Good Question, Ridiculous Answer
Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/08/2010
I have to confess a prejudice I have. There’s hardly anything that I find as off-pissing as an atheist idiot. My emotions labor under the delusion that we atheists/freethinkers/skeptics/humanists/doubters — call us what you will — are supposed, somehow, to be smarter than religionists. Of course, that’s a ridiculous idea, because human ignorance has no limits.
Today our local rag, on its “Life + Faith” pages, ran a feature that began with a well-written paragraph about the Catholic Church “navigating the dark waters of abusive clergy and a seemingly complicitous hierarchy.” Nice. The writer then posed the following “Question of Faith”:
When dealing with abusive situations within a congregation, do churches have an obligation to do more than what the law requires? What steps, if any, does your church or congregation take to protect its membership from sexual predators, spouse or child abusers? Does your faith community have specific ministries to help such victims or to prevent such problems?
Tough question. Religious “leaders” — ha! — have access to hundreds, maybe thousands of vulerable kids. In many cases, this access occurs with the encouragement, or even the connivance, of the youngsters’ parents. If “leaders” happen to be pederastically inclined, they can easily use their alleged moral authority to prey on some of the children with whom they come into contact, and then hide their despicable criminality behind a veneer of piety.
As you might expect, most of the answers contained some claptrap about the essential goodness of the church, and how there are, unfortunately, some bad apples in every serving of applesauce. But, yes, churches do have a commitment … etc., etc., etc. Some of the responses were quite articulate, others not.
But the stupidest one by far came from “Alex Grigg, assistant organizer, Lexington Atheists Meetup.” I don’t wanna say “I told you so.” (who’m I kidding? Of course I do!)
Anyway, here’s Grigg’s response in all its semi-literate glory. Note that I’ve highlighted some words and phrases that particularly made my sparse hair stand on end. The notes explain why.
It is the responsibility of every organization, faith-based or not, to at least meet the minimum requirements of the law.1
Atheist organizations don’t have the problem of abusive leaders very often2 because we don’t see our leaders3 as being much4 different than the rest of us.
We also don’t consider our organizations to be representative of the will of a higher power, so it is easier5 to acknowledge and correct any mistakes6 that are made.
We believe7 that all of us8 are equal under the law and that any abuser should be reported immediately. We don’t have many9 official policies with regard to abuse, because there are very few10 atheist groups with formal child care or meetings geared towards children. Our events11 like Camp Quest, which are specifically aimed at children, do require criminal background checks of the leaders and would not tolerate any hint of inappropriate activity.12
1 Not responsive to the question, which specifically asks whether churches have an obligation to do more than what the law requires.
2 The implication is that there are some examples of atheist organizations that have had such problems, and that the writer knows what they are.
3 Atheist organizations have officials, officers, spokespersons. But they have no leaders, at least not in the same sense as “religious leaders.”
4 In what way are those non-existent atheist leaders different at all from other atheists?
5 “Easier” than what?
6 Is child abuse merely a mistake to be acknowledged and corrected? Sheesh.
7 Who are “we”? And how does the writer know what “we” believe?
8 Is there an “us”? Who are they? All humans? Americans? Atheists only? Or just members of the Lexington Atheists Meetup?
9 Can the writer name even one such official policy?
10 How does the writer know how many atheist groups in the country offer formal, or even informal, child care? How does he know how many of these organizations have meetings specifically geared to educating and/or entertaining children?
11 A camp is not an event.
12 The question is about sexual predation. Why gloss over its seriousness by calling it “inappropriate activity” that’s not to be “tolerated”?
The last paragraph is barely English, but never mind. I was far more concerned that Grigg’s response, merely by appearing in the “Life + Faith” pages, spread any number of false notions about atheism and atheists. So I immediately tossed off an email to the editor of the section. In a short personal introduction addressed to her, I let her know that Mr. Grigg was not empowered to speak for anyone other than himself. In fact, I wrote, a number of group members had made it quite clear to him that he was not to pose in any way as “an atheist leader,” nor to pretend to represent “atheists.” Then I suggested she print the following:
I’ve been an atheist all my life, and I must say that the response by Alex Grigg to your recent “Question of Faith” gives a number of false impressions about atheists and atheism.
Atheism isn’t an “-ism” in the sense of a religion or a worldview. Atheism is merely the rejection of a particularly pervasive idea, theism. Many self-proclaimed atheists, although not all, are faith-free. Most of us, again not all, put no credence in the concept of a “higher power.” But we share no set of specific beliefs. There are no sacred books of atheism, no tenets or credos, no orthodoxies or established hierarchies, no ultimate authorities whatsoever. Atheist organizations, per se, are not comparable to churches because we don’t gather together to worship or to pray. Some atheist organizations, like the Lexington Atheist Meetup, are loosely formed social groups, comparable to bridge clubs or quilting bees or coworkers joining one another after hours for a few beers. Other atheist organizations are essentially legal action committees, working to ensure the rights of all Americans to think and speak freely. But atheists have no leaders in the way that followers of religions have leaders. Our organizations may have elected officers or duly appointed spokespersons, just as do organizations like the Audubon Society or the Chamber of Commerce, the Symphony Guild or AARP. But unlike religious leaders, our officials are not expected or empowered to claim universal atheist truths. There are none.
Asking an atheist to address a tendentious question on the “Life + Faith” pages is the same thing as asking a vegetarian to respond to a question on the “Life + Meat” pages. Why not occasionally run a “Life + Reason” feature? You could ask a question of various atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, and humanists in the area. There are plenty of us here. Or, alternatively, you could commission essays now and then by Lexingtonians who live a faith-free life. Our writings might provide a fair balance to the overwhelming Saturday religiosity of the Herald-Leader, and perhaps even help our fellow Kentuckians understand what some of us non-Christians think.
I doubt that my response will be printed, or my suggestion given serious consideration. Although I wrote very carefully, avoiding words like numnuts and peabrain, I was still probably not genteel enough. How could I be? Seven answers were published in response to the “Question of Faith.” Having read them all, I was embarrassed that the least articulate, worst reasoned entry came from a fellow atheist. But that’s just my prejudice in action, isn’t it?