The event was expected to be the “largest gathering of the secular movement in world history,” a “massive rally” that could provide “a sort of ‘Woodstock for Atheists,’ a chance for atheists to show their power in numbers and change their image.” But when pre-rally hype gave way to reality this past Saturday on the Mall in DC, the results were hardly earth-shattering, let alone movement-making and message-sending (especially to politicians, part of the targeted audience of the so-called “Reason Rally”).
The crowd that turned out for this drizzly Saturday was estimated at between 8,000-20,000 (I have seen atheist reports, however, that put the number at 30,000), which is actually less than some American mega-churches draw every week in their Sunday services.
There were blatantly sexist speakers at the rally, like Bill Maher and Penn Jillette, but their presence was justified by atheist bloggers like Hemant Mehta, who explained that, yes, these men “have their faults, but they amplify our way of thinking more than just about anyone else.” Therefore, Mehta explained, it is still worth having them speak because “we need big-name celebrities to attend. . . . This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention.”
If that was the goal, the event certainly fell short of its mark, as the Reason Rally Facebook page complained about the lack of media coverage while the Drudge Report didn’t even mention the rally in its weekend news coverage, finding items like this more newsworthy: “Hippies head for Noah’s Ark: Queue here for rescue aboard alien spaceship. Thousands of New Agers descend on mountain [in France] they see as haven from December's apocalypse.” (It looks like the hippies are living out their legacy while the atheists are still waiting for their “Woodstock” moment.)
Prof. Richard Dawkins was one of the keynote speakers, calling on the faithless not only to reject religious beliefs but also to “ridicule and show contempt” for religious doctrines and sacraments, including the Eucharist (Holy Communion). (In keeping with this, he once referred to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a “submissive cosmic doormat.”) Yes, such are the enlightened sentiments of one of the self-styled “brights” – a self-defeating designation if ever there was one – and we can only imagine how beautiful the world would be if the Dawkins’ mentality ruled the day. (Sarcasm intended.)
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.