Atheists to cheer for godless USA at ‘Reason Rally’
The following was excerpted from a USA article:
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Atheists, humanists, skeptics and free thinkers are descending on the hallowed civic ground of the National Mall this Saturday for a Reason Rally.
British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins will lead a score of speakers on separation of church and state at an atheist rally in Washington.
….. they plan to head for Washington just like religious groups do — to strut their strength as a voting block, lobby for public policy and raise their social profile.
Organizers expect more than 10,000 people to celebrate unbelief, dance to punk band Bad Religion, hear a score of speakers led by celebrity British atheist Richard Dawkins, and shout out for separation of church and state
Shouting out (quietly) for God will be a small band of Christians from TrueReason.org, says Tom Gilson of Yorktown, Va., who does strategy work for Christian missions. They plan to venture “into the lion’s den” to pass out booklets refuting atheism and water bottles and to “offer a better message … that reason, properly applied, comes from God and leads back to God.”
The Reason Rally has a harder edge than the image of a godless Woodstock conjures. It follows in the wake of last year’s D.C. rallies by conservative talker Glenn Beck and liberal newsmen/comics Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And it comes when the culture wars are raging and religion is a contentious point in the 2012 presidential election campaign.
Dwayne Windham, 34, says he booked a $160 round-trip bus ticket from Austin, not to wage war on religion but to show force for thoughtful atheism. “The majority of us just want rational public policies based on facts, not someone’s book of cobbled together fantasies. Atheists have to carry our weight on an intellectual and a moral basis. The worst thing you could do is be immoral and stupid,” says Windham.
The second worst thing is to go unnoticed and afraid, says American Atheists president and rally organizer David Silverman. He estimates that “99% of all atheists are closeted. We have to take back the word ‘atheist,’ because it has been demonized by critics.”
The Reason Rally is the day before the atheists’ annual conference in nearby Bethesda, Md. The conference theme is “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Speakers will include atheists of every race and ethnicity, including “Pastor M,” a clergyman who will speak in disguise so he can keep his pulpit even though he’s lost his faith.
The rally, Silverman says, is meant to be “a unification event, a fun time.” Still, he adds, “We are proud to be the Marines of free thought, proud to be the edge of the sword.”
They are, after all, the group founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the prime mover in the Supreme Court case that drove adult-led prayer and Bible recitation out of the public schools, leaving religious expression to students’ choices.
The Public Religion Research Institute’s 2011 American Values Survey, released in November, found that 67% of Americans would be very or somewhat uncomfortable with an atheist president. That’s more than say they’d object to a Muslim (64%), Mormon (42%) or evangelical (28%) as head of state. Currently, there’s only one “out” atheist in Congress, U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.
Ten years before the Reason Rally, planned for March 24th, the American Atheists sponsored the Godless Americans March on Washington.
The American Religious Identification Survey finds no-God atheists and maybe-God agnostics added together have more than doubled their market share of U.S. adherents between 1990 and 2008 — up from 0.7% in 1990 to 1.6% in 2008. Meanwhile, Catholic, Baptist and mainline Protestant denominations all saw declines. There were more unbelievers in 2008 than Mormons (1.4%), Jews (1.2%) or Episcopalians (1.1%).
Atheists, however, get disproportionate attention because “they are the ones who make the noise and the news. They are the radicals and provocateurs,” says Barry Kosmin, co-author of the ARIS survey and director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
Famous rip-religion advocates include lecture circuit stars and best-selling authors such as the late Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great; neuroscientist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and founder of “Project Reason”; and Dawkins, a retired Oxford evolutionary biologist and author of titles such as The God Delusion.
Dawkins recently told the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, that the probability of a supernatural creator was “very, very low.” The idea of life starting from nothing is, he said, “such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing. Why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a god?”
The percentage of atheists and agnostics in the USA has more than doubled since 1990:
Source: American Religious Identification Survey
Still, not everyone is coming to gawk at Dawkins, says Rebecca Watson, 31, leader of the group blog Skepchick. She had a public confrontation with him last year over how women often are overlooked or demeaned in the non-religion movement.
“One of the beautiful things about being an atheist is there is no pope. I don’t have to agree with Dawkins,” says Watson, who is coming in from Buffalo for the event, eager to hear an array of female speakers who don’t often get called to the podium.
The 20 sponsors underwriting the $300,000 price tag for the rally include the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Secular Coalition of America.
Sarah Hamilton, 23, of Indianapolis, also has a bus ticket to the rally. She calls herself “a skeptic who understands the scientific method and applies it universally to uncover the what is right and true. Skepticism is like the gateway drug to atheism.”
Annie Johnson, with her husband and their 12-year-old daughter, is heading to the rally from Gainesville, Fla., where they recently joined a local humanist group that organizes volunteer and community service projects as “a way to help the world without joining a faith group,” she says. “Humanism offers a way to define my way of living and navigating through the world.”
Unbelief does not equal inactive, says Hemant Mehta, who blogs as the Friendly Atheist and runs the Reason Rally website. “The idea is not that we all just get together and not pray. We’re going to talk about ways to surround yourself with community and for these communities to make positive contributions.
This is not the American Atheists’ first march on the Mall. In 2002, nearly 3,000 attended the first Godless Americans March on Washington.
At that rally, Ellen Johnson, then president of the group, stood with the Capitol dome at her back and proclaimed that “all Americans are godless Americans because there is no God.”
“Beating back public scorn is nice. And reason is great, but you can’t reason for your rights. You have to play hardball. You have to change laws,” says Johnson, who now heads a group called Enlighten the Vote.
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