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!

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.

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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.

Easter Aesthetic: Undead and a Creme-filled Center

Perhaps no other holiday quite creeps me out as much as Easter. While searching online, I have found few accounts of atheists talking about how unpleasant the holiday makes them feel. Surely, I am not alone in this sentiment though? Last year, I was at the American Atheists convention partaking in what some dotingly called “the war on Easter” in downtown Memphis. This year, I am left to my own observations.

Easter, like many holidays in the US, is a compilation of strange traditions, symbols, and origins—dead Jesus, sex goddess, milk chocolate—that have achieved a widely consumer-based bend. If you were to search for how unnerving the holiday is, you would find Buzzfeed articles with photos of people from the 1950’s dressed as white, wild-eyed rabbits holding inscrutable, and other times screaming, children. The thing of nightmares, certainly. The holiday makes me uncomfortable for more conscientious reasons.

For kicks, let’s review the top 5 creepiest Easter sightings I saw in Tennessee this year:

5. Crosses, crosses… everywhere!

Leading up to Easter, theists and churches publicly decorate their yards with crosses, one of the best-known symbols of Christianity, and large-scale representations of the crucifix. Here’s one:

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People in the south already have crosses all over the place. While driving down the highway or interstate, in between all the fear-mongering religious billboards, it’s not unusual to see a large cross that spans multiple acres of land. The fanaticism of Easter, however, breeds a whole new superfluous countryside scene. In my hometown, I doubt you can drive five miles without seeing such a display, and even that estimate of five miles is likely too generous.

In an attempted fairness, however, the hundreds of crosses dotting the countryside are appropriate for the holiday. An often overlooked line from the New Testament indicates that not only was Jesus “risen” on that day, so too were thousands of others. It was a good ol’ fashioned zombie walk. One theologian estimated that nearly 12,000 people rose up from their graves and walked the earth, which provoked Christopher Hitchens to make the claim that resurrection was, in fact, “commonplace.”

4. Risen (2016)

To celebrate the holiday this year, some Christians watched Risen, the latest biblical drama on the Hollywood market. It’s no secret that I find religious drama as fascinating and prescriptive as I do equal parts disturbing and insane.

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Risen is a film about the resurrection. Some have praised the movie for following a new lead character named Clavius. Spoiler alert: Clavius is a non-believer who gets to see Yeshua’s ascension into heaven. Guess what happens next?

3. Undead Jesus Sings Gospel in Florida

Alongside all the pastel-colored selfies and egg hunt testimonials, I saw several video and audio uploads of Easter church services. (Some churches have sunrise services. That’s dedication!) One of my family friends uploaded a video from his church that featured a congregation of people inside this mega church cathedral. They are watching a musical performance with their arms and hands outstretched above their hands. And the lead of this contemporary gospel group? A dancing Jesus! Baffled by the video, I even messaged this family friend to ask if that was really someone dressed as Jesus dancing on stage and singing into the microphone. His response, unadulterated: “Yes! He HAS Risen!!”

2. Crucified Jesus Cookies

A family favorite?

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To stress the absolute cringe-worthy quality of these cookies, if it isn’t already apparent enough, let me say that I actually made these exact cookies when I was a child. I remember making these cookies, not because of their horror or raspberry-jam shortbread tastiness, but because of the downright annoyance of them. The fingers would stick to the cookie cutter if not properly floured and produce these goblin-like elongated atrocities.

1. Indoctrination of Children

The indoctrination of children is one of the most toxic and necessary elements of Christianity and its survival. In my eyes, all the services and child-friendly activities are but another baited hook and cyclic opportunity.

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Berning Bright

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It has been interesting to watch my more progressive Christian friends excuse Bernie’s lack of apparent religiosity. Some friends have taken to calling him “a spiritual man” instead. Here is one comment a friend posted online:

Each to their own. Trump has the racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, and narrow-minded ignorance and greed that would suit this nation to its demise. But each to their own. Many people probably recognize Bernie Sanders as a passive, tree hugger, atheist, but I have to disagree. He is much more than just some atheist. I am glad to hear from you though, even if it is on political disagreement!

Let the record show that I am just some atheist.

Bernie is not openly atheist. He is openly humanist.

Unless there is some better source stating Bernie’s atheism? I am shamelessly delighted that a video from Jimmy Kimmel Live! is all we have to discuss his religiosity.

All this begs the question: Why are Christian democratic voters excusing his lack of religiosity? In short, atheism has a negative appeal. Supporting an atheist in an election is inconsistent with their worldview, and so they choose instead to simply dismiss the lack of religiosity rather than confront and rationally assess it. It’s much easier to ignore than to an accept someone’s deviance from religiosity. Just ask my parents; they’re experts.

