(RNS) It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record.

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis in March, 2008.

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis in March 2008. Photo courtesy of Mike Cornwell via Wikimedia Commons


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Late last month, two heavy-hitters within organized atheism, activist Ophelia Benson and scientist Richard Dawkins, reached a detente of sorts about online debate and posted it on their separate websites.

“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not,” the statement reads. “ If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.”

Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” Dawkins said on Twitter, where he has almost 1 million followers. “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” Another tweet applied the same logic to “mild date rape” and “violent date rape,” and still another compared “mild pedophilia” and “violent pedophilia.”

The reaction was swift and severe. Some defended Dawkins, saying he was merely engaging in a thought experiment, while others decried another eruption of what they see as chronic insensitivity and misogyny and flimsy “I’m sorry but …” apologies for repeat offenses.

Atheists say controversial things online every day. But Dawkins’ position as the godfather of the modern atheist movement has revived a question that’s been percolating for at least three years: Has the famous scientist become more of a liability than an asset for the movement he helped create?

“Regretfully, I think Richard Dawkins has become a liability,” atheist activist and author Greta Christina said in an email. She has shared a podium with Dawkins at two high-profile atheist events, including 2012′s Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., which attracted tens of thousands of people.

Many credit Dawkins’ 2006 best-seller “The God Delusion” with swelling the ranks of atheism. His Richard Dawkins Foundation supports dozens of atheist organizations with its annual budget of $800,000.

“He is the reason I call myself an atheist, and he’s a big part of the reason I became an atheist activist,” Christina said. “But the unfortunate reality is that newspapers and other big media outlets have been making him into the major face of organized atheism — and it’s creating an image of us that turns a lot of people off.”

`Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists’

Dawkins declined to be interviewed, and a representative for his foundation said a statement he made on its website would be his final word on the subject.

Yet the current dust-up may have served as a wake-up call. On Wednesday (Aug. 6), presented with criticisms collected for this story, Dawkins added to an existing post on his foundation’s website.

“There should be no rivalry in victimhood,” the addendum to the post reads, “and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist … that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.”

Dawkins was a famous evolutionary biologist before he touted atheism. His 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” bridged the gap between academic writing and popular science and became a rare best-seller. In it, he outlined his theory of “memes” — ideas that travel within a culture through discussion, writing or images — which spread far beyond academia and into popular culture.

But it was 2006’s “The God Delusion” that many credit with sparking a growing interest in atheism in the U.S. Along with best-selling books by the other members of the “Four Horsemen” of atheism — the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett — Dawkins’ rising star mirrored the growth of atheism in the last decade.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center found 5.7 percent of Americans identified as either atheists or agnostics, up from 3.7 percent in 2007.

“Richard Dawkins has done a lot to bring atheism to a whole new generation,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor who studies atheism and who also credits Dawkins with speaking out against the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.”

‘For goodness sake grow up’

One of Dawkins’ biggest missteps came in 2011, when he blasted Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist who wrote about feeling sexually harassed at a freethought conference. In a now infamous series of comments posted to the blog Pharyngula, Dawkins wrote in a message titled “Dear Muslima,” “Stop whining, will you? . . . For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.”

That incident – and others that did not involve Dawkins – led several atheist groups to include sexual harassment policies at conferences and many say it swelled interest in the newly-founded Women in Secularism conferences in 2012.

“My life was already negatively affected by his ‘Dear Muslima’ statement,” said Amy Davis Roth, president of a Los Angeles women’s atheist group and a speaker at Women in Secularism conferences. “In that statement he told one of my co-bloggers to essentially get over sexism and sexual harassment that she experienced because women have it worse elsewhere. His seemingly ignorant yet authoritative statements unleashed a barrage of online harassment directed at our blog and its contributors that has yet to cease to this day.”

There have been other online eruptions as well. Last year, he garnered negative attention with a tweet some called racist. “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge,” he tweeted last August. “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

Amanda Marcotte, an atheist activist, blogger and freelance journalist who has been critical of Dawkins, said comments like that keep unbelievers from joining atheist groups or supporting its causes.

“A lot of close friends of mine do not believe in God and they see his (Dawkins’) Islamophobia, they see his sexism, they see his unwillingness to engage with people who don’t come from a white man’s perspective and they are done,” she said. “They have no interest in that. Zero.”

So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.

“Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.

Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.

“In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”

And it isn’t only women atheists whom Dawkins upset. Writing on The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta said: “I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins. I know he means well. But damn, it’s annoying having to defend him. More importantly, I shouldn’t have to!”

Adam Lee, who blogs at Daylight Atheism, said: “I don’t think (Dawkins) has done more harm than good to the atheist movement, but the balance has been shifting towards harm. He has made comments about women and minorities that give people a bad impression of what atheism stands for. I wish he would stand back and let other people add their voices to his.”

Support and an apology

Of course, Dawkins still has legions of supporters. Among his biggest is Dennett, one of his fellow “Four Horsemen” and a philosopher at Tufts University.

“I thought Richard’s responses were right on target. If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder? If so, are THEY condoning rape?  And if they think rape and murder are always equally bad, they really have lost their bearings and do not deserve our attention. Richard has been immensely important.”

Even some of Dawkins’ critics say they are heartened by his recent statement over the “Dear Muslima” incident.

“I consider this a very hopeful sign that he’s gaining a better appreciation of perspectives different from his own,” Lee said. “I’m not going to say that this one statement wipes the slate clean, but it does make me more optimistic and hopeful that his understanding will continue to evolve.”

KRE/MG END WINSTON

136 Comments

      • There are very few “ultra-feminists”. The turn off came through propaganda by social conservatives who amplified extreme views as the norm of feminism as a whole. They turned the word feminist into something other than what it ever was to turn men, and by extension some women, against the cause of equality. The phrase “man-hater” was thrown about as if feminists were ever anything but wives, mothers, and sisters. It’s all nonsense, misdirection, and propaganda for the agenda of returning women to Victorian gender roles, so men don’t have to fear reevaluating the narrow definition of masculinity or give up their privilege.

