An overview of my experience at the Reason Rally on June 4, 2016 which occurred at the base of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. This describes an encounter with a preacher at the rally and looking at the tents, some of the conversations I had and my thoughts on what I heard. This also includes some areas that evangelicals needs to address.
“Near belief has replaced thinking. Why? Because its easier. Because you don’t have to know anything. All you need is an opinion. All you need is to believe. The Christian Taliban and the likes of Ken Ham have been taking advantage of this segment of the population.”
John De Lancie June 4, 2016 Reason Rally
“The most important thing to teach children is that they should question everything.”
Lawrence Krauss June 4, 2016 Reason Rally
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
Acts 17:22-23 NLT
Bill Nye speaking at the Reason Rally
I was looking forward to attending the Reason Rally for this one reason. I wanted to think, be challenged and have a good time. I know these events are not for everyone, but I enjoy writing and being intellectually stimulated and this presented those opportunities. Plus I love people…there is nothing that I enjoy more than to meet, shake hands and talk face to face. This was an opportunity to talk to a lot of people. Saturday morning I got up and went to the bank and ran some errands before hand. Then I do what I usually do when I am heading into Washington, D.C., I ditch the car in Pentagon City and jump on the Metro and ride it into D.C. I got off at Farragut West and walked down 23rd Street NW toward the Lincoln Memorial.
I was enjoying the walk in and was curious as to what I was going to encounter. I also wanted to know…how would I look at this situation? After all the last time I came to the Reason Rally I was in the middle of a faith crisis. This time I wanted to observe and take it in and do some intense reflection of where I am. I knew when I was approaching when I began to hear the noise. I walked past the United States Institute of Peace. Then I saw the protestors. There were Christians and fundamentalists holding signs. One guy held a microphone and he was screaming about repentance. I cringed and got that feeling in my stomach. I write this to say the following. Church whether you like it or not…you are going to be viewed and compared to individuals out there. Its how it is, its part of the reason why the church needs to speak out and challenge those fringes that exist. I stopped and took pictures, but I was steamed at what I saw. I then saw the Flying Spaghetti Monster as I approached the Reflecting Pool and the first thing I thought is, man I feel sorry for the man to wear that costume in this weather. When I saw the crowd I was taken back as it appeared to be much smaller than what I witnessed in March of 2012. I wondered around and looked at the signs. I was taking things in and walking around when I saw a sign that attracted me, and I stopped to discuss faith with an evangelist.
Greg the Preacher
I shook his hand and he started to ask me some questions. I told him the type of church I attend. I also explained that I considered myself born again, and I know I am a sinner, and my need for God. I told Greg a little bit of my story. I explained briefly the false accusation I endured, and the faith crisis I had. I explained to him that I came to the last Reason Rally in a full fledged crisis. This time I was coming just to listen, reflect and because I write a blog. When I told him about the corruption in Sovereign Grace, Greg told me it took two witness. I told him that I’ve met some of the people involved and I believe them, and their stories. Then when I spoke about corruption in Christianity he pointed out it happens in the world to – which I agree. But my question to him is the following…shouldn’t the church have a higher standard than the world? After all didn’t Jesus say to hold you light high and to be a lamp for the world? There are two things that bothered me with what Greg said. The first had to do with the two witness rule. What do you do when criminal activity has been done in silence? For example if a child is abused…do there have to be two or more witnesses to the abuse? Often no, and to hear two witness rule I would suggest is manipulation for “the least of these” which is what I consider a child who has been abused. Then the other thing which is frustrating is that I believe when a person points out corruption in society I feel it deflects from issues in the church. I believe in God, I do, my story is very real to me. That said, corruption in the form of Sovereign Grace, how Andrew White behaved , or people who make Mark Driscoll God and don’t care about the damage he is doing, has been a very real problem in Christianity. Quick side note, last week I got together with someone who reads me in the D.C. area and as I was telling him my story and watching his reaction I realized how many bad churches I have been involved with. But what troubles me is that Christians are often dismissive of corruption, and its time we discuss and deal with it. I want it to be known that I am not trying to beat up on Greg. I think he has a good heart and events like this are difficult to be at. In the case of Greg he came up from Raleigh to witness at the event. We also spoke a little bit about 9 Marks, how Neo-Calvinism can create determinism and fatalism. And at the end of the conversation he asked to pray for me, and honestly I appreciated that…because in the end Greg is my brother in the church. But we cannot dismiss corruption, child sex abuse, domestic abuse and all the other problems in Christianity. They need to be confronted.
