Writer Who Blasted Atheists on Popular Website Now Apologizes for It

Back in November, Charlie Jane Anders posted at io9 that atheists needed to read more science fiction because we were smug, arrogant people who have no respect for viewpoints other than our own.

Needless to say, I didn’t care much for those comments.

I bring this up against because Anders has written a piece about what she’s learned from “5 years of arguing on the Internet” and one of her points addresses that very post:

I’ve definitely written things I regretted afterwards. Like that piece about atheism and science fiction a while back — that was a case where I hadn’t fully thought through what I was trying to say, and I wrote something kind of half-assed, that hurt people who already felt marginalized and under assault from mainstream culture. (And in retrospect, a lot of what I had been reading as “smugness” from a few of my fellow non-believers was probably more like anger at that marginalization.) I’m sorry about that.

But there have also been times I wrote things, and the commenters wound up convincing me I had been completely off base — and I was still glad I wrote those things, because the discussion was 100 percent worth it.

That’s pretty awesome. She read the comments and feedback, took certain ones seriously, and changed her mindset accordingly. It’s never easy to do that. It’s even harder admitting you did that, especially on a public forum. So hats off to her.

(Thanks to Jason for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Helanna

    I’m actually very impressed. That was an actual apology. Not “I’m sorry you misunderstood me” or “I’m sorry you’re so bitter”, but a real “I’m sorry I said something hurtful, I have since realized the problem with what I said.” Very nice.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      This ^. I appreciate her honesty and apology.

    • J-Rex

      Or “I’m going to do the right thing and apologize…but here are all the reasons I’m still right.”

      • Helanna

        Ooh yeah, that’s a bad one. Really, there are so many different categories of non-pologies that it’s embarrassing . . .

      • WallofSleep

        Heh, I see you’ve met my ex-girlfriend.

    • WallofSleep

      Or that crap non-apology most often used in the corporate world: “I’m sorry you feel that way”. Apparently we humans are hardwired to respond to the phrase favorably, so they use that as a psychological trick to deflect complaints or disagreements without actually addressing them. For some reason it always had the opposite effect on me. Coincidentally, I am no longer a part of the corporate world.

      • Marella

        There must be something wrong with me then, “I’m sorry you feel that way” just makes me apoplectic with rage. I know I have just been dismissed and that nothing will be done to fix the problem.

  • Chana

    So great! It’s really hard to apologize and say you were wrong; this should be admired and held up as a standard for all of us.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    I don’t get where she got that idea in the first place. Read more science fiction? I live and die by Robert Heinlein’s oeuvre. In college, when I had no spare money, I owned three books: Between Planets, Tunnel in the Sky, and Farmer in the Sky, and I read them over and over and over again. I’m currently rereading The Door into Summer, having just finished Starman Jones for the upteenth time. I also love Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, and a lot of the classic 60s writers like Larry Niven, Clifford D. Simak, and CM Kornbluth.

    I know tons of atheist science fiction fans. Roddenberry was atheist. Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, Heinlein of course, Philip Pullman, and Harlan Ellison are atheists. If you want Christian science fiction, you have to read crap like The Warlock in Spite of Himself. Of course atheists read science fiction.

    • coyotenose

      Seriously, atheists are significantly more likely to be serious science fiction fans. The original article was bizarre because the very premise was nonsensical.

      Heh, a lot of people, and thus a lot of atheists, argue that Heinlein was an extremely sexist writer. That disagreement alone counters Anders’s original premise; we have a diverse opinion of science fiction.

      • Tainda

        That’s what I didn’t understand about the original either. ALL of the atheists I know personally are huge sci-fi/fantasy nerds, me being the biggest one of all lol

      • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

        The belief that Heinlein was sexist is very well countered by Spider Robinson in “Rah, Rah, R.A.H.!”

    • Jason Robertson

      You can also read C.S. Lewis sf contribution the ‘Space’ trilogy. Like most Lewis it is quite effective at driving its consumers into the waiting hands of the opposite position.

