Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta says it is no wonder Atheist Ireland wants nothing to do with PZ Myers

by Michael Nugent on April 9, 2015

Hemant-Mehta-friendly-atheistHemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, has said that it is no wonder that Atheist Ireland wants nothing to do with PZ Myers, that he gets why people would rather avoid him, and that after once writing a blurb endorsing PZ’s book, Hemant has wanted less and less to do with PZ and his brand of activism.

In a considered analysis of Atheist Ireland’s recent statement, among the things that Hemant says are:

For Myers, it’s not enough to merely say someone is wrong or to point out the problems with their arguments. He has to insult and embarrass them, too, even if the differences in opinion are relatively minimal. (I’ve often been on the receiving end of his tirades.) When the comments are compiled together, it’s no wonder Atheist Ireland wants nothing to do with him.

I thought this section [of the Atheist Ireland statement] hit home, at least in my experience: “Many within the atheist movement have been concerned about his behaviour for years. Some have responded by publicly ignoring it, either to avoid giving him the credibility of a response, or to avoid becoming his next target.”

I get why people would rather avoid him. If you ever wanted to push back against something he said, it wasn’t just one guy with a blog you’d be upsetting. It’s a guy whose response would be over the top, whose blog has a large and dedicated following, and who acts as an accelerant for his often-anonymous and even more aggressive commenters.

At one point, years ago, I wrote a blurb endorsing his book, and then not long after that, I just wanted less and less to do with him and his brand of activism… Whatever influence he once had seems to have diminished as his rhetoric worsened and he began lashing out at people who outsiders to the movement would probably consider his allies.

You can read Hemant’s full blog post, and associated comments, here.

The comments on Hemant’s post are quite revealing. Fellow Patheos blogger JT Eberhard says of these comments:

I don’t blame Atheist Ireland.  I think they made the right decision and I think they said what a great many of us have been thinking for a long, long time (just read the comments on Hemant’s post and see how many people used to feel just as I did toward PZ).  And that’s just the truth.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Glen Davidson April 9, 2015 at 6:02 pm

PZ’s just showing by example that dogmatic thinking is not a danger only for the religious.

Still, he proved that point years ago, and it’s doubtful that he needs to keep on showing how destructive that level of self-righteousness is.

2 allison April 9, 2015 at 6:32 pm

It’s great to see more and more prominent atheists rejecting the character assassination and mendacity of PZ Myers & company!

3 Shatterface April 9, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Hemant, JT and most of their regulars are telling the same story we’ve heard here and elsewhere: that they were fans of Myers when he was writing on science and taking down the creationists; that they laughed off the cracker stunt even though it was a bit childish; and that somewhere along the lines he went completely off the rails spurred on by a warped ideology he does really understand and an increasingly vicious flock of followers even worse than he is.

His defenders have fallen back on three main claims: that Myers critics are a sinister cabal of cis-white hetero rape apologists; that Michael is mentally ill; and that MY country is bigger than YOUR country, ner-ner, ner-ner-ner

4 Shatterface April 9, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Sorry, doesn’t really understand.

5 Shatterface April 9, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Ronald Lindsay (Centre For Enquiry) responds to Watson:

As I’ve announced, I’m leaving CFI in December. Wish I could say that in the seven years I’ve been with CFI as president, the level of discourse in the atheist/skeptic community has improved. But I can’t say that. If anything, it may have become worse.

I’m not referring here just to the vile, hateful language, combined with puerile insults, one finds all too often on blogs and tweets. These are lamentable; indeed, sometimes there are literally nauseating. There is also the more serious problem of false attributions and distortions of others’ statements.

Case in point is a blog post that appeared yesterday on the Skepchick site. (I happened to read it this morning because I saw a reference to it on Twitter.) The blog post is entitled “The Friendly Atheist Endorses a Hate Forum.” I was taken aback when I saw this because although I do not know Hemant Mehta (a/k/a “The Friendly Atheist”) that well, I found it surprising that Hemant would endorse a hate forum. Also, when I read the body of the Skepchick blog post, the passage cited did not seem to support an attribution of endorsement of The Slymepit, the forum in question.

