Reason Rally 2012

announcements atheism

There have been rallies in the past of people who would have been happy to see this or that (or all) religions purged from society. Such gatherings, thankfully, have seen a change in tone and tactic over the years. What is being billed as “the largest secular event in world history,” the “Reason Rally” will be held in Washington DC on 24 March this year.

In spite of how often I have been assured by atheists (those denying God’s existence) and agnostics (those simply not affirming God’s existence or nonexistence) that nonbelievers (and atheists in particular) are not a monolith, not part of a movement, not followers of a religion etc, this huge rally, the largest of its kind ever, has been organised with “the intent to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide” and to “give secular Americans an opportunity to unite under a banner of reason and community at a level of impact that has never been seen before.” For those who want to convince the world that atheists don’t belong to anything, the job just got harder!

The list of headline speakers includes comedians, lobbyists, singers, TV show hosts and renowned zoologist (and above all, outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins, among others.

What strikes me – in fact something that strikes me frequently and never gets any easier to explain – is the way that the rally’s organisers so gratuitously co-opt the term “reason” as though just by describing their movement in terms of reason or rationality the listener will understand that they must be referring to people who don’t believe in God. There’s such a thing as engaging an issue in good faith, and then there’s the alternative, and this, quite frankly, is the alternative.

Or at least, if this is not the alternative to good faith, it’s an example of absolutely stunning insularity, the phenomenon of being simply incapable of seeing over one’s own garden fence, so to speak. Imagine a few scenarios that I think most normal people will see a problem with.

Scenario one: Four biblical scholars are on a panel of experts, explaining why they think the Gospel of John was written at a given date. The first three stand up one after the other and show pictures of old manuscripts, the discuss historical references to John’s Gospel and to John himself, they look at the style of John’s Greek writing and so on, and one by one, they sit down again. The last stands up with a burst of confidence and struts to the middle of the stage. He declares, “ladies and gentlemen, unlike everyone you’ve heard so far, I shall actually use evidence!” By evidence, he means evidence that he thinks supports his view.

Scenario two: Two historians are guests on a television show discussing whether or not Beowulf was based on an actual historical figure or not. The first discusses a whole list of different writings from the time Beowulf was said to live, some fiction and some non-fiction, as well as some authors since that time who held various views on the subject, in an effort to argue that Beowulf was based on a historical person. The second author butts in and blurts out “Booooring! Why don’t you do some actual history, like me?” By history, he means the kind of historical arguments that support his view that Beowulf was not actually based on an historical person.

Scenario three: Two philosophers are engaged in a debate about whether or not God exists. The first lays out some common arguments that have been used over the centuries and explains why he thinks they are very plausible. He then explains why he thinks that some considerations from the physical sciences lend credibility to belief in a creator, and he explains why he thinks the historical writings produced in the early Christian movement support belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The second philosopher just responds by laughing, chortling, “Why don’t you use reason? Come on, be rational!”

The phenomenon is the same in each case. It is gratuitous to think that since people reach conclusions that we ourselves do not share, it must be the case that they just aren’t thinking – they have switched off their reasoning and they’re being irrational (because after all, it is impossible for any reasonable person to disagree with me and be serious about it). This rally, like so many other rallies, is not committed to reason. It is committed to conclusions – to positions that people promote, try to persuade people of, get excited about (if the fact that they are holding a rally about it is anything to go by), paste all over the internet and print on T-shirts. It doesn’t matter how they got to that conclusion, the conclusion itself – that belief in God should be rejected – is what the rally is about, rather than the reasons people hold that belief. People who hold that belief are the ones the rally is being organised to unify, energize, and embolden. Being “secular people” is what matters here, not being fair-minded, rational or reasonable.

Any fair-minded person who has invested a modicum of time delving into the great Christian writers – and plenty of contemporary writers as well – will know that “reason” is certainly not the patented territory of unbelievers. How intriguing the vast bulk of the great intellectual writings in the Western world were written by people who (according to the Reason Rally’s organisers) have taken leave of reason! Of course this does not show that unbelief is ipso facto unreasonable – not at all. But it is both churlish and naïve in the extreme to organise huge public rallies on the premise that everyone who stands with reason and rationality will, of course, stand with you. It is like a magnified version of just the sort of cartoonish intellectual hubris that gave the “New Atheists” such a bad name to begin with.

