It appears as if the Reason Rally organizers are setting in place their very own--live,  in person, full color--straw man fallacy. They have invited the Westboro Baptists to their Washington D.C. "Reason Rally."

Let's review a little history surrounding the Reason Rally.

  1. The premise of the Reason Rally is supposedly to show the nation that atheism/secularism is reasonable.
  2. TrueReason.org responds by declaring its intent to come to the rally to reason with atheists.
  3. Atheists respond with mocking and outrage and demand to be allowed into Christian churches (example).
  4. TrueReason.org responds with an initiative to invite atheists and skeptics to churches.
  5. Many atheists respond by indicating that they don't want to go to church (example).
  6. TrueReason.org publishes a book demonstrating that though the “New Atheists” claim to be the defenders of reason, they’re not very good at it.
  7. The rally organizers invite the Westboro Baptists to the rally. Westboro is known for its angry demonstrations and un-Christian and un-reasonable responses to cultural issues.

A straw man fallacy is when someone tries to refute "an unfairly weak, stupid, or ridiculous version of your opponent's idea (either his conclusion or his argument) instead of the more reasonable idea he actually holds."[1] Does anybody think the rally organizers are setting up just such a scenario on purpose? Why would they INVITE the Westboro crowd? Carson Weitnauer, a member of True Reason, wrote a brilliant response to that question in his blog The Reason Rally and the Westboro Invitation. He says,

But regardless of what Mr. Klawon has said in his letter, the transparent motivation for inviting Westboro is obvious: to create a contrast at the gathering between atheists and the Westboro group, in the hopes that this gets spun in the media as a contrast between atheists and Christians.

In this article, well worth reading, Weitnauer points out that 1) the rally "organizers aren't very interested in rational dialog, 2) "when they do reason, they do so poorly," and 3) they demonstrate a "profound lack of respect." He continues,

As I see it, inviting Westboro to the Reason Rally makes the Reason Rally look less reasonable and more ridiculous. But maybe I’m wrong. In any case, I would love to hear how the National Atheist Party and the Reason Rally organizers believe that this invitation to Westboro enhances the credibility of their gathering. 

Your thoughts are welcome at Weitnauer's Facebook community.

For further reading:
If you are interested in seeing how the problems of irrationality and unreasonableness are problems that more broadly characterize the New Atheism, we just released a book on the subject. It’s called True Reason and is available for sale at Amazon.

[1] Socratic Logic, by Peter Kreeft, p.79.