Outraged in Sevenoaks

Avery at Gravity’s Wings has a good post about outraged exclamations about a putative “outrage culture” which are actually about ordinary, common-or-garden criticism directed at something the exclaimers consider Their Territory. We all know what those look like!

Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”

Cue the outrage about outrage that wasn’t even outrage.

DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!

On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:


And Ed Clint joined in and on it went, as it does.

None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”

There are some trigger-happy people around, of course, but not all criticism is Soap Opera Atheism or outrage culture or call-out culture or any of the rest of the jargon. Plenty of criticism is just criticism. And it’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? None of these people are pillars of the Status Quo Community. They’re all reformers themselves, so what do they even mean by it? I suppose they mean “I say I say, excuse me, that’s my ox you’re goring, and I’d rather you didn’t.”

As Avery very neatly says.

It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.

These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.

Read the whole thing.


  1. zubanel says

    Having only seen the three pages on display, I don’t see why anyone thinks this is a bad idea other than people who don’t like it because they think it attacks their religion, which it does. I don’t see what makes it a bad idea.

  2. Al Dente says

    DJ Grothe has a history of this sort of thing. Remember how he complained that numbers of women attending TAM were down because of gossip on blogs. When pressed for examples, he quotemined Rebecca Watson’s article in USA Today and gave a couple of other quotes that didn’t actually say what he claimed they did.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    I’ve often made the point that the Christian God is indistinguishable from an abusive spouse (except in magnitude) and that the Christisn God is the worst deadbeat dad in the history of ever. No, people of faith don’t like it. But all they have to bring to the table is “I an OFFENDED!!” because they can’t refute a single point of the arguments. I’m sure I’m missing the main point – in which case, I invite someone to indulge in a Captain Obvious moment and clarify for me – but there is nothing anyone can say that will cause me to accept full responsibility for everyone else’s feeeeeelings to the point that I must tiptoe around, being ultra careful I don’t offend anyone for any reason, fully aware that someone else’s claim of offense is all the evidence required to prove I’m wrong. About everything. Fuck that shit.

  4. jambonpomplemouse says

    @1 and 4
    If you would care to actually read this post that you’re commenting on, you would see that there are several links in the second paragraph in which people have outlined the criticism of the book in question.

    You seem awfully upset that other people are criticizing something you like, because it trivializes a serious social issue (domestic violence) that is, well, often trivialized. You might not personally care about such things, but that is no reason to pretend that everyone else (besides you, of course) is just crying about their feelings.

  5. says

    I have said several times that Ezekiel 16 sounds like the rant of an abusive husband trying to justify his abuse. Does this comparison trivialize domestic abuse?
    Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question. I want to know. If it does, I will stop making this comparison.

  6. Blanche Quizno says

    @ 5, the fact that so much of what the Bible attributes to its god sounds *exactly* like an abusive partner – how does this “trivialize” domestic abuse, when historically and to this very day so much of patriarchy in general and the abuse it fosters by reducing women to the status of possessions/servants/trophies/adornments has been based on and justified by what’s in the Bible? Please help me understand. I do not see how anything here is being “trivialized” – these are serious allegations that deserve to be addressed and evaluated on their own merits.

  7. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I too am curious about the offensiveness of this book, so I followed one of the links Ophelia generously provided.

    [somewhat OT]
    In general, people should follow (at least some) links in posts they want to comment on. Especially if they have questions that the post itself doesn’t touch on sufficiently. Those links are there for a reason.

    *goes off to read*

  8. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    What really rubbed me the wrong way about it instantly when I went to look at Mehta’s post is that the artwork has a rather joke-ish feel to it, as if it’s poking fun at the situation. That and the quote that he’d hoped non-religious people would be entertained by it. Right because “haha religious people are just like abuse victims and that’s funny because lol abuse.” Or something. Just….ick.

  9. says

    So… let me get this straight…

    They are outraged that we are outraged that someone did something outrageous only we aren’t outraged but they are outraged because they think we are outraged because the something outrageous was realized to be outrageous because someone pointed out it was outrageous and now they are outraged that someone could be outraged by something outrageous and that’s outrageous and therefore they are outraged that someone else was outraged and as a result they are now engaged in outrageous behavior because outrage?

    Now outrage has stopped looking like a real word to me.

    And that’s outrageous.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.

    The phrasings of these debates often get confusing, but here, e.g., doesn’t Avery mean people call it “outrage culture” if they do like the target of the “outrage” (such as the Judeo-Christian god)?

    (Which latter to my mind more resembles an abusive father than an abusive boyfriend, but my limited experience in such matters doesn’t give me much of a base for comparisons.)

  11. Dunc says

    So “outrage culture” is bad, but being outraged about “outrage culture” is good? I’m confused. It’s almost like these people have absolutely no self-awareness.

  12. says

    First, I recommend people read Sarah’s post at Skepchick on the subject.

    I think the trivializing aspect of the metaphor comes from a few factors. First, gods don’t exist, and abusive partners do. Second, it’s a bit like Dawkins’ “Catholic children may be more abused by the teaching of Hell than by pedophile priests.” That may, in fact, be true in some cases, but to say so in a general way dismisses those whose experiences of domestic abuse were far worse than their experience with religion. More generally, it’s a lot like his saying religious indoctrination is “a form of child abuse.” It’s overgeneralizing on every level.

    There are more general issues, too. It rubs against the notion that women are more prone to supernatural beliefs (and thus less rational), and insinuates (especially in this case) that being religious is being like an abused woman.

    From a rhetorical perspective, I don’t know what it’s meant to accomplish beyond making people who already agree with the statement nod along. Christians certainly aren’t going to see their loving god in the analogy, and atheists are already convinced that religion is bad without dragging in problematic, potentially triggering imagery.

    The utility of the “abusive partner” analogy may be better served in recognizing the similarities and realizing both why people stay in abusive relationships and what they need to get out. Telling someone “your god is an abuser” isn’t going to do much more good than telling them “your boyfriend is an abuser.” It puts the abused person on the defensive and makes you an opponent. Instead, forming a support system that shows respect for people in abusive situations and provides a safety net for when they decide to leave is going to be the more useful option.

    Unfortunately, the people clamoring for more thought and effort being put into the supportive community and safe space aspects of the atheist movement are the same ones being dismissed as “outrage culture.”

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