Think About This When You’re At the Reason Rally

Wise words from Alonzo Fyfe for anyone writing about, speaking at, or attending the Reason Rally:

I would suggest that you go the Reason Rally with the intent of saving lives and reducing suffering that spring from actions founded on beliefs that are simply unreasonable.

This is for the people who suffer and die because they find themselves surrounded by people who accept primitive bigotries and superstitions and who act on them in ways that are harmful.

We are talking about honor killings and exorcisms to drive out demons, and parents withholding life-saving medical treatment from young children because they have fallen into some faith-healing cult that shuns science and modern medicine. Some of these children die. Others suffer permanent damage. Is this not worth complaining about?

If you are going to the Reason Rally — or if you are writing about it — please do so with an eye firmly fixed on the goal of saving lives, easing suffering, giving people the liberty to pursue their one and only life in this universe untrammeled by primitive superstition. Make those objectives known. And do not let critics and opponents distract you from those worthy goals.

A lot of people have different reasons for going to the Rally, and lot of Christian groups will be protesting there, trying to distract us, but if we can stay focused on messages like this one, it’ll be hard for the media to ignore it and even harder for atheists to leave the rally uninspired and not willing to take action.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

    Nit-Pick: I’m not a huge fan of the “primitive superstition” theme. It is both denigrating to the peoples commonly described as primitives and inaccurate as an explanation of religious themes and traditional narratives. Frankly, I don’t think the statement above loses anything of substance by dropping the word “primitive,” but I cringe whenever I see that theme worked into freethinking rhetoric.

    Anyway, hope everyone has fun, …and acquits themselves well.

    • http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/ Liz Heywood

      Is it primative to choose to pray while your child screams with a intestinal blockage or meningitis or a bone disease rather than take them to a doctor? Thirty-eight states still allow parents to do this to their kids. I was one. My parents prayed and all I got was this prosthetic leg.

      Actually barbaric is more accurate. Or torturous.

      • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

        My point is that it should be enough to say that it is wrong.

    • Jazzzinger

      Overthinking. It’s just us. 

      • Anonymous

         no, I think Northierthanthou has a point.  What happened to Liz is very wrong and equally tragic, but that doesn’t make all religions primitive, it makes what happened to her wrong.  To say that Religions are primitive is to say we can write them off as having no value or insight for us “advanced” folk. I think to do that is to write off other human beings as invaluable, which is what something that this post is speaking against.

        • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

           Thank you. …I am actually a little more concerned about protecting “primitives” than religions to be honest. I really don’t think religions have a lot to do with primitive cosmology, which is why such references bug me.

          Not really the point at hand, but an important one in its own right, particularly for some of us who live and work in indigenous communities.

          • The Other Weirdo

             Do the residents of these indigenous communities seek medical attention when they have health issues, or do they report to the local shaman(or the nearest local equivalent)  for a prayer or a spell?

            • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

               Yes.

          • Bryan

            I agree, especially because the word “primitive” has been used to dehumanize so many groups of people throughout the course of human history. Religious belief is not based on stupidity (and only partly on ignorance), and religious people are not less “advanced” than atheists…most of them are merely indoctrinated from their childhood (I’m still struggling with the effects of my childhood indoctrination) or completely insulated from the real world by the Christian bubble.

            The beliefs themselves may be silly and irrational, but the people still deserve respect. And nobody should be called “primitive”.

            • The Other Weirdo

              I tell ya what. When Christians stop tell atheists we should be raping and pillaging and that we have no morals and that we’re all going to hell, we’ll quit calling them primitives.

              • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

                Tu Quoque for the win.

        • Drew

          You’re conflating the rejection of superstitious beliefs with the
          devaluation of individual human beings. I’d like to think that this is a
          a genuine mistake rather than an instance of intellectual dishonesty.

          In any event, the promotion of reason over superstitious and, indeed,
          primitive, methods of understanding the universe in no way represents a
          devaluation of our fellow humans. Rather, the pursuit of reason permits
          us to more fully realize our true potential and value, on an individual
          level as well as in a broader social context.

          If you still feel that the usage of “primitive” is inappropriate in
          this situation, I’d encourage you to consider the Miriam Webster
          definition of the term:
          http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/primitive

          • Drew

            I’m not sure what caused those formatting issues – sorry about that.

          • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

             I was in the process of writing a lengthy response to the comments you just addressed (very well) here.
            Bravo. :-)

          • Anonymous

             it was late when I was writing last night, and I apologize if I didn’t clarify what I was saying.  I am not meaning to equate the rejection of religious beliefs with the devaluation of individual beings.  What I was trying to say is that it devalues any contributions individuals who are religious may have to the collected knowledge of humanity.  It devalues what they have to contribute in areas of science, philosophy as well as other fields, because they get written off as primitive and superstitious.  examples being individuals who promote Intelligent Design, and who have their thoughts and scientific contributions dismissed because of their belief in some higher being.  I am not here to defend ID as a scientific theory or anything, but it makes my point that any contributions to science by persons like Jerry Bergman, Guillermo Gonzales, William Dembski, Dean Kenyon, and others, is devalued and dismissed because of their beliefs.  That doesn’t sound very reasonable to me, and even if they are wrong, they should be heard and given a fair chance.

            The point, is not that calling religious people primitive devalues them, but it devalues contributions they may have based on their personal convictions.

            • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

              “any contributions to science by persons like Jerry Bergman, Guillermo
              Gonzales, William Dembski, Dean Kenyon, and others, is devalued and
              dismissed because of their beliefs.”
              WRONG. I will address Dembski in particular,as I am not familiar with the others (crackpot creationists, I presume). He has NOT contributed to science and his pseudo-scientific claptrap is informed by his religious beliefs.  It’s NOT science and therefore, does not deserve a “fair chance”. Taking your logic to it’s inevitable conclusion, we should also teach alchemy alongside chemistry and astrology with astronomy. I mean, we have to be “fair” right?
              Listen Derek_Brent, creationism HAD its chance already for the last several thousand years. You guys need to just give it up, already. Science doesn’t give a damn about what is fair or not fair. Science just works, and it works because it offers real explanations and makes relevant predictions. Creationism explains nothing and predicts nothing.

          • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

            One can promote reason over prejudice without framing it in the language of unilieanal evolution. Doing so does little other than to add a lot of baggage to an otherwise sound point. Yes it does degrade real people, many of whom have no dog in this fight to begin with, and no, the existence of dictionary does not change that.

  • Bluebury

    So excited to go!  Driving from Chicago to DC because I just can’t miss it!  Assembling my 12 hour road trip mix….now!

    • Jazzzman

       Coming from Chicago. Taking the Rally Bus. So jacked! Superstitions are welcomed. We are the majority for a change. Glory!

  • Renshia

    “lot’s of Christian groups will be protesting there,”

    The irony of christians protesting a reason rally never fails to make me laugh and laugh. Take a moment to enjoy it, stop by one and have a good laugh.
    Wish I could be there.

  • J D Eisenberg

    Fyfe’s comments brought to mind Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sleep_of_Reason_Produces_Monsters)

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to point out that the vast majority of Christians do not withhold medical treatment for themselves or for their children based on their beliefs.   They follow the advice of the medical staff, and along with diligent prayer for a speedy recovery, hope for the best.

    • Anonymous

      Good point.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know what groups you are talking about Hemant, but the groups that I know  are planning on attending the Reason Rally simply want to have a friendly and reasonable dialogue with others who do not share their views.  I can understand some may have a lack of desire to engage Christians when at the reason rally, but making a disturbance, or shouting people down or protesting, is not their plan.  They are there to see if there are Atheists willing to engage them in reasonable dialogue.  I don’t know what anyone has to worry about when it comes to dialogue like this, because if what we believe is right (whether we are Christians or Muslims or atheists or any other worldview/religion), we have nothing to fear from the facts and evidences, because if what we believe is true, the facts will support what we believe, and so we have nothing to fear from engaging others respectfully and reasonably.

    What I do find amusing is that the same person who would invite the Westboro Baptists to the reason rally, a group known for protesting and picketing and being all around nasty towards others they don’t agree with, and yet would vehemently oppose a much more reasonable group of individuals who simply want to dialogue with others respectfully and reasonably. 

