September 12, 2008 – Friday
Atheist News by Edwin Kagin
KENTUCKY ATHEISTS NEWS & NOTES Date: September 12, 2008
Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 666, Union, KY 41091; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (859) 384-7000; Fax: (859) 384-7324;
Editor’s personal web site: www.edwinkagin.com
Edwin Kagin, Kentucky State Director, American Atheists, Inc.
(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)
IT IS OKAY TO BE AN ATHEIST
To Unidentified Recipients:
WE HAVE WHITE SMOKE!
ED BUCKNER IS THE NEW PRESIDENT OF AMERICAN ATHEISTS.
Y’all get busy and help get this organization get going again y’hear!!!
It is a rat race. And the rats are winning.
We need to change this sad fact, and our new leader is going to help us do just that.
Congratulations to our new President of American Atheists, Dr. Edward M. Buckner, aka Ed.
Quit feeling sorry for yourself, join American Atheists, get others to join, volunteer, and help him out.
Our greatest days are yet to come.
This is the first day of the rest of your life.
(by David Silverman, National Spokesperson for American Atheists)
American Atheists Names ED BUCKNER as President
Ladies and gentlemen,
As the National Spokesperson for American Atheists, I am proud to introduce our new President, Dr. Ed Buckner.
Many of you who are active in the movement will know of Dr. Buckner’s accomplishments, originating in the Atlanta Chapter of the Society of Separationists (then an American Atheists affiliated corporation), helping to grow the Atlanta Freethought Society through its formative years, and then most recently serving as the Executive Director of the Counsel for Secular Humanism.
A hardcore Atheist, Dr. Buckner has written, spoken, debated, and appeared often in the media, both locally and nationally. He has been on MSNBC, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Fox News, the Michael Medved Show, CNN, the national CBS Radio News, NPR, and on nearly every local media outlet (radio or television) in the Atlanta and Buffalo areas, most repeatedly. He’s been quoted, sometimes at length, in newspapers all over the nation and, occasionally, elsewhere in the world, been a featured guest on many Internet broadcast shows, and given the keynote address for Atheists Alliance International.
Dr Buckner has debated or spoken in Alabama, California, Connecticut, DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and a few times outside the U.S. He earned a doctorate (1983) and M.Ed. (1975) from Georgia State University; B.A., English, Rice University, 1967.
We had a FANTASTIC response from world-class atheist leaders for this position, and on behalf of the Board of Directors I thank every applicant.
Please help me welcome Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists!
Ed’s first official statement follows:
Dear American Atheists Members, Volunteers, and Supporters,
I’m deeply honored to have been named as President of American Atheists by the Board. I’m determined to show all of you, in due course, that the Board, which had an important but difficult decision, was wise to choose me. I don’t know all the details of who else applied, but I know enough to know that the list of applicants included many Atheists of the first order, men and women of great promise, intelligence, creativity, and accomplishment, including leaders from within American Atheists and from beyond. While this makes me even prouder of being chosen, it also puts great pressure on me to work hard.
1. I will put American Atheists and her members first.
2. The many other leaders and supporters of the group who make themselves available to help, with advice or work or financial contributions, will be welcomed and encouraged.
3. Communication will be a top priority, especially with Atheists wise and strong enough to be card-carrying members. The excellent blog that David Silverman edits will be a major part of that—I will read and take seriously what all of you choose to say there. I will at least occasionally contribute to the comments, always openly and under my own name. The American Atheist web-site will, with the help of many, be kept up to date.
4. American Atheists will remain true to its proud heritage as the vanguard of American atheism and religious liberty; we have always been the most forthright, unabashed, unapologetic, confident people in this nation who have no religion, and that will continue.
5. American Atheists will openly cooperate with and support other groups, local, national, or international, to the extent that doing so will serve the interests of our philosophy and our members. The only exceptions to this promise will come where there are conflicts with 4, above.
6. If a local group of American Atheists anywhere in this nation wants me or some other official representative of the organization to visit, to speak or to debate against some bombastic preacher or condescending media personality, we will do everything we can to fulfill that want.
7. If a newspaper, radio program, TV program, or Internet show anywhere in this nation invites me or some other official representative of the organization to speak or to debate against some religious leader, we will do everything we can to fulfill that invitation.
