On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Kinds of Forgiveness

Let’s start with the theoretical. How should we characterize forgiveness, and when and why should we forgive people?

Full forgiveness involves three things:

1. Waiving all just moral and/or legal penalties, including all forms of restitution and compensation, that we would normally demand for wrongdoing.

2. Restoring amicable emotional, social, and/or professional relations with someone who has done wrong.

3. Deciding to permit oneself no ill will towards someone who has done wrong.

Sometimes we restore amicable dealings and release negative feelings only after someone has done the necessary moral restitution and/or compensation. When we do this, we give social and emotional forgiveness to the person but not to the action. The action has to be “worked off” in some way so that we will accept the person again.

Sometimes we may not harbor ill will inside but will require restitution or compensatory gestures before social relations may resume, even if all we demand from the other is an apology.

Sometimes we just let things go entirely and let people off for wrongdoing without so much as an apology because we think what they did was trivial or because we feel like their mistake was understandable either psychologically or in terms of their motives.

In cases where a person does not do sufficient moral restitution or compensation for an action’s wrongness, and we take this as an indicator that this person is not emotionally, socially, or professionally acceptable, we refuse to forgive.

Sometimes an action may be worked off but it may be so heinous or the person’s attitude so unrepentant that we nonetheless refuse to forgive them fully as people and so only partially readmit them into normal relations with us, or we go so far as to cut off all relations with them.


An apology may be made in addition to restitution and compensation or in lieu of it. What are we doing when we accept an apology? Ultimately we are either readmitting this person into normal emotional, social, and professional relationships, and/or we are agreeing not to hold personal negative feelings towards this person. In addition to working off their wrong action, they still need to specifically offer an apology because they need to indicate to us that they do not approve of the sort of action they did. This is necessary if we are to emotionally, socially, and professionally trust them. They need to make it clear (a) that mentally they understand what kinds of actions are consistent with a trustworthy character and which kinds are not, (b) that it pains them to have failed us by being untrustworthy, and (c) that in light of what they think and what they feel, they have reliably resolved to be more trustworthy to us in the future.


Making an apology is tricky business for several reasons. One is that we are not always completely in the wrong, even when we have to apologize for part of our behavior. In those cases we must make abundantly clear what we are apologizing for and what we are not apologizing for. Also, in making apologies, we are not just explaining that we understand what we did was wrong but we are petitioning for future trust. Being emotionally, socially, and professionally forgiven based on our apology means that we will regain the good will and trust of those we have harmed in the future.

To demonstrate that we deserve this when our action indicates we do not, it is important that we demonstrate (if we can) the general goodness of our character, our values, and our intentions, and give a reasonable account of how our bad action was an accident, was based on misunderstanding or remediable ignorance, or was out of character in some psychologically understandable way. In order to properly apologize, we have to take responsibility and express sincere remorse, but we do not have to grovel or accept the worst interpretation of who we are, what our motives were, or what our action was. In fact, sometimes—and especially when dealing with a general public that does not know us well personally—we have to explain why we should be trusted in the future, by giving a narrative of the past that explains how a good person could make the mistake we made and how that same good person could be expected not to make it again, in light of the regrettable consequences that it led to.

In such cases, I am often more sympathetic than most to some “not-pologies” that people make as long as they take genuine responsibility for the harms they caused. I understand they are trying to push back against attempts to demonize them. I understand that they are explaining to us how they have a character, values, and intentions, which are not hopelessly malignant but which deserve to be generally trusted in the future, despite their mistake. They are explaining not only why they were wrong but why they deserve forgiveness in the sense of readmittance into normal trusting emotional, social, and professional relationships.

I mistrust those who want to utterly demoralize those who are caught in wrongdoing, rather than understand their wrongdoing and let them take responsibility for it in a way that preserves their dignity and their right to defend their own character. I do not like the impulse to relentlessly shame and humiliate another person until they grovel.

Now sometimes a wrong action can be traced to a genuine flaw in the wrongdoer’s general character, values, and intentions, and not just to circumstances or to understandable and easily remediable ignorance. To forgive someone in that position, they need to not only explain the circumstances but need to show they understand what the flaws in their character, values, or intentions were or a willingness to figure out what they were if they do not honestly know yet. And forgiving them in a wise manner means demanding of them a resolve to conscientiously educate themselves and to scrupulously examine and improve their basic behaviors, attitudes, and motivations.


Last weekend, atheists’ civil rights were violated by Andy Drennen. He put up a sign at his business that refused admission to attendees of Skepticon 4 because he found a satire of Christianity offensive and decided to “take matters into his own hands and let people know how he felt” about it. Essentially, the way he felt was that those who satirize Christianity should be shunned and denied access to businesses otherwise open to the public. Drennen was standing up and sending a message. Effectively that message was “speak out harshly against our religion and businesses owned by Christians will refuse to do business with you”. And who knows what atheists should infer comes next? Christian landlords might refuse to rent apartments to you? Maybe Christian employers will refuse to hire you?