The Tents and Meeting Different Organizations
I went to the first tent and looked at some of the tables and I was told that the second tent had most of the exhibitors. Then I heard Bill Maher was to give a brief talk in a video. I stopped and poked out the tent to listen to him. Bill was his usual sarcastic self. He talked about how he was sorry he couldn’t be there but he was busy in the hinterlands, converting people back into heathens. He also said that with all the people we have to live under, are above us and that we have to answer to and deal with – boss, spouse, parole officers, are even your fucking kids as he personally said – why would people want to make up a deity and have to deal with letting that imaginary person down? He talked about how Christianity went down 11% and how he hoped he played a part in it.
Afterward I went back into the tent worked through it and then went to the second tent. I loaded up on material, and free liberty which provides me with some good material to write about in the future. I grabbed several signs. The Center for Inquiry had the largest presence I believe at the tent. I spoke with different groups and explained that I am a writer and they signed me up to receive emails and updates. I get a lot now, after all one of the posts I did last week came from a Center for Inquiry email. The Center for Inquiry display was large and well manned. I plan to do a profile on this organization soon. I spoke with a guy and asked him questions about their merger with the Richard Dawkins foundation. The booth to the left of Center of Inquiry, if I remember correctly, was Openly Secular. Openly Secular promotes people coming out of the atheist closet and ending discrimination against atheists. There at the rally people could write their “testimonies” and explain how they left religion. I arrived just as they finished taping a gentleman. As I worked my way through the tent I saw the Foundation Beyond Belief and Camp Quest. Now in the course of time I plan to do profiles and write ups of these organizations. I have read a little but about Camp Quest, its a secular humanist camp that takes place in summer that teaches kids atheism and science. Then I noticed Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and I picked up some material from them. I noticed David Silverman’s new book “Fighting God” over at American Atheists and I picked up some signage and material as well. I asked about the book by David Silverman and I was told it was $25.00. One thing that went through my mind when I contemplated Silverman’s book title, is that it almost appeared to state that God existed. After all how can you fight something that doesn’t exist? The pamphlet that Madalyn Murray O’Hair wrote that explained why she is an atheist was $5.00 I believe. When I found myself at the Freedom from Religion Foundation I smiled shook some hands and explained to this Madison, Wisconsin organization that I lived in Wisconsin for years and considered Milwaukee to be my adopted home. We spoke about Madison life and Wisconsin culture for a couple of minutes. Like the other staff I found the professionals from Dan Barker’s organization to be well trained, and professional. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is well known for bringing lawsuits against nativity scenes across the country. To read some examples of their work you can do so here, here and here. I got a summer beach ball that you blow up from the Humanist Society. I noticed a man explaining “death with dignity” and I noticed that issue wasn’t pressed as much in the 2016 rally like it was in the 2012 rally.
As I continued to work through the tent I found the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. I spoke with Jason briefly and when he mentioned his name I realized I was speaking with the president of the organization. Jason Torpy was commissioned at the United States Military Academy at West Point and has served in the United States Army. He has been a dedicated individual trying to educate and make aware they needs of atheists in the United States military. When I was there a member of the military signed up to receive information about the organization. I walked by the Washington Association of Secular Humanists. Wisconsin was represented well at the Reason Rally. When I got to the Secular Student Alliance I noticed the University of Wisconsin t-shirts and spoke with them. One of the guys explained that they were from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and that they traveled from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. for the Reason Rally. When I saw the Recovering from Religion table I was curious as to what they would say about the growing scandal that is coming out of the organization. Its ensnared Neil Carter, Sarah Morehead and it appears like its growing. In the course of time I plan to write about it and do some analysis of that situation. But if you want to read some basics you can do so here, here and here. But the Recovering from Religion table was not as well visited or busy when I saw it. As I continued I saw the Sunday Assembly table , which is the atheist church movement. Sometime in the future I plan to attend one service and do a write up about it. They do exist in the Washington, D.C. area and I plan to experience one service to get a feel and understanding for it. Just to the right of the Sunday Assembly I saw United Coalition for Reason and Jason Heap and introduced myself to him. I had written about Jason this post here and he asked me to look him up when I came to the Rally. We had a good talk for about 20 minutes or so. We discussed the challenges in the Metro system (the subway for those of you outside the D.C. area). Other things that we spoke about is religion a little bit, and I told him of my concern about Christians engaging in discrimination of atheists. I’m a fairly conservative guy but my faith crisis opened up my eyes and challenged me deeply. We spent some time just talking about that as well. I liked Jase, and found him to be warm, polite and an all around pleasant guy. As I finished the tent I considered all that I had seen. What impressed me is the friendliness of all the volunteers and the dedication of the people. I may have arrived at a different conclusion about God, but I have a deep respect for them, and after my faith crisis I look at the atheist community through a whole new lens. I deeply respect and appreciate their intellect, and their keen ability to think differently. I believe many atheists and secular humanists are gifted in that way.
