The Nonsense of the Reason Rally

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:

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13 Responses to The Nonsense of the Reason Rally

  1. Bettawrekonize says:

    Atheism is a positive belief, you positively believe there is no God, so you do believe something. Agnosticism is a neutral belief.

  2. Mike D says:

    Yeah, there’d never be a Catholic guy speaking, except for the Catholic guy who’s speaking this year. And no one would ever listen to Aayan Hirsi Ali (who of course has never said anything critical of Islam, just like Christopher Hitchens never did), except for when she spoke at AAI, or the afterparty for this year’s Reason Rally, or the upcoming Global Atheist Convention. You’d never see Penn Jilette there, except that he attended this year, and of course he’d never bash Christianity aside from the episode of “Bullshit” where he did nothing but bash Christianity.

    And speaking of which, you’re right. All anyone does is bash Christianity at these things. They never talk about issues facing atheists, religion and politics, social issues, the advancement of science, or anything like that. Nah, they just bash Christianity, because religious people don’t have enough excuses to pretend they’re victims.

    p.s. Betawrewhatever, it works like this:
    http://dead-logic.blogspot.com/2012/03/agnosticism-versus-atheism.html

  3. jackhudson says:

    There are a number of errors and misrepresentations here:

    Yeah, there’d never be a Catholic guy speaking, except for the Catholic guy who’s speaking this year.

    I assume you mean Senator Tom Harkin. Only to an atheist would he be considered a ‘Catholic’ guy. He is a lifelong, ultra-left-wing politician who has consistently voted contrary to Catholic teachings. He makes Nancy Pelosi look like Mother Theresa – in fact a Catholic organization wanted to have him officially denounced for heresy. I have had personal interaction with the man – he was running for Senate when I was at the Iowa State University – and heard him mock the open Christian faith of his opponent. So a brief video of him welcoming atheists to DC hardly constitutes a ‘Catholic guy’ speaking.

    And even his slight association with organized religion made PZ Myers mad he ‘phoned in’ a video.

    And no one would ever listen to Aayan Hirsi Ali (who of course has never said anything critical of Islam, just like Christopher Hitchens never did), except for when she spoke at AAI, or the afterparty for this year’s Reason Rally, or the upcoming Global Atheist Convention.

    Actually you got this wrong – she wasn’t at an ‘after party’ you just misread the link to something you googled, without actually reading the article it linked to. And I obviously didn’t say she never speaks to groups of atheists – the Global Atheist Convention isn’t the inane ‘Reason’ Rally.

    You’d never see Penn Jilette there, except that he attended this year, and of course he’d never bash Christianity aside from the episode of “Bullshit” where he did nothing but bash Christianity.

    Well no, he didn’t attend – he sent a rather innocuous video in which expressed his skepticism of atheist gatherings, which you would know if you had watched it.

    And speaking of which, you’re right. All anyone does is bash Christianity at these things. They never talk about issues facing atheists, religion and politics, social issues, the advancement of science, or anything like that. Nah, they just bash Christianity, because religious people don’t have enough excuses to pretend they’re victims.

    Yeah, they don’t suggest, as Dawkins did at the rally (again if you actually listened to anything that was said there) that atheists should (in reference to Catholic doctrine) “Mock them, ridicule them, in public” and that religious claims “need to be ridiculed with contempt” What more could they do to express hatred of Christianity short of stoning Christians?

    Nonetheless, you didn’t address my main claims, which were that such rallies are absurd when one considers the definition of atheism atheist’s themselves proffer, that there was nothing would be done there to actually advance ‘reason at all, and that Christianity would be the main religion being attacked. All of those predictions appear to have held true.

  4. Bettawrekonize says:

    “p.s. Betawrewhatever, it works like this:
    http://dead-logic.blogspot.com/2012/03/agnosticism-versus-atheism.html

    Agnosticism is the belief that you can not (or do not) know, it is a neutral belief as in you do not know. It doesn’t positively believe ‘there is no God’ or ‘there is a God’ it just says ‘I don’t know’.