    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2012/03/reason-rally-organizer-says-no-dialogue/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:%20thinkingchristian/tomg%20%28Thinking%20Christian%29

    also note in David’s response that the point of the reason rally is not to have a (reasonable) dialogue with Christians, but is instead a chance to “have fun with like-minded individuals” and to have some “well deserved enjoyment.”  doesn’t sound like the point is to liberate those who are suffering at the hands of religion, but is rather a chance to gather with other  like-minded individuals and enjoy a well deserved rally.

    The reasonrally.org website itself said similar: “The purpose of this particular rally will be to advance secularism (in the broadest sense of the word) in society.” (http://www.reasonrally.org/about/ accessed 3/22/12)  Later down the same page the three thing they hope to achieve by doing this rally are 1) to encourage attendees to “come out of the closet as secular Americans” 2) to dispel stereotypes about non-theists, and 3) to achieve legislative equality.  I didn’t see anything about lessening the suffering of those who suffer from religious intolerance etc.

    I am not against the reason rally at all.  Christians have rallies and gatherings all the time.  They are a great opportunity to get together and fellowship with like-minded individuals.  I get that and think it is a good thing.  So I say go ahead, have fun, gather with like-minded individuals, promote secularism, fight for equality (I think equality for all persons, gay, straight bi, transgender, secular, whatever, is a good thing) sing, dance, have a merry old time, but don’t be naive enough  to think that by gathering in DC and spreading awareness of and promoting secularism that you are actually doing something to help those who are suffering at the hands of religion.  Those people are suffering in regardless of whether the world knows about your secularism.  Awareness that there are people who hold know religious beliefs doesn’t actually alleviate the sort of suffering described in this post.  Sure, it may make you feel better about being an open atheist, but how does it prevent Sally from dying of cancer because her parents decided to pray instead of doing Chemo? 

    The only aspect that could possibly alleviate suffering is you achieved some sort of legislative equality, thereby allowing more seculars to run for office, but even then you have to get elected, and there seems to be much large amounts of those who believe in some sort of a god than there are seculars, so you would still have to get elected.  the point is, that is a long and arduous road, that doesn’t promise much if any fruit. 

    If you can actually do some good for anyone who is suffering as a result of misguided religious belief through this rally, I say go for it.  More power to you. That being said, I don’t see that as the main or even secondary point of this rally, and  I will take a bit of advice from the freethinkers, and remain skeptical.

    in search of Truth,

    Derek Brent.

    • Ndonnan

      Damit Derek,you sound so reasonable,how annoying,next thing you know youll be offering to run a kids club or serve drinks or somthing

    • Anonymous

      1) to encourage attendees to “come out of the closet as secular Americans” 2) to dispel stereotypes about non-theists, and 3) to achieve legislative equality. =  lessening the suffering of those who suffer from religious intolerance

      • Anonymous

         you are right, that does lessen the suffering of some who suffer from religious intolerance, but I acknowledge this in my comment, and point out that this is not the type of suffering mentioned by Fyfe in the original post.  I agree that trying to lesson the suffering of seculars from religious intolerance because they are non-believers is a good thing to promote, but that kind of emotional suffering is nothing compared to the suffering that Fyfe is talking about with honor killings, and children dying from easily treatable disease because the parents want to pray and not use medicine, which is not being addressed by this rally.  that was my only point there.

        Secondly, There is plenty of intolerance on both sides of this discussion which needs to be eliminated.  I admit that there are Christians who are intolerant and hateful towards non-believers, but there is just as much hate and intolerance coming from seculars towards those who are non-believers.  I think the intolerance on both sides needs to be eliminated, not just coming from one way.

    • Greg Smith

      Derek, is it too much to hope that such an event can show that atheists are NOT the morally bankrupt, evil beings that many Christians have been long told we are? And that there is thus a chance that someday Christians could vote for an atheist based on their qualifications rather than how they spend Sunday morning? I think that would do a lot of good

      • Anonymous

        No, it is not too much to hope to improve the image of seculars in the eyes of others. I that is one of the goals that is/may be achievable from this rally. Personally, I don’t think people should be labeled or are morally bankrupt, wicked, evil, etc. simply because they are secular, and people should not be labeled nor are they good, righteous, holy, etc. simply because they are Christians

  • Ndonnan

    Its really starting to sound like a religion now,we have to save the primitive thinkers, almost evangelical.I can see the point if the rally was in Afganistan or the back blocks of Pakistan, but really,apart from the occasional nut job all your saving people from is nativity scenes.

