An Imperfect Response

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ron Lindsay’s tone-deaf greeting at the Women in Secularism conference.  I wasn’t the only person who wrote about it.

Other people who are friends and acquaintances wrote about it as well.  They were pretty teed off.  I could see why.

Now, a lot of people seemed to think that there was a call for Lindsay’s to be ejected from his position with the Center For Inquiry.  I didn’t see that call in the pieces I read.  The letter to the CFI board signed by speakers at the conference did not ask for his resignation.  I saw a lot of people asking the CFI board to do “something” in response to the situation.

I believe relatively few of those who objected to Lindsay’s speech wanted him to lose his job.  Rather, they wanted him and the CFI board to acknowledge that their anger was valid and that Lindsay did a pretty lousy job opening a conference that was supposed to be about getting more women involved in secularism.

Really, I think most of them just wanted an apology.

The board met last week and today they released a statement.  Here it is:

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

This brief statement is amazing because it is quite possibly the worst response imaginable.  They don’t apologize for anything, which is bad enough.

But by expressing their “unhappiness” with the “controversy,” they come across as blaming the women who felt alienated by Lindsay’s speech (and follow-up blog posts) for their feelings of alienation.

Now I’ve been on the board of a non-profit and I know that public messages like this get crafted very carefully so as to offend the fewest people possible.  I hate to put it this way but anyone who expected any satisfaction from an official statement of the CFI was almost guaranteed to be disappointed.

Even by those standards, this statement is embarrassing.  It is as if the CFI Board determined that since they were not going to eject Lindsay (which almost no-one expected or wanted), they couldn’t say anything of value.

Their statement gives the Men’s Rights assholes of the secular movement power because the women who have already felt as if the secular movement is actively hostile towards them are going to stop supporting the CFI.  Some already have.

Does the CFI believe that they will benefit from the loss of such prominent voices as Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, Amanda Marcotte and Stephane Zvan (to name but a few)?  While I accept that not everyone in the secular movement agrees with everything they have to say, their voices are important and they’ve been disenfranchised because of the refusal of an entire organization to simply say “we are sorry for the pain our actions caused.”

That’s a pretty simple apology, mind you.  It doesn’t blame the individual who is angry.  It acknowledges that they were hurt and it acknowledges the source of that pain.

They could have gone further but if that three paragraph statement above had included just that much, I expect the response would have been far different.

This statement isn’t even a not-pology.  They didn’t even try to apologize.  Instead, they said they were unhappy that anybody even brought the whole thing up.    They blame those who are upset for choosing to say that they were upset.  If they’d just kept their mouths shut, the Board wouldn’t have had to go through the trouble of crafting their tepid response at all!

They say they value a respectful debate and dialogue and yet their statement shows no desire to engage in one.

For those who feared Ron Lindsay would be “thrown under the bus,” their fears proved to be unfounded.  His job, which was never actually in jeopardy, is safe.

Further, they can happily note that the CFI won’t have as many of those uppity feminists around to insist on things like a non harassment policy or more women and minorities on conference speaker lists.

Oddly, I don’t think that is what the CFI Board wanted.  I think they believe that anti-harassment policies and gender balance are good things.

Their carefully crafted message does nothing to deny those goals (though it doesn’t explicity support them either).  What it does is deny the responsibility of leadership to lead.

And it opens the door for the worst of our movement to fill the void that wouldn’t even be there had someone shown just a little bit more courage.

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

5 responses to “An Imperfect Response”

  1. ubi dubium says :

    That’s it? That’s their response????

    There was no substance to that. It was pretty much three paragraphs of “no comment.” Ron insulted and condescended to a whole roomful of secular activists, and the best the board could do is “unhappy with the controversy”? Well I am “unhappy with their lack of responding”. This does not increase my confidence in their ability to deal with this sort of thing in the future.

  2. Greg Laden says :

    Well, at least they identified dissenting voices as “elements” of various kinds. That’s always helpful.

  3. athyco says :

    There’s not only the hashtag CFICFE (Center for Inquiry’s Campaign for Free Expression), there’s @CFICFE, with the name “Defend Dissent.”

    CFI would either be a toothless irrelevancy or a laughingstock for hypocrisy if they accepted such a statement as this from

    (1) The Russian government as activists “slam” the country’s proposed blasphemy measures. (as tweeted 17 May).

    (2) They’d be stupidly blind to the possibility of an organization fumbling its own mission even as they proclaimed its value or pointed (without adequate assessment) to their efforts (as tweeted 30 April).

    …[W]hen policies signal that certain groups are disfavored, non-state actors feel empowered to carry out violent attacks with little fear of reprisal.

    (3) They’d be showing as a paper tiger even as they asked others to join them in advocacy (as tweeted 11 April). They’d also demonstrate their willingness to sweep under the rug the advocacy of women at their own conference by tying “controversy” to the entire event rather than the narrowly focused speech/writing of their own CEO.

    Join CFI in urging the State Department to pressure Bangladesh over arrests of atheist bloggers! #CFICFE

    (4) They’d put themselves in the same boat as other large organizations deaf to those who make up their membership (as tweeted 22 Mar).

    Reuters: secularists accuse EU of failing to stand up for their rights at UN Human Rights Council #CFICFE

    (5) They’d be ridiculously shortsighted about their ongoing ability to ask any other group to take a firm, specific stand (as tweeted 22 Mar).

    An appeal to American Muslim organizations to take an unequivocal stand to repeal blasphemy laws #CFICFE

    (6) They’d dismiss the avenues for awareness that other platforms–like Skepchick–had previously provided for them (as tweeted 8 October).

    #FreeAlber Photos & Blasphemy Rights – Skepchick … #cficfe

    “Defend Dissent!” says the CFI. “Except when we’re unhappy about the controversy.”

    • athyco says :

      Thanks for retrieving my comment from the spam filter. 🙂

      I’d forgotten completely about disabling the links as I copied the tweets.

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