I have to say up until now my reaction to the ‘Reason Rally’ (other than, “Did it happen yet?”) is one of mild bemusement. This reaction comes in part from my years of interacting with atheists on and off the internet and being told repeatedly as one someone did recently in my combox that, “atheism entails nothing. It’s the rejection of a particular belief because there is insufficient evidence to affirm it.”
The regular definition of atheism as the simple lack of a belief in a God or gods is a useful meme because it doesn’t require one to actually defend atheism. In addition one can claim the theist has the burden of proof when arguing that God exists. Of course if it were really a “Rally For Unbelief” as the Huffington Post recently put it, then there wouldn’t be anything to rally for. Given the purpose of a ‘rally’ is to organize people to accomplish something, unbelief alone obviously isn’t in and of itself sufficient for this cause. So it’s obvious that for the purposes of this event atheists will be putting aside their minimal definition for the day.
Thus it’s called the ‘Reason Rally‘. This is better than the name of the previous gathering of atheists in D.C. in 2002 which was called, “The Godless March on Washington“. No seriously, that is what it was called. It attracted about 2000 people, or roughly the population of homeless people on the National Mall. But these folks are no dummies so it took them just ten years to come up with a new name. No Godlessness this time, now they will be championing the worthy cause of Reason. Everyone loves reason – as Dawkins recently asked, “Who would rally against reason?” I agree, no one would, sign me up! Of course no one really believes that is the purpose of the rally. If it were there would be lectures and studies and maybe debates on issues of concern instead of bad rock bands, bad comedians and politicians. An event centered on reason would totally alienate the Occupy crowds, who have been looking for a place to hang out since they were evicted from their camps. Who would pad the crowd numbers then?
So if it isn’t about ‘Reason’, then what is it about? We know based on the participation of folks like Dawkins and PZ Myers, it will be a ‘Religion is Deluded, Stupid and Evil‘ rally. Of course, they won’t be attacking all religions this way – the New Atheists are generally indifferent to the existence of Buddhism and Hinduism in large segments of the world. And it won’t be an anti-Muslim rally because that would be dangerous. It also won’t be anti-Jewish because that would be politically incorrect – though in all fairness, this may be changing. So it will mostly be an anti-Christian rally.
And the atheists that will be welcome there represent a particularly narrow segment of the secular population. As detailed recently in a New Statesman article, The God Wars, all atheists are equal, but some are more equal than others. You won’t see ‘accommodationist‘ atheists speaking there. People like John Gray and Alain de Botton, Penn Jillette and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who despite being atheists don’t seem to see religions as perniciously evil. As de Botton experienced, it only took him suggesting that not everything about religion is bad to become the object of the ire of the ‘Reason Rally’ crowd:
There have been threats of violence. De Botton has been told he will be beaten up and his guts taken out of him. One email simply said, “You have betrayed Atheism. Go over to the other side and die.”
Like any Christian who has discussions on the internet I am of course rather used to that sort of thing from New Atheists, but it is interesting to see it applies to atheists who don’t fall in line with the approved dogma as well.
This isn’t to say no one will be there – as John Stewart showed us last year if you throw together some music, comedy and food on the National Mall a few thousand people will come and ‘rally’ for anything. I am simply pointing out this all has nothing to do with ‘reason’, but rather it is an attempt by a small and cultishly dogmatic group of people to paint those who don’t agree with them as insane, irrational and evil. Of course if this group was more organized and efficient, they wouldn’t need a whole day to do this, they could do it in two minutes: