What is Reason Rally?

I met with my banker—the quintessential charismatic too-tall banker who always wants to shake my hand several times and give me another line of credit—and for the seventh time, I got a blank stare when I said I am going to Reason Rally and need to budget. In most of my conversations, with atheists and theists alike, I have mostly encountered questions about the rally and its origins.

What is Reason Rally?

Reason Rally is an event that promotes secularism and religious skepticism in Washington DC. Speakers—everyone from Bill Nye to Margaret Cho to Johnny Depp—will take the stage to discuss secular ideas. There will be entertainment and music. Some notable atheists are not attending. For instance, Richard Dawkins is not attending due to health reasons. This year the rally will be held on June 4th at Lincoln Memorial with a whole program of events around that time.

Does this rally happen every year?

Nope. The last Reason Rally was held in 2012, and it has been considered the largest secular event in world history to date. However, the reports on how many people actually attended are unofficial.

What is the purpose of the rally?

Attendees have different ideas about what the purpose of the rally is. Everyone will likely be attending for slightly different reasons. Some of the topics at the forefront of the rally will include LGBTQ equality, climate change, and women’s reproductive rights. One of this year’s goals is to promote effective sex education rather than abstinence-only sex education, which has been correlated with increased teen pregnancy.

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Someone might say the purpose of the rally is to question and celebrate secularism. Another person who is attending the rally may say that the purpose is to make politicians cater to reason as much as they cater to the irrational ideas of theists.

Is there religious backlash at the rally? Or is this a dangerous event?

There are religious protesters, and I feel like most secular events have the possibility of danger. Nonetheless, some people consider Reason Rally a child-friendly event. In that regard, the rally is not dangerous.

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I do have some reservation about traveling alone as a young woman. Many of these fears have been worsened over the years, because of a negative experience at the American Atheists convention in 2015. Reason Rally does have a Code of Conduct that lists information for anyone experiencing harassment, but that won’t necessarily stop men from disrespecting my “no.”

Why are you going to Reason Rally?

There are a number of practical and logistical reasons for my attendance. I try to go to one atheist event every year. It’s tremendous fun and always intellectually challenging and satisfying. As the rally is approaching, I find myself becoming both increasingly nervous and excited. Here is to my hoping my poor car is up for the trip.

More questions? Leave me a comment in the section below!

Leaving the New Atheist Movement: An Interview with Pat

Recently, a woman named Pat posted a quick message on her tumblr blog about how she left the New Atheist Movement. Intrigued, we began talking and what follows below is a transcription of our interview. Pat would like to remain (mostly) anonymous. Since her first language is not English, some substitutions have been made and designated in the bracketed dialogue below. This interview was our first time having an actual conversation aside from the occasional miscellaneous comment online.

[The interview was preceded by a short introduction of my blog and its purpose. Pat shared with me a photo of her dog, Monica, named after a character from the tv show Friends.]

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Interview with a Former Movement Atheist

Sarah: Before returning to the university, you had been out of college for almost five years. What made you decide to go back to school? Particularly as a student of theology?

Pat: My husband and Fidel Castro. [laughs] We moved from Florida to New York when Castro stopped being President in 2008. Or maybe right before, I can’t remember. Castro is in my imagination a lot. . . I wrote a paper once about how Castro is a symbolic figure for extremists. Some people go straight to Hitler in history. For me, it’s Castro.

S: Did your view on Castro have anything to do with your atheism?

P: Not really. I became an atheist, because I identified with that community. I didn’t like the term New Atheist very much, so I called myself a Movement Atheist. It’s more neutral. . . When I signed up for my first intro class, I was a New Atheist until I discovered the meaning of Movement Atheist. Really, I had been in the Movement the whole time.

S: What aspect of the community did you particularly find yourself drawn to?

P: Social justice, the more friendly part. That part [distinguished] itself from the misogynistic and racist parts of my life.

S: You said that you were a New Atheist before you “discovered the meaning of [a] Movement Atheist.” What drew you away from considering yourself a New Atheist? Was there anything specific?

P: As I took more and more course[s] in religious studies, it became clear to me that the New Atheists were largely ignorant of the work done in religious scholarship and dismissive of very real work done by theologians [who] are developing ideas that aren’t based on a face-value reading[s] of scripture.

S: I don’t want to misconstrue what you’ve said, but it seems like you developed a heightened appreciation for religion during your time as a student which is what ultimately caused your departure from atheism. Is this true? Or am I reaching too much with that statement?

P: No, this is true. Definitely. I appreciated what religion does for people, for the positive aspects, and for the ability of people to have spiritual lives outside of the monotheistic worldview. . . a more classical worldview. . . Learning about religious experiences led me to doubt more and more. . . I finally rejected believing things that have not been verified as a [moral] hazard.

S: I am actually glad to hear you mention the word ‘doubt’ in relation to atheism. Were there any professors who stuck out to you during your studies?

P: Yeah! [laughs] Having an atheist rabbi for a professor helped me a lot. . . There was also a Buddhist professor who said he didn’t believe in literal [post-mortem] rebirth.

S: Essentially, during your time as a religious studies major, you stopped believing in an empirically verifiable objective reality. Did either of those professors help you or push you toward that revelation?

P: I didn’t notice when it happened, so not really. Not them. . . It’s only looking back on it that I’m aware of it. This isn’t to say that I reject the scientific method or that I don’t believe in the possibility of objectivity.

S: You’re just more open to a subjective reality, then?

P: Exactly. Yeah. . . I believe in human existence being subjective. There may be an objective reality. I don’t know. Although, I think there is, but it is unknowable. . . I think that’s when the Movement began to look, well, really silly. Trying to deconvert people to a rational worldview was impossible, because a rational worldview was impossible.

S: What was one of your least favorite aspects of the atheist movement?

P: Mockery [of religion] as a way to advocate secularism.

S: What about your favorite part?

P: The community. The community was awesome.

S: I read on your tumblr bio that you now identify yourself as a “closet-case agnostic mystic.” Can you talk about that little bit?

P: These days I practice Zen Buddhism. Olaf Stapledon is why I call myself a mystic. I don’t know whether a personal God exists, but I doubt it. But I also believe there is a benefit in attempting to contact to the [ineffable.] I don’t know whether [post-mortem] existence happens, but I doubt it too. But I think that the time I’ve lived is some sense eternal. I don’t know a lot of things, and I think a lot of them either aren’t knowable at all. . . or maybe can only be known outside of words.

S: I don’t want this question to sound as if it has an obvious agenda, but I’m curious to know if whether you stopped believing in the possibility of perceiving objective reality before or after you began practicing Buddhism. I’m asking only because I think the direction of cause-and-effect could be interesting to consider.

P: I would say before, but I’m not certain of it. That is tough. Buddhism definitely strengthened my [conviction.]

S: Are you asked to speak about your religious ideas very often?

P: Not a lot. My husband asks. Not my family. . . I am rambly when I talk about religion. This is why I can’t be a teacher. [laughs] Or maybe I’d make a good one, who knows. I’m not very good at public speaking.

S: Are you able to pinpoint the exact moment when you weren’t able to regard yourself an atheist any longer?

P: I didn’t so much leave the Movement as I drifted away. . . It happened over several months, and I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact moment when I no longer considered myself one. But that’s neither here nor there.