The Reason Rally: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

March 26th, 2012
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I just got back from the Reason Rally, a massive gathering of secularists on the National Mall in Washington DC. The event was intended to show support for separation of church and state and solidarity amongst non-believers. In general, it went quite well, but there were definitely a few things that I was a little put off by.

Some might think it a bad idea to attend something like the Reason Rally when running for political office. After all, atheists are not generally well received, especially in the Republican party. I certainly considered this, but in the end I decided it was worth the risk. I really need to raise money for my campaign badly and the Reason Rally was an opertunity to see a lot of politically active people with similar concerns for the nation. I also saw a number of people I’m acquainted with. I handed out campaign flyers and hopefully this will translate to some contributions.

As for whether it will hurt me with the more conservative members of the party back home, that is certainly a concern. I don’t intend to make a big deal of my attendance of the rally when I’m at more conservative committee meetings, but I certainly won’t deny it if I am asked. I’m not going to lie to win, so the fact that I’m a non-believer is not something I can really hide. As far as I am concerned, it’s really not a valid campaign issue.

The Good:

The rally went quite well overall. Despite rain, over 20,000 people attended. There were many great speakers, each of them offering a slightly different take on the importance of reason and maintaining a secular government. I didn’t entirely agree with every speaker on every point, but most of them I could stand behind. There were also a lot of people of different ages and backgrounds, which is great to see. Some had traveled a long distance to make the rally. Overall, I don’t think there’s any denying it was a huge success.

It was a very enjoyable event in general. The speakers were great, the attendees were generally in very good spirits and it was a lot of fun to walk around and meet people from all over the country and a variety of backgrounds. There wasn’t any bickering over who had the better seat or who might have cut in line to get refreshments or any of the other scuffles common at big public events.

There were some Christian protestors, as one might expect. They kept to the side. There were not many of them, perhaps a dozen. Their presence seemed to be larger than it really was because they all had very big signs proclaiming the need to worship Jesus, obey the bible and so on. They openly asked rally attenders to come over and talk to them and many did. The protestors were quickly surrounded by atheists from the rally, who took them up on their challenge ton debate.

There were no incidents at all. Some of the debates became spirited. On occasion voices were raised. I never heard any unrestrained name-calling, just a few arguments that got slightly loud, perhaps out of frustration. Nobody was threatened and nothing even approaching violence occurred. In most cases, the exchanges were entirely civil.

The Bad:

Atheists are a minority and one that is not generally well received by non-atheists, especially in the United States. One of the biggest arguments made against atheists is that it’s out goal to forcibly take away the religious freedoms of other groups, to destroy their beliefs, burn down their churches and ban them from praying or raising their families as they see fit. Of course, this is not true at all, at least not for most of us. What we want is a secular government. Secularism is not itself anti-religious, but simply religiously neutral. We don’t want the government to endorse religion or directly support it, but we certainly don’t want to stop people from doing it themselves, on their own time and with their own money.

Being a minority whose beliefs are subject to controversy and discrimination, we’re in no position to say that others should be discriminated against or have their beliefs taken away from them. It’s true that many atheists believe the world would be better without religion, but that’s just our personal take on it. I’m sure most would also think the world would be better without Jersey Shore, but that does not mean we want to bomb the coast of New Jersey.

That said, it’s not uncommon for atheists to lampoon religion or point out that it can get ridiculous. We have the right to do this and would prefer to keep it that way, but that’s a lot different than forcing it on people through the government.

Unfortunately, I found that there were times when religious intolerance seemed to rear its ugly head. Many of the signs held up by protestors poked fun at religion, and in general they were in good humor and not overly hostile. There was a guy walking around in a costume of Jesus riding a dinosaur, which was obviously intended to poke fun at Christianity. A few speakers cut pretty hard at organized religion, including PZ Meyers, who stated that we should view religion “with contempt.” In the context of his speech the comment was not overly harsh, but taken out of that context, as I am sure it will be, it can be used to make the whole movement seem as radical and militant as too many already believe it is.

I believe we need to be very cautious in this case. Lets remember, we may think religion is stupid and useless, but we are a minority who is fighting for more respect and acceptance amongst people who already believe we’re trying to oppress them, even if we’re not. We need to avoid giving them more ammo. This rally is supposed to make us seem reasonable and show why secularism has value. Lets not forget the audience is the whole country!

