Editor’s Note: The following is part three of a four part series on the American Humanist Association’s conference. Reed Secular Alliance President, Leslie Zukor, attended the Phoenix convention, due to a generous travel grant from the AHA. We hope you will enjoy the feature.
On Saturday, June 6th, over three hundred attendees packed the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in Phoenix. The lineup of star-studded speakers included Humanist awardees Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and PZ Myers, known for his science blog, Pharyngula.
Since Barry Lynn is a veteran church-state separation advocate, he emphasized how to tell if one is hated by the Religious Right. In Lynn’s words, Bill O’Reilly’s enmity is another sign of the former’s success impacting the country on the separation of church and state. In short, he stressed that being detested by the Religious Right is not a bad thing.
In addition to discussing Bill O’Reilly, Lynn enumerated numerous other ways to tell if one is the enemy of Christian conservatives. About his struggles, Lynn, who is the 2009 AHA Religious Liberty Award winner, spoke with poise and resolution. Lynn should be proud of a job well done, and is a very deserving honoree.
In addition to recognizing Barry Lynn, the AHA presented its annual Humanist of the Year award to PZ Myers. Myers, whose blog Pharyngula, gets 2.5 million hits per month, is a fearless believer in questioning all things, even received wisdom in the scientific community. In Myers’s opinion, nothing should be sacred.
To prove this, in his award acceptance speech, Myers took the hotel’s copy of the Bible and tore out a page from Genesis. And Myers didn’t tear out just any page. To the contrary, he chose the Biblical story of Creation, which posits that God made the earth in six days, and which flies in the face of modern scientific knowledge. According to science, the earth evolved to sustain life over billions – not thousands – of years.
As well as attracting famous speakers, the conference also included a session on recruiting recent college graduates to freethought groups. During that event, leaders of Arizona State’s Secular Freethought Society discussed the best ways to get students involved in the wider secular community. In this session, adult group leaders from across the country took notes, as August Brunsman and Lyz Liddell from the Secular Student Alliance fielded questions.
Although his book won’t debut until October, Greg Epstein presented a sneak preview of his impending book, Good Without God at the conference. This work emphasizes what the world’s billion non-theists do indeed believe, instead of focusing on what non-theists are against, as occurs all too often in the US. Personally speaking, I am excited for the release of the book, and I am attempting for to get Epstein to speak at Reed College this fall.
In sum, I enjoyed my Saturday at the conference. Although the conference stretched for twelve hours, I met Barry Lynn, Rob Boston, and PZ Myers, all of whom are paragons of secular values. It is so wonderful to connect with so many people in the Freethought Movement, including Dan Barker, who provided some evening entertainment. Barker and his organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, have been instrumental in the Reed Secular Alliance’s Freethought Books Project, and proved equally as nice in person.
Thanks to everybody at the American Humanist Association for making this conference so awesome, and I hope that Sunday is equally enjoyable.