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ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- The non-religious from across America gathered in Washington D.C. March 24 for what was dubbed the "Reason Rally." Self-identified atheists, agnostics and secular humanists came to a meeting that had been promoted for months as "the largest secular event in world history."
While the event was touted as emphasizing reason, it seemed that some participating in the rally believed ridicule and bullying were the preferred ways for combating religious belief and spreading the joys of atheism.
One lady attending the rally held a sign that read: "So many Christians, so few lions," according to The Washington Post. The sign was an obvious reference to Christian persecution by the Roman Empire.
Another sign read, "Obama isn't trying to destroy religion ... I AM!" A photo of a woman holding this sign appeared in USA Today.
It is plain to see where those brandishing the signs stand on the issue of reason and open debate. One might argue that they were not representative of the majority of those gathered. After all, any large gathering, regardless of its ideology, has its share of crazies in attendance.
Yet Richard Dawkins, one of the rally's best-known speakers, advocated for an aggressive in-the-face-of-faith approach to attacking religious belief, particularly Christianity.
Dawkins, the author of several books critical of religion, especially Christianity, called on attendees to "show contempt" for the beliefs of people of faith.
"Mock them, ridicule them! In public!" he exhorted the crowd, according to Catholic News Agency.
There is an adage in debate that if you are losing an argument badly, change the subject. Use sarcasm, question motives, mock positions, resort to ad hominem attacks. Do anything but press your argument.
I do not know why Dawkins and those who gathered for the rally in D.C. seem to be abandoning reason for a more militant, emotionally disheveled approach at pushing atheism, but could it be their arguments are not being very persuasive?
The crowd was estimated by the Religion News Service to be between 8,000 to 10,000. USA Today indicated the number of those gathered was closer to 20,000.
If this was "the largest secular event in world history," the movement, it would seem, has some work to do. As a result, atheists are now willing to resort to ridiculing people of faith in an effort to proselytize them.
If I were an atheist, I would be disappointed in the Reason Rally. Rather than encourage intellectual engagement and offer arguments for taking on people of faith in debate, the gathering focused on little more than childish name calling.
Admittedly, there are Christians who have not done much more than mock when responding to atheists. However, as a strategy for persuading someone seriously to consider your beliefs, it's not very effective to ridicule, mock and show contempt. Dialogue, discussion and respectful debate are more likely to have a positive effect.
In engaging an atheist like Dawkins, I would point out that it requires presuppositional belief to accept evolution as a viable truth. Even though he would contend there is much evidence for the theory, it still requires a measure of faith.
During the Reason Rally, Dawkins reportedly praised the "truth" and "beauty" of Darwinian evolution. He said it was an "incredible process" that produced life with the "illusion of design."
In order to apply the scientific method to any phenomena, it must be testable, repeatable, measureable and observable. These elements cannot be applied to evolution. Thus, as much as one wishes to believe in the science of evolution, it still takes faith to accept it as truth.
"How is it conceivable that the laws of physics should conspire together -- without guidance, without direction, without any intelligence -- to bring us in to the world," Dawkins told the crowd. "... It's almost too good to be true."
How is it conceivable? To many rational and thoughtful people, it isn't. It is, in the words of Dawkins, "too good to be true."
Dawkins once said, "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish." But why are we born in such a state? Is it a drive to survive or is it an inborn sin nature?
Dawkins and I can observe the phenomena of innate selfishness, and I am willing to debate him as to the cause of its presence. However, according to his address at the rally, he is only willing to ridicule, mock and show contempt. Real open-minded, isn't it?
The Reason Rally seemed to have an abundance of "rally" but was somewhat bereft of reason.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).