    There are three possibilities, you believe something to be true, you believe it to be false, you don’t know. Atheism believes something to be false, it is a positive belief, you believe something. Agnosticism means you don’t know.

    “a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic?r=75&src=ref&ch=dic

    and words can have multiple meanings, so I am mostly using the common meaning here.

  5. Mike D says:

    Ah. So Harkin is not a “true” Catholic because, in order to be a Catholic you have to toe the party line exactly. Which of course makes Rick Santorum a fake Catholic, since he supports the death penalty. Puh-lease. You’re basking in the No True Scotsman fallacy. And yeah, of course having someone who is openly religious at an atheist rally is going to stir the pot and piss some people off. But he’s an advocate for some humanist issues that are commonly shared by atheists, hence why he was invited.

    Yes, I misread Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s attendance at an afterparty. My mistake. But, two things to say. First of all, she’s an outspoken critic of Islam, which you said that atheists wouldn’t do because it’s dangerous – despite the fact that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris have all openly criticized Islam (I know you haven’t actually read any of their books, but you could at least try before making such flagrantly ignorant statements). She’s an outspoken critic despite the fact that she lives under protection after getting death threats. Secondly, there’s nothing about the Reason Rally that’s substantively different than AAI or the GAC (aside, perhaps, from taking place outdoors instead of in conference rooms at hotels), and I’m sure you’ll jump at the opportunity to scorn the GAC when it rolls around.

    And I don’t know what video you watched of Penn Jilette’s, but it’s on my blog, and he emphasizes the importance of atheist gatherings. I don’t where you get this foolish idea that he “expressed skepticism” of them. Watch the video.

    Your self-victimization is willfully ignorant. I watched Christina Rad’s speech, Adam Savage’s speech, PZ Myers’ speech, and Nate Phelps’ speech. None of them zeroed in on Christianity. It’s also obvious that you didn’t actually watch Dawkins’ speech and instead just read the roundup at various Christian blogs. His speech was about advocacy of science and logic, and the dangers of dogmatic beliefs in the public sphere. He flatly stated, “I don’t despise religious people – I despise what they stand for.” And he’s right – ridiculous beliefs like transubstantiation are fully worthy of scorn and mockery, no different from that Xenu dropped an A-bomb in an ancient volcano.

    But hey, you want to know why we don’t spend much time talking about Buddhism and Hinduism? Because first of all, not many Western atheists are ex-Buddhist or ex-Hindus. There aren’t too many fundamentalist sects of those religions around here, if anywhere, so these aren’t religious experiences many of us can relate to. And secondly, last I checked, Buddhists and Hindus aren’t the ones trying to cram creationism in the classroom, denigrating women, blowing people up in holy wars, claiming they can magically heal people of terminal diseases, coercing children into prayer, lying about history (I’m looking at you, David Barton), railing against gay rights, etc. etc. etc. Face it – if any other religion were doing that, you’d speak out about it. You just want special treatment because you are unable to remove the blinders from your own ethnocentric perspective.

  6. Mike D says:

    Bettawrekonize –

    I suggest you Wiki the term agnosticsism, as it was coined by Thomas Huxley.

    You’re failing to make the vital distinction between knowledge and beliefs. Atheism is the belief that there are no gods, based upon what we believe is the paucity of evidence. It is not the assertion that we know, or can know, that gods do not possibly exist.

  7. Bettawrekonize says:

    “Atheism is the belief that there are no gods”

    That’s what I said, atheism is not a neutral position where you are either not taking a position or you don’t know, which is what agnosticism is. Agnosticism is usually associated with the position that you don’t know or you can can not know, depending on context.

