Several years ago, we had some landscaping work done in our backyard. It cost us way more than we’d budgeted and the landscaper left the yard in a shocking mess. We were financially stretched, overtired, overstressed and the yard we had wanted ‘improved’ looked like a bomb had hit it. The job was still unfinished, and I was at my wit’s end.
Soon after, we dropped in on some friends of ours. They offered us morning tea and asked how the ‘work’ was going. I promptly (and embarrassingly) burst into tears.
The next day, they arrived with a car and trailer loaded with a mower and garden tools. They said, “Just here to fix the yard.”
I said, “Oh, really? Oh, th-th-thanks! Just a minute, I’ll go and get my shoes on ….”
“No, you are not to help. We’re going to do it. You just stay where you are.”
And these two (not young) people pitched in, did a day’s work and transformed our construction site debacle to a beautiful garden.
Our friends are devout Christians – Seventh Day Adventists. They know I’m an atheist, they loved my Dad and knew he was an atheist, too. Not once, in all the years we have known them have they ever tried to press their faith on us. I know they would say their motivation to help us came from their religious convictions. But, I think even more highly of them than that – I believe they are simply good people and would have done the same thing regardless of whether they were religious or not.
Nevertheless, this was Christianity in action. Two people living out the conviction of their faith to love their neighbours. In this case, we were the fortunate neighbours, but it could have been anyone else. The point is, their Christianity is used positively – to help, not to hinder; to ease pain, not to cause it.
I am not anti-Christian. How could I be? Members of my own family and some of those I love most are Christians.
While I don’t accept that loving your neighbour, treating others as you wish to be treated, feeding the poor and providing hospitality to those in need are exclusively ‘Christian’ values, I do genuinely appreciate it when I see Christians putting these values into action.
In fact, wherever Christians are making a positive contribution to the world, I am happy to applaud it. If they are genuinely helping people, seeing to their real needs, and doing so with no expectation of obtaining converts but simply to live as they believe Christ did, then who am I to argue? The fact that I think this is a human, rather than a Christian impulse is immaterial. Good is good and as long as the result is happier, healthier people in a more loving, tolerant world, I’m good with that.
So, no, I’m not ‘anti-Christian’. What I am against, however, is the kind of ‘corporate’ Christianity that does ‘good’ with an agenda. The agenda may be to convert, to impose Christian views on those who don’t share them, to swell congregations (and church profits), or to gain political power and influence. Doing good with ulterior motives is pretty poor behaviour, in my view.
This is the kind of politically pragmatic Christianity that decides not to oppose civil rights for homosexuals so they can later crow that they’re not ‘anti-gay’ in opposing same-sex marriage – “Just look how magnanimous we were in giving them the same civil rights as other citizens.”
That’s not doing good – that’s engaging a cynical, political strategy.
I am also ‘anti’ Christianity that does real harm. When Christians tell people in third-world countries that condoms cause AIDS, or they tell frightened women with unwanted pregnancies that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer – then I get cranky.
When Christians weigh the shocking human cost of not granting full equality and acceptance to gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexual citizens against their religious dogma – and choose in favour of their dogma – I don’t just get cranky, steam starts coming out of my ears.
And when Christians are not content with ruling their own lives, but begin to intrude on mine and the lives of those I love – I rise to take action.
By all means choose not to end your life prematurely if your religious convictions dictate this. But do not impose a long, lingering, painful, undignified death on me and mine, because you have some religious conviction about the ‘sanctity’ of life.
Do you want your children to have a Christian education? By all means send them to a religious school or enrol them in Sunday school or a Christian youth group. Have the damned pastor over to morning tea every Saturday if that will help. But don’t put your chaplains into secular public state schools with a view to ‘discipling’ the children of ‘unchurched’ parents. That is crossing the line.
My late brother was a Christian. When he was very ill and disabled and staying at our place, he expressed a wish to go to our local church. I rang them up, talked to the pastor, found out when and where the service was held and (with some difficulty) delivered my rather ‘wobbly’ brother to the door. Then I sought out someone who could keep an eye on him during the service and morning tea. Later, I came back and picked him up. He was astounded that I would do this for him when I was so ‘anti-Christian’.
Why would I stop someone going to church if that’s what they want to do? Why would I discourage or inhibit that in any way? My aim is not to tell people what to believe. I have little interest in that.
