Monday, March 19, 2012

Responding at the Reason Rally

There's been a bit of upset in the secular community about some of the people invited to speak at the Reason Rally. Some people don't think Bill Maher should be speaking because of his vaccine denial, support for alternative medicine, and allegedly misogynistic views. Others are unhappy that Senator Tom Harkin will be speaking because he's a Catholic and a big friend to alt med as well. I even saw that some are unhappy that Laurence Krauss will be there because of his defense of a pedophile.

I understand why people are dissatisfied - at the first major event promoting atheism and science, we are touchy about the face we present to the world. We want to make sure we communicate our values effectively to the rest of the nation and we fear guilt by association.

Is the answer to create a litmus or purity test for speakers? I think not. Certainly, we do need to have some standards and I imagine that the organizers of the rally do have some criteria laid out. I am sure that they didn't just slap this together hastily with no thought or concern for the outcome.

So what are we to do when people get up on the stage that we don't necessarily agree with or like? Here's my suggestion: we listen to them. We show that we aren't afraid of things we don't like. We show that we are strong enough and sure enough to let them have their say. If they are rational and supportive of reason, we may applaud.

But if they get up and say irrational things, if they get up and lie, if they get up on stage (or video) and betray the cause of science and reason, we let them know about it. We either withhold applause (can you imagine the national mall with thousands of people draped by an awkward silence?) or else we bring back the time-honored tradition of boo and hiss. Politeness be damned. Show the world how you feel.

We are a people who support free speech. Let's show the world how it works. 


  1. I like your suggestion above. Do not try to silence someone, just make sure people understand why and how most of the atheist community disagree.

    I am a Christian myself. The thing about the "Reason Rally" that I find most interesting is this... a group of apologists (Christians who defend their faith with logic, science, etc.) wants to set up a booth at or near the reason rally. They have stated that they will not approach people or act in any way out of line, but those organizing the rally have been screaming bloody murder about it (P.Z. Meyers & Loftus have blogged about it).

    If the situation was that only atheists should attend, I could almost see this (though shutting up people claiming to be reasonable by banning them rather than destroying their arguments seems unreasonable at a reason rally). What I do not understand is that those trying to ban the apologists have invited the Westboro Baptist Church; the best known hate-spewing, unreasonable group of Christians out there today. Seems like a rather interesting way to celebrate reason.

    1. Inviting the Westboro hate-group while dissing and un-inviting all other religious groups revealed the heart of the convocation. "Reason" is and never was the aim or goal of the the rally. "Hip-hip Hypocrisy" should be the cheer for this rally.

  2. "I even saw that some are unhappy that Laurence Krauss will be there because of his defense of a pedophile."

    What garbage. He defended a friend not pedophile. If you can't tell the difference you are not much of a thinker.

  3. So let me get this straight. A group of people who claim to love "reason" are going to gather together, listen to speakers who already agree with them, and hang out exlusively with more people who already agree with them. Sheesh.

    I like to think of this in terms of Socratic Knowledge. Socrates didn't roam around Athens boasting about how "rational", or "free-thinking", or "sceptical" he was. He didn't have to.

  4. I think the reason we're seeing so much contention is precisely because we are freethinkers. If we all had the same values or subscribed solely to what our "leaders" told us, there would be no argument about who is speaking, who is protesting, and why any of it matters. Groupthink is a great way to silence criticism so I'm glad to see people speaking out against what they don't like (even though I'm aware that there is no way to satisfy everyone).

    Arthur, I think the point is that not everyone does agree with the speakers on the list. A lot of people are unhappy about the speakers precisely because they do not agree with the message. I also don't think the point of this rally is to be just a circlejerk. I perceive it as a rally to: 1)encourage other atheists to be "out," 2)show the world that there are a lot more of us than they think, 3)show the world that thousands of atheists can exercise their 1st amendment rights and do so peacefully (thus dispelling negative stereotypes), and 4)just to have some fun.

    Anonymous, I was simply repeating the criticisms of other people. I have not fully read up on Krauss's comments so I have not yet judged him for myself. I'm more interested in going to the rally and listening to him talk than sitting here digging up dirt so I can whine about how awful it is that he will be "allowed" to speak. That was the entire point of the post. Sorry you missed it.

    1. LOL!!!! I was going to make a retort, Tweenky, but I think you have it thoroughly covered here. <3 you guys and your articles never fail to give me at least one honest belly laugh. I'm not sure what Robertvroom was even talking about, Reason Rally barring Christian groups who were interested in having respectful conversations with people. I'm fairly certain from what I've heard by people who attended the event, there most certainly WERE groups of people other than WBC allowed to engage people in a tactful manner. -Jess