A couple of days ago I talked to Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service about the joint statement with Richard Dawkins and about his recent adventures on Twitter. Her article is now posted.
So now I can tell you that that’s what prompted yesterday’s farewell to Dear Muslima.
Dawkins declined to be interviewed, and a representative for his foundation said a statement he made on its website would be his final word on the subject.
Yet the current dust-up may have served as a wake-up call. On Wednesday (Aug. 6), presented with criticisms collected for this story, Dawkins added to an existing post on his foundation’s website.
“There should be no rivalry in victimhood,” the addendum to the post reads, “and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist … that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.”
Now to begin at the beginning.
It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record.
Late last month, two heavy-hitters within organized atheism, activist Ophelia Benson and scientist Richard Dawkins, reached a detente of sorts about online debate and posted it on their separate websites.
Heh heh heh. Two heavy-hitters. Like I’m on his level. Like I’m a heavy-hitter at all. Heh heh heh.
Not that I’m going to argue!
“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not,” the statement reads. “ 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.”
Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.
“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” Dawkins said on Twitter, where he has almost 1 million followers. “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” Another tweet applied the same logic to “mild date rape” and “violent date rape,” and still another compared “mild pedophilia” and “violent pedophilia.”
The sad thing is…this article was going to be about the statement. Just the statement. I think Richard probably would have enjoyed that article more.
On the other hand we now have farewell Dear Muslima, so maybe it’s for the best?
Atheists say controversial things online every day. But Dawkins’ position as the godfather of the modern atheist movement has revived a question that’s been percolating for at least three years: Has the famous scientist become more of a liability than an asset for the movement he helped create?
I’m genuinely torn about that question. He did blow open a lot of doors, and I do still think that was valuable. But…his Plainspeaker shtick has been a magnet for a huge throng of Plainspeaking shitheads who don’t have his talents but do have his taste for being confrontational. That can make organized atheism a massive turnoff for a lot of people.
That’s what I said to Winston, except I knew I had to leave the swears out.
So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.
“Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.
Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.
“In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”
To put it another way, I don’t think “go away and learn how to think” is a helpful thing for a heavy-hitter to tell people who disagree with him on Twitter.
Even some of Dawkins’ critics say they are heartened by his recent statement over the “Dear Muslima” incident.
“I consider this a very hopeful sign that he’s gaining a better appreciation of perspectives different from his own,” [Adam] Lee said. “I’m not going to say that this one statement wipes the slate clean, but it does make me more optimistic and hopeful that his understanding will continue to evolve.”
See what Adam did there? “Evolve.” A friendly little joke.
Anyway – that’s what I think too. We’re not going to agree on everything. I very deliberately composed the statement to say at the outset that we’re not going to agree on everything. But we can disagree without being total shits about it. That will work better. We should do that.