The Reason Rally Fizzles

Reason RallyAn army; well, a brigade; or anyway at least a couple of battalions of Brights milled around the mall in Washington DC on March 24—various estimates gave “highs are around 20,000 with lows slightly less than half that”—at an event called the “Reason Rally.”

Hemant Mehta, who calls himself “The Friendly Atheist”, and the man whom the Brights tell us to look to for accurate descriptions of the rally, said “If anyone asks, just tell them there were 1,000,000 people at the Reason Rally.”

According to their press release, “several thousands of secular Americans came to and went from the capital city” on that fateful day. Padding out the “several thousands” were “a smattering of Canadians,” no doubt there in an unrequited search of warmer weather. For the day was not clement, and unceasing rains doused many flames.

“Importantly,”—note the word—“the day before the Rally, hundreds converged on Capitol Hill to lobby congressional staff on issues related to separation of religion and government [emphasis mine].” Now, “hundreds” of people from every activist and interest group are on Capitol Hill on a daily basis, each chirruping away, so it’s not clear if the Brights were able to make themselves heard above the background noise.

Several Big Names came to the rally and spoke, including Richard “Religion is Child Abuse” Dawkins, Bill “C-word” Maher (he sent a pre-recorded clip), professional smart aleck PZ Myers, the kid who sued her high school to have them remove a prayer from its wall, the inaptly named Greta Christina who “is one of the most widely-read and well-respected bloggers in the atheist blogosphere” and authoress of the book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, “Rational Warrior a.k.a Tombstone Da Deadman”, many others, and Democrat Senator Tom “Bee Pollen” Harkin of Iowa.

Bright flashlightEach of these notables received a swag bag in which was a miniature flashlight (get it? get it?) and a flyer. Do not fret if the message of that sticker is opaque, for the Bright Bulletin helpfully tells us:

Its earnest message, briefly condensed is this: A citizen’s “nonbeliever” status is a consequence of being viewed through the lens of religion, looking at a single conclusion about deity. We must be seen as more than that if we hope to come across as the moral and civic equals of other citizens.

Crowds are naturally rambunctious, especially at pep rallies; enthusiasm multiplies with earnestness. So it shouldn’t surprise us that some joyful populant held up a large crucifix to which was glued a sign, with, the Friendly Atheist tells us, “a message calling to banish the Ten Commandments to the dustbin of history.” Now wouldn’t that be nice? Of course, if you believe that all morality is relative, “Thou shalt not murder” isn’t even a suggestion.

Another lady held a sign which read “Get [religious symbol 1], [religious symbol 2], [religious symbold 3] of my [picture of female underwear]”, where the religious symbols approximated the word “out.” How many bets do I have that this lady enthusiastically supports both mandatory sex education and Planned Parenthood?

A fellow with heavy eye makeup named Tim Minchin sang a song entitled “M…” where, since my mother reads my blog, I do not fill in the ellipsis. The Friendly Atheist requested, “How about some respect for the sign language interpreter who handled that Tim Minchin [M…] song? She was awesome.” There is even a video, thankfully with poor sound so that Minchin can barely be heard, showing the signer, to wild applause, repeatedly flashing her fingers in the eponymous obscene gesture. How proud her mother must be.

Amusingly, “Richard Dawkins had a bodyguard. I’ve been to a few conferences with him and I never saw that until the Reason Rally. I guess 1,000,000 atheists will do that to you…[ellipsis original].” I’m not certain, of course, but my guess is that William Lane Craig, the man Dawkins most fears, travels the world un-escorted by muscled men.

From amusing to hilarious: the Bright’s press release fills the end of its rally recap by touting the book Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will by Gregg Caruso with the words

The author argues that the subjective feeling of freedom is an illusion created by certain aspects of consciousness and gives a novel account of how the illusion is created; a naturalist approach that argues against both compatibilist and libertarian accounts of free will) [sic on the dangling parenthesis].

This is Monty Python’s joke in reverse. A few thousand concerned folks who call themselves “free thinkers” choose to meet to chant, “We have no free will. We have no free will.” Well, why argue with them?


  1. Alan D McIntire

    Why associate with such people? The whole point of not practicing religion is to NOT PRACTICE. These foks are acting like missionaries, trying to proselytise.

