Plan Your Own Reason Rally and Then Tell Me How It Goes March 19, 2012

Plan Your Own Reason Rally and Then Tell Me How It Goes

So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…

Since I’ve been helping organize the event (mostly on the Internet end of things), here’s what it sounds like from my end. I should add that I speak only for myself here:

Everyone: Why aren’t there any politicians speaking to us?

Us: We got Senator Tom Harkin.

Everyone: Yeah, but he believes in alternative medicine. And he’s Catholic.

Us: But he’s a senator and he wanted to address us… well, we also got Rep. Pete Stark.

Everyone: He doesn’t even use the word “atheist” to describe himself.

Us: Umm… hypothetically, what if I told you President Obama wanted to speak to us?

Everyone: NO! He expanded the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. And he attends Prayer Breakfasts. And…

Us: *Sigh* So you want politicians to pay attention to us, but when they offer to speak to our community, you’re upset because they’re not voting exactly as we want them to vote…

Everyone: Are you going to invite Bill Maher?!

Us: Yes.

[Months later]

Everyone: We’re really excited about Maher! Hope he comes!

Us: So do we!

[Months later]

Everyone: Did Maher say yes!?

Us: Yes! He’ll speak via video.

[Moments later]

Everyone: Bill Maher hates women and vaccines! He defended Rush Limbaugh! Screw him! We don’t want him there!

Us: But he’s still arguably the most famous atheist in the country…

Everyone: Are you going to invite Penn Jillette?!

Us: Yes.

[Months later]

Everyone: We’re really excited about Penn! Hope he comes!

Us: So do we.

[Months later]

Everyone: Did Penn say yes!?

Us: Yes! He’ll speak via video.

[Moments later]

Everyone: Penn Jillette called a woman a “cunt” because he didn’t like what she wrote! Screw him! We don’t want him there!

Us: But he’s one of the most outspoken atheist celebrities out there… he’s even written a book on the subject.

Everyone: We know Christopher Hitchens passed away, but will there at least be some sort of tribute to him?

Us: Yes.

Everyone: Hitchens was a misogynist! He supported the War in Iraq! We can’t believe you’re praising him!

Us: But he wrote a New York Times bestselling book about atheism and debated the issue memorably for many years…

Everyone: Richard Dawkins is going to be there, right?

Us: Yes. He’s a safe choice. Can’t go wrong there.

Everyone: Don’t you remember Elevatorgate? Dawkins hates women!

Us: But The God Delusion was a worldwide bestseller and he’s the most famous atheist in the world…

Everyone: Is Lawrence Krauss speaking? We love his science books!

Us: Yep.

Everyone: He defended a pedophile! Why did you invite him?

Us: Because he’s an outspoken advocate of science. Hell, Miley Cyrus even caused a stir when she quoted him on Twitter…

You get the idea. This all goes on for a while. Lots of famous atheists, many of whom have detractors. And because we’re inviting them to speak, there’s something wrong with the Rally.

Then you have the people who complain that some of the speakers are too “angry” or abrasive and therefore bad representatives for atheism. (Seriously. I fielded that question from a reporter last week. I defended Richard Dawkins. And PZ, for that matter.)

Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

So deal with it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t call them out where they’re wrong. Have at it. I did it, too. In many cases, they deserve it. But to suggest the organizers are at fault for inviting really famous atheists who hold some view you don’t agree with is absurd. Almost as ridiculous as faulting them for accepting a greeting from a sitting U.S. senator who stands to lose a lot more than he’ll gain for addressing our crowd.

It’s not very often we see this many people come together under one banner to show the nation there are a lot of non-religious people out there, and we don’t all fall into the “angry older white guy” stereotype, and we want to see church/state separation upheld, and we don’t want to be ignored anymore. The fact that we have people on the stage who hold views we find unreasonable or objectionable just shows we’re not a uniform group.

If we want to get attention for a rally like this, we need big-name celebrities to attend. We need politicians to speak. Sure, we can have a rally with PZ Myers and only the people he wants to invite, but it won’t draw the same numbers and it won’t get the same level of attention.

You can argue that the Rally needs higher “standards,” but you’re missing the point. This isn’t just about us. This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. 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 don’t 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.

Those people are not nitpicking every belief held by every single speaker. When those people see Maher or Jillette or Hitchens, they see “atheists,” not any of the other labels that only seem to be discussed in our little bubble. The rest of the country will (hopefully) see a shitload of people attending a Rally that’s all about science, atheism, skepticism, and how it’s ok not to be religious.

Even Sen. Harkin is simply welcoming us to the Mall and showing his support for our right to gather and speak out against religion. He’s sending a message that you don’t have to agree with us to support us. I stand by what I said before. I’m glad there are politicians courageous enough to be associated with this Rally. I wish more of them would consider speaking. If one of the Republican presidential candidates wanted to voice his support for our right to assemble, and our right to not believe in god, and his belief that we’re just as American as religious people, I hope we’d give that person a mic, too. Because more Americans need to hear that message.

Same with the “celebrities.” I’m glad they find this rally worth addressing because they have more power than we do to get our message to the masses. Yes, Bill Maher and Penn Jillette have their faults, but they amplify our way of thinking more than just about anyone else.

So go ahead and complain. Get huffy and act like inviting Bill Maher or accepting a greeting from a sitting senator is the equivalent of inviting Deepak Chopra to preach onstage. I dare anyone to create a Rally for our community that draws nearly as many people as this one will and gets as much media attention as this one already has. It’s not easy and you’re never going to please anyone. It’s too bad some people are so hung up on details the rest of the country doesn’t care a bit about that they won’t be able to enjoy the event for what it is.

If you’re no longer attending the Rally because you disagree with a speaker or two, I would strongly encourage you to reconsider. It’s going to be an amazing event, even if you feel there’s a blip or two along the way. And if you don’t want to speak onstage out of protest, let us know. There are lots of amazing people in our movement who won’t get that opportunity.

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with all of our points and I also agree with PZ Myers points.  For me, atheist is the movement away from one unreasoned belief.  Reason, as expressed by the  the scientific method is a agreement on the the rules of what constitutes evidence.    These ideas can have lots of overlap but are not the same thing.

  • This happens for any event, big or small, atheist or not.  I organize an annual thing and had to step back from it this year because it was becoming too much of an anxiety source and not the fun it was supposed to be.  Lucky for me there are other organizers and new ones who will soon be just as burnt as I am.

    There are also bunch of people crying over the rally buses cancelling, when the instructions explicitly stated if they did not get enough passengers the bus would be cancelled.  If those people didn’t work to get their fellow citizens on that bus, then they needed to have made contingency plans.

    You can’t please everyone.  I don’t agree with a couple of the speakers, but I am EXTREMELY thankful this event is happening and that I am able to attend.  It’s like going to a concert and expecting to enjoy every single band.  A couple of the openers may be dull.  You’ll be okay.  You can step out while they are playing, or speaking in this case.

  • I presume no one has a bad word to say about Jessica though.  Jessica’s a big damn hero.

  • I think it’s also important to remember that some people are atheists because they don’t believe in god(s).   Every atheist is not also a skeptic in the areas of medicine or elsewhere.   That’s just fact.  We are made up of a bunch of different types of folks.   I have chronic pain and I’ve tried some dumb woo-woo crap out of desperation.  It doesn’t make me less of an atheist.  I may have fallen out of certain reason at times, but I still deserve to be represented as a non-believer who lives in the US.

  • Anonymous

    Just to be a big’ol cunt about it I’m going to take this complaining post about complaining and I’m going to start off complaining about it. Because that will be very productive 😉 

    Just a small objection that it is by no means “everyone” who complains about this or that speaker, but (from what I can tell) a minority in each case. Of course, people are often more vocal about disapproval than approval, so people disagreeing with a given speaker will be more active in the comments than people who’s entire opinion is “Cool, glad to hear it!”.

    If I may be totally unprofessional and put our entire community on the couch for a minute, I think this is just a manifestation of the kinds of people who make up a movement in it’s infancy. The people who make up the “base” of a movement, people who are willing to become activists at a time when it is much less socially acceptable, are going to be people who care a lot more about principle than acceptance. They’ll also be enriched in people for whom the expression of their own ideology takes priority over stategic compromises for the advancement of said ideology. Those people are important, they are the emotional driving force of a movement, willing to go at it through thick and thin. However they are also less able to see the forest for the trees, and will thus be much less susceptible to strategic alliances or not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is not unique to our movement (ask anyone who has been in the GLBT movement for decades) and it will pass, or become less of a problem, as we grow and become more of a force in society.

  • We could stand to take a lesson from the Unitarians on this one.   The UU’s manage to house everybody from atheists to theists to new-age woo gurus in one group, and they do it by focusing on mutual support and social action.  At the Rally, let’s focus on what we all share (lack of belief in gods, desire to reduce the influence of religion on government, desire to have the political clout we deserve) and not worry about the other differences between us.   We need to stand together, or we shall assuredly be trampled separately.

  • I tend to lean more towards the PZ Myers ‘No Surrender’ end of the scale, and I’ve been pretty critical in the past about some of the thing’s Hemant’s been involved in (particularly the FBB giving to religious charities) but he’s absolutely 100% dead right about this, and it’s a good point well made.

    Politics is all about getting things done, not setting purity tests. The Democrats have the  Blue Dogs, and the republican presidential field runs the gamut from theocratic authoritarianism to super laisez-faire libertarianism – these people don’t all agree about everything. Cultural hegemony would be lovely, but politics is about ganging up with the people you don’t hate too much so as you can take on the people you do.

  • Anonymous

    Other than that he kinda balances out James Inhoffe I don’t have much use for Tam Harkin. He is about as much a wingnut as the bible-thumping Senator from Oklahoma… but I’m still pleased that he will speak at the rally. I wish Inhoffe would.

    If there were not topics on which we disagree and debate we would not be human. That we do debate those with whom we disagree makes us freethinkers. Each of the speakers mentioned has voiced something at some time with which someone could find disagreement, but in their own way all been contributors to our community. Challenge them when you disagree and welcome the debate. That is how we will grow.
    To a lesser degree maybe than Dawkins or PZ I would fall into the “older angry white guy stereotype,” but there is still room for me to both disagree and agree with these gentlemen… and on points I do. 

    We’re diverse… which is a good thing… we don’t have to share beds in order to share community.

  • This is not an Atheism Rally, it’s a Reason Rally.  True, most atheists came to their atheism through reason, but that’s not the point of the rally.  Bill Maher, who is an atheist this week*, doesn’t believe in gods.  He’s also a vaxer, which is about as anti-reason as an adult American can be.

    “Everyone: Are you going to invite Bill Maher?!”

    I certainly never asked this question.  If I had, I would have hoped the answer would be “Not only no but HELL NO!”  But that bit of reality doesn’t fit Hemant’s thesis so I’m a data point to be discarded.

    *A few weeks ago Maher said he was an agnostic and a few weeks prior to that he said he was  a deist.

  • I’m quite proud for our movement that this coalition has been able to pull together what it has, and that the rally has been getting the attention it’s been getting.  I’m very much looking forward to the show on Saturday.  Great job everyone!

  • Mary Hosbrough

    I hear your frustration and agree with you.  It is very important to remember that what we stand for is freedom of belief and freedom of speech. Of course there will be others with different beliefs! One of the goals of the rally is to show that atheists are diverse.   Can we also show that we can respect others with different beliefs?

    At one time I saw info about the rally that said it was for anyone who wanted to support separation of church and state. I don’t see that now, to quote it, but I hope we can welcome ALL who want to support this cause.

  • jim bob

    I don’t really feel like going into how fallacious your article is right now. Let’s just simply point out how unbelievably absurd it is to have Senator Tom Harkin speaking at the reason rally. The man is the antithesis of reason and rationality. I would be willing to bet that the “Everyone” you used would rather have no politicians at all than Harkin as a speaker. Why not get Ken Ham as well?

  • jim bob

     He can be an agnostic and an atheist, they aren’t mutually exclusive. However, he cannot be a deist and an atheist. I enjoy watching Maher’s show because of the discussions but his anti-vaccine nonsense should preclude him from any event celebrating reason.

