Sheffield Freethought Convention: A Weekend of Skeptic Madness!

The end of February marked one of the best outings for the AHS to date! We rolled up on the 27th eager to get going and sorted out our hotels (With a minor mix-up on the part of Sean and myself.) However once settled we quickly made our way down to a local pub to meet the other convention goers. We talked and laughed through the night and we were more than happy to run into acquaintances from previous events.

However, come Saturday it was time to really get down to business! We arrived bright and early and took our seats for our first round of speakers beginning with Alastair Lichten who gave us a very provocative talk on humanism as a human rights issue. Being able to see humanism’s links to other social justice movements such a feminism was illuminating and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Next up we had David Fitzgerald; the well-known author of ‘the heretic’s guide to western religion’ gave us his hilarious “Sexy Violence! Violent Sex! The Weird-Ass Morality of the Bible” talk that he seemed to have as much fun delivering as we did listening!

“I’d cross the Atlantic anytime to make it to future cons like this one. My hat is off to you all!” – David Fitzgerald

Afterwards we had a little something for the students in the audience from Alice Fuller. Her talk on why humanism needs young people resonated very well within us all and reminded many of us why the work we do as part of a university AHS is important to youth engagement with humanism. After that we had a much needed lunch break to rejuvenate ourselves before the second round of talks. Having time to sit down and have casual discussions with the speakers in this time was something many of us saw as an improvement  when compared to many conventions we’d been to that weren’t associated with the AHS.

Once we’d had our fill of food it was back to the hall to resume the day. We had Lola Tinubu and Clive Aruede from the London Black Atheists up directly following lunch discussing theocracy by proxy and how governments in Africa were being subverted by religion. They brought up many issues that some of us were completely oblivious to beforehand and widened our spheres of social awareness.

Question: “Is it possible to be openly atheist in Nigeria?” Answer: “Well we had one” – London Black Atheists. (Great to see humour through adversity.)

Up next we had Amal Farah on how Apostasy laws were used within Islam to silence dissent along with a telling of her own personal story on how she moved away from Islam. This was especially exciting to those of us from UCLan as we were getting a preview of the talk that she would hopefully deliver to us in the future here at UCLan. Finally we had Andrew, the CEO of the British Humanist Association deliver a hilarious and useful talk on how to counter objections to humanism. As ever he had a litany of witty and intelligent answers to the main arguments many critics of humanism would throw at us. This of course was followed by a brilliant question panel made up of all our wonderful speakers that allowed us to pick their brains before we headed off to our amazing dinner that night, where we spent hours getting to know each other even better than before.

“Nothing puts these issues into perspective more than hearing people’s personal accounts. It was a inspirational and humbling experience” – Phil Ashburn

Finally it came time for our last day of the convention to get under way. Sunday consisted of two workshops run by David and Andrew which was accompanied by a fishbowl debate session. David’s workshop on “Does Jesus Matter?” hilariously explained many of the inconsistencies with the story of the messiah while Andrew’s Debating masterclass allowed us to cultivate many important skills for use both within work done for the AHS and in many other spheres in life. The fishbowl debate session was by far one of the highlights of the convention with four chairs being laid out in the middle of the room in a circle while the rest of the chairs were set in a wider circle around that. We each took our turns in the hot-seats discussing the matter on whether the government should impose rights to free speech. Opinions were somewhat mixed however everyone present was able to deliver a sterling argument. Moving forward, we’ll definitely try this format when conducting future debates at UCLan.

“It’s great to see how vibrant our community is, and how our members are using these opportunities to develop many transferable skills such as public speaking and debating, which will undoubtedly serve them well at university and beyond” – Glen Carrigan

So with the events of the last day done and dusted it came time to leave everyone behind. We all went through the usual motions of exchanging contact details and thanking each other for being such good company before racing of to catch our trains, buses and cars to go to wherever we called home. Hats off to Sylvia and her team for orchestrating this splendid event and I’m sure next year there will be even more attendees on top of those of us just itching to come back!

Niall Rowe (Social Secretary)

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