Gelato Mio's Newest Apology

For decades the atheist movement has been screaming that bigotry against us is immoral.  Sadly, some people are not sold on that.  But everybody listens to consequences, and the reaction to Gelato Mio’s shenanigans shows that, for the first time, our numbers have grown to such that we can say to anti-atheist bigots that if you are going to engage in unacceptable behavior that the aftermath will not be good for you.  I like that.

So let’s get to the meat of this.  Andy, the owner of Gelato Mio, who posted the anti-atheist sign, originally offered a not-pology after the atheist community set itself to reducing his store’s internet presence to rubble.  He has now offered a more elaborate apology.  It is hard for me to believe Andy acquired more sincerity between the two.  It is much easier to believe that he is doing damage control and trying to placate the targets of his bigotry.  This, as well as the contents of the new missive, leave me with a number of questions.

High profile atheists like Hemant and Jen think the new apology is adequate.  I (and PZ Myers) do not.  I am not being inimical, so please don’t bother dismissing me as being a contrarian.  I have legit questions that are simply unanswered.  Bigotry against atheists is a serious matter for me and there is an enormous difference between “I’m sorry for what I did” and “I’m sorry this bit me in the ass,” and I want to know which I’m dealing with before I accept an apology from this man.  If evil actions can be absolved by a few words then liars gain an advantage in the culture war, and I’m simply unwilling to let that happen.  So in the interest of resolving my concerns I emailed Andy asking if he’d be willing to have a public discussion with me about those questions.  He declined, saying he wanted this apology to stand for itself.  And so I voice my misgivings.

Andy opens by saying he was entirely in the wrong and has no intention of making excuses.  That’s where it should’ve ended.

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”).

News flash: people are skeptical about Christianity.  I apologize for the people who have been spreading around the idea that skepticism does not apply to certain topics, like religion.  Those people are wrong.

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.

First, the audience was screaming god damn and laughing right along with him.  So when Andy says a single person moved him to discriminate there is a huge disconnect.  Like barring *Nsync fans from your store because you hate *Nsync’s music, then saying you have nothing against the fans, just the band.

Second, if Sam had been mocking homeopathy or UFOs, Andy’s offense still wouldn’t have meant a damn thing.  Andy was offended.  So what?  What if I owned a business, went to church, heard how I was causing the decline of humanity and deserved eternal torture (as pastors are wont to exclaim), and decided to exclude Christians from my business?  Surely my offense at being told I’m wicked is more justifiable at Andy’s offense at being told he is wrong (and hilariously so).  His offense gives him no license for what he did.

Andy, we post billboards saying atheists aren’t the slime of the Earth and people, lots of people, get offended.  Some even to the point of vandalism.  By virtue of vocally disagreeing with believers we’re always going to be offending someone.  If we are to stay silent so as not to offend people, we’re going to be waiting a very long time before we can criticize religion.  Your offense gains you zero privilege and zero sympathy from me.  Tell Sam why he was wrong, don’t tell him you were offended.

Or, if you’re going to insist that people being offended is something we should concern ourselves about, at least be consistent.  Tell your church to stay silent on the existence of hell for fear of offending unbelievers.  Bar Christians from your business for proselytizing and for telling others they’re not only wrong, but that they are inherently evil.  That’s offensive.  Get just as offended at David Fitzgerald’s talk highlighting the silliness of the Mormon faith as you do about Sam Singleton pointing out the silliness of yours.  Of course, none of that will ever happen because Christians are accustomed to taking special privilege and thinking nothing of it.

The response will be, “But JT, he apologized and said he was wrong.”  Then why even include the rant about Sam in the apology if it’s not an appeal for us to think less ill of his actions out of sympathy?  That’s an excuse.  With this, Andy places at least part of the blame (if not all of it) on Sam Singleton and never takes it off again.  For me to buy his apology, I’d want an apology to Sam directly with an admission that Sam has the right to criticize and even mock his beliefs.  I could literally not care less if Andy didn’t like what he heard.  What’s more, I do not sympathize with him.  The response in that case is simple: leave.  The event is free to attend so you don’t even need to ask for a refund.  You don’t get to leave your business, walk into a presentation, not pay to see it, not like the material, and then act like you were wronged in some way.

