Rallying for Reason: a little atheism goes a long way
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 nonthesists 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 delicate 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 it's 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.
Why the Billboard? One Person's View
by Howard Jones
Like other Coalition of Reason groups around the nation, our San Diego group has decided to rent billboard space to get our message to the public. If you're viewing this website to find out why we're doing this, I offer you my opinion. It is only my opinion; the San Diego Coalition of Reason doesn't really have an opinion because it is only a "coalition." It is made up of a large number of groups, each with its own structure, goals, memberships and opinions.
As a coalition, we bring together humanists, atheists, agnostics, non-theists and rational thinkers united in the belief that life's mysteries are best deciphered with reason and rational thought. We don't pretend to have all the answers; we do believe pursuit of the answers is best undertaken through reason, study and deductive thought rather than by resorting to "wild card" solutions of supernatural beings and what to us are illogical explanations.
Despite the claims of some, our billboard is not intended to insult or denigrate anyone, any group, religion or alternate belief systems. Rather it is to let the thousands of others who share our views know that we are here and welcome them to participate in those activities we enjoy whether they be educational, recreational, social or otherwise.
Everywhere we go, we see signs espousing views and belief systems with which we don't agree. We find these "billboards" along the roadsides, on television, radio, knocking on our doors and even on our currency. We don't assume anyone is trying to insult us. We only ask for the same courtesy and respect.
Despite the fact that most churches proselytize and send their missionaries to our doors and public spaces, we aren’t proselytizing; we don't expect to "convert" any believers.
There are many people that are wrestling with their belief systems just as some of us have done at some point in our lives. We want them to know they are not alone and that thousands of others have preceded them in what we view as a personal enlightenment. Non-believers like us lead good lives and contribute our share to society. Our groups include many greats of yesterday, today and undoubtedly, tomorrow.
We believe the capacity to do good things, to serve humanity, to love, to care and to work toward a brighter future doesn't depend upon a belief in a deity or supernatural being. I'm confident our accomplishments prove this to be true.
I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "No one can insult you without your permission." In this case, no insults are intended. I only want to say to those with similar beliefs, "Hold your heads high, aim for the stars and know you are not alone."
Are you interested in hanging the billboard in your neighborhood? Contact me! Donations are always accepted and appreciated. To give, email Debbie Allen for information.
Share us with your friends!
We are working for a rational, reasonable, freethought world. Are you?