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.

  • Zach Moore

    So, here’s an idea. What if Andy sponsored an ice-cream social for Skepticon V? Free ice cream salves a lot of wounds.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Sounds nice, but I can see how the WorldNutDaily types would spin it: CRYBABY ATHEISTS THROW A TANTRUM AND DEMAND THE WORLD BUY THEM AN ICE CREAM CONE!

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    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”?

    Um…he’s just the owner of one lousy corner store, and he still has his share of bills to pay. What more CAN he do?

    Look, I respect your feelings here, and I have no problem with atheists being angry at the discrimination they see first-hand. But this battle is won — even the less-than-100%-sincere apology you got is an admission that he made a mistake and suffered consequences he didn’t expect. Let’s try to be magnanimous in victory and save the vindictiveness for the more dangerous scumbags who haven’t surrendered yet.

    …there is an enormous difference between “I’m sorry for what I did” and “I’m sorry this bit me in the ass”…

    Yeah, but most people tend to realize something they did was wrong after, and because, it bit them in the ass unexpectedly. That’s part of the learning process for us flawed humans, and I don’t think we can expect instant Enlightenment from a less-than-filthy-rich gelato merchant. Just take what you got as a significant partial victory and one more baby step toward a more just society.

  • jamessweet

    …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…

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with this philosophy. For one, you can never really know how sincere a person’s apology is. Moreover, since minds change slowly, if somebody does wrong, I sort of feel like an unreserved no-excuses apology that articulates exactly what the problem was, characterizes it as a problem without caveat, and apologizes without reservation — I think that’s about the best one can hope for.

    You say that if insincere apologies are allowed, then liars get a leg up in the culture war — but I disagree. The unreserved nature of this apology, the clear articulation of exactly what was wrong and why it was wrong, that’s a win for our side regardless of whether the apology was sincere. It demonstrates to others that this sort of bigotry is not okay, regardless of what the owner of Gelato Mio really thinks.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      I agree. Even an insincere apology is an admission from which a person cannot walk back. And it certainly sets this gelato guy several steps above huge numbers of liars, con-artists, bigots and demagogues who never apologize, and whose very careers depend on rigid adherence to the number-one rule of con-artists and phony prophets: KEEP TALKING.

      Sincere or not, this apology is a real victory, and we should capitalize on it by accepting it and treating the gelato guy as a potential friend. Think of it as a perfectly civil and honest divide-and-rule strategy. (Such a response would also serve to refute a certain well known stereotype of atheists.)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    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?

    The next time the Pope blames atheists for the world’s problems, I’m barring Catholics from using my bathroom.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula PZ Myers

    At this hypothetical ice cream social…could me and JT and Sam and Greta and Dave walk up, get an ice cream cone, thank him for it, and say, “Fuck God and all of his priests”?

    Or would he be trying to buy our silence?

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Only to someone who actually thinks that a few seconds of politeness is “silence.”

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      I think a better response would be to be polite to his face, let him realize the atheists won’t bite his head off (due to centuries of Christian propaganda, he may be unclear on this), and if he talks to you and shows interest in you, take an opportunity to explain your thinking to him.

      This guy is not an enemy combattant, he’s a civilian in enemy-controlled territory. Let’s treat him as such, shall we?

    • http://texasreason.net Zach Moore

      If anyone could buy your silence, PZ, I’ve yet to meet them. In my conception of the ice cream social, everyone gets to say whatever they want, don’t worry. Still interested?

  • Laurence

    Sorry JT, I’m not with on this one. Acting irrationally because of emotions is a pretty common human trait. When a lot of people feel strongly about something, they tend to react poorly and irrationally when that belief is openly mocked. Strong emotions are a part of being human, and sometimes we deal with them well and sometimes poorly. I know that I’ve made mistakes because of a lack of clarity while being emotional. Is it an excuse? Probably not. Does it make my behavior more understandable? It sure does. We’re all human here, and we all know what it’s like to be so pissed off that you aren’t thinking clearly. Once his head cleared, he realized the mistake he made. That’s enough for me.

    Will I ever buy something from Gelato Mio if I’m ever in Springfield? Probably not because I’m sure there are other businesses around that I would rather buy stuff from. Do I forgive him for his actions? Sure.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      If he has fig gelato, I’ll buy it; that stuff is hard to find outside Rome. If not, meh…

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.

    I believe he did this when he said that people have every right to their beliefs and that he was wrong to punish us by putting the sign up.
    I get the sense that you and PZ want him to apologize not only for his actions, but also for the fact that he was offended. I think is apology was fine. He seems to have acted stupidly in the heat of the moment and now regrets it. I do not demand that he agree with us and he has every right to be offended, if he so chooses to be. We can demand that he act nice, but demanding that he think a certain way would be accusing him thought crime, and thoughts should always be free.

