Ron Lindsay Apologizes: A Small Step in the Right Direction

When I wrote about the CFI board’s disappointing non-statement addressing the blowup at Women in Secularism 2, I thought that would be the last thing I’d have to say about this. That statement gave no hint that any further action was being contemplated, so I assumed the board’s plan was to hunker down and wait for this all to go away.

To my surprise, there’s been a new development: Ron Lindsay has apologized for his remarks that touched off the controversy. His statement is short enough for me to reprint it in full:

It has been a few weeks since I have said anything in public about the controversy over my remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. As CFI announced via Twitter, this pause was to enable the board to have time to consider the matter. The board has issued its statement. It is now an appropriate time for me to make some remarks.

I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk. I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk. From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.

I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.

Please accept my apologies.

OK, so first let me say what I like about this: It’s a real apology, not a passive-voice “mistakes were made” or an “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” nonpology, and that’s really all anyone was asking for. It could have been better, as I’ll explain, but it’s a start, and even small steps in the right direction deserve credit.

That said: I don’t want to be unfair, but when I first read this, my initial impression was that it has “grudging” stamped all over it. The curtness, if nothing else, makes me suspect that it was written under duress. Good apologies are convincing in their contrition; this one… isn’t.

Lindsay says he now has a better understanding of why people objected to his talk. If that’s true, that should be the point in your apology where you demonstrate that improved understanding by explaining in your own words why your behavior was wrong or offensive, and what you’ll do differently in the future. This apology makes no attempt to do those things. I’m not saying that Lindsay’s claim to have a better understanding is false – just that he hasn’t proved it.

If you want an example of a pitch-perfect apology, look at Kickstarter. Despite a flood of complaints over a so-called “seduction manual” project that advocated sexual assault, they refused to pull the entry, saying that they found it “abhorrent” but that it wasn’t in violation of their policy. Kickstarter later published an apology, We were wrong, in which they concluded belatedly that the project did violate their guidelines and should have been canceled. They explained why they made this mistake, promised to prohibit similar projects in the future, and pledged $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization. That’s what a convincing apology looks like. (See also this post on how to apologize online.)

Realistically, I don’t think any apology from CFI could restore all the lost trust in one stroke. But I think this one is sufficiently encouraging to make further conversation possible. (It’s certainly an improvement over other atheist leaders, like Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins, who’ve never apologized for grossly sexist comments.) As I said, I haven’t yet seen proof that either Lindsay or the CFI board truly has taken a lesson from this and will do better in the future. I’d like to see that proof.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Jason Koskey

    That said: I don’t want to be unfair, but when I first read this, my
    initial impression was that it has “grudging” stamped all over it. The
    curtness, if nothing else, makes me suspect that it was written under
    duress.

    Do you remember Lindsay’s last apology to Rebecca for the North Korea comparison? He began with this disclaimer: “The decision to issue the following statement is my own decision, and is
    not the result of any instruction or pressure, direct or indirect, from
    anyone, including, but not limited to members of the CFI board of
    directors.”

    It is notable that he issued no such disclaimer with this latest apology.

  • Michael Neville

    Lindsay is a lawyer. I’m sure he brought his legal expertise to his apology. It says the right things but no more than the bare minimum of rightness. It’s a genuine apology, written in the active voice and without any conditional “I’m sorry if you were insulted” verbiage. But it doesn’t go an inch further.

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

    That’s an interesting observation that hadn’t occurred to me. However, and take this for what it’s worth, he did further reinforce his apology today on Twitter:

    “My apology re talk at WIS2 was not a victory or defeat for anyone; it was not forced or half-hearted; it was an expression of my heart”

    source

    I have to say I’m feeling more optimistic about this than I did when I wrote this post over the weekend. From what I’m hearing, several people who were present at the CFI internal discussions that inspired Lindsay’s apology say that they’re convinced he’s had a genuine lightbulb moment.

  • SoundsLikeDelores

    I think you’ve overstated how “real” his apology is. That Lindsay is sorry he “caused offense” sounds marginally less mealy-mouthed than “I’m sorry if I offended anyone.” I see no indication that he changed a single opinion expressed in his speech, but if we take him at his word (and I do), he understands that his views can offend some people, but not that they are objectively offensive (which is kind of an oxymoron anyway).

    Also, “that’s really all anyone was asking for”? Obviously that isn’t true. You, for one, really want more: a “demonstration” that “proves” Lindsay truly understands his perfidy. Even the title of post is asking for more.

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

    That Lindsay is sorry he “caused offense” sounds marginally less mealy-mouthed than “I’m sorry if I offended anyone.”

    It’s the absence of the “if” that makes the difference between an apology and a not-pology, to my mind.

    Also, “that’s really all anyone was asking for”? Obviously that isn’t true. You, for one, really want more: a “demonstration” that “proves” Lindsay truly understands his perfidy.

    Fair point. I suppose what I personally most want to see is a sincere apology that proves he understands why his speech got the reaction it did. This apology is at most half of that, so I’m not pronouncing myself completely satisfied just yet. But it’s still an important half.

  • SoundsLikeDelores

    I think Lindsay’s understanding of the reaction to his speech is quite different from yours and mine. The reason he was reticent on this point in his apology is because he is fundamentally honest, by which I mean if he fully explained his understanding, it would undermine the apology and stick further in the craws of his detractors. (E.g., “I’m sorry I caused offense” = “It did not occur to me that an audience of skeptics would flip out over my patronizing mansplaining, but now I know.”)

    I could certainly be wrong about this, but it’s my impression. Similarly, re his “apology” to Rebecca Watson, I think he is sorry he resorted to ad hominem, but he still thinks Watson unfairly misrepresented his talk and otherwise behaved inappropriately (tweeting during the talk, e.g.)

  • Hibernia86

    While it is true that Ron Lindsay’s remarks were undiplomatic and perhaps unwise to make at the beginning of the conference, he was correct in what he said. While it is important to listen to women about gender issues, the fact that they are women doesn’t automatically make them right on those issues. The final truth depends on the fact. Yes, you do hear people lecturing men online to “shut up and listen”. They are even debating on the Huffington Post about whether men should be allowed to speak for themselves when supporting feminism.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/darlena-cunha/men-feminism_b_3275303.html

    Adam, you did it yourself in the other article you posted, declaring that Lindsay was “mansplaining” as if he didn’t have a right to comment on feminism due to his gender (the term “man explaining” expressed as a negative is sexist in and of itself).

    Lindsay did something undiplomatic. But what he said was true and he shouldn’t be punished for that.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X