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 heartland...how's that working out for you?
: 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
You can't run around saying religion causes people to do loopy things
expect them not to do loopy things. I keep a baseball bat
by the front door
: Why are you an atheist?
: 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
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.
: Why do atheists have to speak up in a religious society -- why not just live and let live?
: 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.
: Why is it important for skeptics and atheists to congregate?
: 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