    • John Eberhard

      You say it perfectly with “I get the sense that you and PZ want him to apologize not only for his actions, but also for the fact that he was offended.”

      We are not the thought and feeling police. We win when we change actions. Turn it around: We can dislike theists as much as we want; but we cannot discriminate against them in our business. Same for Andy: he can dislike us as much as he wants so long as he doesn’t discriminate against us in his business.He stopped doing that and admitted he was “entirely in the wrong”. We shouldn’t impose draconian punishment or use him as a whipping boy for all theist transgressions.

      • Cwayne

        I very much agree with JT but do like what you have said here.

  • speedwell

    Ten percent is a tithe. I mean, this is pretty ingrained Christianity here. He didn’t sit down with a calculator and decide rationally that he could afford a ten percent hit max. (He probably discounts more than that when he issues a coupon in the paper.)

    Nowhere does he say “It is wrong to discriminate against atheists.” He believes everyone is “entitled to their beliefs”, which means we, who have no beliefs, should leave him alone, who does have them. But he doesn’t say a word about people entitled to disbelieve.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      Does he explicilty make an exception for people who don’t believe? If not, then you’re reading too much into what he said.

  • http://www.ziztur.com Flimsyman

    Personally, I’ll accept his apology, though as others have said, I won’t be spending my money at his establishment anytime soon.

    Two points: 1. Is the apology sincere, and sans excuses? I would give him the benefit of the doubt and say yes, because he states bluntly that there are no excuses for his actions. Yes, he went on to explain why he was offended, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a justification for his actions. If I make a mistake, I will totally walk through the steps that led me to make a mistake, not as an excuse, but to illustrate my perspective and not make the same mistake again. So if a guy says, “I screwed up and there’s no excuses; now here’s exactly how and why I screwed up …” I’ll take him at his word.

    2. The question of what amends he could make to demonstrate his sincerity. I do agree that I would much prefer to see a public pledge of a sizable donation to a worthy (explicitly secular) cause would be much better than a small discount for a short period of time. However, I don’t know his business situation. I don’t know how much of a financial penance he can reasonably afford, and I don’t think that the failure of his business is an appropriate punishment (considering the apology, of course).

    To be perfectly honest, I’m even giving him a few points for not claiming that it was totally unchristian of him to put that sign up and so he decided to be a good Christian and apologize. It was a secular apology. Good enough for me.

  • http://pixelstampede.wordpress.com Emily

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, JT.

    I’m glad you wrote about this at great length, I did a short summation on my blog last night; but because I’m too disgusted with the whole thing, anything I put to words right now would be scathing.

    -Emilyhasbooks-

  • Pingback: More Skepticon Ponies « Kajed Heat

  • Chas

    10% discount for a ice cream parlor is a damn big hit to his cash flow so I wouldn’t phrase it as to “make slightly less of a profit”. Also, has anyone stopped to ask if a yelp, google etc. review was actually going to affect his business? Now, I don’t think Skepticon attendees will frequent his place any longer but I can’t remember a time where I consulted Yelp before I bought some ice cream nor can I conceive of a reason for doing so in the future. I also don’t think many Springfield locals are going to be turned off because he discriminates against us atheists. You could have just said that he’s a bigoted asshole and you don’t have to accept his apology but acting like he and others should be afraid of our Yelp reviews rings hollow with me.

  • http://mid-west-atheist.blogspot.com/ Volizden

    I am with JT and PZ on this. After this final apology I initially thought he really is trying to seek forgiveness. But then a Co-worker of mine, who is himself christian and a minister in his church, pointed this out. If he really was sincere he would mention plans to present at his church about his intolerance and ask the rest of the congregation for their forgiveness for casting them in a bad light as well.

    On top of that, the next thing that occurred to me was his statement about Sam’s show. If he was offended did he ask anyone what was going on in the act? Did he research for information about what he was watching, or just take offense and storm out?

    On top of that add in JT’s reasoning above and NO I just cannot accept his apology as legit. It his profit margin he is worried about, and not JUST from the atheists, My co-worker was incense enough to state he himself would not eat there, and he was going to make sure to pass this along to friends and family as well. So that they also would NOT patronize his establishment.

    I am sure Andy has heard from at least a few dismayed christians as well. But I may be wrong in that assumption.

    • Chas

      That would be really fantastic if others are truly incensed because of his bigotry. I still don’t want his business to fail because I wouldn’t wish that on anyone but I hope that Christians are dismayed by his actions.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      If he really was sincere he would mention plans to present at his church about his intolerance and ask the rest of the congregation for their forgiveness for casting them in a bad light as well.

