CNN aired a documentary on atheists just recently. Reactions were mixed, with almost all of them citing a lack of diversity. A number, however, singled out David Silverman. Some pointed out his stats were dodgy:
During the program, Silverman made a few factual errors that should bother even the most ardent atheist. Early on, he said that one in three Americans under the age of 30 is an atheist, but even under the loosest, most awkward definition of an atheist (someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods), the actual number is off quite a bit. Thirty-two percent of millennials are unaffiliated, meaning they say they don’t belong to any particular religious group. That doesn’t make them atheists, though—86 percent of unaffiliated millennials say they believe in God, meaning only about 5 percent of millennials are atheists (though, according to Pew, only 3 percent identify as such). It’s understandable to make this slip-up once or twice, but Silverman has been corrected on this basic oversight for about four years. After so long, it’s hard not to suspect that the mistake is calculated.
While a number of others took exception to this part:
CNN Anchor: “I’ve interviewed men and women, they say, ‘I’m a humanist, I’m a freethinker, I’m a skeptic.’ So many people won’t say, ‘I’m an atheist.’ Is it all the same thing? Are these just softer terms for ‘I’m an atheist?’”
Silverman: “Yes. These are atheists who are afraid to use the word. And what are they doing? They’re lying.”
I’ll confess I have a line of argument which argues agnostics are effectively atheists, but it doesn’t call them liars. There’s a giant gulf between intentional falsehood and honest misunderstanding, and I’m not arrogant enough to cross it lightly.
Ed Brayton, who normally doesn’t write about intra-community fighting, tore a strip off Silverman:
It’s also highly insulting to those who choose another label and offensive in its dismissal of the fact that some people simply aren’t in a position to call themselves atheists without great risk. I understand the desire to destigmatize the word atheist and I do think it’s important for us to use that term without shame (and I use it myself), but there’s a world of difference between “I’d like people to call themselves atheist more often” and “if you don’t call yourself an atheist, you’re a liar.” The first statement is entirely reasonable; the second is simply obnoxious.
But he adds something I wasn’t aware of; just before the special aired, Silverman sent out an email:
I hope we don’t use this opportunity to harp on our differences, but rather delight in our diversity. We all disagree, and this event will provide plenty of fodder for twitter wars and sniping, but it will also provide a great opportunity for us, as a movement, to once again think as a movement, and to show off our breadth and diversity by supporting each other, even when we disagree…
Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to show our best, broadest, and most diverse side.
Yeah no, you don’t get to privately ask other people to play nice and be inclusive, then publicly be divisive. Add this to his prior failures, like courting the vote of far-right bigots or his prior invites to “secular” anti-choice groups despite claiming to be informed via earlier pro-choice activism, and I think that’s enough to write off any future support. As American Atheists is closely tied to him, this is a two-for-one deal.
But that’s just small beans compared to the douchbaggery at the Secular Policy Institute. Remember their aggressively arrogant pursuit of the Winnipeg Skeptics? They haven’t learned.
I thought perhaps Feminist Freethinkers might benefit from such a relationship. But I did my research and realized that it was not a good fit for us. I tried to explain this to him and all hell broke loose.
First he insulted FFNY exclaiming that we didn’t really “do anything”. Then he went on to defend his organization ending with this choice line:
“I’m starting to believe that the reason the secular movement doesn’t have more women is the women. Prove me wrong.”
Wow! In what universe does that create a welcoming environment for women?
Both universities and MIT Stopit received complaints from female students at Harvard Law School about persistent e-mails they received from Jonathan Monsarrat ’89, the matchup’s creator and operator.
Nicole J. DeSario, a student at Harvard Law School, said that “there’s been a lot of people who have been hearing from him even when they don’t respond to him.”
DeSario said in an e-mail to the MIT Young Alumni Club that Monsarrat had “admitted in some of his e-mails that he went through the results by hand to pick people to contact above and beyond those who he would be matched with.”
Normally I’d ignore something a decade old, as people can change a lot in that length of time, but Monsarrat seems to be holding the same course. Besides, there’s more recent douchbaggery (emphasis in original).
In early 2010, Monsarrat was arrested concerning events at a party in Massachusetts. The charges against him were later dismissed. However, there were various blog discussions among local bloggers and commenters. Not long ago, approximately three years after all of this happened, Monsarrat sued two named defendants and 100 “John Does” in a Massachusetts (not federal) court on a variety of charges, centering around defamation, but also including copyright infringement, commercial disparagement, deceptive trade practices and conspiracy. He’s asking for an astounding $5.5 million.
Wow, no, this guy is deeply problematic. Did anyone at SPI bother doing a simple name search? It looks like the Richard Dawkins Foundation made the same mistake.
Project Manager, Director of Strategic Alliances
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
June 2012 – June 2014 (2 years 1 month) Washington D.C. Metro Area
Alliance and promotion for the non-profit foundation of bestselling author, public speaker, and scientist Richard Dawkins, named “World’s Top Thinker” in Progress Magazine. Lead on social media, newsletter, TV channel, tour planning, volunteer team projects.
Or, did they?
Richard Dawkins: @changerofbits If, by RDF, you mean the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Monsarrat has no connection with it.
5:55 PM – 27 Mar 2015
Monsarrat “has” no connection, but he most certainly had one.
Hemant Mehta must be the coolest high school math teacher around, because he’s also one of the most popular atheist bloggers in the secular community, and the author of The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide. When he says that he won’t harm a fly, he really means it. He spoke with Johnny Monsarrat for this Richard Dawkins Foundation interview about not harming bugs, his personal life, and his books exploring belief and non-belief.
Nor was he an obscure figure, either.
His current project is the soon to be launched Secular Connect, a $1 million joint project of the Richard Dawkins Foundation and Michael Lewis Foundation, which will list all the world’s secular groups and events, and do a whole lot more. Johnny will give us a sneak peek of the system. See SecularConnect.org.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating that
We’re facing a fundamental disconnect in the secular community, between the community itself and the people who represent us. We might want to do something about that, say by supporting organizations more in line with our values.