Rallying for reason: a little atheism goes a long way

By Fred Edwords We live in a sensitive nation. The very idea that nonbelievers exist here, are open about their … Continued

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.

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  • dangeroustalk

    I also think that the term “reason” at least for holds a reference to the idea that I value reason highly. In fact, I value reason probably as much as Christians claim to value faith. I do value faith too, but only in relation to it being faith in my fellow human beings. If Christians think we are monopolizing reason, does that mean that they are trying to monopolize faith? Are they implying that non-theists don’t have faith in our friends and family? For those who are interested, details of when and where people of reason are meeting for the rally can be found here:

  • tiedyebutterfly

    I just wanted to clarify, while Compassion International IS a Christian organization, it is not specifically for Christian children. Children may join in the program, no matter what faith they proclaim.

  • dangeroustalk

    Yeah tiedyebutterfly, any child can join the program as long as they don’t mind being told repeatedly that they will be tortured for all eternity unless they profess their love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • DCHumanist

    As usual Fred Edwords is extremely thoughtful and non-confrontational.However, a great many religious claims directly contradict the known facts of science and the use of reason illuminates how and why religious claims are unreasonable.For example, consider the preposterous creationist claim by Danielle Bean that “God” somehow had a hand in creating the heart of the mosquito. She did seriously make the claim that somehow this was a proof that God existed. She said, “Everything we can know in the natural world is a reflection of its Creator and bears evidence of a divine plan — from the intricate beauty and perfect form of a microscopic mosquito heart to the majestic grandeur of a Giant Sequoia..”The mosquito heart in a great many ways contains detailed evidence for evolution. The prior Pope conceeded that evolution was more than a theory. Clearly, we have to say that not all Catholics are opposed to reason as elucidated by science.Ms. Bean talks of a Creator when science specifically describes a Big Bang with no necessity for a creator. If it is supposed that everthing needed to be created then who and how was the Creator created? One cannot presume to explain complexity by assuming without any explanation something that is even more complex.

  • GabrielRockman

    “Ms. Bean talks of a Creator when science specifically describes a Big Bang with no necessity for a creator.”Science also does not rule out the possibility of a creator. “One cannot presume to explain complexity by assuming without any explanation something that is even more complex.”"For example, consider the preposterous creationist claim by Danielle Bean that “God” somehow had a hand in creating the heart of the mosquito. “”The mosquito heart in a great many ways contains detailed evidence for evolution. “”The prior Pope conceeded that evolution was more than a theory.”"However, a great many religious claims directly contradict the known facts of science and the use of reason illuminates how and why religious claims are unreasonable.”

  • fredwordsunitedcororg

    Tiedyebutterfly writes that Compassion International isn’t specifically for Christian children. But what I wrote in my essay was that the organization is “focused on helping Christian children.” And this, according to its website, is true in two ways: first by working through existing Christian churches in poor countries to help their children and families and second by helping many children who “live in a non-Christian environment” and introduce them to Christianity. My point wasn’t to either criticize or praise this, only to note in passing that, as the website declares further, “Compassion’s program, however, is unapologetically Christian.”

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