Monday, 8 February 2016

Hello, is this thing on?

My name is Dave Evans. This is my first ever blog post. I'm still not sure what exactly I'm going to write about on here but chances are music, art and walking will feature prominently. I imagine I'll also be sharing rants about politics, religion, ideologies and other ways humans organise their lives in the 21st century.

Those of you who know me in real life (or on Facebook, and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter) may well think I go on enough as it is. I probably do - but I'm only here once so if I've got something to say I might as well say it. Hopefully, though, not rashly and not without thought and, where needed, research. I might well be wrong a lot of the time and you may well disagree with me but I'll try not to constantly end with 'in my opinion'. It's my blog so everything on it, unless stated otherwise, is my opinion.

On Wednesday I plan to attend my first meeting of the London Atheist Activist Group. Because I'm an atheist and because I like getting together with people to discuss ideas. As it's my first time and I'm not particularly confident when meeting new people I imagine I'll mainly be listening.

The meeting is going under the banner 'Is Tolerance To Blame For Religious Violence?'. A hot topic at the moment since atheists and secularists are being killed for their beliefs in countries where religion is more fundamentally adhered to. The LAAG website cites Bangladesh & Iran as examples of where this is happening. In Saudi Arabia atheism is now regarded as terrorism which carries the death penalty.

A brutal and terrifying state of affairs both for secularists within the country and outside. Also for anyone else within those regimes holding dissenting views and, I'd contest, for the religious majority there as well. Without dissent there can be no dialectic. Dialectics were popularised in classical Greece under the teachings of Plato and Socrates and have been a cornerstone of European and Indian philosophy since antiquity.

This has resulted in untold numbers of advances in our means of communication, knowledge of who we are and where we are, knowledge of our bodies and how they work, understanding how to harness the energy of our planet to fit our needs (both good and bad) and the ability to enhance our own lives and those of others.

It may seem an exaggeration to suggest that banning atheism would bring about an end to human developement - but to make some ideas punishable by death certainly makes everything a lot more difficult. I'm not of the 'we're all going to Hell in a handcart' persuasion and tend to believe that the good will out but, again, that's much harder if citizens are banned access to certain ideas and theories. I think that most religious people wouldn't wish to silence secular voices just as a huge majority of non-believers have no desire to gag those of faith.

So why do LAAG plan to attack 'tolerance'? Surely tolerance is something we could all do with a lot more of?  It's a quandary I'm still mulling over but my current thinking is that all views and opinions should be open to debate. Everyone should be able to say whatever they like and everyone should be able to question, dismiss, or even ridicule those views. Nothing should be sacred. Once an opinion, or an ideology, becomes such then avenues of discussion are closed down and ideas are prevented from coming to the surface.

This should apply to all ideologies. Religions should not be exempt. We rightly criticize the ghastly Roosh V for his disgusting views on rape. We correctly call Donald Trump up on his xenophobia, cheap jibes and scapegoating. Equally if there's some horrific piece of scripture in some centuries old holy books (and let's face it, there's plenty) we should be free to criticise that.

When people start acting upon the words of Roosh V, Donald Trump, Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) or Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi's that's when, for me, the tolerance ends. A crime's a crime if you're following a woman hating pick-up artist on the Internet, a stump orating demagogue who's using his vast inherited wealth to campaign to build a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots or a violent hateful fantasist who uses medieval health and safety manuals to justify murder, torture and rape.

Obviously I've not been to the meeting yet but I believe it's going to be held in the form of a debate rather than a rally. Whilst I'd imagine someone will take the chair I also assume everyone will have a chance to put forward their view. Although, referring back to my earlier admission of reticence, I may not.

Anyway, it's all taking place in the Devereux pub in London's Temple. They do a fine range of real ale which, due to a retrospectively rash decision to have a dry month in February, I shall be abstaining from. At least that should leave me clear headed enough to report back.

Apologies if my first post was as dry as my unwetted whistle. I might try to incorporate some jokes and some pictures in the future - and, hopefully, I'll get better at this. We can all suffer from first night nerves you know.

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