Let Reason Reign: A Recap of ReasonFest 2012 February 16, 2012

Let Reason Reign: A Recap of ReasonFest 2012

This past weekend I attended ReasonFest, a regional convention held on the University of Kansas, with over 500 attendees.  When I arrived at the KCI airport Friday afternoon, I immediately regretted forgetting my jacket in Houston, as the temp was in the twenties and dropping rapidly.  After an afternoon of restful fireside reading, there was a casual pre-convention party at my host’s home that kicked off the weekend right with great conversation and local brews.

It’s fascinating to watch a convention coalesce in the early morning.  Sponsor and vendor booths are set up, pamphlets and products placed on display, and then people begin to trickle in.  Gradually the volume rises, and the echoes from large vendor rooms decline.  This year’s sponsors were the ever-active Secular Student Alliance, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Center For Inquiry, American Atheists, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

From the outset, the theme of this well organized convention became clear: community.  Building, growing, and strengthening our community is a vital part of our unique body of non-theists.  Mark Blumberg and Judy Johnson, the first two speakers, sought to break down our ways of thinking through analysis about adaptation and overcoming all forms of dogma.

“Dogma is an ugly scar on the face of reason.” – Judy Johnson

The first panel and keynote speaker focused on interfaith, humanism, and identifying goals that we could all focus on. While several concerns were raised about interfaith work on the panel, everyone involved agreed that we should focus on advancing human well-being.

The keynote speaker, humanist chaplain and author Greg Epstein, asked us all to focus on what we do believe in rather than what we don’t believe in.  While I agree with this as a positive goal, ultimately your beliefs govern your actions and most beliefs in supernatural deities involve domination and control. We need to use caution when approaching religious organizations and individuals with interfaith projects.  Caution is especially important with groups like the one that burst in during Epstein’s talk, shouting and condemning us all to an eternal torment in “hell.”

“The greatest element of the humanist movement is you.” – Greg Epstein

The evening’s entertainment was twofold. We were first educated with a new documentary examining the Creationist-contrived controversy of teaching evolution in American classrooms, then engaged with writer Jamila Bey and comedian Keith Lowell Jensen.  When asked about his atheist comedy act, Jensen explained that the intent of his stand-up is to humanize atheists and get people talking about non-belief.  He advises atheists to first make fun of ourselves in debate. The evening concluded with “drinking reasonably” at a local bar, where we digested the messages presented on Day One of ReasonFest.

Day Two started a little late, but moved along quickly with more talk about community and coexisting in the oft religious world that we inhabit.  The atheist side of the panel “Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?” concluded that religion was merely our first attempt at explaining the world around us, and that we were ready to grow past religion using philosophy, reason, and science.

Following this panel was Darrel Ray‘s talk about Sex & God (also the title of his latest book).  This well-received presentation continued Jensen’s earlier joke about duck dicks.  Yes.  Really.  Duck penis.  After this, we invested in our Reason Fest micro-community by breaking bread together at a local cafe.

Returning from lunch, we were presented with two back-to-back debates about science and religion co-existing, with a very strong case given on the secular side of both debates.  After these debates, I was left wondering, “If science and religion cannot co-exist, what does that mean to us?”  Before presenting Sunday’s keynote speech, Jerry DeWitt of Recovering from Religion (RR) performed an impromptu southern “sermon” and call to support the (RR) fundraising raffle.  The day ended far too quickly with an extensively informative, and ultimately emotionally moving, lecture from Jennifer Michael Hecht on the history of doubt. Hecht’s latest book was sold out, so I ventured online to purchase it.  Reason Fest wrapped up with an ice cream social and plenty of hugs from new and reinforced friendships.

A personal note: The best part of this trip was the new friendships I made and firing up my desire to strengthen our non-theist community in Houston.  A great highlight was being seated in Darrel Ray’s living room, reading his latest book and asking questions about it as I turned the pages.  Also, this weekend to Kansas ended delightfully!  I awoke Monday morning to a magnificent snowfall, which made for an adventurous trip to the airport.

Bonus: Prior to ReasonFest, Michaelyn Everhart raised $1,000 to support the event.  On the fly, while Everhart was receiving her mohawk on stage, Amanda Brown was able to raise an additional $500 with the quick thinking of convention attendee Robbie Macken from the University of Missouri.

JT Eberhard kisses Michaelyn Everhart

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  • Jdatty

    Very interesting event, but the turn out was a lot less than last year.  Last year was standing room only, but this year official registration was only a little over 350 and a few dozen walkins.  Plenty of empty seats.

    What’s up with that?

    And the vendors table were a disappointment two.  Good selection of banners and buttons but little substance.

    One FANTASTIC THING was when some old, and I mean old, guy with two BOXES of the famous “little blue books” came in and started giving them away!  They were a little dusty but in good readable condition.
    I got ten different titles, but then something weird happened, he left them at one of the tables as a donation, but then I heard that a guy came up and gave them 150 bucks for the box that was left.  (Turns out he was a theist so I don’t know what happened to the books.)

    Amusing also were the Chick Tracts that were scattered all about Saturday afternoon.

    But the stunt with the guy interrupting Epsteins speech with cries of “abomination” was a staged stunt, IMHO.

