The next morning after breakfast I headed down to the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center Ballroom for the speaking event. After a brief introduction by Director Arlene-Marie the speaking portion of the convention was underway. I went in to the convention with some preexisting thoughts and convictions and came away with a variety of positive impressions.
He concluded his talk with an overview of what a 527 non-profit political organization is and how they influence the selection of political candidates. He gave an overview of the aims and goals of this organization and how far they've come since inception. I was particular impressed with some of his points during the talk. He spoke against anti-theism and some of the more immature views I've seen in the atheist community in favor of inclusiveness and a narrow focus on secularism. My favorite part was when he advocated ethics instead of morality in politics which brought a smile to my face. I came away with a positive impression of the organization and its aims.
Nathan spent most of his time talking about the work that was done over the past year by the SCA and I thought their accomplishments were impressive given the time-frame and the limited resources. He went over their political scorecards, research, and lobbying efforts and their plans to solidify a presence in every state. He spoke frankly about the need to have a large headcount and actual money to effect change in our government. This resonated with me as one of things I have noticed is the low headcounts and small bank accounts of major secular and atheistic organizations. I decided to watch this organization this next year to see if they continue to ramp up their efforts.
We broke for lunch and I wound up at Troy's table and was able to participate in a discussion about the political progress secularism has made and the hidden potential of the nonreligious. It has been a long time since I found atheism itself interesting as an idea. What is more important to me is seeing my country's secular
basis for government restored, immediately. I found these political organizations a good start to achieving the progress we so desperately need.
After lunch we were treated to a break from the standard focus on secularism. Dr.Vivekanand Palavali gave a talk on his new film The Bitter Pill. Vivekanand is a brain surgeon, filmmaker and author whose first film Creator of God brought him to a previous state convention in the same hotel. The talk he gave on the subject of health care in the states this time was quite fascinating to listen to.
He clearly explained why our health care is so shoddy while remaining so extraordinarily expensive while moving between research on the matter and his own experience in the industry. He presented a dichotomy between the current direction the country is moving and a reasonable single-payer system while remaining realistic about the future chances of swift and easy change. His Q&A had to be cut short due to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.
The last speaker of the afternoon was Jerry DeWitt. The first graduate of The Clergy Project presented a talk he called Hope After Faith which is the title of a book he wrote coming out this June. The talk was something I recall hearing about before somewhere on the internet but I didn't regret hearing it firsthand. He covered his own personal experience as a preacher and believer and the deep sacrifices it took for him to free himself from that chapter in his life.
While listening to him I found myself reminiscing on my own personal journey from fervent Christianity to atheism. It was a slow journey that took almost ten years that started out as an intellectual discovery but ultimately was emotional in nature. Atheists often point to philosophical argumentation and scientific empiricism as the basis of their views but I think this misses the emotional aspects of believing. I noticed during his talk about his ministry that he focused on things like funerals and weddings. I think less talk of science and philosophy and more discussion about the human experiences involved with leaving religion and the humanistic outlook that is I think inevitably follows is desirable.
We retired to the reception suite again for drinks and conversation. I spent a good deal of time in discussion with Troy Boyle. Later I found myself on a couch drunk from too much wine discussing social justice alongside secular ideals with several Michigan Atheist members. I was a bit wary of the atheist community after seeing all sorts of unethical garbage around the internet (Watson,etc) that I found this end to the convention to be very pleasing.