Monday, March 26, 2012

American Atheists convention: day 2

Kristine: A comment on yesterday’s blog pointed out that “being an atheist does not automatically make one open minded.”  In my experience at the rally and atheist convention I would agree wholeheartedly with that statement.  Despite the many great and reasoned conversations that we had, there were sadly some who simply refused to form a reasoned argument.

It’s what I call “putting down a roof and calling it a house” or in rhetorical terms “begging the question.”  An assertion is not an argument.  A conclusion is not a reason. 

“It’s my choice, it’s my body!” declared one woman.  No matter how many times I tried to engage her with questions about how location is morally relevant, again and again she repeated “Because – it’s my body. So it’s my choice.”

A similar response came from a woman who asked me how many children I had and walked away with a smug look after I told her I had none. Our table-mate Micheal faced similar attacks when it was pointed out that he could not get pregnant.  I was saddened by this.  At an event that claims to live by reason and rational thought, how is attacking the character of the person making the argument the least bit valid?  Even if I’m a bigoted, sexist, horrible person who enjoys kicking children and eating human flesh – you still need to address my arguments on their own merit.

Kelsey: We had a few fun debates. A couple of people said that they would “draw the line” when the heartbeat or brain waves begin. I smiled and informed them that those events happen so early that if you think abortion is wrong after that point, you are in effect pro-life.  They didn't seem to mind.  But it makes no difference to me whether or not they adopt a certain label.

Kristine:   Yesthankfully there were many who took the time to think about the issues and to engage in a mutual challenge of ideas.  “I’m pro-choice but I’m glad you guys are here,” said another young man, after a lengthy discussion between a pro-life couple and a pro-choice couple broke out next to our table.  “It takes courage to voice a minority view in an atmosphere like this.”

Indeed, we will continue to be a voice. Atheists are diverse, and some of us believe that women’s rights can be had without sacrificing the lives of the smallest members of our species.

: Today was a bit more low-key in the exhibitors' room than yesterday, so I got the chance to attend a session in the main ballroom entitled “The Image of the Atheist Community.” It was presented by well-known author and radio host Jamila Bey. She had a number of suggestions for improving secular activism, including 1) fostering a sense of community, 2) “starting them young” by encouraging children to develop an interest in science, and 3) refusing to become complacent. These steps would be helpful for the pro-life movement as well-- or any other social movement, for that matter. Excellent advice.

Kristine: Finally, we're now famous!  Well, sort of.  I was interviewed for not one but two documentaries.

Kelsey: Such an overachiever ;-)

Kristine: One documentary producer was "personally pro-life" and engaged me in a very good dialog about secular pro-life arguments.  The second documentary maker was so impressed with my speaking and ability to articulate my position that he told me he'd like to have me as a spokesperson for American Atheists.   I wonder how well that would go over in the atheist community! :-)

Kelsey: Thanks everyone for your support and encouragement this weekend.  We're psyched to have had the chance to engage in this vital outreach.


DiscountDeity said...

Can someone please clarify the theological position of this blog? The "Secular" part of the title, as well as this post in particular, seem to imply it is by and for non-religious people.

But elsewhere I've read statements that imply it's not necessarily non-religious, but simply an attempt to highlight non-religious pro-life arguments, by and for the religious and non-religious alike.

Which is fine, if that's your thing. But I worry that one's ability to construct logical arguments may be affected by any religious ideologies that person may hold that are influencing their final conclusion.

Which, of course, does not necessarily make those arguments wrong. But full disclosure about such biases seems to be in order, particularly when one is seeking support from atheists at an atheist conference. said...

Secular Pro-Life is led by atheists, and that's the backbone of our membership. But we also have members from religious minorities (e.g. Buddhists, Wiccans, etc.) who obviously aren't fans of the conservatives who think they're going to hell, and moderate/liberal Christians who recognize the value of separating church and state.

That said, you don't have to be a member to comment on the blog. Sometimes people we've never seen come here and start spouting religious stuff or pro-abortion stuff. We don't believe in censorship, so unless they stoop to name-calling, we usually don't block them.

Monte Harms said...

Secularprolife is also followed by very conservative Christians such as myself. It's important to hear pro-life defenses from all sides. In fact, sometimes it's beneficial not to argue the pro-life message from just a Christian viewpoint. If the person you're trying to persuade to be pro-life is not a Christian, then you are having two battles: trying to convince them of the validity of Christianity and then also trying to have them become pro-life.

DiscountDeity said...

"Secular Pro-Life is led by atheists"

Thank you for the clarification. I admit I was a bit confused when I saw quotes like this one:

" isn't about Christian-bashing or arguing over church and state issues. We count many Christians among our membership, including me." - Kelsey Hazzard, founder and president of


Now, I don't object to Kelsey's right to be a Christian. I also admit that her religious beliefs may have evolved in the time since she wrote that.

However, I believe there is a notable difference between arriving at a pro-life position via strictly secular, scientific reasoning, and merely constructing an ex post facto rationalization for a theological conclusion that happens to omit religious references. The latter strikes me as a touch intellectually dishonest (see also: "Intelligent Design").

I think that if there are legitimate scientific or secular reasons to support the pro-life position, they are worth noting.

However, if the pro-choice position is ultimately inseparable from religious or philosophical beliefs, it would seem to be inappropriate for the USA to pass anti-choice legislation, as that would amount to forcing religious beliefs on those who don't share that belief (which would not only be unconstitutional, but hypocritical, given the recent controversy over birth control coverage).

Of course, an argument does not hinge on the religion of the person making it, which is why I've been separately discussing those arguments in another thread.

However, I feel that when an organization seeks support at an atheist event, honesty would dictate that they should disclose any theological conflicts. I'm sure you understand why I would be skeptical of the credibility of anyone who misrepresented themselves in the service of their ideology. said...

Yes, it's a matter of Kelsey's religious beliefs evolving in the intervening years. Her two right-hand people (Monica and Phil) have been atheist from the beginning. said...

Anonymous said...

great work guys!
thank you : )