So I read Hemant’s post. There is nothing in that post that can be properly characterized, by any imaginative to stretch of the English language, as an endorsement of The Slymepit. The sole relevant paragraph in Hemant’s post is as follows:

“As for Myers himself, he responsed on Twitter with a sarcastic “Oh no! I’ve been disowned by the slymepit!”… in other words, associating Atheist Ireland with an online forum that frequently criticizes and mocks him and is populated by people he deems trolls (even though they correctly uncovered plagiarism on his blog network). In other words, he didn’t care.”

There is nothing resembling an endorsement contained within that paragraph. Admittedly, Hemant did not denounce The Slymepit in a way that Rebecca Watson, the author of the Skepchick blog post would have liked, but a characterization of a person, group, website, and so forth in objective, relatively neutral language does not constitute an “endorsement.” If I describe Ted Cruz as “a conservative politician” that does not imply I endorse Cruz simply because others might, with some justification, describe Cruz as “an extreme right-wing theocrat and homophobe.”

Those who hold prominent positions within the atheist or skeptic communities, whether as leaders or writers— and I think it’s fair to say Ms. Watson regards herself as a prominent writer— have an obligation to be as accurate as possible in their comments and observations. In particular, they should refrain from unwarranted accusations. Ms. Watson should rephrase the title of her blog post and apologize to Hemant Mehta. It’s not an easy thing to apologize (as I know, and Ms. Watson knows I know), but unquestionably it’s the right thing to do here.

In closing, I’m going to anticipate what I know some will say: that I am commenting on the Watson piece because she and I have a “history,” to which I have just made an allusion. That’s not the case. As indicated, my reading of her latest post was entirely fortuitous. But, in any event, let me take this opportunity to acknowledge what is obviously true, namely that Ms. Watson is an intelligent person who has made some significant contributions to the cause of skepticism, and her writings are sometimes interesting and insightful. But her latest blog post does her no credit. Acknowledging her mistake and setting the record straight would.

I also recognize that this is just one blog post out of hundreds published recently, some undoubtedly with worse misstatements. But reform has to start somewhere.

6 Jack Rawlinson April 9, 2015 at 8:48 pm

@Shatterface #3

“…they were fans of Myers when he was writing on science and taking down the creationists; that they laughed off the cracker stunt even though it was a bit childish; and that somewhere along the lines he went completely off the rails spurred on by a warped ideology he does really understand and an increasingly vicious flock of followers even worse than he is.”

This is exactly it. I never actually had much of a problem with Myers’ outspoken willingness to insult and mock. Back in the day he almost always applied it to those who had actually done something to deserve it; he often did it with some wit and, most of all, he was consistent with it. Then came the ideological shift, and with it the shocking hypocrisy, double standards, pile-ons and shameless misrepresentation of anyone who had the temerity to disagree with or question him even mildly. And then the obvious bitterness against leading lights of the atheist movement, which was so clearly and embarrassingly driven by envy, and possibly some sort of irritation that he wasn’t getting the attention and success he thought he deserved. That’s why he lost me, not because of the insults and flaminess.

7 Billie from Ockham April 9, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Before Stephanie Zvan (or a buddy) comes here and uses her patented sentence-inversion technology to argue that Hemant Mehta was endorsing the Slymepit, please note that he has said that he wasn’t.


8 Gurdur April 9, 2015 at 9:03 pm

At long, long last, the tide begins to turn. Atheist Ireland members are to be commended on supporting Michael Nugent in all this; that was vital. I am very grateful to Michael Nugent and AI for doing this, a very painful job that had to be done.

9 john welch April 9, 2015 at 9:36 pm

Watson’s play may not work out the way she’s used to things going. This is one of the first times that her normal allies are saying “Dude…no, he didn’t say that, not at all, not even close.”

Interesting times.

