Christianity and Secularism “A Conversation for the Year of Faith among Christians, Atheists, Non-Believers and Free Thinkers”

22 Sep

Ok, so I’m officially frustrated. I attended today’s event In Hamilton and I must say that it totally missed the mark as to what it was presented to be.

I belong to a local MeetUp group In Hamilton Ontario Canada for fellow Atheists. Come visit us and join in if you’re interested in meeting like-minded people.

One of our organizers received an invitation to go to this event but wasn’t able to attend so 3 days before the event she sent out a message to see if anyone else was interested in attending. Being raised Roman Catholic and being involved in the church until well into my teens and still having many of my family as practicing Catholics, I thought I’d see what this was all about and maybe even be able to give my perspective, after all of all the religions I have knowledge of the Catholics are the ones I know the most about. I had very high hopes for this event. It seemed like an interesting topic and I actually thought the Roman Catholic Diocese would give the title justice.

I was wrong….So when I got home I actually said to myself “Wow, I just mean wow”. I was a little bit fuming and had to decide between a beer or a submarine sandwich. The submarine sandwich won out this time 😉 Hey, I didn’t end up staying for lunch…..

The title of this meeting was “A Conversation for the Year of Faith among Christians, Atheists, Non-Believers and Free Thinkers in the Diocese of Hamilton”.

Where was the “conversation”?

I honestly felt that I was the only actual Atheist in the room although there may have been more but there was certainly no conversation happening. There were quite a few priests and nuns and some obvious Catholic parishioners in the seats as well as several Catholic Youth group organizations filling the spaces but my “fellow Secular Humanist” radar didn’t give me any indication that anyone else from “the loyal opposition” were in attendance. I don’t even think the fourth presenter David Cayley was an actual atheist. His own description of his believes indicated that he more likely conforms to Pantheism rather than atheism. I believe that he stated that he considers the idea that god IS the universe and that he “feels it around him” or something similar which is Pantheism not Atheism. He also stated that he fits into the description of atheist but then again doesn’t so he’s not really…. (David can clarify and correct me if he feels I got it wrong. ADHD sometimes gets the best of me and my focus can wander….the word “squirrel” comes to mind)

So what was the point of this event if not to actually have a conversation with people of other views if not just to pat one another on the back for all agreeing and then to be able to tell the Pope that they fulfilled their obligation? stated “Thus, we intend that this event will foster mutual understanding and friendship among believers and non-believers through conversation, music and a social gathering at the Cathedral of Christ the King Thus in Hamilton”

Really, it actually DID feel like this was organized to “preach to the choir” as I was warned by my fellow free thinkers who wisely declined the invitation to attend with me. It seems like they just naturally let it become about showing off the Cathedral and have us listen to inspirational music while continuing to talk about Catholicism. I don’t really blame them, it’s what they do. I did indeed enjoy the speakers in the initial discussion panel (especially Father Lewis and Sister Bernadette) and was interested in their 15 minutes of talk time and the subjects they brought forward but the intended “conversation” seemed to be missing which defeats the purpose of this event…..

If their true purpose was to actually have real conversations with Atheists, non-believers and free thinkers then they actually need to HAVE conversations with Atheists, non-believers and free thinkers but that didn’t happen.

I’ll let you know that I stayed for the whole event. After the panel and the Q and A, I indeed looked around the Cathedral, which I hadn’t been to in more than 25 years and then went downstairs to see what was happening but all I saw was a whole bunch of like minded people talking about Catholicism. Even in the “Q and A” the topic arose about how to bring religion MORE into the daily lives of the people rather than talk about what “secular” really means in the workplace. I wish I could say I feel bad for the woman who couldn’t tell her patients that “god is there for you” when she works in a PUBLIC hospital but as a secularist I really, really cant. I didn’t feel welcomed nor did it seem that the purpose was to continue with the topic of religion and the “atheist” which I don’t believe actually started earlier in the first place. I walked out without attempting to speak to anyone simply because I didn’t feel it was appropriate to interrupt someone and say “hi, I’m an atheist, can I intrude into your lunchtime conversation”? Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT shy, I LOVE to talk (ask anyone) and I love to talk about science, religion and especially my atheism but it didn’t seem like the event for that. The initial “panel discussion” seemed hurried and the “Q and A” afterward was abruptly ended so that we could all go into the Cathedral to listen to pretty music rather than continue with the many questions people seemed to have. None of it regarding “Secularism”…Ok, there was one quesiton about “the myth of secularism” but I didn’t really get the answer and I think neather did the audiance member asking it.