The ugly:

When it comes to showing the world what we DO NOT want to show them and reenforcing the stereotypes we need to get away from, there was one sign that really stood out. As soon as I saw it I thought to myself “Oh no, this is going to be the number one sign in all the headlines and news reports on this.” I was right. It’s absolutely perfect when it comes to summing up the movement in exactly the way we do not want to and in exactly the way our enemies want us to be seen. In fact, when I saw it, I actually thought “Wow, coming to this rally might have been a really bad idea.”

And… I was right. If this was a ploy to get media attention, then it worked great, but it also really did an amazing job at making us seem like the enemy of everyone who is not an atheist.

Yep. There it is. It’s a reference to the fact that many religious individuals find it offensive that some of the mandates of President Obama’s healthcare bill would make religious-affiliated organizations provide coverage to things like contraception to employees, even if they are opposed to it on the grounds of what they believe. People are hyper-sensitive to the idea that their beliefs might be somehow limited by government action, so it’s something that they get very upset about. Others have simply felt Obama is not religious enough.

The message is pretty clear: You think Obama and the others who are more secular in government are bad? Well, I actually do, literally, really want to take your religion away from you, burn down your churches, take your children away from you if you pray with them, forbid any public display of religion etc etc etc. I’m an atheist and this is what atheists are all about.

You can argue that’s not the message of the sign, perhaps that it’s more that she wants a world without religion and will educate people to try to dispel their beliefs or that it’s tongue-in-cheek or a dramatic over statement. It does not matter, because it will be taken as a literal threat and hostile to most religious people. This sign is so clear cut, militant, hostile and to the point, it’s bound to offend even the most liberal and accepting Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and everyone else. It does say “I” but it is going to be used as an example of what atheists are all about.

This kind of thing worries and sickens me. It sets us back in being accepted. It reenforces all the crap we’ve tried to get away from.

That, by the way, is Jen McCreigh who blogs at “Blag Hag.” Now I should state that I’ve disagreed with Jen quite a bit before. I don’t like the way that she seems to find sexism in everything anyone ever says that might happen to involve a woman. I’m not crazy about her constant taking of offense to damn near anyone who disagrees with her and usually labeling them as being a sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted. I’m not sure I like her attitude in general. That said, I’ve generally kept this to myself, because I respect the fact that she has contributed to the secular movement and I don’t want to spark unnecessary infighting by going after unimportant things in her arguments.

That said, this sign has done such a perfect job of illustrating everything we are not and don’t want the world to think of us, I’m just going to come out and say it…


It should not surprise you at all that journalists have made us look bad and like fundamentalists looking to oppress others. You gave them the most perfect photo op I can imagine for that. Sure, there were others who expressed pretty hardcore intolerance, and they hurt the cause too, but none of them managed to do it in a way that was so concise and perfect for a press photo to illustrate the point.

One of the important messages of the reason rally is that it should be okay to be openly atheists and not have to defend yourself as being a good person or assure your theistic friends that you don’t hate them or want to forcibly oppress their beliefs. Many of us would like to have it be something that is not seen with hostility or something we have to worry about being totally open about. Those who so publicly flaunt their desire to destroy religion don’t help get us there.

(and yes, I’d think that even if you were a male.)

This entry was posted on Monday, March 26th, 2012 at 9:32 am and is filed under Culture, Misc, personal, Politics, religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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53 Responses to “The Reason Rally: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”

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  1. 51
    DV82XL Says:

            BMS said:

    I’m just defending history using the best scholarship that we have available to understand it. I’m not ignoring anything. I simply commented about a mistake made by another person commenting here. Please, don’t be so bull-headed as to deny that.


    I’m willing to concede the point that the Great Library was not destroyed only by the actions of Christians, if that will make you happy. I will though stand on the accuracy of reports of the actions of Theodosius I and the fact that some historians believe that significant parts of the collection may have been lost due to his edict against pagan temples. There is as you say, a debate, so the question is still open to some extent.

    However even if it had nothing to do with this event it does not let the Christian faith off the hook for its persecution of those that dared to counter dogma with reason and the fact that it did so for centuries.

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  2. 52
    Shafe Says:

    I read about this event and thought it tied right in to the “Ugly” portion of the original post.

    An atheist student group wants to highlight their view that biblical sex, smut, bondage, etc. is worse than what you find in modern-day porn, so they set up a table with a sign offering porn in exchange for bibles. I will concede that it may have sparked some meaningful dialogue with a few open-minded college students, but I find it hard to see how it does more good than harm in the view of the larger public.

    But maybe the idea is to forcibly establish your right to say whatever you want until the public finally gets desensitized to your presence. By then you will have elbowed your way into a seat at the table from which you can have more reasoned dialogue.

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  3. 53
    Hortencia Stinnette Says:

    I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often.

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