But there will be a bright spark in all of this (not in the sense of being the only intelligent people, just in the sense of standing out against the aforementioned attitude). A number of Christians have decided to attend the rally simply to make the point that there is nothing at all about “reason” or “rationality” that belongs inherently to those who reject religion. Read about the effort at True Reason, where the stated goal is:

  • Together, we represent Christians from the United States and around the world who believe that Christianity is a reasonable worldview. Our goal is to demonstrate a humble, loving and thoughtful response to the Reason Rally. We’ll be equipped there with:
  • Gifts of kindness to give away–free bottled water, for example
  • Mini-book (32-page) summarized versions of Reason Really, an exciting soon-to-be-published ebook written especially for this purpose.
  • Flyers advertising that ebook.
  • A limited number of copies of a currently published book on Christianity and atheism.

I’d love to attend, but Washington DC is a bit out of the way. Kudos to those who are going to be there to stand out from the crowd, and to bear witness to the fact that the enlightenment figures admired by so many unbelievers were right all along: Reason is the “candle of the Lord.” Maybe you’d like to join them! Head on over to True Reason to learn more.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Crude February 20, 2012, 8:10 pm

    Glenn,

    I think a good comparison would be the Cult of Reason. Were they, despite the name, really all that reasonable? Were they engaged in an abuse of reason?

  • Matthew Flannagan February 20, 2012, 9:55 pm

    LOL I believe an Auckland Philosopher Theologian has an article in that 32 page mini e book.

  • Nick February 21, 2012, 2:35 am

    I plan on attending with Ratio Christi actually.

    Although I was wondering when you mentioned the speakers if Dawkins should be considered as a comedian.

  • Roy February 21, 2012, 1:02 pm

    Maybe you could pay a small visit to the land of Oz instead??
    http://www.atheistconvention.org.au/

  • Glenn February 21, 2012, 6:35 pm

    Well Roy – at least they had the decency to call it the Atheist convention, not the “Intellect Convention” or the “Reason convention”!

  • Roy February 21, 2012, 9:25 pm

    Glenn – only as a subtitle. It looks more to be branded as “A celebration of reason”

    Here’s another word that might entice you … “Global” atheist convention.

    Come on – come on over! We can wear SHTMLF Tees. Maybe we should even look into a stand! Happy to contribute financially too as I’m sure many of your readers/listeners would.

  • Glenn February 22, 2012, 7:38 am

    Well, it looks like someone (at another blog) has (ostensibly) construed Nick’s comment about Dawkins being a comedian so as to reinforce his view that atheists need huge rallies to combat the hate and prejudice that atheists face on a daily basis.

    I must have missed the memo: “Note to all, don’t forget to keep up that hate against atheists!” Needless to say (but here I am anyway saying it), Dawkins should not be a comedian simply because he’s an atheist (because, well, that’s not funny). Dawkins should be a comedian for his laughable attempts at philosophy of religion.

  • Dana February 22, 2012, 10:58 am

    The rally is threefold. To help atheists that have been ostracized have some unity, to show that there are swarms of people out there who suspect God is a human construct (he is), and finally, considering that your GOP clowns think America is a theocracy and want to rewrite the Constitution as if Jesus himself had penned it, we are speaking out against your faith. Religion is NOT a unifier of peoples. It bears within its nature bigotry and hatred. In the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “Religion poisons everything.”

  • Nick February 22, 2012, 11:53 am

    Dana. I live in America and I am very conservative and I travel in conservative circles. I have not heard any of my conservative friends ever say they want a theocracy and that they want to rewrite the Constitution. We don’t have anyone who I’d trust supposedly leading a theocracy since that would require a prophet and I don’t believe another one is coming. Could you point to some evidence somewhere that Republicans want to rewrite the Constitution and establish a Theocracy?

  • basil February 22, 2012, 7:42 pm

    Dana,
    When can we expect to see the third reason?

    Btw, this reminds me of the debate between David Berlinski and Christopher Hitchens. Berlinski remarked what more justification did Robespierre need for the reign of terror once Notre Dame was renamed ‘The Temple of Reason.’

    ~BW

  • Glenn February 22, 2012, 9:54 pm

    Dana, that’s interesting because the press release indicated that the rally was to unify, energise and embolden secular people, regardless of whether or not they have felt ostracised.

    Do you agree with the impression created by the promoters that atheism is a movement or following in this way?

    As for “your GOP clowns,” I had to chuckle. Firstly I’m not even American (that may be some of the insularity that I was talking about – there is a world beyond those borders just as there is reason outside of atheism). Secondly, good heavens, a theocracy? Got a tin foil hat there? This is just the sort of over the top reactionary nonsense that embarrasses those more sensible atheists who cringe at the “religion poisons everything” line of attack.

