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.