Friday, October 9, 2009

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Warning: If you are easily offended by controversial topics and/or worried that you may burn in hell if you don't love Jesus, you may want to stop reading and check out something a little lighter, like this.

For the rest of you...

The Sydney Opera held its inaugural Festival of Dangerous Ideas this past weekend. The two-day festival of provocative speakers and controversial topics was kicked off Saturday with the Soapbox Public Speaking Competition, a free event in the Opera House Forecourt (the outdoor area below The Opera House steps).

Any person who wished to was given two minutes on an actual soapbox to say whatever they like. Ten ranters went to a final round, and a winner was chosen.

Later that evening the official "Opening Session" began with the CEO of The Opera House Richard Evans, introducing the festival as the inaugural of a new annual event. His introduction concluded with welcoming the winner of the Soapbox Competition to the stage. A thin, older woman dressed in jeans entered the stage and stepped up upon the soapbox. She began with the declaration, "I want the right to die." And though she was not dying, and had no desire to die today, her poignant and eloquent rant made it clear why she had won the competition; it also made me wish I had gone to hear the others earlier that afternoon.

The speaker for this evening's session was Christopher Hitchens, the program titled Religion Poisons Everything.

Often, I refer to myself as a "bad Jew". Jewish law dictates that if you're mother is Jewish you are too-- automatically. But for me, for years, I've believed that organized religion could, and should, be compared to a cult, a cult that got out of control.

If there is a God, would he or she really want you to pray to him every day? Would he or she really send you to the "fiery gates of hell" for sinning? Would a great, mighty God want people to be scared of him or her? Does baptizing children really "save" anyone? Save us from what? And as Hitchens said during his session, if a man on public transport was proclaiming himself as a prophet, would you choose to sit closer to him... or further away?

One thing was certain, Christopher Hitchens was "preaching to the choir". He is an incredible speaker and it was very validating for someone who's always felt like I "didn't believe".

On Sunday, the second day of the festival, Cardinal George Pell presented a session called Without God We Are Nothing. I consider organized religion safe, so I'm not sure how that fit into The Opera House's program besides allowing religious zealots to defend their stance. It seems the only dangerous part of a Without-God-We-Are-Nothing attitude, would be breaking away from it.

A few of the other topics at The Festival of Dangerous Minds included:
  • Freedom: The Most Dangerous Idea of All with Germaine Greer
  • People With Flat Screen TVs Should Stop Whinging About Capitalism
  • Make All Drug Use Legal
  • Does Online Networking Harm Children's Brains?
  • By 2075 The Aboriginal Genocide Will Be Complete
  • Australian Stereotypes Betray Our Cultural Identity
  • The Old Should Pay For Themselves
  • Polygamy and Other Islamic Values Are Good for Australia
  • No Human Cure Justifies Animal Experimentation
  • Yes to Child Labor, No to The Minimum Wage
  • Policing Our Minds is the Future
As you can see, the topics alone could make almost anyone start feeling a little uncomfortable and anxious. Needless to say, I will be looking forward to see what they line up in 2010.

You can click here for a link to ABC's clips from the festival.



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36 comments:

SuperMindy said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!!!!!!!

Kate said...

Dude, this sounds so cool. I wish I'd known about it, but will definitely be on the lookout next year. Hitchens didn't reprise his waterboard act, did he? :)

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Mindy- Next year you're sooo there.

Kate- Next year you're sooo there-- don't make me form a facebook event. haha.

Stereos and Souffles said...

Amen. I mean, I'm right there with you. Hearing Hitchens would have been great. I enjoy when he goes on the talk show circuit, very entertaining with his message.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Stereos and souffles- Hallelujah sister.

JD at I Do Things said...

Awesome. I love Christpher Hitchens (and that book) and am super-envious you got to hear him speak.

Organized religion IS dangerous, in my opinion. Except the part where animals go to heaven. And children.

Dina said...

It sounds like a great thought-provoking event.

Mama Bird said...

I would LOVE to go to this. The whole religion thing gets to me too. Living in the bible belt of the US, we are surrounded by people who pray for things like whether they should buy a new truck or that they can stick to their diet or or whatever other mundane thing they might be thinking about that day. Drives me up the freakin' wall. I mean, you think, being Christians they would not want to clutter God's business with that crap and instead stick to praying about kids dying of cancer or something else REAL. Pisses me off, if you didn't get that. My hubby, who is Australian, got really freaked out when often the first question we got after meeting people here was what church we went to. And he grew up going to Catholic school even.

Rassles said...

That. Sounds. Fantastic. Incredible. I LOVE that you went there - you just blew my mind. Seriously. Wow.

Marvin the Martian said...

Jesus who? ;-)

Sounds like it was fun!

Jill Stevens, Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist said...

LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT!!!

Captain Dumbass said...

Sounds like a good weekend. If I happen to win the lottery between now and next year I'll be there.

sandra said...

Hi Florida Girl !
It's liberating to know that there are people out there who think like you.
The Mighty Google introduced me to your blog, and when I feel like reading something interesting and funny, I search your posts. Today I read that one about the day you went to the SALVO and bought the vinils and I learnt my new favorite expression in English: going ninja on ______! Cooool !
By the way, forgive my bad English... (=

DarNonymous said...