    Language is often ambiguous, words can have different meanings in different contexts and it is usually up to the reader to determine the intended meaning of a word based on context when the writer uses the correct word in a context where its meaning is obvious and there are no closer alternative substitute words (because such a substitute isn’t needed, since the word used is the correct word). That’s not to say that the writer should use the wrong word or combination of words or write ambiguously but communication is a two way endeavor and the reader should also assume some responsibility in interpreting the language to ascertain the underlying message.

    Sometimes there are no words that quite fit the underlying meaning of what someone wants to express and in such situations sometimes people need to create new words and define them and their contexts. I know because, while English is my primary language, I speak more than one language (somewhat) and sometimes I have difficulty translating words to English exactly because the set of meanings that a word has in another language really depends on contexts and often there are no English words that have the exact denotation and connotation of a word in another language. Connotation of a word, a words implicit (non-explicit/explicit) meaning, is often important and often is based on very sophisticated cultural contexts and historical background that can’t easily be translated.

    A poor example is, (while my Spanish isn’t the greatest) when you say close the door (at least in Castilian Spanish) and lock the door, you use the same word. Context is needed to understand the difference. In English (and another language I speak) two different words are used. I can come up with better non-Spanish to English examples where I struggled to translate words to English from another language I speak, and English is my primary language (as I’ve said).

    I don’t think we should spend too much time arguing over the ambiguous nature of language and which word is the exact right word, I’m using the right word and you, as a reader, should be able to understand what I’m saying, unless you somehow struggle with English (and if that’s the case, I understand. Speaking a second langauge can be difficult).

    “You’re failing to make the vital distinction between knowledge and beliefs.”

    No I am not. Knowledge is a belief in something true whereas a belief doesn’t have to be true.

    Athiesm is a belief. I don’t know is the same as not holding a position.

  8. Bettawrekonize says:

    non-explicit/express *

  9. jackhudson says:

    Ah. So Harkin is not a “true” Catholic because, in order to be a Catholic you have to toe the party line exactly. Which of course makes Rick Santorum a fake Catholic, since he supports the death penalty. Puh-lease. You’re basking in the No True Scotsman fallacy. And yeah, of course having someone who is openly religious at an atheist rally is going to stir the pot and piss some people off. But he’s an advocate for some humanist issues that are commonly shared by atheists, hence why he was invited.

    I didn’t say he wasn’t a true Catholic – I said he frequently votes contrary to Catholic teaching, mocks Christians for being Christians, and didn’t make a speech at the rally representing himself as a Catholic or any religion for that matter. You claimed he was invited to the rally as the ‘Catholic guy’ – he made no such claim at the rally. Your claim was deceptive and misleading.

    Yes, I misread Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s attendance at an afterparty. My mistake. But, two things to say. First of all, she’s an outspoken critic of Islam, which you said that atheists wouldn’t do because it’s dangerous – despite the fact that Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris have all openly criticized Islam (I know you haven’t actually read any of their books, but you could at least try before making such flagrantly ignorant statements). She’s an outspoken critic despite the fact that she lives under protection after getting death threats. Secondly, there’s nothing about the Reason Rally that’s substantively different than AAI or the GAC (aside, perhaps, from taking place outdoors instead of in conference rooms at hotels), and I’m sure you’ll jump at the opportunity to scorn the GAC when it rolls around.

    Again Mike, you aren’t reading carefully. I said “they won’t be attacking all religions this way” meaning speakers at the rally. And it looks like I was right. The fact that other atheists have at other times attacked some religion or other doesn’t contradict what I said. But I appreciate you acknowledging your error on Ali.

    And I don’t know what video you watched of Penn Jilette’s, but it’s on my blog, and he emphasizes the importance of atheist gatherings. I don’t where you get this foolish idea that he “expressed skepticism” of them. Watch the video.

