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 Joan Denoo on Thursday

Michael, I like Silverman's style, too. The Firebrand form of thinking appeals to my nature and to be strong, firm, decisive, and confrontational matches my energy level. I confess to being angry, and it shows. I will leave the street epistemology to others. I will gain that style, I suppose, if I reach the ripe old age of 90, but for the 80s, Firebrand comes from my marrow. 

Yes, I have feet of clay, if I stop and think about it; I tend to be abusive in my confrontations, but not assaultive, as some allege against Krauss & Silverman.  So, we lose some brilliant men if we denounce them for what they believe are responsible or respectful behaviors. So, we have to find others who can help us interpret complex science and complex strategies to deal with religious dogma. Treatment of women as objects comes directly from religion and that is where I want to aim my artillery. 

When I state that I lack a belief in god and another states that he or she is offended by my statement, well, so what? Am I supposed to not speak my truth? Or am I to walk on eggshells and self-monitor my honest expressions? Or am I expected to remain silent? Why should my statement of belief cause another to be offended and if it does, so what? 

I like Steven Fry's response to the notion of "offense." 

Comment by Grinning Cat on Wednesday

"...hostility exists as an ever-present challenge for feminism as with racism. They both suffer profound harm because of the teachings of the bible."

Agreed, Joan! I see the Bible, and patriarchal religions in general, as symptoms (and enablers, in a vicious cycle) of the larger problem of Dominator Culture.

"...The printed word lingers longer than a vocal protest..."

Case in point: some other words of yours, which I rediscovered when revisiting the "Partnership Vision" group: "Do you have memories of a father or preacher or judge speaking with a voice of Moses spewing out some ridiculous statement? [...] Well, if they can speak with the voice and authority of Moses, I can speak with the voice and authority of Mother Earth. She outranks Moses by a whole shot!"

And I too was glad to hear about your granddaughter's partner's assessment that "there would never be abused children or battered wives" in your family "because the women wouldn't stand for it"!

Comment by Michael Penn on Wednesday

I am quite well aware that many say atheists approach religion too condescendingly with strong words that only drive the religious away. Personally I like the militant atheism of David Silverman and others. I do not handle the religious with kid gloves and I'm aware that my words will not instantly "de-convert" them. I was once one of them and it took me many years to wake up.

Do we also have some bad apples in our un-belief? Let us just ask the question "are we all human?" As humans we have feet of clay. 

I recently told a long time friend of mine on the phone that I am an agnostic atheist, then I explained what that mean. Certainly I am not going to put the burden of proof on myself. I've known this man since we were both about 12 years old. His response was a classic believers reaction. He thinks I am "protecting myself on both sides." In other words I have some sort of convoluted reasoning that protects me from his god. I have to go pretty hard on that.

What god? How am I protecting myself from your god? What you do not understand is that there is no evidence for your god at all. I cannot protect myself from something that doesn't exist. The approach is like crossing your fingers and not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. I have to tell it like it is and if I do that without verbal grace it goes along more with who I am. Sorry if you are offended, but we all get offended sometimes. 

Whether we are right or wrong it is important that we pick up the fight ourselves and not rely on others who are famous for doing so. Along the way be aware that we are all human.

Comment by Joan Denoo on Tuesday

Frankie, any thought of remaining quiet and acquiescing to suggestions to remain silent just gives me more energy to protest loudly and often. Stedman's reason for stepping away from atheist groups was a growing sense of overt sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim bias. That is a reason to stay within the atheist community and resist any overt or covert sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim bias. Silence is never the remedy for such situations, just as silence did not benefit the family violence problems. 

Stedman reports, "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."

Online is a perfect place to challenge all those elements that ignore reports of feeling unsafe and unwelcome. The printed word lingers longer than a vocal protest and can be used to reinforce an ongoing struggle for equality of opportunity to participate in atheist discussions. 

My reasons for being anti-theist seems similar to yours. Both of grandmothers and my mother had horrendous problems because of being women in a society that kept all family violence under cover and behind closed doors. The pleas for justice went unheard by clergy, church member, law enforcement, and the judicial systems. 

The partner of one of my granddaughters told me there would never be abused children or battered wives in my family because the women wouldn't stand for it. That pleased me; I don't have to worry about their vulnerability after I die. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on Tuesday

Loren, I very much like your statement, "I would rather care about PEOPLE than ideology." Your care and compassion appear in your comments, especially with hurting people. 

Grinning Cat, hostility exists as an ever-present challenge for feminism as with racism. They both suffer profound harm because of the teachings of the bible. The challenge is a tough one for both groups and it takes quick thinking and firm commitment to stand up against sexism and racism. When we do stand up and speak out, we become labeled with all kinds of ugly names. If/when we stop, our silence implies agreement with the prejudices.

So, the struggle remains and we learn how to maneuver in hostile environments. A growing number of individuals refuse to be victims and that is a good thing. 

Comment by Grinning Cat on Tuesday
Loren, that hostility you've seen among some atheists to feminism and other social-justice causes might well be connected to the visceral, FURIOUS opposition some have to "Atheism Plus". (For instance, look at the dueling definitions at urbandictionary.com and the [probably ballot-box-stuffed] upvotes and downvotes.)
Comment by Loren Miller on Tuesday

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 Tuesday

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 Monday

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 Monday

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. 

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