      Not all churches allow admissions of fallibility on-premises. Expecting him to go that far out of his way, for a relatively minor incident (as religious dsicrimination goes) that didn’t actually result in real harm, is really rather silly. (Although it would certainly be appropriate if he had, say, tried to beat up an atheist without provocation.) I think the most effective response is to accept his apology, temper justice with mercy, show him that atheists can be nice to people who apologize to them, and maybe he’ll say something to his fellow believers that will contribute to the ongoing erosion of their edifice of BS.

      I think at this point, being nice would be seen as a sign of strength, and more pressure for more groveling would be a sign of insecurity and meanness.

      • sqlrob

        What “real harm” is there in being asked to move to the back of the bus?

      • http://mid-west-atheist.blogspot.com/ Volizden

        And now add this from the Front Page article in our news paper:
        _______________________________________________________
        In fact, the sign has prompted many online users to give Gelato Mio low ratings and leave not-so-flattering reviews on popular websites such as Yelp and Google Review, sinking the business’ ratings to below two stars.

        Drennen said he is concerned.

        “I have to live with my mistake,” said Drennen, who hopes his community support and prior reputation will carry him through the crisis.
        _______________________________________________________

        His concern over the success of his business is MOST LIKELY the motivator NOT that fact he did something wrong. Sorry this just reinforces my View of his apology

      • John Eberhard

        “I think the most effective response is to accept his apology, temper justice with mercy, show him that atheists can be nice to people who apologize to them, and maybe he’ll say something to his fellow believers that will contribute to the ongoing erosion of their edifice of BS.

        I think at this point, being nice would be seen as a sign of strength, and more pressure for more groveling would be a sign of insecurity and meanness.”

        Good enough to deserve an encore. If we ever wonder why even the reasonable ones can be so willing to paint us as mean and vindictive, well…..

  • Richard

    I’m rather torn on this issue, since I read the friendly atheist regularly and I’m really undecided either way. Both sides make really valid points, JT’s proof that the apology was thin as tissue paper holds weight, and Hermant’s stance that this is a big step forward, shaming resulted in not only the sign coming down, but a public apology and a discount. I’ve seen and dealt with my share of christian bigotry over the years, and that there was even a tissue paper thin apology is nice. Nice enough that I removed my 1 star review on yelp, not nice enough or sincere enough that I will ever patronize his business.

    Ultimately, both JT’s and Hermant’s responses were perfect examples of how our community reacts to an event like this, they reach out and want to talk about it. This makes me happy, even if Hermant was the only one who succeeded at opening dialogue, :P sorry JT.

    • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

      Sorry, I just see it happening a lot lately and wanted to correct you about it. It’s Hemant AFAICT. No r.

      • Richard

        *facepalm*

    • Cory Albrecht (@Bytor)

      Yes, J.T.’s and Hemant’s are both examples of the majority of responses from the Skeptic and Atheists communities, but that doesn’t mean that they are both correct, useful or appropriate responses.

      IMNSHO, one was an attempt to deal with it in a mature fashion by engaging in outreach and hopefuly a little education while not denying how hurtful the shopkeeper’s actions were. The other is a childish stamping of feet that does nothing to try and solve the situation and only serves to polarize the larger issue.

  • RhubarbTheBear

    If I were this guy… and trust me, I am NOT this guy, but at one point in my past I WAS very much like this guy, so I understood his impulses very well… I’d wonder why I’d need “forgiveness” from the atheist community. Forgiveness isn’t a useful atheist concept. They don’t forgive, they don’t forget; they hold onto this stuff and use it as ammunition for as long as it is useful. And they are proud of it. On those occasions when I do anything to make an atheist mad – and I have – I pretty much write any chances of reconciliation off.

    If I were him, I would use this as an opportunity to point out how hateful atheists are and how the lack of Jesus in their hearts has made them a cruel, heartless group of people who know nothing about the concept of forgiveness. And then I’d claim the power of Christ could transform even the hardest of hearts into vessels of kindness, forgiveness, and healing.

    OF COURSE it would be a dick move. OF COURSE I see the fallacy of it. BUT I’D DO IT. And it would work, and I’d get lots of Christian customers and sell plenty of gelato. The atheists could hate me and boycott me all they wanted, and I’d be fine with it. Problem solved.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      …On those occasions when I do anything to make an atheist mad – and I have – I pretty much write any chances of reconciliation off.

      Specifics, please, or I’m calling bullshit. And if you’re the one “writing any chances of reconciliation off,” how is that the atheist’s fault?

