Atheists, agnostics and freethinkers “invaded” Washington, D.C. this weekend to show politicians and the American public, alike, that their voices matter in the political sphere. The Blaze already told you about the Secular Coalition for America’s lobbying training that we attended on Friday morning. This event was just one of the many celebrations and meetings surrounding the “Reason Rally” — supposedly the largest gathering of non-believers and skeptics in world history.
The rally, which included performers, speakers, activities and plenty more, was intended to celebrate non-theism, while taking aim at faith and religion in the public square. Although the overall tone was focused upon atheist empowerment (and the vast majority of individuals we spoke with were respectful and willing to speak candidly about their beliefs), off-color comments and anti-religious sentiment were prevalent among those taking the stage.
From 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., the National Mall was filled with several thousand secularists who chanted, laughed and cheered — all in the name of secular humanism. Many times throughout the speeches and performances atheists were encouraged to “come out” and show their non-belief, as numerous attendees we spoke with likened the atheist struggle to that of the gay rights plight in America.
Perhaps David Silverman, the controversial president of American Atheists, summed the event’s purposes up most appropriately when he told the audience, “God is a myth. Closet atheists, you are not alone.” Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor later added, “Nothing fails like prayer.”
In addition to these two individuals, the atheist invasion of sorts included addresses from famed scientist Richard Dawkins, a video message from comedian Bill Maher (which was as offensive as could be expected), an address from teen atheist Jessica Ahlquist, a performance by the band Bad Religion and plenty of others. It was essentially an “all stars” event that included the secular world’s biggest celebrities.
I spent the day covering the event with The Blaze’s multimedia producer Benny Johnson, interviewing dozens of atheists and documenting the day’s happenings. From volunteers to secular bigwigs like Gaylor, we were able to speak first-hand with some of the atheist movement’s most intriguing figures.
Below, see a preview of the coverage we conducted. In the clip, you’ll meet an atheist dressed up as Jesus riding a dinosaur (yes, really). The man, who claims he’s from Toronto, ended up being a fixture and mascot of sorts at the rally:
The ethnically diverse, yet predictably singularly-minded group of attendees embraced a very simple message: Atheists are here, the collective is growing and the time has come for non-believers to speak out in unison.
In what seemed to mimic a religious revival of sorts, those in attendance seemed elated over their new-found ability to coalesce. Among those we spoke with, many felt intrigued, inspired and encouraged to learn that they aren’t alone — as Silverman noted — in embracing a non-theistic worldview.
Take, for instance, Daniel and Joelle Leone, a husband and wife from Philadelphia. Joelle, a nurse, says she had never met any other atheists. While she was more than aware of her own non-belief, finding a support system has been important to her. When a friend at work told her about the Reason Rally, she became interested and convinced Daniel, a police officer, to come along with her. The experience, she says, was a positive one.
“What I left with was, for me, feeling like I really should join something to let my voice count for something and to let others know what I believe,” she explained, going on to say that it was refreshing to learn that there were so many others like her who are dismissive of the notion of a higher power.
Daniel, though, had a different perspective. While he enjoyed the event, he seemed a bit jaded by what he saw as the more “radical” elements of its adherents.
“We met a lot of cool people, but they seemed to really be radicals — like that’s all we would talk about. I don’t want it to rule my life,” he said. “Now that I’m older – I’m 40 — it’s just hard to believe in some of the religious stories like Noah’s Ark.”
In the end, though, Daniel, too, said, “I just like it that I’m not alone.”
Another woman — a Catholic professor at a northeastern university who declined to provide us with her name — attended the event out of interest. Despite her belief in Jesus Christ, she told The Blaze that it was important for non-believers to make their voices heard. While she found herself conflicted with some of the day’s tone, she said it may, collectively, provide a much-needed balance.
“I looked for the rhetoric and the construction of the message. I think that some of the message was divisive,” she explained. “But I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing…it might be good to anchor extremities on the other side to balance it out.”
Here, of course, she was referring to the extremities she sees present on the religious right.
In the end, the event attracted some notable counter-protesters. Christians from across America held signs that encouraged non-believers to embrace God. And the infamously-radical Westboro Baptist Church also attended. The latter group came to protest a speech by atheist Nate Phelps — the estranged son of the radical cult’s leader, Fred Phelps. Westboro members came holding signs that read, “God Hates You” and “You’re Going to Hell,” among others.
Stay tuned for more of The Blaze’s epic video coverage of the Reason Rally coming on Monday.