After the tents I went to the left side of the Lincoln Memorial and sat there. I pulled out a note book and took some notes and reflected on what I was hearing. I listened to David Silverman, Lawrence Krauss, Tulsi Gabbard, Eddie Tabash, Ian Harris, John De Lancie, and Bill Nye. The heat was sweltering and I paid for it when I realized I forgot to bring sun block. Under the hot and humid sky buying an ice hold water and pulling it out of the ice felt so good. 🙂
As I reflect back on what I heard there were bits of information that I contemplated. Despite disagreeing with some of what I heard, I also respected the speakers. One thing that did bother me about David Silverman’s talk is that I got the vibe that he looks at Christianity as a Pollyanna view. And my experience is just the opposite, in that Christianity is fractured, and torn by fundamentalism. On the far left you have the Emergent Camp which I have no knowledge or experience. Then you have the mainstream, the upheaval in the SBC and the changing dynamics of the Evangelical Free which I have written about at this blog. But I got the vibe from Silverman as if all of Christianity is getting along and fine, with everyone viewing themselves as Christians. The internal view is much more complicated and problematic. If I remember correctly Lawrence Krauss told a fascinating story about a woman in Afghanistan and her efforts to get education. Tulsi Gabbard who is a Hindu and a veteran serves in the Congress and represents the 2nd District of Hawaii. Representative Gabbard talked about her service in the Middle East and how religion can create conflict and how this country is dedicated to allowing people to practice what they believe or not believe. Ian Harris closed out his comedy act by saying that it would be nice if more Christians would be more Christ like, meaning more imaginary. The speaker who I enjoyed the most is John De Lanci who has played in Star Trek and Stargate on television. John talked about how he played a god on television and how humans have a tendency to make and create deities. He was amusing to listen to yet he also had strong language as he referred to some evangelicals being the Christian Taliban. While I am no fan of Ken Ham and would like to start a gofundme to buy him a one way plane ticket back to Australia I just thought that phrase was a little strong. While I was on the grass a person saw my Marquette University t-shirt and asked me when I attended. He explained to me that his wife graduated from Marquette in 1978, and that he went to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. After that pleasant talk I was taken back by how many people I met in a brief amount of times that came from Wisconsin.
Personal Reflection on Myself
In the hot and sweltering sun I sat on the grass and took out a notebook and as I sat here reflecting to what I was listening to, there was one phrase that came to my mind. “I can’t believe how much has changed.” The last Reason Rally I came to, I was in the depths of a faith crisis. I was being recruited into Sovereign Grace and horrified by the corruption coming from the organization. Plus I had no idea of who or what I was going to be – was I going to be a Christian or agnostic. When I was in my faith crisis I honestly thought my life would go the atheist or agnostic route. I didn’t see it going any other way. In the time I was there I was reflecting on all this, and more. It was at the last Reason Rally that I searched myself and found a part of myself. Today I look back on it and smile because its my story. Its my life. Many Christians may think I am nuts, but at the Reason Rally under a rainy and cold March day in 2012 I found a part of myself. he Reason Rally was where the Lord pursued me. I am deeply grateful I attended the Reason Rally in 2012. That is where and how I got to where I am today. I started this post with a verse from Acts, but in my story it was the 139th Psalm that meant a lot to me. The Rally itself was a good time. It was an opportunity to expand my horizons and meet people. I love to meet new people and hear their stories, and hear their thoughts. It’s a part of who I am.
