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One Rope Across the Chasm

Excellent. Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins together have managed to pull a rope tight.

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

[Read the rest. Especially those drive-by slimers who seem to think they're on Team Dawkins. My, don't you have a nasty shock coming?]

Can that particular divide be bridged? Remains to be seen. There’s more to this than admonishing the worst behaved amongst us – Dawkins has a lot of anti-feminism, casual sexism, and general promotion of people who do the exact things he excoriates to work through. But one sturdy rope can, in time, become a bridge. I do like to see leaders come around and realize that they have a part in ensuring atheism is welcoming to people who wish to improve the world rather than shit all over the people who try to make marginalized lives better. I like to see people whose work I’ve admired in the past start to understand that maybe, possibly, they’ve gotten a few things wrong, and come round, and do their bit to make things better for people other than their cohort. And it’s important for leaders to model better behavior, and expect better of their followers. Good on you for starting that process, Richard. Long may your bridge-building continue.

Image shows a black lab puppy biting a taut rope.

A puppy with a rope to help with outreach efforts. Image courtesy I Can Has Cheezburger.

(This doesn’t erase Dear Muslima and problematic statements about pedophilia and such like, mind. I’m pleased with this statement – but it’s really simple to support not being overtly awful, isn’t it? Still. More than I expected, and I do thank you. And major kudos to Ophelia for pursuing this.)

Of course, there are many people who won’t be crossing that bridge if and when it’s built. They can’t seem to live without making other people’s lives miserable. I think they’re about to find themselves on a very small island with a vast ocean between themselves and the rest of the “movement.” The Westboro Baptists of atheism, indeed. And we shall hold them in the same esteem as we do those… interesting… people.

Comments

  1. rq says

    If that puppy keeps up with chewing on that rope, we all know what’s gonna happen…

  2. rq says

    Excuse the initial pessimism.
    Of course the joint statement is one small, yet excellent, step forward – in acknowledging that such harassment exists and is problematic. Hopefully something more substantial than words shall follow.

  3. Mobius says

    Aw. Puppy.

    Seriously, though…This is an important subject, IMHO, that needs discussion in the atheist community.. The approach our side (and IMHO the right side) needs to take is the one you are suggesting…remain calm, but make strong arguments in favor of our position.

  4. Onamission5 says

    I approve of the presence of the rope, and acknowledge the efforts it took to secure that rope into place.

    Still won’t be shimmying across any time soon.

  5. rq says

    Wellp, the rope seems to have frayed slightly… And so soon. Though to be fair, there are no threats or abuse of any kind involved in this… umm… disagreement. Just a whole lot of thoughtlessness.