  • Johannsone

    My only complaint, This Hemant guy better be as cute in real life as he is on the internet. And as smart…I’ve got a math problem I need help solving.
    In all truth, I am just excited to get into a crowd of people who consider alternate ideas before prejudging them based on unsubstantiated evidence. Some of us have been surrounded by religious ideals our whole life. For us, it will be a fountain. Possibly a frightening one, but more likely a real chance to make some face to face connections and solidify some friendships with a handshake or hug, versus a mouse click! I am completely excited that I have the opportunity to participate. I can’t wait to complain about it after it’s over. =D

  • Aw Hemant, you could only get human beings to come? No saints?

  • TCC

    Because Ken Ham doesn’t support secularism, and Harkin (apparently) does? Seriously, did you not read the OP?

  • Mary Hosbrough

    Thanks for saying this, Ubi. I’m Unitarian and going to the rally with my son.  Sometimes atheists look down on me  for having a church.  We intend on wearing UU shirts to identify ourselves as UUs to other UUs. With all the negativity and griping going on lately, and lack of respect for diversity within the atheist community, I’ve actually started to feel a bit concerned about that. I hate feeling like an outsider in a minority group that I have chosen to stand in solidarity with. 

  • People really loves them some Litmus tests, don’t they?

    Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “You’re a LIBERAL? But, you own GUNS!”

  • Maher is known for his movie Religulous, which discusses the lack of reason in religion.  I doubt if would ever make a movie Vacinulous.  I am not sure even he believes what he says about vaccines and either way it is not a defining characteristic of his persona. 

  • LutherW

    There is never a shortage of ideas. There is always a shortage of people willing and able to actually get something done.

    Thanks to all the organizers.

  • PZ Myers

    There’s no excuse for Harkin other than that he is a politician. He’s not associated with the movement in any way, he has not been supportive, his policy decisions in government have in some instances been exceptionally unreasonable. He is not a draw, either; no one is going to the rally because oooh, Tom Harkin is really cool.

    He’s what we want out of the government — yet another woomeister.

    Would the rally let James Inhofe or Rick Santorum or Pat Robertson coopt it? Because that’s what’s happening here: a kook who makes bad policy decisions is pretending to be a friend to reason.

    Is the Rally going to have any standards at all in who it brings aboard? It looks like the answer is no.

  • Atheist Purity – 

  • Simon

    Notice that this never happened:

    Everyone: Are you going to invite Tom Harkin?

    Why? Because in addition to the fact that he is a Catholic and he is a driving force behind NCCAM, for the most part I’m pretty sure that just about every one of the 30,000 to 50,000 attendees was quite happy to spend their day on the Mall without his video blurb. I mean the lineup was so full we had to add 2 hours. Also, not sure why “…we also got Pete Stark” is made to sound like sloppy seconds all of a sudden. I get that Senators are higher in pecking order but that is what you’re making it sound like. He’s an atheist unitarian who is quite happy to speak at our events and signed on fairly early here too. He’s also sponsored resolutions that atheists are in favor of like Darwin Day. All that said, you are doing a great job overall with the rally. There will be many success stories to tell. Harkin will not be one of them however.

  • Kennypo65

    The common thread( as I see it) coming from those who are complaining about the scheduled speakers, is that some of them have shown gaps in their reasoning. We all strive to live our lives solely by reason, but we all fail to do that 100% of the time. For example, the complainers are all following the falsehood that the rest of us give a flying fuck what they think.

    Nice work, Hemnant. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

  • Prosey

    I’m still hoping we can go…and yeah, there are speakers with whom I have a disagreement or two…but I completely agree with Hemant here. This is the single largest gathering of nonbelievers in the U.S. in history. Our purpose isn’t to detract individuals with whom we disagree…it’s an opportunity to stand together in the face of a nation that hates us, and prove that we are NOT their imaginary stereotype.

  • Kennypo65

    To put it another way–Don’t approve of a particular speaker?  Well, when “Hitch” died, he didn’t make YOU King of the Atheists.

  • Daphne13

    There’s no pleasing everyone. Good for you and everyone for doing this at all.

  • The problem with these speakers is that you drop them on a stage to draw attention to our presence and you get Fox Newsesque bites about how a rally about reason invites people like Maher and Jilette and Harkin, so where’s the reason? It hurts to have these people up there spewing reasonable speech, when you know the only thing that the networks will say is “well they invited known misogynists and anti-vaxxers and alt-med purveyors.” Oh yea, and the fucking WBC was invited too, so there’s that.

    I do not associate with people like that, and yet they’ve all be invited. If Harkin and Maher and Jilette were there, I’d want to challenge their unreasonable beliefs. I’d want to speak out against them and say where they’re wrong. They’re not even going to be in attendance, they’re just going to be speaking from video.

  • Anonymous

    It’s Washington DC, why not give “the enemy” a podium if they want to recognize and celebrate our right to assemble, organize, and be heard? There’s a difference between criticism and calling for removing voices. I’m unconvinced that letting him speak promotes his woo or harms our skepticism.

  • Ashley Bone

    “So there’s a week to go before the Reason Rally and the complaining is already in full stride. As if all the organizers and volunteers don’t give a damn about reason and are just letting anyone with a pulse onstage…”

    Organizing is a thankless job, as I know from experience.  Unfortunately, that tends to make organizers defensive when people complain about their decisions.  Reacting to criticism by criticizing the critics for voicing criticism is understandable, but it’s not very productive.  It’s frustrating to be criticized for something when you’ve put in 10000000 hours planning an event and the critic has done nothing, but that critic is part of your audience, and you better damn well listen to your audience.  Imagine the firestorm that would emerge if the Amazing Atheist had been invited to speak.  Would you ignore them and tell people to “deal with it”?

    It comes down to critical mass.  I doubt any of the complaints about the current speakers will impact the attendance, so the schedule can stay as-is.  But I think a better reaction than posts telling people to stop bitching or even worse “go organize your own damn event” would be a nice form letter stating that “the organizers carefully weighed the pros and cons blah blah blah thanks for your concern and enjoy the rally”.

    BTW, Bill Maher sucks and the Reason Rally is worse for his inclusion.

  • One thing I want out of government officials is that they start treating the secular community like human beings to be listened to, instead of like a disease to be eradicated.  If Harkin is willling set an example by talking  to us instead of talking at us, it will be a small step in the right direction.  If we can get more politicians on both sides to actually listen to us for a change, that’s a worthy goal.   I’ll believe it when I hear it, though.

    And if Pat Robertson made a video for us that said “I support separation of church and state” then I’d support playing that too.  I will be a quiet day on Pharyngula before that happens, though.

  • Rwlawoffice

    So you have a movement and there are people who you don’t agree with on all issues or who have said and done things that you find terrible yet you don’t encourage people to leave the movement or even stop supporting it .  I find that interesting.  I guess  the only time you should do that is if you are a member of the Catholic church.

  • The point isn’t for us to listen to Harkin’s video blurb.  The point is for his colleagues and his supporters to see him talking to us.  If we are going to reinforce the wall between church and state, we need the support of both sides, not just those people that already agree with us.  Any politician willing to stick his neck out and say “you know, these secularists aren’t so evil after all”, hell yes I support that.

  • Anonymous

    There is exactly no chance Fox “news” will try to go after the rally on the basis that it invited speakers that promote alternative medicine. Atheists are the most hated minority in America, they’d have to be criminally negligent in their propaganda to use an angle that is only attractive to skeptics in the first place. Assuming Fox covers this at all, there are a multitude of angles they can use:

    – Atheists get together in rally to oppose the religious
    – Rally on Washington to hate God
    – So-called “Reason” rally shows no evidence God doesn’t exist.
    – Does Tom Harkin hate God? Senator addresses rally of god-haters.

    And on and on… If we are concerned about giving Fox something they can distort into something dishonest, we should cancel the whole event. Last week they were distorting a statement from Obama from the 90s saying America should become “les mean-spirited and more generous” on race into “Obama thinks America is mean-spirited”. Fox can distort anything.


    As someone who’s been working on this Rally for months, it really sucks to have everyone just saying how much everything sucks. 

    Fine, you put together an event with every major organization in the movement and draw 30,000 people to it and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

  • Actually, a politician appearing (and making the welcoming statement) is the first step towards getting the atheist/secular viewpoint un-demonized in Washington, the only one that I can recall since Obama’s left-handed recognition during his inaugural address.

    It’s all well and good, from our perspective, to see some figure as “not one of us.” But that doesn’t carry much weight right now – not when atheists are among the most despised groups in the country. The greater populace is far more likely to view “Not an atheist” as a mark of favor. We’ve been trying for a long time to get politicians to embrace the secular, rational aspect that they’re sworn to uphold – at least this one is taking a step, however small.

    If you’re making the argument that Harkin is attempting to leverage the label of “reason,” well, great! That means that reason is at least considered as having some clout! And those outspoken figures that he welcomed have just a little more of an edge now when they address his policies later on – after all, he supported their rally and viewpoint.

    This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that applying “labels” isn’t very critical. When he says, “Welcome!”, say, “Thank you!” And when he says, “I am proud to support reason!”, say, “Hold on a second…”  Disagreement should be about policies and standpoints, not entire individuals. Let’s not fall prey to the same in-group dynamics that we despise in religion and politics.

  • I think the problem is that the waters have been muddied. Is the Rally to celebrate reason? Then a person’s atheism or secularism isn’t the point. The point is: do they value reason?

    On the other hand if it is the largest atheist rally in history then any atheist should be welcome, but why invite theists who value reason?

    It seems the Rally is a celebration of free speech and secularism.  That way it can have secularists of all stripes at the Rally.

    So the problem is : awesome alliteration mildly misleads

    Other alliterative names: Atheists Assemble, Several Secularists Speaking

  • Jim Frazier

    It sounds like everyone needs to just create their own “Just Like Me Rally”…

  • Leftoflarry

    Herding  But I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  • Matt Penfold

     The problem with welcoming all those who support the cause is that some clearly do not support the cause.

    Maher clearly does not support the cause of reason. We know this because he has made it clear he holds views on a number of issues that are the antithesis of reason. Likewise with Harkin.

    You knew this of course. A little more honesty please.

  • Jim Frazier

    Also, it sounds like a lot of people need to remember that ATHEISM IS NOT A RELIGION!  We don’t have a supreme leader who establishes the dogma that we follow.  This controversy over speakers, in fact, proves that.  We’re a diverse group, more diverse than just about any group you can think of, because by definition (i.e. its not a religion) we only share one common belief – that there is no supernatural being.  I didn’t agree with Hitchens on everything, any more than I agree with Maher on everything, but I am certainly very appreciative of the things they have done for our cause.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the Reason Rally is supposed to be a big exclusivist love-in (which doesn’t make sense in itself).  He says in the article that one major point of the rally is to show that secularism is a legitimate influence, and for a Senator outside the group to recognize that in a good way, is progress.

  • As someone who lived in Iowa (and voted for Harkin), I have to say he’s better than nothing. If part of the Rally’s goals are to point out that atheists deserve to have their voice heard in politics, then having a Senator stand up and say that will be beneficial. Perhaps if he’s willing to publicly support us, he’ll be more willing to listen to us when we talk about how bad alternative woo is. 

    In any case, he’s taking a public step that few politicians are willing to. It’s a step. We’re not listening to him for his other views, we’re getting a welcome from a well-known and respected politician telling us that we’re welcome in America (a view many politicians don’t share). 

    I’d rather have him than Penn Jillette, to be honest.

  • Piet Puk

    Interesting..  you seem to think that either the catholic church is a movement, or that the reason rally is a world wide church institution.
    You are not that dumb that you don’t see the difference between the two, so your comment is just plain pathetic.

  • Matt Penfold

    Oh dear.

    Do you really not think that in order to be considered pro-reason one ought to actually be pro-reason ?

  • Anonymous

     Didn’t the article point out that everyone has their blind spots?  If their validity as a speaker is only from a series of litmus tests then that’s pretty sad.

  • Okay, Hemant, let me chime in and say, “Ignore the whiners, some of us are solidly in support. Carry on!”