  • Katie Tims

    I have to side with with Raging Bee and the others accepting the apology here. Then again, even as an atheist I thought the “Goddamn” thing was over the top (despite the fact that the Evangelical ceremony was oodles of fun). We’re supposed to be a civil movement with ideas that can stand up on their own. One of the stereotypes I get a lot about athiests being angry jerks comes from Christian-bashing stuff like this.

    The apology was a victory, and considering the story behind it I can understand the knee-jerk reaction this guy had. Heck, even as an atheist I had a similar twinge because we weren’t just stating that we don’t believe. We were actively mocking the people we’re trying to get the moral high ground from.

    Heck, I remember when I went to church as a favor for a Christian friend of mine. The agreement was that I’d go to several church sessions and he’d come to some atheist events. We both were uncomfortable in the other person’s event, and after the service I was almost foaming at the mouth. That said, going to church was really useful because I got to know some of the people there. I still disagree with them, but I can disagree rationally and discuss why which I couldn’t do until I attended. From the sounds of the letter (and the fact that when I e-mailed Andy I actually got a response, which is rare from businesses) this guy had a similar knee-jerk reaction which is understandable. Not everyone has experience on walking in to a convention trashing their beliefs like that. On top of that, 38 is still kind of young. A kneejerk reaction is wrong, but expected.

    The difference is that most people wouldn’t make the effort to apologize or write any sort of personal letter. He’s apologized well even though you can tell he feels backed into a corner. A debate with people known for ripping Christians a new one doesn’t sound like a debate to him-it’s a chance for irritated atheists to keep harrassing him. The guy’s got the point.

    We don’t have to shop there, but the guy’s learned his lesson. We can at least be polite; I think going after the guy after a good effort on his part is just going to hurt the atheist movement and make us look like huge jerks.

  • Katie Tims

    I have to side with with Raging Bee and the others accepting the apology here. Then again, even as an atheist I thought the “Goddamn” thing was over the top (despite the fact that the Evangelical ceremony was oodles of fun). We’re supposed to be a civil movement with ideas that can stand up on their own. One of the stereotypes I get a lot about atheists being angry jerks comes from Christian-bashing stuff like this.

    The apology was a victory, and considering the story behind it I can understand the knee-jerk reaction this guy had. Heck, even as an atheist I had a similar twinge because we weren’t just stating that we don’t believe. We were actively mocking the people we’re trying to get the moral high ground from.

    Heck, I remember when I went to church as a favor for a Christian friend of mine. The agreement was that I’d go to several church sessions and he’d come to some atheist events. We both were uncomfortable in the other person’s event, and after the service I was almost foaming at the mouth. That said, going to church was really useful because I got to know some of the people there. I still disagree with them, but I can disagree rationally and discuss why which I couldn’t do until I attended. From the sounds of the letter (and the fact that when I e-mailed Andy I actually got a response, which is rare from businesses) this guy had a similar knee-jerk reaction which is understandable. Not everyone has experience on walking in to a convention trashing their beliefs like that. On top of that, 38 is still kind of young. A kneejerk reaction is wrong, but expected.

    The difference is that most people wouldn’t make the effort to apologize or write any sort of personal letter. He’s apologized well even though you can tell he feels backed into a corner. A debate with people known for ripping Christians a new one doesn’t sound like a debate to him-it’s a chance for irritated atheists to keep harassing him. The guy’s got the point.

    We don’t have to shop there, but the guy’s learned his lesson. We can at least be polite; I think going after the guy after a good effort on his part is just going to hurt the atheist movement and make us look like huge jerks.

  • longstreet63

    I’m trying to say two opposite things and can’t work it out very well.
    I don’t accept his apology, or rather:
    I accept his apology for what it’s worth, which is ‘not much’. His initial impulse was to ban non-christians. That’s almost certainly still his preference–if he felt he could get away with it. But he found he couldn’t. We didn’t turn out to be soft targets for the bully, so he apologized to us to try and make us stop hitting him back.
    “I made a mistake’ he says. He means he didn’t think there would be any consequences. He’s sorry that there were some. His bottom line is affected. Multiple references to being a small business owner suggest this is the root of the apology.
    He thinks of his business as a ‘Christian Business’. Anyone think that attitude has changed?
    So I’m happy to stay banned.
    It’s Missouri. I’m sure he can make up the business by telling churches how oppressed he is.

  • Karl

    J.T., you’ve gone over the edge.