Sounds interesting. Why have I lived in Sydney my whole life & never come across all the interesting things you seem to find?!
You should totally include in your Blog all the awesome things to do & see around Sydney that you always seem to be in the know of, I'd definately be a regular reader (as if I'm not a full-time lurker already!).

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

JD- I have an image in my head of Jesus at the end of the rainbow bridge now.

Dina- It didn't seem like there were people there who didn't already share his viewpoint, but it would have been interesting to talk to someone who went and didn't agree!

Mamabird- Yeah, when I lived in Dallas I was overloaded in the religion department, I remember being at lunch at Neiman Marcus and two ladies were literally studying the bible next to us. Not something I'm used to.

Rassles- It was great, and next year I'm planning to do a bunch of them.

Marvin- They probably don't have him where you're from?

Jill- xoxoxoxoxo can't wait to see you sis.

Captain Dumbass- Get crackin' on that, airfares are good-- but then again if you win the lotto you won't even need a good deal.

Sandra- Thank you so much, that is all so nice of you to say. Should I assume that was supposed to be "going ninja on "'your ass'"?

Darnonymous- I seek the stuff out, I want to get my money's worth from paying all that weekly rent here! haha. Actually I had mentioned that I would be adding some features to my blog soon-- and they are almost ready, but those things include: Yearly Events in Sydney, Cliff and Coastal Walks in Sydney, Must Go Places in Sydney, Playgrounds and Parks in Sydney, and a couple of others. It's going to include links to blogs who have written about these places and events. So thanks for giving me a little kick in the ass on that because I need to just put it up already-- anyway, keep a look out on my sidebar for it!

nursemyra said...

Will you still be here in 2010?

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Nursemyra- Definitely.

Tilda said...

I am the old thin woman who ranted about my right to die. I am glad you enjoyed it. My blog is www.stilloldandfeisty.blogspot.com if you want to hear more. The support gave me great heart that the worm may turn. best wishes Sarah

im'mature said...

Sounds like I missed a good first day. :o) I got a ticket to the Greer session on the second day, and stayed for a couple more - turns out there's a "student rush" price of $10, released an hour before each show; there are some pluses to being young and poor, I s'pose.

My favourite one by far was Baroness Susan Greenfield's neuroscience take on the effects of online networking and videogames. Yale has a similar lecture of hers on YouTube, here.

Can't wait for this to become a regular part of the Sydney calendar!

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Tilda/Sarah- Thank you so much for stopping by my little blog-- very very exciting for me!!! You did an amazing job that night (I didn't see the forecourt festivities). What an incredible way to have your voice heard. You rock, keep at it.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

im'mature- I wanted to go to more of the events but that didn't work out-- next year though, I'm all in.

Gypsy said...

Iiiiiinteresting. I think I would have liked to hear some of those presentations.

C said...

I love the sound of this festival! What a great idea - give someone a valid space to voice their opinion/thoughts to an audience that is open to hearing things they may or may not agree on. It's like blogs coming to life :)

Walter said...

Actually, those are not dangerous ideas, in fact they are creative. The problem with ordinary people is that they are closed-minded and are terribly blind of the truth. :-)

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Gypsy- The CEO of the Opera House said he was on his 3rd glass of wine when him and his buddy came up with the concept for the festival. I wish I came up with stuff like that-- and could put it into action!

C- Totally!

Walter- They're the ideas of people who don't get led easily by others, I love that.

Lakeland Jo said...

I love stuff like this- listening to debates and different perspectives. I think whatever our views, this type of discussion and opportunity is healthy and at the heart of democracy. Great post. Wish I could come over for a listen- bit far perhaps

Brutalism said...

I don't mean to be ironic when I say, "Amen!"

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Lakeland Jo- Yeah, I love it too. There's always next year... who doesn't want to come to Australia with this as an excuse??

Brutalism- Hallelujah sista.

Reasons said...

Dropped by from Musings from the Deep. Great post! Would love to hear some of those debates!

Anonymous said...

Aussie Guy in Florida - mmm... Discussion on religion oh how I would like to get into that debate.

But don't let me get started or I will be writting for the next few hours about it.

Lets just say at the age of 9 I was asked to leave Sunday School (Thats a Christian thing for Kids) for asking to many questions that the religious folk did not want to answer.

A Free Man said...

I'm as rational about 'god' as the next guy, but sometimes people like Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher get under my skin a bit. Because, essentially, what they are is evangelical atheists. I don't really care what anyone believes or doesn't, I just don't want someone's religion or lack thereof all up in my face.

mau said...

Hi there - I found your blog because it was somewhere next to mine on the expat-blog page :) and I'm already a fan! YEAH!
I can't believe that I live in Sydney and haven't heard of this festival yet! What a shame! But I'll be there next year hoping there are more people telling the world how stupid religion is or that not all big dogs are killers...

DarNonymous said...

I gave you a Blog award, cos I am like your biggest lurker ever!
Details are on my latest post.

formerly fun said...

I am so jealous I did not get to attend this as it sounds fabulous. Maybe we should all come up with our own lists of "dangerous ideas" that need talking about.

stephfw said...

Hey I'm a bad Jew too! Nice to be in good company! I am so bad that I married a Catholic...

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Steph- That is sooo funny-- when will we get together?? Can't wait to meet you guys.