    I think a lot of people see the Reason Rally as a celebration of being us, practically a private party as a reward for being so great. But what’s the point in that? If our goal is, honestly, to instill greater emphasis on reason, rational thought, and objective weighing of alternatives regardless, then we need to welcome different viewpoints, even if only for the sake of engaging them. More importantly, however, is that we remain objective ourselves.

    This is a public demonstration of how it’s supposed to work. We will convince no one without opening dialogue. Disagreement is fine, and in fact unavoidable – but that’s exactly where reason starts to be applied. This is a challenge, and if you’re not up to it and only want to hang with like-minded people, stay home and lock the door.

    Except – can we avoid inviting people with such horrible choices in facial hair grooming? Penn’s terrible beardthing is just not what we’re all about.


  • At least they recognize that we exist. This is a step in the right direction.

  • Gus Snarp

    I get having Jillette, Maher, Dawkins, and a tribute to Hitchens. I don’t always agree with any one of them, but they all express some level of skepticism, particularly about religion. But Harkin I don’t get. I don’t get the desperation to have some important politician speak. I would be fine with Obama, he’s at least expressed the notion that we have a place in this country, but Harkin is just some Senator you managed to get. I don’t get why you wanted any Senator to speak so badly that you picked one who seem completely opposed to what the rally stands for. But yes, a non-zero number of people are going to criticize any choice, the question is whether you have a reasonable justification for the choice. I haven’t heard one for Harkin, other than that we need somebody in power to tell us it’s OK to be there, and that’s B.S. Last time I attended a rally on the mall we damn sure didn’t have some random Senator telling us we had a right to be there. No one begged for permission from the Senate.

    So yeah, you worked hard. No, Harkin won’t ruin the event. Yes, you get to use your judgment. Yes, you can make your case and make an argument. But for pity’s sake stop whining.

  • tl;dr:


    Yeah, yeah grampa, we know, we know, durn kids, lawn, toys. Here’s some Geritol, calm down.

    For those who aren’t binary about everything and deep in “cranky grampy” mode, I think Hemant nailed it perfectly:

    It’s about getting a SITTING U.S. SENATOR to welcome a group of ATHEISTS, one of, literally, the most hated groups in the country to the Mall, and to be as bloody mature about it as actual rational people, (not just those who claim to be rational, then put as religious a test as was ever invented as a requirement to be a part of their clique) would want. 

    Here, again, from Hemant’s earlier post, harkin’s welcome video:

     This is Sen. Tom Harkin, and I welcome all of you to Washington. I also welcome you to our National Mall, which has hosted so many historic events, including the 1913 women’s suffrage march and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s great march for jobs and freedom in 1963. On the Mall, we celebrate America’s amazing diversity of ideas, beliefs and, yes, disbeliefs.
    We also celebrate the freedom, tolerance, nondiscrimination and right of dissent that are enshrined in our Constitution — that define us as Americans and as a truly free people…That is why, I welcome to the Mall all of my fellow Americans, including those who reject my beliefs — or indeed, those who reject all religious faith.

    What could anyone sane or not deep into ONLY PURE THOUGHT ALLOWED idiocy could have a problem with that? “I don’t agree with you, but your rights are *exactly* the same as mine. We may not see eye to eye on many things, but you are not less because you have different beliefs and points of view”*Especially* in the current toxic political climate, for a politician from a fairly conservative part of the country to come out and welcome Atheists, in public? That’s pretty damned huge, and Angry Grampy wants to shit on that because he doesn’t meet the purity test? Are. you. kidding. me. And yes, if Inhofe, Santorum, Paul, Romney, Bachmann, and all the other fundie goobers wanted to say the same thing in the same way, then yes, I’d hope they’d be just as welcome to wish the rally well. Cthulu below, now atheists should reject any and all who don’t meet an arbitrary set of “purity standards”? Gee, I wonder what other kinds of groups play that game.

  • Novinha

    Part of the problem atheist groups have is attracting women because they are often seen as hostile to women.  Inviting misogynists who routinely call women cunts is not going to help this image.  I understand your points about not being able to please everyone all the time, but this is often the reason given when asked to sit down, stop complaining, hold your nose and pretend you can’t smell the patriarchy.

  • Anonymous

    Hear, hear. When Hemant gets fed up, that’s when we know the griping has gone too far.

  • PZ Myers

    I’m really unimpressed with all the people parroting the “purity” line. I’m the last one to demand atheist purity — I’ve often pointed out that atheism is extremely diverse, and that one of the difficulties (and strengths!) we have is the range of views within the movement.

    But this is ridiculous.

    Tom Harkin has nothing to do with atheism and reason — no connection, no point to make, no value attached to reason, empiricism, or evidence. He’s a random politician drawn suddenly out of left field with no prior history of support for this movement. His history is actually antithetical to science-based reason. I’m also deeply distrustful of the man because he loves to pretend he’s a supporter of science, while at the same time he materially contributes to quackery — I see this as a maneuver on his part to gain some cred as a reasonable man in order to prop up his bona fides as a legitimate science power broker. He wins, we lose.

    As I wrote, the Reason Rally ought to have some standards. That’s not a demand for a purity test, it’s a suggestion that maybe it isn’t such a good thing for our movement that we dilute it so much that any weasel can get a speaking slot.

    Yeah, I know. The only thing you care about is that he’s a goddamned SENATOR. Yay. As if that is a criterion for rationality.

  • Matt Penfold

     It is a pity then that he does not offer any cogent reason for disagreeing with PZ Myers.

    Just because someone is famous is not a good reason to invite them to speak.

  • PZ Myers

     What Matt said.

  • Simon

    Yeah, really “sticking his neck out”. He’s been in office since 1985. I’m sure he’s really sweating re-election.

  • Anonymous

    While I agree completely with Hemant’s article, I think there’s a more important issue that’s being missed by P.Z. and the other complainers.  Regardless of politics, or ideological purity, the point of a “Reason Rally” I thought, is to advance the cause of reason. 

    As far as I can tell, all of the speakers, whatever their flaws, support the cause of reason, or at least the right to pursue it.  Maybe they don’t succeed in implementing reason in every aspect of their lives, but who does?  To make an bit of an ironic reference, “Let he who has never taken an irrational position cast the first stone!”

    This is primarily a public relations event.  How are its goals not served by asking famous supporters of reason to speak?  The last thing we need is tribalism while trying to get the word out!

    Sometimes I feel like Brian:

  • Pareidolius

    They don’t heve to support “the cause”, they support our right to exist, gather, and speak our very diverse minds.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. I noticed that half of Hemant’s whiny nitpickers who should obviously STFU were being critical of sexism. Wouldn’t want those feminists getting huffy and hung up on details the rest of the country doesn’t care a bit about.

  •  As a constituent of Sen. Harkin’s, I can say this is completely unfair. Yes, he supports alt med, and that’s certainly not a point in his favor. My work (in old-fashioned, evidence-based medicine), however,  has benefited greatly from his strong support for the sciences (in the form of grant $$$).

    He’s not necessarily “one of us”, but he’s a potential powerful ally who can help us advance our agenda. Unless, that is, the shrill voices of ideological purity manage to alienate him.

  •  I’m wondering, what is the evidence that Harkin’s addition will do more harm to our cause than good?

  • Matt Penfold

    You seriously think Maher supports the cause of reason ?

  • Brian Murtagh

    I think it’s a great lineup. Senator Harkin I don’t personally care about, but I understand the importance of having a DC name besides Stark welcome us. I wish Maher would loudly recant his vaxer position, but he does make an effort to be rational, he’s just not uniformly good at it. 

    The same can be said for Jillette, and probably many of the other speakers, most of whom I will be hearing for the FIRST time – and that’s no small thing. This will be educational both inside and outside the movement.

    I know I couldn’t have done remotely as well to fit in that many speakers. I especially appreciate that a decent amount of time was squeezed in for Tim Minchin and Bad Religion, to do their thing! In short, good job Hemant &co.

  • Matt Penfold

     It is as though some people do not understand that standing up for the rights of women is, or should be, a key part of being pro-reason.

    If you are sexist you are not pro-reason.

  • Gus Snarp

    To quote Hemant:

    Based on the quotation from the spokesperson, Harkin isn’t really interested in our message. He supports our right to hold a rally and speak out, but that’s about the extent of his support.

    I don’t think Harkin supports the cause at all. Is there some solid evidence to the contrary?

  • Anonymous

    The pity is that you, and PZ, and a few others have decided precisely what you want the Reason Rally to be: a little cheerleading ceremony for everyone who agrees with you on every point, another opportunity for the clique to look down its collective nose at your supposed inferiors.

    Hemant’s headline alone is reason enough: You’re not in charge. Neither is PZ. Neither am I. Don’t like it? Don’t go. You can hold your own and see how many show up, but even this weekend I’m sure PZ will have ample opportunity to say snippy things about his hosts when he’s handed the mic.

    As I read it, Harkin, Maher et al. are not being invited “just because (they’re) famous.” If they were nonentities they wouldn’t be asked to share the stage, true; but they all generally endorse the ideals of freedom of speech and belief.

    I think the complainers are falling into the same trap as those who say “ZOMFG Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves! FDR and MLK had affairs! Therefore everything else they said or did must be disregarded, because they weren’t ideologically pure!”

    I agree with the organizers: If Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan or Rick Santorum wanted to speak, and promised to use that opportunity to say “I may not agree with you, but you’re a legitimate part of America that has a right to be recognized and respected,” let ’em come, and applaud when they say it.

    Personally I disagree with Maher’s woo-woo, Jillette’s libertarianism, etc.; if I really tried, I could probably find some way to argue with everybody on the platform. But I’m going, and I’ll cheer our points of commonality without endorsing their opinions on everything. In large part, this is about persuading the waverers and Americans in general that we are, well, reasonable. Politics is about compromise – not surrender, but give-and-take. In short, it ain’t all about me, and it ain’t all about you.

  • Part of the problem seems to be the title of the event. “Reason Rally” doesn’t specify attitudes toward religion as much as it specifies attitudes that we consider reasonable. That includes attitudes on side issues, not immediately pertaining to religion. This particular issue didn’t come up before the Godless Americans March on Washington in 2002. Some folks didn’t like that event’s name, but at that one, attitudes on side-issues weren’t relevant. The conflict over the name of that event was about some people not liking the term “Godless” because they interpret that word as an insult. 

    To this day, some folks criticize the name “Godless Americans March on Washington,” even though it was a very successful event. Now this new conflict over a very similar event is fascinating, in light of how the GAMOW did so well, despite a lot of criticism. 

    I think the Reason Rally will be a huge success. 

  • Matt Penfold

     The only issue on which Maher might be considered pro-reason is religion.

    It is not enough to qualify him as being pro-reason when his bis views on healthcare and women are taken into consideration. Unless one does not care much about kids not getting vaccinated or women facing discrimination.

  • Can you at least PUBLISH the damned purity test you judge everyone by? Demanding everyone conform to a set of rules that only exist in your head is kind of a dick move.

    Not that you’re anti-dick move, but at least give people the ability to know what your little set of requirements are.

  • Matt Penfold

     It would be better if you just admitted that the title “Reason Rally” is only accurate with regards the second word, and that it no longer has anything to do with reason.

    What commonality do we share with Maher ? Well about all I share is a lack of belief in god. Not much really, and not that important either. Not compared to the harm done by not vaccinating, or not taking discrimination against women seriously.

    So just how is Maher to considered an ally ?

  • Rebecca Sparks

    Organizing is a thankless task. It might seem like everyone wants one thing, then they want the opposite — but they’re really two different groups of people.  I know when people complain after all your hard work that it makes you feel unappreciated, but when you tell people not to complain you alienate them by not treating their concerns as if they were important or giving them a practical avenue to affect change.

    A more productive way to approach criticism is to thank the person for forwarding the complaint, and that you understand the gravity of the situation.   Tell them anything you are doing to address their concern,  and then tell them how they can help be part of that solution; how they can volunteer, or how they can be part of the planning for next years rally.  

    This way your critics are happier because they are being heard, and you potentially gain more help from a diverse group people dedicated to making your event better-a win-win for everyone.

  • Matt Penfold

    What part of to be considered pro-reason a person must be pro-reason are you unable to understand ?

  • I’m sure if you were to ask anyone attending, speaking or not, all of them would maintain that they were rational.