8. The Center in Cranford New Jersey, including our fine library, will be protected and enhanced to improve its usefulness to members and to future Atheists.
I’m not Frank Zindler or Ellen Johnson or Jon Murray or Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and I won’t pretend to be—but I hope to demonstrate that the best days of American Atheists are ahead, not historical. I’m grateful, and I think all of us should be profoundly grateful, to our previous leaders, who have stood strongly and proudly for us, helping us protect our rights, our reputations, and our freedom. All of them have demonstrated wonderful creativity, wit and humor, extraordinary intelligence, and profound courage on our behalf.
Anyone who wants to know more about me can send me an e-mail message and I’ll send you a copy of what I submitted to the board when I applied.
I invite you to hold me accountable.
American Atheists, Inc.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Stalking the Devil’s Advocate
There is surely a temptation to follow Christopher Hitchens around with a pen and notepad so as not to miss the gems of humor, wit and sincere passion- had I known the day would be so long, I myself might not have resisted. I’m glad I did. What follows is my chronology of a day in the life of this very public figure leading up to, during and following his debate with Frank Turek at Virginia Commonwealth University on September 9th 2008 entitled “Does God Exist?”.
My daughter Julianna and I arrived the night before to meet with Roy Roberts, president of the Secular Student Union, who had arranged the event. It was then that he informed us that we would be invited to attend a luncheon with Mr. Hitchens prior to the debate. Our pleasure was redoubled when we discovered that this would take place at an Indian restaurant. Having traveled from Cincinnati Ohio to Richmond Virginia for the event I could have scarcely imagined better news. We had come in the hopes of gleaning a few short moments in which we could ask some questions for our Answers In Atheism podcast on Thursday evenings, now we would get to observe him in a small group as friends, relaxing over a buffet.
Books in tow for signing and cameras ready, we arrived to join the group of organisers. The place was small, our group of about fifteen took up most of the restaurant. It is always a pleasure to meet the people who put their efforts toward the advancement of understanding of the issues we all face, and these were no exceptions. Christopher Hitchens appeared unceremoniously, the ward for the day of the students who had worked so hard to plan the debate. There were no formal introductions, he asked if we should help ourselves to the buffet, and we all raced to fill our plates. That was it, we were off. Having been an avid fan for some time of his debates and lectures, I was already familiar with his stances on many of the more topical issues. What I really wanted to learn about was the man behind the words. Arguably among the most well-read authors of our time, Hitchens has a reputation of being strident if not arrogant. I have often wondered if this was more a reflection of the subject material than of him as an actual person. The man I spent the day with was the very embodiment of patience, eloquence and candor. He would get no breaks from the relentless questions from myself and everyone else for the rest of the day, the requests for “just one more” picture, autograph, or answer to some burning question from both sympathisers and detractors. He would disappoint no one.
It was my sincere intention to eat and listen, however my big mouth has a mind of its own. I was sitting directly across the table from a man I admire greatly- an opportunity not likely to be repeated in the near future. I only wanted to know one thing- everything. Barring that, I’d settle for everything else. Why does he support the war? He explained that in a quieter time he would be a one-issue voter on the issue of separation of church and state, a condition that makes America unique from the rest of the world. That we stand alone as the only country to have a truly secular government is a fact to be celebrated and defended, he reminds us. He makes me proud to be an American, at a time when I’m not so sure. However, we find ourselves where we are at present, our country embroiled in a nasty war of dubious beginnings, with the dire necessity of some sort of resolution. He reminds me that people all over the world are human beings and have a right not to live under the tyranny of religious zealotry, and that they need and deserve our support. I do believe that human rights supersede American rights, although I remain in turmoil as to our responsibility to insure them. I countered that many of us who willfully take on the title of “lefties” are doubtful that such a goal as emancipation from religious tyranny is likely, and not even on the agenda of our military. He believes the downfall and scattering of the most egregious regimes will accomplish improved secularism by default. He is asked by another attendee if there was a catalyst that made him feel this was particularly important right now, and he replied that September 11th made it clear what kind of threat the parties of god offer. As a man who has spent a great deal of time both on travel to and study of these cultures, he is someone from what is often the “other side” from me politically whose opinions I seek out.
