Highlights from the 2012 Global Atheist Convention Student Grants Initiative

Ten deserving students have been awarded free three-day passes to the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, based on essays submitted to our Student Grants Initiative.

The GAC Committee have selected some of our favourite essays for publication, and we hope you enjoy them.

It would be stellar to gain access to the GAC through a generous grant. As a student in the US, the very idea of attending seemed completely out of reach. Melbourne seems like worlds away! I see the GAC as a way of making my world a little smaller.

I come from a family of compassionate and tolerant Lutherans. I’ve been around religion since birth- I was baptized in the church my parents were married in, and my grandfather remains active in that church to this day. My parents only ever made me attend church on Christmas and Easter, and I have very early memories of stumbling through hymns and refusing communion. I went to a secular private girls’ high school, where I was taught to question absolutely everything. I came out as an atheist when I was 15 to very little fanfare. My parents were understanding, but confused. My mom and I have since had many conversations about why she remains agnostic, and why I stubbornly insist upon refusing the idea of a “higher power”.

I was alone in my lack of faith for a long time. The overwhelming majority of my friends hold on to their spirituality, whether it’s Judaism, Quakerism, or (rarely) Christianity. I discovered the works of Christopher Hitchens, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Richard Dawkins. I found a niche in these amazing books. I’ve found and latched on to the skeptic community, because it seems to connect all of my favorite things- intellect, doubt, and science fiction. The GAC can be my first adventure in real-life atheism, with a vast community of incredible people who share my non-beliefs.

I love the idea of forming relationships with outspoken, intelligent, educated, interesting, and all-round fantastic atheists from around the world. I’ve learned so much from the godless heathens in my life, and I can’t wait to spend a weekend bonding with more.

Jennifer – Philadelphia

Having come from a relatively conservative town in the southernmost part of New Zealand, I’ve seen my fair share of illegitimate, religion based logic. Out-dated traditions have kept many high schools in Dunedin in the Stone Age in terms of accepting people for whom they are and allowing, tolerating and encouraging diversity. I consider myself lucky in that I managed to go to the most open-minded high schools in Dunedin. Here at Logan Park high school we’re the only school in Dunedin that has allowed same-sex couples to attend end of school formals/balls together. The fact that every other school in Dunedin disallows this is outrageous. Some schools allegedly will allow a same-sex couple to attend the end of year formal if they acknowledge their sexuality in a school assembly. To me this is clearly a human rights violation, which brings me to my next point about why I consider myself an Atheist and why I would love to attend the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne.

Why:

Why is something that I believe we need to ask at every stage of our lives and every decision that we make. While I consider asking why to be a core pillar of what makes our society work, various religions would rather that we didn’t question why and that we left certain or most topics out of the spotlight of conscious debate. As an atheist I feel that we should constantly question and challenge traditions and beliefs. This is in no way limited to a belief in gods or tradition created solely by religion. I believe that we should be in constant re-evaluation of our moral and ethical code. If we question the beliefs of the past we can improve our quality of life and create a better world for everybody to live in. If we take some entities view on what they consider ‘wrong’ to heart then we’re limiting ourselves in a very serious way. We have only a short time on this earth and it’s important that we make the most of it and enjoy every part of it that we can. Thinking in this way allows us to discontinue archaic traditions like the one I highlighted above.

I pity the huge numbers of people that waste their lives away in the hope of something better, in some mythical afterlife, when really, the only thing that can make them happy or create change in their lives, is themselves. I would like to attend the global atheist convention because I want to ask why. I want my mind to be changed and I want to re-evaluate more of the decisions that I’ve already made. I want to hear alternative reasoning regarding everything in life. The Global Atheist Convention is the best place to do this because of the free and open thinking that atheism creates. By doing this I believe I will be able to enjoy a fuller and more interesting life.

Louis – New Zealand

My name is Mysti, I’m a year 11 student and an atheist. I was not raised an atheist though, my heritage is a little bizarre. The reason I wish to attend the Global Atheist Convention may require a little history of my atheism.

The half of my family I don’t live with are of a secluded fundamentalist religion, the other half indifferent. I was not raised religious, but I was given Bibles as presents, sung grace when visiting my family and took part in religious education during primary school. I can’t say it ever resonated with me, I understood it the way I understood a fairy tale. My first step towards acknowledging my lack of belief was when I said God was just Santa Claus for adults, however this revelation wasn’t met with as much praise as was usual.