    You’re destroying this man’s business out of spite – nothing more. I’ve gone to TAM and I’ve gone to Skepticon. I’ll being going back to TAM next year but never again to Skepticon. The reason is that while I enjoy and learn a lot when listing to *accomplished skeptics* (read “scientists, academicians, published authors, etc.) speak at TAM, I find the *”prominent” skeptics* (read “yahoos with blogs and self-published pamphlets”) to be tedious. Was Brother Sam supposed to be funny? I saw his routine at Skepticon last year and frankly it just made me feel embarrassed. I can see how some would find his routine deeply offensive, but the more important point is that it’s simply ineffective as rhetoric and simply not funny to anyone over the age of 15. This poor man with the gelato shop was practically baited into the action he took, but nevertheless and to his credit, pulled the sign down after only an hour or two. Now his momentary lapse into intolerance (we’ve ALL been there, and you know it), may cost him his business. I wonder if you’re proud of yourself.

    Maybe it’s from spending so much time around high school kids, but I think maybe once you (finally) take on the responsibilities of adulthood (like, for example, trying to run a small business so you can support your family) as opposed to tilting at windmills on the internet, then maybe you’ll see what I mean.

    • Art Vandelay

      This poor man with the gelato shop was practically baited into the action he took

      Really? Seriously? You’re going with that?

      I have news for you. Apologies aren’t like some sort of magical fairy dust that make people automatically not have to be accountable for their actions. As for this business going under, not only do I not give a shit if that happened but what this man has effectively done is won favor with all of the Conservative Christians that are in fact his market for “standing up to those evil atheists” while trying to play both sides and do some damage control with the people he discriminated against. As far as a business startegy, it’s about as savvy as you’re going to get. Luckily for him there’s too many people like yourself who are going to eat it right up.

      • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

        Are you really an atheist? Or are you a Republican posing as one to make atheists look stupid? Because that’s what you’re doing here — making yourself, as an (alleged) atheist, look like a selfish, unsocialized, hateful spoiled brat with zero respect for other people. Seriously, if you think apologies don’t mean anything, there’s no point in trying to talk to you.

    • Chas

      We can accept his apology and not act like Brother Sam did anything wrong. His routine is fantastic and I doubt many 15 year old kids would even understand the biblical and cultural references he makes.

      The owner is not a good person because he decided to not discriminate against atheists after a couple hours or else he would not have needed to apologize.

      We shouldn’t worry about people reacting this way or else we will tame our thoughts and actions down so that others will not be offended and by taming down our thoughts we are lying and creating a cocoon for others to live ignorance.

      I am for being magnanimous towards the gelato man and for thanking Brother Sam for creating a controversy that will help more people to become more informed.

  • https://plus.google.com/100177776801127531910/about The Nerd

    “originally offered a not-pology”
    You’re judging this based on what? Your feelings? Because I feel it to be as sincere of an apology as any. If you have something better than that you have a feeling (you know, that actual physical evidence), I’d be glad to hear it.

  • LawnBoy

    I think the different reactions people are having might come down to whether one feels more empathy for Andy (the Gelato guy) or feels more anger for ones cause.

    I’m looking at this from Andy’s perspective. I found out something I’d signed up to sponsor was not what I thought it was. In a moment of anger, I did something stupid. I regretted it as soon as I cooled down, but I’m caught in a shitstorm.

    What would I do in that case? Probably what Andy has done. I don’t really see that there’s anything more.

    So, I’m thinking about Andy as a person and can accept his apology and move on.

    It seems that J.T. and PZ aren’t viewing Andy as a person, but as a representation of something they’re fighting. From that perspective, there’s no reason to accept Andy’s apology – the root evil from which Andy’s action came still exists, so forgiving and forgetting means losing a good example for debate.

    So, do you look at the apology and see Andy, the person, or do you see “Gelato Guy”, the gift that will keep on giving?

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula PZ Myers

    This poor man with the gelato shop was practically baited into the action he took

    Seriously? This is your argument?

    What do you suggest that we do, that atheists everywhere immediately stop expressing their opinions lest some poor believer wander into hearing range, and be shocked into action? This is exactly the kind of blame-the-victim rationale we see from rape apologists, you know.

    LawnBoy, are you going to post the same lame strawman argument at every atheist site I read?

    • LawnBoy

      No, I’m done posting it :)

      I am curious, though, what the proper etiquette is when one has something to say on a topic that is being discussed simultaneously in many places. Any suggestions?

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      What do you suggest that we do, that atheists everywhere immediately stop expressing their opinions lest some poor believer wander into hearing range, and be shocked into action?

      Quote ANYONE saying anything remotely like that, or admit you need a time-out.

    • LawnBoy

      Also, is my analysis really a strawman? You’ve claimed that it’s wrong, and maybe it is, but I’m not sure.

