Friday, September 13, 2013

Demanding Repentance from Dawkins

One of the heroes of the atheist community, Richard Dawkins, has transgressed a Very Important Rule in the freethinker's catechism and now the community of the non-religious, or at least part of it, is raining anathemas down upon the sinner demanding his repentance. As I wrote last Wednesday, Dawkins has been under fire for "insensitive" comments he made recently that were thought to be too dismissive of the seriousness of child molestation.

Now a petition has been circulated which garnered 600 signatures among atheists and humanists demanding that he retract the comments and "condemning" him for his insensitivity. Here's part of what the petition said:
We, the undersigned atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other non-believers, hereby condemn Richard Dawkins' continued comments trivializing what he termed 'mild' sexual abuse of children. Dr. Dawkins is seen by many as a representative of the atheist community -- but when it comes to his dismissive comments on the incredibly serious topic of sexual abuse, the atheist community emphatically does not stand with him.
This sounds all very pious, I suppose, but exactly how would the atheists who signed this petition answer the question, "what, precisely, is wrong with what Dawkins said"? The signers obviously don't like his remarks, but that's no reason to think that there's something reprehensible about them. Here's the last paragraph of the petition:
Those who have signed this petition vehemently oppose Dr. Dawkins' trivialization of sexual abuse victims. As humanists, freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics we wish to voice our opposition to his insulting vitriol. We find these statements derogatory, dismissive and harmful to victims of sexual abuse and view his ideas on this subject abhorrent. As such, we utterly repudiate them.
Okay, but what makes them abhorrent? His comments may indeed be hurtful to victims of abuse, but why, on atheism, is it wrong to say something that hurts another person? Dawkins' comments about religious people are certainly hurtful, but no petitions condemning Dawkins for his "insulting vitriol" against religious believers in his many writings have been circulated by his fellow atheists. Indeed, they lionized him for his insults.

The problem is that on atheism there is no moral right or wrong, there are just behaviors people like or don't like. It seems odd that atheists would take the trouble to express their "vehement" opposition to behavior that merely offends their personal tastes. In fact it seems pretty silly.