By Barney Zwartz
14th April, 2012
via The Age
TONIGHT, Danny Segal is going to want to pinch himself to be sure it’s real. There he will be – a traditionalist, believing Jew – on stage at the Global Atheist Convention with his singer daughter Shelley, a new pin-up girl for the international atheist movement.
Danny, president of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, plays the violin and has his own klezmer (Jewish music) and dance band. Shelley, 25, has just returned from singing to 25,000 people at the Reason Rally in Washington, and will visit the US at least twice more this year for big atheism conventions.
On Monday, the day after the Melbourne convention ends, the singer-songwriter is launching what she believes is the world’s first specifically atheist CD, titled An Atheist Album. All her own songs, they depict her journey to non-belief.
”I’m not confrontational, I care about how other people feel, but I won’t compromise on being honest,” she says.
It’s a message that will resonate with the more than 2000 people gathering at the Melbourne Convention Centre this weekend to hear such prominent atheists as Richard Dawkins, Geoffrey Robertson and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, philosophers Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, A. C. Grayling and Peter Singer, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and an array of entertainers. Shelley and Danny will perform at the gala dinner.
Sitting in their Caulfield home arguing passionately but lovingly, with lots of laughter, they provide a perfect model for how the wider debate could be conducted.
Raised a traditional Jew, Shelley first had doubts when taught evolution in biology. ”I probably called myself an atheist at 18, but I still thought religion was positive, if not for me. It was the beginning of learning to think critically.
”When I got some distance and perspective I saw things I might take issue with – women being separated [in synagogue] and not being allowed to take part in the service or lead the service and, looking back, it’s abhorrent to me that I didn’t see a problem …”
There were frictions at first. Shelley was angry and Danny was shocked. He says: ”It took a little while to get used to the fact that Shelley didn’t think as I did. But I believe people have the right to determine their own beliefs and I support her 100 per cent.”
Music muted the tensions. Shelley has been singing with Danny’s band since she was 11 and Danny plays with Shelley at her gigs. ”Dad has taught me the joy people can get through music,” Shelley says.
”The support is amazing. When as a teenager I came home and said I didn’t believe in God it must have felt like a complete rejection. The more I meet people in the movement and hear how hard it’s been for them, the more impressed I am by my family.”
Entertainingly, they disagree about whether they disagree on where values come from, but Shelley tells Danny: ”I still have your morality and your values, and the fundamentals of how we feel about life and people are very much the same.”