Drennen’s actions were illegal and a violation of our civil rights. Even in his apology he has not fully acknowledged this. He claims that no one was turned away from the store since he took down the sign after only 10 minutes. But for ten minutes anyone from Skepticon who saw the sign (including whoever took the picture of the sign) was turned away by the sign, even if they never came inside and forced him to turn them away face to face. Whether or not he is sorry, he broke the law. Whether or not he took down the sign after 10 minutes, he broke the law.

And not only did he break the law but he did so in the same way that bus and billboard companies all over America and the UK have tried to when they have discriminated against atheist advertisements while accommodating religious ones.

Drennen’s bigotry and his reaction that Christians have the right to enforce deference to their faith by denying atheists access to public space for advertising or public businesses for patronizing is a manifestation of a widespread attitude of religious privilege that assumes atheists may be discriminated against for the sake of protecting religious feeling. This is the assumption shared by Drennen and the owners of who knows how many other businesses in America. Atheists do very little that involves cooperation from businesses and look at how much explicit hostility we get from the few businesses that we do come in contact with for the purposes of advertising our ideas or running our events.

Now we come to Andy’s first apology. What does it tell us about what he thought he had done that was wrong?

To the Public:  I sincerely apologize for the posting of the note in the window. It was an impulse reaction to an event that I witnessed and it was only up for a few minutes before I came to my senses and realized it shouldn’t have been up at all.

So you know, nobody was turned away and everyone was given the same high level of service they have come to expect. Out of the hundreds of event attendees that I served on Friday and Saturday, all of them were extremely polite and enjoyed their time in my restaurant. The event that greatly offended me was conducted by one man and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.

Even small business owners make mistakes, and I sincerely apologize to those whom I offended.

All the Best,


Basically his justification for taking down the sign was that he should not have punished all of the convention goers for the actions of one offensive person. That still leaves open the question of whether or not he grasps that he should not discriminate against the offensive performer either. If all businesses run by Christians start asking Sam Singleton, the performer who was satirizing Christian revivalists, to leave their place of business, this would be an attack on the freedom of speech of all atheists meant to intimidate all other atheists into not expressing their views so harshly.

His lengthier, follow up apology throws himself on the mercy of atheists and begs for forgiveness and offers a 10% discount to everyone who comes to his store for a week. JT thinks greater sincerity would be shown if he donated 10% of his gross for a month to an atheist charity. JT reasons that this would be a less doubtable gesture of remorse than simply another promotional discount for his business in reply to a PR disaster would be.

Essentially, JT requires a compensatory action for a harmful discriminatory action if Drennen is to be forgiven. Without such an action, JT is reasoning that Drennen’s words are indistinguishable from mere damage control after he got caught, very publicly, violating people’s civil rights. Drennen’s trustworthiness is what needs to be established for interpersonal forgiveness, so I think JT is being reasonable.

People are not entitled to automatic forgiveness just for profusely saying words of apology. It is not always rude and self-righteous to demand they demonstrate in actions that they deserve to be treated like a trustworthy friend and not an untrustworthy enemy. If Drennen refused to do anything that was actually costly to his bottom line, then violating civil rights is not as bad to him as losing money. Neither our dignity nor our good will is worth what’s in his wallet.

We could just take his words as indicating that he understands what he did was wrong and that he has a character which is trustworthy to us. As I explained, I’m open to so-called “not-pologies” insofar as I think that, if they are honest, we can learn from them how someone’s actions are not indicative of their overall character. So, I do not dismiss him merely for explaining how he wound up putting up the discriminatory sign in the first place. In the second apology he was clear that he did not intend to excuse the sign but to explain how this bullying behavior on his part was out of character and only a response to an offending provocation.

My problem is that he continues, even in the second apology, to think of someone mocking his beliefs as an understandable cause for angry offense that we should hear out and identify with—even if we are not to take it as justification for what he did afterwards. I don’t think that that is the appropriate response to criticism, including satirization. That’s Drennen’s root character flaw to me. It’s not just an issue of what he did with his angry offense, it was that he was so angrily offended, ill-humored, and un-self-critical in the face of a challenge.

It is the angry offense of religious believers at even simple expressions of atheism, let alone at irreverent treatments of spurious religious figures like revivalists, that is the root problem. This is what was exposed in Drennen. He got it, after a short period, that his civil rights denying behaviors were terrible for business and were unfair to the plenty of pleasant atheists he encountered all weekend.

