Add Justin Griffith to my list of Real American Heros, his efforts to overcome obstacles I can't even imagine cannot be described without using the term "heroic". I am utterly exhausted, even after more than 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. What an event! While not of the scale of the Reason Rally, in some ways it was a more important as well as more significant event. 

"There are no atheists chaplains in foxholes"

~ Justin Griffith

Like the Reason Rally, Rock Beyond Belief served many purposes, first and foremost; a statement. Here's were the two events have a slight divergence. The Reason Rally's "you are not alone" and, "we're here, we're godless, get used to it" (aptly borrowed from the GLBT community) were an unspoken given.

This event's message was from and for those who serve and often make the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country, and swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, one that's supposed to protect us all from the tyranny of religion...

What do we want?

We want our civil rights!

When do we want them?

We want them now!


One of the event's more rousing speakers was the irrepressible Mikey Weinstein – President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Nobel Peace Prize nominee; who lead the crowd in this fist pumping chant, after asking us to turn towards the tent housing the base commander and other military VIPs. He also named every officer this was aimed at, including the Commander-In-Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.

At the other end of the activism spectrum, The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta's poignant message that atheists, often demonized by theists, …were basically nice people; was addressed not just at those of us, but at the same group of military VIPs and those theist soldiers having to spend their on-duty time at the festival; Atheists are the same nice, trustworthy and moral people after you find out about their non-belief, as they were before.

Families and especially children, ...so many children and babies (none were eaten), were the majority here. Our own group's small convoy convoy had a; mother and daughter, father and daughter and me, with my 10 y/o step-son, …who had a blast at the incredible kids area that had so many activities and things to do that he could have spent two days and still not participated in all that was offered. There were theists in attendance, even chaplains, but they were there to listen, not to protest.

Richard Dawkins' first activity was to speak to the children and answer questions, not in a room or tent, but out in the middle of a field, away from the main stage.

But, my two biggest "take away" impressions, general (no pun) as they were; the soldiers (non-believer and believer alike), who I took the opportunity to thank (for their service) anytime I was within 20 feet of any (often), and whom I could not tell, if they were theist or atheist (because, …it is hard to tell, especially when atheists aren't eating babies) were all gracious, happy and dignified in accepting my sincerely expressed gratitude. And, the children, our future, …and the idea that the U.S. Constitution is not just a document to defend, but a legacy to pass on.

Everybody was great, there was not a single "bad" thing to comment on, unlike the Reason Rally, there were no protesters. The only unsettling (it was for me) thing was John Kieffer's absence, something that stayed in my thoughts all day, he really deserved to be there. 

It is of the utmost importance to remember this: We are at a cross-roads with this event and the one a week previous. We can pat ourselves on the back and relax in a false sense of accomplishment (complacency) that we have arrived; thus pissing away all that's been accomplished.

Or, we can try harder, support those who are activist in this movement, be a part of the community and put as much effort into activism and community building as you can. The heroic efforts of those in the limelight and those ordinary atheists like John Kieffer, Jessica Ahlquist and Steven Hewett who find themselves not just in the spotlight, but in the crosshairs of those who would target them with abuse, threats and even jail time; cannot and won't sustain the effort to be recognized as a voice, …only YOU can do this.

It's nice that we have a place to network here at Atheist Nexus, a place to belong, yes.


But, never forget that it can be more than just a place to talk about cats, movies, pop culture, life in general… in the company of people who share a single non-belief.

This isn't "all about you" …it's about a much bigger picture that needs you to be an active participant in its being painted, and painted BIG.

Okay, enough soapbox (but that's what this IS!), more "big pictures" (note: I will be updating this blog).

First, my pics (click to engorge with sizeness): One disclaimer, lots of dust spots due to a dirty lens, my poor old Nikon D100 has been through a lot of bad weather and grass fields lately, as well; order of appearance may not be accurate.

The trip and before the show got started:

Like the Reason Rally, the weather forecast for the day sucked, and probably contributed to a lower than expected turn-out (but turn out we did!). Fortunately, hopes overcame meteorology (as it often does, as well as the converse), and we ended up not spending the day wet.

Checkpoint. All cars that weren't military were stopped, searched and all IDs were checked. The MP's at the gate were not just polite, they were cheerful and welcoming.