      My main point is that it doesn’t appear that you and JT are approaching the situation with empathy for Andy’s position. I haven’t seen you putting yourself in his shoes and considering what a reasonable reaction is from that perspective. Am I wrong?

      Your post on the topic seemed to be all about how his apology was insufficient (perhaps inevitably) because his apologizing doesn’t fix all the problems that secularism faces.

      I don’t consider that a reasonable standard when dealing with another human.

  • John Eberhard

    Sounds to me like your statement, “Andy opens by saying he was entirely in the wrong and has no intention of making excuses” covers most of what you have written here. That he goes on to explain the thinking that led him to his action IN ADDITION to that does not take away from “entirely in the wrong and has no intention of making excuses”.

    But, you seem unable to let it go at that.

    “Andy’s offense still wouldn’t have meant a damn thing.” See above “entirely in the wrong”.

    “His offense gives him no license for what he did.” See above “entirely in the wrong”.

    “Tell Sam why he was wrong, don’t tell him you were offended.” See above “entirely in the wrong”.

    “Or, if you’re going to insist that people being offended is something we should concern ourselves about, at least be consistent.” He doesn’t insist on that. See above “entirely in the 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?” I seem to remember calls for the details of what happened. He gives the details, and now gets castigated for giving the requested details. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    “I’d want an apology to Sam directly with an admission that Sam has the right to criticize and even mock his beliefs.” A general one which includes Sam along with 1100 others isn’t enough? How about a personal one for you? How about an individual one for each attendee? Then we can burn his building, bankrupt his family, and sift the ashes. Let’s insist he put up signs saying “I love atheists”. All of that together won’t satisfy some people.

    “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.” Absolutely correct. That may have something to do with “See above ‘entirely in the wrong”.

    “So will Andy admit there was nothing wrong with what Sam (and the rest of the audience) was doing?” I can’t say Andy recognizes this, but I can recognize someone has the right to believe blasphemy is morally wrong while still recognizing Sam has the legal right to blaspheme. And that is where Andy went wrong, when he took an illegal action by putting the sign in the window, not by believing blasphemy is wrong. See above “entirely in the wrong”.

    “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.” You’re too easy on him…how about donating 50% for the rest of his life to REALLY show remorse? Or some other significantly higher arbitrary figure? Are you sure 9% wouldn’t be enough, or that 10% is enough?

    And so on. Take the high road. You don’t have to be his BFF or buy his stuff.

    • Cory Albrecht (@Bytor)

      A year ago when Jeff Wagg raised the issue of how Skepticon tends to conflate atheism and skepticism. J.T., in the ensuing debate, responded with “If you’re religious and a skeptic, I’m sorry to say that you’re shitty at both” in the comments on The Good Atheist blog. In that response then and this blog post now, he comes across to me as a person who lacks empathy for others. (However, I admit to bias on this as I have never actually met J.T. in person and Jeff is a friend.)

      Maybe for J.T. as soon as he learned about skepticism and critical thinking it was a binary switch and he immediately became an atheist and a perfect skeptic, but for most people it’s a process, a journey and the most strongly help beliefs are the last to fall before critical thinking overcomes cognitive dissonance. Religion is one of those, political ideology another.

      Even if one accepts the idea that skepticism necessarily leads to atheism, not everybody is that far along the path – some have only gotten on it and others are only part way there. Some people stall at deism or panentheism or theistic evolutionist or what-have-you, never becoming atheist.

      Calling someone a shitty skeptic because they haven’t reached the end of the path quite yet is not helpful and can only serve to turn away from skepticism those who are early along in their journey. It fails to understand that nobody is a perfect *anything* and that it is an entirely human failing that sometimes our emotions cloud our reason and we aren’t totally rational.

      J.T. doesn’t seem to allow for that all too human frailty.

  • kennypo65

    I’m in Raging Bee’s corner on this one. Look, the gelato guy fucked up. He didn’t realize what a shitstorm his actions would cause and when he finally did, he apologized. I say show a little compassion and take him at his word. This mean spirited venom directed at a small businessman is just not warranted. We are supposed to be more enlightened than our theist peers. Jesus H. Jumping Christ on a pogo stick, let it go. Be the bigger man.

  • Carol Eberhard

    I think Andy is being made into the whipping post for the entire Christian faith. That is wrong.

    • Rob

      It sucks, but I don’t think it’s wrong.

      At this point, the target isn’t Andy. It’s all those other Christians. He’s an example, nothing more, nothing less.

      • Carol Eberhard

        Rob, well, I agree with you on one thing. It sucks. And, I think it is more. And it is sorely lacking in compassion.