But does he get it that angry offense is not the right attitude to have when your beliefs, leaders, and institutions are criticized or brutally satirzied? Because that open-minded, self-critical attitude is what atheists need from religious people if we are going to be free to speak our minds as liberally as they do and not feel so much social pressure to keep quiet for religious people’s sake.

This is not a legal issue, of course, it is a moral one. Legally, Drennen can feel free to get offended and get angry when he sees expressions of defiant godlessness (though legally, he cannot discriminate against irreligious customers). But morally, why should I consider him a friend to atheists if he gets so angry and offended that we are defiantly godless? Because he offered me 10% off to come to his store and buy ice cream from him?

His explanation of how offended he was has led some skeptics and atheists to criticize other atheists for speaking out. So now he has inadvertently through his apology itself encouraged some atheists to be shyer about expressing what they really think, to avoid satire that can be misunderstood, and to bemoan the mixing of skeptical activities with explicitly atheistic ones. I share PZ’s righteous anger at this cowardly response from those he calls “fair weather atheists and sunshine skeptics”.

So, Drennen is not a friend to atheists yet. He has not renounced his attitude of angry offense, only the bigoted actions that sprang from it. He has not admitted that his angry offense was illegitimate or analyzed the ways that it manifested a spirit of religious privilege which is widespread in the culture.  Don’t get me wrong, he has a legal right to be offended by whatever he dislikes. He has a legal and a moral right to disagree with whatever he finds wrong. But morally, I think he is wrong to respond with anger and offense to sincere intellectual or artistic challenge. And I think we can see that he has harmed atheists twice—first by violating our civil rights by declining us access to his business for ten minutes on grounds of our defiant godlessness and second, now, by reinforcing the message to cowardly atheists that if we speak up or engage in satire, it is reasonable grounds for religious people to get offended.

I can forgive the civil rights violation. I’m not going to clamor for lawsuits or anything. I think JT’s right that Drennen’s behavior so far is indistinguishable from damage control and that a financial donation to atheist charities would be a clearer expression of remorse and look less like a business promotion. But I don’t even require that to forgive him emotionally.

What I require from him before I think of him as a friend to atheists, and not as a symbol of American religious privilege, is that he acknowledge that getting personally angry or personally offended by impersonal criticism, including satire, of institutions and beliefs is antithetical to the free expression and constructive discussion of beliefs.

Of course, I have made quite clear in the past how much I am against genuine personal abuse towards anyone, including religious believers. I have written a lot about how much I think that careless, false, demonizing, and bullying rhetoric that does things like call all religious people stupid and evil is also quite destructive to the discourse. There are times atheists write things that offend me as an ethical human being and a rationalist.

And I have gotten justifiably offended by religious people’s intemperate expression too. Just recently when William Lane Craig implied that intellectually driven deconversions (like mine) were really the result of sinfulness, I pushed back against his false, trivializing bullying that belittles my experience and unconscionably tries to shame conscientious doubters into staying in the faith with a lie that there is something sinful about them.

But when South Park use a great deal of intelligence and wit to satirize atheists like me I laugh, and I look for what I might have to learn from them. Because it isn’t personal and it isn’t bullying and it isn’t vilifying me or trivializing my deepest moral and intellectual choices in life. It is satire. And the world would be a worse place without it. And my atheism would be a worse and more fundamentalist kind if I was unable to deal with it with an open mind but instead reacted in offended anger.

If Drennen gets this point and wants to work on responding to challenging ideas and satirizations with thought rather than knee-jerk, closed-minded offense, he can make clear that it was not the satirist Sam Singleton’s fault he got offended. He needs to apologize not only for his actions but for his poor attitudes that led to them and acknowledge they need changing. If he does that, I will consider things entirely copacetic with him. By denouncing the religious privilege to get angrily offended whenever anyone merely dares to defy your religion’s supposed sanctity, he will be a true friend to atheists.

Your Thoughts?

Why Would Being Controlled By A Brain Be Any Less Free Than Being Controlled By An Immaterial Soul?
Alix Jules On Being An African American Humanist
Before I Deconverted: I Saw My First “Secular Humanist” On TV
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I’ll be impressed when this guy apologizes to Sam Singleton. Until then, he’s just like the kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    This was a great deconstruction of what an apology, and I can only disagree with you in minutiae. You’ve really cleared up my thinking on the matter. After the lengthy reddit apology, I had softly considered the matter closed and I thought his apology was “good enough”. I now agree that the apology is unacceptable, but I would still recommend people who are swayed slightly change their reviews to reflect that. The consequences may be too asymmetrical if they jeopardize the permanent nature of his business and long-term financial health.

  • Randomfactor

    Apologize, vi: To lay the groundwork for future injury.

