Despite the Rain, Hundreds Showed up for Rock Beyond Belief

The downside: The downpour we had early in the day kept a lot of people away from Rock Beyond Belief. We had hoped for a crowd numbering in the thousands.

The upside: Several hundred people stayed or arrived later and the entire event went off beautifully :) Justin Griffith and his team put together a great event for military atheists and supporters in the area.

The biggest draw, as usual, was Richard Dawkins. Here’s a portion of his speech:

The event managed to get some major press, too… here’s Reuters:

After rain gave way to sunshine on Saturday, a smaller-than-expected crowd streamed onto the same large field where Christians gathered in 2010. There was again face painting and jumping inflatables for children, but a performer on stage rapped that “creationism is dead wrong” and a T-shirt for sale featured a Bible along with the slogan “Holy Crap.”

Richard Dawkins, a well-known atheist and best-selling author of books including “The God Delusion,” received a big applause during his speech when he said, “You don’t need religion in order to be moral.”

Why the “but”?! They say it like calling out Creationism and the Bible is a bad thing.

The Associated Press was a little more positive:

Organizers were hoping for a crowd of about 5,000. At least several hundred people gathered on the parade ground by midday Saturday. Rainy weather for most of the morning may have affected the turnout. Fort Bragg officials said they would provide a crowd estimate later.

The atmosphere was festive, with carnival treats like ribbon fries and ice cream, games for children and a demonstration jump by the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. Speakers and bands performed on the main stage. In many ways it was indistinguishable from a county fair except for the information booths ringing the parade ground and the content of the performances.

TL;DR: Atheists are normal. (Amazing, I know.)

I’m writing this after coming back to my room from the afterparty (at which over $1,000 was raised for the homeless). A lot of the people who attended Rock Beyond Belief were also at last week’s Reason Rally and the people I’ve spoken with have told me how inspired they are to take action, whether that means starting a local group or being more vocal about their own beliefs or encouraging others to get more involved in promoting reason and critical thinking. It’s good news, either way.

If we just go back to the way things have always been and fail to capitalize on the energy and momentum we’ve earned, all these rallys and all the work going into them will have been for nothing. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

(Thanks to George Peterson for the video!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Trickster Goddess

    I think the ‘but’ was grammatically part of the compare & contrast  with the earlier Christian gathering, not a negation of the wholesomeness of the children’s activities.

    • Marguerite

      I agree. The article seems to be saying, “This event was very like an earlier Christian gathering, but for these elements.” I don’t think they’re trying to imply anything wrong about calling out creationism.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Another event without Hitchens :(

    • Riptide

       They don’t get any easier, do they?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the HT, Hemant. It was great getting to meet you. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X26EM3YHIEM7Y7XL6L2ZSIYM4U Dietra

    I really would have liked to attend this event, but had to choose either the Reason Rally or this. I’m sure that attendence would have been higher if the two events had been spaced out a bit more. Not blaming anyone. Logistics and all that. I’m sure there were others in the same predicament. Glad that those that attended had a good time.

  • Csd31

    This was not a nonreligious event it was an antichristian event.  I was very disappointed to see and hear this.  For this I am pleased the rain came and possibly kept many from attending.  Is this what was intended? 

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      No, the rain was not intended to keep people from attending. The rain has no intentions of its own, and there is no intention behind any natural occurrence, be it rain, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, plagues, or lovely days.

      Of course I’m being facetious,  but the Rock Beyond Belief event was  COUNTER religious, rather than anti-religious, and it wasn’t “antichristian” per se.  To assume that the event was specifically against Christianity is Christian self-centeredness talking, something of which there is a great abundance. 

      The “Rock the Fort” event was definitely religious, and definitely Christian, and it was partially funded and promoted with government money, which is unconstitutional. The Rock Beyond Belief event was a much needed and much desired counterpoint to the presumptuous, improper, and unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity by the military.

      As far as your being pleased at seeing that people’s fun was spoiled by rain, that says something about you, but nothing about anything else. 

