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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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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The Fightin’ Hitchens

August 5, 2010
Christopher Hitchens speaking at The Amazing M...
Image via Wikipedia

Several weeks ago, one of the most important intellectuals and prolific authors of our time announced that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. That man was Christopher Hitchens, journalist and author of such books as “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “The Missionary Position,” a demystification and condemnation of Mother Teresa written by the man who the Vatican actually recruited to take on the title of devil’s advocate when the Catholic Church was deciding whether or not to declare her a saint.

Since Hitchens’ grave announcement, he’s written about it in the pages of Vanity Fair and many, including PZ Myers, have written about his courage in facing the very serious possibility that he may not live much longer.

But now Hitchens has appeared on television for the first time since the news of his cancer in an interview with Anderson Cooper and he’s as articulate and strong as ever:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 6.11.10

June 11, 2010

Stupid me. I always grab pictures from the wrong youth organization

1. Phili yanks Boy Scouts of America’s rent-free space – It’s been long known that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are given privilege in the U.S. despite being a fundamentally bigoted organization that openly discriminates against gays and atheists. Well now one American city is fighting back. Philadelphia is now insisting the local BSA chapter must pay the standard $200,000 in annual rental fees using public space. The BSA has responded by suing and declaring that the the local chapter does not follow the national BSA’s discrimination policies. The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia is organizing a rally this weekend to draw attention to the issue.

2. Just when you thought Mississippi schools couldn’t get any lower – For the past several months, the evolving controversy surrounding a Mississippi high school’s despicable treatment of openly lesbian teen Constance McMillen had made national news. Then recently reports came out of another lesbian teen being discriminated against by her high school. So I guess this makes strike three. It has just come out that Alice Hawley, a math teacher at Franklin County High School in Mississippi, has for the past 17 years been leading student prayers in class. To the schools credit, they did demand her to stop once her actions became national news, and then when Hawley refused to sign a document stating she understands the law on these matters, the school fired her despicable ass. But to the schools discredit, they just rehired her a day later. That’ll teach her!

Open letter to Mississippi schools:


3. The Fightin’ Hitchens Brothers – The disparity of views between brothers Christopher and Peter Hitchens is an endless source of amusement. I have to think this is what it’s like at the Baldwin family gatherings between Alec and Stephen Baldwin. And now it turns out that almost simultaneously, a memoir from each Hitchens brother has hit book stands. The books sound like they are polar opposites. And while Peter’s book sounds like it’s obsessed with Christopher and making excuses for why Christopher kicked his ass in a public debate, Peter is practically but a footnote in the elder Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22.

Galileo's actual middle finger--suck it, Charles!

4. Prince Charles blames Galileo for the world’s problems

The Prince of Wales has blamed a lack of belief in the soul for the world’s environmental problems, and said that the planet cannot sustain a population expected to reach 9 billion in 40 years.

He said he found it “baffling” that so many scientists professed a faith in God yet this had little bearing on the “damaging” way science was used to exploit the natural world.

The Prince pinned part of the blame on Galileo. Criticising the profit imperative behind much scientific research, he said: “This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.

Here that, Galileo. Prince Charles has had enough of your heliocentric nonsense! In response to Prince Charles, I encourage my limey friends across the pond to throw telescopes at him.