Friday, April 11, 2008

Thick Skins v. Sad Clowns

The atheistical blogospheres have been alive with commentary about the incident earlier this week in which an Illinois state representative, Democrat Monique Davis, very curtly dismissed an atheist, Rob Sherman, from a public hearing and issued very sharp words about his atheism. Here's the overview of the story, such as it is:

Rep. Davis told atheist Rob Sherman that, "What you have to spew and spread is dangerous" and that "This is the land of Lincoln where people believe in God."

But, after being on the receiving end of a week's worth of public criticism, Davis called Sherman yesterday to apologize.

Sherman says Davis told him she "took out her frustrations and emotions on me and that she shouldn't have done that." Sherman says Davis' explanation was "reasonable" and that he forgives her.
Isn't this enough?

She said the stupid thing as part of an emotional outburst, and she soon regretted having said the stupid thing. (And yes, it was a stupid thing.) She called and apologized to the party directly offended, and he accepted the apology.

I am not naming any names here, but I think the atheist community should refrain from stamping our feet, shaking our fists, and demanding broader apologies, mea culpas, retractions, or the like. I would not like to see the atheist community become just another fount of aggrieved outrage, just another tiresome grouping of professional victims. I would not like us to sound like Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, who makes a career of making a ridiculous, tear-faced clown of himself over every tiny slight against his favorite church.

I don't speak for all atheists, but I think our movement -- and it is that whether we recognize it as such or not, and regardless of how well we actually organize -- needs to stand for vigorous words and forceful criticisms, and should stand against the notion that candor may be vetoed by the emotional states of others. We should insist on the right to offend, and that means accepting some incoming offense. I say we need to cultivate thick skins and expect the same of others.

Let's leave the sad clowning to the faith-addled, shall we?

1 comment:

Lynet said...

Much as I sympathise, I have to disagree. Monique Davis can choose to make statements like that about atheists if she wants, fair dinkum. But if she's going to apologise in the first place, she should be aware that she doesn't just owe an apology to Rob Sherman. She owes an apology to the atheists in her state, too -- or if not an apology, an explanation that she does in fact stand by her statements!

At present, we really don't know where Rep. Davis stands. When she referred to school shootings in her apology to Sherman, was she implying that atheists are somehow responsible for that? We don't know exactly what she said, because it was a private apology, not a public one. At the very least, I'd like some clarification from her.