Let me tell you what I’m ‘for’. I am ‘for’ love, happiness, equality, justice, tolerance, laughter, caring, hospitality, hugs, honesty, sharing, supporting, helping, compassion, empathy, selflessness and leaving the world a better place than you found it – oh, and chocolate, I’m definitely in favour of chocolate. That’s what I’m ‘for’. And if Christians want to draw on their faith to help them work towards similar goals – they’ll find a staunch ally in me.
But, when they come with hidden agendas, self-interest and dogma to the fore. When they come not to help, but to convert, impose or ‘occupy’. When their actions cause hurt, pain, anguish or death – then they will find me fighting against them with every resource I can bring to bear.
On this week’s QandA (September 19), Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby invoked the ‘some of my best friends are gay’ defence. Many, including my friend Mitch Sullivan, were skeptical about Wallace’s claim. For example, Mitch tweeted:
“Can I get a show of hands? Fellow gays that are friends with homophobes? Apparently, there are a lot of you.”
But on one of my journeys through cyberspace, I discovered that Jim does, indeed, have at least one gay ‘friend’ . He mentioned this relationship at the the 2011 Australian National Apostolic Church Conference. The organisers helpfully recorded it and posted it online.
Those who watched Q and A may recall that in answering Josh Thomas’s question, Wallace said he understood same-sex attraction was not something that could be changed. And yet, just a few months ago, Wallace is recorded saying exactly the opposite.
In the following transcript of Wallace’s presentation at the conference, he makes it very clear how he deals with a young gay person who has just come out.
“I’m dealing with a young fellow who’s only in the last couple of weeks has gone and told his parents he’s gay. It has destroyed his family. It has destroyed this fellow’s relationship with Christ. And it’s because this 39 year old seduced a young 18 year old at university in his first year …”
Later in his speech, Wallace elaborates on this relationship:
“… let me tell you that only in the last week I’ve had a conversation with a young fellow I’m mentoring you know, who’s ‘cause I’ve encouraged him. I know that the only way that people can be brought out of homosexuality is through Christ, it’s not by my argument, you know. If you read the books of people who’ve talked about coming out [he means becoming ex-gay], you know, it’s only ever people have said to them, people have tried to argue with them – you can’t – because for a start, the people who’ve called them into it have all the arguments and counter arguments they fill their heads with and so you’ll never beat those down. The only thing that will bring them out of it is a closer relationship with Christ – as Christ reveals to them, you know, that it’s sin.”
It’s all so simple. Having Jim and Jesus as your friends you can’t go wrong. Just repent your sins and swear to keep your bum to the wall for the rest of your life and “Poof!” you’re straight! (Pun intended.)
According to Jim, a straight, Christian 18 year old entered into a consensual sexual relationship with an older man he met a university. As a result, the teenager ‘became’ gay. And now that pesky ‘gay switch’ has been flicked on, he’s in an awful predicament – it’s stuck – and only Jesus can turn it off. But, all is not lost – other gay people have become ‘un-gay’. All those non-peer reviewed articles and misrepresented studies from NARTH say so! All it takes is for Jesus to reveal to them that they are sinners. It’s a curious conviction, given that Jim admitted last night Jesus had nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of homosexuality. (If only Jim would follow Jesus’ lead!)
So, Jim ‘some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay’ Wallace has a solution for this young man, struggling with his sexual idenity:
“… I’ve really encouraged this young bloke to go to a church.”
You’d think that would solve the problem, wouldn’t you? But no! There’s a catch! Wallace explains:
“Now going to church and wanting to get more into the church more and more he’s run up against a roadblock with the church because there’s a limit to which the church can have him engaged in leadership within the church – and I understand that. Now, he’s not a practicing homosexual, you know, but there’s a limit nonetheless for them. So it’s a really really difficult issue.”
Let’ recap. As this young man’s friend and mentor, Jim has:
Told him being gay is a sin.
Encouraged him to be celibate until he can change – or otherwise remain celibate for life.
Told him to go to church.
Told him Jesus can make him straight, if he accepts what a terrible sin he has committed.
And, to his credit, the poor kid, with his family freaking out about his sexuality, has tried to do the ‘right thing’. He’s thrown himself enthusiastically onto the path of redemption and change Wallace has laid out for him. He’s become celibate – a huge ask – and he’s seeking more responsibility within the church. But is that enough for the church to encourage him? Not on your nelly. He may as well have a target on his head with the word “Poof” written in large pink letters.
But let’s be fair. Jim is not unsympathetic to his young gay friend. No! He simply compares him to a porn addict or a kleptomaniac … yes, really.
