I'm in a qandry and I need your opion on this one. I went to the Global Atheist Convention on the weekend. My daughter and I went to the Saturday night dinner and the whole program on Sunday. It was a excellent conference. Lots of great speakers. Great food for thought. Peter Singer's talk really resonated with me especially the simple idea that we should stand up for what we think is right. And that's why I'm blogging this experience because something wasn't right. In fact it was very wrong.
Jamie Kilstein is a comedian. I'd never heard about Jamie before the conference except what was written on the Convention website, which listed his achievements. Jamie had a 10 minute slot just after lunch and within a few minutes of starting he launched into what I would call an X-rated invective that included just about everything you would include in the bluest of blue comedy sets you could imagine. It was indecent and obscene.
Now half the audience loved it and gave Jamie a standing ovation. The other half it seemed (of course I'm guessing here hence my need to get your feedback) was like me and felt that that type of set would be fine late at night in the dark recesses of of comedy club (and I have been to plenty) but is innapropriate in the middle of the day at a conference. I was offended.
So I contacted the conference organizers, the Atheist Foundation of Australia, and spoke to the President, David Nicholls. His view was that while he felt Jamie was over the top, he felt Jamie should be able to say whatever he wanted as long as it doesn't incite violence. David told me " free thinkers should be able to hear anything and not be offended." And "they are just words."
After the official proceedings finished I was in the line to get my copy of The Selfish Gene signed by Richard Dawkins and I overheard Jamie Kilstein, as he was selling some of his CDs nearby, say they he didn't intend to be so filthy (his words) but after the first few jokes he felt the audience were up for it. He obviously wasn't reading my body language.
There are a couple of things wrong with this performance. Firstly its tenor and content was extreme and out of character with the rest of the conference except that it had a atheist perspective. There was no warning that the material would be X-rated. I suspect Jamie didn't really know he was going to do the riff that he did but it was poor judgement on his part to do that material. It was ironic that Jamie was whipping half the audience into a frenzy, Hillsong style. People who are ignorant of atheism believe it's just a bunch of left-wing weirdos trying to get away with anything they please and to support Jamie's performance, in this context, only plays into that unhelpful stereotype.
For me free thinking means being able to discuss ideas and to be able to choose which things make sense for you. It doesn't mean a free-for-all where common decency is thrown off the stage. Am I being unreasonable?