      • Yeah sorry, not falling for the lazy ad hominem of dismissing anyone who objects to Dawkins’ comments as “ultra-feminists” without even bothering to address the actual objections.

        What Dawkins continually refuses to grasp is that no one was challenging the logic of his statement. Everyone gets that there are degrees of severity, especially from a legalistic view, in criminal behavior.

        What people are objecting to is his continual use of those degrees of severity to tell people, specifically women, to shut up about their experiences and to belittle those experiences as not being sufficiently traumatic to be worthy of comment.

        Ranking how much pain people are acceptably allowed to feel over being raped or sexually assaulted is a despicably dehumanizing practice. People react so strongly when Dawkins indulges in such behavior for the petty gratification of making a point in online exchanges because they regard him as being a person who is better than that.

  1. Nobody will care about Richard Dawkins’s tweets and comments on blogs when is time to write his obituary. I find very superficial and odd the attention that columnist’s dedicate these days to Social Media Faux Pas.

    I may dare say and BET, Dawkins cultural legacy and overall positive contributions will certainly eclipse those of Greta Christina, Phil Zuckerman, Amy Davis Roth, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, Hemant Mehta and Adam Lee. I’m talking about their collective contributions, added up, versus the single contributions of Dawkins.

    That said, yes, he shouldn’t be wasting his Social Capital on Twitter and he doesn’t appear to have learned his lesson, either.

    • Richard Dawkins and his legacy will solely focus on his atheism, because he is so dogmatic and abusive about it. His scientific achievements have already been overshadowed by it.

      • Sarah,

        “The Magic of Reality” by Dawkins will outlive all of us.
        It is all science and it is an amazing book.

        His Atheism will be forgotten because Atheism soon will be the norm.
        Religion is fading. It won’t even be a footnote of the 21st century.

        Most of America’s churches will be closed and sold off within 20 years.

          • @Robin,

            Jesus is over.

            “Christianity is Dying”

            Excerpts from:
            The CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR – MARCH 10, 2009
            by MICHAEL SPENCER, Spokesperson for the Evangelical Society.

            “We are on the verge of a major collapse of Christianity”….
            “Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants (Between 25 and 35% of Amerians in 2009 are Evangelicals) In the ‘Protestant’ 20th Century Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular, a-Theistic (non Theistic) and religiously antagonistic 21st Century.”

            ARIS SURVEY OF AMERICAN RELIGION 2008:

            “The NONES: NO RELIGON”

            8.2% in 1990
            14.2% in 2001
            16% in 2013
            20% in 2020 (projected)

            “The ‘nones’ are the only group to have grown
            in every state in the union. We can observe that in 2008 one in five adults does not identify with a religion
            of any kind compared
            with one in ten in 1990.”

            “If current trends continue only 4% of today’s teenagers
            will be evangelicals by the end of their lives.”

            “Christian Evangelism will be dead
            in one or two generations.”

          • More like 40 years. They did some calculations and it was either 2037 or 2041 that the non-religious would be majorities in a number of countries, so I think 40 years would be a good estimation for most of the churches shut down.
            As for all of them, I don’t know, there are many exclusionary groups out there.

        • Chaplain Martin

          I have an idea for you; why not open an Atheist Max Real Estate Company to deal only with selling church buildings and property of defunct congregations? Maybe you could also sell buildings of churches whose congregations have grown so large that they need to sell to move on to larger property and even build a larger building with a thousand parking places. Just think no steeples or stain glass. These well placed buildings could be sold for an auto dealership, warehouse or a off price store.

          Of course some of those old buildings with steeples, stain glass and just the design of the building can hamper sales (I have heard that stain glass is selling high these days). They could be white washed inside and out and the windows and steeple changed out for a more godless feel. They could become meeting places for the ever growing Atheist movement. After all, turnabout is fair play. The early Christian movement did a similar thing to pagan temples. White washing them and removing the awful icons of a religion they opposed.
          Atheist groups could form for the social good. They could feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless (some would thank you that they didn’t have to attend boring
          sermons before they could eat, but what about the homeless guy that wants to pray?”), care centers for the elderly, and aid to the jobless. I know Max that you are a caring guy and would lobby for these needed services no longer funded by those terrible religious organizations. Surely the coal giant run by the Koch brothers would supply funds, or even GE, or Apple. These congregations, oops, groups, could discuss firsthand the writings of renowned anti-theists. Some would be for Dawkins and others for Hitchens and still others for some new writer of humanistic atheism. Some of this sure sounds familiar. It seems like I remember an old tent maker who went about preaching and ran into a similar problem.

          Some atheists are lobbing for the same status as a religion, does this mean that soon atheist will become just another religious group themselves?

          • @Chaplain Martin,

            “Some atheists are lobbing for the same status as a religion”

            True. But any attempt to try to turn Atheism into a religion will fail because there is no way to make non-belief into a religion.

            Think about how many non-believers there are of the God Aphrodite. Or God Zeus or God Thor.
            Suppose you tried to call each of those non-beliefs ‘a religion’?

            It won’t work.

            Know what I’ll do this weekend?

            1. My wife and I usually go to breakfast on Saturday morning and laugh for about 2 hours.
            2. I’ll go visit my Catholic Mom and Dad and only bring up religion if they do. I just bought them a condominium to live in because my dad has lost everything because of a gambling habit he destroyed his financial life and my parents would otherwise be homeless without me. Meanwhile they are both distraught that I cannot believe in God.
            3. I will help my 96 year old neighbor who is dying of bone cancer. I’ll make her lunch and supper and visit for a couple of hours.
            4. I’ll take my 22 year old daughter to a movie.
            5. I’ll help my 20 year old son arrange his trip.
            6. I’m delivering a $6000 item on Sunday to donate to an auction to raise money for poor children who cannot afford the State College tuition in my town.
            7. I’m allowing about 7 little kids in the neighborhood to use my yard for baseball games because I have the largest yard in the neighborhood. None of these kids are mine! But I’m happy they have a safe place to play!