(this photo from Steven Hewett)

The "swag tents" were much more easy to access than at the RR, but, while my group took their time, I went to the front and started setting up our spot about 20' from the stage. …I also wanted to sit after the long walk from the parking lot. I made several trips later to the many tents representing almost every single secular organization I've heard of.

I couldn't have picked a better place to set up, right behind us was Shelley Segal, who

was one of the musical perfumers at the Reason Rally, if you don't know who she is, shame on you, click on the RR link and watch the video of her performance. Oh, that's Jim Moury (Forsyth Area Critical Thinkers organizer) and me (I'm the terribly out-of-shape one).

The little fellow on the right is my 10 y/o stepson.


Let's switch to the stage…. and the start of the show...

The National Anthem, preformed by local singers (they were fantastic), emcee Ed Brayton looking on. (More on the venerable Mr. Brayton later)

The band Words Such As Burn, featuring Todd Stiefel, the man who bankrolled the entire event, as well as most of the funding for the Reason Rally and is the founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. More on Mr. Stiefel later… Words Such As Burn started of a raucous set with a heavy interpretation of John Lennon's "Imagine".

Ed Brayton, who most of you should know from freethought.blogs.com where he writes his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars 

He is also the co-founder and president of Michigan Citizens for Science and co-founder of The Panda's Thumb. He has written for such publications as The Bard, Skeptic and Reports of the National Center for Science Education and is the host of Culture Wars Radio on WPRR in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ed Brayton was fantastic, he was quick-witted (even with his own oopses which were few, but fodder for great punch lines) eloquent and absolutely the perfect person for the job. 

I've been a reader of his blog for a long time, and prior to this many years when he was on scienceblogs before the mass exodus to freethoughtblogs.

Well done Mr. Brayton!

Wow! …my new favorite Hip Hop Artist, Canada's Baba Brinkman with Brighton, UK -based DJ/producer Mr. Simmonds  …and there's absolutely no sarcasm in the noun "Artists". They performed a tune "Spiritual Fitness" specially written just for this event. But, the toppers were his celebrated  “The Rap Guide to Evolution” and "I'm A African". There was a great "scratching" solo by Mr. Simmons featuring samples of Richard Dawkins. They really brought the energy up in the audience for their set. 

Seriously, even if you've at all pigeon-holed Hip Hop as being all crap, check this guy out, so that you can honestly say, "I'm not a fan of Hip Hop in general, but I do love the great Hip Hop performers".

Roy Zimmerman – Hilarious singer/songwriter, Roy is one of the most popular atheist musicians around. He consistently delivers insightful humor through clever word play and intelligent subject matter. He is also a fine picker, and his tunes were interspersed with great licks skillfully coaxed from his Martin guitar, his best tune for me was "Creationism Science 101", I laughed so hard I teared up. There was another tune, not sure the title, …but it was the some of the most convincing acoustic funk I've ever heard.

Spoonboy, is the solo project of David Combs, of the Max Levine Ensemble. His set was all punky folk songs about self-empowerment, finding your own identity, standing up for what is right, and over-all optimism even in the face of the dark social problems facing all of us. His songs were gritty but poignant cries for justice.

Dan Barker, ex-evangelist minister, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, debater and author of the books books Losing Faith in Faith (1992) and Godless (2008). Another Reason Rally alumnus, he spoke at greater length than he did at Reason Rally and then played much the same set, though it was a much different feel to it, being that this time he didn't have to follow Tim Minchin. His music found a good home at RBB, as there were many families and lots of kids.  

Jeffrey Lewis, anti-folk musician and critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and indie comic book artist was another welcome surprise for me as I had never heard of him.

His songs were laced with deep philosophical meaning, catchy tag lines and so many levels of humor it was difficult to keep up.

One of the highlights of the festival for me was his combining the art aspect with song. He used the original somewhat dog-eared pages of a history of the French Revolution and sang the story a cappella. While he didn't blatantly connect the story to present day USA, the sub-text was undeniable. I was almost in tears at the end of the song/story/comic, it hit me that hard.

I went back to his vendor table later on to check out his stuff, CDs, Comics, Stickers, …I will be ordering a few of each from his site. If this kid doesn't make it big, it will be because he just doesn't want to be famous, and he may not. After talking with him for a bit, I got the distinct impression that what we saw, was for him, not even trying hard. Amazing.