    An amusing time.

  • Anonymous

    “Dogma is an ugly scar on the face of reason.” – Judy Johnson

    That sounds an awful lot like Dawkins’ “God is a carbuncle on the face of science” line from the recent (and wonderful)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUe0_4rdj0U‘Something from nothing?’ talk with Lawrence Krauss

  • ctcss

    As a believer, I am curious as to what was included in the debates about science and religion co-existing. Personally, I don’t see any substantive problem with them co-existing since they appear to involve very different frames of reference and focus.  (I certainly don’t have any problem thinking about them.)

    To me, the only way religion and science would conflict is if science tried to claim it knew something about the realm of God, Spirit, and religion tried to base it’s claims on matter rather than God, Spirit.

    If science tried to do such a thing, it would be engaging in speculation about that which is completely non material in nature without any tools to help in its research efforts. If religion tried to do such a thing, it would ultimately be worshiping matter, not God, Spirit, because if one presumes that matter forms the underlying basis for belief in God, then one would actually be regarding matter as the primary focus of religious thought rather than God, Spirit.

    Personally, I don’t look to religion to learn about matter, nor do I look to material science to learn about God, Spirit. They focus on completely separate realms of thought, and thus IMO can co-exist without the need for conflict.

  • The conflict occurs when religion states the existence of the supernatural in the realm of reality. Ghosts, spirtual healing, the power of prayer, creation, miracles, speaking in tongues, auras, and countless other magic tricks. Religion always makes claims that are in direct conflict with scientific evidence.

  • Please don’t forget that American Atheists was a proud sponsor of ReasonFest 2012 as well.

  • Anonymous

    I’d be interested to know how you define the concept of “spirit”, and if you think that the scientific study of human experience, behavior, thought, etc. count as infringing on the realm of God and Spirit.

    In my view, I think the material and spiritual worldviews will inevitably come into conflict. Religion may claim to base itself on the spiritual, but the so-called spiritual is necessarily observed and discussed through material means, by material entities. I am not able to come up with an example of a spiritual concept or experience that can’t be subject to scientific exploration.

  • Jim

    With regard to the boxes of old books: I was the one at the table sorting out the books, and can tell you what happened to them. Basically I took one copy of each book for our SOMA library, gave away a few books to people who wanted them, then put the rest in a box in our cubicle. We are going to give the box to the KU Spencer Research Library to see if they want any of them, and anything they don’t want we will either sell or give away at future events or while tabling on campus.

    I honestly don’t know where that story about the $150 came from. But yes, there were a lot of really amazing books in there.

  • Amanda Brown

    Actually he donated ALL of the books to SOMA and the $150 from the Christian didn’t happen (I made sure of it… we kept them all). 

    After SOMA took one copy of everything that was in the box we donated the rest to Spencer Library here on KU campus and when they get a copy of what they want from them we are going to put up a link to purchase them for probably $5 each to cover shipping so everyone can enjoy these amazing Little Blue Books. 

    Amanda Brown  – Lead Reasonfest Coordinator
    Also, I am sorry about the vendor tables… we ended up getting kicked out of where we were supposed to be and the vendors were unable to do what was originially intended for them.  Next year will be better in that regards.  Also Youtube videos will be up so all can enjoy Reasonfest who were unable to attend.  

  • Lilsillyatheist

    Wow only  350 people attended!!!   This kind of reminds me of the ‘Occupy’ movement that is reduced to single digits.  Why do you suppose these atheist movements won’t really ever ‘take off’

  • Palebluedotcitizen

    Sounds like a great, intimate event, lots of good friends and interesting talks. Wish I’d been there but I didn’t even know about it! Not that I’d have been able to make it so close to Reason Rally.

  • Guest

    First of all ReasonFest was lucky to have 250 people max. Also, Freedom From Religion Foundation was not a sponsor….Foundation Beyond Belief was. The “Drinking Reasonably” was a fundraiser for FBB. 

  • ctcss

     I apologize for not making myself clearer. When I refer to “Spirit”, I am referring to God, not to some aspect of material, human life. God is not in any way material (i.e. that which is composed of, or expressed through or in conjunction with, matter, energy, space, or time). Thus, the things of God have nothing whatsoever to do with matter.  The kingdom of God is not material in any way. That’s why I was pointing out that material science has no tools with which to investigate that which is non-material. Material science only focuses (and can only focus) on the realm of the material.

    Yes, you are correct. This view of things directly contradicts the view that everything is composed of or framed by the things of matter. But that was my point. If there is no overlap between the two standpoints, there is no need for conflict. Conflict only occurs when there is disagreement about the same thing, not different things. If I had a claim to (owned) property in France and you had a claim to (owned) property in the US, we would have no conflict at all. But if each of us claimed ownership of the same piece of property, we would be in direct conflict with one another.

    That was why I pointed out that the two different frameworks of thought could coexist because they are (or should be) focusing on two entirely separate areas of thinking. And as long as religion focuses on God, Spirit,  and material science focuses on matter, I don’t see why there should be any conflict

    As Jesus noted, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” If Jesus didn’t see the need for conflict, I don’t see why his followers should either. I certainly don’t.

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