So what did I find that was good, really good about the Convention.
I think Ayaan Hersi Ali was a breath of fresh air. Not abrasive or intolerant, not full of herself or unreflective like many of the speakers, but serious, calm, considered, incisive. What Ayaan did was she got the final panel discussion to focus exclusively on the issue of Islam. Earlier in her own presentation she asked, “why do secular liberals in the West fail to assist Muslim women and the persecuted Christian, Muslim minority sects?”. She asserted that rather than the secular, it was the conservatives and the Christians who defended free speech and the rights of Muslim women.
Ayaan then threw out the challenge to her fellow Atheists that they needed to develop a secular liberal narrative to counter Islamists and to offer practical help to secular Islamists. To his great credit Richard Dawkins made her challenge the topic for the final panel discussion. Let us hope that Atheists get serious about the threat of radical Islam – there were some very scary looking Muslims outside the Convention during lunch chanting and crying out, “Go to hell, go to hell!”.
During the panel discussion, it was Sam Harris who observed that it was, “only serious Christians who get the problem of Islam”, while Ayaan offered the observation that Muslims leaving Islam are choosing to become Christians, exchanging “a malign god for a benign god”. I wouldn’t quite put it that way, they are Ayaan’s words.
I need to stop somewhere. There was some silly stuff about how all the clergy are closet atheists when I can equally point out we have ex atheists in our ranks. Even Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter, like Christopher an atheist, converted to Christianity and recently wrote a book The Rage against God, partly for his brother’s benefit.
Whilst most Atheists won’t welcome it, we Christians are happy to dialogue with Atheists. In fact, this week the Reason for Faith Festival in Melbourne, 16-20 April, run by Christians, is seeking to change the style and tone of the conversation to a rational, reasoned, balanced, open and honest discussion between Theists and religious believers on the one hand and Atheists, agnostics, and so-called 'free thinkers' on the other, around the bigger 'why' questions – questions which Dawkins arrogantly dismissed on Monday in his debate with Pell as 'simply silly'.
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