Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reason Rally Recap, Part 2- nosce te ipsUUm; know thyself

The part of the day I was looking forward to the most was Tim Minchin's performance. First, I want to say I am IMMENSELY grateful that he performed at this . I think it was a huge boost for attendance, and numbers mattered here. Would I have made this trip if it were not for Minchin's performance? Maybe, if I had known about it, but I'm not sure it even would have been on my radar, if not for being obsessed with Tim, and his being on the program certainly influenced my decision to go. I've seen reports that the crowd was biggest during his performance. I'm enormously appreciative that he took the time and effort to support this cause.

I can't help but wonder, though, if he was not entirely enthused to be giving the effort. I felt a bit surprised by some of his song choices. I felt a bit surprised and disappointed he didn't talk more. (I'm sorry. I'm just being honest about my feelings here.) I realize he owed us nothing and gave a great performance. My disappointment is just me admiting this and does not diminish how great his show was, how much it was enjoyed by the audience, or how awesome it was for him to do this. I think that because he is such "an icon for the disenfranchised masses" in a way that is way more serious and true than he ever meant those words to be, maybe we (I) had naive (that word again) hopes that he would have some special message for us, something I haven't already heard the three other times I have seen him perform.

Although he didn't talk much, he did say a few new things. The first was when he first came on stage. After removing his shoes and socks by popular demand (and undoing his belt and pants) he said, "What is wrong with you people, standing in the rain because you all don't believe something similar?" Then he went right into "Confessions".

After the song, he said, "This is fun I guess. This is sort of fun. I don't want to be here. We don't want to be here. Pity really, isn't it? That 300 years after The Enlightenment, we'd still have to be here having a fucking rally for the obvious?"

Of course, I understand what he is saying, that it is sad that in this day and age there is a need for a Reason Rally. But at the end of the day, I was left wondering if he meant it that he really didn't want to be here (which would make me appreciate the gesture all the more. I feel a bit shitty about writing this, but I do want to be honest, and maybe I'm way off base. I'm learning that I often am.) At the end of the show, he did say, "You guys are doing a wonderful, wonderful, soggy thing. Thank You."

I just wonder if he felt a bit annoyed by it all? I am thankful for him though, and thoroughly enjoyed the show, and hope he had a spectacular time. Maybe he got to enjoy "breaking bread with Dawkins" and do something scienc-y with Adam Savage. I'm truly glad I went, and aside from the Pledge sans "under god", which was a new experience for me, his show was my favorite part of my day. The Pope Song on the National Mall? Who would have thought? I fucking love freedom of speech.

I really wanted to see Nate Phelps' speech, but I missed it. There came a point in the afternoon when I was pretty cold, tired, wet, and had a headache. The kids had walked down to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and we went to retrieve them and get a coffee. It was quite a hike to get there and back, and when we returned I had missed the speech. Nate is the son of Westboro Baptist Church leader, Fred Phelps, and he left the group at age 18. WBC was protesting the Rally. This is a photo of his mother, taken a few minutes before he took the stage. (photo from Village Voice blog)

I wish I would have been there for the speech, but watching now, I'm sure I would have cried, (getting even more wet). It is a very moving and sad speech, even if I had no personal experience with controlling religion or estranged relationships. I'm not sure why I did not anticipate this effect on me, but long forgotten memories of belonging to (and I felt like I literally BELONGED TO) an Assemblies of God church, combined with the pain of currently having a strained relationship with some of my family, made this speech even more sad and poignant for me. Not that my circumstances were nearly as extreme as Nate Phelps'. I admire his courage and compassion and the hard-earned wisdom he shared with such sorrow in his voice.

I was bolstered by these words. “They called me a rebel. For years, I wore that name with shame until I realized that confronted with the god of my father, rebellion is the only moral option.”

I know I made the right choice being a rebel and leaving my god and religion.

Yesterday, I wrote about feeling some cognitive dissonance during Greta Christina's speech, but ultimately agreeing with her statements at the end. I had the opposite experience with Richard Dawkins' speech. It started out as a much needed, encouraging reminder of the treasure we have in our Constitution.

"The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over. How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it's come close to that."

It continues with an exciting prospect that we are at the moment in history when atheists everywhere feel connected and unafraid and there is a mass "coming out".

"I hope that this meeting will be a turning point. I'm sure many people have said that already. I like to think of a physical analogy of a critical mass. There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point, we're approaching that critical mass, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everybody will realize, "I can come out, too." That moment is not far away now. And I think that with hindsight this rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road."

Both these ideas are so exhilarating! He then elaborates on evolution and what a beautiful, profound, amazing process it is that we have evolved to be intelligent, then cleverly suggests WE intelligently design our lives. Powerful stuff.

However our views diverge towards the end of the speech. Dawkins wants us to not only disagree with religious beliefs but to "ridicule them with contempt".

"So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: "I don't believe you. I don't believe you until you tell me do you really believe -- for example, if they say they are Catholic -- do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?" Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

Don't fall for the convention that we're all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt."

I can imagine no value in ridiculing a religion, nor a person, nor even a belief. I can disagree without ridicule and contempt. Indeed, I believe it is essential to do so in order for me to retain my sense of morals and ethics. Ridicule and contempt breeds hatred and war. There HAS TO BE a better way to achieve the worthy goals espoused by Dawkins earlier in his speech: REASON, upholding the Constitution, separation of church and state, embracing science, and becoming a nation in which atheists live openly without fear of persecution or ridicule. We must achieve this without persecuting or ridiculing others for their beliefs. I believe the path to REASON must be built with compassion ans respect.

So, that about sums it up. Even if it is uncomfortable, I love questioning my own beliefs, more than I enjoy questioning others'. That's what makes me UU.


  1. Love your photos and posts and all. BTW, did you see this video?: youtube[dot]com/watch?v=bFEMAeZQLFM - I apparently can't post a link here. :) It's James Randi saying he almost became a UU.

  2. No, I don't think I've seen that. Did he elaborate on why he didn't?