I did plan on speaking directly with Sister Bernadette since she seemed like she actually enjoys the style of conversation that I presumed was going to occur today. She was rather funny and she spoke about being one of those who enjoys conversing with people in the “online world” about these topics. I figured she might have also noticed that the “conversation” part never actually occurred. I waited around uncomfortably for a while but she was in a conversation with yet another believer so I simply packed it in, walked out and headed home. Ok, I admit it, I was fuming just a little bit :-/ (and a bit hungry  😉

I must also admit, that is not what I was expecting when I heard that the Catholic Church wished to have a “discussion with atheists, non-believers and freethinkers”

So now this group can get the message to the Pope telling him that they fulfilled their obligation of the “communio circle” and had a conversation ABOUT atheists even though they didn’t actually have a conversation WITH atheist….

I hope you can see my frustration.


31 Responses to “Christianity and Secularism “A Conversation for the Year of Faith among Christians, Atheists, Non-Believers and Free Thinkers””

  1. Reinier hill September 22, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    Read all of the above and your expression of frustration. WOuld suggest we get together for a coffee. I am on east hamilton mountain, retired, so available almost any time. let me know if you think likewise.

    • alandeon2 September 22, 2013 at 4:55 am #

      Hi, I don’t mind, i’m on the East mountain myself. I’m busier but we can always meet up when we get the chance.

      I’m trying to figure out this blog thing. I think I stopped posts from going into moderation.

      I’ll play a little more later

  2. Jorma Larton September 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Alan: Can you provide a short synopsis of what each speaker said….their main points?


    Jorma Larton

    • alandeon2 September 23, 2013 at 7:36 am #

      I’ll have to give it some thought as to exactly what was said. I wasn’t listening in order to repeat it so I’d be a bit foggy on the exact breakdown but maybe I’ll get a chance to break it down on Tuesday or Wednesday.

  3. alandeon2 September 23, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    So I vented my frustration on the diocese website so that I can get the views of others that might have being involved.

    I’ll share that post here so that I don’t fill up their page with back and forth about this matter wasting their space.

    I said

    “Ok, So I have the opportunity to leave a comment so here goes……
    I’ll tell you I was very frustrated with this event as it wasn’t at all what it was presented to be.
    I was so frustrated that I made a blog post. If anyone wishes to hear my thoughts on this and actually contribute to a real conversation on this topic please read my blog post on the subject and let me know what you think.”

    Someone involved with the event replied to my venting on the diocese webpage

    A gentleman from the McMaster Catholic student association replied saying

    Hello Alan,
    I wanted to thank you for attending the event. Believe it or not, the organizers of the event were just as disappointed with tiny Atheist/Agnostic presence as you were. I know I personally invited the McMaster Secular Humanist society to come and I was saddened to see that no one decided to take advantage of the offer. Other efforts were made reach out to the Atheist/Agnostic community. I know that the organizers made no small effort to get an Atheist or Agnostic on the panel, but no one wanted to step up to the responsibility. As much as I wish there was more talking to Atheists and less talking about Atheists, it’s difficult accomplish that goal when all everyone seems so shy.

    I let him know that I’d reply here so he can continue the conversation here. He can invite his friends to join in if they like.

    My reply to that is

    “I’m not all that surprised that they couldn’t find a speaker to represent the atheist side for the actual panel. Public speaking is a rather difficult task especially when one is usually outnumbered by such a large degree. But having more in the audience would have been beneficial and then actually including them in the conversation would have even been better. Simply typing in the words “Atheist Hamilton Ontario” would have brought up the local atheist meet-up group as the 1st, 2nd AND 3rd hits.

    I suppose I took exception with several things. Maybe in the future, these would be addressed before attempting such a thing again.

    1. Contact the people you wish the dialogue with FAR in advance to ensure that you get the speakers AND the audience that you desire. There were so many Catholics from throughout the diocese there, telling me that they indeed advertized this event to your own people. No offence intended to those in the audience but past experience has shown me that those 60 and 70 year old parishioners have NO interest in speaking with an atheist much less learning about what an atheist thinks or has to say. The vast amount of ordained people who also attended are not usually open to conversation with those who are not already in the “flock”. The young people like yourself had the opportunity to only ask two questions and then weren’t given the chance to hear the answer fleshed out to their satisfaction.

    2. This event cannot be done in the manner that was chosen. Yes the format was fine but the timeline for the events was too tight. The panel of 4 was only given 15 minutes each to present a prepared essay on their topic but there needed to be a way to entice those speakers to talk beyond their pre-written presentation. For example, asking them to discuss what was just brought forward by each speaker. Their thoughts their opinions their views. An actual “conversation”. That should have lasted for at least another half hour to ensure that each of them was given an opportunity to freely converse and share their views on what each person had just said. (Possibly with a little salting of audience questions to give the speakers fuel to keep the ideas flowing.) Then it could have been opened up fully to the audience.

