Too many of my heroes have feet of clay!
-- Joan Denoo

It was late February, 2018 when I first learned about issues regarding Lawrence Krauss and his inappropriate behavior toward women.  Then in the first week of March, I got an email from American Atheists, indicating that David Silverman was being suspended from the presidency of that organization, pending an investigation.  One week later, I learned that he has been removed from that position.  In both cases, the only forthcoming source of details regarding both Krauss and Silverman is Buzzfeed, a website which while it lacks the serious mien of NPR or CBS News has apparently sufficient credibility to move multiple organizations to take punitive action against both individuals.

This is hardly the beginning of the problems associated with the atheist movement and untoward behavior.  Rebecca Watson and the “ElevatorGate” incident dates back to 2011, with repercussions which continue to have impact to this day.  Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine has similarly been skewered by Buzzfeed, along with other luminaries of atheism as a part of the rising #MeToo movement.  Observations regarding the participation of women in atheism and questions regarding their treatment have been rife ever since Ms. Watson’s aforementioned complaint and possibly before then.  Even as the fundamentalists have had their Jim & Tammy Fae Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, those of us who espouse no faith are now forced to acknowledge that our side of the ledger is not above problematic behavior.  The superficially clean and shiny image of atheism has, perhaps predictably, run headlong into the reality of human frailty.  It’s our turn for a wake-up call.

The most obvious question at this point is: What do we do about this?  Do we throw Krauss and Silverman and the others like them under the bus and move on without them?  Some atheists already have in Krauss’ case, and I personally think such action is both presumptuous and foolish.  The truths which Krauss has elucidated, whether about cosmology or atheism, do not become invalidated simply because his behavior with women is reprehensible.  The same may be said for Silverman’s unremitting assault on irrational belief.  The fact is that our societal rules dictate that they are both, at least for the time being, personae non gratae, and as such will be rendered out of the public eye for some prescribed period of time as a part of any effort to rehabilitate them, if that can indeed be accomplished.  It is worthy of note that both the Bakkers and Swaggart were ultimately accepted again by their followers at varying rates, though it may also be said that their subculture as a rule is far less critical of such faux pas as ours may be.

But to speak to Ms. Denoo’s quote above, ultimately moving forward from these incidents means at least in part that, while we may have people we admire, whose words we wish we had spoken ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we are all human and we all fuck up, including and especially our heroes.  We need to recognize that to best represent atheism, we first need to be our authentic selves and not merely fans in a fan club.  We need to keep our own houses in order and be examples of decent human beings who just happen not to believe in ghosts or fairies … or deities.

Rather than having a few public atheist standard bearers who carry the weight of the movement, perhaps each of us should be our own upright representative of godlessness and share that weight, remembering that we all have feet of clay, but can all aspire to grow and become better together.

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Comment by Loren Miller on April 16, 2018 at 10:18pm

Gang, this is all fine, well, and good, but I hate to say it: you're living in a bubble.  I've seen outside that bubble, as represented by atheists such as TJ ("The Amazing Atheist") and Sargon of Akkad, and believe me when I say, you have no idea how hostile these "atheists" are to egalitarian concepts, with feminism at the top of the list.  These are people who want their own way and don't care who opposes them.  They're the ones who decried the 2016 Reason Rally, because it recognized the intersectionality of atheism and other causes.  I hate to bring up the whole SJW thing, but yeah, it's very much in this mix and divisive as hell.  It's time to face facts: the atheist movement is, in places, as fractious as our opposition is.

For myself, I recognize that intersectional quality, without being obsessed with it or co-opted by it, unlike certain other atheists I could name.  I have the peculiar quality of wanting to be ME and not someone parroting someone else's line. 

I would rather care about PEOPLE than ideology.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 16, 2018 at 10:06pm

I suppose humanism is also antithetical to alt-right values. I am an anti-theist and my opposition to theism is less a product of outrage in perpetuating a great falsehood and more a product of outrage for its influence on civilization. I am guessing my reaction is fairly typical of anti-theists. 

Comment by Grinning Cat on April 16, 2018 at 6:59pm

I see humanism as antithetical to "alt-right" values. Simply not believing in or caring about deities doesn't guarantee that someone will hold ethical or humane values. Agreed that I haven't seen racism or sexism tolerated here at AN; I'm not familiar with other online atheist gathering places.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 16, 2018 at 5:25pm

Ruth, i think that association of anti-theists and alt-right is nonsense. The values espoused by the two groups are antithetical.  I am not denying that alt-right may recruit young white male atheists. Further there may be atheists who are male and white and alt-right. But to besmirch anti-theism, the individuals or the movement through a spurious association is low. It reminds me of anti-semites who call israelis neo-nazis. 