From what I have seen, secular groups are endorsing Bernie. They never quote Bernie as an atheist, but they are apt to quote some of Hillary Clinton’s more religious remarks. For instance, in 2014, during an interview, Hillary said: “At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement. [1]” It’s enough to make my skin crawl. Hillary has made anti-extremist statements, but secular groups are painting her with a particular brush at the moment. Humanist groups have also quoted and supported Hillary in the past. Even their social media has taken a dramatic tern for the bern.

No matter who is elected, I imagine atheists can expect to see much of the same congressional ritual, the same Bibles passed along and used as ceremony, just one more token piece of evidence that fanatics cite when claiming that the United States is a “Christian nation.” We in a period of unhealthy nationalism, and we have been here for a long time.

A Holiday Request

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I rarely find myself compelled to share online crowdfunding campaigns, but Sarah Morehead and her children are seeking help out of a horrifying reality. Sarah is a valued humanitarian in the secular movement and nothing short of an inspiration for many of us. I am particularly familiar with Sarah through her work on the Recovering from Religion Hotline Project. If you have the money this year (even a few dollars) or if you feel the holiday booze moves you, please consider helping Sarah and her family by donating here.

Holiday Shopping For Your Token Atheist Friend

The holidays can be an unsettling time for atheists. Once when talking to a family member who is aware of my atheism and verbal about it, she asked: “Does it bother you when you get Jesus stuff for the holidays?” The truth, yes and no.

As self-proclaimed resident holiday gift adviser, here are my guiding rules on how to shop for heathens:

  1. Don’t give your atheist friend anything religious.
  2. Avoid gifts that use “Christmas” or “Xmas.”
  3. Coffee is good. Atheists like coffee.

Most of the following gift ideas center around secular thought, reason, and science.

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Giftcards to Amazon.com or Target can be personalized by packing it inside a secular greeting card, such as this card featuring Charles Darwin or this “Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season” card from Center for Inquiry. The Center for Inquiry and other secular organizations have a lot of great items for atheists around the holidays. Personally, I have always wanted this “Heresy Makes For Progress” t-shirt. (Size small, please.) T-shirts can be fun. Just don’t buy anything too outwardly offensive, mocking, or with Comic Sans. To play on the safe side, I would recommend sticking to humanist gifts around the holiday season, rather than the more antagonistic options.

I like to suggest minimalist gifts for the holidays, such as this “Freethinker” vinyl sticker or black-and-white Carl Sagan magnet. If you think your friend would appreciate some weird socks, check out these wicked Einsteins from Socksmith. (Who doesn’t appreciate weird socks?!) Skeptical coffee mugs and science-shaped cookie cutters are solid small gift ideas.

Literature can be either a good or a really bad gift idea. Many atheists have strong biases about who they like and don’t like in the realm of secular literature. Prominent atheist thinkers have come out with books in 2015, but not all atheists appreciate these writers. Secular anthologies can also be tricky for reasons involving representation. The best gift will reflect some aspect of the token atheist’s belief system. It’s entirely reasonable to ask your friend, “Which atheists do you look up to?” or “Do you have any favorite scientists or public figures?” This will allow you to narrow down potential shopping flaws. Unlike religious literature, there is no single book binding secularism or novelty edition of said book that can be given to an atheist. Finding the right literature will require careful thought and some background research.

If unable to narrow down a book specifically, I would recommend purchasing a yearly magazine subscription from a predominantly secular publisher. Maybe support the Skeptical Inquirer or Scientific American? Magazine subscriptions are wonderful for the shopper who has waited until the last minute to buy a gift. Some atheists are also touring right now in the United States. Tickets to hear Neil Degrassi Tyson locally or another secular thinker can be an excellent last-minute gift idea.

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild offers an array of religious and non-religious products that are ideal for both adults and children. (I can think of nothing that I would have loved more as a child than an Albert Einstein Little Thinker Doll, except for maybe another Australian Shepherd puppy.) Royal Bobbles has some neat stuff as well, like this glow-in-the-dark Marie Curie figure.

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For the secular art lover, consider making a purchase from Amy’s store, Surly-Ramics! Her work is high-quality and ships quickly. She also runs sales on a regular basis, so feel free to check out her facebook page for more information.

While this entry may seem rather silly or tediously materialistic, it’s important to me. The holidays are challenging for atheists as they are for many people. Having a loved one, relative or friend, give a gift that acknowledges your belief system, particularly a belief system that is adverse to the holiday season, can be one of the most uplifting things in the world. That copy of The Origin of Species may not seem like a big deal, but for an atheist who has felt outcast from his or her family around the holiday, just that small recognition can be an enormous gesture of inclusion and hope.

So leave that Dr. Bronner’s soap on the shelf, and order soon to get your packages before the holidays are here. What are you hoping to get this year for the holidays? Share your thoughts/wish lists in the comments section.