What the Evangelical Church Needs to Confront
As I listened to differing speeches and wondered around there were a number of take aways that I think the modern evangelical church needs to implement which could help the church, the Gospel, and build bridges with the secular and atheist community.
- Divorce politics from the church: Politics is hurting the Christian faith and not helping it. I, much like Greg Boyd, long for the death of Christian culture as I believe it would be the best thing for the church, atheists, and others. Here is the problem…there are many Christians who seem to believe there is a covenant between God and the United States, just as there was a covenant between God and Israel. That is not true, and those beliefs come from bad theology. The church should avoid politics at all costs as they mired in a quagmire of which they are only hurting themselves and the faith. In other words..if people really loved the Lord Christians would divorce themselves from political activity from the pulpit and ministry. Please note I say this as a guy who is mostly conservative.
- The Donald Trump Issue: At this blog I am going to avoid politics but this point is going to be a follow on to the previous point. The embrace that evangelicals are doing with Donald Trump is only hurting the faith. What Donald Trump embraces stands in the way of the church. What stunned me when I was at the Reason Rally was to listen to the references of evangelicalism and Donald Trump. As one speaker said, and the name escaped me, Donald Trump is being supported by North Korea, Putin, a former grand wizard from the KKK, and now the evangelical Christian church. The issue that was raised is that atheists and skeptics are watching and waiting for evangelicals to be burned again, like they have been in the past. For me it was an eye opening experience to hear what the secular community thinks and feels about Donald Trump and how they view evangelicals through that lens.
- Ken Ham Needs to be Neutralized: I have already written about Ken Ham here, but one of things I realized is how much of a lightening rod Ken Ham is to atheists. It came up, over and over, and over in differing speakers through the time I was there. My concern is that Ken Ham deals with pseudo-science which is really junk science and in reality propaganda through his organization Answers in Genesis. Now if you are a Christian who believes in the Young Earth Creation (YEC) viewpoint, I am saying that is fine. I am not attacking that. We will disagree but the tent is big enough for differing points of view. What I would do if I were YEC is to just state that I believe the earth is 5,000 years old, its what I believe and leave it at that. Does that not show more faith then clinging to an organization shelling out questionable material? Ken Ham really needs to disappear off the scene. His “work” is hurting the church in ways I don’t think many evangelicals know and understand,
- Embrace Science: I am a firm believer in science and the church really needs to embrace science and affirm that in people’s lives. The truth of the matter is that you can be a Christian and believe in science as well. In my case I am also a firm believer in evolution. Science supports evolution in my mind, and its a very important that the church comes around and understands this point. Francis Collins over at the NIH made inroads into the secular community I believe and he did that through science. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and much that we can learn from in regards to science, it is not the enemy of faith, rather it celebrates and enriches faith in the course of time. Think of what astronomers, biologists and others get to study…the earth that I believe was created by God. Can you imagine the doors that would be opened up if science was embraced by the church?
- Confront Corruption: The greatest threat to the Gospel is not atheism, the secularization of science, or two gays outside the church getting married in Boston. The greatest threat to the church comes from men like Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney and others like them who have blind followers who struggle with discernment. I saw this first hand at the reason rally. The American Atheists were passing out their magazine at the event. I picked up several to glance at. Who here wants to know what the story was in the fourth quarter 2014 magazine? Here is the title: “Money Over Mission at Mars Hill Church.” In that article which I plan to write about in the near future it details the financial issues at Mars Hill and what happened. Personally I was horrified to see that and for me it remains an example of why the church needs to confront and deal with these issues. They are not going away, and they become barrios to the faith. The church can’t be silent on these issues any longer. Silence gives tacit approval which I believe is evil in the long run. I’ve written a number of articles about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Seattle which you can read here, here, here, and here. Maybe this is an example of how atheists can help the church in confronting corruption and helping those Christians who are concerned about issues such as this. I wrote about that approach in this article here.
If you went to the rally I would love if you left your comments down below. As always guys, know that I love you!