    3. They really would have benefited from actually asking the audience if there were actually any “atheists” in the audience and if they had an opinion they’d like to share. Like I said in my blog, I’m not shy. I’m not much of a public speaker but I’d have been happy to have introduced myself and commented on a few things and maybe in the right mood would have answered some questions. I had my hand up to ask a question but then the Q & A ended. I later found out that there was indeed another atheist there who said he had his hand up for 5 minutes to ask a question but they ended the “Q & A” early simply so that we could hear some music and get lunch?? Where is the priority? To eat and listen to music or to fulfill the mandate of this conference?

    So if Catholics wish to speak with us, maybe just a little more effort to find us is in order.

    • alandeon2 September 23, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      For any of you who are following this I received a reply from one of the event organizers.

      This is what he said.

      Dear Alan, I want to assure you that we fully intended that the event would be a conversation among believers, atheists, non-believers and free thinkers. I admit, however, that we failed. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. I spent over a year inviting atheists to join the panel. I sent e-mails. I made phone calls. I met in person. Some were dismissive from the start, saying things like, I don’t want to be your village atheist. Others graciously allowed me to try to explain the format of the event, which was admittedly difficult to get across. After all, as far as I know, hosting an off-site dialogue with atheists along with an open house, music concert and lunch at a cathedral church had never before been organized in Canada. One person came very close to accepting my invitation but in the end decided against it because, as he said, religion is a private matter. When I asked him if he would speak in public about his belief that religion should be private, he declined. While planning the event I discovered that I was running into the very problem that I was hoping it would address. I don’t think the problem is shyness. If I found myself the only Christian in a room full of atheists, I probably also would have kept my thoughts to myself. Sadly, it was precisely these socially conditioned restrictions on interactions between believers and non-believers that we hoped would be overcome. Christopher was one member of a team of students at Mac inviting non-believers. It would appear that they were taken to be insincere. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful. During the panel discussion it was proposed that a kind of clearing in relations among believers and non-believers in the public sphere is beginning to open up in Canada. My hope is that our event was a step in the right direction in an ongoing process of improving relations. Given that our one-sided attempt failed, perhaps it’s time for my group of Christians and your group of atheists to collaborate and plan an event together that would be of interest to the wider public? What do you think?

      • alandeon2 September 23, 2013 at 9:20 am #

        This was my reply

        Father Mark, thank you for the response.

        I was actually contacted by a student from Mac to see if anyone in my group would be able to attend as she wasn’t able to make it but did mention that your group truly seemed sincere in your desire to have this event without “motive”. Other groups in the past clearly did have an ulterior motive for their events.

        I was kind of thinking the same thing in the back of my head regarding a collaboration of a sort but would have to see what that entails and how I could help, if at all. Having a thought in the back of one’s head and suddenly bringing it to the forefront can be a bit daunting. I can certainly ask my group as some people come to mind that might very well jump at the idea. It’s a shame we hadn’t connected before, I might have been able to help you in some way fulfill the objective of this particular event.

        There is a saying in the Atheist community. “Organizing Atheists is compared to herding cats” It can be a hard task as we all seem to want to go in our own directions.

        I not sure what would come of it but I can put out some feelers

        So…. anyone out there find this interesting?

        • Remy Wright September 23, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

          Hi Alan…Thank you for attending and relaying what you experienced. I found the invitation interesting and wish it had been delivered much earlier. This cat would be very interested in the collaboration you propose and happy to help in any way I can to make it happen.

  4. P.J. Lowry September 23, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I had considered attending this event but the time wasn’t in my favor. I had the boys that weekend so I had to pass. Maybe next time Alan.


  5. Sr Bernadette September 24, 2013 at 4:04 am #

    Hi, Alan!

    Thank you so much for post. I just wanted to say that I too did expect a different audience, more students, more wide representatives of differing worldviews – but maybe the next event will be more like we all thought. It does look, though, from the comments, and from speaking the the organizers that sincere and rather diligent efforts were made to try and have all representations. I would have loved to chat with you or dialogue with you in the Q&A – it’s too bad that this did not work out. I hope there is a possible rain cheque:)

    Things have evolved – it looks like there might be another event?? It looks like the right things are in motion to get something really good going. This is great. Thank you for reviving the conversation that tried to get going on Saturday – it might have died a quiet death if you had not posted:) Thanks so much!