In terms of online atheist sites being unsafe or unwelcome to women or people of color ( i disapprove of use of 'people of color' as it suggest that white is not a color or that non-whites have been stained unlike the pure white paradigm) i have not often  observed it.  I have been on this site for years and any time an outright racist or sexist has shown his ugly side i and others have stood up for the intended victim. No doubt it happens from time to time but humans of any stripe or persuasion will have among their group people who are despicable. 

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 16, 2018 at 5:15pm

Joan, i hear the clarion call!

Comment by Loren Miller on April 16, 2018 at 2:58pm

One thing I haven't been for a while and will refuse to be is a victim, atheist stance or not.  Also note that I don't go out looking for fights or arguments with believers, but if they want to engage me ... well, there's that old saw about "don't throw the first punch, but be sure you throw the last one" business, and I'm a firm believer in that.

Fact is, I am far less interested in drama than I am in reality, and I think that needs to be more the case.

Comment by Grinning Cat on April 16, 2018 at 2:50pm
We Atheists can not afford to embrace that dysfunctional "victim" mentality or settle for the cheap ego boost of demonizing religionists.
[bolding mine]

Very often in other sites, I encounter commenters characterizing all religion as nothing more than a con, a swindle. Painting religious believers as deluded victims is just another side of the toxic persecutor/victim/rescuer coin. "We'll save you!"

(Of course, that doesn't do any good when believers approach us that way.)

Thanks, Ruth, for the link to Lynne Forrest's article about that drama triangle. It ties in with how people seeing themselves as victims often save up "anger stamps" and "self-righteousness stamps" that they can "cash in" to oppress their oppressors with a clear conscience. And the cycles continue.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on April 16, 2018 at 2:01pm

I believe self-examination of Atheist motives is in order. Chris Stedman's article, Too Many Atheists Are Veering Dangerously Toward the Alt-Right, is worth reading for the larger context of our anti-feminist conflicts.  

But there’s a toxic side to internet atheism. For years, women and people of color have repeatedly voiced how atheist websites, organizations, and public figures ignore their concerns and tolerate—or even actively contribute to—an environment that makes them feel unsafe and unwelcome, particularly online.

Given these concerns, it’s not surprising that areas of online atheism increasingly seem to be overlapping with the alt-right.

A 2013 study from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that the atheists who consider themselves “anti-theists,” or vehemently opposed to religion in all its forms and eager to proactively fight it, have the highest rates of dogmatism and anger.
Croft suggested that this may be at the heart of the seeming kinship between so-called anti-theists and the alt-right. The taboo-confronting ethos of both movements, where irreverence is idealized and often weaponized, enables some of their members to style themselves as oppressed outsiders—despite often being relatively privileged straight white men. Many in the alt-right and atheist movements seem to see themselves as a group under siege, the last defenders of unfettered inquiry and absolute freedom of thought and speech, contrarians and truth-tellers who are unafraid to push back against the norms of polite, liberal society. If this is a part of why the alt-right seems to appeal to some atheists—and I suspect it is—then we must take a hard look at why that is and how to address it. [emphasis mine]

In other words, defending Atheism from a rescuer/victim/persecutor perspective is toxic, and must be recognized publicly as toxic. It's no accident that men's rights groups are a prime avenue of alt-right recruitment. We Atheists can not afford to embrace that dysfunctional "victim" mentality or settle for the cheap ego boost of demonizing religionists.

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 16, 2018 at 12:54pm

Gentlemen, you haven't heard the cries of generations of women, used, abused, discounted, trivialized, and demonized. Women don't want special treatment, we want to live with rule by law, not rule by privilege. We have no interest in limiting the sexual freedom of men and women, but to commit an assault is different than the freedom to fuck. I want to be as free, sexually, as you, and if I grab your balls, or bite your dick without your consent I expect to be charged with assault. 

Comment by Loren Miller on April 16, 2018 at 11:04am

Based on what I know to date, the issue with Krauss, while not adjudicated one way or the other, is pretty well verified at least anecdotally.  Whether actual legal proceedings will follow or not, I have no idea.  Silverman's situation is far more recent and about all I know about it comes either from American Atheists (which isn't much) or Buzzfeed (which I STILL don't buy in its entirety).

And while I think the #MeToo movement should be listened to, accusation still doesn't amount to proof.



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