The issue discussed in this post actually arose several weeks ago. I talked to Dale about the issue when it occurred; we agreed it wasn’t worth posting about (it would just bring on unnecessary attention) and it would just fade away. Now, it looks like the story is going to spread since it has been mentioned in Humanist Network News and in the comments section on Daylight Atheism. I might as well jump into the fray.
Here’s the summary of what went down:
Dale McGowan wrote a book called Parenting Beyond Belief. The book is a collection of essays for parents who wish to raise their children without religion and how to deal with the issues that come up as a result. The essay writers include Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette, and many others. The book is now available in stores and getting some great reviews.
Penn Jillette expressed frustration, however, when his essay had some editing done to it. Here’s a response he gave (on his own message board) to an inquiry about his contribution to the book:
“That godless parenting book is not really my writing. I wrote something that had some guts to it, and they were scared of it. I guess they didn’t want to anger xtians by having an Atheist perspective in their book on atheist parenting. When I write, I usually have control over the final product and editors are very respectful. I did this for free because I thought it was a good cause. They used that against me, and edited it in ways I don’t approve of. It might be a good book, but please don’t buy it for my essay, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they edited other stuff badly as well.”
Dale responded to this topic on his own message board with a fuller explanation of what Penn was talking about (The emphases are his own):
Yeah, I figured this was coming at some point, since he was pretty upset at the time. That’s really unfortunate — his piece is brilliant, as you might expect. I really didn’t want to air this in public, but I won’t be libeled, either. Here’s the story:
I sent all contributors one page of editorial guidelines. I then edited essays according to those guidelines and sent the essays back to each for approval.
Penn’s essay is 1100 words in length. I edited two of those words.
The first was the word “xtian,” which I asked all contributors to spell out as “christian.” He agreed. “The xtian change could be made as a style thing for the whole book,” he said in an email, “and I’ll go with that.”
We’re now down to a single word.
Penn had included the word “christards” in his essay — a combination of “christian” and “retards.” Here’s the original phrase:
We don’t have any friends who are christards or into any kind of faith-based hooey…
I changed it to
We don’t have any friends who are into any kind of faith-based hooey…
The book includes very direct and unapologetic critiques of religious belief by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker — hardly wallflowers — but I considered this to be over the top, an unnecessary slur, which is something I’d asked the writers to avoid.
I went back and forth on the decision, weak-kneed bastard that I am. At one point I apologized to Penn, abjectly and sincerely, and said I’d leave it in. I really thought for half an hour that I’d done the wrong thing. But then I ran it past five other atheists, all of whom felt even more strongly than I did that it was too much and had to go or it would become a distraction, the only thing interviewers and reviewers would talk about. And I re-read the guidelines, and thought about the core audience of parents who aren’t as comfortable as others in their disbelieving skins and who need this book. That’s not the only audience, of course, but it’s the one that can finally demarginalize disbelief by getting more comfortable about identifying with it.
So I told Penn I wanted to remove it after all, not to avoid offending christians, but to avoid turning off that core audience of moderate nonbelievers. I can be plenty boundless and rude myself when the situation calls for it, but I know there are times when it’s counterproductive. I decided this was one of those times.
Penn was very angry, but said, “It’s your call.” If he’d insisted I leave it in, I would have done so, as I did for some other contributors…but (whether he meant it or not) he gave me the choice. If this is “disrespectful” editing, I just don’t see it, and I don’t see that a piece with two words changed is no longer his.
As for writing it for free: I sent a rather large check with his name on it, and somebody cashed it. He might want to look into that. His account may not have noticed it, but mine sure as hell did.
I agree with Dale on this matter. For a positive book on atheist parenting, the word would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb. I haven’t read Penn’s essay yet, but if it is “brilliant” as Dale says, there’s no need for an additional slap-in-the-face to theists. Dale made the right decision in editing it out of the book.
Using derogatory words takes away from the rational, logical discourse we atheists claim to hold so dear. It’s not like religion has a lack of reasons to be criticized. There’s no need to resort to low blows.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Christards, Dale McGowan, Humanist Network News, Daylight Atheism, Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette, godless, parenting, xtian, Dan Barker[/tags]