Sam Singleton's Revival Act That Began Gelatogate

Andy Drennen saw a portion of this act and had this response:

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.

The sign, as you have probably seen by now looked like this:

The store owner has apologized, Jen and Hemant accept the apology, JT and PZ do not.

I am thinking over what to say exactly, but I am basically in agreement with JT and PZ.

Your Thoughts?

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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.

  • Doug

    The initial act was silly. The response is also silly. It’s over now. Let it go.

    • NoYourGod

      @Doug wrote the quick and dirty (and accurate) form of what I was thinking. For the &tldr version:

      For better or worse, we are emotional creatures. They guy showed curiosity, walked down to check out the action, and got an emotional slap in the face. He reacted to that emotional slap in a thoughtless manner. Once he took a minute to think about it, he backed down.

      I’ve been in some pretty heated debates with believers, with words said on both sides that would not have been said under normal discussions (at least not said with such vitriol), such as the believer asking me “how can you be so stupid”, and my retort “how can you be so superstitious”. Under normal discussions, those questions would have come out as “how can you not see god’s glory all around us?” and “how can you not see that religion and belief in a god is simply a form of superstition?” In the heat of the moment, though, the words come out nasty instead of as a method to understand the other person.

      I can appreciate PZ and the others not accepting the apology. They’ve not only been subject to much more of this nastiness than most of us, but they are also looking long-term in their own way. If we let this bozo get away with this, then how are we to stop the Pat Robertsons of the world from making their idiotic statements. Personally, I believe the immediacy of the shop owners reaction and his quick actions to pull back from that stand on a different level than Robertson’s thought out “gays, atheists, and anybody else who doesn’t think like me is responsible for Katrina” BS.

      Given that the shop owner’s apology and explanation seem very honest (at least I believe they are honest), it should be over. Whether to accept the apology or not, it should be over.

  • tms

    I would accept his apology as an act of contrition on his part. I’m not sure that it’s necessary to closely examine the motive behind it. It is often repeated that, as atheists, we don’t require that everyone think like we do. I think of his latest apology as an invitation to, “agree to disagree”.

  • Alex Songe

    I think there is a meaningful distinction between behavior and belief. I really don’t care what he believes or if he’s a bigot as long as he doesn’t discriminate.

  • fredbloggs

    Even if his apology is insincere, it should be accepted at face value. It doesn’t matter what he thinks, only what he does. Unless you believe in thought crimes like god botherers. And I for one like to put as much distance between myself and them.

  • John-Henry Beck

    I’m with JT & PZ. His initial response to something he didn’t like was to use his power to discriminate. His other actions, like clearing negative comments on his Facebook page, do not indicate remorse. I see no reason to give him the absolution he wants by accepting his apology.

    Refusing to accept his apology does not indicate any need or desire to take any action against him. But he was a complete ass and hasn’t really learned his lesson or given any real sign he’s less of a bigot.

  • Robert B.

    Hm. Accepting an apology is a complicated thing. I still judge this fellow negatively for what he did, though the apology does mitigate my opinion. Nor do I think that the apology compensates for the harm his bigotry did – PZ still has no gelato, for example. Nor do I believe that this guy will refrain in the future from reacting with bigotry to a satire of religion. And I have no problem with firebrands continuing to denounce him for all this – it’s probably good that someone is doing that.

    For myself, though, I’d probably accept his apology in the sense of agreeing to resume courteous discourse. If someone is willing to have a reasonable conversation, there’s a chance you can convince him of something. I’d have to be careful, though, to resist the natural impulse to compromise just because the other person is compromising, when such compromise would be improper. For example, it would be wrong to downplay the connection between atheism and skepticism in order to make friends with this guy, as apparently some are doing.

  • Ƶ§œš¹

    After reading the second apology (but not the first), as well as JT and PZ’s reasons for not accepting the apology, it seems as though the initialism-gang is not accepting the apology because they think GelatoGuy is still a bigot.

    If Daniel’s 10-item list of ways to deal with theists is any indication, it should be clear that there are good ways of exposing people to atheism and bad ways. This is something that PZ dismisses outright, calling it “coddling.” Singleton’s event is simply someone “acting all atheistical and skeptical…he witnessed someone expressing atheist sentiments.” But it really does go beyond that.

