Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reason clouded by hate.

There are days I really dislike some of my fellow atheists.  This is one of those days.

During Skepticon (a convention I really wish I could go to one year), a Gelato store owner a block away posted this obviously offensive, mockworthy sign.
Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian Business
This emphasizes my previous complaint about atheists being treated as vile, untrustworthy, generally-not-nice people, and when I first saw the blog post displaying the photo my immediate reaction was to laugh, discount the guy as a bigot, and move on with my day.  I gave it no more thought until I saw this (apparently) genuinely honest apology from said store owner.

To the World:

Hello, my name is Andy and I’m the owner of Gelato Mio, a gelato shop located in Springfield, Missouri. There has been quite a lot of buzz and discussion concerning a picture of the sign I briefly posted in my front window Saturday evening. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my story and offer a heartfelt apology to your community. I messed up, plain and simple. This is NOT an excuse, but how it happened from my perspective.

I decided to welcome the convention downtown by offering the attendees 10% off their purchases at my store. A lot of the group from the convention were stopping by, being very polite and enjoying my Gelato. Saturday night started out as a great night. Once the store slowed down, I decided to walk down the street to learn more about the convention, fully thinking it was something involving UFOs (“skeptics”). What I saw instead was a man conducting a mock sermon, reading the bible and cursing it. Instead of saying “Amen”, the phrase was “god damn”. Being a Christian, and expecting flying saucers, I was not only totally surprised but totally offended. I took it very personally and quickly decided in the heat of the moment that I had to take matters into my own hands and let people know how I felt at that moment in time.

So, I went quickly back to my business, grabbed the first piece of paper I could find, wrote the note and taped it in my front window. This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable. The sign was posted for about 10 minutes or so before I calmed down, came to my senses, and took it down. For what it’s worth, nobody was turned away. I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to their beliefs. I’m not apologizing for my beliefs, but rather for my inexcusable actions. I was wrong.
Guys, I really don’t know what else I can do to express my apologies. I’ve received dozens of calls and hundreds of emails since the incident, and have done my best to reply to each and every one and express my regret for what happened. For the thousands of you whom I’ve offended, I sincerely apologize. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. This is me as a human being sincerely apologizing for my actions.
To those of you who accept my apology, Thank You; it means a lot. To those of you who haven’t, I hope you will. I’m just a 28 year old small business owner who made a big mistake. I hope you see that I have not made any excuses, I’ve owned up to what I did, and I apologize.

For what it’s worth, an Atheist reached out to me to help me work through all of this and contact your community directly. I graciously accepted his offer.

I will give everyone who comes to my store this week 10% off as a token of my apology. Really, what’s more universal than ice cream?

Sincerely, Andy
Good for him.  Maybe it's clever PR trying to get past the stigma he placed on his shop, but it seems to me like the guy had a gut reaction, overreacted, and wanted to express his apologies for being a douchenozzle.  I think most reasonable people would take it at that, understanding that when we get offended, we tend not to think rationally.  This isn't a christian condition, so much as it's a human condition.  If someone attacks something you value, the first reaction is almost always to go on the defensive.  I know I have on more than one occasion, and I've seen it in my believer and nonbeliever friends.  This is part of my issue with the notion of the sacredness of anything.  If we allow ourselves to be offended by ill-treatment of objects, it clouds our judgement and keeps us from being logical about the issue.  He was affected by this ill logic due to the mistreatment of his sacred book, and overreacted.  The logical response was to understand, shrug it off, and move on with our lives.

PZ Myers doesn't agree:
There is an asymmetry here. GelatoGuy lives in one of the most religious countries on earth, in a particularly intensely religious part of that country, and in a moment of smug self-righteousness, felt he could openly discriminate against people who do not respect his beliefs. And now he thinks he can walk away, forgiven, and return to his blithe happy Christian pocket universe, just by saying a few words. And we, of course, will turn around and think he’s a nice , sincere, classy guy.

