A Response to Michael Shermer

Ophelia Benson


Michael Shermer is very indignant about being criticized: he wrote a two-and-a-half-page article (“A Guy Thing? Secularism, Feminism, and a Response to Ophelia Benson,” FI, February/March 2013) for Free Inquiry in reaction to four paragraphs in an article of mine (“Nontheism and Feminism: Why the Disconnect?FI, December 2012/January 2013) that criticized something he said on an Internet talk show. That’s a lot of response to a small and not terribly ferocious criticism.

It’s also a very heated response. He claims there is “a McCarthy-like witch hunt within secular communities to root out the last vestiges of sexism, racism, and bigotry” that is “purging from its ranks the likes of such prominent advocates as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.” He worries that he should have spoken up about this sooner, adding, “As Martin Niemöller famously warned about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi party, ‘first they came for . . .’ but ‘I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a. . . .’” He adds that “now the inquisition has been turned on me.” He declares that he won’t be “allowing my inquisitors to force me into the position of defending myself (I still believe in the judicial principle of innocence until proven guilty).”

To sum all that up: Shermer characterizes a brief criticism of something he said as a McCarthy-like witch hunt, a purge, the Nazi party, an inquisition,and a criminal trial. As he mentions (apparently without realizing how prickly it makes him look), he had already written a long piece on the subject in his online newsletter eSkeptic, much of which he simply repeated in his Free Inquiry response.

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