    • http://twitter.com/Brimshack northierthanthou.com

      Ndonnan, I have raised a specific objection to a particular point in the statement. You may agree or disagree, but I haven’t told anyone they have to save anything. Nor have I invoked any call to dogma.

      • Ndonnan

        Maybe not ,but Mr. Fyfe did,and thats what this blog is all about

  • Anonymous

    The objective of saving lives is certainly a good one, and I think it should absolutely be an aspect of the secular movement, but I disagree that this should be the main focus of the rally. The rally has been planned, promoted, hyped, discussed and anticipated with an entirely different context in mind, and changing its focus now would seem like a hijacking to many of those involved, never mind the fact that it’s probably impossible at this late stage.

    This rally has been sold to us as a celebration of reason, a call to action, a movement showing it’s newfound strength and a massive group hug. The intention of the rally appears to be:

    - A show of strength, to tell politicians that the nonreligious are present, aware and voting. Though still small, the fact we have one rep and one senator speaking shows that this is starting to come through.

    - A call to inactive and especially closeted atheists in the country. You are not alone, look at all the people who are like you and living open, happy lives. Other people see the lies and harms of religion, you are not crazy.

    - A chance for nonbelievers to socialize in a massive way. For many it will be the first time they’re in a place where their worldview is in the majority and they can let their guard down.

    That’s not to say that the more inexcusable aspects of religion should not be mentioned. I’m sure there will be several earfulls of that at least, and things like faith “healing” or the presence of a “child-witch exorcist” soon within the US comes up. It’s just that these cannot be the central focus of the rally.

    • Alonzo Fyfe

      There is no conflict here.

      Some people might wonder why this is important – why it is worthwhile to have such a gathering. Why have atheists come out of the closet? Why celebrate reason? Why risk the wrath of friends, employers, and business contacts?

      Does it really matter?

      Well, what I sought to offer in my blog posting is an answer to this question, “Why?” by saying, “It can.”

      Certainly, different things matter to different people. But saving lives and reducing suffering is on the list for a great many. For some people, it will tilt the balance in favor of, “Okay, this is really worth doing. I will participate.”
      And, heck . . . there might even be some steps taken to save lives and reduce suffering. Would that be a bad thing?

      • Anonymous

        No, reducing suffering is not a bad thing. I simply do not see how promoting secularism at a rally saves lives. Sure, it may resuce the suffering of those who are berated for their lack of religion, but like I have said elsewhere in these comments, there is suffering and intolerance from the secular side of the fence as well.

  • Mike

    What about all the people that suffer and die from the quack alt-med remedies that Tom Harkin foisted on the country?  Is that not worth complaining about?

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

       Is anyone stopping you?

      • Mike

         Did you not see the “Plan Your Own Reason Rally” post from March 19th?

        • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

          I did not interpret that as anyone saying that people couldn’t complain about alt-med.

          • Mike

            Neither did I, which is why I’m not arguing for that point.  What I am arguing is that this post says we should  focus on saving the lives of people who have been duped by unreasonable beliefs.  Hemant agrees with that notion.

            Tom Harkin’s unreasonable beliefs and the actions that have sprung from those beliefs have cost lives.  To me, that’s a very good reason to not associate with him.  In fact, we should be actively opposing his actions.  Those kinds of results (dead kids) are exactly what this post says we should be thinking of and fighting against.  Yet Hemant somehow disagrees with that.

            I cannot see how giving Harkin airtime at the Reason Rally jives with the tenor of this post.  The sense that I’m getting is that we should oppose magical thinking, and the actions of proponents of magical thinking, until and unless those proponents are visible public figures and are willing to say a few nice things about us.

            Sorry, but just because the school bully chose not to pick on me one day
            doesn’t mean I’m going to change how I feel about him.  And I’m sure as
            hell not going to act like he did me a big favor and attempt to
            befriend him.  I’ve got too much self respect for that.

            I think Hemant, and many of the readers here, are being duplicitous and have sacrificed a bit of integrity and self worth on the altar of  “getting along”. 

  • Anonymous

    Once Richard Dawkins was invited to this event, it lost the right to be called the ¨reason¨ rally. The ¨atheist rally¨ would have been a much more accurate title.


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