    • alandeon2 September 27, 2013 at 7:57 am #

      Hi Sister Bernadette:

      I will be meeting with Father Mark next week. We’ll see what interesting conversation comes of it. Maybe well get another chance at a gathering of the minds, only this time there might actually be some athiests involved 😉 I think you’ll like that.

      Anyway, lets see what happens of it.

      I can also create blog pages to get into discussions on various topics here on this site if anyone has qeustions they are interested in asking or topics they wish discussed.

      thanks for joining in


      • Sr Bernadette September 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

        Alan! This sounds good! Your comment made me laugh… yes.. now we can have a conversation (etymology “speak with”:) I will like that!

        I hope you have a great day! I hope you have a good meeting with Father Mark. Take care!

        Sr Bernadette

  6. alandeon2 September 27, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    So Dianna was in contact with Father Mark and had what she described as a very nice meeting with him so we are planning on doing it again. This time I’ll be there also. It should be interesting. I’ll keep you updated as to what’s going on.

    Maybe if we get another panel going we can invite Richard Dawkins, no… Stephen Hawking.. That we he can stop at the Waterloo Perimeter institute for Theoretical Physics
    and then show up to our panel?? 😉

    Father Mark can invite the Pope to balance the sides 😉

    WhatDoYaThink? Surely they won’t be too busy would they?

    • Sr Bernadette September 27, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Sounds absolutely fun! 🙂 I have two thoughts – for a panel of any magnitude, I think that you do want the best representative as possible for each position – so that they are all represented as well as possible – like getting the best lawyers for a case. A second qualifier in my mind is that they are all committed to reasonable dialogue and not diatribe (unless short justified ones! perhaps we all enjoy an occasional rant…). I think that one event like that would be great. I wonder what type of scale it could be?? Dawkins and Pope Francis.. why not aim high 🙂

      On the other hand, an event like that, because it is a “one-time” thing can turn into a “show-down” to win the point, because there is only one chance to represent the particular position; no one will want to say “I don’t know; let me get back to you on that” (even if they honestly don’t know) because there is no public way to add to the conversation after the event is over. What I see as even more fruitful than a one-time big event (although I think a one-time big event is a nice accompaniment!) is on-going, serious discussion, where in between meeting times, both sides do some thinking/research etc. and come back with deeper insights – reading each other’s literature etc. The one time event – more public; the ongoing discussion – a smaller group of more serious minded people who really want to discuss on this level.

      Are these meetings with Father Mark like this? If so, I think that is really great.

      Take care!

      • alandeon2 September 27, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

        Well, first I’ll see what Father Mark and Dianna have already discussed and well go from there. Debates can be fun but I definately would like to see the audiance included in the discussion and plenty of time to go through as many questions as need be without stopping short. Sometimes the audence members really do have the best questions to ask.

        (I’ve corrected the timestamp on the blog, it was several hours off)

        • Sr Bernadette September 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

          Agreed – roundtable – not just “representative” – very true. Lots of time – like what was supposed to happen last week 🙂

  7. Sr. Bernadette September 28, 2013 at 8:55 am # Maybe it’s not Pope Francis we should invite… but Pope Emeritus Benedict ? :):)

    • alandeon2 September 28, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      Well, he does have a lot more time on his hands these days and I hear he enjoys writing to us atheists. Canada’s not too far from the Vatican. I’m sure he could fly in for a weekend. 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

  8. alandeon2 October 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Ok, Update:

    Father Mark updated his website to include all the video of each speaker. If your interested in knowing exactly what the talks were about here they are

    • Jorma Larton October 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      Ok. I tried to listen to the tapes of this, and had to stop.

      Not good or inspiring or interesting in any way.

      A one-sided pancake….

      • alandeon2 October 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

        Yes, they understand that it was a bit of a failure to give this opportunity justice.

        We plan on trying again. This time it might be a joint effort where we will actually work together.

        You are free to give imput and suggestions as to how this might be a sucess. This could be a great opportunity for us to contribute to something actually worthwile.

        What do you think?

        • Jorma Larton October 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

          What do I think…..

          There needs to be a plan as to what we would be attempting to accomplish.

          That means getting ‘our team’ [whoever they are together] for a discussion of [that].

          Such a plan would articulate our objectives, speakers, topics, etc. etc., and see if there is reason to take that to the theists and see if there can be a meaningful dialogue.

          Most people are not good public speakers [whereas the preachers are], and ‘our team’ needs to be rehearsed, articulate and polished.

          Do we have such calibre in our ranks?

          I’ve watched many a debate [involving Dawkins, Hitchens et al. debating with top rank theists], and it can be tricky ground to cover.