    As a non-believer myself, my views are more in line with those of Eugene F. Ware:

    In a very humble cot,
    In a rather quiet spot,
    In the suds and in the soap,
    Worked a woman full of hope;
    Working, singing, all alone,
    In a sort of under tone:
    “With a Savior for a friend,
    He will keep me to the end.”

    Sometimes happening along,
    I had heard the semi-song,
    And I often used to smile,
    More in sympathy than guile;
    But I never said a word
    In regard to what I heard,
    As she sang about her friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    Not in sorrow nor in glee
    Working all day long was she,
    As her children, three or four;
    Played around her on the floor;
    But in monotones the song
    She was humming all day long:
    “With a Savior for a friend,
    He will keep me to the end.”

    It’s a song I do not sing,
    For I scarce believe a thing
    Of the stories that are told
    Of the miracles of old;
    But I know that her belief
    Is the anodyne of grief,
    And will always be a friend
    That will keep her to the end.

    Just a trifle lonesome she,
    Just as poor as poor could be;
    But her spirits always rose,
    Like the bubbles in the clothes,
    And, though widowed and alone,
    Cheered her with the monotone,
    Of a Savior and a friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    I have seen her rub and rub, [1]
    On the washboard in the tub,
    While the baby, sopped in suds,
    Rolled and tumbled in the duds;
    Or was paddling in the pools,
    With old scissors stuck in spools;
    She still humming of her friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    Human hopes and human creeds
    Have their roots in human needs;
    And I should not wish to strip
    From that washerwoman’s lip
    Any song that she can sing,
    Any hope that songs can bring;
    For the woman has a friend
    That will keep her to the end.

  2. Ken

    Most, or a sizeable proportion, of those attending self-assess themselves as “skeptics” (a profession the likes of James Randi has made for himself…and much of his efforts are good). At any rate, consider the following quote regarding what “skeptics” are assessed to be; the author & when it was authored is noted at the end:

    “This has been the main effect of skepticism in the world, working over long ages: that it has become gauche and embarassing to admit certain indubitable facts. Their unpopularity is due not to their destruction or abandonment but simply to the forensic talent of the skeptics, a bombastic and tyrannical sect of men, with a great deal of cruelty concealed in their so-called love of truth. It is not altruism that moves them to their assaults upon what other men hold to be precious; it is something no more than a yearning to make those other men leap.

    “The skeptics, pursuing this immemorial sport, have driven certain congenital beliefs of the human race under cover, and made them furtive and apologetic. When they tackled the belief in witches, two or three hundred years ago, it was as respectable as going to church; now it is so dubious that those who continue to cherish it keep the fact to themselves. In the course of time, perhaps, they will reduce the belief in democracy to the same disrepute, but I don’t think they will ever obliterate it.

    “However, there is no call to deplore this essential failure of skepticism, for so long as it succeeds on the surface it succeeds for all practical intents and purposes. Human progress is never complete, but only partial: the upper level moves much faster than any below it. We see before us, even in this year of the enlightenment, how vigorously the larger masses of mankind resist accepting the veriest commonplace of scientific knowledge. What every schoolboy is supposed to know, as he knows that the world is round and that the sun rises in the east, is actually forbidden by law in two American states.

    “What is too often overlooked is that even Christianity, after two millenniums of ostensible acceptance by all the more civilized nations of the west, is still but imperfectly assimilated by nine Christians out of ten. Certainly no one would argue seriously that its ethical principles are anywhere put into practice in the world today; even its chief spokesmen abandon them at the first temptation, as in time of public war or when they are themselves engaged in controversy with other spokesmen. The old pagan ethics have been driven under cover by an assault comparable to that made by the skeptics, but they are still there, and they crop up whenever the band begins to play, or there is a dollar to be made. So on the theological side. The lofty and somewhat tenuous mysticism of Christianity is nowhere converted into an actual way of life, save by small groups of odd persons; on the lower levels, though it is official, it has little reality. When the test comes it always turns out that the majority of men actually believe in something far more elemental. The hell they fear goes back to Pleistocene times, and so do the demons. And the God they profess to venerate is hard to distinguish from the Grand Juju worshipped in the swamps of the Congo.”

    (from Prejudices: Third Series, Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1922), pp. 157-160.) “On Human Progress” by H. L. Mencken (from the Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1927);

  3. Big Mike

    This is Monty Python’s joke in reverse. A few thousand concerned folks who call themselves “free thinkers” choose to meet to chant, “We have no free will. We have no free will.” Well, why argue with them?