    You know, I was going off the unedited version where he says, “Why should we band together? Well, most of us shouldn’t band together. Most of us have different ideas, we shouldn’t band together politically, we shouldn’t band together philosophically. We include the Pollyannas like me, who love life and want everything to be great, and we also include the sour nihilists. We don’t have to agree about everything, but we do have to agree that the United States of America has got to stop treating us like sh**t. they have to start giving us the respect we deserve” My mistake.

    Nonetheless, I have to laugh at Jillette’s logic and wonder if this isn’t another comedy routine. I love where he says (In your ‘official’ version):
    “You can’t say, “Don’t hit your sister and I will give you an ice cream sandwich, you must not hit your sister because it’s wrong to hit your sister”

    If this is what passes for an atheist’s understanding as a reason for acting morally, then atheists are in big trouble. And a lot of their daughters are going to get beat up by their sons.

    Your self-victimization is willfully ignorant. I watched Christina Rad’s speech, Adam Savage’s speech, PZ Myers’ speech, and Nate Phelps’ speech. None of them zeroed in on Christianity. It’s also obvious that you didn’t actually watch Dawkins’ speech and instead just read the roundup at various Christian blogs. His speech was about advocacy of science and logic, and the dangers of dogmatic beliefs in the public sphere. He flatly stated, “I don’t despise religious people – I despise what they stand for.” And he’s right – ridiculous beliefs like transubstantiation are fully worthy of scorn and mockery, no different from that Xenu dropped an A-bomb in an ancient volcano.

    Given the entire purpose of the ‘reason rally’ was to whine about being victimized for being atheists, I find it ironic you would claim I am doing so. I find threats from atheists laughable. I just think it is absurd for them to demand respect in one breath while threatening to ridicule Christians with contempt in the next breath.

    Here is a little hint both about morality and getting respect – treat people like you want to be treated.

    Of course you won’t hear that at the reason rally.

    But hey, you want to know why we don’t spend much time talking about Buddhism and Hinduism? Because first of all, not many Western atheists are ex-Buddhist or ex-Hindus. There aren’t too many fundamentalist sects of those religions around here, if anywhere, so these aren’t religious experiences many of us can relate to. And secondly, last I checked, Buddhists and Hindus aren’t the ones trying to cram creationism in the classroom, denigrating women, blowing people up in holy wars, claiming they can magically heal people of terminal diseases, coercing children into prayer, lying about history (I’m looking at you, David Barton), railing against gay rights, etc. etc. etc. Face it – if any other religion were doing that, you’d speak out about it. You just want special treatment because you are unable to remove the blinders from your own ethnocentric perspective.

    Apparently you aren’t all that familiar with Hinduism, a system that burned living wives along with their dead husbands and subjected untold generations of humans to a caste system that required entire populations to live as ‘untouchables’.

    Atheists attack Christianity because Christianity is the only religion whose culture tolerates atheists.

  10. Bettawrekonize says:

    One day might do a post on the history of sign language and how it used to be taught a certain way, probably based on evolutionary presumptions, and how deaf people unexpectedly formed their own, more efficient and completely different, sign language completely on their own despite the fact that it was against the rules of the schools teaching the official sign language (an official language based on existing spoken language) for students to develop and use any sign language of their own.

    When people don’t speak a common language, or if people don’t even speak any language, people who grow up together and spend time together will automatically form their own sophisticated language with no outside intervention, in fact it’s hard to stop it (ie: even if it’s against the rules), be it sign language (if they can’t hear) or a spoken language (if they can).

    This result was completely unexpected, probably because the secular community expected language to be something that evolved with man over several millenia and they expect that only existing language, that is a product of centuries of evolution, can be well compatible with our evolutionary structure since the two evolved together to be compatible with each other, and they did not think language as something built into and designed in us by nature and something that comes naturally to us. and so they tried to force deaf people to learn sign language based on existing language, to spell out every letter of various existing words with their hand, because the existing well established and longly evolved language was believed to be more optimal and compatible with the human design than any language we can create, and that was too inefficient and never worked too well and so they created a completely different more efficient language of their own. The history behind this is fascinating.