    In the same way that you put your best foot forward on a first date, it may be the case that Sam Singleton’s event was not the best first exposure to atheism given GelatoGuy’s cultural background. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be critical of intolerant attitudes, but not accepting someone’s apology is a bit of a dick move and won’t help any bigots become more tolerant.

  •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    If I were to accept the apology, it would do absolutely nothing except make the store owner feel better about himself. I see no reason to accept it, other than silly social conventions. I’ll forgive him when I see evidence that his attitude has changed for the better. But since I’m not obligated to forgive him, and he’s not obligated to improve my opinion of him, odds are that nothing will change. I’m fine with that. I live in an entirely different state.

    So all this is to say: apology not accepted, not that it frakking matters. Next page.

    • Alex Songe

      If you want to speak strategically, accepting the apology is probably the best course of action. If you are shown “acting in good faith” (pun intended), then we look good to outsiders. If he does something else bigoted, we now have even more leverage against him, as he broke our good faith. Win-win.

    •!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

      But what if he apologizes again? Is there a line somewhere after which we require more than just a few words from the offender, but begin requesting evidence in the form of deeds (and that 10% discount does not count)?

    • Alex Songe

      I wasn’t satisfied with the first round of apologies, but the one on reddit answered my questions. I don’t know if I want his business to fail over this (which usually results in the ruin of the entire household). I think the community showed what damage it can do to a foodservice business online if something stupid happens. I don’t see what we gain by holding the grudge. And what evidence is there for contrition? If you ask for something like a donation to some cause, then he’d do so as long as it were economically prurient. Really, you’re only stuck with their words. I think asking for any more than the last apology puts us in danger of demanding he change his beliefs which is an impossible task and asks us to psychologize his motives until we’re satisfied.

  • Laurence

    It is pretty common that people can make bad decisions when they are are emotional. It is also pretty common that people will realize that they made a bad decision after they calmed down. Since he took down the sign after 10 minutes (which is seems like a reasonable amount of cooldown time), I think its reasonable to think that he realized he made a mistake. I also think it’s pretty common to not apologize for something until confronted about it. After being confronted about it, he made a short apology and then made a longer one after asked about it. In the apology he took full responsibility for his actions and also explained what caused him to act that way. Whether someone accepts his apology or not is up to them, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that he is not sincere.

    What Gelato guy did was wrong. It is almost always never acceptable to discriminate against people. His explanation doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it makes it understandable. The fact that the sign was not up for very long also gives some weight to the fact that he acted emotionally and realized that he shouldn’t have acted the way he did.

    I think that JT’s criteria for believing he was sincere (him donating 10% profit to a secular charity) is way over the top and not even remotely reasonable.

    If I’m ever in Springfield, I probably won’t buy gelato from there. Does that mean I don’t accept his apology? I don’t know. I think that I probably do because I understand what it’s like to make bad decisions when upset and can totally empathize with it.

  • cnjnrs

    I also agree with those who do not accept the apology, such as JT, and John-Henry Beck’s excellent comment above.

    In particular, I strongly disagree with the people who say we should just drop it now. I feel this way due to a combination of two facts. First, it’s not like we’re advocating violence, or even spending large amounts of money campaigning against him; we’re just writing about it on the internet. And second, this sort of discrimination is a serious problem and is something that many people need to take MUCH more seriously, so I think drawing a lot of attention to it is a good thing.

    Finally, I want to add that the apology made me mad, because it really struck me as a business move rather than actual remorse. I know it could be both, and I know it’s hard to apologize for emotional reasons; but it’s also hard to accept some apologies for emotional reasons.

  • jatheist

    I’m with PZ and JT too… his “gift” of a %10 discount (meaning he makes a ~little~ less money than he otherwise would have) is insulting.

  • One Brow

    I accept his apology. Getting an admission of error is a good sign he will refrain from making a similar mistake in the future. Getting people to act as though they are accepting atheism is the first step in getting them to accept atheism, as our actions influence our thoughts.