    Don’t taunt them. They’re self-confessed mindless automata who can’t control themselves, and thus we should pity them. Their bizarre displays strengthen their arguments that they, at least, are incapable of self-awareness.

  4. Uncle Mike

    Be reasonable Dr. Briggs. Why shouldn’t foul-mouthed hate-speechers chanting for an end to ethics be seen as the “moral and civic equals of other citizens”? If there is no truth, then there can be no lies. It’s as simple as that.

  5. Ken


    What’s your problem with “mandatory sex education” in schools; do the stats show that this does or does not contribute to, or at least appear to via some correlations, with desirable outcomes (e.g. fewer pregnancies, abortions, STDs, etc.)? Kids have & will continue to be “educated” on that, in school, and elsewhere, whether the “education” is balanced & informed, or, distorted & even flat out wrong as conveyed by peers… As the movie “Splendor in the Grass” illustrated (1961), youth even in periods where social norms strongly discouraged promiscuousness at any level, this was a issue youth contended to a significant degree. Always have & always will, everywhere. I recall somewhere (Freakonomics maybe, perhaps a Malcolm Gladwell book….) that some data by country indicated some very positive benefits of such education relative to positive outcomes.

    Or, is the issue as you see it a matter of content–not so much that such an education is provided so much as the specifics of the curriculum?

    Given that kids DO know all the basics of the subject, and it is a very powerful & accessible (especially nowadays) activity…why are you endorsing self-inflicted ignorance???

    That seems like a very odd position for an educator to be in….

  6. David Brody

    Dawkins fears debating Craig.

  7. Luis Dias

    I don’t get Briggs obsession with atheists… I guess that’s “his thing”.

    However, I wanted to make a statement. Regardless of the words of the “alledged” manifesto, I’m confidently sure that most atheists there do not share its vision about free will.

    Most “non-believers” on free will are quite willing to accept a compatibilist position over it.

    Heck, there’s no need to go much far even. Daniel Dennett is one of the most renowned voices that defends it wholeheartedly.

  8. Ray

    @ Uncle Mike
    If there is no truth, then there can be no lies. It’s as simple as that.

    I thought if there is no truth then everything must be lies.

  9. Uncle Mike

    Dear Ray,

    The set LIE is defined as the set not-TRUTH. It exists only as long as the set TRUTH exists.

    Imagine the set not-GOLF. If there was no such thing as GOLF, then the set not-GOLF would be nonsensical.

  10. What provides universal giggling is the logical paradox of grown men spending time and energy applying religious values and rules in an effort to disprove the existence of religious values and rules.

    Also, Uncle Mike is spot on. They seem ironically incapable of self-awareness. What’s not to laugh at?

  11. Rich

    Hmm. I’m not convinced Uncle Mike. The existence of things in the world isn’t contingent on the words that describe them, rather the reverse. So we can have words that refer to nothing real but which we nevertheless understand perfectly well. A horse is not a unicorn. You can declare this statement meaningless but my response would be, everybody knows what it means so it can’t be meaningless.

  12. Eric Anderson

    “This is Monty Python’s joke in reverse. A few thousand concerned folks who call themselves “free thinkers” choose to meet to chant, “We have no free will. We have no free will.” Well, why argue with them?”

    From the attendance, I thought you were going to refer to the People’s Front of Judea, or the Judean People’s Front, or what was it again . . . ?

  13. JH

    Dear Mr. Briggs,

    Your intention for writing this post is to (A) express your dislike about the Reason Rally and atheists. I appreciate your honesty, and it’s interesting hearing how other people see things.

    Was the intention of (B) praising the Reason Rally and being sympathetic to atheists considered when you wrote this post? That is, was there a choice between (A) and (B)?

    My guess is NO. (I could be wrong.) I think you were auto piloted into (A).

    Amusingly, “Richard Dawkins had a bodyguard…

    Uh… nothing described in this paragraph is amusing.

  14. JH

    Darn… I typed my email address incorrectly, and my lovely avatar didn’t show up.

  15. Scott

    The Reason Rally. A gathering of born again atheists. What they all share in common is that they have stopped asking “why?”. Not a good advertisement for their cause.

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