CFI Accidentally a Controversy

CFI Accidentally a Controversy June 17, 2013

So, I was at a restaurant yesterday for Father’s Day dinner and had a terrible experience. Everyone else at my table was served what they ordered, but the kitchen got my order very badly wrong. I’d ordered a soup and salad, but they brought me a plate of wilted, slimy brown lettuce and a bowl of what appeared to be dirty gray dishwater. I complained heatedly to the waiter, who fetched the manager in short order.

“Excuse me,” I said to him, “but this food you’ve served me is inedible. Can you please fix this mistake and bring me the right order?”

“I’m very sorry to hear about this controversial matter,” said the manager. “This establishment values your feedback and is committed to a quality dining experience for all its customers. We look forward to your continued patronage in the future.” And with that, he turned and walked away.

OK, that didn’t happen, obviously. But I’m sorry to say that the board of directors of the Center for Inquiry has done something just as insultingly evasive.

Last month, I wrote about CFI’s CEO, Ron Lindsay, taking the stage for himself at the Women in Secularism 2 conference to deliver a condescending, mansplaining lecture about what he sees as the flaws in feminism. This spectacularly ill-thought-out tactic drew strong protests, including a letter signed by a majority of the conference speakers and another one signed by attendees.

Today, the CFI board finally addressed the matter formally… with this empty void in the shape of words, which I here reprint in full:

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

It’s hard to imagine who the people are that CFI thought this deliberately vacuous non-statement would appease. Who caused this controversy? What was it over? Who was in the right? What will CFI be doing in response, either now or in the future? All these questions are left hanging, in an act of evasion that’s insulting in its shamelessness. All they can find it in their hearts to express is a rubbery flab of vague, sourceless “unhappiness” – deliberately leaving it unsaid whether they condemn Lindsay’s remarks at all, or whether they’re only unhappy that other people complained about them. No statement at all would have been better than this utter abdication of responsibility and leadership.

This was a crushing disappointment, and it puts me in a serious dilemma. Many of the people who work for CFI are personal friends of mine, and I know them to be fine activists who care passionately about social justice. The last thing I want is to see them hurt because of the moral cowardice of their leadership. But as much as it pains me, I can’t continue to support an organization that’s being steered by people who can’t be trusted to do the right thing.

Luckily, for every Goofus there’s a Gallant, and American Atheists and its president Dave Silverman are doing it right, taking a forthright stand against the toxic waste of sexism seeping into the atheist community. I’ll be making a donation to them tonight to thank them. And for all the secular organizations that are bystanders in this, take this as a lesson: a stronger alliance with feminism is the future of the movement, and any secular organization that can’t or won’t accept that is going to be left behind.

(P.S.: If you don’t get the joke: No, I didn’t leave a word out of the title. See here.)

Image credit: One Thousand Needles

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