“But what I’d say to you is this. That whatever the struggle, it’s no different really than someone who might be struggling with pornography – and for them it’s a real struggle you know, they just can’t go to the TV without opening it up.
It might be that they’re struggling with something else, you know. Some people are kleptomaniacs and must have a real struggle when they see something they really want and want to grab it. All of these things are sin because of the fallen nature state of our world, you know?
And I just think – and I understand the dilemma – I just think despite the difficulty of being able to get across to the world that we love the sinner, even though we hate the sin, we just have to stay true to that. Because as soon as we compromise it on this, how do we hold it on everything else, you know?
So I think it’s really really important that – as hard as it is, you know – that we hold to it, but we’re compassionate, you know, that we’re loving.”
Sure Jim, the loving thing to do is to completely ignore all the expert expert professional advice on how to deal with a teenager grappling with their sexuality and tell this kid he just has to change for Jesus. Ignore the shockingly high rate of gay teen suicide and tell this troubled young man that God will accept him if only he’ll learn to love girls – or at least stay celibate for life. Send him on a guilt trip over all the angst he’s caused to his family and Jesus. And then put him into a church that treats him like a second class citizen. Great work, friend!
Jim, of course, is wilfully oblivious to the expert opinion of the American Psychological Association, which represents over 132,000 mental health professionals. In 1994, the APA issued an unequivocal statement on homosexuality:
“The research on homosexuality is very clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Study after study documents the mental health of gay men and lesbians. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, and social and vocational adaptiveness all show that gay men and lesbians function every bit as well as heterosexuals.
Nor is homosexuality a matter of individual choice. Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. … Research findings suggest that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accoutrements.”
Similarly, the Australian Psychological Society’s website insists that homosexuality is neither a ‘choice’ nor a mental disorder.
In Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation (2005), Glenn Wilson, a reader in personality at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist at the University of East London assert categorically that the research leaves ‘absolutely no room for parental or societal influence’ on sexual identity. Wilson and Rahman insist that children cannot be seduced or otherwise led into homosexuality regardless of how overbearing the mother or absent the father – ‘no amount of poor parenting can waylay a child born to walk the path of heterosexuality’. According to these mental health experts:
“… the biological origin of sexual orientation means that discriminating against gays and lesbians is as justifiable as discriminating on the basis of eye colour or ethnicity”.
The fact is, Jim’s ‘friendship’ with this young man could, at worst, drive him to self-harm or suicide and, at best, cause untold psychological trauma and long-term damage.
A brochure published in 1999, and endorsed by nearly half a million of America’s mental health experts, counsellors, paediatricians and experts in related fields said, in part:
“… efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy have been adopted by some political and religious organizations and aggressively promoted to the public. However, such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure … a number of medical, health, and mental health professional organizations have issued public statements about the dangers of this approach.”
But, in an recklessly arrogant display of religious hubris, Wallace completely rejects this and decides to ‘fix’ this boy himself (with the help of Jesus, of course).
Kim Brett, a former leader with ex-gay ministries Living Waters and Liberty Inc, has witnessed, first hand, what trying to change someone’s sexual orientation does to them:
“… For a long time I had been witnessing peoples’ (and my own) growing frustration that no matter how repentant, prayerful and committed we all were to living a life as an ex-gay Christian, the changes we all sought and were taught possible never really materialised for most … Depression, anxiety, loneliness and inner turmoil were our constant companions because as seen through the eyes of many churches, our ‘failure’ to change equated with somehow not having enough faith, not being a ‘true’ Christian or having a demonic influence.” (Soulforce, 2007)
Is this why Wallace’s young friend is not considered suitable for leadership in the church? Is it because they fear his homosexuality is caused by demons?
In his speech, Wallace (paraphrasing Charles Colson’s The Faith) explains that great Christian movements are not motivated by some idea of a social gospel. They are motivated by a commitment to fight ‘systemic evil’.
Adrian Price tells what it’s like to follow a ex-gay plan like Jim’s:
“I was seventeen and I was very screwed up and was attempting suicide because I was confused. I am only alive now because I am rather inept at killing myself. I have tried but I am not very good at it. I know others who have harmed themselves and in the states there are numerous cases of people coming out of the program and committing suicide. I’ve been pretty much in psychiatric counselling for last five years because of this. I’ve had numerous suicide attempts because of this. Some people I know have gotten away more lightly. The more determined you were, the more you got hurt. I wanted to make this work, I was celibate for eight years, I did everything I was told.”
