Gather round friends and I’ll tell you a story of anger, conflict, repentance, apology, acceptance and anger – the story of PZ Myers and the Gelato Guy.
Once upon a time there lived a man named PZ Myers, a Professor of Biology, a vehement blogger and an atheist unafraid to speak his mind. There came a time when PZ attended a sceptics convention in Springfield, Missouri. Many businesses in Springfield offered attendees discounts, and so many partook of gelato at the Gelato Mio store, owned by Andy, otherwise known as the Gelato Guy.
During a lull in business, Andy wandered up to the convention, where unfortunately (for him) he chanced upon a performance by a comedian who calls himself an “atheist evangelist”. The performance was apparently a take-off of a Pentecostal preacher, and included many things which Andy found offensive. Accordingly, he rushed back to his shop and put up a sign informing convention attendees they were no longer welcome on his premises.
Apparently the sign was only in place for a short time before Andy thought better of it and took it down, but not before some people had seen it and photographed it. It created not a little stir.
Realising his mistake, Andy apologised in several ways – a sign on his Gelato Mio website, an explanatory note to the atheist r/atheist website, and individual letters to offended atheists he could identify. The apology sounded sincere.
Many atheists accepted this apology, feeling that it was a small breakthrough in tolerance in atheist-christian relations. For example, one atheist helped Andy organise his apology, and others, such as this ‘Friendly Atheist‘, publicly announced their acceptance and approval of the apology.
But PZ is made of sterner stuff, and he wasn’t having any of it. On his blog, in a post titled Fair weather atheists and sunshine skeptics, PZ said: “I reject his apology”, and in response to Andy’s letter, he wrote: “Apology not accepted. What I see in you is a person who hates me for not believing in the nonsense of your religion ….” he went on to lambast fellow atheists and sceptics who he felt were “rushing to self-censor themselves, to mark some of their ideas as publicly shameful, and to acquiesce to ignorant public opinion”.
“I am so fed up with skeptics who look down on atheists because they apply critical thinking to religion.” he said.
And so a minor storm in a gelato cup was created with its own 15 minutes of fame. The Gelato Guy followed his beliefs by asking forgiveness and learning acceptance, some sceptics followed their beliefs by granting forgiveness and building a bridge between believers and non-believers, and others, including PZ, stuck to their apparent view that their should be no compromise and believers should be treated with scorn.
PZ Myers is a Professor and must be an intelligent person, so presumably his response was considered, but one wonders whether he has done his viewpoint, and American society, more harm than good. Perhaps he is prepared to do this because he sees more important principles at stake.
But I can’t help feeling the the Gelato Guy and the Friendly Atheist have given us a little more hope.