More on the Duggar Scandal, or Why People Are More Important Than Ideals

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.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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  1. Josh Marshall has been reading the report. Might be that there is more and less here than meets the eye.


    Sounds to me like the kind of outcome that might be expected from cramming 19 children into close quarters, leaving them to fend for themselves with minimal adult supervision and feeding them anti-sex misinformation and a guilt-trip theology.

    The Duggars aren’t just the TV poster children for the quiverfull movement, they are at its center.

  2. Just wanted to say that I think you absolutely nailed it here. Prioritizing appearances over people is a rot that needs to be stamped out, in whatever movement it shows itself.

    I think all things can end up in some good, if we look hard enough, and I think you found the good that we can learn from this one. Well done on not simply indulging in a little schadenfreude, but actually using the tragic events as a call to action.

    1. Not only should we not overdose on the schadenfreude but we should reflect on whether we are entirely fair with our criticisms of those we like.

      For example, how many of us have passed on criticizing Lena Dunham because we think her show is funny, or stayed away from the icky sides of Woody Allen because he made us laugh once, or Bill Clinton because he was nominally on our side.

      Yeah, Josh Duggar is a straight up piece of shit that needs to be removed from society but we shouldn’t give leeway to sex offenders just because they are friends of a renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Well, those here didn’t let that pass, but plenty did and it really shouldn’t be the case anywhere.

  3. “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”

    The timeline I saw said he was defeated in the race in May and one of the victims told in July. It appears he did not know about it during the primary campaign when he said that.

  4. Over on Daily Kos, they keep saying this behavior is learned. Which is really bad for those of us who have survived sexual abuse. The ‘vampire theory’ of sexual abuse (in which victims grow up to be offenders) turns the offender into a victim (and whoever molested the offender into a victim as well and turtles all the way down) and the victim into an offender (and his/her victim into an offender, and turtles all the way up). That theory needs to be staked.

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