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.

premarital

(Source)

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.

2012rally

(Source)

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!

The Crazy [Atheist] Card

I have been reading comment sections about atheists, and I have noticed something both surprising and unsurprising. Male atheists are less likely to be called “crazy” than a variety of other derogatory adjectives. For instance, Richard Dawkins is much more likely to be “stupid” rather than “crazy.” On one secular blog, a writer contrasted a prominent male atheist with a female atheist to examine the differences between a new atheist and an apologist atheist. When I searched for the word “crazy,” it was used seven times in the 26 comments, not appearing once in the actual body of the article, and the word was used in reference only to the female atheist.

Crazy is a word commonly associated with emotion. Since women are stereotyped as being more emotional and emotion is considered irrational, the opposite of what atheists strive to be, and irrationality is lethargic, incorrect, crazy, this makes crazy a convenient word to keep handy in one’s rhetoric. For some women, crazy is one the worst things you can be, like bitchy, slutty, or my personal favorite—bossy.

We need to figure out how to argue against the crazy card, especially when it is used by theists but also when talking among fellow atheists.

mustbebecrazy

The crazy accusation is a form of gaslighting. Telling someone that their feelings or thoughts are incorrect, that they don’t have the right to feel or think a certain way, is a form of manipulation. Minimizing another person’s thoughts is an attempted method to control that person. If that person is no longer able to rely on their own mind, then that person must rely on someone else to determine how they are supposed to feel or think.

Calling someone crazy is a direct attempt to control that person—the way that person thinks or the way that person feels.

I suspect many people do not know what they are implying when calling a woman crazy. It’s an easy card to play. Reflexive, even. People also accept the crazy explanation as adequate without much question. Sometimes, calling a woman crazy is how a person communicates one of the following: “She felt a certain way, and I did not want her to think that way.” or “She was upset about something, and I did not want to deal with it.”

It’s more difficult to use introspection and specific language to communicate the issues at hand. Let’s look at some examples.

Instead of: “Person X is crazy!”
Try: “Person X is a born-again Christian who opposes gay marriage and the study of evolution in the public school system.”

Instead of: “Person Y is crazy!”
Try: “I cut off Person Y in traffic, and Person Y followed me home and shit on my porch.”

Instead of: “Person Z is crazy!”
Try: “I am not voting for Donald Trump.”

What communicates the issue better? What creates a more productive dialogue? The speaker loses nothing by thinking critically about the words used. Furthermore, the speaker’s friends, who might be mentally ill or bipolar or autistic, are less likely to be hurt by the use of specific language. As advocates of rational thinking and skepticism, should we not always attempt to create more productive dialogues?

Crazy is also a highly effective way to argue with a person, because it completely changes the topic at hand. The topic is no longer about what the person is saying. It’s about how the person is saying it. The crazy card redirects the conversation.

To bring this home,

If you want to call someone crazy, don’t. Use introspection and specific language instead.

If you hear another person call someone crazy, be skeptical, and ask them for specific language. Card denied.

If you are called crazy, recognize the speaker’s attempt to control you and redirect the conversation. Do not be persuaded.

I am jealous of these male atheists who are called so many creative derogatory names. I want something of my own. Call me godless. Call me shortsighted, wicked, a hell-bound harlot, Satan’s spokesperson, an arrogant cocksucking heathen, anything but crazy.

A Dog-faced Return

I am finally back to blogging. I can’t say how good it feels to sit in front of a blank screen this morning and quietly ripple out into a larger digital world without pressure or time constraint. A lot has happened since my last entry in February, and there will be plenty of opportunities to comment on that in the future.

Lately, I have been thinking about this short Christopher Hitchens clip rather a lot.

When I talked to a friend about the above clip last week, she said, “Doubt is scary. To hear atheism talked about in such a way makes it too appealing for people like me.”

In secular news. . .

I have some interviews planned, forthcoming blog features, and I am accepting nominations for the Laika Spotlight. Enjoy your anarchy this Guy Fawkes Day, everyone. Another post to come soon!

Blasphemy Law: Don’t Poke Your Nose

Taslima Nasreen is a writer and humanist who I was privileged enough to meet last year at a conference in Virginia. When I approached her after a panel, I thanked her for sharing and speaking, and we shook hands politely. Then, I walked away to the coffee stand, kicking myself for not saying something more important or engaging, and talked to an elderly woman about her dog. In all truth, I felt pretty humble in Taslima’s presence, not in the manner of intimidation, but rather a silent awe and respect.

