It’s been a week of driving for Nancy and me and our ’97 Thunderbird “Atheist Mobile.” Normally, our old cruiser sits in the driveway collecting dust and tree sap but we got a chance to clean it up, fuel it up, and drive it to and from Phoenix three times this week.
On Saturday, the Secular Coalition for Arizona had its first summit meeting at the headquarters of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix in Mesa. In general, it was a good meeting and the talks held my interest. There were a couple of our state representatives in attendance along with the coalition’s professional lobbyist. The presentation by a representative of the Arizona ACLU contained a historical perspective and new information to consider when thinking about secular concerns and the Arizona legislature. A young representative from Equality Arizona stressed the importance of a personal story when persuading legislators to consider the secularist’s perspective on pending legislation. Another board member covered the facts, data, and current trends that affect our goal of rational, reasonable, and secular based laws and regulations. Our lobbyist related her successes and near misses along with a prediction of where we might need to focus during the next legislative session starting in January 2016. Secular Coalition board members and the two state representatives then answered a few questions and a secular candidate for public office was introduced. After the general meeting, the liaison representatives from the individual organizations that comprise the coalition met to discuss strategy and set priorities.
It was a good meeting—except for some preaching done in the early going. Part of the introduction included the line, “We must respect other people’s beliefs.” In the words of Patton Oswalt, “No, you don’t!” For example last year the Arizona legislature passed SB 1062 that contained the belief that one person’s religious conviction should allow a person to discriminate against others. I don’t respect that belief! Even Justice Scalia says, “To permit this would make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” (If you’d like to view what Patton Oswalt’s has to say on the subject, you can view it HERE.) In order for a belief to be respected it has to be based on rational, reasonable, and scientific principles.
Dave Silverman made this point during his presentation at ASU on Thursday. He is currently on a book promotion tour and Phoenix was one of his early stops. His new book is: Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. The Secular Student Alliance of the ASU hosted the event. Dave’s 90 minute presentation started at 7:30 PM. Afterwards, he answered a few questions and then sat down to autograph the books as they were sold. (If you are interested in buying one of his books, I have a few signed copies left over. Contact me at AZAtheist@cox.net and I’ll give you a great deal.)
Dave loves data and results but he can also tell a story. He told a story about his Muslim friend. His friend told Dave that he respected his Atheism and his reasons for being an Atheist. He appreciated the fact that Dave supported his position through careful and rational thought. Then his friend asks, “Now that I’ve told you how I respect your position can you respect my Muslim faith?” Dave told him no. Now they are no longer friends. Dave explained to the crowd that he’d rather lose a friend than to be the President of American Atheists that reinforced unsupportable beliefs. Firebrand Atheism is not about disrespecting people but ideas are fair game. For beliefs to be respected they have to be supported. He’s not alone. Wikipedia also believes that just saying something doesn’t make it so. They call asserting something without explanation or demonstration an empty assertion.