Revolution #128, May 1, 2008

Exciting Exchanges in New York and Los Angeles…

Atheism, God and Morality in a Time
of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism

“Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism” was the title of the conversation sponsored by Revolution Books between Chris Hedges and Sunsara Taylor on the evening of April 23. Over 200 people filled the Wollman auditorium at New York’s Cooper Union and spilled into the hallways to hear and get into the discussion between Hedges, speaking about his new book, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, and Taylor, speaking on behalf of Bob Avakian’s new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. An unseasonably warm spring day meant the room was hot—but most people stayed for over three hours and when the program had to end there were still 30 hands waving in the air.

Both Hedges and Taylor painted vivid and chilling pictures of the real-world suffering caused by religious fundamentalism, and both exposed atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris who justify U.S. imperialist crimes by claiming that Islamic fundamentalism is the worse danger in the world. Both discussed various dimensions of the “crisis of meaning” in today’s world and the desperation and despair driving people to fundamentalist religion. Yet Hedges’ and Taylor’s approaches and analyses of the role of religion itself and the religious impulse, and the direction of their proposed solutions, are very different, and the audience was thirsty to hear and dig into the exchange and contestation between them.

There was an urgency to the evening, a driven spirit to find solutions to some of the most difficult problems confronting people all over the world. Hedges and Taylor challenged each other, and then were challenged by the thought-provoking and serious questions from the audience. As the evening closed, conversation and debate was still raging.

Religion, Atheism and Black People

On Saturday, April 26, over 200 people attended a panel discussion of “Religion, Atheism and Black People” at the James Bridges Theater at UCLA. The diverse audience included a mix of nationalities, people of all ages, atheists, religious believers, and people searching for answers, activists, UCLA students, and people who heard about the event while attending the L.A. Times Festival of Books which was taking place just outside the event at UCLA. The invitation to the discussion posed: “Is religion an enslaving or a liberating ideology for Black people?  What is the role of religion and the Black church in the history and present day reality of Black people in America—from slavery to Katrina—as many seek an end to oppression and a better world?”

The panelists were: Dr. Obery Hendricks, a Professor of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary and author of The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted. (Three Leaves, 2007); Clyde Young discussing Bob Avakian’s new title, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World (Insight Press, 2008); and Erin Aubry Kaplan, contributing editor to the op-ed section of the Los Angeles Times, who has written extensively on the Black community and believes that religion is “an opiate for the masses of Black people.” The audience closely followed presentations and exchanges among the panelists, and then engaged the panelists in an hour and a half of intense questions and answers.

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