As community members have noticed, TBAT has not been visiting all of the websites criticising Froborr's article to explain the situation. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the article has attracted a record amount of trolling in the Slacktiverse's history and we simply don't have time to keep on top of it and go around other websites as well. The second is this: the trolls have been coming in from other sites, and we felt that posting on their sites defending the article was simply too likely to attract more of them. We figured that the people who'd approach the article with open minds would investigate for themselves and wouldn't need an explanation, and the people who might need an explanation were probably too angry to listen to one anyway.
So we aren't going to go around all these other websites defending the post because we're tired and busy and we don't want to borrow trouble. However, we are aware that community members here may also be members of websites that are attacking us, and hence may be wishing they had an explanation to produce. So, here's our explanation: anyone who wants to has our carte blanche to cut and paste it where appropriate. We just ask that people exercise careful judgement about troll-baiting.
TBAT's position about Froborr's article:
A great deal of anger seems to have been provoked by Froborr's article, and many people seem to believe that it claims that:
1. We are arguing that anyone who tries to change anyone's mind is evil and, by implication, atheists should be quiet about their opinions.
2. Atheists in general are evil.
3. Greta Christina advocates the use of force.
We do not believe any of these position, nor would we publish an article we believed promoted them.
Why did we publish Froborr's piece? The simple answer is that we publish any article sent to us as long as it falls within a basic standard of quality, doesn't endorse criminal activity or infringe copyright and doesn't constitute hate speech. As the disclaimer we post to every article says, 'Content reflects the individual opinions of the contributors.'
Some atheists seem to believe that Froborr's article was hate speech. We didn't think it was, which is why we published it. As we understood it, its argument was:
- A person's worldview, whether atheist or religions, can be an essential part of someone's identity and losing it can be profoundly traumatic - not to everyone, but to some people.
- There is no empirical evidence that faith is always harmful.
- To aspire to a world where everyone loses their faith is therefore to wish trauma upon people who were not harming anyone with their beliefs, which places the aspirant's personal interpretation of 'correct thinking' above the wellbeing of others.
We considered this a debatable position, but not one that should be censored on that account - certainly not in a debate forum, which is part of what we are.
1. To address the allegation that we are saying anyone who tries to change anyone's mind about anything is evil - which is a 'gotcha' allegation we've had a lot of - this is not what the article is saying. We believe it makes two important points that render this allegation incorrect. First, that if a faith or non-faith is an essential part of someone's identity, undermining it is a more serious business than 'changing someone's mind'. Second, and more importantly, Froborr's objection is not to disagreement or discussion, but to what he refers in the discussion to as 'eliminationist rhetoric', which he believes 'a world where [religion] no longer exists' constitutes - again, more serious than trying to change some minds on some subjects.
Not everyone on the site necessarily agrees with this position, but again, we don't censor for opinions. We certainly don't think atheists should shut up about their opinions: frankly we considered this piece an atheist expressing his opinion. Not the only atheist opinion we publish either: we have a lot of atheist commenters, have published atheist articles, and are currently working on two collaborative atheist pieces, which will present a lot of different takes on atheism from atheist community members.
2. To address the other word that's caused such anger, 'evil': we felt it was strong language, but we allow greater latitude to authors criticising their own group than we do to authors criticising outsiders. We would not have allowed such a comment from a religious poster criticising an atheist's position, but we felt that to censor a genuinely-held opinion by one atheist towards his own fellow atheists would be against the principles of the site. Fred Clark, the original Slacktivist blogger, was often strongly critical of his fellow Evangelicals, and we felt that publishing an atheist being strongly critical of another atheist was in the same spirit.
We would also point out that this word was not specifically directed against atheists, but against proselytisation in any form; the sentence that includes the word 'evil' specifically states that 'any adherent of any religion' is in the same category as an atheist employing such rhetoric. As such, we considered it to be applied to a goal rather than to a person or a group of people, which falls within our community standards. We do not consider atheists evil - or at least, no more prone to evil than any other group of people. (In point of fact, our admin team constitutes one Christian, one agnostic and one atheist.)
3. To address the allegation that it accuses Greta Christina of advocating force: the article directly quotes her saying 'We don’t want to see this happen by law or violence or any kind of force, of course.' The word 'force' was used in the context of an analogy: Froborr was suggesting that Greta Christina's rhetoric likened religion to a mental illness and pointed out that curing a non-dangerous mental illness by force was unethical - which is to say, it was referring to the history of abuses in the realm of psychiatry by way of pointing out that allegations of mental illness have a political as well as a medical history. In retrospect we probably should have picked up in editing that this phrase was open to misinterpretation, but since it's up there now, we'll have to let it stand.
We'd also like to point out something about our site that newcomers couldn't be expected to know: we treat articles primarily as the starting point for a discussion rather than as a firm statement of position. The whole website in its current form was founded because the original blogger, Fred Clark, moved to Patheos and many members felt that they couldn't in conscience join a site that published anti-marriage equality articles but were distressed at the thought of losing the community that had built up in the comment threads (in which Fred Clark never intervened). With no disrespect to the hard work of the people who submitted articles, we started running the site mostly to preserve the thread conversations. When we publish an article we expect its author to be challenged on it, and the threads form an important part of the whole.
We are sorry that the article has caused distress, but we believe that its basic position is, properly understood, neither a call for silencing nor an attack on a belief system.
Don't forget to send in items that you want included in This week in The Slacktiverse February 4/5 2012.
The three sections of the weekend post are:
Any denizen of the Slacktiverse who has posted an article to their own website during since the previous weekend post is invited to send a short summary of that article along with its permalink to TBAT. That summary and link will be included in the next weekend blogaround. This will help to keep members of our community aware of the many excellent websites hosted by other members.
In Case You Missed This
Readers of The Slacktiverse can send short summaries of, and permalinks to, articles that they feel might be of interest to other readers.
Things You Can Do
Anyone who knows of a worthy cause or important petition should send a short description of the petition/cause along with its url to TBAT.
Please email all submissions to slackmods at gmail dot com. The deadline this week will be 2000 GMT on Saturday.
Urgent or time-sensitive announcements will be posted immediately rather than being held for the next regular "This Weekend" post.
The Board Administration Team
(hapax, Kit Whitfield and mmy)