Global Atheist Convention – Sunday, 15 April (Part Five)

Olivia (OJ) Lesslar

A Fresh Generation of Freethinkers is Among Us

Another one of my hobby-horses is encouraging young people into the atheist/secular movement.  This is not to say I support the indoctrination of young people or the Christian method of roping ’em in before they’re old enough to think for themselves.

I’m speaking here of older teens and people in their twenties – even early thirties. I feel strongly that we need to change the face of atheism from ageing white men (as brilliant and lovely as some of them are), to a multicultural collage of young people, campaigning together for a better, more peaceful, more equitable world.

That’s not to say that we older people don’t have a role to play.  We have valuable experience, knowledge and street-smarts to contribute. But I think, too often, we older ones cling on to leadership positions where we would do better standing aside to let the young ones through and make our contribution through mentoring.

It was great to see so many young people at the Global Atheist Convention.  But still, too many of our organised groups and speaking programs are too heavily weighted with over-40s.  I’m not for a moment suggesting that we need less over 40s!  But I’d love to see a leavening of younger people – and that includes my own Sunshine Coast Atheists group.  Alas! We’re yet to achieve that.

Scott Sharrad

Yet, I’m inspired by the young leaders we have emerging in our community.

I enjoyed speaking with Scott Sharrad  and Sean Jelinek from the Adelaide Atheists, two very impressive young men with the intelligence, creativity and energy to really move things forward in that state – and nationally if given the opportunity and support.

In Queensland, Olivia (OJ) Lesslar is a great hope for the future of atheism.  OJ founded the Bond University Rationalist, Secularists and Freethinkers.  Of Asian descent, OJ is intelligent, articulate and committed – but her considerable talents are being under-utilised.

Sean Jelinek

Also in Queensland, Jonathan Meddings  is a level-headed, quietly spoken yet highly effective voice for humanism, freethought and science.

Felix Bloomfield is another quiet achiever with a devastatingly high IQ. Leader of ANU’s League of Godlessness (previously the League of Extraordinary Atheists), Felix is exactly the kind of person we need to promote secularism and skepticism in Australia.

In New South Wales, film-maker and law student, Jasmine Marosvary of Startail Tumbler productions never ceases to amaze and impress me. A tireless campaigner for a multitude of causes she is brilliant, quirky and charismatic – and, again, sadly under-utilised.

Jasmine Marosvary

There are others, too:  Dave Singer of Dave the Happy Singer dot com and the podcast In Vino Veritas (with Jason Brown), blogger, Pete Darwin, Ingrid Skiaker (Bond University), Lawson Regan from Western Australia, author and podcaster, Jake Farr-Wharton of the Imaginary Friends Show,  Robert Cope, Luke Weston, Linley Kissick of The Lone Deranger blog, Kieran Dennis (@dolmiogrin), Reidar Lystad, skeptic and vaccination campaigner, Martin Bouckaert, Alan Conradi and Rachel Macalpine of the Western Sydney Freethinkers, aspiring Labor politician, Kurt Hopkins, dedicated Tasmanian skeptic, Jin-Oh Choi, brillliant young science educator Jack Scanlan and many more.

Fortunately, many of these young people are now being nurtured (and can I say ‘coralled’) by the Australian Freethought Student Alliance (formerly the Australian Freethought University Alliance), headed by another highly impressive young man who has incredible future ahead of him – Jason Ball.

Jason BallAustralian Freethought Student Alliance

Jason Ball

I remember saying two years ago to anyone who’d listen, “We have to get Jason on to the international speaking circuit!”

I’ve been delighted to see that happening and I was so proud to see him speaking at the Global Atheist Convention, I thought I might burst (which might have been rather messy)!

Jason has the brains, the media savvy, the presentation and personality to make a brilliant young ambassador for atheism and secularism.  In fact, he already is!

I’d say we need a hundred Jasons, but we already have them (as you can see above!)  We just need to identify, nurture and train them and give them a chance to shine; and the Australian Freethought Student Alliance is playing an active role in that.

Jason’s convention speech was appropriately titled:  A Fresh Generation of Freethinkers is among Us

Jason began by explaining how religion was not even ‘on his radar’ as he grew up. It was not until he went to America as an exchange student in 2005 that he was exposed to full-on Christian fundamentalism. Placed with a family in Kansas, Jason said this experience gave him a window into the effect of religion on individuals and society.

“I was the only kid in school who believed in evolution!” he said.

Jason said he did not reject the religion of his hosts outright.  He happily attended church and youth group. Uncommitted either way, he said, “I only cared about what was true.”

Ironically, being ’embedded’ with a fundamentalist family opened Jason’s eyes to science and he came home to Australia with his ‘eyes open to the effect religion was having on Australian society.”

Enrolling at the University of Melbourne, Jason was astounded to find thirteen religious clubs, but no atheist or secular society. So, he started one.

But, says Jason, he is not an anti-theist.

“We need to work with religious groups to work for secularism,” he says.

Jason is a firm believer that atheism, rationalism and skepticism must be among the many world-views available for students to sample on campus.

Finding his own university awash with the promotion of evangelical Christianity, Jason and his friends devised a ‘Chalk of Reason’ campaign.  Tired of seeing promotions for Christian groups and Bible verses chalked onto the campus pavements, they retaliated with quotes from atheists and secularists – much to the delight of other students.

In 2010, Jason (and others), with the support of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, the Australian Skeptics and the Council of Australian Humanists, formed the Australian Freethought University Alliance (AFUA). The intent was to encourage and support freethought groups in universities across Australia. The AFUA (now the Australian Freethought Student Alliance) now has 21 affiliate groups.

The AFSA must be congratulated for a range of initiatives aimed at enabling students to attend the GAC.  These included providing free tickets, arranging ‘couch surfing’ accommodation and even helping with travel grants.

At the gala dinner  I met a student who had won a grant to attend the convention.  He and his family told me that, as freethinkers, they felt quite isolated in their Far North Queensland town. I was happy to be able to offer to find some like-minded thinkers for them to socialise and converse with.  This is just one of the benefits of these kinds of gatherings.

If you are a student (or teacher or parent) and would like to know more about forming a freethought group at your university or school, you can contact the AFSA through Facebook or Twitter (@freethought_au).

Australian Freethought Student Alliance

Chrys Stevenson

5 thoughts on “Global Atheist Convention – Sunday, 15 April (Part Five)

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