March 25, 2012
Monkeys Wearing Clothes
Atheism is a hell of a drug. Maybe that's why I decided to attend the Reason Rally yesterday in D.C.
As early as 9 years old, Atheism was already shaping my identity, rather inadvertently. My parents were smart enough to not indoctrinate me with religion, and to stop attending church services themselves, though they still hold their own self-styled folk-belief of whatever god they would like to have. Me and my brother, consequently, don't believe in god. Because it's clearly a myth and a lie.
Imagine the emotions that surged when my first major conflict between me and my peers was over religion. Being told I'm going to suffer this torturous 1-130 year existence called "Life" is bad enough. Being told I'm going to suffer a torturous existence forever because of rules and supernatural bullies and what grown-ups say is worth rebelling against. My first argument was likely me explaining to a Christian child that they're just going to die at the end and their body will be put in the ground.
Me and my arguments have only become slightly more sophisticated since then. I camouflaged myself as a college student to debate Christians on the UMBC campus while I was working for minimum wage. I thought it was that important. 2005. You had to be there.
Evangelical Christians were one of the largest voting blocks in the country, having elected George W. Bush legitimately in one election; which was way too many. The efforts to teach the non-science of Creationism in Public schools and promote the alleged illegitimacy of Scientifically proven Global Climate Change was at an all time high. The stakes were high. I started to think like a Christian. I had to convert the believers.
I may or may not have succeeded but Atheist activism had certainly faded in my mind since then. I softened my position pretty radically when I saw religious people participating in street-level activism for other causes I believe in. Besides blogging some loose-ends, I hadn't been interested much in anti-theism since then, but ultimately decided to go to the Reason Rally to see some friends in D.C., and see if my Atheistic fervor could be re-awakened.
The Rally was everything it ought to be. Accomplished Atheist public figures recited impassioned speeches. Activists displayed good humor and individuality through the signs and t-shirts they wore. For once in my life besides while being in a room with good friends, I felt like I could talk about the nonsense of religion and many other things, without fear of being called hateful or hated myself. If I spoke too proudly, or loudly, others would overhear me and start to collaborate on and elaborate my point. There was an unusual feeling of security and being "home" that was empowering and invigorating. I left in very high spirits.
We thought ahead and walked to the D.C. Metro station that would be the least crowded close-by. As we arrived at the first block, a Christian missionary(or whatever) was street-preaching about pride and hubris. Mostly the Atheists, standing together in rare form, kept silent or quietly responded "Proud Atheist." I was just as irritated at the Christian as I was proud of my fellow countrymen and humans. It was the very unusual feeling(among atheists) of having been indoctrinated with truth and inoculated against religion rather than the other way around. And possessing power in numbers.
A block later was the strange twist. As we came to the intersection a man was busking; playing homemade drums of paint-buckets. Many people dropped dollar bills in his collection bin. Then, about 4 white guys to my right started wrestling in some manner that seemed reminiscent- it looked like a fight was about to happen. I stopped and stared on with about 10 other people. In only a few short moments it became obvious that 3 men were teaming up on one. And they ran him, all together, into the corner of a stone wall. As soon as those 3 men walked off(not even bothering to run,) 5 of the 10 people who were watching started walking away.
Me, my girlfriend, and about 3 other people(all 3 black people, if that means anything) stayed. Me and another man walked slowly towards a motionless body, whereupon we noticed the man was conscious and bleeding from the head. 2 people called 911 when they heard of the blood. I mostly watched which is my tendency in crises. One girl stayed close to the man who was bleeding and kept him from getting up. He appeared dazed, kept swearing revenge on the other men, and at one point said 'I just need my vodka.' So he might've been drunk, concussed, or both. He had a James Randi Educational Foundation lanyard on his neck and mumbled about being at the rally.
The police showed up fairly quickly- the Ambulance a little later. Whereupon I identified myself as a witness and told police all that I had seen. I don't like police, and it wasn't an easy decision, but I figured if I stayed to witness the event it was the least I could do. I left after the policeman who took my witness account said that he suspected that all the men knew each other since the victim was trying to downplay his injury and the need for help. That made sense to me. I walked away as the events replayed in my mind.
I had spent the entire day in the company of friends, listening to appeals for humanity and compassion of a decidedly(and necessarily) human variety, and believed it. I left high and mighty. Several things were suggested to the crowd to further the cause of secularism after we left. And as we left, in a secularist crowd, I witnessed human beings behaving like the great apes we are. Stirring conflict, fleeing from conflict, warring unconsciously even amongst allies. I would like to believe differently, but I think the future will be much less a reason and rationality ruled Utopia, and rather more of the same.