Meanwhile, we will still be regarded as the least trustworthy minority in the country; we still have to deal with the fact that we are excluded from the political discourse; we still have to walk into courtrooms with the ten commandments on display; we have to watch these nice, sincere, classy people elect gay hating bigots, anti-science know-nothings, and flaming misogynists to high office…but hey, they’ll apologize to our faces when they risk losing our business. And then go back to church to listen to their priests fulminate against the godless, go into the voting booth and vote against civil rights, go to their school board and piously try to ram their faith into our children’s faces.
I understand his rage.  Christianity as a whole has a very cushy position in America, and the kind of discrimination he displayed is fairly common in certain parts of the US.  Atheism as a movement is regarded poorly, and people think poorly about us.  Yet it seems that PZ and others have lumped all Christians into the same category: people in Jesus-bubbles who can't see atheists in any kind of positive light.  I understand that sentiment, too.  My own mother had the emotional reaction that she was a failure as a parent because I turned to atheism.  Eventually she came to understand and respect my decision, and we're past that point, but that gut reaction is a common problem that many believers share.  Becoming an atheist is like becoming a convicted criminal to many.  You've gone down a notch in the quality of your character by becoming one.

So yes, PZ is very much in the right to be offended, but the offense of the many does not justify disrespecting a single man who, while somewhat prejudiced against us, openly admitted that what he had done was wrong.  Whether he feels we're immorally bankrupt, he acknowledges that treating us like second-class citizens is inappropriate.  No one should discredit this man for being offended.  He has the right to be offended.  Hell, he should have been.  From what I understand, it was intended to be an offensive piece.  He made a really dumb, bigoted mistake, and owned up to it.  What's more awesome than that?

I really like "friendly atheist" Hermant Mehta's take on it:
No one’s letting Andy off the hook for being a bigot. He still disapproves of atheism. Who cares. The point is that he (now) knows that his act of discrimination was wrong. We ought to show some appreciation when someone admits they made a mistake, even if the person isn’t completely on our side of the big picture. The next step is to get him to realize why there’s nothing wrong with what was said at Skepticon in the first place, but that’s a separate battle.

What I don't like is what one of his commentors said:
I completely disagree that this makes everything okay. Say he heard that Pride Day was going on and thought it was some patriotic gathering; he instead saw gay couples kissing, and subsequently banned them from his establishment as a kneejerk panicked response? That would not be quickly forgiven, likely by many; why should this be treated any differently when the bigotry was just as real?
I see a couple of key differences here.  The first is that gay couples kissing is not designed nor intended to offend, just as skeptical people sitting down and talking about the flaws of religion or generally making logical arguments are not designed to offend.  The second is that yes, I think the example she gave here should be treated with the same level of forgiveness.  People can be dumb and bigoted, and cutting them off doesn't give them the exposure to get past those prejudices and move past a place of ignorance and into a place of knowledge.  PZ may think people should be confronted with full-frontal atheism from the get-go...

Perhaps, on the schedule, we could print little chili peppers next to the titles of the talks? No peppers means it will praise Jesus, five peppers means the content will send any Christian listeners straight to hell?

I find this whole idea far more offensive than what GelatoGuy did — it is atheists and skeptics rushing to self-censor themselves, to mark some of their ideas as publicly shameful, and to acquiesce to ignorant public opinion. I’m not going to support that kind of behavior at all: sure, welcome the public, including delicate Christians like GelatoGuy, to the event, but don’t coddle them. This is who we are. Be proud.

...and I can appreciate that sentiment.  Yet it's not offensive to suggest that he first listen to a milder voice of atheism.  People view atheists as belligerent, condescending assholes, and the best way to break a prejudice like that is to show someone an example of an atheist who isn't a belligerent, condescending asshole.  We can be proud of who we are yet also be reasonable people, starting with little baby-steps and moving onto the great leaps of grokking our ideas.  I became an atheist because of reasonable people who didn't push me, followed by belligerent assholes who challenged me.  I think there's plenty of room for the dicks of the atheist community just as there's room for the "accomodationists," and for PZ to think that being accomodating and friendly is worthy of rage is deeply offensive and, dare I say it, foolish.

