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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

David Silverman on the Reason Rally ... and some words on secularism

A pretty good summary of why it's needed, with an emphasis on secularism. The last para is especially good:
The Reason Rally is not about eradicating religion. There is a difference between wanting a secular government and a nontheistic government. A secular government is one that gives no preference to any religion or to non-religion. This allows the government to remain neutral and to protect all religious belief. America’s great religious diversity is best protected when the federal government to stays neutral about matters of religion and ends special privileges for religion in law.
Sure, people can work towards "eradicating" (not the best word, but it will do as long as it is not read as implying active persecution of the religious, but merely persuading) religion. But it's not what the Reason Rally is about. It's about secular government, a secular state - and that's not a great secret.

A great diversity of people should be able to get behind that. Many religious people should be able to get behind it, as a matter of fact, though I do accept that this particular event is primarily a rally for non-believers to call for a truly secular America.

Secularism isn't something that only non-believers can support. Generally speaking, it is good for believers as well - not all of them, always, in all circumstances, but very many of them, perhaps the majority in Western countries, in current circumstances. Secularism has a lot going for it apart from its appeal to those of us who reject religion.


Anonymous said...

I disagree, strongly.

Verbose Stoic said...

So ... if this is about secularism, then why isn't it called "The Secular Rally" or "The Secularism Rally"? One of the main issues I have with the rally -- and with New Atheism in general -- is this co-option of "rational" to refer to positions you agree with. Can one rationally oppose secularism? I think so, depending on what it really means to have a secular or neutral state.

BTW, your book finally arrived and I'll probably read it over the weekend.

Russell Blackford said...

Um, have you heard of alliteration?

Glad you have the book, though.

Verbose Stoic said...

I read the post that mentioned that after, since I started from the top. But alliteration, of course, doesn't explain it; you don't get to claim that you're using alliteration to string words together that aren't related to what you're doing. So, in some sense it's claimed that it's accurate to say that this rally is specifically and particularly associated with reason ... which cycles right back into my objection, about co-opting reason for the position that's being promoted.

Russell Blackford said...

VB, I think you're being silly. Yes, the people who are organising the rally think of themselves as "people of reason" - so sue them. But the material makes clear that what they are organising is a rally to defend and promote secular government. There is nothing misleading about any of this, and of course they think they are the party of reason.

I've seen Roman Catholic theologians take the same attitude that they are the party of reason - in debates in their books etc. Really, you may disagree in either case about who the party of reason actually is, but it's silly and literal-minded - and sounds carping - to complain about this sort of thing. It's like people who complain about book titles, which are of course chosen to be memorable and attractive, not to be accurate in a way that's defensible to all people.

Bruce S. Springsteen said...

Perhaps we can say it's about governing by reason, as opposed to revelation. That's the explicit distinction that the founders made. So calling it a rally for laws based on reason alone, without resort to religious authority, makes it all OK, and the alliteration stands.

Verbose Stoic said...


Titles and especially names of movements are supposed to give a quick, snappy, easy to understand and remember indication of the message you're trying to get across. Yes, they can engage in hyperbole or exaggeration or understatement or humour, but at the end of the book or when I show up at the rally I should have a pretty good idea of what the message is. The name here implies that the main message and thrust of the event is, in fact, reason ... and yet, the event is supposedly about secularism. Which isn't in the short, snappy name that everyone is going to remember.

I'm not overly concerned about names, but what bothers me about this is that this, in fact, represents an underlying trend among new secularists ... that you can use "Rational" and "Secular" interchangeably, which they seem to apply to almost any argument they make: that you can use the term "rational" and a term for their position interchangeably because they're simply the same thing. And I'd dislike that sort of move from anyone.

Note that this is different from simply arguing that the position is rational; at least that's open to debate. This is almost a stipulation of rationality by definition, which is annoying. I have no doubt that the organizers really did see no difference between the terms, and no implications at all. They're wrong, and the fact that the rest of the material includes talking about secularism only makes it all the more clear that they think the terms interchangeable and, thus, the same term.

As someone who doesn't agree with a lot of them and yet does consider himself rational, you can see why that would be annoying.

Verbose Stoic said...


Going through that many steps to get to claim that the name really is reflecting the message that is being conveyed means, at minimum, that you have far too complex a message for a rally [grin]

Russell Blackford said...

Actually, I think Bruce is right. They consider themselves the party of reason, as opposed to revelation (and also as opposed to faith or tradition). For at least some us, that's fairly transparent.

That said, the title really has confused some people, even within the atheist blogosphere, etc., so it's not perfect (see my other post on this). I'm not making that claim.

On the gripping hand, perhaps there's no perfect title. Furthermore, the banner, which is a bit like a sub-title, makes the intent of the rally fairly clear, as does the other material advertising it on the site. It's about secularism.

rorschach said...

I think it's entirely unhelpful to conflate reason with atheism or secularism, and not only in the context of the RR. That's one of the main grounds for criticism of the speakers at this rally IMO, the confusion about the goal and the concept. Atheists or secularists are not inherently reasonable people, or more reasonable people. So if you call an event that is apparently, from what we can gather anyway, set up to promote rational and secular government a Reason Rally, many people may find that arrogant, or may use it to reinforce their stereotypes about secularists or atheists.

Verbose Stoic said...

I think the "Secular Spring" one would have been better, since it would have put the secularism as the primary focus and the reason as the secondary. Sure, it would have been deservedly mocked, but if that banner you have up is part of the official materials they weren't too worried about that anyway. It would be criticized as hyperbole, not as being misleading.

And a side benefit would be that Edward Feser wouldn't have complained about how rallies aren't rational [grin].