            Being an Atheist is just as fulfilling as any other life.
            I am proud of being an Atheist
            It took a lot of courage to admit I could no longer fake my religion.

            And I’m still a nice person.

          • @Chaplain Martin,

            It would be easy for me to lie to you. But I am not.
            Please read the list of things I am doing this weekend.
            Do I sound like a problem? Do I sound like the sort
            of person the world needs to eliminate?
            Do I sound immoral?

            Now please understand.
            Because of my lack of belief in God (which I cannot do anything about) I could be killed in many parts of the world.

            I MUST defend Atheism
            against death sentences
            and other unfair treatment.

            We Atheists do not believe in God – that is all.
            We do not deserve to be second class citizens.

            And I must speak out against Jesus because
            Christianity singles me out for destruction:

            “have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonian 3:14)

            Please. I am not kidding. This is unfair and hurtful!
            I do not deserve this!

          • “Atheist groups could form for the social good. ”

            They already have. The Giving Pledge is a campaign to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. The campaign specifically focuses on billionaires (or those who would be billionaires if not for their philanthropy) and was made public in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The Huffington Post reported in April 2012 that “81 billionaires committed to giving at least half of their fortunes to charity”.What’s interesting to note is that the overwhelming majority, like Buffett and Gates, are atheists.

    • It’s not a “social media faux pas”. it’s indicative of how he thinks about women and religious minorities.

      there are hundreds of atheists writers who are articulate, passionate, dedicated – and understand that women shouldn’t be stomping grounds. or at least they know to fake it.

      • How do you know it’s indicative? You don’t know him personally. I doubt you’ve even read his autobiography. It seems to your leaping to a conclusion in order to vilify him. As for women as “stomping grounds,” well, it’s just flat-out irrational.

    • Dawkins wasn’t making a point about rape. He was making a point about logical statements. But the author of this article, like other authors of countless copy-cat articles, ignores that and hasn’t revealed the full context and subsequent explanations of his comments because that wouldn’t help this ad hominem attack.

      • Richard Dawkins error is using logic to discuss controversial topics. If he was merely “making a point about logical statements,” why did he specifically pick rape and pedophilia? He KNEW what he was tweeting would provoke reaction. How is that logical, now?

        • “Using logic to discuss controversial topics?” So, what? We should be illogical when discussing controversial topics? I think if you want to understand these topics, rather than just pander to sjw’s, then it’s probably best to use logic.

          • Absolutely! Learning to develop love and compassion for others and oneself is far more important than learning to develop logic.

          • I understand we should be wary of attributing rational motives to irrational actors, like rapists. But the worryingly popular idea that logic is a cold thing, a sort of weapon, almost, is wrong. For example, we humanists always reason from our most sympathetic view of human nature. We think logically about how people have varying views, and fears and so on, and we act on that basis, towards them. Thinking illogically and relying on emotion alone would not make us kinder people.

            It’s a bit like the argument which post modernists make about how the Enlightenment caused the Holocaust because it “privileged” scientific rationalism over “emotion.” I mean it’s a contemptible lie. The emotional Romantic period, with its ties to nationalism, nationalism being an ally of racism, is far more to blame.

          • Appreciate Your thoughtful comment. I may now read Dawkins bio. to get an idea of how he has arrived at his present place in life. One interview I saw on TV was of Dawkins conversation with an Anglican Priest on a bench behind a church bldg. It was a very congenial conversation.

          • “But the worryingly popular idea that logic is a cold thing, a sort of weapon, almost, is wrong.”

            Actually, I agree with you, and I think you’ll find that many of Dawkins’ critics would agree, as well.

            But it’s possible we both hold this view for different reasons. For me, logic is neutral. It’s how it’s used that makes the difference. In this case, and in general when it comes to rape, I simply don’t think logic is the best place to start with these discussions. We need to start with empathy. Let the victims/survivors decide whether or not to be logical about it and when. Don’t play with victims’/survivors’ experiences. Dawkins may not even mean it (in fact, I’ll bet he doesn’t), but that’s exactly what he’s doing… he’s playing with them and their experiences. That isn’t right.

        • Controversial topics are precisely the right way to discuss logic. It demonstrates they’re only controversial because people put emotion above logic.

          It’s the main reason we have judges and don’t let either the victim of a crime or the perpetrator of a crime set the sentence in a court case.

    • Excellent point. Since the entire issue is so finely nuanced it makes you wonder what his motives were in trying to express them in 140 words or less. Was it just arrogant fun for deliberate controversy? Who knows?

    • … no one is simply arguing that “all rape is equally bad.”

      Really? Could have fooled me as it seems more than a few are insisting that all cases of rape are all equally the proverbial “fates worse than death”. And one might argue that your own “shouldn’t be used to dismiss or minimize the harm of either” qualifies as an insistence that “all rape is equally bad”; unless you accept that latter premise – “all equally bad” – then I fail to see how you can possibly be arguing against minimizing one [hypothetical] case versus another.

      But you also said:

      [Dawkins is] simply in no position to be telling rape victims where their particular case lies on his scale of suffering ….

      Pray tell, where has he done that? And comparing Watson’s discomfiture in an elevator to FGM and worse hardly qualifies as an apples-and-apples scenario. But it seems to me that he has rather clearly indicated that he was speaking in generalities, and that he conceded individual circumstances might tip the scales in the opposite direction. Seems to me that you – and no few other commenters & bloggers on FTB, Skepchick, and AtheismPlus – have some difficulty in dealing with or incorporating cases that don’t fit into your dogma and generalizations. As a case in point, you may wish to peruse this comment and post by Maggie McNeill, The Honest Courtesan, which rather clearly proves that not all cases of rape are equally bad:

      Feminists are fond of equating all rape with aggravated rape, but as one who has experienced both I can tell you that simply isn’t true; aggravated rape is terrifying because of the possibility of death or disfigurement, but “date rape” – in other words, unwanted sex which occurs in the context of a voluntarily-entered sexual situation – isn’t nearly as bad. It’s highly unpleasant and may even be painful, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen to a woman.