The headline musical act of the festival, Aiden. Another unfamiliar name for me, I'm just too old I guess. Perhaps the most over-the-top of all the musical offerings, they had the biggest following of all the acts there, …though the demographic was decidedly teen-20-ish. A mosh pit of sorts evolved, and there were a few people crowd-surfing as well. 

This event was spread out, the kids area was at the opposite end of the field so I made a lot of trips back and forth (my legs still ache). I tried to get as many pics off the stage as I could, but I probably missed a few speakers. Most of these people were at Reason Rally.

In no particular order (again, click to bignify)...

Dale McGowan edited and co-authored Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resources for nonreligious parents. He writes the secular parenting blog The Meming of Life, teaches nonreligious parenting seminars across the United States, and serves as executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a 501(c)(3) humanist charitable and educational foundation based in Atlanta. In September 2008 he was named Harvard Humanist of the Year by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University. Dale spoke about raising little heathens as well as the charity work that Foundation Beyond Belief helps fund.

Sean Faircloth, who gave a rousing speech at Reason Rally was here doing much the same. For any who don't know this guy, please click on his name to read his wikipedia entry, …wow. Mr. Faircloth is also the Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Speak of the devil...

Richard Dawkins twice in 7 days. I don't really have to tell any who he is or what it is that he does.

It's my opinion that his talk at this event was much better than it was at the Reason Rally, he seemed more on the ball, focused.

And, while he covered a lot of the same ground, he was cognizant of those military people in the audience who weren't non-believers.

It was great to watch him with the kids, and I got to shake his hand …woo too!


Ed Brayton bringing Justin Griffith up to the stage for the next …event. Justin spent most of the time behind the scenes, this was his baby, …I cannot fathom the amount of effort he put into making this event happen. An event he didn't even get to watch from out front. But, when he did speak, he gave credit to all who helped him, as well as those in the military hierarchy who helped, rather than hindered his efforts. Including many chaplains (there is hope).


Justin Griffith has a blog at freethoughtblogs.com, I read it daily and have since that site began. You should too. I picked up a pocket copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America at The Military Religious Freedom Foundation table. I got Justin to sign it for me, he wrote; "No Atheists Chaplains in Foxholes".

How cool is that?

Well, he didn't come on stage to talk about how much work he had to do or to pat himself on the back, he came out to help emcee this part of the show that Reason Rally had no equivalent for, a parachute team demonstration by the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

The team had at least one atheist amongst them.

What a spectacle of precision, I left the front of the stage and went all the way to the other end of the field to watch them land.

Yeah, that's what Justin's pointing at.

Right after landing, this Foxhole Atheist member of the demonstration team became the speaker at the  event.

She described the maneuvers and acrobatics the various soldiers were doing in the air and also about the training and difficulty of learning the skills involved.

The last soldier to land and I shared the same surname …it's not very common, we're probably related. After he had a chance to gather up his chute, I went over and talked to him about his ancestry and found that if we were related our common ancestor probably lived about 150+ years ago.

He was probably a theist, and he knew I was probably an atheist, however, that divergence never came up. 

Hemant Mehta is another blogger that I try to read every day. He's also the only blogger I know of that actively promotes Atheist Nexus, he's the reason I came here.

Mr. Mehta is a busy guy, aside from keeping current a world-class blog, he's also: Board President of  Foundation Beyond Belief, Chair of the Secular Student Alliance and works closely with the Secular Coalition for America, …he also teaches Math at a high school in Chicago and is pursuing a Masters in Mathematics Education at DePaul University. 

His talk was inspiring, to say the least. And, he finds time to speak at many events, conventions, meetings and… What have you done lately?

Mikey Weinstein is a pitbull, an indefatigable injustice fighting machine of a man. This is one speaker that the Reason Rally didn't have, …our loss. If you ever hear the phrase, "taking names and kicking asses…" That's this guy. He fights for the rights of those who fight for us, …and buy,  does he fight. Mikey isn't even an atheist, he calls himself a Jagnostic (agnostic Jew).

Now, I'm going to repeat myself, …and it bears repeating; One of the event's more rousing speakers was the irrepressible Mikey Weinstein – President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Nobel Peace Prize nominee; who lead the crowd in the fist pumping chant, "

What do we want? We want our civil rights! When do we want them? We want them now!