          There has to be credibility to our advocates; otherwise the preachers, who have much experience in such situations, can make us look….well….[pick a word]…say, …amateur…if we are not prepared to put the points across in a professional manner.

          • alandeon2 October 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

            Well maybe I should explain what this particular one might be more like. The idea is most likely is to be simply “a night of conversation with atheists” or something like that. The idea (this time around) might be to actually talk. No debate. No just standing at a podium listing off atheist zingers to counter their theist zingers. No standing there with 15 minutes to churn out debate points and then 5 minutes to counter those points, rinse and repeat, etc… I’d prefer to see a round table discussion where YES we do indeed have some discussion points where we state what an “atheist” really is and our personal background and maybe a breakdown of the difference between atheist and agnostic and theist\atheist and agnostic theist, agnostic atheists etc… but not a full on debate where there must be a “winner” and “loser”. I’d like to see the discussion be opened to both the invited guests as well as the audience to be able to ask honest questions and some good people who can clearly answer those questions so that those in attendance will never again be able to say, “I have no idea what an atheist thinks”. I’d prefer “I met an atheist group once, they were NOT what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised”. So I’d like to see a round table discussion idea where THEY learn more about who we are, what we think and why. Not a competition to see who can annihilate the other.

            Remember that Catholics are NOT seasoned debaters like many Baptist Christian preachers or Christian apologists so I’m really not expecting anything like what we all love to watch on YouTube. They have an extensive knowledge of religion but I’m not expecting them to be out there yelling at us and quoting Old Testament and such. Remember, they acknowledge that evolution IS the most likely explanation for how we came to be what we are today (Through god, of course). That doesn’t mean that we might not organize an actual debate next. It’s just that that’s not currently the idea we are throwing around.

            Things may certainly change but rough draft wouldn’t be a hard core debate on a stage, our best person against their best person trading barbs.

            So MY idea at least is to have a “night of conversation with atheists” and not a hard core debate. So when you say “meaningful dialogue” that’s what I’m hoping for. Ultimately, it might turn into something totally different.

            Diana is looking into organizing a separate event with the McMaster Association of Secular Humanists (MASH) | Secular … VS the McMaster Catholic Students Association. But I don’t know much about it or if it’s going to happen. That will be Diana’s project to do or not.

            McMaster grants access to their facilities free of charge if we were to also hold our event at McMaster but it’s not at that point yet.

            So this one might not be what you are hoping for but that’s the idea that’s been thrown around so far.

            If all goes well, this could happen in our area more often.

          • Jorma Larton October 23, 2013 at 8:15 am #

            I’ll repeat my comment again. There needs to be a plan. Spinning your ideas with me is not a plan. I suggest that a group be formed to brainstorm the ideas, and then determine the plan.

          • alandeon2 October 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

            Your right, this is a conversation, not a plan. I am going to Tomorrows Meetup and so are two people from the Catholic community that were involved with the original event. Ideas will be shared. Conversation will happen. A plan may not be set up but we’ll have some friendly conversation and see what ideas sound best.

            We can work on forming a group to see what can come of this as soon as we confirm that something like this is actually able to happen.

            Nothing is set in stone or even confirmed as of yet.

            If all goes well, maybe we can continue along these lines and have further events with varying topics and formats.

            Maybe as a group we’ll be invited out into the community more to help out and become involved in topics and events that interest us and be invited do things that can help local communities.

    • Jorma Larton October 27, 2013 at 11:42 am #


      Do you have email addresses for the priest and the sisters who attended the meetup last Thursday?



      • alandeon2 October 27, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

        I don’t usually share other peoples personal email without permission but I can give them your email if you’d like

        • Jorma Larton October 28, 2013 at 8:46 am #

          I just wanted to thank them personally for their attendance. Sure, we can do the exchange in reverse.

          • alandeon2 October 28, 2013 at 11:25 am #

            ok.. Just in case you didn’t know, Sister Bernadette who posted above IS the same lady you spoke to on Thursday. She’ll be reading this when she gets the chance. I’m not sure if Father Mark has been to this blog yet.

            I’ll be updating this blog when I get the chance also to give a breakdown of our night.

          • Sr. Bernadette October 28, 2013 at 11:30 am #

            Thanks, so much, Alan and Jorma! It was great to meet up with you on Thursday! Thank you for welcoming us to your gathering! Please share my email – I look forward to continuing our conversation (we’ll be able to hear better ;):) Talk to you soon:)

  9. alandeon2 July 15, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Ok, I’ve been negligent on keeping up with my blog thingy. Maybe I’ll think of something new to post.

    In the meantime. Our group is still interested in some sort of outreach and\or community contact.

    feel free to post ideas or just say hi 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: