Reason Rally 2012 was not the largest secular event in world history

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The first Reason Rally held in 2012 was billed as the largest secular event in world history.[1] However, that was not an accurate claim as can be seen below.

It was held in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2012. Reason Rally 2012 was followed by Reason Rally 2016.

According to the Religion News Service 8,000-10,000 people showed up for Reason Rally 2012.[2] The Atlantic reported 20,000 individuals were in attendance.[3] The documentary The Unbelievers purports that over 30,000 people attended the rally.[4]

Large atheist gatherings such as the Reason Rally are rare due to the apathy of many atheists (see: Atheism and apathy). In addition, in recent years, international cooperation among atheists has been low (see: Atheism and international cooperation among atheists).

According to the article The biggest Church in the world by congregation:

Yoido Full Gospel Church. It’s the mother of all megachurches, with the largest church congregation in the world. It outranks even the biggest church in Nigeria. On a typical day, 200,000 Christians will attend one of the seven services of the biggest church in the world along with another two or three hundred thousand watching them on TV in adjoining buildings or satellite branches.[5]

As noted above, although the Reason Rally was billed as the largest secular event in world history, strictly speaking that is not accurate. Communist countries have embraced state atheism. And Marxist-Leninism along with Maoism explicitly adhered to the atheist worldview and communist countries have engaged in militant atheism and religious persecution (see: Atheism and communism).[6] China still engages in religious persecution. Communist countries had large/massive rallies. For example, at Tiananmen Square during the Cultural Revolution, the atheist Mao Zedong greeted 1,500 Red Guards and waved to 800,000 Red Guards and spectators below. [7]

During the Cultural Revolution, a new form of militant atheism made great efforts to eradicate religion completely.[8][9] Under this militant atheism espoused by Mao Zedong, houses of worship were shut down; Buddhist pagodas, Daoist temples, Christian churches, and Muslim mosques were destroyed; artifacts were smashed; and sacred texts were burnt.[8][9] Moreover, it was a criminal offence to even possess a religious artifact or sacred text.[8] The death toll in 20th Cenutry China attributable to Mao Tse-Tsung's "Great Leap Forward" is estimated by reputable sources "to be as high as forty million."[10] However, following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, many former policies towards religious freedom returned although they are limited and tenuous, as religion is closely regulated by the government.[8]

Historically, the atheist population has tended to lean leftward in their politics (See: Atheism and politics and Secular left). According to the University of Cambridge, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[11]

Atheist activists exaggerating the number of atheists in America

In 2012, the organization PolitiFact Rhode Island accused American Atheists president David Silverman of wildly exaggerating the number of atheists in America by attempting to included the Unaffiliated (also called Nones) who made up about 15% of the United States population at the time (despite the fact that only 15 percent of "nones" identify as atheists) and by also attempting to lump agnostics with the atheist population.[12][13]

According to PolitiFact Rhode Island:

When the American Religious survey asked people what they thought of the existence of God, 2.3 percent said 'There is no such thing.'...When Pew asked a broader question -- "Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?" -- 5 percent said "No."[12]
The atheist Georgetown professor Jacques Berlinerblau likens the strength of the American atheist movement to a "gimpy little zebra".[14]

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that only 0.7% of U.S. adults identified as atheist, but at the same time 2.3% said there is no such thing as a god.[15] The reluctance of Americans to self-identify as atheists is likely due to the American public's low opinion of atheists (See: Americans have a low opinion of atheists).

The atheist Georgetown professor Jacques Berlinerblau declared:

American atheist movements, though fancying themselves a lion, are more like the gimpy little zebra crossing the river full of crocs. In terms of both political gains and popular appeal, nonbelievers in the United States have little to show. They are encircled by cunning, swarming [religious] Revivalist adversaries who know how to play the atheist card. The gimpy zebra remark was a little goofing on this over-the-top chest-thumping that emerges from Movement Atheists. They wildly overestimate their numbers. They tend to overestimate the efficacy of their activism. They underestimate how disciplined and organized their adversaries in the religious right are, too. They fail to recognize that mocking religious people in public is entirely inimical to the goals they wish to achieve."[14]


  1. Winston, Kimberly (March 24, 2012). "Atheists Rally On National Mall; The 'Reason Rally' Largest Gathering Of Nonbelievers (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  2. Benjamin Fearnow & Mickey Woods, "Richard Dawkins Preaches to Nonbelievers at Reason Rally", The Atlantic, March 24, 2012.
  3. Gus Holwerda, "The Unbelievers" April 2013
  4. The biggest Church in the world by congregation
  5. China’s Communist Party Reaffirms Marxism, Maoism, Atheism
  6. (Chinese) 倪天祚, "毛主席八次接见红卫兵的组织工作" 中国共产党新闻网 2011-04-07
  7. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved on 2011-03-05. “Seeking a complete annihilation of religion, places of worship were shut down; temples, churches, and mosques were destroyed; artifacts were smashed; sacred texts were burnt; and it was a criminal offence even to possess a religious artifact or sacred text. Atheism had long been the official doctrine of the Chinese Communist Party, but this new form of militant atheism made every effort to eradicate religion completely.” 
  8. 9.0 9.1 Bryan S. Turner. Religion and Modern Society: Citizenship, Secularisation and the State. Cambridge University Press. “The contrast between religion in American and militant atheism in China could not have been more stark or profound. While the Red Guards under Mao Zedong's leadership were busy destroying Buddhist pagodas, Catholic churches and Daoist temples, the Christian Right were equally busy condemning the communists.” 
  9. Robert Stearns (1 October 2011). No, We Can't: Radical Islam, Militant Secularism and the Myth of Coexistence. Chosen Books. ISBN 0800795202. “Reputable sources estimate the death toll in twentieth-century China to be as high as forty million, attributed directly to Mao Tse-Tung's "Great Leap Forward."” 
  10. Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on 2011–03–15. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  11. 12.0 12.1 American Atheists President David Silverman says there are twice as many atheists in U.S. as Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists combined By C. Eugene Emery Jr. on Sunday, February 26th, 2012 at 12:01 a.m.
  12. Meet the 'Nones:' Spiritual but not religious
  13. 14.0 14.1 Professor Jacques Berlinerblau tells atheists: Stop whining!, Christian Century, Sep 14, 2012 by Kimberly Winston
  14. Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, [1], March 2009, American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS 2008], Trinity College