        • Karl Corwin

          I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be compassionate about. A man exposed his bigotry and discriminated. His subsequent apologies (and actions on his facebook wall) ring hollow and unconvincing to me. The man took an action and has to deal with the consequence of those actions. The fallout is nobody’s fault but his own.

  • karmakin

    It’s the BUT quotient.

    If you’re going to apologize, never use the word But, either literally or figuratively. (Which is what was done here). I apologize about what I did BUT! It was the result of that bad man insulting my faith.

    Yeah but no.

    The truth is that I don’t think there’s been a lesson learned here about the privilege that’s in play here, and I do think that’s important.

    • Richard

      …point.

  • bobshin

    As a small business owner- who is a very opinionated, outspoken atheist- I keep all my thoughts regarding my beliefs to myself when I would in any way connect with customers or potential customers. It is a rule that every business owner should follow, if their business is about business. Between the pushers visiting my shop and the gimme’s asking for donations to give out bibles- I have more than my share- I gently let them know I am not interested, period. This business owner has learned a lesson. Let’s rejoice in the fact that we have reached a point in the public sphere that he was pressured enough into a public apology. Destroying his business would be bad for everyone. He would be bitter- and even more ambivalent towards atheists- and, in this economy, there’d be one less local business. That would be a sin.

  • john

    I bet Chris Mooney has accepted his apology.

    Chris is an Accommodationist.

    If you forgive, you are an Accommodationist!

    • Richard

      You’re a titler! Oh noes, you appropriate titles for everyone! EVERYTHING MUST BE LABELED!!

  • anthony

    I have to admit that I’m on the fence, here.

    It was a half-hearted apology with more of a feeling of “Oops, I’m busted. My bad!” rather than being genuinely sorry for what he did. No question.

    But I have to ask myself if I would have done different. I’d like to say that the answer to that would be yes. Perhaps, in the future, it will be. JT and PZ have given me something to think about, here.

    For now, though, if I’m to be honest, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have.

    • anthonyallen

      For the record, I’m talking about the “apology.”

      I would not have banned anyone in the first place, no matter how much they offended me.

      I wanted to make that clear.

  • Alix

    Yow… JT, you’re getting some harsh critiques here. But honestly, I’m going to hop onto the U.S.S. Minority and agree with you. I don’t think he’s sincere. Has he made a public appearance and apologized like that? I’d love for him to do that, to humble himself beyond the internet. Offense is no reason for bigotry. I’ll be damned if I ever go there, should he stay in business and I attend the future Skepticons.

    • Cory Albrecht

      @Alix: How, in all practicality, is the Gelato Mio shopkeeper supposed to make a public appearance somewhere? The local Speakers Corner? Or is he supposed to buy time on a national news network to read his speech? The perceived tone of the apology is probably too subjective to be worth more than an “Is not!”/”Is too!” argument on sincerity, so what do you think the shopkeeper should do or should have done to make the apology appropriate to the incident?

  • Mark

    Keep crying about it, mayby you’ll get some free icecream out of it.

  • raymoscow

    I don’t buy his ‘apology’, as it’s more of an excuse (he’s not against gays or blacks, I mean skeptics, per se, just the uppity ones) than an apology.

    And yes, the guy is of the Christian mindset that all can be made right with a few words of apparent ‘apology’. I mean, the blood of Christ taketh away all harm from discrimination, until the next time at least.

    And I would never give him any business and would advise my friends to avoid his bigotted establishment.

    However, I would let the matter drop now that all have ‘said their piece’. Perhaps other business owners will learn that discrimination is very bad for their business.

    • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

      You don’t have to be “of the Christian mindset” to understand that apologizing for mistakes or wrongdoing is indeed better than not apologizing. And by “better,” I mean we observe that it gets beneficial results in the real world. This is not a matter of belief, it’s a matter of observation and experience of human conduct and its consequences for other humans. I’ve known this since grade school, so I really can’t believe that grownups on a forum like this can’t understand the concept.

      • raymoscow

        Perhaps your experience of religious people who verbally ‘repent’ when they are forced to and yet carry on the same destructive behaviours is a bit limited.

        It’s why serial adulterers like Gingrich manage to portray themselves as pro-family leaders. He said he was sincerely sorry, so what more do you want? The important thing is that he repented before God.

        • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

          Is the gelato guy carrying on the same destructive behaviors he’s apologized for? If not, then your analogy is invalid.

          Why don’t you save all that relentless hostility for the people who are doing far more harm to others than the gelato guy ever could, and not apologizing for it at all?