I don’t know who Wallace is mentoring, but I hope he might read this. Dear young man, Wallace is not your friend. He does not have your best interests at heart – although I accept he thinks he does. Wallace has no expertise in human sexuality and yet he is trying to coerce you into ‘choosing’ your sexuality – something which medical experts say simply cannot be done. In short, he is asking the impossible of you. He is setting you up to fail.
You may, or may not be homosexual. You may be straight but adventurous, bisexual, homosexual or something else altogether. Time will tell. But it is for you to find out, not for anyone else to determine.
Wallace’s ‘solution’ to your ‘problem’ is to put you into a church which will never accept you for who you really are. The real ‘solution’ is for you to accept yourself just as you are and work from there.
Please, talk to someone at Gay and Lesbian Counselling Services of Australia – it’s just one phone call. Consider the possibility that you are OK just the way you are. Consider also that many committed Christians believe homosexuality is not a sin. Instead, they believe that it’s people like Jim Wallace who are acting contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ message; that it is Wallace who is ‘ungodly’ , not you.
Please take a moment to read about American Christian, the Reverend Mel White. White went through absolute hell. He lied to himself about his sexuality and conformed to what the church wanted by marrying and having a family. He struggled (often unsuccessfully) for years to become an ‘ex-gay’ before he finally realised that it simply wasn’t possible. Ultimately, White rejected bigotry, not God. If that is your choice, you can do that too. Please think about this before you marry some innocent girl and wreck her life as well as yours.
Former Australian Assemblies of God minister, Anthony Venn Brown has been on a similar journey. He warns:
“The church’s stand against gays and lesbians will eventually be proven to be the greatest heresy of the 20th century.”
I’m an atheist, but I have no interest in asking you to change to suit my beliefs. There are lots of gay friendly churches in Australia which will allow you to worship without making you feel unworthy. There’s also an online Gay Christian Network where you can meet with other people who are both gay and Christian, and find no conflict between the two.
Straight or gay, Christian or atheist, you cannot live your life as a lie and no true friend would ever ask you to.
My friend Mitch pointed out in comments (below) that Jim also spoke publicly about his misguided beliefs on homosexuality in a forum on internet censorship. Again, Jim completely ignores research into pedophilia and homosexuality *and conflates the two to suit his own anti-gay political agenda.
* Extract from link:
” … in one review of the scientific literature, noted authority Dr. A. Nicholas Groth wrote:
Are homosexual adults in general sexually attracted to children and are preadolescent children at greater risk of molestation from homosexual adults than from heterosexual adults? There is no reason to believe so. The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual(Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147).
In a more recent literature review, Dr. Nathaniel McConaghy (1998) similarly cautioned against confusing homosexuality with pedophilia. He noted, “The man who offends against prepubertal or immediately postpubertal boys is typically not sexually interested in older men or in women” (p. 259).”
My second article for ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal asks whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest the Australian Christian Lobby is at the forefront of the ideological holy war called ‘dominionism’.
This article has been several months in the making. Dominionism is a complex network of international organisations. While some of the more extreme groups happily speak openly about their plans to infiltrate goverments and ‘occupy’ nations, most speak in euphemisms easily deciphered by Christian fundamentalists but designed to be less threatening to those not ‘in the know’.
Apparently George W Bush (or at least his speech writer) was a master at this ‘dog whistle’ language, but is now being superseded by GOP candidate, Rick Perry. Listen out for terms like ‘worldview’, ‘spheres of influence’, ‘change agents’, ‘changing the culture’. Here’s an article which explains how it works.
When I first began researching dominionism I didn’t even suspect any links between the extremist American organisations involved in the movement and our homegrown Christian lobbyists. But, over time, it became apparent to me that there were so many links the questions really had to be asked, “Is the Australian Christian Lobby a dominionist organisation?” “Does it purposefully set out to recruit staff from within the dominionist network?” “Are there links between dominionist theology and the publicly stated goals of the ACL?”
I had a phone call from the Sunshine Coast Daily last week. Would I write a short piece in response to the question, “Is it time for Australians to reconsider the relevance of Christianity?” I gave it a dignified two seconds thought before I said, “Yes!”
The concept was a ‘head to head’ style article, with me answering ‘on behalf of’ the godless and someone else answering for the Christians. And, who represents Christians better than anyone else in this country? The Australian Christian Lobby of course! Well, not ‘of course’ – as we know, they represent only a small proportion of actual Christians – but that’s who the Sunshine Coast Daily chose. And, to be fair, I’m hardly an elected representative for atheists, so I really shouldn’t gripe.