Screenshot 2015-02-09 at 10.02.10 AM - Edited

I was researching blasphemy in the United States recently and came cross an organization called End Blasphemy Laws (link) that Taslima supports. The website ultimately raised a lot of questions and good points for me. I was surprised to see that the United States was not highlighted on the website’s home page map and then further surprised to read about “blasphemous libel” in Canada, which is punishable for up to two years in jail. When looking at their map, I wonder if the creators of End Blasphemy Laws are simply doing a preliminary keyword search to find blasphemous law in global legal databases or what their research methods entail. For instance, I live in Tennessee and would consider Section 2 of Article IX in the Tennessee Constitution blasphemous law. The section reads:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

There are similar laws in the states of Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and others across the board. (You can see similar laws internationally in Pakistan, Ireland, India, and other countries. Even the United Nations has some notable complications in this particular field of legality and religiosity.) The Texas legal statement on public office is particularly interesting. The law reads:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

I would consider these legal statements under the category of blasphemy law, but often these particular laws are considered “unenforceable” as well and thus dismissed from conversation.

My research into blasphemy law comes admittedly from the Charlie Hebdo internet movement and influx in media representation. My thoughts on Charlie Hebdo are complicated to say the least, too involved with censorship and then Islamic blasphemy law, and thus convoluted and perhaps even ill-informed as some opinions tend to be. And maybe, I am too late in on the conversation. Anyway, it’s blasphemy thoughts for today, readers. And I find that I am all too reminded when researching law of the familiar childhood phrase, “Don’t poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Question: Atheists and Oppression

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
Sarah, I have never considered atheists as an oppressed group. Would you consider yourself and others oppressed?

Whether or not an atheist is oppressed depends largely on his or her environment and means of expression. When it comes to thoughts about oppression, we may be dealing with a difference in, not only perspective, but also definition. I do not answer for a collective group, but represent only my thoughts and observations as an atheist living in the southern United States. Many would probably avoid the word “oppression” in regard to the treatment of atheists, and you’ll notice that even I lean more toward “discrimination” and other synonyms at times.

Where I live and grew up, atheists are the recurrent recipients of negative stereotype and prejudice. An open atheist risks being called “evil” or as with a past teacher of mine losing their job if their boss knew about their beliefs. The environment of fear is palpable.

Comparative Oppression

One of the past (and most frequent) arguments I have heard entailed a difference in visibility, particularly when comparing atheists to African Americans in the south. The premiere point being that one cannot tell if another person is an atheist by merely looking at him or her. The same cannot be said for African Americans or other people of color. Therefore, the atheist has a type of comparative privilege and societal camouflage. But what if an atheist was made visible in some way? (Recall briefly how Jewish people were made to wear the yellow star of David during World War II.) I would not, for a second, want to wear some type of t-shirt or other garment denoting my atheism and walk around my hometown adorned. I would risk subsequent ostracism and threats.

boy-with-star

Photo Credit: Rhodes Jewish Museum

To further comment on this comparison, I will say immediately address how silly I find this contest of oppression and its subsequent degree.

Person #1: I’m oppressed!
Person #2: I’m oppressed more!

So it goes.

At the same time, atheists tend not to be parallel to the same amount of physical violence as the LGBT community or the same level of economic oppression as women. Nonetheless, there is an astonishing amount of anti-atheist sentiment in the United States, and like these other aforementioned groups, atheists represent a minority within the general populace.

People have been oppressed for ages based on their race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, age and of course, religious connotation or lack thereof. The argument that atheists are not oppressed because of separation of church and state or freedom of speech is simply illogical. Just because the United States abolished slavery doesn’t mean African Americans aren’t oppressed. The same can be said for atheists.

Culture of Silence

I do not attempt to victimize myself by writing this response and have struggled greatly while trying to find structure within this defense. I often feel that if I raise the point of atheists as an oppressed group, then I may be accused of an emotional pursuit to garner sympathy. The result, therein, becomes silence. If I don’t speak openly about oppression, then again the result is silence. It’s the inherent Catch-22. Oppression runs deep within the culture of silence;  and through adherence to silence, I am being programmed into conformity.

In a future entry (or series of entries), I will attempt to relate atheism to the
various faces/types of oppression. Thank you for this question, Anon!

Religious Bullying: “I’ll pray for you.”

When I was younger, I used to say things like, “It’s easy to know if you are being bullied or not.” And I was wrong. With time, it has become exceedingly accessible to call people bullies, in the way that introversion and gluten-free diets have also turned into something more popular. Some people are taking the topic of bullying that affects a percentage of people and misapplying it to fit a broader range for purposes largely related to attention and the self. Now, anyone who disagrees with another person is a strong-fashion bully, just as how anyone who doesn’t like playing frisbee golf is suddenly an introvert.

In light of this aversion to the word bully, I want to discuss a phrase:

“I will pray for you.”

I have never been the type of atheist who grimaces at sayings like “Merry Christmas” and “God bless you.”

