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Joe Klein Secular Humanist meme
I'd like to thank Heavy Mettle for writing about how in a TIME cover story, columnist Joe Klein includes a humdinger of a non-sequitur, baselessly attacking the non-religious for their supposed lack of volunteering and charity during times of disaster.
But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.

Why this dig at "secular humanists"? Why did he feel the need to single out one particular group of people for their absence?

Why, indeed? It is completely irrelevant to the article, completely out of sync with even the actual paragraph, completely false, but worst of all, only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes against an already discriminated-against group. Never mind the fact that, among those relief workers and first responders and maybe even the veterans that the article was supposed to be about, he doesn't seem to consider it possible that there might be someone who considers him or herself a Secular Humanist that he would be insulting with his statement. As if Humanism and Secularism aren't already derided as it is, asserting that they don't lift a finger to help people in times of need like after the Moore, OK tornado only serves to further entrench the negative images people have of the Secular community.

I wasn't going to write another diary on this issue, but there has since been a development that I just couldn't ignore.

As a result of this statement, many outraged secularists took to twitter and to writing letters to TIME directly. Apparently this had some effect, because Klein felt the controversy needed addressing.

You would think in a situation such as this, involving a supposedly reputable journalism organization, that an appropriate response, from either the author or the organization, might include at least one of the following:

1. An apology for making a baseless assertion that reinforces a negative stereotype.

2. A retraction of the statement once it is clear that statement is factually incorrect.

3. An acknowledgment that the statement was a mistake or oversight, and the steps that the author or journal would take to ensure it would not happen again.

Klein's rebuttal involved none of these.

It is not an apology. It is not a retraction. I wouldn't even consider it a clarification.

Intro

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Well, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about my observation in this week’s cover story, that you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals in disaster relief areas like Moore, Oklahoma, after the tornados. Let me explain.
As has been pointed out already, whether or not he meant organized groups of secular humanists or not, he is just plain wrong.
More than 4,300 people donated more than $120,000 for the family of Rebecca Vitsmun (she promised to donate to charity whatever money she doesn’t need).

Foundation Beyond Belief raised over $45,000 for Operation USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

Atheists Giving Aid raised over $18,000 that will be given to local relief groups in Moore, Oklahoma and directly to families that need help.

Members of the FreeOK atheist group helped families who needed wreckage removed from their property...

Local atheist groups such as the Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization have organized volunteers, resources, and blood drives.

Organizers of the FreeOK conference going on this weekend held a literacy drive yesterday to “benefit the schools affected” by the tornadoes.

It's true that some of these groups are no more organized than following a simple meetup.com group. However, if Klein thinks this at all takes away from any of these groups' generousity, charity, or efforts, or makes their contributions any less commendable than the contributions of churches and other religious groups, that is pretty insulting, to say the least.

Does he explain in the following paragraphs how he came to the assumption that there are no groups of secular humanists doing the exact same thing that religious organizations are? Not really.

First of all, I consider myself a secular humanist.
As if that somehow makes it preposterous that something he says could be construed as an attack on secular humanists. As if we don't live in a world where Supreme Court justices who belong in ethnic minorities can do something like strike down the Voting Rights Act. As if a President who once campaigned on greater transparency can't lead the fight to silence whistleblowers.
There is, I know, something mealy-mouthed and uncommitted about my squishy spirituality. And that is part of what I was thinking about when I made the observation about organized groups of secular humanists not being present in disaster zones. As a society, we’ve lost a good deal of our sense of communitarian commitment. That’s not a novel observation, of course. It was best made by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, twenty years ago. But the churches–disdained and sometimes ridiculed in my part of the world, Acela world–still have it. Many of their teachings are improbably literal and sometimes close-minded to the point of ugliness; but the church groups are always out there, in droves, when a disaster happens.

There was a time when secular service organizations had a greater sway in this country and, no doubt, a greater presence when disaster struck. But that’s not true now–although, it is certainly true, as my critics point out, that secular humanists, including atheists, can be incredibly generous. I never meant to imply they weren’t. But they are not organized.

This is how he justifies asserting that there aren't any secular humanist groups in disaster zones. Oops, my mistake. Organized secular humanist groups. Because the distinction between organized groups and disorganized groups makes all the difference.

In the end, he reasserts the false statement, and in the act of explaining it - and I use the word loosely as the majority of his explanation is mostly irrelevant - leaves the impression that the inclusion of the statement was no mistake, no oversight, but a deliberate jab at secular humanists, for the sin of not being organized enough, or something.

And the fact that he was allowed to include the original statement in the cover story, and then to write this rebuttal, implies that TIME endorses his statements as accurate.

At Red Dirt Report, Kai Tancredi points out how Klein's rebuttal basically accomplishes nothing at all, other than to further attack and incite the non-religious community.

If you’re looking for “I’m sorry,”  you won’t find it. The phrase was not mentioned once in the entirety of the rebuttal. I’m not even sure where to begin on the irrelevance of 80% of his response, but the excerpt contains the bits that attempt to clarify his insult. The long and short of it is that his critics did not pay enough attention to the word “organized” in his original statement. It’s not that humanists are absent in the relief effort, it’s that they aren’t all wearing matching tshirts. For journalists whose entire investigative process is a simple observation of how many groups have uniforms, this is an important element. He doesn’t appear to understand why the humanist community is upset, which leads me to believe that he hasn’t so much as read the letters he’s received, just acknowledged that they’ve been sent. For starters he and TIME consider him to be a professional journalist (though many of us haven’t seen it that way for years), and yet could not be bothered to do any research whatsoever before making or publishing that statement. It was a baseless, disgusting slander against an entire group of Americans as underrepresented as any in pursuit of civil liberties.
It's one thing for Klein and TIME to ignore the controversy they caused by the initial statement. However, because Klein escalated the controversy further by basically doubling down on his initial attack, without any formal acknowledgment of wrongdoing, and without any form of professional reprimand, I don't think Klein or TIME should continue to be allowed to get away with this grossly negligent act of journalism.

We should not let up on the pressure being put on TIME to rectify the situation. Until TIME actually does something to reprimand Klein, we need to keep sending them the message that TIME will not come out of this controversy unscathed.

The seed that started this entire controversy was a single statement: "funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals." This statement added absolutely zero value to Joe Klein's article. However, that does not negate all the damage and stigmatizing stereotypes that this sentiment represents.

Are Joe Klein and TIME magazine willing to sacrifice their journalistic reputations to uphold this terrible, irrigorous, inane, and unsubstantiated statement?

If you have not done so already, or maybe if you did already but Klein's rebuttal deserves yet another response, submit a letter to TIME letting them know what you think.

The original TIME cover story: Can Service Save Us?
Joe Klein's Rebuttal: Secular Humanist Watch

Let them know that what little response they've communicated so far is wholly inadequate.

If you'd prefer to prove them wrong more substantially, consider donating to one of the Secular groups Hemant mentions.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to The Progressive Atheist on Wed Jun 26, 2013 at 04:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Progressive Atheists.

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