The first Reason Rally was held on the National Mall in Washington, DC on 24 March, 2012. I just learned that the 2nd one will be held in the same place this coming 4th of July.
No, I don't plan to be there. If I am there, I won't be the event's most enthusiastic onlooker. I don't expect to be asked to speak to the assembled allegedly reasonable crowd.
These are New Atheists. And as regular readers of this blog know, I don't consider New Atheists to be the most reasonable people in the world. Yes, I agree with them that God doesn't exist, and I agree with most of them about the non-existence of other things -- although that simp Sam Harris believes in spirituality, so he and I disagree about that.
The thing is that there's a whole world aside from religion, and the more I learn about New Atheists, the less important religion looms in the grand scheme of things, and the more disagreements I have with them about other things.
Many of these disagreements can be summed up in the fact that New Atheists spend their entire careers attacking theism. I, on the other hand, feel that theism is worth a minute or two of debate at the most, usually not that much, and if I disagree with someone on that issue, I move on. Since first coming across New Atheists a few years ago, I've seen a Hell of a lot of debate between them and various theists over that one question: Does God exist? , and a more colossal waste of time and energy I can scarcely imagine.
New Atheists divide the world up into Us and Them, and Us is atheists and Them is theists -- with the exception of a few of them who've heard about atheists like me who have a lot of problems with New Atheism. But then, very often, when they've heard about me they've assumed I'm a theist, because an atheist who doesn't think that they're perfectly reasonable and extremely bright and profoundly good -- that shit just doesn't compute.
For me, Us is progressive and Them is reactionaries, and unfortunately, boys and girls, Dawkins, Harris, Hitch, Coyne, Myers and Dennett are all reactionaries. Because American atheists were in hiding to such a great extent before New Atheism, the combination of atheist and reactionary does not compute for a lot of Americans. They're much more used to it in Europe.
For me, Us is people who are against economic exploitation, racism, sexism and Islamophobia. And most of the people who oppose those things happen to disagree with me about God or gods. Opposition to economic exploitation, racism or sexism is absolutely not required to be in good with New Atheists, and opposing Islamophobia is pretty much enough to get you thrown out.
According to the official statement of purpose of the 2012 Reason Rally, it aimed to "unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society."
You notice the lack of any internationalism there? I sure did. A recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag by the assembled masses, omission of the two words "under God," has been described as one of the highlights of the Rally.
Whoop-dee-freakin-doo! At a rally ostensibly devoted to reason, I would've liked to have seen some discussion of why people do something as silly as pledging allegiance to a Flag in the first place. But then, I've had advantages of upbringing and education: the Church of the Brethren, to which my family belonged when I was a child, discussed things like that.
The things supported at the 2012 rally included science education and marriage equality for GLBT's, and hey, I actually agree with the Reason Rally about something! Two things, actually! But what about education in general? What about feeding the hungry and housing the homeless? Unfortunately, Americans don't need to widen their horizons to the international in order to confront large numbers of hungry and homeless people. What about combating sexism and racism? How about addressing the mania, in Western civilization, of Islamophopbia?
If you go to the upcoming rally and you raise that last point, I admire you, and I hope you have great big balls, because it might just get really scary really fast.
"Unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society." I feel much more unity with progressive believers than with reactionary atheists. People who sue governmental institutions over things like the 10 Commandments on the walls of public buildings and do nothing about poverty, who champion science education but despise historians and archaeologists, are getting it less than half-right.
Among the live and remote speakers to the rally, Bill Maher said: "When it comes to religion, we're not two sides of the same coin, and you don't get to put your unreason upon the same shelf with my reason. Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus, and Thor, and the Kraken. With the stuff that is not evidence based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens." Maher's stances on vaccines and Middle East politics are two famous examples of how atheism does not guarantee evidence-based thinking on all issues.
Penn Jillette said, "I can make the argument that the only ones with true morality are us, the atheists. We are doing good because it's good and are doing right because it's right, and not for reward or punishment. We have love for each other, we have community, we have charity," and that just makes me want to throw up. The amount of love, charity, community, kindness and other really nice things displayed by billions of religious believers daily that you have to ignore in order to make a statement as arrogant as Jillette's is staggering.
Jillette's statement is not reasonable. It's downright blind, is what it is. "The only ones with true morality are us" is the kind of thing that bigoted fanatics say. Surprise surprise, you don't have to believe that God exists in order to be a bigoted fanatic.
Richard Dawkins said of people who talk nonsense: "Mock them, ridicule them in public." Will, do, Dick!