  • peterh

    @ One Brow:

    Whether the cafe owner acts as though he’s accepting atheism or not, at the very least he’s acknowledging the law. Unless presented with data to the contrary, accept things at face value. Too much trouble comes from reading into a thing meanings which aren’t there, might never have been there, or might never be there. We can’t be mind readers and know whether the cafe owner’s apology was sincere or not; at this juncture it doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done. There will be lots more doggydoo in the street for all of us to step in at one time or another.

  • Ben Fenton

    Look how painstakingly the word “NOT” is colored! Exquisite Christian art, right up there with the intelligence level of Ray Comfort’s science-censored Origin of the Species!

  • Beth

    I’m with Jen and can’t improve on her description of why she thought his apology should be accepted.

    I find it interesting that this incident has sparked so much discussion; much like elevatorgate, I think that it’s become a focal point for a lot of simmering feelings of anger and resentment over what our society requires us to put with from other people.

    It seems to me that those who do not accept his apology are basically unable to let go of their anger and resentment regarding how atheists are often treated in our society. I can understand that.

    Dan, a question I would like to ask you is: Do you believe that we are able to choose what we believe? I think I asked a similar question of you after a previous post. This issue made me think of it again due to the comparisons with being gay. I suspect that one reason there is such animosity from those who believe towards those who don’t and vice versa is, at least partly, due to the belief that we choose our beliefs.

    Kind of like how people who are the most hateful towards homosexuality believe that it’s a choice individuals make. It’s generally considered reasonable to base our attitude and tolerance of others on various issues if we regard the issue as being a choice an individual has made versus something that is not under their control.

    So, do you consider belief to be primarily a choice or a trait someone is born with? I say primarily because my opinion is that, much like sexuality, it is a combination of both. Our innate proclivities always shape our choices. Which do you think dominates in the matter of religious beliefs?

    • John Morales

      Do you believe that we are able to choose what we believe?

      We can choose whether to honestly and critically examine our beliefs, so in a sense, yes.

    • Camels With Hammers

      Yes, believing is a matter of choices to either investigate or not, to open one’s mind or not, etc. Believing badly is morally culpable.

      My problem is not with his beliefs, it’s with his character that gets easily and angrily offended in the face of clear satire and which responded with knee jerk religious privilege and the attitude that anyone who treats his religion defiantly can be denied equal treatment. For me, a thorough apology means renouncing those attitudes and understanding that it was the privileged emotions and attitudes themselves that were as wrong as the actions that sprung from them. It is those privileged, bigoted attitudes that need to change for atheists to be welcome and allowed to speak freely in our culture.

    • Beth

      Yes, believing is a matter of choices to either investigate or not, to open one’s mind or not, etc. Believing badly is morally culpable.

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. How do define believing badly? Can you define it such that it isn’t just everyone who believes differently than you?

      What do you mean by morally culpable? Does you mean they are responsible for their beliefs and if so, does that mean you feel primarily people choose their beliefs? Do you feel you chose to be an atheist? Could you choose a different set of beliefs?

      I’ve no argument with you on accepting the apology. That is your choice to make. I give Jen’s argument more weight, but I realize that’s a subjective value judgment.

      I am also of the opinion that both giving and accepting apologies, and forgiving people for their mistakes is something to be done to make you feel better, not just to help the other person feel better. If it isn’t going to make you feel better, you are certainly justified in not accepting it.

      BTW I appreciate your explaining your reasons. I understand your point of view better. Thanks.

    • John Morales


      I’m not sure what you mean by this. How do define believing badly?

      Dunno about Camels with Hammers, but for me (and as I understand him to mean it) it represents unwarranted belief (that is, a belief entertained either despite or without credible evidence, or made on the basis of a fallacious inferential process).

    • Beth

      Yes, that’s clearly true. Which do you think is the primary driver?

    • Camels With Hammers

      Yes, that’s clearly true. Which do you think is the primary driver?

      What do you mean? What’s clearly true and what is the primary driver of what?

    • Beth

      Do people choose their beliefs or are they something that is simply part of who they are, like race or gender or, more controversially, sexual preference.

  • Camels With Hammers

    Do people choose their beliefs or are they something that is simply part of who they are, like race or gender or, more controversially, sexual preference.

