Reason Rally 2012

March 27, 2012

Me with PZ Myers

This weekend, I attended the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. This was the largest gathering of atheists and rationalists in history.

Now there’s a lot of debate about how many were actually in attendance, with reported numbers ranging between 5,000 and 30,000. Now I can say with strong confidence that it was a lot more than 5,000. And allegedly, official park figures suggest it was around 30,000, while others are simply asserting their own numbers based on their own personal guesswork.

Me with AronRa

In any case, it was a wonderful event. I got to meet numerous people I admire while sending Washington a message that they can no longer afford to ignore us. Throughout the day, American Atheists President Dave Silverman spoke to the crowd. And while I’ve often been critical of Silverman in the past, he was fantastic on the day. Other great and memorable speakers included Adam Savage of the Mythbusters, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jilette, Eddie Izzard, Jamie Kilstein, former Westboro Baptist Church member Nate Phelps, Youtube atheist Cristina Rad, and many more. Other YouTubers in attendance were Thunderf00t, AronRa, Ashley Paramore, and ProfMTH. The audience was also treated to musical performances by Tim Minchin and Bad Religion.

Of course, with the single largest gathering of atheists, it was inevitable that religionists would crash the party. Though to be fair, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was actually invited by the National Atheist Party, a controversial move that wholeheartedly support. The WBC are a joke and are also hated by, well, everyone. Goading them into attending not only increases media attention but also almost guarantees the press will be positive towards us as it’s hard to look like the bad guys when placed next to the funeral-picketing, hate-mongers of the WBC. While repulsive, I’ve often said that the WBC are not only one of the least violent religions in the world as well as that they practically do our job of showing the problems of religiosity for us by simply continuing their usual antics.

I personally find the WBC so non-threatening that I actually wanted to have my picture taken with them. Unfortunately, however, they kept their distance, possibly to keep their kids from hearing Nate Phelps, the prodigal son of the Phelps clan. I never even saw them. I did, however, get to interact with other evangelical groups such as those representing a ministry calling itself “True Reason.” I had a semi-lengthy discussion with one young member of that ministry and tried to teach him a little about moral philosophy. I also managed to get my hands on a DVD copy of Ray Comfort’s insipid 180 Degrees video which he markets as his never-fail secret to convincing pro-choicers to oppose abortion in about a minute. The movie is available for free online and Comfort’s amazing tactic is not very persuasive…at all. In fact, I’m so confident his video is not persuasive and does nothing but demonstrate what a clown religious nuts like Comfort are that I’d happily become a distributor of the DVD myself.

All in all, it was a fun event and hopefully the start of a growing political movement by rationalists.

I just can’t help but think what a shame it is that Christopher Hitchens didn’t live to see the Reason Rally because the central message of the event seemed to remind me of a Hitchens quote:

“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.”

Surprisingly, despite all the constant in-fighting among skeptics concerning confrontational methods, the Reason Rally seemed to unambiguously support confrontationalism. And I can’t seem to find anyone in the movement criticizing the rally for being undeniably a call to arms for skeptics to get involved in efforts that will help push our message into the mainstream. Hemant Mehta called for attendees to run for public office while the attention given to young Jessica Ahlquist suggested fighting to maintain church-state separation through litigation.

Further, many of the speakers promoted humanist values through governmental policy with few even acknowledging libertarianism. The only mention of libertarian methods I caught was a quick remark in possibly my favorite speech of the day by Adam Savage:

Savage’s speech perhaps best summarized that key message of the Reason Rally:  we cannot no longer afford to stay on the sidelines and be mere spectator of injustice and misinformation. We must unite and fight back against the bullies of untruth who exploit the ignorance of others and cause great suffering in the world.

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Let’s put the Chris back into Christmas

December 20, 2011

Last week, everyone in the world seemed to be talking about Christopher Hitchens, who you probably know by now has died of cancer. My hiatus has thus made me late to the party. But there simply was no way I was going to not address this story as, for the last couple of years, he’s become one of the most influential figures in my own life.

Christopher Hitchens was a force of nature and a powerful ally in the fight against unreason. More than just one of the world’s leading intellectuals, Hitchens was one of best writers and possibly the greatest orator of our time. Until last week, he may also have been the only one in the world who literally held the title of Devil’s Advocate.

Sure, he had his faults. Namely his inexplicable views concerning the Iraq War. But when it came to religion, the topic that most defined him in his final years, he brought such an amazing combination of eloquent rhetoric, righteous anger, irreverence, and wit. Indeed, his blunt and devastating counterarguments have become so legendary they’ve gained their own nickname, the Hitchslap. A quick Google search will provide anyone with ample examples of the Hitchslap in action.

And though I’m a fan of both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hitchens brought his own wholly unique quality to the religion debate, one that can never be replaced.

Of course, the man who once said upon Jerry Falwell’s death that if you’d given Falwell an enima, he’d fit in a matchbox had his enemies, particularly among what he called the “theocratic fascists”. And sure enough, as news of Hitchens’ death came out, controversy followed. To honor him, fans tweeted their appreciation using the hashtag #GodIsNotGreat. After the hashtag trended, it drove numerous threats of violence from religious people unaware it was referencing Hitchens’ best-selling book (not that that would matter). And in class corporate fashion, Twitter opted to remove the hashtag from the list of trending subjects rather than show any integrity. Moreover, right-wing radio host Bryan Fischer asserted that Hitchens was now in Hell…because “God” loves him. And not surprisingly, the Westboro Baptist Church has vowed to picket Hitchens’ funeral, an act that Hitchens would surely have appreciated.

