Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Do We Owe Someone an Apology?

If you're looking for a post that's going to take sides in the sexual harassment/rape scandals in the atheist community, you've come to the wrong place. I am in no position to tell you that any person is guilty or innocent of anything because I've had nothing to do with these situations and I've not experienced anything personally. I'm not a lawyer, an accuser, or a victim. I'm looking at this from a sort of outsider perspective and I just want to share some thoughts. So again, if you're looking for someone to take your side in the drama (whatever that side is), you won't find it here.

First, I want to say that if you've been accusing everyone who doesn't fully agree with you of "not being a real skeptic" or "not thinking critically" then please stop. This is a gross insult to many in the skeptic community. Most of us can and do think for ourselves. The fact that we refuse to jump on every popular bandwagon (including yours) should tell you that we aren't just "sheeple." You are not the sole arbiter of truth and we aren't convinced that your opinion is right just because you believe it is. We don't want authority figures to tell us what to believe - we are thinkers who are going to figure this out ourselves. It may take us more time to come to a conclusion than you did (some of us have to spend extra time reading, observing, researching, and sorting this stuff out), but that doesn't make us stupid. It means we are careful.

Second, I've been thinking about how we deal with these outcries. When people accuse Catholic priests and other pastors of rape or sexual assault, we don't typically demand a lot of evidence. We don't wait for these cases to go to court or for a jury to convict. We usually shrug, say "Who's surprised?" and show sympathy for the (alleged) victims. We demand that the churches stop moving around the perps and covering up the scandals. We seem to be pretty comfortable with the idea that a priest accused is a guilty priest indeed.

When you turn the tables and put the same scenarios in the atheist community, we act differently. Many desire "evidence" of the accusations, demand a trial before we can decide, and come up with all manner of reasons why the harassment/assault/rape probably didn't happen since the accuser didn't report it, or is anonymous, or whatever. We seem to be pretty comfortable with the idea that our own leaders are innocent unless there's enough evidence for a jury to convict.

It seems to me that we have a severe disconnect in how we handle these cases. Do we owe all those priests and pastors an apology for deciding they are pedophiles without a trial or "proper" evidence (not even a victim's name)? Or do we owe the apologies to those in the atheist community who have reported harassment and rape and were met with scorn and ridicule?

I'm sure there is a middle ground that I haven't covered. That's what I'd like to explore here in a calm, civil manner. Are we falling victim to our own prejudices or is there some substantial difference in these cases that I'm failing to see? 

*I'm not much for monitoring comments but, if someone tries to derail the thread or attack other people, then you can expect those comments to be dealt with. Stay on topic and please be civil while you are a guest in my blog house.