    Knowing my own mind, I can say that people make choices to believe or not to believe. Sometimes these are quite clearly not made with only respect for rational determinants of a belief. It is quite possible to feel like you might be wrong and make an emotional choice to ignore the source of doubt or to do any of a number of other activities to manipulate oneself into belief. And this may later yield firm belief that conveniently forgets the effort involved in self-deceiving. It is quite possible to not be sure about a belief and just make an emotional choice to run with it because it’s easy, etc.

    Did I choose to be an atheist? Yes, in the sense that I remember the moment when I chose to stop trying so hard to prevent it from happening and to finally relent my will to what my mind could not avoid. And the whole road there was based on choices. Choices explore all the arguments for or against the existence of god, choices to study philosophy, and a very specific choice to thoroughly read Nietzsche when I felt threatened by him. I also make deliberate choices to reexamine beliefs I feel confident in just to double check them and to alter my perspective. I make deliberate choices to hear out contrasting points of view and adopt them for myself hypothetically. All that kind of stuff goes into choosing to believe according to reason and evidence. Avoiding all that is a way to choose by omission not to think and to be culpable to some extent for the resulting ignorance or shallowness of thinking. And it’s especially bad in the case of faith, which is a deliberate WILL to believe even if refuted.

    • Beth

      Let me make sure I am understanding you correctly. You are saying you chose to be an atheist and, if you decided to believe something else, you could chose to do that. Is that correct?

    • Camels With Hammers

      No, that’s not at all what I said. I said that we choose to pay attention to aspects of our experience or not, to explore different paths of reasoning or not. I cannot simply choose to be a theist. But I could do my damnedest to make sure I have explored every possible argument for theism with as open a mind as possible and then see what I think. If I still wind up an atheist then, then I’m not really able to choose to be a theist. I guess I could start just saying I am one and trying to pretend I am one as some believers do during periods where they are starting to think like atheists. In that way I might trick myself into believing. But the more that I have really explored all the dead ends for proving theism the harder it would seem to me to do to pretend and make myself believe.

    • Beth

      Let me try again to make sure I am understanding you correctly. You are saying you chose to study works that ended up with you becoming an atheist, works that you chose to study knowing that such an outcome was possible. Now, however, you do not feel that you could (or would?) choose to change your beliefs? Is that correct. Could I describe it as that your beliefs were malleable as a child, but not anymore?

      This is the part where things get dicey for me. If you are unable to decide to believe differently, it seems to me that you are presuming that other adults who have come to other conclusions are willfully choosing what to believe while claiming that you yourself could not do so at this stage in your life.

      Or is that you are simply unwilling to choose to change your beliefs. If that is the case, then how are you different from them?

    • Camels With Hammers

      I am saying that I have studied philosophy and theology rigorously and in such a way that my views do not reflect a lack of scrupulous examination. Numerous times in the last 15 years, I have had massive changes of mind through further exposure to new arguments and ideas. I expect that I may change my mind in any number of ways again.

      An overwhelming majority (84%) of professional philosophers, who have the same rigorous training and extensive experience with questions of the existence of gods share my non-theism (even if their precise positions are not all unanimously atheistic. Still more than two-thirds “lean towards or accept” atheism.) I have a position that is generally a consensus viewpoint among experts in this area. I am always open to a new argument for the existence of God. I look wherever I think something promising might be. I am not closed-minded just because I have strong and hard to change views. They are the results of rigorously, scholarly investigations.

      Now, if you want to interpret that as my beliefs being as arbitrary and unconsidered as the average religious believer, then I think you are making a false equivalence.

      Now, if you what you intend to ask is, “what about an equally educated, equally well-trained philosopher who is a theist?” I think even those theists are culpable of deliberate choices to believe where it is irrational to do so. I have many friends who are philosophers and theists. My PhD is from a Catholic university, remember. I’ve debated with them. I have seen them backed into philosophical corners and just make choices that are arbitrary and irrational and more a matter of allegiance to their faith than strict response to reason. As much as I personally love them as friends and appreciate their many other philosophical insights and their general intellectual virtues when their religious beliefs are not involved, I find their religious moves dubiously volitional still. Now, some aspects of their thinking, like simply believing in a source of all being conception of God or something, I think are rationally defensible enough that I don’t think any suspicious volitional choices are necessary to be convinced.

  • Dunc

    I think I’m loving that Edwardian suit. I’m going to have to speak to my tailor… And possibly my bank manager.