    –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

  • John-Henry Beck

    I really appreciate the in-depth discussion of apologies and what it all means.
    I’m one of those siding with PZ & JT, and I really appreciate the thoughtful analysis that helps explain (to me, as much as anything) what I disliked about all of this mess.

  • chigau (本当)


    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      fixed! thanks!

  • Ƶ§œš¹

    I’ve found a nice approach to pursuing forgiveness is the following (I can share the source episode of On Being, if asked):

    Pity: the offender has suffered enough from their actions (including the reactions to their actions)
    Utility: the offender has a relationship with the offendee with emotional or practical significance
    Security: the offendee feels safe from a repeat of the offending action, either because they think it won’t happen again or because they’re more prepared for it.

    In the case of GelatoGuy, he’s met the first measure but as others have presented here and elsewhere, he doesn’t seem to get what we all see wrong with his actions. He’s also overall irrelevant to our daily lives except that we are talking about him and considering what this sort of thing means.

  • john

    My thoughts: This town is going to breathe a sigh of relief when Skepticon pulls up stakes and leaves.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Not happening. And it will only get bigger as religion loses more and more ground.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

    I find myself somewhere in the middle here, but I have to say I’m baffled by the idea that anyone should care whether the guy is or is not a “friend to atheists.” I don’t need another friend. I don’t want him as a friend. And I don’t care if he gets offended. I don’t really even care whether he is sincere or not. I only care that he doesn’t discriminate.

    • John Morales

      You’ve adumbrated my own position, Ed.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Well, obviously I don’t mean that he has to be a personal friend to each of us. But in his letter he’s begging to be forgiven, not just ignored, now that the sign is down. He wants us to not have negative attitudes towards him and to not rate his business badly as unfriendly to us.

      My point is that anyone who does not want atheists to think ill of him even after he has treated us in a discriminatory fashion, should stress to us that they get that religious privilege is bad and that being offended is the wrong emotional response to having your ideas challenged or satirized.

      But yes, if all you want to look at is the level of rights, I don’t care on that level whether he gets offended. I care here about morality and social relationships, etc. And I think it is a weakness of character to get offended at the wrong things and will not treat friendly in the blogosphere those who do that. And I think, on those grounds, PZ and JT are right to feel the way they do, that they can refuse to treat this guy like he’s made proper amends for them to like him now. Unlike Hemant who calls him classy, etc., or Jen who thinks his apology went far enough.

      I just want to say that he requires more introspection if he can not only follow the law but be a mature person who deals with disagreement in a healthy way. And only then will I be inclined to like him despite his discriminatory actions last weekend.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

      Daniel Fincke wrote:

      My point is that anyone who does not want atheists to think ill of him even after he has treated us in a discriminatory fashion, should stress to us that they get that religious privilege is bad and that being offended is the wrong emotional response to having your ideas challenged or satirized.

      I really disagree with that last part. Being offended is not a problem. I couldn’t care less if he’s offended. Any serious Christian is going to be offended by Brother Sam’s performance. It’s intended to be offensive so it’s inevitably going to offend those it is aimed at. I couldn’t care less how it makes the guy feel, of course, but I’m just not concerned about his emotional state. I’m concerned only about his behavior. I think the reasonable response here is not to say you’re wrong to be offended, it is to say that being offended does not mean you get to do anything in response to those who offended you. I’m offended by a great many things done and said by Christians on a daily basis; that is only a problem if I justify discrimination against them because of it. The same is true for him.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

      Though let me also say that I do take your point that the man is obviously looking for forgiveness and it’s certainly reasonable of you, JT and others to tell him what you think he would need to do for you to grant it. But as I wrote on my own blog, I think this question of forgiveness is a meaningless one. Even if I did “forgive” him from afar, that would mean absolutely nothing. I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me and I don’t really care whether he’s being sincere or not — and I have no way of knowing whether he is, nor does anyone else. I’m not going to buy any gelato from him whether I think he is sincere or not. As I wrote on my blog, I have no idea whether he really, really means it or whether he’s just trying to extricate himself from being stupid, nor do I particularly care. I just don’t see why his personal emotional state or how he feels about me or other atheists should matter to me at all, as opposed to his behavior (which is over with). So I don’t see what anyone has to gain by continuing to express outrage over it or demand further action, either on the part of him (i.e. he must do X before we’ll “forgive” him) or on the part of atheists (i.e. we should all reach out to him and buy gelato from him and try to convince him we’re really cool so he’ll like us better).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      What forgiveness means, basically, is you’d eat the man’s gelato if you had the occasion and the desire for it. If you avoid his store deliberately or advise others not to patronize it because of this, then effectively you don’t forgive him. Forgiveness from a far means when he comes up in the future not saying “but he gave a classy apology” as Hemant is saying but to just leave it at “he exhibited serious religious privilege and gave an iffy apology” as I would say. Or something similar.

