Since it’s been two weeks since the event, I’m collapsing some of my other experiences at the Reason Rally into a few brief thoughts:
What do we want? ______ When do we want it? Now!
The Reason Rally, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t have a public policy ask. We weren’t gathered in DC to demand anything from Congress or the President. So I had some of the same mixed feelings that I had about A Week. For the attendees who are already out, what comes next?
Some of the stories of persecution and attacks told be speakers were deeply upsetting, and at a dinner after the rally, one Christian-turned-atheist, told us that his mother had called him ‘Anti-Christ’ when he came out to her as a non-believer. It’s been two years, and she hasn’t spoken to him since that conversation.
I’m not sure how people like me, who live in pretty cosmopolitan areas, where atheists have a pretty easy time of it, can best be of help. I just don’t encounter these kinds of personal problems in my day to day life. Perhaps the answer is to just throw money at the groups that are handling the legal cases. Though, for the most case, those suits aren’t only for the benefit of atheists.
Hoist on my Own Petard
I’ve been saying for a while that I want the atheist movement to take stands on more than the existence of God and church/state relations (which as I say above shouldn’t be uniquely important to atheists). But I still had a knee-jerk reaction of anger when said, Darrel Ray, author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality, said, in a mock invocation preceding his talk, “We do not ask that you send us 72 virgins. In fact, we ask that you send us no virgins at all because we don’t want the bother of training them.”And there I was in the audience, thinking “Thanks so much for excluding me from the ranks of worth-the-time humans.” Be careful what you wish for. After the initial flash of hurt, I was mostly able to switch over to appreciating that Ray had staked out a position but wishing he had spent some time trying to persuade people in the audience, instead of assuming we were all in agreement.
YouTube activist Cristina Rad also used part of her lecture time to go beyond negating God. After she finished her main speech, she did a ten minute presentation of the horrors of the Drug War and the urgent need for US prison reform (both especially germane for atheists who believe we have just the one life to live). Her speech was directed more at persuasion than Ray’s. I’d like to see more speakers do atheism and… like Rad and Ray, even if it means I feel uncomfortable. Speeches like Ray’s aren’t creating divisions, they’re just revealing splits that already existed and giving us the chance to debate.
Looking twenty years forward
AJ Johnson from American Atheists gave a talk about the future of the secular movement. Like my fellow Patheos blogger, Greg Epstein, she wants to see secular people unite into secular communities. She talked about the way that religion provides full life cycle support to its members, from birth to death, and hoped that the secular movement could start working to fill this gap for those who leave their church and for cradle atheists.
I couldn’t have been more in agreement with her speech. Certainly I think that support for other people is an worth end in and of itself. and support, especially for those who are leaving abusive religions is critical. But I’m also in favor of this shift because I think it means the secular community will be forced to have more of the arguments that Rad and Ray sparked. At a certain point, supporting someone means supporting them towards something. To become a community, the secular movement is going to have to develop more normative moral statements than ‘live or let live.’