The article will probably go up online later this week, but I know you’re all champing at the bit to read it, so I’ve reproduced it here. Of course, if you’re in the Sunshine Coast region, do the right thing and pick up a hard copy and you might also consider dropping them a line, or giving them a call to thank them for allowing us atheists to have a say*. It seems to be a new policy of the paper and one that should be recognised and applauded.
“Is it time for Australians to consider the relevance of Christianity?”
Lyle Shelton – Australian Christian Lobby
While Christianity’s human practitioners have not always done the right thing, there is no doubt the religion itself has been an overwhelmeing influence for good in the past 2000 years.
People of faith, motivated by its central ethos of love for God and love for others, gave rise to the modern hospital system, public education, trade unions, care for the poor and the abolition of slavery – all before any of these were on the agenda of governments.
Christianity was a major force against the tyrrany of kings and was important to the evolution of modern representative democracy and the idea that there should be checks and balances on people who hold power.
Nations with Christian foundations remain the freest and most civil on the planet.
The 20th century’s experiment with state-mandated atheism in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere was a bloody catastrophe.
More needs to be taught about the gulags.
It is a credit to nations with a Christian heritage like Australia that Muslims fleeting persecution from extreme forms of Islam in places like Afghanistan and Iran are so keen to re-settle here.
It’s interesting that people from overfly nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which practice varying degrees of sharia law, are eager to come to a country whose legal system traces its roots to the bible.
Christianity says we should welcome as many of these vulnerable people as we can.
Yes, there is a contest for the future values of our nation but a free society does not fear this debate.
Sadly there are some who deeply resent Christianity and seek to expunge it from public life with the coercive force of politically correct laws and tribunals
This is emerging as a serious threat to free speech and freedom of religion which may well affect everyone to some degree.
Mistakes have certainly been made in the name of Christ.
But despite this, Christianity has bequeathed a rich cultural heritage and civility that we would do well to examine closely before aggressive secularists make the decision for us to discard it.
Lyle Shelton is chief of staff of the Australian Christian Lobby
Chrys Stevenson, Sunshine Coast Atheists
Australians really should reconsider the relevance of Christianity to Australian society.
There was a time when our pubs and shops were closed on Sundays. Now they’re not only open, but bustling.
Today, nearly 70 per cent of Australians are married by civil celebrants. What does it say about Christianity’s relevance when most people, on the most important day of their lives, say ‘no’ to religion?
Australia is one of world’s most secular nations. No need for an atheist bus sign saying “Sleep in on Sundays” – 92 per cent of us already do.
Christianity is in decline. An international survey in 2008 found 30 per cent of Australians don’t believe in God while 26 per cent have doubts to varying degrees.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) may have access to the Prime Minister’s office, but they most assuredly don’t represent the views of most Australians, or even most Christians.
Despite the increasingly shrill protestations of the ACL, a recent Galaxy Poll showed even most Christians support same-sex marriage.
While churches oppose voluntary euthanasia, 85 per cent of Aussies support it. Denied the opportunity to die with dignity, Australia’s elderly most commonly choose hanging as an alternative.
Most Australians are horrified at the high rate of youth suicide. Gay teens are up to 14 times more likely to end their lives. Yet, recently, the ACL endorsed a law which allows religious schools to expel students for no reason other than being openly gay.
Has anyone noticed those standing up for fairness, equality and the alleviation of suffering in these scenarios aren’t the Christians?
The ACL may argue that Australia would be a better place if ‘Christian values’ were returned to centre-stage. Consider this. In those halcyon days when Christianity was far more ‘relevant’ than it is today, we supported the White Australia Policy. Racism and sexism were rife. Gay couples had no rights and were derided as poofters and fairies. Christian churches presided over the ‘stolen generation’. With abortion illegal, women with unwanted pregnancies used a coat hanger or turned to back street butchers. Divorcees were social outcasts and single mothers were cruelly coerced into adoptions. It is only as we became more secular that these things changed.
So yes, let’s reconsider the relevance of Christianity to Australia’s past and present. And then, let’s raise a toast to a future in which Christianity is increasingly irrelevant.
Chrys Stevenson is the convenor of the Sunshine Coast Atheists and co-founder of new national lobby group, Reason Australia.