    I’m quite sure that getting this worked up over a phoned-in welcome is threatening to fall well outside my own definition of rational.

    You have a chance to speak – that’s more than most of us have. I’m sure you will have more impact that a formality of a welcome message. But it would be nice if you used that chance to be productive, and not simply pointing out how at-odds you are with other attendees. I know I’d probably use the time to point out that everyone has opinions, but any one, or twelve, opinions do not provide a label to be applied. Our time is better spent addressing the opinions, not the bin where we slot people.

    But that’s just me.

  • TCC

    No, being a senator is not a criterion for rationality, but neither is having a popular atheist blog. Nor is being the plaintiff in a church-state case. These people are speaking because 1) they have something useful to say to our movement and 2) they have some notoriety that will lend itself to the message of the movement.

    By the way, saying the RR has no standards is pretty irrational on its own. What you want is your set of standards. You know how lots of religious people think that atheists have no morals? You’re that guy in this case. It’s a pretty shitty thing to say on the convergence of the movement when we need to unify around the message, not around those who are representing it.

  • Well, I wasn’t refering specifically to Fox. Just Fox-like reactions from other people. But no, Fox would go right for the “atheism” part of the rally.

  • John Lynch

    My complaint is finance. I am an old atheist so I am getting the impression that we don’t matter much. I would have loved to attend this rally but to buy plane fare for one day is not affordable to me. The convention itself is way beyond my means.  I am not requesting financial help but many folks will miss this event for the same reason. I have no solution, just a complaint. 

  • Sorry to hear about your troubles in planning, Hemant. I used to deal with stakeholders as a part of my job, and in the end you learn to ignore the loudest and only pay attention to the ones who are quietly but rationally offering criticism.

    Never was I so bursting with joy when my boss, the VP of Finance, told me what I could tell the loud, annoying minority. I quote: “We apologize that we are unable to cater to your narcissistic whims at this time. We suggest you learn to live with disappointment, because you’re going to have a truckload of it coming your way.”

    She had had enough of their whining too. I’m not sure what the fallout was at the VP level, but she’s still with the company and is now the CFO.

  • Gunstargreen

    No one is perfect. If there’s anything that the Internet is good at it it’s uniting people in hatedom against absolutely anything.

    It’s impossible for us to all agree on everything. If we did we’d be a religion.

  • Oh please. There’s a list of words you’re NEVER ALLOWED TO USE to be “Approved for Reason/Atheist events”. That list should be posted so people know what it is. There’s a list of required views on various subjects that you must follow to the letter to be “Approved for Reason/Atheist events”. Those views should be clearly posted somewhere.

    Once upon a time, being respectful of opposing views, even ones you disagreed with was considered a mark of reason. Clearly that is no longer the case.

    Since there is obviously a specific list of requirements one most follow to be “pro-reason”, I think it’s only fair that such a list be publicly posted in a clear fashion, so that people know what requirements they have to meet to be approved by PZ et al.

  • Ah, so only those who are “approved” should be allowed to speak. no one who disagrees in any way, shape or form should be heard, or even allowed to attend.



    Just be honest Matt. What you and PZ want is not  a rally, but a circle jerk, where everyone is stroking each other in the same way at the same speed so the fap of millions is heard o’er the land.

  • Matt Penfold

    So your advice to Mehta is that he should ignore quite valid criticism.

    Let’s hope he ignores you since it is bad advice. In fact you are being rather whiny in your complaint about the complainers, which makes you something of a hypocrite.

  • AstroKid NJ

    JCW, Its very simple.. each time you have any doubt as to whether something is “pro-reason” or not, you can call the 
    baboons at a number, and for a fee they will tell you whether it passes the purity test or not.

  • Ah, watching the fundies try to turn the reason rally into a tea party rally with less guns and god. The Schadenfreude, it is AWESOME.

  • Matt Penfold

     Good thing then that no one is calling for agreement on anything outside of your head. You are not the only person making the claim that they are. What you all have in common is a lack of honesty.

  • TCC

    I think people are getting too caught up in the title. The website’s “About” page says:

    The Reason Rally is a movement-wide event sponsored by the country’s major secular organizations. The intent is to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society… and having a damn good time doing it!

    It will be the largest secular event in world history.

    We’re talking about secularism here, so while skepticism, etc. are great values to support, that’s not what the rally is about. I see no reason to think that any of the controversial speakers would be antithetical to secularism.

  •  “The only thing you care about is that he’s a goddamned SENATOR. Yay. As if that is a criterion for rationality.”

    You’re applying the wrong criterion to Tom Harkin’s role in this. He’s not there to address the crowd about rationality, he’s there to say that atheists/freethinkers should be welcome to play a full part in American political and social life. The fact that he’s a Senator is, in fact, a damned important criterion for that.

  • EROjr

    PZ Myers said “Yeah, I know. The only thing you care about is that [Tom Harkin] is a goddamned SENATOR. Yay. As if that is a criterion for rationality.”

    –Um…how do I put this, um…HELL YEAH! He’s a goddamned SENATOR, or to be more precise, he’s a UNITED STATES SENATOR. To refuse his appearance would be quite UNreasonable (dare I say, “stupid”). What would it say about our movement if we didn’t allow a lawmaker to speak in support of our rights and in support of our collective godless identity just because he’s Catholic. 

    Since he is a U.S. Senator (or “goddamned” Senator) he’s in a great position to make a very unique point that neither you, Maher, Dawkins, or most everyone else can make! He can make his point from the perspective of a authoritative, powerful, policymaker who sees value in secular-based reason.

    We should celebrate and embrace any policymaker who supports us!

  • Anonymous

    I think we should welcome any and all ATHEISTS to speak at the rally. I don’t understand how a theist could possibly be welcome to speak. Theists should be encouraged to attend.

    The feminist movement only requires acknowledgement from men, not help. Just as our movement only requires acknowledgement from theists, not their “help”.

  •  You missed the “or at least the right to pursue it” part of the post you’re replying to. Harkin supports the right of atheists to be active in American political life. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but in the current political environment, it IS.

  • Matt Penfold

     No Welch, that is not what I want, and I see no evidence it is what PZ wants either. It is something you and others have been claiming without evidence.

    Why the lie ?

  • I would agree that there’s a difference between someone who’s generally pro-reason but has some flaws, and someone who’s not generally pro-reason but might happen to coincide with some of our views. To me, Maher falls into the latter category. I’m not going to shit on the organizers (who are, after all, generally pro-reason but have some flaws!), but I think he’s the weakest choice they made for the lineup.

  • Matt Penfold

    So the answer would seem to be all of it.

    I thought it was a pretty simple statement, so I am sorry it is beyond your intellectual capacity to understand.

    It must be hard for you, being such a fuckwit.

  • Anonymous

     I think many of the people opposed to a theist speaker are also opposed to the ‘politics’ you describe.

    I understand this is how the world works, but the point is to change the world, not play along.

  • Matt Penfold

    The stated purpose of the rally is to advance secularism, not atheism.

    And you are wrong about the feminist movement. Most feminists want men to help. Indeed they cannot succeed in ending discrimination against women unless they do.

  •  While we’re at it, a list of the Approved Activities would be nice, too.
    Not sure collecting phonograph records is cool. All that petroleum that went into the Vinyl, y’know…

  • TCC

    It isn’t valid criticism. You want the Reason Rally to be something it isn’t, has never purported to be (AFAICT). Hemant’s answer is spot-on: If you don’t like it, go have your own “True Reason Rally.”

  • Matt Penfold

     Secularism is not just the absence of religion from public life. It is about how public discourse is carried out, and reason must be central to that.

  • Geeze, I wish more than anything that I could go, but good friends chose that day to get married so…

    Here’s the thing. If you don’t agree with a specific speaker that would be a good time to go to the bathroom. They’re only up there for a short time and then someone you DO like/agree with will come up next. Get over it.

  • EROjr

    Wow, after reading reasons to not allow Maher and Jillette because they hold nuanced OPINIONS that others deem to be “unreasonable” and because they used gendered insults I’m starting to see why some people are turned off by liberals. I can see why some people think liberals are pretentious, self-loving, and obnoxious. And I make this observation as a very leftist, liberal person!

  • Matt Penfold

     So reason has nothing to do with secularism ?

    Bullshit, total and utter.

    Please explain why you bothered saying something so obviously wrong ?

  • Anonymous

     Yes.  He may not get it right, but he supports it.  And that is *the* most important thing.  Pursuit of reason allows for the future correction of flawed thinking.

  • Matt Penfold

     What evidence do you have of that ?

  • Anonymous


  • TCC

    I’ll do that after you explain where I said that. Seriously, if you can’t fairly represent your opposition, I don’t think you have any place calling yourself pro-reason.

  • Anonymous

    Precisely. You’d do well to reread your own point.

    But public discourse – real discourse, not a series of unrelated monologues to which those of differing opinions refuse to listen – requires using points of agreement as gateways to persuading other opinions to change. Yeah, Maher may be “only” an atheist, and hold what I consider loopy views on other things; but that’s a start. He’s also bringing a large audience which may discover that they agree with some of the rest of us. The day Maher says “If you don’t agree with me, then you have no right to speak,” that’s the day I shut him out in return. The willingness to allow other viewpoints is what matters, as I suggested in mentioning Robertson, Buchanan and Santorum. If they’re willing to endorse secularists’ participation and legitimacy in public debate, great. Whether they agree with specific opinions is less important – not immaterial, but something to work on.

  • TCC

    No, that’s exactly what it is. You want it to be skepticism or something similar, but that’s not what it is. There should ideally be a great deal of overlap, but they are not identical, your protestations to the contrary.

  • You haven’t established that the criticism was “quite valid.” You’re just assuming it is.

    I think my assumptions are far more reasonable. People who shriek or who get all vituperative generally have injected emotion into their argument, which thus can usually be counted on as being unreasonable.

  • Matt Penfold

    Well the rally is to advance the cause of secularism, according the website. Mehta mentions atheism, but I assume he just made a mistake. If not, then someone is being very dishonest indeed.

    So my point still stands, and you still have not answered it. I am going to assume you cannot.

  • Anonymous

    You’re kidding, right?  The entire movie religulous is an homage to how ridiculous religions looks when viewed from a rational viewpoint.

    And here are some quotes:
    On activism – “Rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves.”
    On flawed thinking – “even scarier is why people have stopped thinking global warming is real. One major reason, pollsters say, is, “we had a very cold, snowy winter”. Which is like saying the sun might not be real because last night it got dark.”
    On religion’s effect on rationality – “We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies.”
    On activism again – “We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It’s overrun with sheep and conformists.”

    There are thousands more.

    So, does his anti-vax garbage impress me?  No. He clearly holds some irrational positions.  But he *does* publicly support rationality as a goal.

  • Matt Penfold

    Can some please clarify the purpose of the rally.

    According the the Reason Rally website:

    “The Reason Rally is a movement-wide event sponsored by the country’s
    major secular organizations. The intent is to unify, energize, and
    embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative
    opinions held by so much of American society… and having a damn good
    time doing it!
    It will be the largest secular event in world history. There will be
    music, comedy, great speakers, and lots of fun… and it’s free!”

    According to Mehta above:

    “a Rally that’s all about science, atheism, skepticism, and how it’s ok not to be religious.”

    Secularism of course is the same thing as science, atheism or skepticism. One can be a secularist whilst being religious, although it is be hoped securlaist would be interested in science and skepticism.

    So which is it ? And why does the website say one thing, and Mehta say another ? One of them has to be wrong. Has the website being pushing the rally claiming it has a misleading aim, or has Mehta got it wrong ?

  •  I’m an atheist this week. About 20years ago I was Jewish, but this week I’m an atheist. 😉

  • Greg Peterson

    Thanks for this.  I love PZ, and he’s necessary, absolutely necessary, to our movement.  But sometimes he can sound so goddamned RELIGIOUS I don’t know what to make of it.  He derides the notion of secular chaplains while filling the role of a secular prophet, the voice of one crying in the woods for doctrinal purity, the scold who is reasonabler than thou.  And I depend on his ironclad commitment to reason in the face of creationists and anit-vaxxers and climate disruption deniers and all the ignorance and subterfuge of theologicans and apologists, but maybe we could have a little more civility toward those who are more part of our movement than against it. 