...after asking us to turn towards the tent housing the base commander and other military VIPs. He also named every officer this was aimed at, including the Commander-In-Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.

Hell yeah!

By now you should all be familiar with Nate Phelps the son of Fred Phelps. I have no video yet, but his speech was different from the one he gave at the Reason Rally in a few respects. For one, …soldiers.

Fred Phelps is a despicable man, but perhaps his most despicable acts were when he and his despicable followers protested the funerals of the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I'm sure that even the theist soldiers present, lent an ear to Nate Phelps. I can't imagine they disagreed with his message.

People like Nate Phelps give me hope.

One funny moment was courtesy of emcee Ed Brayton, who, …after an eloquent and beautifully delivered introduction, introduced Nate as Fred Phelps. There was a moment of silence and a voice could be heard behind the stage… "Ed, you said Fred Phelps". Mr. Brayton said, "oops" and corrected himself.

Nate had a big smile on his face...

Todd Stiefel has a profile here on Atheist Nexus, you should all thank him. He provided the funding for this event and for a good part of the Reason Rally. He is also the founder and President of Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

He talked about how he (an atheist) and his wife, a Christian, love and agree in pretty much all the same things, and they really only differ in that one belief.

He also has a group on this site, …it needs more traffic (hint hint).

Check out the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. Donate if you're able.

Our mission is to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state. We envision a world where government favors liberty over dogma and freethinkers are overt, united and influential.

People like Todd are rare, …a real no-strings-attached wealthy philanthropist.

There was this beautiful lady who sat on a blanket with a few other people about 10 feet in front of us.

Like most who were there, when I went to the front of the stage to take pictures, I took a few and went back to me spot, making sure I wasn't obstructing anybody's view while I was up. Every time I checked, she'd be there, absolutely radiant smile. I would get the same thought every time, "I wonder who she is? …She looks important".

Yup, I was right.

Margaret Downey – Former president (and current board member) of the Atheist Alliance International, founder of:

Board Member of:

…there's more.

Margaret Downey talked mostly about The Boy Scouts of America and her fight against their discrimination against atheists and homosexuals. Those who achieve "Eagle Scout" are given a higher salary if they become officers in the military. TBSOA receive public funds, tens of millions of dollars worth. Public Schools are used to distribute their recruiting flyers. How then could the Supreme Court have ruled in favor of TBSOA in their exclusion of gays and atheists because: ...the Boy Scouts constituted a private organization and could thus choose their own membership criteria...


Another of my favorite speakers, Dave Silverman - President of American Atheists, the guy who organized the Reason Rally, …and he had a very interesting slide show, …and the news that, officially; The Reason Rally drew an attendance of 30,000.

He started his speech with the question, "How many of you were at the Reason Rally last week?"

Well, many of us wore our shirts or hats (I wore both), but many more, …raised their hands and cheered, it turns out, …most didn't wear the red shirt that day. 

He was great, he was also in the crowd all day, enjoying the festival, there was no VIP seating for this one. Mr. Silverman is one happy dude, he was never without a big grin, and when the stage was rocking' his head was bobbing. 

I wish we could have stayed for the after-party, I would have loved to have bought him a drink.

I'm going to update again soon, …there is some video, and I have to check to see if I missed anybody in those 300+ image files, I also have a lot of crowd pics to post in the first update… so PLEASE stay tuned, comment and send a link to any who ask about Rock Beyond Belief.

Pics from off-stage:

Steven Hewett shooting video.

Some of the crowd during Baba Brinkman...

There wasn't a lot of signs, Jim's daughter brought one, I asked her to hold it up to get a pic, she had to keep holding it up after all the other cameras came out...

Flip side...

Another Foxhole Atheist, …well, the Navy doesn't have foxholes to deal with, …anyway, this is Commander Tony MacCabe U.S.N. I had a chance to talk with him a bit, officer and a gentleman.

The sun did come out...

So did the moon.

There was a marriage proposal, it was a stunt arranged ahead of time between the husband-to-be and Justin Griffith. It was staged as a Q&A from the audience and… well, watch the video.

Yes, that's my step-son getting in the shot...

Disclaimer: No Children or Babies were eaten at this atheist event.

Hanging out by the swag tents, that's Steven Hewett and Dan Barker on the right.

Mr. Dawkins watching from stage-left.