10 Shatterface April 9, 2015 at 10:19 pm

I hadn’t actually seen Svan in action before, but wow. Just wow.

Over at Lindsay’s, she doesn’t just twist Hermat’s words, she plucks them out of the air:

#8 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:11pm
“[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore should not be deemed trolls by anyone].”

—Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on Ebay

11 Jan Steen April 10, 2015 at 1:05 am

How does one defend the indefensible? Not by constructing a well-argued defence. Because that would be impossible, by definition. Instead, one attacks the critic of the indefensible.

Michael Nugent demands an apology of PZ Myers for his baseless smears? Nugent is an obsessed stalker.

Hemant Mehta criticizes PZ Myers? Mehta endorses a hate forum.

The Slymepit makes fun of PZ Myers? The Slymepit is a hate forum.

Sadly, even in the a/s community many can’t see through this tactic. Obvious smears are blindly accepted (such as that you will find rape and death threats on the ‘Pit).

Even if Hemant Mehta did endorse the Slymepit, so what? Why does Mr. Lindsay feel the need to dispute this, if he himself hadn’t swallowed the myth that the ‘Pit is a hate forum?

The only hate forums in the a/s movement, apart from a few inconsequential fringe blogs such as Almost Diamonds, are Pharyngula and Skepchick. These sites spread hate against decent (not infallible, but fundamentally decent) people such as Richard Dawkins and many others. It is commendable that organisations such as Atheist Ireland now disassociate themselves from at least one of the hate bloggers. I hope that other, similar organisations will do the right thing too. Stop supporting the narcissistic haters who undermine the work of genuine atheist activists.

12 John Morales April 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

For an independent blogger, PZ sure has accrued massive attention.

In fact, he is notorious enough to merit dozens of posts by Michael and censure from Atheist Ireland and Northern Ireland, and sympathy for that act from another independent blogger.

13 John Morales April 10, 2015 at 9:35 am

[correction to previous]

… sympathy for that act from another independent blogger …

14 Minnow April 10, 2015 at 11:29 am

“For an independent blogger, PZ sure has accrued massive attention.2

Which is the point. I am glad you are beginning to get it.

15 Kirbmarc April 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm

“For an independent blogger, PZ sure has accrued massive attention.”

Which he deliberately sought out, as all bloggers do. What’s the point of writing and publishing things that no one reads?

(Nothing is blaming him for that. People are upset with how he attracted attention, not with fact he attracted attention).

“In fact, he is notorious enough to merit dozens of posts by Michael and censure from Atheist Ireland and Northern Ireland, and sympathy for that act from another independent blogger.”

Yes, actions have consequences. Thank you, Captain Obvious!

16 Billie from Ockham April 10, 2015 at 4:15 pm

“For an independent blogger, PZ sure has accrued massive attention.”

Who are you? Avicenna? C J Werleman? The actual quote is: “for an independent actor, Osama Bin Laden sure has accrued massive attention.”

17 ElectroJosh April 13, 2015 at 3:50 am

Here is the sad thing: Michael has fought very long and hard for political issues that PZ agrees with (abortion rights, state/church separation, the Right to Die, secular education). He also strikes me as very pro-equality which, again, PZ would approve of.

Yet PZ is happy to come after someone who, in reality, he should be supporting. That is not a clever way to make or keep allies; instead it pushes people away – the very same type of people, might I add, that PZ complains there aren’t enough of in the skeptic/atheist/secular movement.

I think it is fine to criticize the views, actions and statements of others you don’t agree with (and being open to the same). There are also time to write someone off. But to jump straight to angry, mocking hyperbole in the first instance and then stubbornly insist on holding that position is not the way to conduct things and counter-productive.

*It is no wonder PZ and a certain youtuber could not co-exist on FTB – and both are now on personal crusades for their own version of “purity” within the skeptic/atheist/secular/what-have-you movement. Yeah – I realize that comment is going to really annoy everyone who has taken a “side” on that issue.

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