  • Ashley Bone

    Exactly.  Organizers should take their frustrations about criticism they receive from attendees to back channels, and present a positive public face.  They also should really listen to these criticisms instead of simply dismissing them as whining.  If you don’t you will eventually find yourself out of step with your audience and do actual damage to your cause.  Maybe not this event or the next hundred, but eventually.

  • Dude, you’re not even making this hard. (that’s what she said)

    Even easier, I only need one quote to prove my point, and here it is:

     There’s no excuse for Harkin other than that he is a politician. He’s not associated with the movement in any way, he has not been supportive, his policy decisions in government have in some instances been exceptionally unreasonable.


    Harkin clearly has not met the “approved” list for speaking. He has not fulfilled the requirements. Yet, those requirements are rather vauge. “Pro-reason”. Evidently, that’s not enough, because to many people, being supportive of the rights of a group with whom you disagree on several fundamental levels is the very essence of being “pro reason”. Yet clearly, for PZ and his followers, that’s not enough. If that’s not enough then, logically, there must be some definition of “enough” that can be met by people, and from what I can tell, it must be a list, since there appear to be multiple qualifications.

    All i’m asking is that such a list be posted. What’s so difficult about making the list of requirements available for all to see? It would simplify things immensely. Hemant and other organizers would now have a checklist to go by for “approved” speakers and guests. 

  • Matt Penfold

     So that is it ? He is anti-religion so he must be pro-reason ?

    Come on, you can do better than that.

  • How to tell when Matt’s boxed in: He starts calling you names. Note that he’s not actually addressing any points anymore. It’s just “YOU’RE WRONG, AND A FUCKWIT”. 

    Good doggy. I bet PZ gives you a cookie.

  • Good point about the vinyl. Oooh, I bet comedians would HAVE to be vetted by the Committees. You KNOW how comedians get.

  • Matt Penfold

     Can you explain in what way claiming vaccines cause autism can be described as nuanced ? Or indeed, how it can be described as an opinion rather than something that has repeatedly been shown to be untrue ?

    Also, can you explain why you dismiss concerns about discrimination against women so readily ?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t agree 100% with  how John’s said everything, but I agree with his premise.  If we are going to say that some people don’t pass a litmus test of being “pro-reason,” then we musts define “pro-reason,” otherwise attacking someone for not being qualified has no meaning.  Please, let’s hear exactly what qualifies someone as “pro-reason.”

  • Allison

    Well, I think he’s a complete asshole, and I’d much rather see Senator Harkin, Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, or Richard Dawkins. Can we please be sure to not invite PZ Myers? Or Rebecca Watson, for that matter?

  • Anonymous

    Just one quibble from me.  Do NOT attribute the love of Jillette and Maher to *everyone* and claim that people who are complaining about them now were excited about them a few months ago.  Maher’s had issues with women and misogyny since his Politically Incorrect days, and I’ve damn well been saying it since then.  (My issues with Jillette are more toward his libertarianism)

  • Anonymous

    May I just say that this post seems awfully childish. Before embarking on the process of getting speakers, it’s pretty certain no one will be entirely pleased and no single speaker will please everyone. If people have legitimate criticisms* of the speakers, those people should be encouraged to speak up.** That’s how things change for the better next time.

    What you don’t need to do is take on a martyr complex about how hard everyone’s worked and no one appreciates you and if they have a complaint they should just shut up and organise their own rally. Honestly, that sounds like something a spoiled twelve year old would say.

    *So far, all criticisms I see–even the caricatured ones–are legitimate, even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.

    **Same goes for billboard criticism, criticism of “Best Atheists of the Year” awards, criticism concerning diversity of speakers at conferences, etc.

  • EROjr

    “Reacting to criticism by criticizing the critics for voicing criticism is understandable, but it’s not very productive.”

    It’s kind of productive when you’re pointing out how unreasonable your critic’s criticism is. And besides, appeasing and addressing criticism can also be very unproductive because it’s nearly impossible to please and satisfy everyone. No matter how much you sanitize an event you’re going to piss some people off because speaker X said such and such or speaker Y thinks this and speaker Z voted for that. 

  • Anonymous

     No, being pro-reason means he must be pro-reason.  Perhaps you’d understand me better if you actually read what I posted?

    Or is encouraging free-thinkers to speak out/take action and pointing out flawed logical arguments in the media somehow “anti-religion” to you?

  • Anonymous

    PZ… I may agree with you that Harkin is inappropriate, I’m still making up my mind.  I don’t see this as a black-and-white matter.  Clearly the guy’s not an atheist or agnostic or deist or anything that would remotely qualify as a “freethinker.”  Clearly he’s also not a scientist.  He’s an American politician, which almost necessarily means that he makes bad policies, and renders his motives suspect.  …but there’s also something to be said for the fact that a politician is even willing to be associated with us, even if their intent is only to superficially pander to us or to co-opt our movement.  As I look around at all my fellow-atheists, even the ones I don’t like as people or regard as highly anti-reason, I don’t see a likelihood of them being hoodwinked by Christian politicians.  I see it as a positive thing that a Christian politician has realized that we might be a segment of the population that he needs to pander to.  We are ridiculously marginalized in the political arena because politicians are afraid to be associated with us, despite the fact that another much-maligned minority segment of the population (crazy Christian fundies) plays a HUGE role in our political process.  Do we want to say Harkin is “one of us”?  Hells no.  But we need representation and visibility.  There may be a case for having politicians like Harkin pander to us as a sort of “baby steps” entry into politics for ACTUAL ATHEISTS & SUPPORTERS OF REASON.

  • Anonymous

    ATHEISTS ASSEMBLE!  In Avengers font.

  • EROjr

    Who, exactly, are you suggesting claimed that vaccines cause autism? Can you provide a link to this?

    Who’s dismissing discrimination against women?! I only made mention of the use of gendered insults and using gendered insults is not the same thing (NOT EVEN CLOSE) to discriminating against women. 

  • Anonymous

    I sort of agree with you here.  I have mixed feelings about Maher.  I agree with him on a lot of things, and rabidly disagree with him on at least as many.  I also agree with you that he is not generally someone I think draws most of his conclusions for reasonable methods, even in the cases when I agree with those conclusions.  I also have problems with the way he positions himself on the fine line between being a comedian and a serious social/political commentator, something I think he does far less effectively than Jon Stewart and  Stephen Colbert… almost to the point of being counter-productive or destructive to discourse.
    But again, there’s the whole issue of drawing attention and support for our goals, and Maher is undoubtedly one of the most famous atheists who is actually famous AS AN ATHEIST…

  • Whitney

    What the fuck is your problem with Rebecca Watson?

  • I have no objections to the inclusion of any of the Rally speakers, so as a few others have said here, the “everyone” in your dialogue is not as unanimous as it sounds. But I hear your frustration, Hemant, and I appreciate the patience and diligence that you have put into helping to organize this event. You deserve a round of applause, and my hands will be clapping the loudest on the Mall when you speak.

    There’s one scheduled speaker whom you didn’t mention any controversy about. He tirelessly works to unify our movement rather than to faction it. His name is Hemant Mehta, aka the Friendly Atheist. Have you heard any complaints about including him in the Rally? If so, I’d like to speak directly to those who are objecting. What would follow would need to be censored.

    Thank you for your hard work. 

  • Anonymous

    I think there are two very different (but equally viable) attitudes regarding what the goals of such a rally would be.  

    One seems to be that this is a good way to bring us together and simultaneously draw attention to our existence, our goals, our movements, our methods, and to help gain us some clout in the political arena… even if that means letting some people we don’t necessarily agree with come along and endorse us.  People who hold that position seem to be pretty okay with the lineup.

    The other position seems to be that this rally should strictly advance the sort of pure idea of reason, that the speakers should be people who are actually reasonable so as to not reflect poorly upon us, and that we should be wary of politicians attempting to co-opt or pander to us as a demographic when those politicians are not reasonable themselves.  People of this opinion seem to be the ones who have a problem with the lineup.

    I think there’s a great deal of good to be said about both positions.  I think the reality is that this particular rally seems to have developed into a “POSITION 1” type of affair, which I don’t think in any way undermines “POSITION 2.”  I think a “POSITION 1” rally is something to show to the country, and a “POSITION 2” rally would be something strictly for us.  No prob.  Let’s have a second rally sometime in the future.  That’d be great, since I won’t be able to make it to this one!

  • Whitney

    Yes, let’s dispell negative opinions of atheists by inviting atheists who are infamous for their negative statements about women to speak. Can you see the problem?

  • Anonymous

    Ideologies are dangerous things.  It’s easy to let the ideals stand in the way of practical real-world progress.  Reality and humanity can’t be shaped into a perfect logical order, but we can keep striving for that.  Getting bent out of shape when we can’t mold every detail of every other person’s opinions to align with our own is counter-productive.

  • Again, for position 2, if you’re going to have a list of requirements for that position, then someone needs to post a clear list. That way, people organizing such a thing will be able to quickly vet speakers/guests/attendees against it and keep the undesirables out.

    It is completely buggeringly stupid to expect any event organizers to “know what you mean” when “you” is a group measured in the thousands. If purity of position and thought are that important, then articulate and list what is required to meet those standards so people won’t have to guess, and others can’t say “NO, THEY DON’T MEET MY REQUIREMENTS WHICH I’LL NEVER TALK ABOUT, BUT IF YOU LOVED ME, YOU’D KNOW”. 

  • dude, you’re arguing with someone who is insisting that only those who are “pure enough” should be allowed in, but will never, ever tell you what that consists of. Teaching pigs to sing opera would be a more achievable goal.

  • only perfect supporters are allowed. if you ever held a position not of the body, you are Un-Reasonable, and not permitted to associate with the body.

  • Oh bless your heart. You say “A reason rally ought to have some standards”. Okay PZ, stop being so vauge and tell us. Give us a clear list, somewhere that’s not just in your head of what those standards are. 

    Not “Supporting reason” or any of the other bullshit you’re using to dodge this. You have a list of standards, *post them*. Tell the world what is required to be considered a “proper supporter” of reason, one that passes your damned test.

    and you being unimpressed with people calling it a purity test? Well, that’s what it’s coming across as. Harkin? Not pure enough. Maher? Not pure enough. So tell us  PZ, what ARE the standards the reason rally ought to have for its speakers and attendees.

    (I will note that as upset as PZ is over this, it’s not enough for him to decline his speaking opportunity. One might that this to mean that none of this has any real meaning for him, and he’s just once again, blustering for the camera.)

  • Guinnessy

    If you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a bunch of old white guys, then why are all the speakers you mentioned old white guys?
    You’re right about one thing, atheists can definitely be as ignorant and irrational as anyone else.

  • Thank you for that. you said it perfectly.

  • HA2

     If he got any saints to come, all the atheists would be up in arms. No can do.

  • I see ‘reason’ as a method by which you decide what is true, what is real, what is good and so on. Someone is ‘pro-reason’ if they prefer this method over others (like faith, wishful-thinking, dogma etc).

    People seem to be mistaking the method of reason with the conclusions it leads us to. If Hitchens believes that the Iraq War is a good thing, presumably he believes it after reasoning about it. We can disagree with him, as reason leads us to a different conclusion. We can argue and show how our reasons are better than his reasons. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t using reason to get to his conclusion. That just means we disagree.

    There may be occasions where we reason badly, or even not at all. This doesn’t mean we’re not ‘pro-reason’, it just means we’re fallible.

    I’d say those that see ‘reason’ as a set of conclusions are the real threats to reason. Nothing is more antithetical to reason than dogma.

  • HA2

     From what I hear, Bill Maher is an anti-vaxxer; I suspect Matt Penfold was referring to him.

  • BenFromCA

     Is anyone else seeing the irony in this post?

  • HA2

    I’m sure he’s not.

    However, the aim is for us to get to a place where ALL politicians, or at least most, are comfortable associating with us and pandering to our needs too. One at a time if we have to, we need to get them to acknowledge us and work with us.

