I accept your apology, GelatoGuy

Apparently some guy running an ice cream shop in Missouri put up a sign saying people attending a nearby “skeptics” conference were not welcome at his Christian business. Naturally, this caused a big stink. It is illegal and stupid to refuse the business of people because of what they do or do not believe in terms of religion. The owner, now known as “GelatoGuy”, didn’t take long to backtrack. He issued an apology, even taking the time to explain his actions:

Once the store slowed down, I decided to walk down the street to learn more about the convention, fully thinking it was something involving UFOs (“skeptics”). What I saw instead was a man conducting a mock sermon, reading the bible and cursing it. Instead of saying “Amen”, the phrase was “god damn”. Being a Christian, and expecting flying saucers, I was not only totally surprised but totally offended. I took it very personally and quickly decided in the heat of the moment that I had to take matters into my own hands and let people know how I felt at that moment in time.

So, I went quickly back to my business, grabbed the first piece of paper I could find, wrote the note and taped it in my front window. This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable. The sign was posted for about 10 minutes or so before I calmed down, came to my senses, and took it down. For what it’s worth, nobody was turned away. I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to their beliefs. I’m not apologizing for my beliefs, but rather for my inexcusable actions. I was wrong.

This is probably one of the better apologies I’ve ever seen. Even if he’s just looking out for his business interests, it sounds entirely genuine. And, anyway, there is zero evidence that he isn’t 100% sincere. I see no reason to reject a bit of what he said.

But in addition to the above letter, GelatoGuy went ahead and reached out to some of his most well-known critics, including PZ. This was the response he got:

Apology not accepted. What I see in you is a person who hates me for not believing in the nonsense of your religion; while you may now be in a panic because your actions were unethical and illegal, and you were caught out, and face economic consequences for them, I don’t see any sign that your attitudes have changed in the slightest.

You’ll just have to live with the fact that I won’t be buying your ice cream on the rare occasions I visit your town, while I have to live with the fact that I live in a country where my rejection of your religion makes me a pariah. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to make up for that.

And here I thought PZ was all about understanding the perspectives of others.

This isn’t that hard. GelatoGuy got emotional about an issue close to his heart. As a result of that emotion he made a mistake that lasted for about 10 minutes. What he did wrong has been fully rectified; it isn’t like he defiantly left a sign up for days on end, refusing people based upon religious reasons. I suspect if the tables were turned, PZ wouldn’t be all that hesitant to forgive an atheist shop owner.

But I also want to address another issue that is part of all this: “skepticism”. First, if you’re American and you spell it with a “C”, you’re a pretentious douchebag. I prefer British grammar and some British spelling, but only where it makes sense. Quit being a douche, you douche. Second, and much more importantly, the word “skeptic” is almost devoid of meaning. I really hate the term and I understand why GelatoGuy first associated it with UFO’s. People of all stripes use it to suit their given purposes. Atheist? Nah, bro, I’m a skeptic. Humanist? No way, guy, I’m a skeptic. Global warming denialist? Think again, dude, I’m a skeptic! What people really mean is, “I have come to a conclusion about [issue] and I would like people to hear my point of view, so I have couched my opinion in anti-dogmatic terms.”

Let’s be honest. The “skeptics” conference, Skepticon, was an atheist convention. And that’s great. If one ever comes to my area, I will be likely to attend. And yes, of course most of the people there were open-minded. They have drawn many general conclusions, but they are a group which highly values science – that is, they value changing their beliefs based upon evidence. But that doesn’t make them “skeptics”. Fuck, I have no idea what makes someone a skeptic besides a self-declaration.

PZ raises a good point, though, even if he intends it in a way entirely different from what it really means:

But oh, no, a real skeptic conference is supposed to limit itself to UFOs, and chupacabras, and bigfoot, and ESP. As if we have a gigantic problem with a Republican government diverting vast resources into the search for cryptids and mind-reading, as if our educational system is overwhelmed with demand to teach the controversy about little green men, as if religion is somehow on a completely different plane from beliefs about alternative medicine or quantum vibrations.

This isn’t about “real” skeptic conferences. It simply comes down to connotations. The term is generally associated with the things PZ listed. Any other time it is used, it’s just empty rhetoric.

I fully agree that if someone thinks UFO’s, chupacabras, Bigfoot, ESP and other BS constitute fair game for a “skeptics” convention, then so does religion. It isn’t like there ought to be something special about how we treat religious beliefs versus any other beliefs. But that’s as far as PZ’s point should go. The rest is effectively an acknowledgement that the word “skeptic” is associated with certain things that have nothing to do with the conference – he ought to understand why GelatoGuy was surprised, not to mention why the word should be abandoned: it doesn’t mean a damn thing. Besides that, the whole point here is to be unafraid to be outspoken regarding the fact that we are atheists. Let’s use that fucking word, huh? It would be clear, direct, get more attention, and most of all, be honest.

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5 Responses

  1. A few thoughts:

    PZ’s incivility never ceases to astonish me. A guy bends over backwards to apologize, admitting a huge error and losing face in the process. PZ’s response is to drag him through the mud.

    Skepticism should always be spelled with a K, even in Britain. I don’t know how they go through life having to read it as ‘scepticism’ all the time.

    The point of calling ourselves ‘skeptics’ is to distinguish us from the New Age weirdos who don’t believe in a deity but who think that homeopathy makes sense. I do agree that most people think of a ‘skeptic’ as one who doesn’t hold with UFOs, so I use ‘skeptical atheist’ as a compromise.

  2. Ugh, this comment from PZ made me cringe:

    “I do not demand that he become a skeptic and rational thinker — that’s not my right. It is my right to reserve my respect for those people who deserve it, and he hasn’t earned it.”

    Yes, you have the right to do that. I just think your decision to do so is foolish.

    Is he trying to make us look bad?

  3. As opposed to the un-skeptical atheist?

  4. Well, yes. An example of a non-skeptical atheist is my father: He doesn’t believe in God but he believes in homeopathy, out-of-body experiences, naturopathy, UFOs, etc. He might be skeptical about God, but not about what many people (e.g. GelatoGuy) think of when they think of skepticism.

  5. Fascinating. I consider myself something of a skeptic, although I believe in God. I don’t necessarily believe what man says about God though. I figure the odds are so astronomical it’s all academic to debate whether there is or isn’t.

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