I hear the words “I’ll pray for you” or a paraphrased equivalent frequently. There are two ways this statement can be made. The first healthy way is to allow a person know that the speaker genuinely cares for the subject and wants him/her to feel relief. Prayer thus being the pursuit of healing (Part 1).

The second way a person can say these words is when the religious bully makes himself or herself apparent. When the religious bully says “I’ll pray for you,” that person is communicating two things:

1. I have a special relationship with God that you lack, because you are an outsider/sinner.
2. I will use my special relationship to see that you are forgiven or censured.

Both the religious and non-religious have heard the contempt behind “I’ll pray for you” at one point and the goodness behind those words at another. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know the connotations behind the phrase, and that is when discussion needs to occur and remove the gray area of assumption. When I tell someone I am an atheist and he/she replies with “I’ll pray for you,” I generally think those words are an unconscious statement of contempt in the guise of goodness; and that’s the thing to remember about contempt, it comes in many faces.

There are other equivalents to “I’ll pray for you” that include:

“I will hope for your eventual enlightenment.”
“Someday you’ll figure it out.”

These words are typically said when one person views another as lesser due to their lifestyle, views, choices, etc. At that point, “I’ll pray for you” or a similarly correlating statement becomes a verbal tool for judgement and personal denouncement.

So what exactly makes “I’ll pray for you” religious bullying then?

In this instance, the bully connotation comes from:

  • Creation of a power imbalance
  • Assumption of authority or precedence over another person
  • Establishment of an “outsider” group and subjective assignment of people to that group (also called, ‘social exclusion’)
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Gaslighting

The religious bully says “I’ll pray for you” with a dismissive tone to someone often seen as “in the wrong.” You, the subject, the nonbeliever, the homosexual, the recently divorced, the promiscuous unmarried woman, etc. do not know the path to God because of your identity, sexuality, situation, and so forth. My advice to the recipient of this phrase’s contempt would be to speak. Be indignant. Practice voice. Remind the speaker of their unnecessary verbal and mental abuse . Tell the religious bully why you are not in need of that prayer, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

The Value of Prayer in Hospitals: An Atheist’s Response

A friend and I recently had a discussion about the value and variations of prayer. The conversation initiated after my friend told me that he knew someone in the hospital. Minutes before we saw each other, he had received a test message which briefly read [paraphrased]: “The doctors said he doesn’t have much time left. A lot of people have been praying for him, and even though I don’t really believe in prayer, you can. . .”

My friend did not seem nearly as perturbed by the speaker’s disbelief in prayer as he seemed off-put by her timing of the statement which seemed more the product of egocentricity than sensitivity. My friend questioned why the speaker felt clarity imperative and also worried about the dismissive/general attitude conveyed through her message.

In past years, my father has been in the hospital a few times. I would often hear statements, such as:

“I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers.”

“I am praying for your dad’s health.”

I have never felt the need to identify myself as a non-believer in those moments, because to do so felt like a rejection of someone’s compassion.

However, I understand why the speaker felt compelled to say she doesn’t “really believe in prayer.” While I do not know her intent or reason for expression, I think her statement was made to convey a disbelief in divine intervention/miracle. Nevertheless, when discussing the relevance of prayer, her mindset seems to express a stereotypical view on how people pray and does not properly observe the subjective experience of prayer.  At the same time, I also sympathize with the speaker, because I know how it feels to be the non-believer surrounded by a group of the religious inside a hospital room, lobby, corridor. The effects can feel suffocating.

Despite this, I write to encourage fellow atheists to see the positive aspects of prayer in these situations, because to dwell on the negative or pervasiveness will only make such circumstances more difficult and tense. While staying with my father in the hospital, I tried to recognize the prayers of others as both a coping mechanism and an expression of empathy for the suffering. I would often thank them and genuinely feel a sense of gratitude, because to those offering prayer, the concept of prayer means something.

A perhaps too convenient or silly analogy to make at this time of year could be a similarity between prayer and giftgiving. One person knits a pair of socks for a friend- chooses the yarn carefully, pays attention to detail and craft, etc. Then, that person gives the socks to the recipient, someone who incidentally does not wear socks, because he/she finds them restrictive and prefers sandals. To the recipient, the socks have no practical value or purpose directly related to their life, but there is still something inherently good in those socks- a symbol of comfort, fondness, and time. A sign that someone cares.

Even though I am nonreligious, I hope that if ever hospitalized or ill or dying that someone out there decides to pray for me, not because I believe their action will make me well but because I would find warmth in their sentiment.

Upcoming Entry
Religious Bullying: “I’ll Pray For You”
In my next entry, I will discuss prayer as a potential instrument for
religious bullying and purveyor of wanton judgement.