Ten years ago, the Reason Rally was held in Washington DC. It was supposed to serve as a big coming out party for atheists and non-believers and I was among those who attended. It was a rainy day which spoiled things, but the atmosphere was celebratory and celebratory. But as this article says, some of the high expectations of that day didn’t quite come true.
Ten years ago, thousands of atheists, humanists and skeptics descended by busloads on the National Mall in Washington to attend the Reason Rally, the largest ever gathering of non-believers. “We are here, we are godless, get used to it,” chanted the crowd, estimated at between 10,000 and 30,000 people. For America’s growing non-religious movement, it was a jubilant coming-out-of-the-closet party.
Billed as a “Woodstock for Atheists and Skeptics,” the rally appeared to be a watershed moment for atheist and humanist political representation. But even as the number of Americans who identify as unaffiliated with religion has risen steadily — Pew polls show a jump from 19% in 2011 to 29% this year — a follow-up rally held on the Mall in 2016 saw lackluster attendance.
Now, a decade after that first rally, the underfunded non-religious electoral bloc seems no closer to rivaling the so-called religious right, which so many Rallyers had sought to dominate.
Observers say the movement’s current impotence is partly due to the inability of atheist and humanist leaders in the 2010s to unite and mobilize those unaffiliated with religion. Some of these so-called “nones” identify as atheists and agnostics; but about one in five Americans identify as “nothing in particular.” Individuals – for they can hardly be called a “group” – have particularly low levels of social and political engagement.
“The demographic shift is moving away from organized religion, but not anything else organized, which makes it virtually impossible to ask them to do anything,” Mehta said. “Because most of them are apathetic. They are not atheists.
I think it has always been unrealistic to imagine that the atheist movement would become some sort of political juggernaut. Non-believers are everywhere on the political map, united mainly by their lack religious believers, and that kind of negative cohesive factor tends not to inspire the kind of passion that creates great political movements.
The article discusses some changes that have occurred over the past decade in the past decade in the atheist movement.
At this time, American atheism and humanism were generally tied to Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the other so-called Four Horsemen of New Atheism. Their hyper-intellectualism and brash anti-religious polemics have left a bad taste in the mouths of many non-believers and moderate believers. It has become difficult to disrupt the long-held image of atheists as angry white men in their 50s.
While these failures have crippled the movement’s political power, much of that has begun to change in recent years. Many old-guard atheist leaders have disappeared from the mainstream spotlight, some in disgrace, such as former American Atheist President David Silverman, after facing allegations of #MeToo-era sexual misconduct. Their downfall heralded a wider division between reactionary right-wing atheist circles and atheist organizations explicitly engaged in social justice issues. Recently, more atheist and humanist groups have moved away from anti-religious evangelism.
Social justice issues are more likely to inspire people than no religion, although of course there is some overlap.