Here on the Skepchick network, Mary has already covered the fact that Josh Duggar recently admitted to molesting his younger sisters as well as other children. She provided a comprehensive review of the hypocrisy of the situation, as well as some of the responses.
There’s another lesson here, beyond “fundamentalist Christians are awful people who do awful things” though, and it’s an important thing for the atheist community to take to heart. One of the most shocking things about this scandal is that the whole Duggar clan was aware of Josh’s actions and instead of reporting they chose to go to their church and deal with the situation internally, without giving Josh or his victims any treatment. Even more amazing is the fact that Jim Bob Duggar said that incest should be a capital crime while he was running for senator, despite the fact that he knew at the time that his own son had committed the crime and he himself had done nothing to protect the victims or potential future victims. He actively was more interested in presenting a particular face than in living his own values.
What strikes me most seriously about the whole response is that the Duggars weren’t interested in the actual people involved in the situation. They continued to let Josh have access to children and did not inform other families that he might be babysitting for or interacting with that their son had a history of abusive behavior towards children. They did not provide any sort of counseling or therapy for the children who were abused, but rather were focused on the ideal of forgiveness. The only sort of repercussion they gave to Josh was sending him away for three months to do work for a family friend rather than giving him access to services like counseling or rehabilitation programs that could help him learn healthier ways of expressing his sexuality. The counseling program likely emphasized saving face to the public. Instead of trying to make things better, they doubled down on the values that had led to the situation and covered up, more interested in the appearance of being a godly family and in the future career of their son than in the health and safety of the people involved.
What sounds familiar about this is the doubling down, the covering up, the denial, and the insistence on prioritizing the health of a movement over the health of the people. There have been more than enough scandals in the atheist movement that it might be time to recognize we should start prioritizing people (especially women, people of color, and other minorities), but time and again we see major organizations and individuals cover up, deny, or ignore that there was a problem at all. The language of forgiveness is used in the atheist movement to justify continuing to expose vulnerable people to potential threats in much the same way that the Duggars used it.
If the atheist community is going to hold up the Duggars’ behavior as an example of horrible hypocrisy and an awful response to bad actions, then we should probably do a little more to stop protecting our own movement against accusations of harassment, rape, or stalking. We should take those allegations seriously and do more to prioritize people over the conviction that atheism is right and needs to look pristine in order to win over new people. Having a movement that treats its members well is more important than having a movement with a united front to the outside world.
It’s time to step up.