      But maybe you would care to try repudiating her “lived experience” ….

      In any case, I think the hypothesis – “not all rape is equally bad” – should be taken as proven and as a starting point. And that the particular circumstances of a given case should determine punishments or other individual or societal responses. But the rather peevish inability to get over that hurdle and to accept the evidence and logic of it suggests an agenda or some problematic biases or bigotry in play.

    • That’s idiotic. He never said to any individual, “here is where your suffering lies on the suffering continuum.” It’s perfectly reasonable to talk about rough approximations of amounts of suffering different activities are likely to cause. Punching people on average causes less suffering than cutting off their legs.

  2. The Great God Pan

    “Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.”

    He didn’t need to step in it. They were already outraged that he had even signed the “peace accord” in the first place.

    I submit that Dawkins is to the faitheist/accomodationist crowd as Al Sharpton or the New Black Panther Party are to the Fox News crowd: a source of constant outrage whom everyone else just sort of shrugs at.

    • You do realize that a hell of a lot of Dawkins’ critics are anti-theists, right? Ophelia Benson, (arguably) Greta Christina, PZ Myers… I myself am an anti-theist. I hate religion with a cold-blooded passion.

      So he isn’t just being criticized by faitheists and accomodationists.

  3. Dennett is pretty much the only individual mentioned in this article of any real significance as far as the “atheist movement” is concerned, in as much as it ought to be called one Of the others you mention, many belong to the divisive, thankfully-failing “Atheism+” movement which seeks to impose an orthodoxy of beliefs unrelated to the rejection of religious fables onto the public face of atheism. This group appear to market themselves on a rejection of the “smug new atheist” straw man, and therefore have a vested interest in attacking, misrepresenting, and endorsing the lazy media representations of, Richard Dawkins and other individuals (such as Sam Harris, for instance). By featuring these individuals in the bulk of your article the implication is that there is a significant backlash from those who were once his base, when the reality is you are quoting from one, largely insignificant echo chamber.

    Unfortunately, your article is no better in that it uncritically endorses claims of “Islamophobia” and “sexism” when a genuinely critical examination of the facts simply does not support such lazy accusations. Your readers should also be aware that the incident that Rebecca Watson experienced amounted to nothing more than being invited back to a man’s room for drinks whilst sharing an elevator. The fall-out of that negligible incident, blown out of all proportion, was undoubtedly what compelled Dawkins to react as he did.

    Dawkins’ biggest flaw is that he seems unable to grasp the sheer volume of people eager to leap on anything controversial he might say, and perform the most dishonest character assassination possible with the material available.

        • Claiming to “take the high road” is usually an admission to being caught unprepared in a situation. Dawkins doesn’t even know what game is being played half the time.

          He is trying to be scientific in a field which is actually political. People like to distill quotes and quips from Dawkins, because that is how he usually handles the public. He is ill at ease with the media. As if someone gave him a textbook on media relations which said that one has to be brief and zippy for the public.

          Hitchens stepped in his fair share of dungpiles in his day. However, he was articulate and savvy enough of the media so that people were not mistaking what his intentions were.

          At this point atheist movement needs less scientists telling the public why religious belief is silly, and more politicians, writers, artists, and performers.

    • None of the people mentioned in this article are associated with the atheism plus movement. The mere mention of atheism plus is now use to verbally abuse those who disagree with those who dominate the public face of atheism aka the white, privileged male. Like you, for instance. Dawkins has his own band of internet lapdogs that will attack every single time somebody questions him on the absurd statements he makes on the internet.

      Nobody needs to assassinate the character of Dawkins, he seems to have that part down.

      • Greta Christina’s blog has an “A+” logo accompanied by the caption “I Support Atheism Plus!” and a list of all the issues that entails.

        A general tip that might serve you well in the future: If you have to lie to make your point, maybe it’s not that important a point in the first place. Really, what end is served by claiming that the people in an article aren’t associated with a movement that they are quite open about associating with? What are you even trying to accomplish?

      • Sarah said “None of the people mentioned in this article are associated with the atheism plus movement.”

        Yes they are, as other respondents have pointed out.

        “aka the white, privileged male. Like you, for instance”

        Hmm, judging me on my ethnicity and gender. Very common among the A+ crowd. Thank you for demonstrating the poisonous prejudice common among that crowd on here, as the author of this article certainly did not.

        • It is common and very odd. I mean I thought feminism was about NOT judging people by gender? And yet I’ve been accused countless times of being a “white cis man” as if this means that my arguments are somehow invalid? It’s ludicrous.

      • “Aka the white privileged male.’ Yes, but you see, not everyone is as obsessed with “identity” as you. Has it ever occurred to you that Professor Dawkins might not think of himself as a “white cis man?” I don’t think of myself that way, I’m just a person. That’s it. In any case the RDF is a diverse foundation, which includes people of all skin colours, so your comment is ignorant.

      • Actually, they all are. A+, however, is not a failing movement. Would do its critics well to actually see what’s going on and how it’s going on.

        Like all movements, it suffered growing pains, and the name may or may not stick. Either way, the values and ideals behind it (we’re atheists who fight for social justice) are taking over.

  4. If you think Dawkins is odious just wait what Christina, Watson and Lee have in store for you. Dawkins at least rejects the concept of original sin; this crowd seeks to simply replace it with their “social justice” doctrine wherein white males are the devils and cause of every ill imaginable.

    • No,I think they agree that there are deeply nasty people involved in feminism at the moment. People with not interest in argument or discussion but who are simply out to make filthy, unfounded accusations.

  5. Yet another nonsense article about Richard Dawkins, involving quote mining from eclectic sources and an incoherent line of argument to paint a completely false image.

  6. What a remarkably biased article.

    1)

    The title is an open question: “Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s asset or liability?”. One assumes that a journalist’s way of answering this would be to speak to some who think he’s an asset and roughly the same number of people who think he’s a liability. Instead, you speak to just one person who thinks he’s an asset, and a whopping SEVEN who think he’s a liability. Is that representative of card-carrying atheists? I doubt it, but evidence is not presented either way.

