Should We Shun Reprehensible Behavior?

Should skeptics and atheists shun those within that don’t represent the best temperament when confronting opinions or arguments that don’t fit within their particular ideological bubble?


There’s been quite a bit written about this subject this week, primarily based on the statement produced by Atheist Ireland. To recap, Atheist Ireland has decided it will dissociate itself from one P.Z. Myers, based on what they contend is his “harmful and hateful rhetoric”.

If you’re not aware, this has created a bit of a storm between those that support the position of Atheist Ireland and those that support Dr. Myers. Accusations of misrepresentation have been made by both sides.

Is this just a tempest in a teapot or are there more serious issues lying underneath that need to be addressed? The main theme, in my opinion, seems to be civility in a disagreement. We can criticize, even harshly, an idea, but we should never resort to petty name calling. I think most people reading this would agree.

However, there are some, Dr. Myers being one, that regularly utilizes the latter technique and of course, his audience eats it up. Others, like myself, are often embarrassed by his discourse. Here’s an example from a post from May of last year:

I’ve got to start carrying a knife now. Just so all you Christians know, if I’m in a fatal accident, and I’m lying in the street dying, and you’re not running over to stop the bleeding or otherwise physically help me, and you try to pull that prayer-and-conversion shit on me, I’m going to stab you. I’ll have nothing to lose, and you sure as hell don’t deserve to continue living. I don’t like violence, but I will make an exception for this one possible circumstance.”

(Emphasis mine.)

I get it. He hates christians. Moreover he hates the misrepresentation of atheists in a christian movie, God’s Not Dead.

I’m not entirely sure what he thought the message might have been. An intellectual discussion on the existence of god? This from a movie made by and for a christian audience?

Does his review deserve the clearly violent rhetoric in the above paragraph? What does it accomplish? Well, for me the the answers to those two questions are no and nothing. It’s strictly for shock value, or as we call it in the blogosphere, click-bait.

I try to never use the word hate when I’m referring to either a person or even an idea I find repugnant. If I cannot effectively argue against an opinion in which I disagree without descending to invective of any type, I shouldn’t be arguing at all. That type of argumentation does nothing to inform anyone. In fact, it does more to debase the the person utilizing that tactic than it causes actual harm to the rhetorical target.

To state the obvious, it’s ideas and not people. What I’ve seen in blogs this week addressing this little drama is mostly just that. Some however, cannot help but attack the messenger. No, I’m not going to link to their specific blogs here, most of you are already aware of whom I speak.

So, the question remains if skeptics and atheists should shun those that are deemed to be toxic? Understand that dissociation is not shunning, but the effect may be the same.

3 thoughts on “Should We Shun Reprehensible Behavior?

  1. The problem is, PZ is a self-aggrandizing dick. He thrives on attention. It’s how he makes money from ad revenue. All of the people on his side of the aisle operate the same, they’re self-promoting attention whores. This current mess isn’t hurting him, it’s driving more people to his site to check out what he has to say. That’s more revenue for him. The best thing for people to do is never to talk about him, never to pay the slightest attention to his childish antics, pretend he doesn’t exist at all, stop going to his site to see what recent stupidity he’s engaged in, etc. If we want him and people like him to go away, we have to stop looking at the train wreck that is Pharyngula. I did it years ago and don’t miss it at all.


  2. I guess I’m not entirely sure about the distinction between dissociation and shunning in this particular context. Assuming that dissociation more of a personal act (e.g., I personally won’t read his blog anymore, link to it, etc.) while shunning is more of a social act (e.g., encouraging others to stop reading him, stop inviting him to conferences), I suppose I’d support the former and reject the latter. It is not my business to tell others who or what they should read.


  3. The old Christian maxim goes, ‘love the sinner; hate the sin.’ Perez hates the sinners.

    But that is not part & parcel of atheism. It is endemic in persons with damaged psyches, anger management issues, & impotent rage. Like PZ Myers.


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