It was a big weekend for Vancouver skeptics. On Friday, July 30th, we hosted biology professor, speaker and celebrated science blogger PZ Myers. Sunday, August 1st saw us marching (“dancing” would be a more accurate term) in Vancouver’s Pride parade.
UPDATE: You can now follow me on Twitter, you lucky people!
Yesterday, skeptics from the BC Humanist Association, the SFU Skeptics, and of course CFI Vancouver gathered at Robson and Thurlow to take part in Vancouver’s annual Pride parade. This parade is ostensibly intended for members of the gay community to stand up and be seen without fear. Over time, it has become a venue for community groups to show their solidarity with the gay community.
What were we doing there?
Humanists have long been in solidarity with the gay community. The central tenet of humanist thought is the idea that the ultimate good is for human beings to be able to determine their own lives. A corollary of that is the belief that the way to judge the morality of an action is its consequences to humankind. Demonizing homosexuals makes no sense to humanists, since being openly gay makes people happy, and hurts nobody.
In addition to our philosophical allegiance to the gay cause, humanists and skeptics see a meaningful similarity between the gay community and our struggle for mainstream acceptance. It’s barely been 31 years since the Stonewall riots, which one might call the beginning of the gay movement. In that short time, we’ve seen major social progress for gay people in North America and Europe, and we’re seeing progress in places like South America and Africa.
Atheists face similar discrimination and misunderstanding in the face of hyper-religiosity worldwide. Luckily, thanks to vocal mainstream atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, and of course PZ Myers, atheists have entered the public domain and are actively taking part in the conversation. Our presence at the Pride parade was, for us, one more step towards mainstream recognition and acceptance.
What did we do?
About 15 skeptics (sorry, I should have counted and I didn’t) met in the staging area for the parade, with bright colourful clothes, face paint, signs, banners, a recumbent bike, and a great deal of optimism and energy.
In addition to the BC Humanists and CFI banners, we carried a large banner with the now famous slogan “There’s Probably No God, Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” from the Atheist bus campaign. The virtue of this slogan is that while it is definitely an in-your-face proclamation of our position, it is about as inoffensive and positive as any such a slogan could be.
We marched the prescribed parade route in between Worksafe BC and an anti-bullying campaign. Sadly, we were not able to march alongside the religious groups, or what I termed the Cognitive Dissonance Squad:
How did the crowd react?
Honestly, I was expecting the crowd to be either indifferent or hostile. Vancouver is a city with many faiths and many churches, and where people don’t often challenge each other’s beliefs. We were mounting a fairly aggressive and open, unashamed assertion of our position, much the way we did previously with Deepak Chopra.
Once again, however, the people of Vancouver surprised me. Far from being merely tolerant, we had an overwhelming amount of support from the crowd. Everywhere we went, we were confronted by cheering, applause, and people laughing as they read the banner, eagerly pointing it out to their friends. Many (I assume) atheists in the crowd shouted their assent, seemingly grateful that there was a group there supporting their beliefs. You can see what I mean in the following video:
The crowd shots I’ve included in that video are not cherry-picked – they are a fair representation of the entire crowd at the event. The response was unbelievably and uniformly positive. Please forgive the shaky camera work – I was dancing my skeptical ass off.
Some summarizing thoughts
What we have seen in our past forays into ‘skeptivism‘ is that people are generally receptive to new ideas. While I personally fall more on the confrontational side of the confront/accommodate debate, I recognize that a variety of methods are needed, since each individual is different. The city of Vancouver acted, to my eyes, like a group of people who were ‘closet’ atheists, and who were waiting for someone or some group to stand up and say “we’re here, we’re skeptics, get used to it.”
The past few months have seen major growth in the skeptic community here in BC, with the addition of a third Skeptics in the Pub site in Richmond, and the start of a branch of CFI in the Okanogan. We’ve picked up a great deal of steam and visibility thanks to our presence at Pride, and we hope to continue this momentum into the fall. We hope that other skeptic groups, particularly our comrades in the USA, undertake similar acts of open skeptivism, and that they receive the same positive response we enjoyed.
Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for linking to this post! Welcome to all Pharyngulites.