    Furthermore, I could have told you what the people you interviewed were going to say. If you choose to concentrate on interviewing people who spend much of their online output complaining about Dawkins and his ilk, you’re going to end up with a lot of criticism for Dawkins. It’s like asking “Does Palestine Deserve It?” and then interviewing several Israeli soldiers and perhaps one Palestinian for ‘balance’.

    2)

    “And it isn’t only women atheists whom Dawkins upset.” The narrative here is that he’s “upset women atheists”. Some women atheists are upset with him, sure, but many women support him. How about we hear from some of the women that are fans rather than detractors? You interview a male supporter of his – why not interview a female supporter too? All too often in these sorts of debates, to preserve the narrative that women collectively hold some particular view about something, the women who don’t hold that view are ignored – they are invisible – they don’t exist – swept under the rug so as not to be too much of an inconvenience.

    Given the prevailing narrative, I find this deeply ironic and hypocritical.

    3)

    His “Dear Muslima” comments did include “Stop whining, will you? . . . For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.” However, you write it as if he said that to Watson. Firstly, he was talking to the Pharyngula commenters, not Watson. Secondly, “stop whining”, etc. was sarcastic, and aimed ‘towards’ the hypothetical Muslima. He wasn’t actually saying anyone should “stop whining” or “grow up” but rather the opposite. Just read the source if you don’t believe me.

    Hopefully this can be corrected in the article, as right now it comes off as dishonest quote-mining, and I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.

  7. The authors’ ability to quote people who appear to be independent, while belonging to the very same group, is astonishing.

    Rebecca Watson (SkepChick)
    Was indirectly criticized by Richard Dawkins in a comment in the blog Phryngula by PZ Myers. Founded SkepChick.

    PZ Myers (FreeThoughtBlogs)
    Sided with Rebecca Watson, against Richard Dawkins. Co-Found FreeThoughtBlogs.

    Amy Roth (SkepChick)
    Obvious is obvious, “employee” and friend of Rebecca Watson.

    Greta Christina (FreeThoughtBlogs)
    Obvious is obvious, “employee” of PZ Myers, ally or friend in the FreeThoughtBlogs & SkepChick.

    Adam Lee
    Friend of the SkepChick, FreeThoughtBlogs group, easy to confirm, just hack in FreeThoughtBlogs or SkepChick and his name into a search engine of your choice.

    Ophelia Benson (FreeThoughtBlogs)
    Obvious is obvious, also vocal critic of Richard Dawkins (like this whole bunch).

    The one and only fair inclusion is Hemant Mehta, who is not known to be part of the very same tight-knit group.

    It would have come an inch towards balance when several people on Dawkins side were included, like e.g. Jerry Coyne.

    This article is simply propaganda but not journalism. Kimberly Winston is not a journalist, as demonstrated here. It isn’t made clear that this is a strongly partisan opinion piece. However this form of misrepresentation is also rather typical for this group. Why not ask Melody Hensley (same group), or Alex Gabriel (more of the same), and so on.

  8. The arguments within the Atheism movement
    are unsettling to many of us who know that life without gods makes more sense.

    But just as the Gay movement had trouble getting started we will work out these problems and the number of leaders will increase and diversify over time.
    This can only help the cause.

    And what is the cause?
    Making the world safe for Atheists.
    And to a lesser extent, liberating the world from false beliefs.

    • With respect to the Gay movement, the atheist ‘movement’ should be different. If there is a movement it should be about making logical arguments and exchanging ideas, not identity.

      • @Oscar,

        There are more male Atheists (65%) than female.
        And many men have not yet shaken off the influence
        of their religion’s male-dominated nonsense.

        Many of us men have figured out that God is a man-made idea but apparently some of us still carry the religious indoctrinations:

        Women
        sex
        Hell
        Guilt

        It may take a lifetime to truly rid oneself of the infection of religion.

    • Watch out. If there are two things the “social justice” crowd hates…well, they hate innumerable things, really. It would be silly to reduce it to two.

      But two of those innumerable things are 1) comparing atheists to gays or “POC” (“people of color,” in the ubiquitous SJ jargon) and 2) suggesting that there is anything for atheists to fight for. According to the SJ crowd, there is no such thing as religious privilege, and atheism is the domain of privileged straight white cis Libertarian dudebros.

      In other words, you are being very “problematic” right now.

      • Oh god, I know. Is there a smugger word than “problematic?” I mean if you have a problem with something you bloody well say what the problem is in precise terms. But of course a lot of time they don’t know what they’re taking about so the old “problematic” does comes in handy as a sort of lofty, academic-sounding subterfuge.

  9. The comparison to the gay movement is interesting. There have been many male-dominated gay rights groups who have been attacked by feminists over the decades. Many feminists did not like males advocating their rights without feminist oversight and feminist ideology in their approach. Gay men were slammed with accusations of being “the worst misogynists”, and were told that their discrimination was a result of gay men being viewed as women, not discriminated on the basis of being gay. The additional persecution that gay men faced over gay women must have also been an inconvenience for proponents of feminist ideology.

    The script is hardly different whether it is now the IT industry or the atheist movement. The narrative is that women face prevalent and unique sexual harassment at the hands of atheist men. This has lead to a slew of spurious and/or outright fabrications of sexual harassment. Many high profile men have been targeted by this: Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, Ben Radford, though even ordinary event patrons have been targeted, ie monopod guy.

    Most of the narrative comes from FTB, skepchick and occasionally connected individuals such as Amanda Marcotte.

    What is interesting is that conferences had an over representation of women before this narrative was proliferated (based on the gender ratio of atheists). However over the years this has decreased, which is no surprise. Creating a narrative of victimization is an inherently predatory behavior. Imagine what would happen if you constantly said that black people in a neighborhood were targeting white people through mugging and burglary. What do you think would happen to the white population in the neighborhood over time?

