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31 July 2010

TAM, Day One: Sean Faircloth

This is the fourth in a series of posts discussing The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, which took place at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, 8–11 July 2010. You can find the previous post here. You can find the next post here.

I've seen Dawkins in the hall a few times, and based on the expression on his face I'm left with the impression that he isn't especially approachable. He will do a brief book-signing, but makes it clear (through Hal Bidlack) that he will not be taking pictures with fans. To be fair, having his picture taken with several hundred people would take quite some time.

Sean Faircloth

My first impression of Sean Faircloth is, believe it or not, that he is bizarrely handsome. He actually really looks like a politician—you know, one of those young film or TV politicians who are running for governor or some such thing. He's not (I checked IMDb), but I'm just sayin'.

My only real problem with his presentation is that it assumes (as would several other presentations to come) that the audience is American, an assumption that is not borne out by the diversity of the crowd.

Sean talks about the Secular Coalition for America and their lobbying efforts, and how difficult it is to advocate for the separation of church and state. He makes mention of David Vitter, an American senator who apparently stated or implied that opposing gay marriage was more important to him than providing hurricane relief, even if hurricanes the size of Katrina and Rita were to descend together upon the same metropolitan area.

Faircloth announces that he is going to talk about the Bible. He begins with the story of Abraham and Isaac, which provided him his first moment of religious doubt.

He comes down hard against sectarian schools and daycares, as they are not subject to the same health and safety laws, unannounced inspections, and the like that are required for secular child care institutions. Sean talks about a young girl who was left alone, in a van, in the sun, for two hours by a person working for a sectarian daycare. The child died. He cites another examploe, in which a young boy was left alone in a vehicle for ten hours. He also died.

In pre-Columbian times the Incas would kill children to satisfy their gods. Jessica Crank, 15, had a tumour the size of a basketball on her shoulder. Her mother didn't believe in science, and in the 21st century, she died suffering. "They call it faith healing," Faircloth says. "I don't call it faith healing. I call it faith killing." Where were the right to life groups in the case of these children?

Sean Faircloth then speaks of Father Shanley, a now-defrocked priest who allegedly attended man-boy love meetings. According to Faircloth, the priest's superiors knew about it, but they claimed that religious freedom mandates that they do by have to share this information with the authorities.

Sean contends that Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Ted Haggard, and their ilk have special rights in our society—that's why the Secular Coalition for America is so important. These men have the power to say: "You're a Jew. You're fired." That's not right.

He proposes a thought experiment. You are running for office. You have an excellent platform, and a high approval rating—but the first thing that will happen once your candidacy is announced is that someone in the media will Google you. And they will find that you've said this:

The priests of the different religious sects dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.

And even worse, you've said this:

Religions are all alike—founded upon fables and mythologies.

It turns out that both of those quotations are from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and because of them and others like them he could not be elected today.

"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession."
—Abraham Lincoln,
quoted by Joseph Lewis in Lincoln the Freethinker

"If there is a God, he is a malign thug."
—Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

"I believe in an America ... where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice."
—John F. Kennedy

Sean Faircloth is a very passionate speaker. He believes that America's tax-funded public schools should teach the Bible. But they should also teach the Qur'an, and they should teach the constitution. That's how children will learn. "Which evolves? Which is based on barbaric violence and viciousness?" John Lennon's Imagine: "The people of the world know the words to that song."

He urges everyone to visit "You will see that we have a modest plan to take over the United States." Applause.

"Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing at all."
—Helen Keller


  1. I don't know the greater context, but if Sean was linking childhood death by hyperthermia with sectarians in particular, then it was way out of line IMO. Skeptics are no more immune to forgetting about their children in the car.

  2. I agree that if this were his point, it would certainly be out-of-line. I can't think of any reason that a religious person would be more likely to forget a child in a car than an irreligious person. I believe that the point Faircloth was trying to make was that sectarian child care institutions are not subject to the same level of government regulation (with regard to inspection of facilities, vetting of staff, etc.) that are required of secular institutions, and this lack of regulation was in part responsible for the deaths of these children.