      • Bambam

        If Christianity is self-centerness, then what does that make an atheist?? Freedom of Religion is actually constitutional but if we use your logic then your event would also be un-Constitutional.  This nonsense that the military or the men and women in the military cannot express their religious belief is completely contrary to our First Amendment Rights.  The last time I checked Congress has not established any religion that I must conform to.

        • StrangerSmith

          Rock the Fort was unconstitutional, and since the Army went ahead and allowed Franklin Graham to proselytize at Fort Bragg, now they have to support any and all religious themed festivals.  So when the Scientologists show up with their e-meters, well we have to let them have a festival, too, because the government can’t show favoritism to to one religion over another.  THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T ALLOW ANY RELIGIOUS DISPLAYS ON PUBLIC PROPERTY! Get it?  

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Bambam, you are trying to twist my words in order to make a point, but you’re not very good at it, so you’re not fooling anybody, except perhaps yourself.

          For instance:

          I did not say that “Christianity is self-centeredness.” I was talking about the self-centeredness of Christians who assume that Rock Beyond Belief was strictly about being against Christianity.

          I made it clear why Rock the Fort was unconstitutional. It’s because it used taxpayer money to promote a religious event.  Rock Beyond belief used only privately funded money.

          There is nothing in my words, nor in any effort by those sponsoring Rock Beyond Belief that opposes individuals in the military expressing their religious beliefs. but when the military as an institution uses its authority, credibility, or clout to promote or endorse a specific religion, or to coerce soldiers into practicing a particular religion, that is when it is violating the Constitution.

          These distinctions are not difficult. Your straw man arguments are tediously typical of Christians who deliberately and knowingly pretend to misunderstand the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment of any state religion, and against limiting the  practice of any individual’s religion. The easiest way to understand it is to say that government, at any level, through any of its agencies, stays out of religion, and religion stays out of all those agencies. There is nothing in there that prevents a kid in a public school from praying on the playground, or a soldier from praying in his barracks, or a preacher from standing on a street corner yelling his head off. All this has been clarified again and again by several Supreme Courts, yet the military, many public schools, and many local governments continue to pretend they don’t know, or to blatantly flout the law in defiance. The law that prohibits a mixing of state and church is protecting EVERYBODY’S religious freedom, including yours and mine. We all have to obey it, or we all will lose our freedom.

  • Anonymous

    As an atheist, are you willing to risk your eternal soul that you are right?  If the Christian is wrong, no harm done. If the atheist is wrong, big problems.  “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power
    and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has
    been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)  What will be your excuse if there is a God?

    • http://drashizu.livejournal.com/ Sarah

      This is Pascal’s Wager, and it’s based on the underlying assumption that the Christian god is the correct one. What if Allah is the one true God? What if Zeus and the Greek pantheon are the real ones? What if the Norse or the Bantu or the Zoroastrians or the Babylonians or the Inuits or the Hopi or the Aztecs were correct? 

      By picking the Christian god, you’re screwing your chances of achieving eternal paradise of any religion that thinks non-followers won’t end up there. By rejecting all those other religions, you’re picking sides. What will be your excuse if there is a god… but he’s not yours?

    • Anonymous

      Will your god be satisfied in knowing that I am only following him “just in case?”  What you propose isn’t faith, it’s semantics.  It’s also meaningless.

    • NavinJay

      So..that means that you believe in every god?? I mean most all religions throughout time have punishments for not believing in THEIR god. So, to be sure you won’t end up not believing in the right god then you should believe in all of them?? if you don’t believe in all 4000 gods that have been invented then you are not following your own advice. What if the other god is the real god? You’re taking a chance by not believing in that god, too. Right?

    • NavinJay

      Actually, not “no harm done” if there is no God. That means you have been lied too and duped. If someone sells you a car and they lie to you…don’t you feel like you have been wronged? That means you have wasted countless hours praying and asking for forgiveness and doing whatever the church tells you to do. Maybe even not allowing yourself to think in certain ways because the Bible told you it was wrong. It would make me angry if I wasted my life’s energy on a lie. Wouldn’t it to you?


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