Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Hypothetical Democratic Apology

So far this year atheists – or, more precisely, those opposed to anti-atheist bigotry (which would count people from any religion who has a respect for justice) – have show an embarrassing tendency to accept second-order insults and insincere remarks as apologies.

As a result, in the light of the Democratic Party's statement that there is no place at the table when Democrats gather to discuss morality and/or the common good (since only 'people of faith' were invited to these discussions), I want to state now what would count as a legitimate apology.

A legitimate party is an admission of wrongdoing that states that one understand what one did that was wrong, that at least admits to owing some sort of restitution to those who were wronged, and makes a sincere promise not to engage in the same behavior in the future.

In this case, the Democratic Party apology would look something like this:

When we organized forums on morality and the common good, and invited only people of faith to these discussions, we engaged in a form of bigotry that we really need to put an end to in this country. We fell into a trap of thinking that if a person does not have a religion, then he does not have any morals or any concern for the public good. The non-religious community was rightly outraged by these insults. We have to admit that the claim that these people have nothing useful to contribute to a discussion on morals and the public good is an insult worthy of condemnation.

We realize, and we want to make it clear, that any discussion of morals and the public good must include the voice of the non-religious community. In the future, we will make sure that they have a place at the table. We swear ourselves to standing in opposition to any policy that will seek to segregate our community between people of faith and non-believers. We will never again hang a sign on any party door that says, 'People of faith only beyond this point; people of no faith are not allowed in'.

A just society cannot tolerate any attempt to segregate its community between a ‘we’ who have faith, and ‘they’ who do not – to set up public institutions in which one group may freely enter and enjoy the freedoms within, while others are required to stay out. We ask your forgiveness, and we are asking members of the non-religious community how we can make up for the wrong we have inflicted on them.

This is what is due.

People can debate whether the Democratic Party will or will not ever do such a thing. However, that is out of the question. The fact remains – and it is a fact from which the Democratic Party cannot escape – that if they refuse to do so then they are agents of injustice. If they favor justice, they can do nothing less.

This is the only morally legitimate response for what they have done.

My argument is an argument about what is right and what is wrong. Arguments about what is or is not politically expedient belong elsewhere.

What does not count as an apology?

I am sorry that these people were insulted by our actions.


I am sorry for my actions. Now, here is my explanation as to why they were perfectly legitimate and why I have nothing to be sorry about.

These are, arguably, the two most common types of non-apologies that we tend to hear. If there is any type of apology offered to the non-religious community for being excluded from discussions of morality and the common good, as if we have nothing useful to contribute, my guess is that it will take one of these two forms.

It would be (and has been) embarrassingly absurd for the non-religious community to take these comments and respond by saying, "That's okay. You're forgiven."

To the first type of non-apology, the proper response is, "The fact that I was insulted is not the problem here. The problem is your insinuation that non-religious people have nothing to contribute to a forum on morality and the public good. If you’re not apologizing for claiming that non-religious Americans are amoral and unconcerned with the general welfare, then you haven’t yet apologized."

To the second type of non-apology, the proper response is, "You haven't apologized yet. You gave us an argument claiming that it is perfectly legitimate to call non-religious Americans amoral and unconcerned with the general welfare because (inset reasons the speaker used here). You're not apologizing for calling non-religious Americans amoral. You're trying to justify it. But there is no justification for that kind of bigotry. (Insert counter-arguments to the speaker's attempt at justification here)."

These are some of the things to look at in determining whether somebody has given an honest and legitimate apology. Simply because a sentence contains the word 'sorry', this does not make their claim an apology. One has to look for an admission of wrongdoing, an explanation of why the act was wrong, a willingness to compensate those wronged for the harms done, and a sincere promise not to do the same thing in the future. Without these four elements, no apology has taken place. Instead, a mere pseudo-apology has been offered, and no just person can find merit in a mere pseudo-apology.


Anonymous said...

In fact I heard the Interview of the registered republican minister - I forget his name at the moment - who will speak at the convention and helped 'draft' the statements related to abortion in the party platform.

I do understand these gatherings were really more about the political necessity to demonstrate and truly giving some of the more hard line evangelical believers input, showing inclusiveness and gaining some understanding of how to reach out them them - and not necessarily about 'morals' and 'ethics' but that will be the general perception and they are just perpetuating the idea that there are only two sides, anit and pro religion and that only religious codes are valid as moral and ethical guide.

vjack said...

The only sort of apology in this case that would matter to me would be one accompanied by behavioral change. It isn't enough to hear the "I feel your pain" crap. I want genuine behavioral change.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


The four elements of a true apology ultimately point to a change in behavior.

(1) An admission of guilt in the form of, "I did X, and I was wrong to do so."

(2) An explanation that shows that the agent understands why the act is wrong.

(3) An offer of retribution to make things right for those who were wronged.

(4) A plan of action that will prevent the same wrong from being done in the future.

Of course, ultimately, this is meant to lead to:

(5) Better action in the future.

Anonymous said...

Look, I am an outspoken atheist activist. I agree with what you say, but this is one of those years when we simply (I hate to say it) need to bite our tongues and understand that the Dems are damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

And if we want even the CHANCE of equal treatment, the Dems MUST win the election.

Look, Obama had atheist parents. Even if he really is a believing Christian, he doesn't hate atheists (and I'd bet that McCain is the same, but he will be forever beholden to the RRR for his victory if he wins).

Now, AFTER the election is a different story, if Obama wins. If we are NOT given a fully equal place at the table, we need to go absolutely BALLISTIC, even to the extent of creating a third party---a voting block of 8 to 14% of the electorate.

At least I give Obama credit for using the A-word in some of his speeches. That's probably the biggest signal he can give us without destroying his chance of election.

I wish we were currently more politically powerful and could make all sorts of demands of these candidates, but, until we organize as a voting block, with a respectable and credible spokesperson, we are not.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm tired of giving religious people a break on anything.

Lippard said...

I like the term "not-pology," which was coined for examples produced by William Dembski.