|Dr. Michael Shermer receives an award|
for his work with Skeptic Magazine.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some have told me that I should completely ignore people like PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Rebecca Watson because this is the only way to reduce their habit of writing outrageous content to elicit criticism, interpret the criticism as “harassment,” and then use that as an excuse to disparage and demonize those who dare to express disagreement with them. Assuming they do this primarily to drive traffic to their blogs, ignoring them might help to reduce that traffic and lead to a healthier approach. Others have argued that one cannot ignore the bad apples in our midst without engaging in the sort of hypocrisy of which we often accuse the religious moderates who will not speak out against their extremists. Besides, they say, ignoring them means their bad behavior goes unchallenged, leading others (e.g., journalists) to think we might approve of their behavior and/or agree with their outlandish claims. I’m not sure who is right here.
I write this post now because recent events have made me question my initial thought that the behavior of these individuals and their supporters was somehow irrelevant to atheists in Mississippi. For at least three reasons, I think this may have been a mistake on my part. First, while a handful of bloggers who write for Freethought Blogs or Skepchick have been going after regular folks for some time, they are now showing an increasing willingness to target high-profile figures. Recent examples include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Michael Shermer. We aren’t talking about calmly expressing disagreement with the ideas of these men; we are talking about accusations of sexism, misogyny, racism, and even rape. It is hard to consider this behavior irrelevant to atheists, regardless of where they live.
Second, there have been a number of horribly one-sided articles appearing in media sources like The Guardian, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and others in which the views of these bloggers are presented as accurate versions of reality. The uninformed reader is bound to come away from such articles with the impression that atheism has all sorts of problems. Since atheists exist in society and not in a vacuum, why would anyone expect atheists would be immune from the variety of problems plaguing the society they inhabit? Again, it seems like public perceptions of atheism, especially when intentionally distorted to promote a particular ideology, are bound to be relevant to most atheists.
Third, I find it noteworthy that respected figures have recently began speaking out against this behavior and its toxic effects on secular activism. If it is sufficiently bad to draw the attention of someone like Michael Nugent (the chair of Atheist Ireland) or Jerry Coyne, my claim that it is irrelevant to atheists in Mississippi seems indefensible. And so I must contend with the possibility that I have been wrong on this point.
Does this mean that I am going to start writing about the appalling behavior of some of those who write for Freethought Blogs or Skepchick here at Mississippi Atheists? No, I don’t think so. Even if I’ve been wrong about the question of relevance, I’d really prefer to say what I have to say about this subject elsewhere. I can’t help thinking that atheists in Mississippi have far more pressing matters to occupy our time. So while I’ve likely been wrong to think that it wasn’t relevant, I still find it rather low on my list of priorities for this blog. I hope that makes sense.
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