A Global Atheism Convention to be held here in 2018 with a who’s who of guest speakers, has been cancelled due to a lack of interest.
Conversely, an event that keeps on growing, the Hillsong Conference in Sydney, has seen increased attendances over the past three years.
What does that say about the state of Atheism in Australia?
“After a while protest movements fade, because once you get angry at something, where do you go from there?”
That’s Robert Martin’s opinion. Robert’s from City Bible Forum in Melbourne and believe it or not, he attended the 2012 Atheist Convention and said he thoroughly enjoyed it. As you do!??
“I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the quality and the popular speakers they had and I was looking forward to the 2018 Convention,” Robert shared, before qualifying it to say the world has changed since 2012.
“The cancellation… It’s partly due to the speakers they chose this time. Also in 2012 they were riding the crest of a wave of interest in what was popularly termed the New Atheism.”
This was a group of writers who included Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer.
“They were leading what you might call a protest against what they saw as the excesses, the new nationality of religion.”
Since then there’s been what Robert Martin calls a shift in the psyche of modern atheists and the 2018 speakers reflected that. Only one of the 2012 guests was in the proposed line-up.
“In 2018 they tried to move Atheism into being more of a movement for social change, yet I think they misunderstood what they had done at the first convention and tried to do something that people weren’t really interested in,” was Roberts assessment. He believes it’s the reason the convention was cancelled.
But Robert said he enjoyed the atheists 2012 gathering. Question – What’s a Christian to enjoy at an Atheist Convention?
“I enjoyed the exchange of ideas. I’d read the books of the top speakers, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Now I vehemently disagreed with a lot of what they said.”
Robert said in a robust democracy we should be forced to think and hear from the thinkers themselves rather than hearing what we think they said or what somebody else said they said.
“But some things I agreed with. Their critiques on the failure of religion. I agreed and I mourned over that particular point. And I was stimulated to think, ‘Why are they wrong and how can I articulate a reasonable response?’’
Robert spoke more on the 2012 convention and how Daniel Dennett talked about Christians who might not actually be Christians.
“Daniel was dealing with a very different type of what he called Christianity compared to what I believe.”
“He was talking about those who might tick ‘Christian’ in a census box but don’t believe any of the key doctrines. So, actually we’re talking about different things. To go to the convention and get that clarity was a useful experience,” Robert remarked.
Robert said if we try to engage with atheists there’s a need to agree on what is being discussed. Robert also justified buying and reading books by atheists to learn their arguments.
“If these were the best arguments atheists had then I wanted to know them,” said Robert, saying he didn’t want to commit his life to a lie.
“I’d encourage Christians to at least engage and understand and read these types of works so when we discuss their arguments I believe the Bible has the answers.”
As for the key doctrines of the Atheism religion?
“I’m surprised sometimes at how intelligent people can be convinced by such bad arguments. I would generally describe it as the new Atheism.
As far as the new Atheism movement (or the Atheism religion as it’s officially recognised by the US Supreme Court) is concerned, Robert said it has lost its shine.
Atheists were initially protesting against what they perceived to be the impact of religion in the public sphere – the catalyst being the New York terrorist attack in 2001.
“Sam Harris said he began writing his book ‘The End of Faith’ on the 12th September 2001. They all refer to this moment. The new Atheism began as a series of books were published from 2004 to 2011.”
Robert said these books were driven by the protest and the anger that came particularly from the September 11 attacks.
“What this new Atheism was characterised by was an aggressive response to what they saw as the irrational and dangerous movement of religion in society,” Robert explained.
What Robert was driving at was the 2012 Convention had worked well on a foundation of protest and anger, but not so the failed 2018 Convention that has been cancelled due to a lack of interest.
“The challenge is trying to create a Convention based on protest that’s become problematic when trying to go beyond that protest.”
“They’re trying to take Atheism beyond ‘We’re angry at religion and we’re shaking our fists at God’ even though (for atheists) He’s not even there in their minds, which is kind of funny.”
Robert said this was one of the things that characterised the new Atheism.
“I hate God even though He’s not there.’ ‘There is no God, and I hate Him’, that’s what they say,” was Robert’s condensed version of the Atheism mantra.
That said, the failed Atheism convention has been one outcome, but what about the current crisis of Christian faith? Is there a correlation between the two?
Robert Martin said this is a possibility. The word apathy came to mind.
“We really don’t think much about spiritual things at all. We really try to have as much fun as we can and we ignore these questions and that’s one of the frustrations – apathy,” was Robert’s observation.
“One of the biggest challenges I have running a ministry like I do in the city of Melbourne is people’s disinterest in spiritual things.”
“Same goes for the Atheist convention. People are not interested in talking about the big questions of life.”
Interestingly enough the cancelled Atheist convention was called ‘Reason to Hope’. The irony was not lost on Robert.
“It’s ironic that a convention with a reason for hope got cancelled. This indicates that maybe there’s not as much hope in the atheist mind as they would like to think there would be.”
This contrasts dramatically to the Christian message as the Hillsong conventions indicate.
“There is a message to share. There is a message of hope and a message that will transcend the particular circumstances.”
“Christians have held that dearly right since the resurrection of Jesus which gave us a living hope as 1 Peter tells us.”
It’s because of this reason for hope that Robert Martin is confident Christian conventions will continue to grow and go from strength to strength as opposed to an atheist worldview that promises very little.
City Bible Forum explores some of life’s biggest questions. Perhaps you are considering where God might fit into your life. Our aim is to explore this with you in an open manner that is enjoyable, intellectually credible and which meets the needs of professional life. We love to discuss the relevance of God and the many obstacles to faith people have. We do this in a variety of forums and discussion groups over breakfast, lunch and after work at many different city venues.
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City Bible Forum is a non-denominational Christian organisation that has been serving the business community since 1991. We are active in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, and have informal connections in other centres. We are committed to making the discussion of life’s challenges and of the Bible as convenient and accessible as possible.
The Real Face of Atheism (Ravi Zacharias)
God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists (Ray Comfort)