By Fred Edwords
We live in a sensitive nation. The very idea that nonbelievers exist here, are open about their views, have been reaching out to others of like mind and are getting better organized has been sending tremors throughout the land. For nearly two years I’ve been placing billboards, bus ads and subway ads in cities all across the United States bearing non-confrontational and innocuous messages like these:
Don’t believe in God? Join the club.
Are you good without God? Millions are.
Read them carefully. These sentences don’t attack anyone’s religion or rebuke the faithful. All they do is say to atheists, agnostics and other nontheists that they aren’t alone and are invited to join in fellowship with others who think the same way. That’s it. Religious believers aren’t even being addressed.
Yet these simple statements have aroused anger, fear and controversy. In some cases they’ve induced conservative Christians to launch counter ad campaigns–as if their faith had never been advertised before. And in rare instances our billboards and bus ads have been vandalized.
But there’s more. We call the communities that we organize around these ads “coalitions of reason.” How dare we! The very thought that atheists and agnostics might regard themselves as “reasonable” brings out a level of religious defensiveness that I find hard to fathom. Some folks seem to think we’re automatically accusing everybody else of being unreasonable.
But consider this. There’s an organization called Compassion International. It’s a Christian charity
focused on helping
Christian children. But I assure you I’ve never written an angry letter accusing them of trying to co-opt, for Christians alone, the concept of compassion or of implying, by their very name and faith, that nontheists must somehow totally lack this virtue.
So why is it, then, when we nontheists use the word “reason” we are accused of monopolizing that? The main rationale behind our identification with the term is that it references the Age of Reason. This is another name for the European Enlightenment, within which our movement finds important philosophical roots. That period also has significant American connections because the Declaration of Independence, constitution, and even the planning and architecture of Washington DC grew out of it. That’s also when the idea of the separation of church and state really got going. And we nontheistic types are big supporters of that. So the word reason is a central part of our intellectual tradition and vocabulary.
Turning to Jon Stewart’s tongue-in-cheek “Rally to Restore Sanity,” the name is a deliberate overstatement. It’s a joke. And we godless reasoners get that. Really, we do. In fact, everyone gets that. There’s nobody who doesn’t get that. So I think we can all relax.
Because of the rally and the anticipated good times to be had, fans of the “Daily Show” and the “Colbert Report” are going to be in town. Demographically, that audience happens to include a goodly segment of our market–other nontheistic folks. So don’t you think we’d be wise to make our presence known and do a little recruiting? Wouldn’t that (dare I say) be sane and rational?
This is why the Washington Area Coalition of Reason put ads up on bus shelters near the National Mall and why the United Coalition of Reason will be unfurling its banner as we all gather to join in the festivities. We like each other, want to find more people like us and want to expand the size of the choir we are preaching to.
What could be wrong with that?
If you’re similarly inclined, we hope you’ll join us. And if you’re of traditional faith, we hope you’ll accept us. Because here in the United States folks like us number in the millions. And we’re coming out.
Fred Edwords is national director of the United Coalition of Reason.