  • Nathan February 23, 2012, 1:22 am

    Sometimes it seems like the anti-theists hold to the “religion poisons everything” mantra religiously.

  • Nick February 23, 2012, 1:32 am

    Well obviously we need to stand against the Reason Rally as well because we know that all atheists simply want to eat babies and we don’t want America to become a nation of baby-eaters.

  • basil February 24, 2012, 11:49 am

    Is that a Swift reference? I don’t get it…
    ~BW

  • Fagan February 25, 2012, 3:54 am

    Oh, yes. To believe in talking snakes, chariots flaming in the sky, zombies rising from the dead, burning bushes, walking on water, worldwide floods, angels, demons and demigods. Yes, yes! That is rational and reasonable.

    Religious fanatics have tried to prove their case and have failed every single time. The burden of proof lies on those making the claims. All atheist are asking for is the evidence before they come to have a reason to believe.

  • Glenn February 25, 2012, 11:50 am

    Fagan, of all the philosophical arguments for theism, which one do you think is the best, and why?

  • Joel Gonzaga March 4, 2012, 8:39 am

    It is very much a hubris on the part of many atheists. I think instead of “Reaons” they should just call it “Rhetoric.”

    I’ve often thought that if you want to be atheist -meaning you deny the existence of God; or deny that a religion is true- it would probably be better if you understood the referent that you are denying. Sadly, a lot of conversations I’ve had with internet atheists show that their more prejudiced than reasonable. For instance, I sometimes hear them ask questions like, “Well if you believe in Jesus, why not believe in Zeus, or Shiva?” as if those three references are even in the same damn category. Or they invoke Mark Twain’s “Faith is believing in what you know ain’t so” or they think that flying spaghetti monster is a thoughtful response to the ontological argument.

    And no, atheism is not “unreasonable” but pop-atheism is no more thoughtful than the Christian fundamentalism they rightfully deride.

  • Nick March 14, 2012, 6:22 pm

    I find the claims by atheists that would suppose that atheism is uniquely coupled to reason puzzling. If we are fair and reasonable all people can reason. If not, look out when I am driving!!! Or, perhaps I could be air traffic controlling, Hmm. The issue is what world view does the better job of explaining the source of human reasoning. Does unguided, random, determined natural sources give sound reason for trusting that reason can arise from a non-reason source. Or, the other view that a immaterial personal God with reasoning faculties created beings that emulate this capacity in order to aid human flourishing. Atheists have to champion reason as an epistemology because anything outside that the physical realm is not allowed. But it seems to me there are some simple human examples that would if looked at honestly show that this is not the case.

    People have a personal space and are aware of it, and is is different for each person. There is a type of boundary where once crossed we sense a violation. I have noticed this can happen without my physical senses being involved. Try getting some people blind folded and having other people approach them and have them ask what is going on for them. You may find this intriguing. This naturally makes one ask, why? Our so called ‘gut’ intuitions often prove very reliable, why? I would argue they in nature go beyond the mere natural realm are indicators of much bigger picture the realm people can attest to the validity of them. but, they disagree with the origin. These are just two examples where a totally naturalistic form of reason seems to be inadequate and the Christian awareness of seeking to be part of the bigger meta physical world seems totally reasonable

  • Matthew Flannagan March 16, 2012, 3:53 pm

    Religious fanatics have tried to prove their case and have failed every single time. The burden of proof lies on those making the claims.

    Great, then seeing you made a series of claims in your post, please provide the proof for everyone of them.

    Moreover seeing, you claim that: the burden of proof is on those who make claims. Please provide the proof for this.

    The first role of reason is not to contradict yourself. You do that when you simultaneously assert that all claims need to be proved to be rational believe and also make unproven claims in a context where you want others to accept them.

  • Nick March 18, 2012, 7:50 am

    I wonder if we were instead comparing the merits of two opposing sport teams whether those who are disagreeing about team A’s strengths would be known as a ‘fan’. And the ‘atical’ would be omitted. To disagree with another on this topic does not mean they are somehow misguided because they are Christian. Their argument needs to be examined to see if it is sound. I would deduce from reading atheist blog pages they have very strong views, perhaps even ‘fanatical’!! Language can have culturally loaded biases that can create false mental images about a given subjects merits. Or whether the opposing view has the capabilities to ‘really’ evaluate them fully. If we start our thinking off in a wrong direction we might miss an important fact that there could be some real truth that we need considering. Perhaps as one reads an argument they should say ‘I am listening, with both ears’.

  • Andrew March 26, 2012, 12:40 am

    As far as i’m concerned, Dana and Fagan have become what they despise…fundamentalists.

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