    Harkin speaking here is one step along that road. A minor one, but still – this is someone who is not necessarily “in our camp”, but is being associated with us. It’s a good thing for the movement.

  • EROjr

    I’m a casual Bill Maher fan–I watch Real Time on HBO occasionally and I enjoyed Religulous–so I may not be as privy to all of his stances, but I would think that I would have heard that he thinks vaccinations cause autism as Matt Penfold seems to be claiming. 

    I Googled Bill Maher and vaccinations and came across this article that Bill, himself, wrote and no where in it does he claim that vaccines cause autism. In fact I thought it was a rather REASONABLE piece: 

    He seems to be talking specifically about whether or not we should be taking the frequent flu shots every year and he’s specifically criticizing the swine flu vaccine (this was dated Nov. 2009). 

    I believe that some vaccines are absolutely worthy of skepticism. Heck, I remember when my daughter was a baby (circa 1999) our pediatrician recommended that we get this new rotavirus vaccine. My wife and I hesitated and finally said no. I’m glad we did because it was recalled a few months later because it was thought to have contributed to bowel obstruction in some infants. My daughter ended up getting rotavirus (as many infants and toddlers do) and it was messy and uncomfortable for about a week but I was thankful we didn’t get the vaccine. 

    …And again, nowhere did I see Bill Maher suggest that vaccines cause autism. Is it “unreasonable” for Matt Penfold (and anyone else) to suggest otherwise?

  • BenFromCA

     Ah! I see the problem here!  You folks have failed to consider that Matt just may be a Troll.  Does it twist other peoples words or “invent” quotes to suit its argument?  Does it respond to a rational point with a non-sequitur?  Is its tone reliably contentious and antagonistic, no matter how reasonable the response?  If you answered yes to two or more of the above, you might just be dealing with a troll; a life form that is disturbingly similar to humans in superficial ways, but is, in fact, incapable of civil discourse or rational thought.
    The good news is that, upon discovering a troll, rational beings are under no obligation to respond to their polemic rants.  Trolls may be promptly dismissed as irrational irritants and their whinings, the product of a disturbed mind and a perverse fetish for playing the role of pariah.  You simply need ignore it long enough and it will eventually crawl back under the loathsome rock from which it emerged.

    P.S.  To the grammarians among you who question my use of the pronoun “it” to refer to a troll, please be assured that this is the correct usage, for the simple reason that no other known creature will mate with a troll, including another troll.  Consequently, there is no need for gender distinction among trolls.

  • TCC

    That’s a pretty ignorant assumption. Seriously, now your utter lack of self-awareness is just sad.

    As I have said elsewhere, secularism is not skepticism. Secularism is about making decisions without religious influence, but that doesn’t mean that they are always going to be decisions that revolve around reason or skepticism.

  • Wow… amazing thread.

    Here’s my 2 cents — THANK YOU, ORGANIZERS, for organizing this event! Thank you for listening to everyone, even those of us who whine from time to time. Know that most of us are simply amazed that this event is taking place at all and we’re grateful TO YOU for the thousands of hours and personal energy you’ve put into this. Again, THANK YOU!

  • Dan

    Maher also denies the Germ Theory of disease, bashes western medicine, praises ‘eastern’ medicine, and uses absolutely false views on immunology and evolution to back his anti-vaccination stance. That isn’t nuanced; its crazy.

  • Dan

    Has there seriously been an outcry against Pete Stark speaking? Maybe a couple crazy people complained, but I haven’t seen much criticism of anyone on this list speaking except for Harkin and Maher. I don’t have a problem with them speaking briefly, but I understand why some people are uncomfortable with people who push abject nonsense being given a platform (Maher and Harkin). How many people are really complaining that Dawkins is speaking?

  • Jeff Samuelson

    Yes, reason is a big part of the secular movement, but it is not the only part.

    To set a standard of “purity” for those associated with the secular movement as a prerequisite for having something useful to contribute is to ignore the fact that NO ONE is so reasonable as to be unimpeachable on all subjects. It is, in fact, an UNreasonable suggestion.

    Valid as criticisms may be, in my opinion the criticisms as offered seem awfully thin to justify not going or not supporting the rally, if, in fact, that’s what some people are actually saying.

  • Dan

    As far as Religulous, I think that is a perfect example of how uncommitted to reason Mahar is. The movie was interesting, and I enjoyed seeing some of the crazy religious people, but Maher is completely wrong in so many of his claims. Most of his debate points seem to be pulled from the ridiculous conspiracy movie Zeitgeist, so Maher either was lying to try to win debates, or gullibly passed on numerous inaccuracies based on an internet movie. Just look at the Skeptics Magazine review of Zeitgeist, done by Tim Callahan, to see how even outspoken atheists see that the facts in it are fabricated, yet Maher makes the same arguments. 

  • Jeff Samuelson

    If the goal is to have an insular celebration of secular reason, fine. But if the goal is something else – “to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society”, say – then having politicians speak who carry some weight with American society is probably a smart move.

  • EROjr

    To be sure, I’m not a Bill Maher apologist but I see a lot of claims being made here without any evidence. 

    As I pointed out earlier, having some reservations about some vaccines doesn’t necessarily make a person “anti-vaccine” and Maher’s article that I linked in my previous comment shows him to be pretty reasonable (IMHO).

  • TCC

    I sympathize with this argument a lot more than the arguments against Harkin and Maher for their alt-med positions, since it does address a bigger problem within the skeptical/atheist/secular movement.

  • EROjr

    I think the organizers have done a WONDERFUL job putting the Reason Rally together. Your hard work is definitely appreciated by the vast majority of us! It’s unfortunate that crotchety, old man PZ and his Pharyngula herd are getting all pissy and disjointed about PZ’s sharing the stage with a few people he disagrees with. 

    PZ will still come and you’ll have a great turnout, and the event will be awesome. These complainers will whine no matter what. Screw ’em! You did great 🙂

  • Jeff Samuelson

     If you’re that pissed off about it, cancel your speaking engagement. Simple.

    And stop lying – no one has said that being a Senator is a “criterion for rationality.”

  • Anonymous

    Did you read the HuffPo link? He specifically said he does NOT deny the germ theory of disease.

  • Anonymous

    Calling a woman a cunt is not anti-womens rights. Calling a woman a cunt is not anti-reason. The two are not necessarily related.

  • Anonymous

    I considered he might be a troll, but his posting style is very similar to the the most vocal of  those you find commenting on FTB.

  • Anonymous

    Assuming you are right (and I frankly don’t have the time to go do the research), my point still stands.  Whether or not Maher “gets it wrong” on some things, he still clearly means to support rationality as a goal.

  • Jeff Samuelson

    There are indeed troubling aspects to having some of these people speak, and the criticism being offered may be useful when considering who to book next time around. But to describe having the Senator speak as “groveling in gratitude” or to imply that, as a Catholic, he can’t possibly support the cause of secularism or the rights of atheists is to set up an exclusive standard equivalent to the kind erected by the religious.

    To me, it feels too much like tribalism.

  • anon atheist

    I fully agree with Hemant and despite not knowing the full background I
    would like to add a hunch. This is also an issue of the ways and
    means. When such an event is planned for such a long time in advance
    and if I am a relatively influential persona with opinions about how
    this should go down the prudent thing to do is to try to get involved
    in the planing early on.

    I don’t do is to publish a blog post a week before the event
    essentially complaining about what a bunch idiots the organizers are
    and telling them what they should have done differently at a time
    when they can’t actually change anything anymore. This is not a
    problem of one specific person but a very human problem but if you
    call yourself a skeptic you might try to be better.

  • Whitney

    TCC, thank you for taking this issue seriously.

  • Whitney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, and ditto 🙂

  • Well…my biggest concern comes with the naming of this gathering.  C’mon…like this event has anything to do with reason—

  • Guest

    100% spot on.  For all of the complainers, since when did advocates of reason become ideological purists about the speakers they will listen to, even at our own events?  Names like Maher, Jilettte, and Dawkins are exactly what a large event needs.  Is it really that hard to say, “oh yeah, i disagree with that person.”

  • Matt Penfold

     Maher claims vaccines cause autism.

    This is not news, so please stop pretending it is. It is simply dishonest of you.

  • Matt Penfold

     Oh for fucks sake, stop acting the idiot.

    Maher’s stance on autism and vaccines is well known. To well known for us to be fooled by your proclaimed ignorance.

  • Matt Penfold

    An article on Maher’s anti-vax stance.

    An apology from you would be welcome but I doubt you are decent enough to offer on.

  • Matt Penfold

     Still showing your ignorance I see.

  • 20 Likes?  This is an hysterical comment, inferring opinions upon Myers that he never stated or implied.  As far as I can tell, said opinions are only the paranoid musings of an obviously ageist individual.

  • Matt Penfold

    It seems some people here are so intent on supporting Maher’s presence at the rally that they feel the need to claim Maher is not anti-vaccine.

    EROjr claims he has Googled for evidence and found none. He is either lying about that, or is incompetent. He found a Huffington Post article by Maher that he says does not support claims Maher is anti-vaccine. He is wrong, and either did not read the article or more likley failed to understand it. A key part of the article follows:

    “Someone who speaks eloquently about this is Barbara Loe Fisher, founder
    of the National Vaccine Information Center. I find her extremely
    credible, as I do Dr. Russell Blaylock, Dr. Jay Gordon and many others,
    but I shouldn’t have even mentioned them because I don’t want to be “the
    Vaccine Guy”!! Look it up yourself, and stop asking me about it — I’m
    already the Religion Guy, and that’s enough work!”

    All three of the people mentioned by name are well known proponents of the claim that vaccines cause autism. A claim that never had any credible evidence to support it. We know also know that the first person to make the link between vaccines and autism, Andrew Wakefield,  faked the evidence and inflicted unnecessary and unethical testing on children in order to do so. The paper he wrote making the claim has been withdrawn by the publishing journal.

    Maher has also claimed the ‘flu vaccince can cause Alzheimer’s. This is another claim devoid of supporting evidence.

    You can read more about how “pro-reason” Maher is here:

    The article is by David Gorski, an oncology surgeon and reasearcher who has taken an extensive look at vaccines and claims they cause autism and Alzheimers. Now he really is some one is pro-reason, and when you compare him to Maher you will maybe understand why so many people are incredulous as those here who are trying to claim Maher is really pro-reason.

  • Pureone

    He’s been droppin a lotta F-enheimers on this blog lately. Where am I, Pharyngula? I was sorta enjoying the paucity of swear words. All this cursing kinda takes some of the Friendly away. That’s all I got…

  • Matt Penfold

     Why Whitney, don’t you know she sees it as her mission to stop men from ever having sex again ever ?

    Why else would people get so upset that she suggested that it is not really very polite for a man to ask a women for sex when she is alone in a lift with him as 4am ?

  • Matt Penfold

     No, it does not mean that decisions will always be made using reason and evidence. That is another battle, and one that is not helped by getting enemies of reason and evidence to help you get a secular society.

  • Matt Penfold

     Ask yourself this.

    Why do you want a secular society ? I would hope because it means that decisions get made on the basis of evidence and reason. If not, and you are going to allow woo to influence them, why bother getting rid of religious influence ? You will not end up with a better society.

  • Dan

    By lying and passing on ridiculous internet conspiracies Maher is clearly supporting rational goals? Ok then. Maher is a contrarian and someone who wants to win debates, so he says whatever he feels like regardless of if it is true or not. Really, many of his statements in Religulous are David Barton level wrong. For me that ends don’t justify the means, using irrational arguments and lies to try to win an argument doesn’t count as supporting rationality to me. I find Maher amusing and would watch another movie if he put it out, but he is not a rational thinker. He uses irrational thinking to justify his beliefs,  just because some of those beliefs happen to be true doesn’t mean Maher is a rational person.

  • Lmao. Given that I’m only ten years to the day younger than angry Grampy, “ageist” is not a label that’s gonna stick real well. But nice try, you get a small cookie.

    As well, um, when you start railing about a set of “standards” to be met before one is allowed to be part of the Body, asking one to list them is reasonable.

  • What an interesting development!  I am learning how we freethinkers are and it opens up an entirely new line of thought to ponder.  People would definitely be whining if Madalyn O’Hair were still with us…they always did.