“But JT” some will say.  “How would you feel if people went around mocking atheism!  Can’t you empathize with this man?”

No.  No, I can’t.  You want to mock atheism?  Do it!  Please do it!  The difference is that atheism is a defensible position, so if you mock atheism to someone even remotely competent they’re going to turn your mockery on its head and reveal you for the unresearched, overconfident person you are.  Mock atheism and it’s highly likely that you will wind up looking like a nincompoop.  Christianity cannot defend its position, and so Christians rely on societal punishments and ideological bullying in the culture war – which is precisely what Andy did.  Of course, bullies tend to tuck their tail when someone pushes back.  He has now attempted to extricate his actions with words.  His first attempt to escape culpability for his actions failed, and so now he has tried something that more closely resembles sincerity.  I wish he hadn’t cried wolf the first time, otherwise I would have accepted his new apology and then and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable.

So will Andy admit there was nothing wrong with what Sam (and the rest of the audience) was doing?  If not, then this is not sincere.

For what it’s worth, nobody was turned away.

Every single attendee at Skepticon was turned away when you hung up the sign telling them they weren’t welcomed!  Do you think someone can be turned away only verbally?  Did you expect people to ignore the sign and come inside only to find out that you didn’t really mean it?

I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to their beliefs.

This was never in question.  Our issue was that everybody should be free from bigotry.  Does Andy feel that others should be free to offend?

Guys, I really don’t know what else I can do to express my apologies.

Let’s examine what you tried to do…

I will give everyone who comes to my store this week 10% off as a token of my apology. Really, what’s more universal than ice cream?

Did Andy really tax every neuron in his skull searching for a way to convey the full spectrum of his remorse only to come up with…this?  His idea of a token of an apology is to say “Come into my store, spend your money here, and I’ll happily make slightly less of a profit”?  What an empty gesture.  Right now, Andy, you’re making zero from the atheist community.  There is a moral here: be careful what you ask for, you might get a shitload of it. He doesn’t want atheists in his Christian store, and we damned sure helped him to achieve his desire.  Now he wants us back, but he’s ok making slightly less money from us than he normally would, and is trying to paint that as a sacrifice sufficient to count as penance.

Well Andy, a lot of us don’t want our money getting dumped into a collection plate after we spend it, so inviting us to hand you our cash as a token of your apology is pretty weak.  How about you really put your money where your mouth is and make a significant charitable donation (to a secular organization like Doctors Without Borders)?  If you’re willing to part with your income, how about you donate 10% of your gross income for a month?  That would satisfy my doubts and confirm, for me, that you were really sorry and willing to make a genuine sacrifice to make amends.  Starving children, illnesses, and medical treatment are, in my estimation, more universal than ice cream, and more relevant to the well-being of the world than your bottom line.  So if you don’t know what you can do, Andy, this would be a good place to start.  You say you were wrong, but talk is cheap and lying is easy – almost as easy as taking your normal profits minus 10% for a week as opposed to your normal profits minus 100% for quite a while.

Who wants to start a pool on whether or not, when redemption comes with a price rather than a profit, that Andy will actually put on his big boy shoes?  I presently believe, due to his empty gesture and his previous not-pology (and his unwillingness to address these questions when I contacted him), that Andy is not sincere and is instead merely doing damage control once he realized that bigotry carries a higher price tag than he thought.  So I know where my money would be.  Would love to find out I’m wrong here but I won’t hold my breath.

To those of you who accept my apology, Thank You; it means a lot. To those of you who haven’t, I hope you will.

Andy, I do not accept your apology.  I do not think you’ve done enough to convince us of your sincerity.  I think you are trying to cover your ass.  Discrimination is a serious issue, and so far your response boils down to “I’m sorry, come back and spend your money and I’ll profit a little bit less from the people I treated as second-class citizens.”  We are a marginalized demographic that suffers genuine harm on account of it.  You contributed to that, and even though your words are dripping with desperation I am not seeing you act like this is a serious issue (aside from the seriousness of how this affects you).  Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.

I have told you what could change my mind.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.