In a show of solidarity that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago, thousands will be flocking to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on March 24 in celebration of secularity. The Reason Rally, a day-long event featuring notable entertainers and speakers and attracting busloads of nonbelievers from all over the country, could be a watershed moment for the secular movement.
The lineup for the day includes a mix of entertainers, public intellectuals, and representatives from various secular groups. All events are free. The band Bad Religion will be performing, and the crowd will also hear from comedian Tim Minchin, popular skeptic and debunker James Randi, and author and scientist Richard Dawkins. Lawrence Krauss, author of "A Universe from Nothing," whose ideas inspired Miley Cyrus to tweet on the issue (thereby sparking a backlash from enraged Christian fans), will also be on hand, along with many others, to address the secular festival.
The event is not a protest and certainly not a religion-bashing affair, but instead can be best understood as a coming-out party for an entire movement. This has caused some to belittle the rally, suggesting that demographic unity around the notion of disbelief is itself nonsensical. Such critiques, however, only reflect a failure to understand what fuels the modern secular movement.
It is very true that many Americans—even many who are themselves nonreligious—see the idea of personal secularity as somewhat insignificant. That is, even many nonbelievers rarely consider emphasizing their religious skepticism—their secular worldview—as a primary means of identification. Ask a typical American nonbeliever to describe her basic lifestance, for example, and she may use terms like "liberal" and "feminist" and "environmentalist," and perhaps numerous others, before reaching any identifier that would raise the issue of religious skepticism.
For many in recent years, however, personal secularity has become an increasingly important aspect of their identity, a clear way of describing one's basic lifestance in the midst of a political and cultural landscape that has become an anti-intellectual wasteland. As such, the Reason Rally, as its name suggests, can be seen as a public manifestation of the secular trend that vehemently opposes America's descent into irrationality.
Ironically, the primary root cause of the growing secular movement is the Religious Right. Because politically mobilized religious conservatives have become such a visible force in America, nonbelievers increasingly feel the need to assert themselves as a demographic. Whereas America's seculars previously went about their daily business without openly displaying their naturalistic, reason-based identity, this indiscreet approach has required rethinking in the face of religious conservatives constantly claiming moral superiority, attacking church-state separation, and tainting public policy .
Indeed, as the Religious Right has consistently grown in influence for over three decades—to the point that religious fundamentalists are now routinely elected to office in much of the country and are even serious contenders for the presidency (while open nonbelievers are unelectable)—many who are personally secular have come to realize that they can no longer keep their religious skepticism in the closet. As modern America listens to high-profile conservatives talk seriously about limiting access to not just abortion, but now even birth control, the notion of reason has suddenly become important, an affirmative means of standing up and pushing back against faith-based absurdity.
Thus, the Reason Rally.
Some, still feeling uncomfortable with open displays of secularity, insist that we should go back to those days when religion was simply a non-issue, when polite public discussions avoided questions of religion altogether. The Religious Right, however, has made that impossible, and therefore those who are indeed secular are increasingly standing up to demand that the over-the-top exaltation of religion stop, that Americans carefully consider how counterproductive it is to stigmatize secularity in the modern world.
Thus, the cry of the seculars: We don't believe. We won't leave. Get used to it!
Hang on America: On March 24—rain or shine—Secular Americans are coming out.
Dave will be tweeting from the Reason Rally all day on March 24