Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Relativism and the gelato guy

Remember the Gelato guy?  A few weeks ago at Skepticon 4, the owner of a gelateria posted a sign that said, "Skepticon is NOT welcomed to my Christian Business”.  The owner took it down fairly quickly, and posted an apology.  In most of the atheist blogs that I pay attention to, people responded very positively to the apology.
That’s exactly the type of response we want from people who may not agree with us. I don’t know what more we could ask from a Christian. I forgive him. Hell, next time I’m in Springfield, I might even buy some gelato from him.
--Hemant Mehta
The notable exception was PZ Myers, who made a big deal about rejecting the apology:
GelatoGuy lives in one of the most religious countries on earth, in a particularly intensely religious part of that country, and in a moment of smug self-righteousness, felt he could openly discriminate against people who do not respect his beliefs. And now he thinks he can walk away, forgiven, and return to his blithe happy Christian pocket universe, just by saying a few words.
Someone asked PZ, "Just out of curiosity, what would the guy have to do to be forgiven?"  PZ responds, "Nothing. Make an example of him; don't give bigots an out."

I basically don't care about Gelato guy, and I forget which state he's in.  But I point this out as a recent example of judging people based on their context, as I discussed in my previous post on cultural relativism.

On an objective measure, I don't think Gelato guy's actions are "positive".  I would prefer that businesses don't discriminate in the first place, rather than discriminating and then apologizing for it afterwards.

On the other hand, we intuitively judge people based on what they can be reasonably expected to do.  We feel the need to give a person an "out".  If we simply condemn people no matter what they do, our condemnations will fail to encourage better behavior.  Gelato guy is just going to throw up his hands, because there is no way he can earn PZ's forgiveness.

On the other other hand, who is the audience for our condemnation?  Is it the Gelato guy, or is it blog-reading atheists?  If the audience is blog-reading atheists, condemnation is useful after all, because atheists can be expected to behave better.  As I understand it, this is PZ Myers' goal, to make a statement to atheists, not to Gelato guy.  His statement is that atheists should have higher standards, and I sympathize a lot with this message.

On the other other hand, I basically don't care about Gelato guy.

1 comment:

Cheekyvimto08 said...

I don't see the gelato guy as a singular moral entity. Clearly when that happens there is a broader context of anti-atheist discrimination, which really matters. In America especially, there are probably a lot of those gelato guys.