    Well, I guess I just sorta did that post :)

  11. Bettawrekonize says:

    and, of course, later on, as researchers started to notice that students started to naturally form their own sign language, despite being punished by teachers if caught using any sign language other than what the (non-deaf) teacher taught, deaf people were eventually allowed to form their own sign language and it worked much better and that’s how we now have ASL among others.

  12. Maude says:

    Penn Jillette is one of the most aggressive, intransigent famous atheist in America. He consistently calls religion, the bible, Jesus, miracles, God “bullsh*t”, and his atheist book is called “God, no!”. He regularly calls believers “a**holes” for believing in God. I guess technically he doesn’t see religion as “perniciously evil”. He just thinks religious people are a bunch of deluded idiots who consistently suck up bullsh*t and anyone attempting to introduce anything remotely religious-based in the public realm is a m***f***ng piece of sh*t sc*mbag a**hole. And, in his own words, he would have said worse, but his tv channel’s lawyers wouldn’t allow it. All this is his words, not mine (watch his show for the info, particularly the one on creationism and the other one on the bible, but there’s much more). Is he honestly more “open” to christianity than other popular atheists? His vitriol is actually one of the reason he is slowly getting shunned away from many atheist communities, they tend to promote a healthy, respectful dialogue. It would have been interesting if the writer of this post had done research on the speakers and on atheism, as there could have been an interesting discussion. I don’t have much room to point out all the arguments that have no grounds with facts, but it is clear that this post is more revealing about the author and about the need for atheist groups than about atheists themselves.
    I know this is difficult to grasp for a Christian, but these rallies are not there to proselytize. The goal is not to spawn new minions. There are 3 major reasons for these types of gatherings. 1)There is nothing wrong with personal belief as long as it doesn’t translates in laws or public spending forced on others who don’t share these beliefs, whether they are non-believers or from other religions. (American atheists only insist on Christianity because it is the majority in the U.S.) I bet you don’t want Sharia law to be implemented in the U.S., you share that with atheist. They don’t want Leviticus either. 2)Many people still think atheists are depraved people who rape, steal, kill and eat babies at whim (interestingly enough, the proportion of religious people is higher in prisons than in the overall population in the U.S. – this *does not* mean that religious people are worse, only that the argument about atheists being overly violent ludicrous and counter to facts). Popular rallies are organized to help remove the stigma. 3)Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize with our peers. Everytime there is a gathering doesn’t make it a church. Rock concert. Political party. School dance. Brunch with the family. Fireworks. Chinese New Year. Superbowl. — All gatherings of people that share something. Not churches.
    Anyway, we really still have to explain this? All atheists I know have a lot of respect of religious people and try to understand them. I am the only atheist in many of my classes at university and I definitely know the bible the most. We are interested in learning about other people’s beliefs, and their reasons to believe. We rarely get the same back. First, let’s start the tired and obvious fact that atheism is not a belief system, and that it does not necessarily exclude agnosticism (they just deal with different issues; most atheists are also agnostic). But as said earlier, the point is not to grow atheist ranks, just to have people know who we are.

  13. Jack,

    Here is a little hint both about morality and getting respect – treat people like you want to be treated.

    Of course you won’t hear that at the reason rally.

    You are mistaken. Watch this speech at the Reason Rally by Adam Savage:

    The relevant part is at about the 6:45 mark though you might want to watch the whole thing.

    There were lots of good speeches at the RR. I was there and though I don’t remember all of them verbatim there are lots of videos available for free. The Adam Savage speech is especially interesting because it addresses another of your misrepresentations, he speaks directly about what he believes. He is not the only one that does so.

    The RR was nothing like the video clip in your article. The closest it comes to that sort of thing is Greta Christina’s speech(es) on why atheists are angry and what they are angry about:

    (at Skepticon IV)
    and

    (at the RR)

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