Richard Wade here.
I just got back from my trip to attend the Reason Rally and the American Atheists National Convention. Someone who knows that I’m an atheist was curious about what the speakers said, and their very first question was, “Were they arrogant?”
Arrogant. Of the several tens of thousands of adjectives in the English language, I was being asked, yet again, about this one adjective that some atheists have earned once in a while, but which is far more frequently tacked onto their noun as if it’s a grammatical error to leave it off.
“Why,” I asked, “are you asking if they were arrogant?”
“Well, because I’ve heard some atheists talk, and they were arrogant.”
I felt, along with the sensation of blood pressure rising in my neck and ears, a rising surge of indignation, exasperation, and anger. Then, without deliberation or forethought my reply came flowing out of me, softly and slowly at first, then steadily rising in volume and velocity until it was loud and fast at the end:
“Yes. They were arrogant. They were very arrogant. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that they be given the same respectful treatment as civilized people give each other in general. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that they be judged by their behavior rather than by their beliefs. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that religious people who enjoy laws that protect them from discrimination not break those same laws by discriminating against atheists. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that religious people honor the Constitution that guarantees their freedom only because it also guarantees the freedom of those who disagree with their views. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that elected officials diligently represent the interests of all the people, not just those people who share the majority religion. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that laws and public policy be guided by clear, rational thinking, and based on verifiable facts rather than on conveniently ambiguous passages written on animal skins thousands of years ago, and used only to serve the selfish interests of pandering politicians and their financial backers. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that all women enjoy all the same rights and control of their personal lives as do men, in actual practice rather than just in theory, and that children be treated as human beings rather than as nothing more than investments in progeny, or the toys of exploitative clerics. They had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that adult couples have the right to marry and to be recognized as legitimate families in society regardless of their gender, without any restrictions dictated by ignorant nomadic tribal chiefs long since turned to dust. In short, they had the arrogance to not just request, but to demand that all humans treat all other humans HUMANELY! Yes! they were very arrogant! Unashamedly, unapologetically, wonderfully, inspiringly, COURAGEOUSLY ARROGANT!”
If any of that is going to be called “arrogant,” then I hope that a lot of it has rubbed off on me while I was among those thousands of atheists in Washington DC. If someone calls me “arrogant” because I have behaved like those atheists, then I shall feel deeply honored by the compliment.
But it wasn’t all deadly serious; much of it was simply great fun, and I really enjoyed seeing friends again, such as the dynamo known as Hemant:I shared a hotel room and had several adventures with my good friend Daniel Fincke, (left) author of the brilliant Camels With Hammers. The only thing that matches the depth of Dan’s mind is the warmth of his heart. We enjoyed the Rally and the post-Rally dinner with Ed Brayton, (right) who writes the very popular Dispatches from the Culture Wars.
After meeting her in California last year, it was good to see the awesome Jen McCreight again, who writes the equally awesome Blag Hag:
I got to meet the one and only PZ Myers, whose enormous readership at Pharyngula dominates much of the atheist blogosphere. He gave an excellent talk at the Convention about the incompatibility of science and religion. Hmmm. Shouldn’t he be wearing the black hat as the “bad atheist,” and I should have the white hat as the “good atheist”?
On Sunday and Monday at the American Atheists National Conference I met the legendary Greta Christina, who was, as she always is, very warm and gracious. Her speech was as incisive and insightful as is the incomparable Greta Christina’s Blog:
Finally, I was successful in finding Justin Vacula, who has taken up the challenge from my post, “Really, Really, Really Inoffensive Atheist Billboards,” and greatly improved on the idea by having an excellent bus ad designed with simply the word “Atheist.” on it. He submitted it to the publicly-funded bus company in his area, and they have refused to carry the ad. With the assistance of American Atheists, litigation is about to commence. You can read Justin’s well written installments about the ongoing controversy, which even includes threats to him by a bus driver, on Justin Vacula’s Blog. He and I enjoyed lunch together, and I was thoroughly impressed by his 100 mph mind, his broad interests, and of course his tenacity and courage.
These are just a handful of the admirably “arrogant” people I had the privilege to meet and to hear. I hope that I can emulate just a small portion of their energy, their integrity, their determination, and their demanding, unrelenting compassion.