  •  Sexism is not the primary focus of freethought.  To make it a focus divides rather than unites.

  • Dan

    Please, read the article Matt Penfold posted below. In 2005 Maher cast doubts on germ theory and said that “Louis Pasteur renounced it on his own deathbed.” Here he is using creationist logic, exactly like the people trying to disprove evolution by Darwin’s fake conversion. He was also quoting ‘information’ from whale. to, literally one of the craziest anti-vaccination sites out there (crazier than Jenny McCarthy). Please, read the article.

  • Is this what the world would be without religion?…all the atheists arguing among themselves.

  •  You and Hemant and Jen McCreight and the many others have done an incredible amount of work in organising this awesome event and that recognition should not be taken away from you!

    But having said that, I think the RR board opened itself up to some of this criticism because of the name chose for the event – *Reason* Rally. That name implies that Sagan-style, modern scientific skepticism is important to the ideals behind the event and as such criticism about the pseudo-science beliefs of Harkin Maher are to be expected and are valid critiques of the event. You and I may think that Bigfoot Believers and 9/11 Truthers are silly, but an Atheist who is one of those can be just as concerned with separation of church and state or anti-atheist discrimination as you and I are and they are just as validly atheist as you and I are.

    Lets face it – not all Atheists are Skeptics. While the converse is also true, my personal perception is that a larger percentage of Skeptics are also Atheists as compared to Atheists who are also Skeptics. As the census-admitted non-believer and  non-religious demographics grow, that skew between the size of the Atheist movement and the size of the Skeptic movement will only increase. We as Skeptics have our work cut out for us more than we as Atheists do.

    In my personal opinion these criticisms could have been mitigated  had a
    better name been chosen and better targeted promotional language been
    used given the desired demographic of attendees.

    I hope to be able to say “Hi” to you and Sarah H. this weekend and maybe raise a beer with you at the after-party. 🙂

  • Whitney


  • EROjr

    Okay, so I see that Bill Maher spouted off some dubious information about flu vaccines leading to Alzheimer’s. I admit that that is pretty bad and I was unaware of his exchange with Larry King where he made that claim. 

    However, you specifically said that Bill Maher thinks that vaccines lead to autism. You have not proven that and until you can prove your claim with good evidence I have no reason to believe it.

    Also, while Maher was passing dubious information on Larry King I don’t think he goes out of his way to promote his anti-flu vaccine views. He seems to be pretty reasonable otherwise and I still think he’s a worthy person to have at the Reason Rally. 

    And again, you simply haven’t proven that Maher says vaccines lead to autism. You did resort to calling me an idiot which is an indication that you can’t prove your claim so you decided to personally attack me. *How unreasonable*

  • Anonymous

     No, by stating publicly and regularly that he supports rational goals Maher is supporting rational goals.  Whether or not he is himself rational is immaterial to that statement.

  • Anonymous

    No, it’s not particularly polite for a man to proposition her when she’d just spent an hour or two of public conversation with friends about how she hates being propositioned at atheist gatherings.

    Also, the young man who then ignores this and “politely” pursues her is oblivious to how threatening it is to be propositioned in such a context, especially in a hotel with very few people in sight at 4AM.  
    So she says the equivalent of “no, thank you, I don’t want that kind of attention” BEFORE this guy ignores her and does it anyway, and SHE’s a bitch. Yeah, that makes sense.

  •  This isn’t just about spreading science and atheism. This is about drawing attention to our movement. This is about getting media attention. 

    This is what it sounds like when sharks jump.

  • Anonymous


  • Fester60613

    Sustatined applause from this corner. 😀

  • That’s a very large tent you have there. What’s it for?

  • AstroKid NJ

    LOL..   ageist.. thats something we dont hear often.  And ‘paranoid’?    double LOL
    ageist, sexist, racist, misogynist..    fucking morons have thrown these words around so much.. at every small thing.. that they have lost all their meaning.  Maybe we should organize one of those mindless ‘slutwalk’-equivalents to ‘reclaim’ these words.

  • Secularism the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.

    There’s no necessary element of reason in there as one could be the caricature angry atheist who is so rabidly anti-theist that all religion is de facto bad for the “reason” why they support secularism, not because they see the best way to set policy to be a Sagan-style scientific skepticism mindset.

    An Atheist who is a Bigfoot-Believer or a UFO-Believer or a 9/11 Truther or a Climate Change denier can be just as concerned and passionate about separation of church and state pro-secularism as you are. Their atheism and support for secularism is not invalidated just because their not a reasoning critical thinker and skeptic like you and I are.

  • Allison

    Let’s suppose everything you’ve stated here about Bill Maher is accurate – as a skeptic and atheist, I’d still prefer his presence at the Reason Rally over that of the divisive fundamentalist PZ Myers by a very wide margin. 

  • It seems that atheists are worse than Democrats when it comes to shooting ourselves in the foot. We just love the drama, don’t we? We can’t have a nice rally in support of our common values? No, we have to all submit to ridiculous purity tests in the name of reason. That seems pretty unreasonable to me. If you don’t want to go to the Reason Rally, don’t go! No one is forcing you. But if you want to fight back against the forces of unreason that are descending on this nation, you will come and show your support. I didn’t ask you if you agreed 100% with every speaker. I hope you don’t. I don’t and if I did, I think it should be held in a church rather than a reason rally. We are a diverse group of people, get over it! For those who think everyone most agree with them on every issue in order to be considered “reasonable enough,” don’t come!

  • Nancy Morris3

    I wish my work schedule would allow me the time to attend. What a great chance to network with other likeminded folks!

  • Villa

    Agreed.  It’s one thing when people say, “This guyhelps the cause — but does it imperfectly”.

    But there’s a contingent of people who’ll filibuster people over the smallest disagreement.  They turn imperfect progress into no progress.

    Let the complainers go.  They turn the perfect into the enemy of the good. 

  • Jason Robey Baur

    And who are you to dictate what the primary focus of “freethought” is? Or that there even ought to be a *primary* focus at all? Clearly there are many individuals within the movement, such as it is, who do emphasize skepticism and rational thinking in concordance with gender issues, as that’s where they happen to understand the greatest convergence between the forces of religion and irrationality and their lives. Ignoring their perspective, and particularly ignoring their criticisms of sexism *within the atheist community* is in fact part what divides us *right now*. How many times do atheist women have to point out that this sort of cavalier attitude supports a culture and environment hostile to women?


  • Dial 1-900-Mix-A-Lot, and kick them nasty thoughts

  • Anonymous

    I agree totally.

  • Anonymous

    Hemant is awesome. I love this rant. Yes the reason rally ought to be about promoting reason, not holding a litmus test on every thing anyone has ever said. It will be a shame if PZ Myers decides to be an asshole in his speech, but I do appreciate all the work that Hemant has put into this.

  • Ndonnan

    I feel your pain Hermi,the problem as i see it is the lack of people with a public profile who also have integrity, which isnt supprising given the spirit behind atheism.What about Richard Wade, he seems to at least be a nice person?Much better than a well known arsehole

  • Rebekah

    Hey PZ, if it’s such a big deal to have some speakers at the Rally who you disagree with so strongly, why don’t you actually boycott the rally? 

    In fact, I hope you stay home, otherwise this all looks like pathetic attention-getting from someone who’s interested in promoting his own version of True Atheism™.

  • Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
    They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would
    They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
    Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
    But I would not feel so all alone
    Everybody must get stoned.

    Good luck with the show.  Break a leg.

  • FirstDance

    Will there be cake at the Reason Rally?

    I’ve never been a fan of rallies, but I’ll totally show up if there’s cake.

  • Matt Penfold

     Oh dear.

    I have, but it seems you do not know enough about the anti-vax movement to have noticed.

    Read the HuffPo article. Then look up who the people mentioned in it are. Make special note of the name Jay Gordon.

    Then come back and apologise to us for you inflicting your stupidity on us.

  • Matt Penfold

    No answer from anyone ? Pretty telling really.

  • Ndonnan

    Amen to that father,the leader will surface soon enough ,then some unity and order will follow and get this rebelious riff raff to change their attitude.

  • So PZ complains that some of the Rally speakers are anti reason – and that’s completely inappropriate because everyone should be welcome to show our numbers

    (for a loose value of “our”)

    but if someone wants to say PZ is not welcome, that’s fine?


  •  Is “supporting reason” really a “purity test”?

    So anti vaxxers and homeopaths and faith healers should all come along to say how “reasonable” they are?

  • Might also be a good sign that at this point in the discussion, no one really gives a shit about what you have to say anymore…

    “Secularism of course is the same thing as science, atheism or skepticism. One can be a secularist whilst being religious, although it is be hoped securlaist would be interested in science and skepticism.”

    This, I cannot parse. If secularism is the same as, as you say, atheism, how can one be a secularist whilst being religious? And why would secularists be interested in science and skepticism? 

    I think you are having a bit of word-definitions problem here…

  • EROjr


    Calling people names does not add any persuasiveness to your argument. I read the Huffington Post article and yeah, Maher may have invoked some dubious names in regards to his information on flu vaccines (and that’s where his gripe about vaccines seems to be focused on: frequent flu shots). 

    He also makes the point that his opinion should be taken somewhat with a grain of salt. He tells us that “I don’t want to be ‘the Vaccine Guy’!! Look it up yourself, and stop asking me about it — I’m already the Religion Guy, and that’s enough work.”

    He then makes another reasonable point about his own skepticism about some vaccines: “my audience is bright, they wouldn’t refuse a flu shot because they heard me talk about it, but if they looked into the subject a little more, how is that a bad thing?”

    That seems pretty reasonable to me. 


  • Tom

    I am a Christian who would like to attend the rally on the mall. If I wear a John 3:16 T-shirt and respectfully hand out tracts to anyone who might want one, will I really be placed in a “1st amendment holding pen” as David Silverman has suggested?

  • Thank you for you timely commentary, pale penis person.

    May I call you P3 for short?

  • As long as you use a big P, yes. Yes you may.

  • Bill Maher is not perfect, ergo he is unacceptable. That’s what they actually mean. No deviance from the (unstated) party line is allowed. No thoughts not in line with the Body. Landru does not approve.

  • Dial 1-900-Mix-A-Lot…

  • Pretty much. Religion is just the current boogieman. Once that’s gone, then it’s all “YOU’RE NOT ATHEIST ENOUGH!!!!” idiocy. Humans are pack animals, they’re going to form stupid little cliques, because that’s how we evolved.

  • This is what it sounds like when you get a reference wrong.

    “…when sharks are jumped.” A jumping shark is actually pretty awesome. A jumping shark with eye lasers is even MORE awesome.

  • Dude, we don’t have to read your comments to know you’re PZ’s human echo chamber. If we want to know what you think, he already has a post about what he thinks, and really, there’s no difference. Ever.

  • Clearly you don’t understand GNU Atheist Thought, nor are you part of the Body with heretical talk like that. 

    Tolerance. Compromise. Pfft. For Accommodationistss, those things are.

  • Actually, I chose lower case in the original wording quite consciously. 😉

  • I don’t like you very much right now. Not at all.

  • Well, on the one hand the organizers of the rally do say that it is about atheism, they don’t say it’s about skepticism. And the website says it’s about secularism, it doesn’t say it’s about skepticism. So from that, yes, Dr. Myers’s criticisms are inappropriate because he’s complaining about something the event is not (supposedly) about. An Atheist can be a 9/11 truther, and alt-med proponent or a Bigfoot Beliver and still be just as concerned about separation of church and state or anti-atheism discrimination. They are also no less valid an Atheist than you or I because of this.

    On the other hand, the organizers did name the event “Reason Rally” which implies that Sagan-style scientific skepticism was important to their vision of what the rally should be. In that context Myers’s and others’ criticisms about Harkin or Maher speaking at the rally is to be expected.

    While I don’t want to deny the tremendous amount of work it too to put the Reason Rally together – and I am sure it will be awesome when I am there – I do think that the organizers brought the criticism upon themselves by sending a mixed message like this. What I do NOT agree with is the nasty tone taken by Myers and others in their criticism.

