The Great Courses

The Reason Rally "Failure"

Jun 8, 2016 at 4:08 PM
2 years ago


I just posted my video recap of the 2016 Reason Rally.  Watch it HERE.

Reason Rally video thumbnail

I realize that a group of toxin-spewing malcontents stands ready to build their soapboxes on top of the shit they're slinging at the Reason Rally.

Attendance was down for the 2016 rally, and there's a small-yet-vocal club eager to declare (FEMINISM!) that their pet gripe (SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS!) was the cause. There are, in fact, a great number of potential causes, from the diminishing novelty, to the speaker lineup, to the scheduling, to the promotion, to the mid-game replacement of leadership at RR, to the less urgent political climate (Trump's no theocrat), and many other possibilities.

Attendees were also split by the reflecting pool, and many took their places in the shade far away from the main stage, making it easy for those grazing online photographs to declare that "nobody showed up." Again, hyperbole neutralizes those who use it, exposing their lack of credibility and penchant for overstatement.

Thousands attended and had a wonderful time, and when the discussions are had for the next incarnation of the Reason Rally, suggestions can and will be made to increase its reach, attendance and effectiveness.



It's fair to say that RR has significant room for improvement. It's not fair for armchair quarterbacks locked into a frothing feedback loop to throw trash from the cheap seats and eagerly, gleefully manufacture a failure narrative in regard to an event enjoyed by so many. As Hemant Mehta recently stated in his blog on the rally, the idea that social justice warriors killed the rally is a "red herring"...a clumsy attempt to draw a nuanced portrait with blunt Crayon, and a tragically pathetic misrepresentation of a wonderful day.


reason rally wide shot


The "reasoning" - and I use that word generously - of many of the nastier naysayers for the rally's challenges is that the day should have been only about atheism. Two thoughts:

1) It was about atheism.
2) It was also about how atheism informs other things.

This wasn't the Atheism Rally.  It was the Reason Rally, which speaks to so many issues deserving of rational attitudes and a rational approach.

Sure, the vast, vast majority of the attendees were atheists, but there's a misconception that atheism is some bubble issue, and that the rejection of superstition doesn't (or shouldn't) color our perspectives on other things.

Dominionists use their religion to be flippant and arrogant about the earth and its resources. Atheism can inform the counter to religious dominionism. Anti-gay preachers declare non-heterosexuals evil and unworthy of basic human rights. Atheism can inform the counter to LGBT bigotry. Patriarchal religious systems declare women subservient to men. Atheism can inform the counter to the inequality sold in the name of God. Creationists sell a Genesis narrative and the lie that evolution is the myth. Atheism can inform our pursuit of science-based discovery and the rejection of debunked Creationists claims. Islamism sells a peace narrative on a bloody Qur'an. Atheism can inform our counter to damaging Islamic edicts and doctrines. Etc.

Hell, we use our rejection of superstition in the evaluation of ideas all the time, every day. Our rooting of ideas in the evidence and the rejection of faith speaks to who we accept, who we promote, what we defend, and how we defend it. It colors (or at least can color) the major aspects of our lives.

In my own life, my atheism changed and/or informed my position on gay marriage, on the rights of women to choose, on my acceptance of climate change science, on capital punishment, on evolution, on the right to die, on politics and government, on almost everything.

On The Thinking Atheist channel, had I limited the content to strictly "atheism," I would never have produced Dr. Donald Prothero's speech about the proofs of evolution, or the podcast featuring psychologists regarding belief and the brain, or the interview with an astrophysicist about the Big Bang, or the content about parenting, skepticism and finances, the Krampus Christmas legend, sexuality, morality, new age medicine, Scientology, politics, etc.  It could be argued that all of those topics - and more - aren't Atheism.

So the notion that atheism sits in a glass box - by itself - while issues related to the human condition remain untouched? That's not reality. 


Hi mom Im an atheist sign

But even if some in the atheist movement want for themselves a completely insular manifestation of their non-belief in gods, why gleefully shout a failure narrative and attempt to choke out any goodwill that might accompany a celebration of reason in the heart of our nation's capital?  Why publicly lambast the players and the attendees, as when Thunderf00t skewered Cara Santa Maria, a wonderful science educator who made an innocuous, caught-up-in-her-euphoria overestimation of the crowd on honest mistake anyone could have made?  Why the penchant for clumsy overstatement and exaggeration (one person apparently claimed that only 500 people showed up at the Lincoln Memorial, an estimate so laughably wrongheaded as to make one wonder if he/she had even bothered to look at the photographs)? Why ignore so much of the rally that was about non-belief, about the criticisms of religion, about the framing of perspectives in a woo-free environment? Why assert by a single photograph from a single corner of a single after party that the RR was as white as the KKK (I was there; the audience and presenters spanned the age, culture and color spectrum)?  Why suffocate the comments section of the YouTube live stream which was provided so that those unable to physically make the trip could enjoy the event?

Why such hyperbolical ugliness?  It's so unnecessary.  It's so unhelpful.  It's such a distraction.  It's so pathetically wrongheaded.  And it seems bent on pushing the pendulum only to the extremes of the swing.  

I've stood slack-jawed as others have branded me an Atheism+ shill (NOTE: I never liked or held to Atheism+) and a member of the soft-on-Islam Regressive Left (NOTE: I've produced many anti-Islam podcasts, interviews with anti-Islam activists like Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Ali Rizvi, Sarah Haider, Armin Navabi, Maryam Namazie, Muhammad Syed, etc, wrote a 4,500-word rebuttal to CJ Werleman's hideously wrongheaded book which branded the critics of Islam in this movement as racists and Islamophobes, and next week join God Awful Movies in skewering an Islamic propaganda film.)  I've been called a water boy for feminists (NOTE: Feminists run the opinion spectrum, and while there are many wonderful feminists, there are also many I find distasteful and destructive.  I also don't think or promote the notion that atheism should require anything.  Only that it can - and often does - inform what we think and how we act.)

It's almost like those throwing accusations haven't bothered to fact-check, examine or understand.  And it's obvious that they're completely uninterested in demonstrating kindness or giving the benefit of any doubt.

The gleeful, chaos-seeking antagonists are all torch and gasoline, sadly.  The internet makes them (feel) powerful, and as it's much easier to destroy than create or repair, the puerile arrive dressed in clumsily-homemade chain mail, swinging their axes, and repeating "I'm a knight!" ad nauseam while the rest of us wonder why they're so angry at the furniture.  Their quixotic knight narrative feeds the hero (or villain) fantasy, and as they violently pass through a previously peaceful space, more reasonable voices shrug with regret that "This is why we can't have nice things."

Even then, though, I'm still encouraged by those who'd rather speak than shout, who operate in good faith, who can disagree without declaring as enemy an ideological opponent, who refuse to reduce points and people to mere caricature, and who would much rather build a bridge than barbecue it.

It is with those working in good will, good faith, respect and tempered, mature, reasonable voices that we will see an improved movement, and an improved Reason Rally someday ahead.

The trolls, haters, malcontents and agents of chaos will always provide the lowest common denominator, but no amount of frothing and yelling will make them right, reasonable or relevant.

-Seth Andrews

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