      As a cleanser you can read the story of an alternate Alan Turing waging a fight against the darkness Lewis brings in the “come with me if you want to keep living as a gay man” alternative history tale “Oracle”. http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/MISC/ORACLE/Oracle.html

      I’m in research mode for a talk I mean to give in a couple months regarding Atheist Polemics in SF in a couple months, so I’m interested in hearing from people who think they have particular standout examples, particularly less well-known ones.

      • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

        Atheist polemics in SF? I assume Harry Harrison is already on your list… and not just for “The Streets of Ashkelon”.

        • Jason Robertson

          Harry Harrison is actually a gap, though my biggest weakness is probably female-authored SF, as a result of poor personal reading habits. Anything else in the Harrison bibliography I should check out?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Harrison/23417637 Michael Harrison

          Ah, Harry Harrison. The very thing I remember the most from Deathworld 2 is the main character’s mockery of capital-T Truth that is proclaimed by the various tribes on the planet where he lands.

    • jdm8

      SF seems to be where atheism thrives. The few overtly religious SF authors that I know are Orson Scott Card (LDS) and L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology). Glen Larson is also LDS, he created Battlestar Galactica.

  • AaronLane

    I disagree with this posting and its entire sentiment!!

    (Because in reality, io9 isn’t really all that popular…)

  • compl3x

    Wasn’t Gene Roddenberry an atheist? You know, the creator of Star Trek…

    Anyway, she seen she was wrong and fessed up, good on her.

    • Jason Robertson

      I think enough time has passed that people should be encouraged to rewatch the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers” about as militantly atheistic as can be imagined. Do it now! You’ll thank me! And yes, Roddenberry was an atheist.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        Just watched it and I can’t say it was militantly atheistic at all. The premise of that episode falls more in line with refreshing reason than militant combat. Militant Atheism is hostile rhetoric most commonly used to combat well established positions of faith and religious indoctrination. The Mintakans had long let go of their myths but they had not forgotten them. The Mintakans also had established Atheistic principles. Capt. Picard, with a desire to correct the prime directive and through the use of reason, returned them to those principles. As the archeologist had pointed out, had Picard done nothing then a religion might have been established where none had existed for centuries.

        • Jason Robertson

          You don’t see it as militantly atheistic that Picard openly took the Mintakan culture as advanced and his introduction of religion as returning them to the dark ages?

          I wonder where in the world you _can_ find militant atheism by those standards.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Don’t do it again. Apology accepted. Move on.

    See how easy that is.

    • mikeym

      Please tell me that you pronounce your name “chay-CHEE-lee-ah,” like the mezzo-soprano.

  • Cecelia Baines

    As a fun side note – I have been flying sortees for a major Hollywood production for the last two weeks – they are getting helicopter shots etc….and it is in the realm of fantasy/science fiction (it is for a superhero movie) and it is the COOLEST thing ever!!!! First off, the crew, director, talent and creators are some of the most fun people to be around….talk about creative minds! But the STORY is amazing, and yes, it is in the realm of gods, fantasy, the other worlds etc….

    As an atheist I know all of it is bunk, but it is STORY! Fantasy! Fun! I mean, COME ON!!! How could anyone not like a movie like this!!!

    • Jason Robertson

      You’re not picking up Man of Steel shots, are you? :)

      • Cecelia Baines

        Wrong comic group! I am under such nondisclosure contracts that I may be shot for squeaking out tidbits; all I can legally say is it is for Marvel Studios and is based on one of their characters!

        • Sinfanti

          All I can say is that you remind me that I’m in the wrong line of work.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Nothing wrong with a fun story, man.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    Well Charlie, you were an example to us anyway, but this time that’s a good thing.

  • Lurker111

    Another SF author with a definite nontheist streak is James P. Hogan, of note for the Gentle Giants of Ganymede trilogy and Voyage from Yesteryear. Also: Code of the Lifemaker.

    • Jason Robertson

      James P. Hogan is kind of a problem case, because he has a streak of Holocaust-denial sympathy.

  • sciencelady

    I don’t think taxpayer money should be used to repair Christian symbols on display.


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