Michael Sherlock, the latest executive director for Atheist Alliance International, has resigned from his position, and he’s going out in a blaze of disgrace.
A quick recap: AAI is one of the larger atheist organizations in the world, with nearly 200,000 fans on Facebook and “Special Consultative status” with the United Nations (something they won’t stop talking about even though the status isn’t all that special).
He publicly called one critic a “cunt” and used the slur “retarded” in multiple tweets. (While there’s a definition of the word that means “slowed” or “delayed,” it was clear in context he meant the slur.) One major atheist group decided not to affiliate with AAI after seeing Sherlock’s behavior. AAI temporarily suspended him over the summer, perhaps hoping he’d be on his best behavior after that, but when you hire an edgelord, you can’t be shocked when nothing changes.
That’s why it was surprising to see this resignation announcement from AAI this afternoon:
It is with great regret that I announce the resignation of Michael Sherlock from the position of Executive Director of Atheist Alliance International effective from today.
Michael holds down two demanding jobs and lives in a time zone that means getting up at 04:00 several days a week. He has realised it is impossible to do this long-term. To achieve anything like a reasonable work-life balance something had to give.
He said, “It is with great sadness that I resign from AAI. I firmly believe AAI is the only atheist organisation that can make a real difference to the lives of atheists around the world. The people at AAI are genuine and dedicated. I will miss them.”
Michael served as Executive Director for almost a year. He had astonishing energy and passion for his work and brought us many new connections and innovative ideas. He championed the formation of our Advisory Council and worked to grow the influence of our affiliates and Regional Directors. We are sorry to see him go.
That certainly makes it sound like Sherlock stepped down on his own, and AAI would’ve preferred he stayed there. On its own, there’s nothing unusual about a resignation like that. It’s like a politician claiming he wants to spend more time with his family. Maybe he does, but there’s probably more to it.
So what more is there?
Well. Consider that this is what Sherlock posted several hours before that statement by AAI went up online:
I’m honored. Truly. (His use of the R-word is identical to what got him in trouble over the summer. He knows why people were upset by it. He just doesn’t care.)
The rest of his comment didn’t come out of nowhere, either. Earlier this month, Sherlock said on Facebook that “Islam poses a greater threat to humanity and human rights than any other religion on the planet. #Fact.”
One commenter responded to that statement by saying Islam wasn’t the problem so much as Muslim extremists, and there are “millions of other Muslims” out there — peaceful, positive, kind — who show that the religion can’t be described using a one-size-fits-all label. That same commenter admitted, “Islamic fundamentalism is indeed a greater threat than other religious fundamentalisms.” Still, his point was that a religion with over a billion adherents should not be defined by its worst members.
It was a perfectly reasonable statement to make. In the U.S., for example, Christian extremism is a far greater threat to our society than radical Islam. Muslims in America are often victims of religious bigotry, not the causes of it. But even after the Capitol siege, it would be foolish to suggest all of Christianity is the problem.
Anyway, what was Sherlock’s response to that reasonable comment?
In typical edgelord fashion, he went with name-calling.
Sherlock is unable to handle any kind of fair criticism. He lashes out in the worst ways, always unintentionally showing the world that his critics were right.
But wait! It gets better. It turns out the person he’s denouncing happens to represent an AAI affiliate…
A source within AAI told me the interaction was reported to the organization, which undertook yet another disciplinary hearing against Sherlock. But before any decision could be made about his status, Sherlock chose to resign. (Huge “You can’t fire me! I quit!” vibes…)
I also reached out to Panayote Dimitras, the commenter who was the recipient of that Sherlock insult, and he told me he was “disappointed with the parting statement by the [AAI] Board which gives a false explanation.”
Given all that, I’m not sure why AAI is “sorry to see him go” when Sherlock was clearly dragging the group down. At this point, I don’t even know why anyone would want his job. Either AAI stands behind their failed directors or they have to admit they’re really bad at hiring good people.
As I’ve said before, this isn’t some petty fight or attempt to stir up drama. I want groups like AAI to succeed. If their goal is to make atheism more acceptable and help people in other countries when their rejection of religion puts them in harm’s way, I’m right there with them. But when their leaders are openly hostile to constructive critics or making statements that are impossible to defend, it just creates more obstacles for our shared goals.
At this point, the people leading AAI are creating far more problems than they’re solving.
***Update***: AAI Has issued an apology to Panayote Dimitras:
AAI would like to issue an unreserved public apology to Panayote Dimitras for several insulting messages and Facebook posts made by Michael Sherlock, our outgoing Executive Director.
Panayote is a Co-Founder of the Humanist Union of Greece and was kindly assisting us with an important United Nations project when Michael escalated a polite difference of opinion into a string of rude and abusive messages. None of this was any of Panayote’s fault. Although we know Michael was suffering a period of acute stress, we cannot excuse his behaviour, and we are very sorry this happened.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Portions of this article were published earlier)