Yesterday afternoon a friend from northern Virginia sent me an e-mail. “Are you going to the Reason Rally this weekend,” she asked. “It’s your kind of thing. You really should go.”
The Reason Rally. A gathering on the National Mall for the godless.
Shamrock Fest is a Celtic rock festival, held annually in Washington to (roughly) coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. I went last year. I had a wonderful time. I got to see a bunch of awesome bands — Carbon Leaf, the Charm City Saints, Barleyjuice, rhe Dropkick Murphys among them. I got to drink overpriced Guinness out of plastic cups. In short, it was a music festival and it was glorious.
A rally on the National Mall…?
Well, it’s a certainty that I won’t go deaf from the racket of amped-up guitars and bagpipes. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect there will be overpriced Guinness in plastic cups. Nor will there be much room to maneuver — nor even much of a need to move at all. I know the way rallies on the National Mall work, after all.
In short, much of the fun and enjoyment I’ll derive from Shamrock Fest will be wholly absent from the Reason Rally. The Reason Rally won’t lack for programming, that’s for sure, but it’s just not as interesting to me.
There’s another reason, though. A more fundamental reason, besides the fact that I bought the ticket for Shamrock Fest long long ago.
Quite simply, I’m not militant in my atheism anymore. Nor do I need the strength of numbers the Reason Rally will provide to validate my godlessness.
I understand the motives of American Atheists. By doing public things, like hanging billboards, like holding rallies, they can get people to think about who they are and what they believe, perhaps even helping some to come out of the closet and embrace their own godlessness. That’s the very argument that Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, makes: “This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. This is about getting all those people not attending the rally (or who dont even know there are so many other atheists out there) to notice us and maybe — just maybe — get the courage to come out of the closet or attend a local atheist gathering.”
But the tactics of the atheist movement have also been offending people deeply. Look at the Christmas display controversy in Leesburg, or the the billboards in Harrisburg. Despite its good motives, the Reason Rally is certain to be co-opted by the cultural warriors of the Republican Party and its propagandists at FOX News as proof that the “godless left” is waging war on America’s Christians and laying siege to its culture. The Reason Rally plays into the cultural war narratives of Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and their ilk.
In other words, they already hate us. Why taunt them? It will only make them hate us more.
All of that said, I wish the Reason Rally well. I know a number of people who are going, and I hope they have a fantastic time. I’ve met David Silverman the president of American Atheists, on several occasions over the years, and I hope the rally achieves the goals he and his organization have set out for it. And I’m sorry I won’t see Mr. Lalla Ward in person. But I’m not going to be there, and that’s how it is.
So there you have it. Why I’ve chosen Shamrock Fest over the Reason Rally. More bands, more beer, more fun, and less cultural war.