Step-son and Jim's daughter, wearing an autographed Brother Sam Singleton "GODDAMN!!" shirt.

Our FACT convoy + Steven, and there were at least two others from our group for a total of 11.

Aside from the Shelly Segal & Dawkins pics ...and the Cmdr. and Sgt., I decided not to include any more "me and -insert atheist celeb here-" pics in this blog, I'll upload those to my pic files when I have time, because this, ...wasn't about me.




Videos!

(more to come)

National Anthem 

Ed Brayton (John Kieffer announcement)


Richard Dawkins speech at Rock Beyond Belief pt. 1&2

Baba Brinkman at Rock Beyond Belief

Yeah!

Sean Faircloth

Justin Griffith, Dave Silverman, Ed Brayton and Proposal guy

Dave Silverman

Roy Zimmerman

Nate Phelps (short clip)

Mikey Weinstein (short clip)

Update from Justin Griffith's blog:

"The weather really did play a part to bring down our attendance, without a doubt. But we are happy that well over a thousand people came out anyway. It was a blast."

Please check out my Reason Rally blog and my blog post concerning John Kieffer's situation in Polk County, FL. 

People, …every opportunity you get to thank a soldier, please do so.


Some links (more to come)

The Stiefel Freethought Foundation has expanded its support of freethinkers in the military by offering a $50,000 challenge to the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers. Donations from current military and veterans to MAAF will be matched dollar-for-dollar for a limited time. Now is the time to give. Your support is needed and makes a significant difference in improving the lives of atheists & humanists in the military. Through the generosity of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, you can double the impact of your giving.

http://www.militaryatheists.org/join.html


From Steven Hewett's Remove The Christian Flag From King FaceBook page (go there, "like" it!)

Just because Rock Beyond Belief is over at Ft. Bragg, it does not mean its over!

We now must push our military’s command structure to overturn regulations that hinder our brothers in arms from meeting as a recognized group on military installations.

We as civilians, former military and active duty need to start a writing campaign to our military commanders in the pentagon and members of congress to change chaplain regulations that forbid Atheists from meeting on and using base facilities as a recognized group.

Sgt. Griffith can only do so much pushing due to restrictive military regulations on active duty soldiers. However, those of us who are untouchable by the military such as former soldiers and American citizens can become the voice for those are not being heard. 

These soldiers are NOT second classed soldiers, they serve and die for us so we may be free. Their sacrifices are no less than those soldiers who profess some type of faith. Sgt. Tillman a Special Forces soldier stationed at FOB Chapman, Afghanistan was just one of those Atheist soldiers who gave his life for his country. Let us not allow his ultimate sacrifice be in vain, nor those of other soldiers!

If the Veterans Administration can recognize Atheism on our tombstones, it is time the military stops the discrimination of atheist soldiers who serve!

Join me in a continued letter writing campaign in getting this discriminatory practiced overturned. We will WIN! - Steven Hewett


Well said Steven, well said.


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Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 2, 2012 at 11:34am

Update I

about 18 crowd pics and another video.

@  Hui Zheng "great event hopefully they come  by LA one day"

That's the idea, Justin and the various military organizations he's involved with want this to be an event repeated at other bases.

Comment by Steph S. on April 2, 2012 at 11:30am

What a wonderful blog on the event. I feel like I was there! Thanks so much for all the pictures and narratives on the event. You're the best!

Comment by Selen on April 2, 2012 at 8:32am

Thanks for your blog posted here. I got good sense from it, and encouraged by you all.

Comment by matthew greenberg on April 2, 2012 at 8:28am

as always, nicely done Richard.  i enjoyed living the event through your eyes and words.

Comment by Joseph P on April 2, 2012 at 7:48am

That and I'd want someone who DOESN'T pray first, but instead keeps his head on the emergency situation and does something that might keep us both alive.  Jen Peeples of The Atheist Experience had exactly that sort of situation when her helicopter froze over, when she was a military pilot.  Her religious co-pilot was losing it and did nothing particularly useful.

Comment by Joseph P on April 2, 2012 at 7:18am

Well, my nose is still very slightly pink, but the rest of the sunburn went away the following day.

 

I hope we get more of these around the country, following each of the many evangelical events that happen on military bases everywhere.

Comment by Hui Zheng on April 2, 2012 at 3:28am

great event hopefully they come  by LA one day

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