The Reason Rally – one of the biggest dates in the freethinking calendar for many years. The line-up of speakers is impressive. The location is auspicious – the Washington Mall has hosted some of the most significant moments in American history. The time is right – nonreligious people have never been so numerous, visible or energized as they are now. The Rally will doubtless receive major media coverage. So this is an opportunity. A chance for thousands of freethinkers to gather and present themselves to the country and to the world.
What will we present?
My fervent hope is that the Reason Rally will show atheists, agnostics, skeptics and Humanists in the best possible light. I hope that we will weave a compelling, inspiring, hopeful narrative of the moral necessity of reason as a response to social problems. That we will reveal our passionate commitment to truth and to honesty. That we will tell the story of how reason has brought innumerable advances throughout the history of America. That religious criticism will be firm and uncompromising, as well as kind and compassionate.
In short, I hope we will show the public what we do believe in, and not obsess over what we don’t. I hope that, as Susan Jacoby suggests, we will define ourselves rather than allow ourselves to be defined by the religions we reject. I hope that the speaker and organizers give us something to rally behind, something to rally for, a reason to really.
Another possibility haunts my dreams, though. This rally could confirm the worst suspicions of our detractors. If speakers make extreme, derogatory attacks on religious people, or perpetuate stereotypes of maligned minorities, we could face a backlash. If the Rally is primarily focused on criticism of religion, without providing consistent, positive moral messages of our own, we could be seen as having nothing to say for ourselves. If satire overwhelms vision, we could be seen as a naysaying movement without a positive agenda.
I do not believe that the mere presence of certain speakers dooms the Reason Rally. I think all the speakers have the capability to inspire and excite others to embrace a positive vision. I myself have heard many of the speakers do so. But I agree with Barbara King when she wonders which face of our community we will choose to present. And the story the media will tell about this event – a media which is already primed to seek controversy and is quick to denigrate our efforts – will depend greatly on how we present our message.
So I’m hopeful, but wary. I’ll be heading to the Rally with my colleagues and friends from Harvard with both excitement and trepidation, reaching for a reason to rally.