Faith in reason

This weekend, Jon Stewart is holding “a rally to restore sanity” on the mall, two months after Glenn Beck’s religion-infused … Continued

This weekend, Jon Stewart is holding “a rally to restore sanity” on the mall, two months after Glenn Beck’s religion-infused “Restoring Honor” rally. Beck said he was called by God to hold the rally. Now atheist groups are planning to use Stewart’s event to promote “reason.”  Are “reason” and “sanity” the opposite of religious belief? Is taking religion out of the political debate the answer for restoring reason? Or do we need more faith?

Full disclosure: The United Coalition for Reason, sponsor of the godless bus ads, is an endorser of the mission statement of the Secular Coalition for America,, the organization for which I’m president.

The bus ads simply invite people to come out of the closet to their friends and neighbors about their lack of religious beliefs. Atheists and humanists don’t fear a judging God, but many fear the judgments and the stigma placed on them by a mainly religious society. Some are concerned that their jobs as well as their relationships and good will of neighbors may be at stake, and unfortunately they sometimes are. Much as with the gay rights movement, the more that come out the easier it is for others to come out and find a sense of community. That’s the essence of what these ads are about.

What we nontheists want, consistent with our founders, is freedom of conscience for all. Government should not be in the religion business, even if Glenn Beck believes God told him it should. Government should not favor one religion over another or religion in general over non-religion.

As an example, the legislature in my home state of South Carolina authorized the car license tag motto, “In God We Trust,” available to all at no extra cost. My local secular humanist group applied for “In Reason We Trust” tags. It carried a fee, but our members and others, too, now have such tags. Frankly, I would rather my state promote reason than God, especially given the dismal state of education here. Individuals should be able to promote the god of their choice, but not the state.

I have trouble understanding why some people think secular Americans are insulting those with religious beliefs when we mention we don’t believe in any gods. A church-sponsored billboard near my house asks, “Got religion?” It certainly doesn’t offend me to see this by the highway. Are Methodists insulted when Presbyterians promote their theological views?

We may have different views on religion, but I hope we can at least agree on one fundamental good–the marketplace of ideas. Some may think reason and sanity are the opposite of religion, and some may not. Let arguments be heard, not stifled. That, to me, is the most sane and reasonable way to act.

Herb Silverman
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  • RichardSRussell

    Re: Glenn Beck, I think the observation by psychologist Thomas Szasz says it all: “If you talk to God, you’re praying; if God talks to you, you’re schizophrenic.”

  • LAltman

    It may be a violation of the First Amendment for South Carolina to charge more for a nontheistic slogan on the license plate than a theistic one. That seems to constitute a forbidden governmental preference for religion over non-religion.Lou Altman

  • dangeroustalk

    Valuing reason over faithI think it should be pointed out that the Washington Coalition of Reason is not promoting reason with these advertisements. They are promoting their organizations… which promote reason. The distinction is that these ads are not designed to get religious people to think rationally about there religion. That might take more then a few words on words on a bus shelter. You can read the rest of my response to this topic:I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • LorettaHaskell

    This past weekend I visited friends in another state who attend a liberal Episcopal church. Although a member of the humanist group in my community, I have always enjoyed attending their church while visiting, and gladly joined them on Sunday morning at their church, which is a part of their family ritual. We talked about many of the ideas that we discuss in our humanist group, some of the ideas that a friend of theirs discusses in their humanist group in New York City, and much of what their church is discussing in trying to do in providing social services to their community. It was a sane and reasonable discussion and the fact that I do not believe in a literal interpretation of the bible or a hereafter were part of that discussion. That type of discussion, however, is not always possible in the religious community, but should be, and that is why I support the rally to restore sanity.

  • beersnob11123

    Reason is based on facts. Religion is based on faith. Sanity requires that we recognize this distinction.On a tangent, VA was once confronted about refusing to issue vehicle tags denoting non-faith, e.g. “ATHEIST.” Their response was that they refuse ALL faith and non-faith based tag requests. They were of course lying their butts off. At the time I knew of tags including “BLEST 1” and “ALMS ALAH”–and, that’s just in my neighborhood. This double standard is rooted in bigotry. Such bigotry is institutionalized in the US. Is this reasonable? In light of the First Amendment, is it sane?Reason requires that we recognize an appropriate role for religion in government. Sanity requires that we recognize there’s never been a consensus on what that is.

  • fhay26

    Is there any creature more dangerous than a man who believes that “God” has told him what to do? He can justify anything he wants to do.

  • jonesm2

    I definitely agree with Professor Silverman that the government should not be in the religion business. I also know that, as an atheist, if I “come out” it is very likely that I will suffer some social consequences from doing so in this society. There are somewhat subtle ways of doing this, such as the license plate “In Reason We Trust.” I, however, got rid of my car 12 years ago and can’t really fit this message on my bike!

  • APaganplace

    On the headline: I move to table this discussion for the time being, pretend we’re capable of reason, anyway, and and use what we’ve got? Someone can take the credit later.

  • woodstock-41

    Ooops. That was meant for TOM FLYMM & CO.