*Sunshine Coast Daily ‘Letters to the Editor’: email@example.com
Thank the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org (Thanks Mark and journalist Owen Jacques for putting the piece together).
Astute readers may have noticed a couple of historical howlers from our friend, Lyle. Please feel free to address them in comments. Neither Lyle nor I had the opportunity to view each other’s copy before it was submitted, so we were both ‘writing blind’. Now I’ve seen his arguments, I may well take them on directly later in a future blog post. But if anyone else wants to have a go – please feel free.
Gladly’s ears pricked up when he heard I was writing about Skepticamp. A camp? All those lovely pick-er-nick baskets and those yummy chewy campers! But alas, while Skepticamp is skeptical, it doesn’t involve pitching a tent in the woods or being eaten by bears. But, trust me (would I lie?), it’s going to be just as exciting!
Skepticamp is a whole new concept in presenting conferences. No famous headliners here. At Skepticamp, the audience are the stars. That’s right! The participants are also the presenters (although if you’re very shy, there’s no pressure for you to take to the spotlight),
Skepticamp provides a fantastic opportunity for you to meet with like-minded people, to learn from those who are practicing skeptical activism in your city, and to make a ‘name’ for yourself and share your views. You don’t get to do that at the Global Atheist Convention. “Step aside now, Professor Dawkins, I’d like to give the audience my take on evolutionary biology!”
At Skepticamp, every participant is encouraged (but not required) to offer an interactive talk on a science or skeptic-themed subject.
There’s so much talent in the skeptical community, but how do you get discovered as the next brilliant new speaker for TAM (James Randi’s ‘The Amazing Meeting’) or the next DJ Grothe-style podcaster? Even Dr Karl (Kruszelnicki) had to start somewhere! (I’m not sure it was at a Skepticamp, but it should have been).
Skepticamp Australia was born at TAM Sydney in 2010 when Jason Brown (A Drunken Madman/In Vino Veritas) vowed to ‘make it happen’ here in Australia. I’m excited to say I was in the room at the time. During a panel talk on Skeptical Activism, a question came from moderator Brian Dunning (Skeptoid): “What would you do for activism if you were handed a budget?”
Jason leapt up and said he would organise a skepticamp, to inspire, inform and motivate skeptics in Australia. Never backward in coming forward, he said if people would give him some money there and then, that’s exactly what he’d do. Suddenly, everyone, including the panelists, started pulling out their wallets and giving Jason money, and soon Skepticamp Sydney was underway. Now, that’s grass-roots activism!
Skepticamp Sydney was a huge success. Held in May this year, it attracted around 100 participants. Sessions were short – 10 minutes presentation and 5 minutes for questions. A good plan! It means if someone’s as boring as dirt, you don’t have to endure them droning on for an hour. And, if they were fascinating, you can always collar them for a good chat during the breaks. There was also a ‘flash talk’ session, in which participants were invited to give a quick 5 minute talk on a skeptical or science subject close to their heart.
To give you some idea of the ‘flavour’ of a skepticamp, Sydney talks included: Peter Bowditch on how not to get sued for your skeptical activism; Tim Harding on GMO foods; Kylie Sturgess on homeopathy; Bob Lloyd on the persistence of ‘woo’ beliefs in the nursing profession; Tim Mendham on dealing with the media (without blowing it for everyone); Dave Singer on online activism; Joel Pittman on his intimate acquaintance with evangelical religious education, and; Alan Conradi on the dangerous practice of using unproven treatments on children with intellectual disabilities.
There’s no speakers’ program for Skepticamp Melbourne, yet – that’s up to participants. But, I’m sure it will be every bit as interesting and diverse as the Sydney event. (Melbourne’s sure to do it better than Sydney, right?)
Lucas Randall from the Melbourne Eastern Hills Skeptics (Meh!) together with Chris Higgins, Linley Kissick, Kieran Dennis and Ed Brown are the ‘un’organizers for Skepticamp Melbourne. If you can give them a hand (or some sponsorship), I’m sure they’d like to hear from you. They’re at email@example.com .
Organizers are also needed for events planned for Brisbane and Perth (contact @drunkenmadman on Twitter if you can help).
If you want to present, there will soon be an online application available, but, if you’re so excited about putting your name forward you just can’t wait, email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them I sent you. –
These events take a tonne of organizing and if we want an active and vibrant skeptical community, we really have to get behind them. If you’re in Melbourne, make the effort and support Skepticamp – you won’t be sorry!