    • It is interesting. I just think we need to be very wary about identerianism, because although of course diversity is important, it is diversity of opinion, which matters most, not how many ‘black’ people there are compared to ‘white’ people. The only solution it seems to me is to act on the Enlightenment principle that every human being is capable of transcending cultural and racial bounds, and that way, one can reach out to all kinds of folk and judge them purely on the basis of character.

      I liked your comment on ‘predatory behaviour’ and I think it permeates the so-called ‘New Left.’ The mentality is “I’m on the side of ‘the oppressed’, I’m ‘left-wing’, THEREFORE, I can say just about anything I like about people whom I considered ‘privileged.”‘ I think it’s in this way that these foul bullies justify their Twitter-policing and so on.

  10. Richard Dawkins is perhaps most responsible of any particular person for the growth in people feeling comfortable saying they are atheists. Most of them have never heard of people like Greta Christina and wouldn’t really be interested in anything she has to say.

  11. Charles Freeman

    Richard Dawkins position on rape is well thought out, backed with evidence, to the extent that any data has been accumulated here. Criticisms seem based on desire for recognition, and rather extreme social policy. The deniers of gradients in the area of criminal jurisprudence need to examine results of centuries of court decisions. There appears to be little substance in criticisms of Dawkins positions. It’s regrettable that the extreme sexists attempting to denigrate him aren’t subject to logical analyses. Their positions might disintegrate. The “whiners” may well be whisperers into the refreshing breeze of Dawkin’s competence.

  12. Gee, I guess when we get God, Christ and the idea of self-sacrificial love and service to humanity off the stage, should it surprise anyone that we’re left with the clash of big egos and crass intellectual arrogance? Most of these comments attest to that! Of course we get some of that in the Christian world, but most of us recognize it for what it is . . .

    • @Sabelotodo2,

      “Gee, I guess when we get God, Christ and the idea of self-sacrificial love and service to humanity off the stage, should it surprise anyone…”

      No. You are learning the wrong message.
      Religion indoctrinates a male-dominted system onto us.
      Just because we can shake off the nonsense of God
      doesn’t mean it is easy to shake off all the other evils that come with religion.

      Plus, Atheists are mostly men.

      Paul Newman was an Atheist.
      His charity “Newman’s Own” gives all the proceeds $370 Million Dollars to charities.
      Don’t slander Atheism if you don’t understand it.

      Religion is about obedience and fear.
      Religion has nothing to do with love.

      And you can see it in the story of your God:

      “I shot, tortured and killed my only son – for your personal benefit. I would accept nothing less than the ground splattered with his blood.
      And if you don’t believe me I’ll do worse things to you.” – Yahweh

    • There is nothing arrogant about the scientific mindset, scientists are some of the most humble, tentative, unsure people you will ever meet.

      There is, however, nothing humble about the belief that God has a special plan with YOU in mind.

      Nor are anti-choice slogans very nice or interference in things like stem-cell research very helpful.

      There is nothing particularly meek about “just knowing” that your religion is the “correct” one when there are so many other belief systems.

      There is nothing humble about the idea that all other animals were made to be used by human-animals.

      There is nothing humble about believing in things without evidence.

      I could, as you know, go on.

    • samuel Johnston

      We are all dead in the end Frank. If belief were powerful enough to save us from death, it would be powerful enough for us to fly, if we believed hard enough.
      Delusions may affect your perception of reality, but not reality itself. “I refute it thus”, said Samuel Johnson as he kicked a rock.

  13. Richard Dawkins was and, is, bravely heroic in taking on the fight for atheism to become an openly expressed and lived option in the spectrum of religion vs. non-religion. He or, someone like him, was needed, and he stepped up to the challenge, for which I am grateful. He was not forced to do this. As a world-renowned, respected scientist, he put his creds on the line In a world rampant with religious and social justice dogmatism, as a voice of/for science and reason. But, even logical and reasonable people have emotions that, occasionally, are expressed in ways perceived by some to be irrational and illogical. Dawkins is human, and humans don’t always express themselves in ways perceived as acceptable by some of their listeners. The difference between expressions by Dawkins and the rest of us is that we seem to hold him to a higher standard of communication. Note some of the comments in this blog.

    If we who call ouselves humanists/secularists/agnostics/atheists can
    focus on our areas of agreement and form coalitions to take action on issues we all care about, rather than fighting within ranks, maybe we’ll stand a better chance of making progress. There must be room within our groups for ranges of opinion, but we can act together on those areas where there is relative agreement. We have needed our “fighters against”; now we need our “fighters for”. Stop with the word parsing and nuance mining, and get on with the changes most of us agree are needed.

    • Really good comment, Rowena. I’ve also noticed that people have been trying to put him on a sort of pedestal? With the sole purpose of knocking him down. Since when has Professor Dawkins claimed to be the “Godfather of Atheism,” for example, and yet journalists have been claiming that he is just so they can say he’s “disgraced his position” and our movement.

      I think the main problem with atheism at the moment is that so few of us are humanists and science enthusiasts Hard-line dogmatic feminists for example reject the idea of God but also science, which they describe as ‘racist,’ and rationalism, which is apparently, ‘oppressive.’

      • If anyone’s interested, there’s a Youtube video of Professor Dawkins ridiculing postmodern feminist bullies. It’s called “Richard Dawkins on Women’s Studies, Academic Bullies and Academic Fraud”.

          • You lost me there Oscar. Unless the subject is linguistics, Chomsky’s input on a given subject is usually useless.

            Chomsky is one of those figures who frequently says rather stupid things on subjects out of the range of their expertise. His politics are ridiculously simplistic at times. Yet he is unknowingly taken at face value by many who treat him like an expert.

