Remember the Tshirt?


Jack Vance of Atheist Revolution seldom misses an opportunity to fume about you-know-what – the divisive dogmatic atheoplussoFTbullyo bloggers and their friends. He always misrepresents the facts when he does so. (For instance he casually said I misrepresented Michael Shermer. Not true. I quoted exactly what Shermer said.) He drags the subject in again now when one would have thought the subject was something quite different.

If you read Hemant Mehta’s (Friendly Atheist) recent post about how the London School of Economics (LSE) recently freaked out over two atheist students wearing Jesus & Mo t-shirts during a student organization fair, you’ll know that the title was a perfect description of the take-home message: Wearing Jesus & Mo Shirts Doesn’t Mean You’re Discriminating Against Christians and Muslims. Indeed, it doesn’t.

So far so good. Ok for another three paragraphs. But then we get to the real subject, the subject that must never be put aside if it can be helped.

As I read Hemant’s post, I found myself gripped with an odd sense of deja vu. Taking offense at a silly t-shirt and equating it with things like discrimination…why did that sound so damned familiar? And then it hit me – it is not just religious believers who do this stuff. Remember the t-shirt Dr. Harriet Hall wore at TAM and the reactions she received? Some atheists took offense and equated wearing a t-shirt with harassment.


The two are not the same.

You know what? If Chris and Abhishek had worn Tshirts saying “I am not a stupid mozzie” then I wouldn’t be defending them, and neither would other reasonable people. But then of course Chris and Abhishek wouldn’t wear Tshirts like that, because they’re not assholes.

Vance goes on.

In concluding his post, Hemant asked the important question:

At what point should we stop caving in to people who can’t handle fair criticism of their beliefs?

Now. Now is the point at which we should stop caving in to those who refuse to tolerate criticism of their beliefs. Hemant is right that this is the question we should all be asking. Bad ideas, whether they are religious or not, must be criticized. And as long as we are criticizing ideas, we cannot let ourselves be dissuaded by misplaced howls of discrimination, harassment, and the like.

No. A personal insult or taunt is not the same thing as criticism of beliefs. Now is the point at which people should stop conflating the two.


  1. says

    They keep tweeting this on Twitter to me/others —>

    Stephen Fry making a perfectly good observation about offence, but in a particular context. It’s a totally different category to extend to personal insults or, even worse, slurs that attack the person. Beliefs cannot be hurt and if you happen to hold a belief strongly and are hurt by someone ridiculing that belief it really is a totally different thing to being personally attacked or being dehumanised. Not really in atheists best interests to try and say that applied to everything since those arguing on the religious offence side try and equate the different categories as being the same. We should be more nuanced than that.

  2. Al Dente says

    Harriet Hall’s t-shirt was a deliberate slam at a certain person who said she did not feel safe and welcome at TAM and gave specific reasons for that feeling. Jesus and Mo is satirizing religion, generally Christianity and Islam. Somehow I doubt Vance understands the difference between insult and satire.

  3. says

    That Stephen Fry line…I remember when he said it. It’s a great line, in the right context. It does not mean everyone should be as mean as possible. It does not mean no one ever gets to be offended by anything no matter what. It means announcing you’re offended is not a conversation-stopper when you have no legitimate claim to be offended.

    Some imbecile on Twitter yesterday who is of the “sexist epithets are fine how dare you ask if I would call someone a nigger how dare you accuse me of being a racist” school of thought informed me “racism, sexism & rape deeply frownedon & mightI add illegal. Cunt is just a swear word” & “at worst it is offensive. And you don’t have a right not to be offended”

    Yeah I do. Not a legal right, generally, but a moral right, and often a workplace right and the like. In many contexts and situation I damn well do have a right not to be called a cunt.

  4. says

    “White Pride” and “It’s OK to Not Be Gay” t-shirts aren’t attacking anyone either. Doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to a hostile environment.

  5. says

    Not only are the kinds of offense different . I don’t remember Skepchicks asking the convention organizes to kick Hall out of TAM for wearing that t-shirt. They just voiced their disagreement and criticism of Hall for wearing it. Christians at that university are also perfectly entitled to disagree with the t-shirt. I don’t think the scandal is because Christians don’t like the t-shirt (it is supposed to challenge their beliefs afterall), but because the University threw the studies out of the activity because of the t-shirt.

  6. says

    Now is the point at which we should stop caving in to those who refuse to tolerate criticism of their beliefs

    Notice that Hemant asked “tolerate fair criticism of their beliefs”(emphasis mine) and intellectually dishonest apologist left it out? Does that change the sense of the question at all? You bet it does.

    When someone says “you don’t have the right not to be offended” I usually reply, “I also have the right to retaliate in kind. Are you sure you want to continue to pursue that line of reasoning?”

  7. says

    (* admittedly “fair” in Hemant’s question makes it circular. After all, if it’s “fair” criticism, then by definition, it’s OK. That’s what “fair criticism” means. I think Hemant was stacking the deck in his favor a bit hard with that one, but editing his question was not intellectually honest)

  8. says

    I wish people would stop rehashing the whole Harriet Hall/T-shirt thing. Dr. Hall and Surly Amy have long since discussed the events of that conference and Hall even said that had she known her shirt might be taken to be an offensive statement, then she never would have worn it. From that I take it that she meant it to be a purely personal statement about herself and in no way the backhanded insult that it turned out to be interpreted as. So for Vance to dredge this up again as an example of “fair criticism being called harassment” says a lot more about his apparent need to make a rhetorical swipe at FtB et al. than it does about the argument he’s pretending to make or the people involved in that very real incident.

  9. blondeintokyo says

    Bullshit like that is why I stopped reading his blog. I truly do not understand how people can’t get that hurting someone’s feelings on purpose with personalized insults and taunts isn’t the same as criticising bad ideas. Now that I don’t bother trying, and stopped interacting with his commentors,I actually feel much more positive about the world in general.

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