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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

It was late February, 2018 when I first learned about issues regarding Lawrence Krauss and his inappropriate behavior toward women. Then in the first week of March, I got an email from American Atheists, indicating that David Silverman was being suspended from the presidency of that organization, pending an investigation. One week later, I learned that he has been removed from that position. In both cases, the only forthcoming source of details regarding both Krauss and Silverman is Buzzfeed, a website which while it lacks the serious mien of NPR or CBS News has apparently sufficient credibility to move multiple organizations to take punitive action against both individuals.

This is hardly the beginning of the problems associated with the atheist movement and untoward behavior. Rebecca Watson and the “ElevatorGate” incident dates back to 2011, with repercussions which continue to have impact to this day. Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine has similarly been skewered by Buzzfeed, along with other luminaries of atheism as a part of the rising #MeToo movement. Observations regarding the participation of women in atheism and questions regarding their treatment have been rife ever since Ms. Watson’s aforementioned complaint and possibly before then. Even as the fundamentalists have had their Jim & Tammy Fae Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, those of us who espouse no faith are now forced to acknowledge that our side of the ledger is not above problematic behavior. The superficially clean and shiny image of atheism has, perhaps predictably, run headlong into the reality of human frailty. It’s our turn for a wake-up call.

The most obvious question at this point is: What do we do about this? Do we throw Krauss and Silverman and the others like them under the bus and move on without them? Some atheists already have in Krauss’ case, and I personally think such action is both presumptuous and foolish. The truths which Krauss has elucidated, whether about cosmology or atheism, do not become invalidated simply because his behavior with women is reprehensible. The same may be said for Silverman’s unremitting assault on irrational belief. The fact is that our societal rules dictate that they are both, at least for the time being, personae non gratae, and as such will be rendered out of the public eye for some prescribed period of time as a part of any effort to rehabilitate them, if that can indeed be accomplished. It is worthy of note that both the Bakkers and Swaggart were ultimately accepted again by their followers at varying rates, though it may also be said that their subculture as a rule is far less critical of such faux pas as ours may be.

Ultimately, moving forward from these incidents means at least in part that, while we may have people we admire, whose words we wish we had spoken ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we are all human and we all fuck up, including and especially our heroes. We need to recognize that to best represent atheism, we first need to be our authentic selves and not merely fans in a fan club. We need to keep our own houses in order and be examples of decent human beings who just happen not to believe in ghosts or fairies … or deities.

Rather than having a few public atheist standard bearers who carry the weight of the movement, perhaps each of us should be our own upright representative of godlessness and share that weight, remembering that we all have feet of clay, but can all aspire to grow and become better together.

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Comment by Stephen on April 20, 2018 at 10:39am

Exactly, Loren, we must always take seriously all accusations of inappropriate behaviour but innocent until proven guilty must always come first.

Comment by Loren Miller on April 20, 2018 at 9:32am

There is a difference between believing an accusation, regardless of source, and ACKNOWLEDGING an accusation, as a prelude to moving forward with investigation and possible formal charges.  To do otherwise would be to assume guilt and require proof of innocence, which would fly in the face of the structure as well as the traditions of our legal system.  Worse, it would mean said system had succumb to a form of "special pleading" in the face of such accusations.

That's bad enough when religions do it.  The courts never should.

Comment by Stephen on April 20, 2018 at 9:22am

When I suggested the same online the other day I was told to shut up because we must always believe a woman's accusations. Whilst I totally support the #Me Too movement. this sort of atmosphere infantilises woman and presumes they cant look after themselves. The Woman's movement has come a long way over the years but until we have total equality the struggle must continue. 

Comment by Loren Miller on April 20, 2018 at 9:06am

I agree, Stephen.  I'm all for the #MeToo movement, but I also will insist that accusation is not equivalent to conviction in a court of law.  What makes me wary is that shaming in the public sphere may become a substitute for the legal system, a development which could be nothing other than seriously problematic.

Comment by Stephen on April 20, 2018 at 8:53am

I never for one moment thought as an atheist we would be immune from this type of behaviour. Whereas inappropriate behaviour is something we should all try to avoid and criticise. I'm a little bit surprised that peoples lives are being destroyed by accusations without full due process. I'm a man who during my long life am sure I've acted inappropriately and I'm sorry for such behaviour but that doesn't mean I'm guilty of a crime

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