  14. 1. Richard Dawkins was born in 1941 and lived until 1948 in Nairobi. I am certain that he retains much of that experience, which was not exclusively white and not totally male.
    2. Although raised as Anglican and becoming an Atheist in his teens, yet he has indicated he is a “cultural Anglican”. There are elements of religious ritual, music, community, architecture, etc. for which he retains affection. He does not hate all aspects of religion; just the extremist/fundamentalist/dogmatist brands that insist everyone must believe the same, and would torture or kill those who don’t comply.
    3. I’ve read the biography, but don’t remember the specifics about his pedophilia experience. However, British boys’ schools have a reputation for pedophilia, student – student, master – student. It may not have been as shocking or traumatic to some of these men, and it might have been to some. However, he is not making light of forced sexual acts, as some choose to perceive. Nor is he making light of the rape of women only. Anyone forced to have any form of sex that is not consensual has been raped, including children who are considered too young to legally give consent.
    4. The Atheist+ and ultrafeminist proponents of Atheism are frequently guilty of the extremely emotional, reactionary statements of which they accuse Richard Dawkins. Apply your own standards to yourselves, please. And do not make the erroneous assumption that there only is one acceptable way to emotionally react to sexism, racism and rape.

  15. Rev. Dr. Norman Martin

    I have read a good bit of Dawkins “The God Delusion” and I sure hope he is a better biologist than he is at delving into theism and the complex theology of belief in something higher than self. To quote from the article: “Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.” In Dawkins opinion, there is nothing higher or worth listening to than himself.

    Dawkins goes around debating some theologians and others to keep the money coming in. I don’t fault him for that. It’s just that he showings in the debates I have witnessed are mediocre at best. Now he seems to be stirring things up for himself with some attacks on women. This doesn’t seem like a real humanist, not in the way I was taught humanism.

    Like many Christians, I hold to the findings of evolution to be true. It just doesn’t preclude. for me, a possibility of a creator to get it all started.
    I believe not because of a brain washing, or even a delusion (yes, I’ve had a complete Psy. eval.) but through a particular and continued experience with a power higher than myself. I don’t hold myself above others.
    John Leland a itinerant preacher in the late 18th and early 19th century which led in the fight for religious freedom “whether a man worship one god, two gods or no gods, he should be able to do so unfettered”.

    Atheist should fully have the same freedom. It’s just that there seems to be a constant need to attack those who don’t hold atheistic views. Is atheist attacking those who hold to religion any better than fundamentalist of any religion attacking atheist?

    I don’t tell atheist that they are suffering from a delusion for such statements are made to stop any form of dialogue. The move to wipe out churches seems a bit grandiose and what would it prove? They were first called “The Way” until some citizens at Antioch gave them the nick name “Christian,” and it wasn’t meant to be a compliment, but the faith (religion) kept spreading.

    Why not live you secular humanism to the fullest? Reach to what is your highest good.

    • “Is atheist attacking those who hold to religion any better than fundamentalist of any religion attacking atheist”?

      Uhm, yes, The United States has been forced to return to Mesopotamia precisely because of religious fundamentalism.

      • Rev. Dr. Norman Martin

        Oscar
        You wrote “Uhm, yes,” but then you go off track. Why not answer the question instead of your “Mesopotamia” comment? Maybe I should ask: How is your attacking Christianity any better than Christian Fundamentalist attacking you?

        • An atheist militant writes on a blog or joins in lawsuits with minority faiths. A Christian militant tries to kill people and blow up stuff. That is the main difference.

          Atheists aren’t trying to give their views color of law, advocate discrimination, trying to upend sane and factual education and health care, or undermining democratic institutions.

          The same can not be said of Christian fundamentalists.

    • @Chaplain Martin,

      “Atheists should fully have the same freedom. It’s just that there seems to be a constant need to attack those who don’t hold atheistic views.”

      We both agree that Atheists should be free as the Christians are.
      But we Atheists are getting clobbered
      not by insults only – but by laws.

      We Atheists are being forced to obey Christian rules
      and forced to grant by law that Christians ways are the only right ways (bans on gay marriage are only one example of this).

      If religious people could stop trying to make their rules
      into the law of the land we would get along better.

      Evangelicals are lobbying Congress with hundreds of millions of dollars
      to influence laws which I MUST then follow.
      And it isn’t fair, and it isn’t free, and it is against the Establishment Clause.
      And it happens to favor enormous wealth over the poor as well.

      I disagreed with Christopher Hitchens on many things, including his politics – but he was right when he said,
      “religion poisons everything”

      We desperately need more secularism to help strengthen American Law.

  16. Chaplain Martin

    Dear Bro Max
    I wanted to reply to your reply to me, but there was no a “reply” key for that. Here I will quote you: “Being an Atheist is just as fulfilling as any other life.I am proud of being an Atheist
    It took a lot of courage to admit I could no longer fake my religion. And I’m still a nice person.” Being an Atheist is just as fulfilling as any other life.
    I am proud of being an Atheist. It took a lot of courage to admit I could no longer fake my religion.
    Notice how things change between us when we share in a more personal nature. I admit my satirical approach had a cutting edge. I knew you are a nice person since I read of your time as a life guard and the little children. It’s just when you attack Christianity with such, seemingly hateful statements that I can feel personally attacked. Now I do believe we could sit down and have a really nice, insightful conversation such as the one I witnessed on TV between Dawkins and a Church of England Priest. Maybe you can say hello to your family for me.

    • @Chaplain Martin,

      “It’s just when you attack Christianity with such, seemingly hateful statements that I can feel personally attacked.”

      I do not want you to feel personally attacked.
      I am hurt if you felt personally attacked by my comments.

      I was a Christian. I felt ‘Christian’ feelings – to attack you personally
      would be like attacking myself!
      Warm memories of my parents at Christmas Eve, the excitement of Easter, my close friends at church…
      And…my wonderful godfather who is still a Catholic priest
      But he does not know that I stopped believing. I can’t reveal my real name – because he may read these comments someday.
      My godfather baptized me almost 50 years ago and he is still a dear, important person in my life.
      I love him and so I will not reveal my atheism to him.

      I cannot believe this philosophy of Jesus. Simple as that.
      But Where you see ‘love’ and ‘trust’ – I see evil, not only in Jesus but in all ‘faith-based’ claims and religions. To grant Jesus as ‘true’ we must accept the miracles of other faiths also – and that becomes simply incoherent. They cannot all be true.