  • “On the other hand, the organizers did name the event “Reason Rally” which implies that Sagan-style scientific skepticism was important to their vision of what the rally should be”


  • Your words speak for themselves:

    “Yeah, yeah grampa, we know, we know, durn kids, lawn, toys.  Here’s some Geritol, calm down.”

    “For those who aren’t binary about everything and deep in ‘cranky grampy’ mode, I think Heman nailed it perfectly.”

    “That’s pretty damned huge, and Angry Grampy wants to shit on that because he doesn’t meet the purity test?”

    You think your age gives you a pass to be ageist without rebuttal?  Interesting.  Perhaps that’s what the GOP thinks with all these women authoring anti-women bills.  But I digress, apologies.

    Asking Myers for a list of standards would have been a clever counter to his complaints.  Take a moment to notice that you do that nowhere in your comment, nor did I call you unreasonable for doing so in posts where you did ask.  And that you now have 45 likes on this comment only tells me that you have a following rabble that prefers rants to discourse.

  • Matt Penfold

    Really ?

    Why do you feel the need to lie ?

  • It is a purity test if you’re using reason/critical thinking/skepticism credentials to decide who can and cannot be speakers at this event. the thing is, this Rally isn’t about reason critical thinking or skepticism.

    I will give you that the name of the Rally does seem to imply that the Sagan-style scientific skepticism of CSI, JREF, IIG and other similar groups was an important part of the organizers’ vision for the event. In that sense the anti-Harkin, anti-Maher criticisms are to be expected.

    But when you read the website or other promotional material you can see that the Rally is all about Secularism (often used, IMNSHO, as a synonym for Atheism). As such Harkin’s support of non-theists’ rights is what is important, not that he helped get NCCAM started. Similarly, Maher’s atheism is what’s important and his antivaxx luncay is irrelevant. Both because this rally is about Atheism, not about Skepticism. I would be more concerned with Maher’s misogyny and Penn Jillette’s sexism.

    By sending this somewhat mixed message as to the philosophy of the rally I think the organizers kind of brought this criticism upon themselves. What I disagree with is the nastiness of the criticism by many people.

  •  Why is this jumping the shark?

  • I don’t think it’s a matter of PZ not being welcome at the rally, it’s a matter of questioning his motives behind his complain-y post. If he’s so disturbed at the lack of “standards” at this event, then why would he want to participate in it at all?  Why not take a stand for reason, and not show up?

  • bismarket

    You know i’m tired of PZ & R Watson, tired of THEIR Bullcrap. Seems obvious to me that PZ can’t handle the fact he’s being upstaged & may not be the center of everyones attention for once. If i’m right, the rally will go on without him & i bet no one notices except (Possibly) Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) (More like Sidekick) who’s own feminist agenda makes her seen somewhat less than reasonable at times at least to me. Now i know there may be some people who don’t agree with me but, i don’t care.

  • bismarket

    I thought it was coffee? I’m now off to Starbucks for a Blow-J…I mean Latte;-))

  •  Yes, exactly. Entries 1b,c and d and most especially 2a describe skepticism and it’s use of facts, logic, and rationality to comprehend the universe and to infer further things about it.Why do you think that using “Reason” in this context does not imply Sagan-style scientific skepticism?

  • I haven’t found any response online from Silverman, but I’d be surprised if the pens remark wasn’t just a private jest.  I advise you don’t proffer the tracts; that would be rude.

  • Would anybody here deny the hypotheical appearance of, say, Buzz Aldrin or the late Gordo Cooper because one was a staunch Catholic, and the other a UFO believer? Wouldn’t their appearances be a boon to this Rally?

  • Because money?

  • Wha Happening

     Well, PZ is right that the rally doesn’t have standards.

    Proof?  They invited him.

  •  They are not saying how reasonable they are. Harkin is welcoming us to the Mall as an elected official and Maher is going to be talking about religion. Maher is a supporter of reason but you just don’t want to hear his reasons. Some you might agree with others you might not. But it is unreasonable to dismiss him has a person because you disagree with him on one or two issues.

  • I give Grampy exactly the response his blind reactions to anything that wasn’t his idea (the real reason for all this: he wasn’t asked to approve it) deserve. He’s acting like Grampa Simpson, I’m going to refer to his behavior that way.

    If that bothers you, well, I could in theory care less. But that would require more effort than you deserve.

  • You keep accusing me of lying, and then you never actually prove it.

    So okay, since you’re such a fan of rational approaches. Prove I KNOW that you aren’t a Myers sycophant and agree with everything he says anywhere I’ve seen you two post together, then PROVE I chose to deliberately misrepresent your words.

  • Spence

    There’s no answer because everybody else reading can tell the difference between “sponsored by” and “about”.  They didn’t want to embarrass you by pointing out this obvious error in your thinking.  Luckily, I don’t care.

  • Canthislennon

    I agree. It’s far more important to garner media attention. Lets set all standards aside and concentrate on what really matters, visibility. Lets set our standards as low as possible, and invite as many assholes as we can. When the world sees just how many of us are willing to set our principles aside and celebrate assholes, they will be much more likely to join our club.

    What this rally is about, is bringing attention to people to make money, quit fucking pretending it’s anything bigger.

  • EROjr

    “Everyone knows”? That’s what you’ve reduced your argument to?! C’mon! That’s pretty damn pathetic. 

    Argumentum Ad Populum, typical fallacy:

  • I’m decently impressed by the amount of Skepchick hate and feminism hate I see working in this thread. I’ve actually noticed an unfortunate number of atheist/skeptical men are either ‘not feminists’ or flat out ANTI-feminist.

    I slightly agree with PZ on the matter but I’d say I disagree with him more then I agree with him. I see his point and see it as a fairly valid point… but given how low America’s opinion is of atheists and skeptics… I can see the point in wanting to show people that we aren’t mean and scary as they’ve been lead to believe. Frankly secularism is flat out more important then many of the pet atheist issues. The country is likely to have a majority of religious people for a very long time and it’s more important to get people to realize how important keeping this nation secular. We can of course still fight many other fights at the same time but it’s important to have allies and not alienate people.

  • Are you going to invite Atheist and Conservative author/FOX News pundit S. E. Cupp to the Reason Rally?

  • Pureone

    What a Feckin’ idiot you are, PZ. Sure, Let’s turn away the “I may not agree with what you say, but I agree you have a right to say it, and you should have a voice” speakers/crowd. We don’t need that sort of support, do we now?…

  • nails three

    wtf do you mean “….” when you point out that famous misogynists are famous? I’ll fill in that blank for you: You are alienating women and giving a thumbs up to misogynist wankers instead of giving those slots to people who don’t crap all over 50% of the population.This is in a community that has an ongoing problem with sexism. If you have them on it needs to be addressed directly. If a white supremacist was a famous atheist you would have them on too? How about a murderer? A rapist? Tell me exactly how hateful someone has to be before you understand that it is a problem to give them more polite publicity, I am genuinely curious where the line is for you. 

  •  Your poe detector appears to be broken.

  • ⚛ Remember when Madalyn Murray O’Hair was considered bad for the image of atheists?  These days the leading lights would call her a a pussy (or probably something even more misogynist).

  • Anonymous

    There are various reasons why many atheists and skeptics – not all, of course – feel more at home in the ideological Left than elsewhere.

    This leads to some of them – including some prominent ones – approaching the whole Freethought movement as a subset of Left politics and activism.

    For this kind of skeptic, someone who jumps the fence on a political issue, fails to join in the latest Two Minute Hate over sexism or “privilege” or what have you… is not merely disagreeable or wrong, but a kind of Class Enemy. A Thought-Criminal. An apostate.

    For example, Chris Hitchens, a socialist and life-long admirer of Trotsky with anti-clerical and secularist bona fides most of us would kill for, will never be forgiven for the “sins” of supporting the Iraq war and rebuking his comrades on the Left for abandoning the Enlightenment to self-negating, multicultural fetishism.

    “Well,” they say, “he wasn’t one of us after all! He was a Neo-Con, an imperialist and blah blah blah…”

    Keep an eye out for this, folks. Beware of True Believers in Freethinkers’ clothing. Beware of Doctrine camouflaged as Doubt.

  • Whitney

    And my point has been proven. You also forgot to add ableist, which your use of the term “moron” illustrates perfectly.

  • Anonymous

    Just want to take a moment to directly thank JC Welch for fighting the good fight here.

    And John…. you’re not likely to ever see the requested “Crimes Against Reason” list from the likes of Matt P. because such a thing, honestly presented, would be nothing more or less than a party manifesto;  a line-item checklist of doctrinal orthodoxy.

    That would rather give away the game, eh?

  • Anonymous

    And especially when the “atheism” in question is a stalking-horse for other agendas.

    FB, not everyone who opposes religion does so for the same reasons.

    Along with those of us taking a principled stand for empiricism, secularism, etc.  there are others who simply see churches as opposing bases of cultural power and loyalty which need to be neutralized or removed.

    Once done, they will move on to the next (secular) target on their Enemies’ List. For these folks, being pro-science or separating church from state are pretexts; alliances of convenience.

  • Anonymous

    So, in other words, bitchez aint’ shit.  *yawn*  Same spineless justifications for ignoring bigotry, different day.

  • Anonymous

    Shorter Welch:  yeah, I’m a bigot.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Hey… what about Dr. Hal Bidlack, LtCol USAF (Ret.) who is both a professing Deist and long-time JREF activist and board member?

    Are his “Reason” credentials in order? I don’t consider Deism to be
    Reason-able myself and would love to talk with him about it – or out of
    it, if I could.

    But had I the power, I would not bar him because it’s the Reason Rally,
    not the Third Vatican Council or Eighth World Congress of the

    And there’s the rub. Because some among us DO embrace such Us vs Them reductionist purity and would readily administer loyalty oaths to achieve it.

    No matter how clumsily they seek to re-frame and rephrase the discourse, they can’t help but show their fangs because, well, that’s just how True Believers are.

    For them, the Reason Rally is – or should be – a kind of ComIntern of the Anti-clerical political Left. A corporeal manifestation of their collective worldview.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll read your tracts if you’ll read my Richard Carrier books. 🙂

  • Oh aren’t you just the cutest thing, using words whose meaning you don’t really understand.

    Were i to be an ‘ageist/bigot’, that would imply I have issues with ALL people older than myself. That’s simply silly and untrue, (not that you’ll believe it. Me being a bigot allows you to preemptively dismiss everything I say, it’s quite the convenient ad hom, so the chances of you not believing it are effectively zero.

    I don’t have problems with old people. I have problems with P.Z. throwing his little cowardly temper tantrum every time someone does anything he doesn’t like or approve of, or even worse, wasn’t consulted on. It’s not just here.

    For example, when people realized that the Gelato Mio dude realized he’d been acting the right proper ass, and apologized for being said ass, and people started being cool with it, PZ had a HUGE fucking tantrum over it on his site, and any other site he had comment privileges on. I believe the better bon mots were “fuck him into the ground” and “if you’re any kind of atheist, you’ll not forgive him either”.

    Truly not the work of a cranky old man who can’t understand why people won’t listen to him. 

    (It’s also the work of a coward, because PZ never rails at people in person, only when he’s hundred/thousands of miles away ensconsed safely behind his keyboard. Then he transforms from ‘cute widdle teddy beaw’ into PZ MYERS, GOD OF ATHEIST HELLFIRE. PZ is the living definition of Internet Balls.)

    This situation’s the same way. Because Harkin et al weren’t vetted by HIS standards, he’s having  his usual friggin’ PZ Cranky Old Man Yelling At Kids In His Yard fit, only PZ’s fit has even less legitimacy. At least when you yell at kids in your yard, it’s kids, in YOUR yard, trampling on YOUR grass. 

    This isn’t even PZ’s yard or his grass. He’s yelling at kids in a yard down the street and pissed that no one’s yelling too. It’s completely foolish and stupid, so yes, I’m going to treat him as a foolish, stupid old man who should know better. 

  • Joeannwalker

     Rebecca Watson is the Ann Coulter of feminism.  Knee Jerk reactions without thought to anyone or any comment that disagrees with her bubble like perception of the world.

  • Joeannwalker

     Hemant is the ideal in his kindness, rational thought, and lack of drama for the high school antics that others are not doing a very good job of avoiding.

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