      And also the issue of whether to forgive him is important and worth writing about because it is a test case for exploring how we should respond to people who mistreat us in bigoted ways. Of course ultimately Andy Drennen himself is of little importance. The reason stories like these and debates like these have legs is because they have enough ambiguities involved to give occasion for a community to examine a nice, live, detailed test case for our intuitions about how we should respond to what is done to us. Many people reading along are working out with us what is reasonable in an apology, what is understandable or unforgivable about bigoted actions, etc. So, I’m using this story as a chance to work through what sorts of general principles are involved and how they work out in a specific case.

      So I think it matters to come to the conclusion I did that if we are to use bigoted actions against us as a teaching moment that we should make sure we teach the right lesson and that it was learned.

      I’m also not sure what you mean by being offended by Christians all the time. Christians relatively rarely offend me. I mean outside the stuff I read online which has been selected for its maximum offensiveness! I am offended only when they try to do immoral things like impose their will on me through governmental power or actually harm people with their beliefs. But when I see a church service going on or were I to hear a sermon saying things I think are false, etc., I wouldn’t get angrily offended at their mere gathering. Even if they were poking fun at atheists I wouldn’t get angrily offended. I’d probably see it as kind of pathetic since, well, I’ve never seen a Christian attempt to make fun of us that was remotely funny.

      My point is that it really is not appropriate to get offended unless there is something immoral and harmful going on. And really, I do think it is wrong to get offended by satirists and especially wrong to get offended out of a sense of privilege (white, male, heterosexual, religious—whatever kind of privilege). If I’m going to believe “this guy learned his lesson” that’s only because I discovered he really gets the concept of what “religious privilege” is and why it is really weak and wrong of him to assume that someone treating his religious beliefs irreverently is harming him in some way that deserves feeling offended.

      This matters because this religious sensitivity, dialed up as high as it is, causes atheists all the time to self-censor and de facto treat with reverence things they do not believe are sacred. That’s really unfair. It’s part of why atheists all over the country tomorrow will be holding their tongues at Thanksgiving while other family members talk liberally about God or make everyone pray, etc. This is over-sensitivity needs to be addressed—not just the most easily understood wrong of the sign in the window. It’s the real issue and the reason that atheists should not let this story be interpreted as “He understandably got offended but wrongly reacted”. Because that means that all sorts of other offense at our existence or our defiance at religion is “understandable” when it’s not. The religious need to grow up and stop finding our existence scandalous. And, btw, I’ve written plenty about how atheists too should feel morally obliged to not have knee jerk negative responses to the mere existence of religious people. Being good people means more than just refraining from harmful (and illegal) actions but also having better, more properly calibrated emotional responses to what happens.

      And finally even those comedians who are “trying to offend” really aren’t (or shouldn’t be). If they are really good they are really trying to confront people with something uncomfortable and challenge them to struggle with it. If they are offended as a first step to thinking more honestly, then sobeit. But offending just to offend is not art, it’s cheap shock.

    • Beth

      I do think it is wrong to get offended by satirists

      I just can’t agree that it’s ‘wrong’ to be offended at satire. Satire is usually designed to offend, often targeted at a particular person or group of people. If one aim of the work is to offend that group, I have to assume that it’s been successful at that aim. You can’t claim the right to offend others without implicitly acknowledging that they have the right to be offended. For that reason, I can’t agree that it’s wrong.

    • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      I don’t agree that forgiveness implies the consumption of gelato. I think you can forgive the man without forgiving the business.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      My Catholic brother keeps asking me and other atheists: “Why are atheists so nasty?” Greta Christina has explained why atheists are angry but why are we nasty? Obviously Drennan found Sam Singleton nasty enough to get angry about the nastiness. But why are we nasty?

      First, we have to consider what atheistic nastiness consists of. Many goddists find the very existence of atheists to be nasty. Others, apparently Drennan is one of these, find atheists’ lack of respect for goddism and religion to be nasty. Some goddists thing atheists questioning goddists about their beliefs and wanting justifications for goddism to be nasty. And we must admit there are some atheists who are rude, crude and socially unacceptable when confronted with goddism. So atheistic nastiness runs a gamut from atheists being out of the closet to certain atheists being assholes.

      Let’s consider what are goddists’ reactions to atheistic nastiness. Some goddists are nasty back at us. I had a job offer withdrawn because a goddist discovered my atheism. Drennan temporarily but publicly refused commercial service to atheists. Cars with darwin fish* have been keyed. Atheist billboards and signs have been vandalized.

      Other goddists are merely vocal towards atheists. We get called immoral, arrogant and immature. We are compared to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. We get threatened, sometimes quite gleefully, with eternal punishment. William Craig Lane and Ray Comfort tell lies about us.