I was fortunate enough to meet him on more than one occasion, both before and after his diagnosis. But unfortunately I never got the opportunity to share a drink with the man. Christopher Hitchens will surely be missed and I fully intend at the next Drinking Skeptically to celebrate his life with his favorite beverage, Johnny Walker Black.

Also, in his honor, I’m pushing a campaign to put the Chris back into Christmas.

Christopher Hitchens:  In memoriam

Daniel Dennett on Christopher Hitchens

Since King Jong Il’s death this week, here’s a great clip of Hitchens on religion and North Korea:

The 20 Best Christopher Hitchens Quotes

More of his best quotes

BBC News Obituary

New Yorker Obituary by Christopher Buckley

Peter Hitchens on his brother’s death

A Rap Obituary for Christopher Hitchens

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Raising my glass to Christopher Hitchens

November 12, 2011

As many people know, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t have long to live. He’s dying from a particularly insidious form of cancer. But he’s not dead yet. And he continues to use the time he has left on this Earth to spread the good news…that science and reason trump religious dogma any day of the week.

And so I will join my fellow atheists in raising my glass of Johnny Walker Black to Mr. Hitchens.

To Hitch:

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Christopher Hitchens accepts the Richard Dawkins Award

October 10, 2011

Unfortunately, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t seem to be getting better. This is the first time I’ve seen him in months and it looks like his cancer is taking its toll and that he probably doesn’t have much time left.

But the good news is that he’s while he’s alive, he’s not letting cancer stop him from firing up rationalists everywhere so they will continue to fight long after he’s gone. Even in the end, Hitchens is an extraordinary speaker:

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Elevatorgate and Rebecca Watson haters

September 29, 2011
Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

I’m pretty sure that I managed to completely ignore the so-called “Elevatorgate” controversy that’s been brewing for months until now. I still don’t know why it’s called Elevatorgate, given that whichever hotel the inciting incident occurred in, it definitely was not named The Elevatorgate Hotel. (Ya see, folks, the Watergate Conspiracy was only called that because the hotel was called Watergate, not because the suffix “gate” means conspiracy or controversy).

Anywho, I’ve tried to avoid the topic because it seemed to be a complete distraction from the core mission of skeptics and rationalists that only served to divide us. But with the recent posts by Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers, I’ve decided to briefly break my silence.

First, let be begin by saying that this shit’s got to end already.

Second, as demonstrated by Rebecca’s post above as well as various websites I’ve seen, some people in our community who didn’t like what Rebecca had to say have fucking lost their minds and have gone so far over the line that they can’t even see the line anymore. Some of the behavior I’ve seen is disgraceful and all the more disturbing given that it’s coming from inside the skeptical community.

Third, not to be one-sided, I’ve also seen some people completely overreact to Richard Dawkins’ rather idiotic  response to Rebecca by basically writing him off entirely as some kind of misogynist. That, I think, is also unreasonable.

Now it might be that both Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins made some mistakes. Though I think Dawkins’ mistakes are far worse than any Rebecca may have made. I also think Dawkins made another mistake by remaining silent on the issue. If it were me who had said something that stupid and I saw the enormous controversy that it sparked, I’d feel obligated to open the doors to communication and try to turn this ugly incident into a teaching moment. I’d also apologize. I don’t know what motivated Dawkins’ response, whether he was just having a bad week and vented his frustrations on the wrong person or if he didn’t fully understand the nature of what Rebecca was saying. But whatever it was, it’s certainly beneath him. And while he has remained silent, the wound has only festered and diminished his reputation among many people.

It seems to me that Dawkins breaking his silence to have a civil conversation with Rebecca, explaining his behavior would be the best thing for everyone since some people feel they needed to pick sides. The anti-Dawkins crowd could start to forgive him and the vitriolic anti-Rebecca crowd might feel less of a need to defend Dawkins’ honor or whatever.

Dawkins screwed up, plain and simple. But he’s not a misogynist and he’s still a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism. Likewise, Rebecca Watson may not have effectively conveyed her message earlier on, causing some to think she was saying something far more unreasonable than she really was, but she too is a great spokesperson for atheism and rationalism.

So let’s cut the crap and get back to what unites us rather than waste our time on petty feuds and unproductive internet drama.

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Another criticisms of American Atheists’ lawsuit over the 9/11 Cross

August 2, 2011

This one comes from one of my favorite YouTube atheists, ProfMTH:


News From Around The Blogosphere 7.30.11

July 30, 2011

1. Pay attention, American Atheists. THIS is how you win friends and influence people
While American Atheists and NYC Atheists are looking to sue everyone in sight and battle it out against 9/11 first responders and their families, Chris McCoy did something very different. He launched a campaign to raise $50,000 for charity using GiveBack and recruited fellow atheists to help him. This is how you change people’s opinions about atheists, not by behaving like Scientology.

2. Lesbian couple saves 40 in Norwegian shooting – If “God” had his way, Hege Dalen and her partner, Toril Hansen would have been stoned to death long ago. But fortunately for 40 presumably mostly straight Norwegians, most Christians lack the courage of their convictions and never got around to obeying that particular command from their god.

3. The Richard Dawkins Award goes to Hitch! – Last year, a controversy began over the award going to Bill Maher because of Maher’s outspoken superstitious views about medical science. But I doubt many will object to this year’s winner, Christopher Hitchens, who last year was diagnosed with terminal Cancer. And yet, in spite of the Big C, Hitch has remained as active as ever in battling religious superstitions while showing enormous grace in the face of almost certain death. I can think of no one who better deserves the award.

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