In a meeting of 800 skeptics and freethinkers at the Riviera, the taboo topics of polite American life, the stuff no one in their right mind brings up at the office or at a family dinner, were open for discussion.

And everyone pretty much agreed with each other at Saturday's "The Amazing Meeting 5," sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. It brings together skeptics from across the country - and a handful from abroad - for three days of lectures and socializing.

Religion? No better - and maybe worse - than spoon-bending frauds and psychic pet detectives. Mostly atheists here.

Politics? See above. Substitute "libertarian" for "atheist."

But even here there was one topic everyone strained to avoid: Iraq. One might think that the major issue of our time, a nasty war that might not have happened if doubting voices were heeded, would come up, especially at a conference entitled "Skepticism and the Media." They could have asked why there wasn't more skepticism about weapons of mass destruction, wars of occupation and whatnot.

But no. It was all, Aunt Sarah, can you pass the peas and say, isn't that spoon-bender Uri Geller a jerk?

Until, that is, the full panel of speakers was closing out the day with a question-and-answer session. One audience member got up and performed the vital drunk-uncle role by asking if everyone wasn't ignoring "the elephant in the room" and being too politically correct to denounce the "real enemy," namely Islam.

About half of the people in the audience clapped, while the other half shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

The first speaker to get into the fight was Scott Dikkers, editor in chief of satiric Web site The Onion, which routinely lacerates President Bush and the war in fake news stories with headlines like, "Thousands More Dead In Continuing Iraq Victory." Dikkers asked, skeptically enough, if the United States is really the good guys.

"Some people in this country would define freedom as the freedom to go into other countries and bulldoze their people and put an oil derrick up," he said.

The second half of the audience applauded.

Down the table, there was some huffing. Bellicose columnist and author Christopher Hitchens, sporting an Iraqi-flag lapel pin, motioned for the microphone.

There, he told the audience with a gesture toward Dikkers, was a "classic example of liberal overreaction and guilt." Islam, Hitchens said, is a religion of "dogmatism and totalitarianism and intolerance," something that cannot be combated with "insipid, pathetic liberal multiculturalism."

"It is not just implicitly, but explicitly a totalitarian religion," he fumed. "And if you don't believe me, just wait a few years."

Scientific American Editor-in-Chief John Rennie opined that possibly not all parts of Islam nor all of its adherents were in favor of blood-drenched tyranny.

Hitchens disagreed and said Islam was incapable of denouncing its extremists and was a worse religion than Catholicism, quite a big statement coming from Hitchens.

At last, Dikkers got the microphone back and said he didn't wish to be misunderstood and that, after all, "the enemy is all religion."

Finally, something everyone could agree on.

Well, almost everyone

"We knew this would come up," said Matt Stone as he glanced at his watch.

Stone is onstage with "South Park" co-creator Trey Parker. The two were invited out to the convention by their friend Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, a magician and prominent skeptic who is also friends with the event's founder, magician James Randi. Last season on "South Park" the pair pilloried atheist Richard Dawkins. Specifically, they portrayed him as a dogmatic extremist and depicted the gray-haired biologist in flagrante delicto with a sexually ambiguous schoolteacher.

"He's the smartest dumbest person in the world," said Stone, who found Dawkins' brand of atheism as intolerant as religious extremism. "So we had him fall in love with Mr. Garrison."

The crowd seemed only slightly appalled at Dawkins' treatment - not enough to keep them from lining up for autographs and pictures. One attendee, a stock trader from Chicago, made a $10,000 donation to the James Randi Educational Foundation in exchange for a private photo with Stone and Parker.

The audience will forgive Stone and Parker anything after their show's ripping parodies of Mormonism, Scientology and psychic John Edward , all of which they felt compelled to subtitle with notes like, "This Is What They Really Believe."

"It's just so stupid that people are going to believe we made it up," Stone said.

And don't expect the 10-year-old show to end anytime soon.

"As long as people are stupid, we'll still be able to have a show," Parker says. "So that'll be at least three or four years."