Friday, 18 March 2011

3rd Annual AHS convention - Day 2

The second day of the 2011 AHS convention was largely aimed at committee members and was that great combination of being fun and informative.

The morning started with a dilemma as I was forced to choose between the Finance and Sustainability talk, which sounded useful but hardly ‘fun’, and the Choir Workshop. I’m so glad I chose the choir as it ended up being the highlight of my day, if not the weekend. A murder of crows can carry a tune better than I can, so heaps of praise must go to the BHA choir leader Chloe Clifford-Frith, and the rest of the choir members that took part, for making all the true amateurs feel welcome, stripping away our self-conciousness and teaching us to sing a whole song in 30 minutes. The fact that the song was Do You Realize was the cherry on the icing on the cake. I’m glad my excitability and lunatic grinning didn’t put the proper singers off when we performed for everyone who had attended the other workshops.

I was really inspired by the singing and wish I had the opportunity to sing in a humanist choir in Birmingham. Someone suggesting started up my own choir, but I’m finding it hard enough to get atheists/humanists together as it is, nevermind getting ones that have either the talent or inclination to sing!

The next workshop was holding one-to-one debates with people of faith, with Chief Exec of the BHA Andrew Copson and David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation pretending to be Christians. Andrew and David took it in turns to contest that faith schools were a good thing, that god existed and that morality only exists because of god. Well done to the three brave people who volunteered to put forward the case for atheism, who more than held their own against the typically ludicrous arguments that are usually put forward by religious folk when discussing these issues.

Andrew had some simple, practical advice:
  • Respond to the opposition’s points as systematically as possible 
  • Defend without getting defensive 
  • Be prepared to attack and score your own points 
  • Avoid ad hominem arguments – attack the ideas not the person 
  • Have good examples of evidence prepared – anecdotes are not evidence 
  • Take a deep breath and sit up straight, it can make all the difference to how you feel and are perceived.
The breaks between sessions were also a great chance to network. Whilst we were all there because we were atheist/humanist and valued secular values, the pluralism of ideas was special; every discussion I entered into, one on the merits of Justin Bieber’s existence and views spring to mind, was fiercely and intelligently contested. I met some wonderfully interesting folk from across the Irish Sea, who brought an 11 strong contingent from Cork Uni and who were voted into the AHS fold during the Extraordinary General Meeting. Closer to home, I managed to get to know some of theUniversity of Birmingham Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society (UBASH) better and get the ball rolling for pooling resources and holding our own Reason Week.

I wasn’t quite sure how to react to the responses to my happy humanist and Darwin tattoos, from both folk at the workshops and an anthropologist from LSE who’s writing a book about the humanism and humanist organisations. Both are tattoos that don’t think I’ll live to regret but I suppose I’m in a pickle if I undergo a religious conversion; although as Andy Copson suggested, I could always just stick a little halo over the happy humanist’s head. You can see the photos from the second day of the convention (including my gurning  Bo-Selecta face next to my tattoos) here.

After a group session where we got together to discuss ways of improving how the AHS works, the day finished with the presentation of some awards. Whilst the best kind of charity goes unspoken, I can’t say I wasn’t chuffed to bits when AC Grayling (via a pre-recorded message) announced that Aston had raised the most money during Non-Prophet Week!

Together with the special efforts of Emma Moseley, Jack Hooker and Nick Martin (and a helping hand from the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub), we managed to raise a bucket-load of money , which was split between VESL, Amnesty International, Book Aid International, One World Action  and Childreach International.

Congratulations must also go all the award winners, including Bristol Atheist, Agnostic and Secular Society, who won the award for best overall society

I ended the weekend pretty tired out, but, just as when I left the launch event two years ago, I was energized and excited. A huge thank you must go to Richy Thompson, President of the AHS, and the rest of the Executive Committee for doing such a fantastic job, not only of organising the convention, but the running of the AHS as a whole. The value of the kinship and support that the AHS provides cannot be underestimated.

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