before closing. In all, his talk was inspiring, and the type of message that needs to get out to atheists and freethinkers everywhere. Get in tough with organizations like the AAI and others, organize freethinker communities, and not only get our presence known, but do something to show that we are part of the community.

          We took a dinner break, after which Dan Barker, President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), who is also a wonderful musician, played some songs, the first of which I really liked and was called Beware of Dogma (his CDs can be purchased through the FFRF website). He played a few songs, all of which I enjoyed, and went on to tell his story of his history of de-conversion after spending decades as an evangelist minister. I got distracted and didn't take many notes on Barker's speach, and I wouldn't want to misquote him, but I found a youtube clip of him telling part of this story here, and this page, which tells a bit about his story and has links to his books which tell his story in more detail.

Here is a clip from the Convention, with Dan Barker playing Beware of Dogma
I love it, fits perfectly with the title of my blog :-)

          After his talk, Dan Barker took questions and closed, and they set up the stage for a panel question and answer session with all four speakers plus Clare Wuellner, from the Center For Inquiry and all, in turn gave their answers for several final questions before the close and the end of the convention.


  1. Damn! Did I say all those things? What a great presentation. I'm even more impressed at the level of detail you captured, I didn't remember half the things you noted from my talk.

    Thanks for the great coverage!

    -Stuart (not Viktor) Bechman

  2. I'm honored to see you here reading my little blog. I'm just trying to get the word out to whoever I might be able to reach.

    However, I am embarrassed, and I offer you my sincerest apologies for typing your name wrong. I feel bad about that, but it has been fixed. And please, let me know if anything else from your speech is incorrect. I took notes while at the convention for the purpose of summarizing for those who did not have the opportunity to attend.