      There are some goddists who ignore atheists no matter what the provocation might be. I’ll return the favor and ignore them.

      It’s understandable why goddists would react negatively to atheist assholes. It’s the reactions to other atheistic behaviors, including mere breathing, that are troublesome. Consciously or unconsciously, these reactions are to attacks on goddist privilege. “How dare Singleton be rude to my religion, I’ll show him, I’ll kick atheists out of my store!”

      Personally I could care less about Drennan. I’ve never been in Springfield and I doubt I’ll ever go there. However I do care about his reaction to the goddist privilege being held in disrespect. Until he shows he understands the privileged position goddism, particularly his flavor of goddism, has in America, I won’t be accepting his apology.

      *The darwin fish is not an atheist symbol, but many goddists think it is.

    • rapiddominance

      Name one person that has commented so far who has expressed an interest in Drennen becoming a “friend to atheists”? So far, Alex Songe is the only member on this thread to show any interest in Drennen’s well being.

      Furthermore, while the Fincke article analyzes Drennen’s behavior, the text is critical only–it merely refutes the notion that Drennen’s actions have made true forgiveness possible.

      You know that. Anybody with common sense knows that. Dr. Fincke echoed as much. And yet, you fired away with the nonsense.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton


      Reread the post. Daniel uses that phrase over and over again.

    • rapiddominance

      Thanks for the feedback. Now let me try rereading the post WITHOUT common sense . . .
      . . . ooh! I see it, now. Thanks, Ed!

      Lets try this again. You’re baffled that anyone should care whether this guy is a “friend to atheists”, right? My point is that, so far on the thread, nobody cares. The post was analytical; there was no expressed personal preference for Mr. Drennen having a certain attitude toward atheists. Reread Mr. Fincke’s reply to you again and you’ll see, more or less, that he agrees with this assessment (regarding his post). But read it with common sense.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      To be fair to Ed and John, I didn’t see your meaning either. But, yes, I think I see your point now. I was writing with a conditional that if Andy Drennen wants atheists to forgive him and consider him a positive member of the community whose gelato shop should be frequented, then these are the ways that he could demonstrate he deserves that. I was not saying that it bothered me particularly if Drennen in fact did not care to reach out to us and prove he was friendly to us. I was responding to his profuse pleas for our forgiveness and analyzing what seems appropriate for us to offer it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Name one person that has commented so far who has expressed an interest in Drennen becoming a “friend to atheists”

      I’m not sure what you’re saying. Ed was replying to me. The post itself talked about how Drennen could prove himself a “friend to atheists”, someone we could “forgive” and have positive relations with qua atheists.

    • rapiddominance

      If I interupted what was intended as a private conversation; I apologize. But it seemed public in nature.

      I was pointing out a disjoined comment coming from Ed. No thinking person, up to that point, would have read from your post or from the following comments any expression of personal preference for Mr. Drennen having a friendly attitude toward atheists. (Let me correct myself — a thinking person having a “nonthinking moment” could have read things incorrectly. Obviously, Mr. Brayton is a very bright man).

      As a somewhat related side item, I took note that one of the commenters did express a genuine degree of human concern for Mr. Drennen and/or the people around him. Mr. Drennen’s apology fell short of genuine, to say the least. But for a real apology to make a meaningful connection, it would require the atheist community to have some genuine interest in the man’s well being, as well. One commentor made me hopeful.

      Thank you for your work and the reply.

    • John Morales


      Name one person that has commented so far who has expressed an interest in Drennen becoming a “friend to atheists”?

      Camels With Hammers did, by virtue of addressing that in the OP.

      So far, Alex Songe is the only member on this thread to show any interest in Drennen’s well being.

      That is a non sequitur to its preceding sentence in that paragraph, and irrelevant whether true or false.

      Furthermore, while the Fincke article analyzes Drennen’s behavior, the text is critical only–it merely refutes the notion that Drennen’s actions have made true forgiveness possible.

      Critical ≠ antagonistic, and I dispute that it refutes that claim (or even that it intends to do so): It merely expresses an opinion as to what circumstances are applicable for forgiveness to be granted on the basis of a certain viewpoint, and discusses whether that basis is met in this instance.

      And yet, you fired away with the nonsense.

      It’s an expression of opinion (that I have endorsed), no less than your comment is; since I’ve endorsed it, apparently my opinion is also nonsensical.

      (If anything, I’d characterise your comment as closer to nonsensical than Ed’s)

  • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

    Bravo! This post explains in superb detail why I haven’t accepted Drennen’s apology. The initial message he sent by posting the sign was bigotry in its worst form, and I’m not at all convinced that he understands why this was wrong. He’s offered elaborate and repeated “I’m sorry”s, but he’s said nothing that proves to me he recognizes the wrongness of trying to punish people for expressing opinions different than your own.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks, Adam, I should have at some point noted that you helped me come to my conclusion.

