Prominent atheist activists Ophelia Benson and Professor Richard Dawkins released a joint statement this weekend condemning bullying and harassment within the community of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and other secular minded individuals.
It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.
Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.
In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.
Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.
Apparently it is sometimes necessary to state the obvious. And Dawkins and Benson should be applauded for speaking out. “Death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut (etc.)” are never acceptable in polite discourse, or even the often volatile and impolite discourse of the internet.