***Update*** (8:16p): Sources tell me Atheist Alliance International has suspended Michael Sherlock for a month, without pay. He has also been reminded that damaging the group’s reputation could lead to being fired without advanced notice. A public apology from AAI is forthcoming.
Over the weekend, the executive director of Atheist Alliance International, Michael Sherlock took on the persona of a teenage edgelord and called religion “retarded”… which is a word that, for some reason, still remains in his vocabulary. The rest of us stopped using it a long time ago because it’s a slur against those who are mentally disabled, but this guy insists that it applies to faith.
He doubled down on it when others respectfully told him not to use it… and then called one critic a “cunt.” Twice.
It's disturbing to see this offensive language from the head of any atheist group.
It also tells me everything I need to know about the values of the people who work with him. pic.twitter.com/73dq8vynKF
— Hemant Mehta (@hemantmehta) July 12, 2020
This is how he responded when I politely requested he consider retiring using language that denigrates and dehumanizes mentally disabled people… pic.twitter.com/vs3s00w9SW
— KC Gleason (Nobody ThumbWarrior also boring/awful) (@ge_kaitlyn) July 12, 2020
He has since apologized about using the c-word, justifying his actions by saying he’s “an Australian who grew up in the lower socioeconomic class.” Which apparently gives you free license to use the word whenever you want.
It would be easy to dismiss one immature hotheaded jerk — I could just block him and move on — but, again, he represents one of the larger atheist organizations in the world, with nearly 200,000 fans on Facebook. They support atheists who are in danger in other parts of the world. As the group says on its website, they have “Special Consultative status” with the United Nations, making them the only group with the word “atheist” in their name with that designation. I want them to succeed. Their causes are my causes too.
Then again, this is the same group that hired an alleged sexual predator (only to have him resign months later). It’s a group whose board includes a man who belittles his critics when they raised serious concerns about misogyny and inappropriate sexual conduct.
It’s really hard to defend AAI when its leaders are doing things that are indefensible.
Sherlock is only the latest example. His idea of atheist activism is saying anything to get a rise out of religious people, then throwing a temper tantrum whenever he gets criticized for it.
These tweets aren't helping either. I don't know why people are so eagerly defending him in my mentions, but this sort of edgelord attitude from the head of @atheistalliance just makes me cringe. pic.twitter.com/7YdLDPKNFm
— Hemant Mehta (@hemantmehta) July 13, 2020
In any case, I can’t support their work when this is what their leaders are doing. It’s just embarrassing. There are other (larger, better, newer) groups that help atheists around the world that I have no problem promoting, whatever our disagreements may be.
People should give generously to those organizations. I can’t say the same about AAI.
In the days since I pointed out my problem with Sherlock’s language, a number of his supporters have reached out to tell me there is another definition of the R-word. (As if this is news to me.) Sherlock himself insisted today that’s what he was saying, even citing a Christopher Hitchens line in his defense:
“God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.”
Hitchens, even if you disagree with the sentiment, used the word in the only way it should be used. I also know what Sherlock said. We can all read it for ourselves. It wasn’t the definition Hitchens was using. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In the past few days, at least two members of the not-yet-publicized advisory board to AAI have told me they’re resigning as a result of Sherlock’s behavior. A third may be forthcoming. (Update: Yes, that third person has now resigned.)
I had only accepted an offer to serve as a board member on a trial basis, but I immediately left this organization upon becoming aware of the language referenced below. There’s no room for this type of thing in an organization dedication to helping others. https://t.co/X1EaXdGFzE
— David G. McAfee (@DavidGMcAfee) July 12, 2020
Sherlock himself is now going on the offensive, claiming this is all part of some attempt to purge thoughtcrimes from the “atheist community”… Which is a weird way to say he’s sorry.
There appears to be a growing militia of morality police in what might loosely be described as the “atheist community”. This is a small yet vocal handful of self-righteous and self-appointed conformity crusaders on a jihad for puritanical purity among atheists, who see it as their moral duty to cleanse the atheist movement of its “heretics”. The heretics are the atheists they perceive as being imperfections and impurities within the desired orthodoxy they crave for the atheist community at large… I do not, however, share their imam-like zealotry for enforcing informal blasphemy laws on a diverse array of atheists who do not share their personal beliefs, values, and opinions.
Me: Using the word “retarded” to describe something is offensive.
Sherlock: HOW DARE YOU PUNISH ME WITH YOUR ATHEIST BLASPHEMY LAWS?! [Inserts a bunch of words connected to Islam to look extra-badass.]
Look: If you can’t criticize bad ideas without using lazy and offensive language, it means you’re a bad communicator. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem… unless you’re in a job where communication is pretty much the whole gig. This isn’t about bad language or some weird desire for “purity.” Sherlock the author can say whatever he wants and his fans can support or reject it all they want. Sherlock the head of an organization ought to hold himself to higher standards.
If he won’t, then the group should.
If the group won’t, then people should at least be aware of it before they decide to donate any money to their efforts.
Sherlock didn’t mention me by name in his post, but he did accuse me of plagiarism for a video I made in 2013… A video that literally says in the description that his blog post was the inspiration and also includes a direct link to it. Nothing screams plagiarism like giving credit to your source.
I don’t get what Atheist Alliance International’s game plan is here.
If the group’s goal is to build allies to create a more secular world, burning every possible bridge by hiring a leader who can’t control his own emotions and lashes out against anyone who dares to offer constructive criticism seems… counterproductive. For a group that claims to value integrity and inclusion, no one there seems to care what’s happening at the top of their own leadership pyramid.