Expat Magazine

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

By Floridagirlinsydney
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 Allwith 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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