There's got to be a middle ground somewhere.  There's room enough in this movement for the obnoxious and the soft-spoken, for the belligerent and the peaceful, for the offensive and the accomodating.  Yet even the most obnoxious shouldn't look at a man's apology as a reason to condemn him.  Give him a bloody chance to grow from this experience and realize that being an atheist doesn't make us immoral, indecent, or evil.


  1. TL:DR Dick move results in counter dick move. Hippie idealism results in... stoned world?

    Sadly, I think most people hold their belief system, whatever it may be, as sacred along with all the tools and toys that go with. Most people become angry/highly offended/butthurt when they are questioned or their toys are played with. :(

    And here's my issue with PZ. On one hand, I can totally see why no one would want to be censored for a larger religion, where people want the right to free speech. Atheists get hammered on pretty frequently, as I learned after the last post I commented on. (See? I do my research!) On the other hand a guy who just wandered down to see what was the haps and saw a whole group of people mocking something he considers important. I guess it seems to me that whereas they have the right to hold the mock sermon, they *know* it's a dick move, and they *know* that it's going to upset/anger/hurt the people who believe in it. (Yes, many Christians are assholes, why be like them??) So I'm somewhat confused as to why PZ is advocating not Atheism or skeptics but assholes. It isn't about self censoring in my mind, it's about dealing with the consequences of your actions. You have a right to make fun of people who don't believe the same things you do. You just get to deal with the fall out for it. Call people wrong for being gay, get fall out. Mock sermon, get fall out. Props to GelatoGuy for realizing it was a dick move and rectifying it. Takes balls to get over your own prejudices and to own up to a dick move reaction.

    Personal reaction? *shakes her head* I don't know. Mocking someone for the path they follow is hypocritical at best and vicious at worst. Mostly because your path isn't right either, not completely and not for everyone. And it doesn't matter who you is in this instance or what their path is. Why? Because it isn't completely right, and it isn't right for everyone.

    To be continued...

  2. This whole situation leaves me uncertain on an emotional level. It doesn't make me angry so much as it disappoints me? Each hate spewing person/organization/whatever is pretty much all the same in my head. I don't know how to fix it and I don't see how one differs from another. I guess in cases like these I tend to quickly go back to my hippie roots. In my opinion, the world needs to spend less time judging, less time worrying about everyone else, less time trying to make other people unhappy, less time spewing hate, and more time living their own lives. That makes for happy people. Happy people make for a happy world, right? I'm gonna go trip off into the world of rainbows and blue birds now...

    The worst part? We all do it. We all judge. We all think our way is better than someone else's. And the proof of that is that we follow our way or switch to a way we think is better. You went from Christian to Pagan to Atheist. I went from Catholic to Atheist to Pagan to whatever the fuck I am now. Non-Practicing Poly-Pantheistic QuakerPagan? Holotheist? (holo- meaning whole) Ontheist? (ont- meaning existing) Omnitheist? (omni- meaning all). Hippie? I don't believe in religion, but I believe that whatever you need to believe in to be comforted is cool so long as you aren't hurting anyone(This excludes people offended by that fact that you believe it. They hurt themselves honestly. Just don't use it as an excuse to be cruel and I'm golden). There's room for all gods, and all gods exist because someone believes in them. Even if it isn't true, so what? You can't prove it and there's no reason to irritate someone else by pushing your god/belief/science/whatever down their throat. Try being *Insert name here* sometime! *laughs* There's plenty of other Atheists around to talk to. I have yet to find someone who believes what I do and ALL sides think I'm stupid. And even in the face of all sides think I'm stupid, somewhere in the back of my head I look at all situations like this and think smugly, "Thank goodness *I'm* doing it right." Even if it's not consciously.