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.)
And while it is true that “the brights” are still trying to figure out the origin of life, physicist Stephen Hawking has now explained how the universe began without God, stating in his book “The Grand Design,” “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” Yes, nothing (which is really something) created everything! How did we miss that for so long?
As pointed out by Oxford mathematician and scientist Dr. John Lennox (unfortunately, not one of “the brights”), “The main issue . . . is that gravity or a law of gravity is not ‘nothing’, if [Hawking] is using that word in its usual philosophically correct sense of ‘non-being’. . . . If, therefore, we say ‘X creates X’, we imply that we are presupposing the existence of X in order to account for the existence of X. This is obviously self-contradictory and thus logically incoherent – even if we put X equal to the universe! To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its own existence sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland, not science.” (From his book “God and Stephen Hawking.”)
But I digress from the main topic at hand, namely the “Reason Rally.” Perhaps the most illustrative part of the day was the talk given by 16 year-old atheist Jennifer Alquist, who successfully fought to have a prayer banner removed from her Rhode Island High School. Hailed as a hero at the rally, she wanted everyone to know that if she could bring about change, anyone could.
And what, exactly, was so offensive about the prayer banner? It contained these words, written with the encouragement of school leadership almost 20 years ago:
Our Heavenly Father.
Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
If only those values were inculcated in our schools across America! What a dream that would be. But for the atheists, if those values are associated with God on a banner, then they and God must go.
Atheist David Silverman, one of the event organizers, stated before the gathering that, “We'll look back at the Reason Rally as one of the game-changing events when people started to look at atheism and look at atheists in a different light.”
I believe he was right. From here on, we’ll probably look at them with more pity.
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.