A Gloriously Godless Weekend – Part 1
Last weekend saw Dublin’s Alexander Hotel host the World Atheist Conference (or Convention, nobody seemed to be quite sure). Over 300 atheists – and a few theists - from all over the world gathered to hear some of the world’s best-known atheists speak on subjects such as secular education, blasphemy laws, communicating atheism and the rise of Islamism, as well as to meet and discuss these and other topics with like-minded people. As a “militant” atheist (i.e one who goes to “Atheists in the pub” on a regular basis) living in Dublin, I bought my ticket early.
The weekend began – as all weekends should – on Thursday. “Atheists in the Church” was a pre-conference gathering held in a nicely ironic setting, a bar that used to be a church. As a fairly active member of Atheist Ireland I was invited to have dinner first with a few other AI members and some of the speakers. I had a great chat with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and also met some of the other speakers including Rebecca Watson, Tom Melchiorre and Bobbie Kirkhart.
There was a good mix at the bar: regular AI members, people who’d travelled from far and wide and locals who couldn’t make the conference but wanted to be part of things anyway. I reluctantly but sensibly bowed out early enough to catch a bus home, as I expected the rest of the weekend to be hard on the wallet, not to mention the liver.
Arriving at the hotel fairly early on Friday to provide any assistance needed I found that there wasn’t a huge amount to be done. Well, that’s not quite true, there was a lot to be done, but it all seemed to require the personal attention of event organiser Stephen Duggan who was constantly darting from place to place with a look of panic on his face.
While Stephen did what he had to do to make sure we could do what he needed us to do, I renewed some acquaintances and met some new people among the other volunteers and early birds. Knowing that Richard Dawkins was due to be interviewed on RTE Radio 1, we managed to tune in and listen. It was a generally positive interview but provoked some exasperation among our clique as the interviewer mostly asked the same tired old questions. “What if you’re wrong?” (Listen)
It wasn’t long before everything was set up for us to register people. I was at the front desk, untangling lanyards, ticking off names, selling T-shirts and calling on an increasingly frantic Stephen Duggan to sort out the occasional irregularity. A trickle of registrants soon became a flood and we were working flat out for a while. It was chaotic but people were patient and things worked out. Most of the attendees had arrived by the time things got underway at 5 o’clock, at which point I abandoned my duties to the volunteers who hadn’t paid the admission price, and entered the arena.
Atheist Ireland chairman Michael Nugent kicked off the proceedings. Here’s a little from his opening address:
Senator Ivana Bacik, the only officially atheist member of the Oireachteas, spoke next on politics, secular education and non-religious sources of ethics. This was followed by a panel discussion on “Weird Science versus Weird Religion” which started a little awkwardly but soon improved. A highlight was when one of the Islamists who’d come along on a “Daw’ah” mission asked Dawkins a stupid question and got the answer he deserved.
There was some brief and mild confusion at one point as it appeared that someone had ordered pizza, but as more and more pizzas arrived it was clear that we were victims of an unimaginitive and largely ineffective prank. It was of course the staff at the hotel and the pizzerias who were truly inconvenienced, as a more thoughtful prankster might have realised. Speculation on who would pull such a pointless stunt was soon ended when the prankster sent an e-mail admitting responsibility, reproduced in its entirety here:
Date: 3 June 2011 22:27
Subject: Pizza Delivery – food for thought
Dear Atheists of Pizza Ireland and Alexander Hotel,
“ During my second coming I serve the bread of life to those I call to my wedding in the book of revelation and I serve Pizza to those I do not invite”. Google 666. Mr Nugent I am the King of Ireland and the King of Dublin and how dare you bring people to my kingdom that do not believe in me or my Father and Alexander Hotel you will be punished for housing atheists during the second coming. How Dare you. Now the curse of God is upon you and every delegate and the management team at the alexander for not cancelling that conference. If you want to know whos doing this it’s the son of man the author of the book you refuse to read for free and yet ignore me http://stores.lulu.com/2012 I have come up during my second coming smelling of ROSES and it is that which seems to stick in the noses of you atheists, the second coming is for everyone including those who were not on their guard and you can admit you were not on your guard. Enjoy your conference. Jokes on you for not believing in God.
Kindest regards welcome to Judgement Day. why dont you get Ian Odoherty to write about that…… May the Holy SPirit guide you.
Father James Clarke
Divine Order of Melchizedek
King of Ireland. King of Fast food.
It takes all sorts. This particular sort is well known to Atheist Ireland and to the Gardaí, and will soon be known to the pizzerias who are out of pocket as a result of his delusional behaviour.
The official launch of the new Atheist Alliance International was scheduled to be the last event of the evening but there was a late addition to the bill. After a rather unappetising buffet (perhaps we should have kept the pizzas), Dublin comedian Abie Philbin Bowman entertained us with some irreverent humour, including a preview of the new show he’s working on: “Pope Benedict: Bond Villain.”
I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw of it but I missed about half the set due to helping one of the attendees who was a little worse for wear. I managed to convince him it was time to call it a night but due to his well-oiled state he was having difficulty negotiating the stairs, even with my assistance. Fortunately the mighty AronRa lent a hand, scooping him up and carrying him up the stairs. He could have just used the lift but that would have been considerably less awesome.
The official end of the evening was really just the beginning. The party started in the hotel bar and later – as these things are wont to do – spilled outside and to nearby pubs. I ended up in Kennedy’s with a diverse group of speakers, attendees and volunteers. After time was called I briefly contemplated returning to the hotel for one or two more but thought better of it and jumped into a taxi.
The driver was of the old school Dublin type, friendly and talkative. He asked me where I was coming from and I told him. He said he’d heard about it: “Yeah, I heard yer man Dawkins on the radio. He talks a lot of sense.”
I could only agree. We chatted about the conference and I explained that one of the issues facing us was the total control that the church had over Irish society. He agreed, mentioning that he had known many priests who overstepped their bounds and that in general such behaviour was accepted because the priests were accorded undue respect.
He recounted a tale from his youth. He and his sweetheart had been out one evening and were, as he delicately put it, “courtin’ against a wall” when the parish priest came along, whacked him on the back of the legs with a birch and said: “Would you ever leave that young one alone?”
Not one to take such interruption lightly, the young turk replied: “Did you ever feel a taste of that birch yourself, father? Do that again and you will.”
His girlfriend hissed at him: “You can’t say that to a priest.”
“I bloody can” he replied, and she must have got over her shock at his irreverence because they’ve been married for 35 years.
After getting home, I briefly watched Rebecca Watson, DPR Jones and AronRa live drunk vlogging but decided that enough was enough and I should get some sleep. Saturday was going to be a long day…