          Seriously, folks, religious minorities have enough dangerous enemies already. There’s no need to add to that list by mistreating minor characters after they’ve apologized and stopped doing whatever wrong they were doing.

          • raymoscow

            I think it’s you who don’t understand the concept. He’s explained that he excluded skeptics from his business because he heard one of them insulting his god, and he seems to think that makes his illegal and immoral actions understandable. He even says that his actions were ‘completely wrong’. Isn’t that enough for you hostile people?

            No, because in fact he’s still blaming that uppity skeptic for setting him off. It’s Brother Sam’s fault for performing his act.

            Is he still excluding skeptics? No, because he found that there were consequences, not because he now sees his actions were wrong (or rather, because he was driven to such actions by Brother Sam’s blasphemy). I don’t see that a few words of notpology make much difference.

            Now, what could he do to make it better? Well, JT had some suggestions, but none of them is likely to happen, because this guy thinks that his ‘repentence’ makes things right. That’s what I meant by the Christian mindset.

  • isilzhaveni

    For it to be a real apology he needs to recognize that he violated the civil rights of other people and that as a business owner he has obligations under the law of public accommodation to not close his business to certain groups of people.

    Putting up a sign is what was so egregious. Signs on a store that exclude a particular group of people have a real history and meaning. That he would stoop to put one up in his shop says a LOT about him. Putting a sign in your window saying ‘XX group is not welcome in my christian business’ is a serious offense that can’t just be forgiven with an excuse laden apology. Mr. Drennen needs to understand that what he did violated others’ civil rights. He needs to pay a penalty for that beyond just loss of business. He also needs to take a training course on civil rights obligations for business owners because clearly he fails to understand why what he did wasn’t just wrong, but unlawful.

  • isilzhaveni

    If anyone needs to file a complaint, this is the agency that handles them–Missouri Commission on Human Rights:

    http://labor.mo.gov/mohumanrights/

  • http://en.allexperts.com/q/Atheism-2724/indexExp_111189.htm Jeffrey Eldred

    JT, you have to take apologies in good faith or else you literally make it impossible for people to like or be nice to atheists! You take option away when you won’t believe it when they say they are sorry. The only way we can hope to have a reasonable level of communication in this society is if we take people at what they say and not at what we think they mean.

    I was not aware of the controversy when I ate at his restaurant for lunch on Wednesday and the staff were very polite.

    He said:
    This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable.
    And you said:
    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.
    I say:
    What is the difference? Are you seriously asking him to be enough of a mind reader to split those kind of hairs?

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  • http://cxjvak.blogspot.com/ cxJvak

    I feel this post is making you appear like a bad skeptic.
    It seems you already made up your mind about his intentions and in the light of new data, dismissed it.
    So what if he was offended? So what if you’re offended?
    I feel like this man is trying to be open-minded and a large portion of this community is selecting one trait about him and ignoring all the rest. We seem to be responding the exact way bigots would. “If Andy is not 100% for all the things we believe to be correct then excommunicate him, don’t go to his store, and call him mean names.”

    It’s a good thing you didn’t have this attitude towards me when I was on the fence about skepticism and atheism. I attended the first Skepticon as a Christian. I feel, in the light of recent events, if I attempted to wear the clothes I did then to Skepticon IV I might have been turned away. If not by the host, then by the participants.

    Oh, I see what you did there.
    You’re giving a return demonstration of bigotry because HE has differing beliefs from yours.
    Good show friend.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      The hell? Did you honestly just compare wearing a Christian shirt with discrimination and making a hollow apology for it? You honestly think I’d react the same way to both? Seriously?

      I don’t care if the guy agrees with me on the existence of god – I care that he agrees with me on whether or not atheists are second-class citizens. If he doesn’t, yeah, he’s a bad person. And I think his apology only covers those feelings, but I think they’re still there and I’ve explained why.

      I swear to not god, the day people start responding to what I’ve *actually* said will be the best day ever.

      JT

      • colubridae

        I swear to not god, the day people start responding to what I’ve *actually* said will be the best day ever.

        Bananas make your speakers limp.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    No, because in fact he’s still blaming that uppity skeptic for setting him off. It’s Brother Sam’s fault for performing his act.

    If he admits that his own actions were wrong, and apologizing for them, then he’s not saying it’s Brother Sam’s fault — he’s admitting it’s his fault. He doesn’t have to apologize for being offended, he only has to apologize for his response. He was wrong to discriminate, but he was not wrong to be offended — he’s entitled to his opinions just like us, remember?

    As for his failure to agree that his actions were a violation of this or that law, I really don’t think that’s necessary. A person can admit that something he did was wrong, without necessarily having to agree with anyone else’s interpretation of the law.

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