A.C. Grayling in Australia and the way forward
A.C. Grayling is currently in Australia for the 2010 Global Atheist Convention and yesterday he spoke at the Sydney Opera House on the topic of The Anatomy of a Quarrel: Religion and Anti-Religion From the Latter Point of View. It was a wonderful talk to a receptive audience of people who are sometimes, I think, a little cut off from the rest of the world for intellectual discussions of this magnitude. I have never seen him talk live before and it was quite good to see a very large crowd attend.
Grayling made a number of key points, the main one being that organised religion has an influence on society that far outweighs its following and a disproportionate influence on education, government and society. Given that in the UK less than 3% of the population are active, once a week, church goers and I believe that the numbers are similar here in Australia, whereas they manage to have 4 weekly programs on the government funded BBC and an almost instant right to comment on any social or moral question. This is a problem in a world where at least 20% and possibly more of the global population is agnostic/atheist, as it means religious views are disproportionally large compared to their following. In Australia last year, the government forked out millions of dollars to support the Pope’s visit to Sydney. Could you imagine governments doing the same for an Atheist convention?
So, how can the influence of religion be reduced? Atheists need to become better organised and give themselves a clearer voice in the world. Evangelical Christians are extremely well organised and very aggressive in getting their point of view across. If a media outlet says something they don’t like, or a politician has a slip of the tongue, they pounce on them with a well organised information (or depending on your point of view, a disinformation campaign) to ‘correct’ what they believe is an incorrect view of the world. This has two effects; firstly it gives news outlets something easy to publish and being slightly controversial, it sells. It also has the effect of scaring politicians into always seeking the views of religious leaders, to save themselves embarrassing press later on. There are two keys that will help change this attitude, better communication and more aggression.
It is the mass media that is the key to giving atheism a voice and dampening those of religion. Without a better organised voice, atheism will never become a ‘mainstream’ voice, despite having more adherents that most religions. This does not need to be a top-down, hierarchical approach like the Catholic Church and views among our members can be many and varied, just like Evangelical Christians or Muslims. What is needed though is more effective co-operation and co-ordination, better fund raising efforts (anyone ever registered an atheist charity in Australia with a website that can easily collect small sums of cash?). Every topic needs to be pounced on, every religious view needs to be countered with a secular one and it needs to not only happen quickly, but also from many different sources. Finally, it must be made easy for the media. Journalists like it when their stories are spoon fed to them; therefore any response needs to be written in such a way as to be instantly publishable by the press.
Why is it that Christians can publish up to 3,000 books per year in the US while Atheists only manage about 6 in almost 10 years? Why are we not beating on the door of the publisher DEMANDING equal access of our views? Because we are generally too nice; too willing to hear what other people have to say, too humanist in our views. Atheism seems at times to be amateur discussion hour by a bunch of leftwing academics than an effective media campaign. Tolerance and free exchange of ideas is all very nice, except when the other side don’t. We need to take a leaf out of the religious rights book and be much more aggressive. We need people to rant, so that the way is easier for the rest of us.