There was round two at the buffet, and I asked if he might spare some time for a brief interview for our podcast on Thursday. He invited Julianna and I without hesitation to join him immediately before his debate, a time he claims is always boring and uneventful. I looked across the sea of faces hoping to get their questions in, and doubted he’d have time to be bored. There was nice strong Indian tea. More conversation. The restaurant was closed for midday before we were ushered out, at which time the meeting convened on the sidewalk. Hitchens was whisked away to visit some local sites of interest including the Jefferson Hotel, but not before he reminded Julianna and I to find him before the debate for the interview, to my delight.
The room was huge and the crowd sparse an hour before the show. The planning was coming together- I recognised doormen, ushers, cameramen and film crews from lunch. We found our reserved seats, and were quickly summoned to interview Hitchens in the green room. As the results will be discussed on our Answers In Atheism podcast with Edwin Kagin, I won’t repeat them here, but Hitchens was as cordial and generous with his time as could be imagined. Cameras clicked, people wandered in and out interjecting throughout and he never lost his composure, or his place in our conversation. This, only moments before he would take the stage. Turek came in to introduce himself before the debate, informing Hitchens that he’s a great fan. Hitchens replied, “It’s early”.
We reclaimed our seats in the now jam-packed auditorium of five hundred, with two overflow rooms full as well. The debate was, well it was a debate between a theist and an atheist so there really isn’t anything new that can come out of it. Turek made the usual objections which amount to “I personally don’t understand science so therefore goddidit!!!” and Hitchens volleyed back with great dignity that human beings deserve more respect than to be shamed by people claiming to represent a non-existent being. Check youtube for video of the nearly two-hour debate, it was frustrating to me to have to sit silent through the litany of irrationality Turek passed off as “evidence”. Apparently evidence is now something an incredibly ignorant person manufactures in their own head- baseless assertions and postulations that the rest of us are supposed to “respect”. Ugh. Why is Hitchens mad at god? Ugh. How did something come from nothing? Ugh. Why can’t he just accept that things are too perfectly in tune not to be the intentional creation of a supreme being? Double ugh. Quotes from “important people” who proclaim supernatural necessity. Christ. You get the picture. As passionate as Hitchens clearly is on the subject, he avoids underlining the problem as it actually exists- you can’t reason with utter absurdity. That large numbers of people believe utter absurdity makes no comment on its truth content. Hitchens prefers instead to refute specific claims rather than to call the man stupid, I doubt I could have managed that myself. I’ve heard there are no such things as stupid questions, and this I now know for certain to be false.
Does the long day near a close? Hardly! After a standing ovation for what was surely among the more interesting debates I’ve seen of his, the moderator announces that Hitchens will be available afterward for pictures and book signings. The line of hopefuls spills out down the corridor and out the door- he will not leave the table for another two hours until every last request is satisfied, every picture snapped. He declines my offer for coffee, reminding one of the organisers it’s nearly 10 pm and he’d like to get a sandwich when they’re done. He grants one last filmed interview at nearly 11pm on the condition that we walk while it’s being conducted, it’s his only hope of eventual escape. Julianna and I are invited again to join the group for the “Well, how did that go?” segment of the evening at a local pub. More pictures, more questions, poor Christopher doesn’t get to even eat his sandwich while it’s hot. He doesn’t seem to notice, he certainly never gets perturbed. Every person in the room is as important as the next and I realise that he granted my interview for one reason alone- because I asked. It’s after midnight when he leaves to be driven two hours to get home, he’ll be catching a plane at 9am for another city, another day.
When Mother Teresa was being proposed for sainthood, the Vatican called in Christopher Hitchens to argue against it, thereby playing devil’s advocate. Of course, her own journals would support his claims against her, but that did not lessen the horror some felt at the fact that he argued against the presumably unassailable woman to begin with. Few who wish to believe utter nonsense actually even hear his arguments- at least not the content. We know this because they never answer the content- they only address the form. Why won’t he just concede to their baseless assertions? Why won’t he accept “testimony” as evidence? Why is he a big fat meanie? WHY? Because in this age of coddling insanity, it has become obvious that reason needs a defence among far too many Americans. I retire from what was for me a long, exciting and thoroughly exhausting day relieved that this defender of reason we have in one Christopher Hitchens is so tireless.
Jana ~ AnswersInAtheism.net =