My Google news alert has been flooded with stories about the Reason Rally this week, and quite a few of them come from religious organizations expressing their own viewpoints about how they saw the Rally and what they thought it was intended to achieve. For reasons of political strategy, it’s worth knowing what our opponents are thinking and saying about us, and so I present the following compendium:
Dan Delzell, The Christian Post, “Atheist Rally Rejects Reason in Favor of Bullying“:
Richard Dawkins has done it again. And this time he has really placed atheists in a pickle. Do they follow the abusive admonition of one of their idols, and thereby reject reason; or do they continue to teach their children that bullying is wrong?
The entire article is built around Delzell’s assertion that Richard Dawkins was encouraging atheists to “bully” Christians. He simply takes it for granted that this happens, and never explains what form he thinks this bullying might take.
Delzell alludes vaguely to the problem of bullying in elementary schools, but no more. That might be because one of the other speakers, whom he doesn’t mention, has firsthand experience that damages his carefully crafted false dichotomy: Jessica Ahlquist, the brave young teenager who was demeaned, threatened and bullied, not just by other students but by the actual adults in her town, for standing up for church-state separation.
L. Brent Bozell, Human Events, “Atheists darken D.C.“:
A woman held out a sign telling Christians, Jews and Muslims to “Get Out of My Panties.” It should not be shocking to report this woman was in no danger of sexual harassment.
Religious fundamentalism and unabashed hatred of women – they go together like peanut butter and jelly!
Let’s see how many different kinds of misogyny Bozell managed to pack into one sentence: (1) his claim that sexual harassment is a type of compliment men pay to attractive women; (2) that women should be grateful to receive the attention of being harassed; (3) that a woman’s viewpoint can be dismissed if a particular man doesn’t find her attractive; and (4) that if a particular man doesn’t find a woman attractive, that woman has no need for reproductive health services. Well done, Brent! You’ve got a long way to go before you’re in Leviticus territory, but you’ve definitely made a start for yourself.
Larry Alex Taunton, Fox News (where else?), “The rally for nothing in particular“:
So as people prepare to gather on the National Mall to celebrate their belief in nothingness, we might reasonably wonder what they want.
That would, indeed, be a reasonable question – except that Taunton is clearly uninterested in it, since the remainder of his article completely ignores the eight hours’ worth of speakers discussing what it is that atheists want, and instead veers off into a rambling tangent about how Christians and Christians alone deserve the credit for the existence of democracy and human rights. Interestingly, he does say that criticizing the violent abuses in the name of religion is “low hanging fruit”, yet somehow still manages to imply that we’re in the wrong for pointing these out.
Cal Thomas, The Washington Post, “Reason Rally’s unreasonable beliefs“:
My question is: if they believe God does not exist, why are they so angry? I will answer my own question.
Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press, “A ‘Reason Rally’ full of attacks“:
I do not know why Dawkins and those who gathered for the rally in D.C. seem to be abandoning reason for a more militant, emotionally disheveled approach at pushing atheism, but could it be their arguments are not being very persuasive?
Whenever atheists are enjoying any kind of political success, you can expect the aggressive concern trolls to start coming out of the woodwork. Despite the indisputable success of the Reason Rally – even the lowest attendance estimates would put it at five to ten times the size of the last atheist march on Washington, ten years prior – Boggs frets that we must, somehow, be harming our own cause by being so militant and aggressive.
Although there are more articles I could discuss, this is more than enough to notice some patterns. Here’s one that jumped out at me: Did you notice what was missing from Christians’ discussion of the Reason Rally? The Reason Rally.
Although there was a full day of talks with literally dozens of speakers, not one other than Richard Dawkins was mentioned by any religious commentator (actually, one mentioned Tim Minchin in passing, but only to note that he used a lot of bad words). If you got your information solely through a religious filter, you’d think that Richard Dawkins is the only atheist that exists, and even his speech was more or less distilled down to two words: “show contempt”. There was no discussion and no curiosity about any of the other attendees, who they were, or what they said. Fair treatment from Christian apologists is hardly to be expected, of course, though you’d think that even their readers would want to know more about what transpired besides hearing the same two-second snippet from Dawkins repeated dozens of times.
Also, although these commenters repeatedly mentioned, fretted over, and bemoaned atheist anger, none of them showed the slightest desire to inquire why atheists might be angry. Atheist anger is inevitably treated either as an ex nihilo manifestation without reason or cause, or rationalized away with cartoon explanations like “they’re all mad at God for creating them”. The idea that it might have anything to do with the way the religious majority has behaved is something they all steer well clear of.
The apologist strategy is to portray atheists as hostile, aggressive, and randomly, inexplicably angry, discarding all evidence that doesn’t fit this narrow stereotype. This immediately suggests a counter-strategy: when the people who’ve read these articles meet actual atheists and find out that we aren’t constantly shaking our fists at churches or punching Bibles, we can shatter those stereotypes and surprise them into changing their view of us. We don’t need to be conciliatory pushovers; we just need to demonstrate what actually motivates us and moves us to speak out. The reasons why atheists think and act as we do are something that no religious apologist wants his flock to hear, which means we probably stand to gain by telling them.
Image: One of the angry, hateful atheist signs on display at the Reason Rally. Photo by the author.