  • Marella

    Well I wouldn’t go and buy gelato from this guy so I guess I don’t forgive him. Somewhere else in town would get my money instead.

  • Ariel

    What I require from him (…) is that he acknowledge that getting personally angry or personally offended by impersonal criticism, including satire, of institutions and beliefs is antithetical to the free expression and constructive discussion of beliefs.

    Would you expect the same from the people who are personally angry or personally offended by anti-gay jokes, or anti-Semitic jokes? If so, you will probably part company with many of your readers (not an objection as such, just stating a fact – they would probably argue that something harmful is going on in this case). Or perhaps what you require from this guy is the recognition that the believers are so deeply wrong and the atheist pro-gay movement so deeply right, that the difference in assessment of the two phenomena is justified? If so, I think your demand is unreasonably strong as a prerequisite for forgiveness.

    (This second option is like: “we will forgive you only on condition that you accept that religion sucks and ridiculing it is not harmful”. For all we know, the guy may well believe that posters like the one he saw are harmful. Obviously we are free to disagree with him; but requiring him to change his mind about harmfulness of such a thing as a prerequisite for forgiveness? No, I think that’s too much. For many believers such a change of mind would be tantamount to accepting that there is nothing holy about religion, therefore it really sucks. Whether they are right or wrong about it, demanding this for a start is just too strong. But perhaps I’m missing something.)

    As for me personally, I have an impression that the apologies were sincere and I would be ready indeed to eat the man’s gelato. Whether he gives 10 % discount or 10 % for charity is hairsplitting, not very crucial in determining my individual attitude towards the guy. For better or worse, that’s the way I see it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      good and interesting objections (as usual, Ariel), I have just written a post that will clear the way to address some of these concerns in my next post. And I will return to the moral nihilism debates that are going on in the other comments sections soon, too. Thanks for all the insightful dialectical provocation!

  • karmakin

    My position is almost a mirror of this. While in the end it looks the same, it’s an opposite image.

    Atheism IS offensive. At least large chunks of it is. When we say we don’t believe in a deity, we’re calling people stupid, or irrational, or whatever. Even if we don’t use those words or we use a pleasant tone or whatever, that’s the message that still comes across. We are the blasphemers.

    But usually religion is offensive as well! Christianity certainly is. The claims of being morally superior and at the same time having a really messed up morality, focusing on authoritarianism and social ordering over actually caring about your fellow human being, of infinite punishment for basically harmless acts, and so on.

    The privilege, and it’s something I ran head first into on another forum, is demanding to not be offended by non-belief without understanding how your own belief is offensive as well.

    There’s a world of difference between I’m offended and I disagree with what you say and here’s why and I’m offended and you’re a jerk and you can’t come in my store. The first is something constructive and the second is something very non-constructive.

    The incident and the apology were both non-constructive. And that’s the problem.

  • Didaktylos

    Putting my pedantic Classicist’s hat on, rather than “not-pology”, the term should be “anapology”.

  • olddaad

    Quite frequently I get the Drennen reaction from Christians in response to my critical analysis of their beliefs. I just don’t think they know how to react rationally using their ‘heads’ instead of their ‘hearts’. Christianity is an emotion-centric religion where rational thinking is discouraged and emotional thinking is promoted to the nth degree. To ever expect any kind of rational reaction from the Christo-Gelato business owner is, well, not rational.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    I don’t agree that forgiveness implies the consumption of gelato. I think you can forgive the man without forgiving the business.

    That’s not forgiveness, in my book. “I refuse, on principle, to go to your store because of what you did” means you are exacting a permanent penalty on him for what he did. If the store had new owners you’d go. You’re not going because it is him.

    Now, you may say that emotionally you will harbor no ill will and maybe fulfill the third kind of forgiveness I listed in my post. But you are not restoring normal social and professional relations and you are not waiving penalties, so, you’re not entirely forgiving. But it is hard for me to imagine how there’s no ill will if you are, again, boycotting him. So, I don’t see what sense, if any, you could be said to forgive.

  • http://pogsurf.blogspot.com/ Pogsurf

    I am starting to lose the plot here and hopefully people here can lend a hand and get me through this.

    Can anyone identify any witnesses to the sign, before it was taken down, who say they were offended by it? It is important to have some kind of statement to identify what the problem was, why the person felt that way and what emotions it caused them. This is called evidence, and it is the thing that skeptics may often claim is lacking when they judge religious opinions. We cannot allow a situation where empirical claims are made without evidence, because then you have nothing but a house of cards.

