The Reason Rally was one of the most incredible events I've been to in my life. It was definitely a wonderful experience to share with my son. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime, unique event. There were amazing speakers and performers. The crowd and the atmosphere were invigorating. Well, the actual physical atmosphere was actually pretty sucky and rainy most of the day. There was so much packed into this one day, I'm finding it difficult to even recap and summarize, let alone analyze or explicate.
It is especially difficult because as I reflect, I have such a mixture of emotions. Although there were many moments of joy, and solidarity, and inspiration, looking back, I feel....unsettled. I'm not surprised to have a tinge of post-rally depression from coming down off a humanist high, going from being lost in a sea of free-thinkers to returning to my community where I sometimes feel isolated and shunned. That's to be expected, I think. But I also have a sense of sadness I did not anticipate, stirred up from a past history of being entwined in a negative religious community. I thought I had put that behind me and am surprised to feel old wounds surface. Furthermore, I've I've developed an uncomfortable awareness of my own naivety that I also didn't expect. A lot of these emotions were interspersed with the ups and downs of the day, and the excitement and exhaustion, and rain and bits of sun. I'm still sorting the memories and feelings, and the photos and the videos. I'm going to try to relate my account of the day and sort some of it here.
Photo from CNN Belief Blog
I was really hoping to connect with some UU's there. Unfortunately, I didn't make any actual plans to meet up with anyone. I just thought I'd search for the yellow shirts. (Yes, this is one small aspect of my already admitted naivety.) When we boarded the bus in Chicago with an odd number in our party, we had been discussing who gets to sit with a "stranger". As we were deciding where to sit, a woman spotted Ethan's shirt and asked if he was UU. He settled in next to her, and our journey started out on a great note.
Once we were in DC, before the rally even started, another UU spotted our shirts and we chatted and snapped a pic. Then that was the last we saw of any UU's, maybe because shirts quickly got covered with raincoats and ponchos as the rain started.
The best part of the Rally, for me, came right at the beginning. (Nope, it was not Tim Minchin.) We recited the Pledge of Allegiance the way it was before the words "under god" were added in 1954.
This was an amazing 15 seconds. I struggle with this issue almost every day, as a substitute teacher. I feel very strongly that the words "under god" should not be in the Pledge. Whether or not students should be mindlessly reciting the Pledge at all is another issue. If we are going to say the Pledge, let's make it inclusive for all students.
I love The Friendly Atheist blog, and enjoyed Hemant Mehta's speech. He presented the Jessica Ahlquist with a scholarship check for $62,618. The "for" line on the check read "bravery". I loved that. Here is the video of that and her speech:
Another fun and inspirational speaker was Adam Savage from Mythbusters.
So, so far, everything was fun and exciting and wonderful, even in the rain.
Then, Greta Christina took the stage to talk about why atheists are angry. I was right with her as she ticked off atrocities that make me angry too. Wait. What? The Dalai Lama makes you angry? Oh no. Now it's not just Tim Minchin who is telling me the Dalai Lama is not who I thought he was. "I'm angry that the current Dalai Lama said that although he supports tolerance for gay people, he sees homosexual sex as wrong, unwholesome, a bad action, and contrary to Buddhist ethics. I'm angry that the belief in karma and reincarnation gets used as the justification for the caste system in India. I'm angry that people born into poverty and despair are told it is their fault, that they did something bad in a past life, and they are being punished for it."
See my blog avatar there? --------> That's me, sitting on a fence, holding a picture of the Dalai Lama. I'm doing that because of a Tim Minchin song, "The Fence", (blog post to come, I promise). He talks about the whole reincarnation thing and doesn't even mention the homosexual sex thing (Well, he does, but that is in an earlier verse referencing Che Guevera, rather than the Dalai Lama.) Long story short, I've been "on the fence" not knowing what to think of the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism. That fence just got way more uncomfortable to sit on. And what's this about the Mormon's? I had never heard of "Lying for the Lord".
So, in spite of feeling increasingly ignorant and naive and confused (and angry) during her speech, by the end, I really took heart at this sentiment (because I agree and it makes me feel better about myself)- "Atheists aren't angry because we are selfish, or bitter, or joyless. Atheists are angry because we have compassion. Atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice." This is the part of atheism I love to identify with. I need to learn the love part which tests what it means to be skeptical and challenges my worldview. (Obviously. That's what we demand as a movement. I demand it of myself as well.)
It's getting late. I need to get up and lead schoolchildren in the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning. Tomorrow night, I'll continue with Tim Minchin, Nate Phelps, and Richard Dawkins.