      Because…If we accept ‘faith’ as a legitimate argument for Jesus (since actual evidence is apparently impossible) we must accept ‘faith’ as a legitimate argument for Islam also – it is only fair! But that leads down a rabbit hole of dangers;
      “Slay them [the infidels] wherever you find them” – Surah
      Shall we slay ourselves for Allah!?

      If I could be ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENT
      that the separation of church and state would be upheld – our unique Establishment Clause
      which protects our freedom of religion (as well as our freedom FROM religion)…..I would totally shut up and leave Christians and Muslims alone.

      My anger and my mission is directed at those who would push these faith-based poisons onto the rest of us despite our protestations – they are attempting to over-ride the very Wall of Separation which saves my life!

      The Hobby Lobby decision and so many others are a warning to us that the Christian Right rich oligarchs (Koch Brothers, Greens, et all) are making dangerous headway and it won’t be reversible if it goes too far.

      If I cannot fight the Fox News Corporate Christian Oligarchs directly with funding I must go after their soft spot which is to argue against the Christian religion which they use as a club against my freedoms.

      Believe me, I see myself as an underdog. The powers are bigger than us.
      They are using American’s love of Jesus and I only want to call attention to that awful, frightening fact.

  17. I agree with a lot of Dawkins. His ideas on Islam and whining America women. I lived in Muslim countries and I don’t think that it is a prejudiced “islamophobic” statement to say that few Muslims have won a noble prize. I saw ignorant fatwas, persecution of gays, Christians,atheists, the few Jews, clitoris surgery on women and lack of education for women. They Also believed that Only Muslims go to heaven. Western women struggled for what they have, and because of that they are great and deserve it. But there is a politically correct mindset among so called liberals in which we say and support the same ideas, almost dogmatically. Dawkins is Dawkins and I am me. I don’t care what he said or not. Atheism is not a religion. One should be atheist because one has come to certain conclusions. Grow up American atheists.

  18. Richard Dawkins bad for atheism? Yeah, you wish. Dawkins has been the single most important figure in atheists and atheism as a movement asserting itself with apology. Keep up the wishful thinking. It makes it easier to pick off you clowns.

  19. Interesting to see how almost everyone interviewed about Dawkins was from either FreeThoughtBlogs or Atheism+, both of which are generally considered to be embarrassments to the atheistic movement.
    Dawkins works best when he has the time to explain himself properly and give the correct context. Twitter just isn’t the place for someone like him, especially with the amount of people on the internet willing to go into histrionics and take everything out of context as often as possible.

  20. Let me get this right — I am told you are “an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer” [I see you wrote a book on that] –

    You think there can Even BE “an expert” in such a thing – and you think that being That INSANE means anything else you say is “relevant to REALITY”??

    Wow!!
    Now, I can agree that some things Dawkins says could be been said more delicately, might even sound mean spirited – but as your article is biased so much as to be laughable in its content, you should be looking for professional mental help.

  21. Prove him wrong.

    P1: It is immoral to give birth to a child (when you have the choice of an abortion) who is likely to experience significantly more suffering than the usual amount for a child born in the same environment.

    P2: Children with Down Syndrome are likely to experience significantly more suffering than the usual amount for a child born in the same environment.

    C: Therefore, it is immoral to give birth to a child with Down Syndrome (when you have the choice of an abortion).

  22. Robert H Biggadike

    Well I hope Richard Dawkins does not listen to these people who seem to be trying to silence him. I saw no examples in the article of anything he had said that was wrong or insensitive.

  23. Ophelia Benson said:

    Note the “if”. Well yes, if, then whatever. But the proposed “if” isn’t relevant to anything, so it’s frivolous to mention it.

    That’s your opinion, but not one that everyone shares, probably including Dennett. And it seems to me that what both he and Dawkins were doing, particularly Dennett with his reference to rape and murder, was using a series of analogies to compare and contrast – the essential element of that mode of thought, that “cognitive process” – to highlight the common elements in each crime, primarily that each comes in a spectrum of severity, and that each “color” in those spectra do or should lead to different punishments.

    More specifically, that “cognitive process” – used to “transfer information or meaning from one subject to another” – is exemplified by the classical paradigm of “Hand is to palm as foot is to sole”, and which is frequently given in the “Aristotelian format” of “hand : palm :: foot : sole”. And in this case, Dennett, and to a lesser extent Dawkins, are apparently arguing, or implying, that “the spectra of crimes of murder [criminal negligence, manslaughter, second and first degree, etc] is to punishment for each of those crimes as the spectra of crimes of rape [“crossed signals”, date rape, aggravated assault, gang rape, etc] is to the punishment for each of those crimes. And you should know your Dostoyevsky well enough to appreciate the linkage. But that comparison really shouldn’t be as much of an intellectual hurdle as it appears to be for many people.

    While one might question or at least wonder about the purpose of Dawkins’ original set of tweets and their context, and while I tend to agree with your earlier comment on the difference between logic and rhetoric which probably has some bearing on that context – or pre-text as the case may be, one might also suggest that his quite reasonable objective was to criticize an increasing culture of victimization, the manifestation of an “oppression Olympics” – “I’m more oppressed than you are”, and the situation described in a quote of Hitchens which he had tweeted and on which you had commented:

    ‘I’m very depressed how in this country you can be told “That’s offensive” as though those two words constitute an argument.’ C. Hitchens.

    A situation which is bloody childish when you get right down to it. I think Eleanor Roosevelt said something to the effect that there’s no benefit to or value in creating laws in the attempt to govern if the populace doesn’t have, in general, a substantial degree of self-governance to begin with. And it sure seems to me that that ability is rather thin on the ground, more in some quarters than in others.

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    […] An article on Religion News Service by Catholic journalist Kimberly Winston (an expert in the effects of different prayer beads on prayer) asks whether Richard Dawkins is an asset or a liability to atheism. Actually it tells us: he’s a liability.  […]

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