    Furthermore, I think it will be clear to everyone who reads this, although I need to state it for the avoidance of doubt, that not everyone who claims to be offended does so for the right reasons. Claims like “I was offended because he looked odd” do not meet the test – claims like “I was offended because he showed me his genitals” do. We need to exercise judgement that any purported offense is believable. I have not be able to locate it for myself, are there others who know where this evidence is, or who know how to track it down? If so, I would be very grateful for their help.

    Finally, when we have some evidence, we can examine it against the very splendid definitions which are listed in the article here. Theoretical work like this is at the very heart of making empirical claims, but only when married to hard, real life facts.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      Can anyone identify any witnesses to the sign, before it was taken down, who say they were offended by it? It is important to have some kind of statement to identify what the problem was, why the person felt that way and what emotions it caused them.

      I’m a witness to the sign. I saw a photograph of it posted on the internet. I was offended. Or are you saying one has to have actually stood by the door of Mio Gelato in Springfield, MO and read the sign to have been offended?

      This is called evidence, and it is the thing that skeptics may often claim is lacking when they judge religious opinions. We cannot allow a situation where empirical claims are made without evidence, because then you have nothing but a house of cards.

      Are you saying the photograph was faked? Drennan admits to putting the sign up. That’s pretty conclusive evidence. Or are you questioning peoples’ opinions about why he put the sign up? He explained that as well.

      Furthermore, I think it will be clear to everyone who reads this, although I need to state it for the avoidance of doubt, that not everyone who claims to be offended does so for the right reasons.

      Thanks for explaining that, Captain Obvious.

      Claims like “I was offended because he looked odd” do not meet the test – claims like “I was offended because he showed me his genitals” do. We need to exercise judgement that any purported offense is believable. I have not be able to locate it for myself, are there others who know where this evidence is, or who know how to track it down? If so, I would be very grateful for their help.

      Here’s a link to the photograph of the sign. There’s links in the OP and in the thread to Drennan’s apologies. And if you look in the upper right hand corner of this page you’ll find a search box. Use it wisely.

  • http://pogsurf.blogspot.com/ Pogsurf

    For reconcilliation to occur there has to be a moment from which the offense by ‘Andy’ ceases, he and we recognise that his intention to cause offense has passed, and we are all left to chew over the evidence. I am sure that police men and women sift through much evidence which they personally find very unpalatable, however they are not able to add their personal feelings to the evidence. They must use their professionalism to handle evidence is a fair and dispassionate way. Evidence which is tainted is not evidence which is admissible in court.

    I am suggesting that the moment at which Andy removed the sign from display, was the de facto moment when the offense ceased. You may suggest another moment, but I simply cannot understand any claim that the offense goes on forever. If you want to suggest another moment, please do so, but you must be precise to meet the necessary conditions.

    Faked, no. This fact is not disputed by either the shop owner or the person who took the photograph. To construct a conspiracy here we would need to assert that both Andy and the photographer were working as a cohort, and that they, or some other person or persons unknown had conspired to decieve the skeptical community. It is not impossible, because we know that double-agents, or ‘accomodationists’ do exist within the atheist community, but I personally do not believe that it is likely. I have effectively dismissed the possibility, and act accordingly. If I am proved wrong, I will own up and say I was wrong.

    However, possession of the evidence is crucial, so that both the defence and the prosecution can make assertions about its veracity. Who holds the sign, or has it disappeared without trace? If there is no evidence, I cannot see how a Bill of Rights prosecution can continue, and the case must be dropped.

    Are you saying ‘Drennan’ is Andy’s surname? I had not been able to ascertain that fact when I looked for myself. I have written to him personally to tie up some other facts, so I will then have two sources for that, if and when he replies.

    Captain Obvious is correct Officer Cry-Baby. And salute, dammit, before you address a superior officer!

    And thanks for your closing remarks, I always listen to the advice of those of you who are at the coal-face. If only I could get any from my damn desk, I would be out there getting my boots dirty, too.

    Come back to me immediately you have further information.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      Shorter Pogsurf: I am not offended by the sign and nobody else should be either. I have spoken. So there. Nyaah!

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    Comments TL;DR, so if someone else made this point already, I apologise.

    I make a distinction between being offended and angry at the content of someone’s ridicule of someone’s sacred cows, and being angry and offended at the fact of the ridicule itself. If a person personally objects to this or that joke (e.g. yelling “God damn!” after a bible passage is read out), that’s different than being offended that someone out there is [cue impending doom music] actually mocking religion or gods. The first is natural and forgivable and there may even be cases where taking offence is moral (e.g. racist jokes). But the second is the ground where we draw the line. Drennan is evidently offended at the mere fact that his religion was being mocked.

    (The above is my first attempt at articulating the distinction I’m thinking of. I may be way off the mark.)