Skepticon 3: Don't Believe The Hype

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This weekend, the Bible Belt's nonbelievers are converging in Springfield, MO for the third annual Skepticon, a conference devoted to atheism and skepticism in general.

The free three-day conference at the Springfield Expo Center is financed through donations and gets some support from Missouri State University. This year's lineup includes some pretty heavy hitters as speakers, including big-deal atheist author Richard Carrier and big-deal feminist author and blogger Amanda Marcotte.

The Daily RFT spent some time on the horn with J.T. Eberhard, co-founder of Skepticon and captain of the Missouri State chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, getting to the bottom of why religion is a blight on society, and why atheists have a moral duty not to be polite.

RFT: So, atheism in the's that working out for you?

Eberhard: I'm on my ninth death threat. It's from all the activism we do around here. They say the standard stuff, atheism leads to societal downfall. The last one showed up drunk on my front porch threatening to kill me. It's what you sign up for. You can't run around saying religion causes people to do loopy things and then expect them not to do loopy things. I keep a baseball bat by the front door

: Why are you an atheist?

Eberhard: I'm an atheist because I have no choice. Christians always tell us we need to choose to believe that Jesus is our savior. Walk up to the top of a building and choose by force of will that gravity won't work! The reason I'm an atheist is there's no reason not to be.

What is true, morally, depends on what is real. Most religious people, they're good people, they have great intentions. They're acting morally within the context of their beliefs. If they found out that by following the ten commandments, they'd actually go to hell, would they keep following them? Most would say no.

RFT: Why do atheists have to speak up in a religious society -- why not just live and let live?

Eberhard: I hate when I get the same critique from a moderate that a fundamentalist would give -- if religion leads people to do good things, whats wrong with that? I hate that irrationalism barricades itself into good people.

Part of the problem is that there's this unspoken taboo on criticizing religions. No matter how tactful the atheist is, you hear 'you need to respect me, you need to respect my beliefs.' We're counting on all religious people to be reasonable because we're reasonable. Because they think they're happy, they don't think they're hurting anyone, they don't think they need to be reasonable.

Right now, someone can walk out and say 'Have you heard the good word today?' and 'Jesus rose from the dead and walked on water.' Well, that sounds patently absurd. No one says that and if they do, they're branded 'asshole.' We need to make the discussion public so people with the facts can win out.

RFT: Why is it important for skeptics and atheists to congregate?

Eberhard: It's probably two things. One, making a stand in the Bible Belt. We're slowly winning. The other part is that I speak with religious people on a daily basis. I have these arguments on a daily basis. I've overseen several deconversions from Christianity. I see the discord. A lot of us came from that system -- most of us weren't atheists our whole lives. Part of the thing we miss out on is the social network of church. I'm happy to help people network and give them a haven for their own.

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