Complete understanding of what constitutes an atheist and what I was wasn’t achieved until a few years ago. My brother would show me videos about the universe, and they really interested me. They appealed to my sense of logic; it is exciting when things make sense. When he bought up a religion is when I actually thought about what I had been taught in R.E and what my family practiced. None of it made sense; it really is just an adult’s Santa.

When I visited my religious family from then on I would stay quiet during grace or their “meetings.” I asked my father why he left the religion, and I was remarkably surprised how similar our logic was. The real revelation came when I finally spoke to my cousins, the same cousins whom only know the religious life. Nothing made sense to them either.

Now I will proudly announce my atheism and why I am an atheist, I will also add that it isn’t I who should be validating my views. My first and current boyfriend was a Christian, only to be seduced by science the way I was. I believe he is also applying for this and I can also safely say his family dislike me because, and I quote, I have too many opinions. So I’m opinionated, I would call that a positive trait.

As a friend of mine said, the intelligent are never moderates. They may change their view if presented with sufficient evidence, but they are never moderates.

To attend a convention that celebrates reason and takes pride in the inherit intelligence of logic is an amazing opportunity. The speeches from previous conventions appeal to that excitable common sense of mine, as do the speakers’ books. I’ve a good number of atheistic books, and a few religious books from my boyfriend. The truth is obvious.

If I were to name role models, I wouldn’t name athletes or celebrities but every name I do say would appear on the conventions’ list of speakers.

With that, I ask that you consider me for this grant. It would be by far the most exciting thing in my life.

Growing up in a Catholic family, I was surrounded by religious influence in my most formative years of my short life. For a period of time, I simply took the indoctrination at face value, and never questioned what decisions were being made for me. Thankfully, upon being exposed to concepts such as rational thought and secularism, I soon began to question the lessons I was being taught. Fortunately, I was in an environment where religious belief was enforced very little, and I did not have any great ‘coming out’ moment. At 17 years of age, I reflect on how my views of people have changed for the better, and how rational thought has become so core to my being.

I have great aspirations for my future careers. Convinced to take Philosophy and Reason in senior schooling, I soon learnt the vast array of knowledge that existed, and it has inspired me towards a political future. When I view the current state of events through my admittedly naïve eyes, I am astounded by the amount of political currency we still place in Bronze Age fairy tales. We continue to unequivocally support a ‘secular’ nation that has continued to base its Middle Eastern diplomatic policy off the basis that the bible is a factual recording of events. That same nation spends millions upon millions of dollars in weaponry in arming a nation that lays its claim to land in the Torah, to continue a perverse cycle of senseless violence, while claiming to have ‘tolerance’ and ‘understanding’ in its ethos.

Furthermore, our own supposedly secular system is corrupt to the core in promoting various faiths through tax breaks. The $30 billion that religions fail to pay each year is a staggering amount. It is incredible to imagine what could be achieved in providing $30 billion for scientific research or education. While I express disgust at these current practices, I am not prepared to stand idly by and watch the theocrats drag the world
down. I understand that proactive measures must be taken, and political action can cause real change. As I look towards tertiary study next year, I look forward into engaging in student politics, to gain experience in these areas, and to hone my ability to understand logic and reason when making decisions.

Thus, I feel my attendance will be the first small step in a series of great ones. Starting in the small role as a mere observer will allow me to learn from the great figures of the atheistic movement. Being surrounded by other like minded people will provoke me into stimulating conversation and debate. The lessons I will learn from this experience will galvanise my efforts to promote reason and secularism, and allow me to engage and relate to others who share the same ideals.

Matt

Despite attending Christian schools for most of my schooling, I have been an atheist for many years. I wish to attend the 2012 Global Atheist Convention for many reasons.

Books such as The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation were, and still are enormously influential to me as an atheist teenager, and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have always been authors who inspired me to learn more about atheism. The opportunity to see some of these leaders in the atheist community present a talk is truly amazing. Catherine Deveny has been a role model of mine for a long time, for various reasons – although I haven’t always agreed with her opinions, her work with Dying with Dignity, support of people with disabilities and her initiative of “No chicks no excuses” is nothing short of inspirational.

I have spent many hours in compulsory religious education classes, but the only religious education provided was that of Christianity. Although I now currently attend a public school, there is a Christian group – and I intend to create a secular student society. The internet is, of course, an invaluable resource, but the prospect of meeting with like-minded people at a three-day conference is an experience that would provide me with enormous amounts of information, confidence, and guidance in the right direction to promoting atheism and freethought as a viable alternative to religion.

The 2012 Global Atheist Convention is an exciting event which I hope to attend, which is why I hope to receive a ticket to next year’s convention.

Miranda

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