The Atheist Sex Scandal Part 5

Now that I have discussed how both parties have dealt with the sexual assault within their organizations, so now lets compare the two. How have atheists been at dealing with this issue compared to the Catholic Church?
My conclusion is not well. Why? Because atheists, like the Catholic Church, seem to take two steps back for every one step forward. On one hand we have the people blogging on Freethought Blogs who are doing all they can to bring the harassment to light and put an end to it. The Catholics, too, have people who are very concerned with the issue and are being quite vocal about putting an end to it. However, it seems as though for every person speaking out against the harassment there are ten more to defend the harassers, send threats to those speaking out against it, and overall be rape apologists. But this is getting into territory that I want to discuss next time. This time I just want to compare the two reactions and look a bit at the criticism that the groups have used against each other.
So first the comparison. John Paul ignored a lot of the harassment. It’s one of the biggest things that he gets criticized on. It’s also something that James Randi had been criticized for. He’s the head of JREF, and a lot of the harassment happened within his organization. It had become common knowledge that certain employees were serial harassers years before elevatorgate, but those harassers were allowed to continue working for the organization for years, or got repeat invites as speakers. Randi couldn’t not have known about the harassment. In fact, when asked about it, his response was basically “boys will be boys.” He had the power to deal with it, but he didn’t.
Benedict is a bit more controversial than his predecessor. One one hand, while he was in office he did more to punish priests who were found to be abusing children. But on the other hand, before becoming Pope, he actively covered up a number of abuse cases. Likewise, Grothe tried to cover up a number of the sexual assault accusations made against Shermer and Radford. Grothe has also been accused of sexual assault, so I’d say he’s worse than the Pope in that regard, but his response was still similar.
Francis has been the best Pope so far for dealing with the sexual abuse within the church, but he’s not without his problems. He tried to excuse the lack of action done previously by saying that “nobody else has done as much.” Quite a few other Catholic leaders have said similar things, as have lay-Catholics. I’d say that that action is comparable to what has been said by a number of atheists. First there’s Richard Dawkins who claimed that date rape “isn’t as bad as stranger rape at knife point.” Then there’s Sam Harris who said that if everybody sexually harasses then there can be no sexual harassment. And then there are the Youtube atheists who argue that the sexual assault accusations are just a result of entitled feminists trying to take over and change the atheist movement. Is change really that terrible?
The issues within the two movements are not completely the same. For one thing, the Catholic Church is dealing with abuse against children. Whereas the victims within the atheist movement are largely women, though men have been harassed too. A number of people believe that another huge difference is the cohesion within the groups. Atheism in and of itself is not a movement. You can easily be an atheist who has nothing to do with the movement. But can’t you also be a Catholic who has nothing to do with the Catholic Church? The atheist movement also doesn’t have a clear leader. It’s for the most part a number of small groups with cohesive goals that are connected to other groups simply by their members lack of belief in gods and their willingness to to bring about acceptance for atheism as an ideology. But is the Catholic Church really that much more cohesive? They have the Pope as their leader, and the priests are theoretically supposed to heed his guidance, but how well does that really work out? There are over a billion Catholics out there. Sure, the Pope can keep some semblance of order with the highest members of the Church, but all of the churches out there cannot be controlled very effectively. As such, there are a great deal of differences between one church are the next. For example, some are very liberal. They want to remain separate from politics, they are accepting of the LGBT community, and they accept evolution and the big bang as scientifically accurate. But others are very conservative. They are willing to tell their parishioners who to vote for, they believe that homosexuality is a sin, and they deny science. The pope can’t possibly endorse both of these church styles. But then, even Popes don’t agree: Benedict said that homosexuality was a sin, but Francis has been more inclusive towards the LGBT community. Yes, atheism is not one big cohesive group, but neither is the Catholic Church.
And to go on with the similarities, both groups have condemned the other for the sexual assault within there ranks. Here’s a Catholic site’s criticism the atheist sex scandal: And here are some other Christian criticisms:,, And here are some atheist pages criticizing the sex scandal in the Catholic Church:
You get the idea. Are these criticisms unfair? I’d say not. If there is something wrong, then it should be called out. No issue can be fixed by being ignored, and some times it’s easiest to draw attention to a problem if you are on the outside.
So what does all this mean? I’ll get more into that in my next post, but basically it means that we have a problem within the atheist movement and it’s only going to get worse if we ignore it. It means that instead of fighting over the likelihood of a single claim being true or false we should be ensuring that future claims are unlikely because sexual assault is prevented to the highest degree possible.

4 responses to “The Atheist Sex Scandal Part 5

  • siriusbizinus

    There’s less excuse for atheists to tolerate a rape culture and engage in these sorts of shameful vlogs and other abominable acts against victims and alleged victims (I say alleged only in cases where there has been no finding of guilt or other judgment against an alleged perpetrator). What should be happening is that people should promote a culture of withholding comment on an action until these facts get proved (or at least responsibly reporting both sides’ views on an action). And people who denounce alleged victims publicly should get vocal, immediate, and incessant disagreement by the community at large.

    One other thing: I think you’re misquoting the intended assertion of Dawkins’s tweet. It actually relies on the notion that no rape is “better” or “worse” than another. Indeed, his assertion is that if you think one form of rape is okay then you need to rethink things. That being said, I’m still not a fan of the tweet. But his problem isn’t about excusing rape; it’s about being reckless with a subject that needs precision and careful thought.

    And he should be lambasted for his ineptitude with the English language accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      Dawkins straight up says one form of rape is worse than another. Yes, he also says that that doesn’t mean he supports rape, but the problem is still there. I don’t think it’s an english language issue, I think it’s his honest justification of the things he’s said about rape and sexual assault in the past.


      • armandoc3

        Another benefit to atheism as lacking hierarchy. I’m intrigued by your suggestion that Catholicism lacks the cohesion it is commonly assumed to have though. While it is certainly possible (as you have shown) for people to alienate those who commit wrongdoing (rape) from an institution like the Catholic Church, I would argue that a similar case can’t really apply in atheist circles when many atheists (I would hesitate to say most) do not have that leadership or guidance from a hierarchical structure. Simply put, there’s no parallel to a Catholic priest in the atheist lifestyle.

        Nevertheless, the perpetrator of the rape doesn’t make the act any better or worse. I just think the accusation of institutional negligence is more readily made in the case of groups that actually have formal institutions.


  • caelesti

    I think atheists/skeptics/humanists (ASH) can do a lot more about this than the Catholics can. the RCC is one giant hierarchy, all people can really do is write letters, protest, sue, or vote with their feet. (Along with all the theology, this is really the #1 reason I’d never be Catholic!) But the ASH movement(s) are made up of many organizations and unaffiliated individuals. People can take away their memberships, their contributions, try to get the IRS non-profit status removed. People can run for office in some of these orgs, become board members etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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