Cult Of Personality At Root Of Michael Nugent’s Obsessive PZ Myers Feud

created image of both Michael Nugent and PZ Myers
The one sided feud between Michael Nugent (L) and PZ Myers (R)

The atheist community recently erupted when Atheist Ireland publicly issued a letter of dissociation from atheist blogger PZ Myers over some comments he recently made concerning a speech by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The real issue is the cult of personality that seems to infect people like Atheist Ireland chair Michael Nugent who is more interested in being a fanboy of some famous atheists and protecting them when they are called out for doing or saying stupid stuff.

I’m not going to rehash the entire history of the feud between Myers and Nugent here. Ashley Miller does a good job of summarizing the past couple of years. Check out her post and follow the links she provides:

So now we are at this week. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said that the worst thing that happens to gays in America is that they are not served cake, while gays in Muslim countries are thrown off buildings. Ignoring for a moment that this is ridiculously inaccurate, it’s also a pointless thing to say. PZ pointed this out. Nugent, the Chairperson of Atheist Ireland, took the opportunity of PZ Pointing Out a Famous Person Doing a Bad Thing to have Atheist Ireland officially break up with him. Atheist Ireland pulls slightly more weight than Nugent himself, but even Hemant Mehta read it as Nugent writing a dissociation letter until Nugent claimed otherwise.

In the Public Dissociation Letter, Atheist Ireland mischaracterizes a number of PZ’s statements without actually giving citations in order to paint him in the worst possible light. Thankfully, Alex Gabriel has reprinted it with citations so that you can investigate the claims of PZ Pointing Out a Famous Person Doing a Bad Thing to see how terribly worded those blog posts truly are. Honestly, I hadn’t read most of them, so I had to look for myself, PZ has been brutal in the past, and he’s not entirely unbrutal, but it’s all pretty reasonable to my eye.

The Background of Atheist Ireland’s Breakup with PZ: It’s about Michael Shermer

Here is my take:

Yes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali did seem to trivialize the experiences of LGBTQ people here in the US in her speech. I get why she is so concerned about Islamic extremism in the Middle East. I admire the personal sacrifices she made to escape that religion and she has some good points to be made, however just because someone doesn’t have the same vigor about an issue you do doesn’t mean their issues are trivial. We can multitask.

I’m also concerned because Ali has ties to the right wing political side here in the US like the American Enterprise Institute and she has appeared on FOX “news”.

I do agree that Islamic extremism needs to be checked but we are also under threat by Christian extremism here in the US. Muslims aren’t writing those Religious Freedom Restoration Acts or anti-abortion laws we’ve seen in many states.

I appreciate the work Atheist Ireland and Michael Nugent have done in Ireland. It is a country with a state religion and a Catholic one at that. However Michael Nugent has become obsessed with PZ Myers. I slogged through a lot of the 80,000 words he’s written against PZ and it gets tiring. I almost fell asleep half way through the dissociation letter because it was so dense with information that is at least misleading or taken way out of context.

Nugent demands accountability from others except the famous atheists like Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins. He doesn’t want anyone saying anything negative about these famous atheists that he personally knows unless a judgement in a court of law has happened. In one case, Shermer’s, the preponderance of the evidence shows he has done some awful things to other people, but Nugent demands Shermer not be named in blog posts about the nasty behavior although he has no problem naming Myers for the “bad” things he’s said. Nugent has an obvious double standard.

I don’t give a shit how many books you’ve written, TV appearances you’ve made, or speeches you’ve given, if you do something stupid then you should be called on it. 

I’m a Humanist and one of our principles is all ideas should be open to questioning including our own. Accountability should apply to everyone in the atheist movement. That type of transparency would be a selling point for organized atheism giving a strong contrast against the top-down model of theism. Sweeping dirty laundry under the rug, as Nugent seems to want to do, is what groups like the Catholic church does.

I’ve met many atheists over the years who I wouldn’t want to associate with outside an event or specific issue we were working on together. Until the last 15 years or so, many of the atheists who spoke on the chicken dinner circuit were assholes off stage. It seemed like a genetic trait for someone who put themselves out in public as an atheist. They had to be assholes. 

I don’t know PZ Myers personally although he spoke to my Humanist group some years back, so I can’t judge his “in real life” persona. Online he is blunt and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Obviously he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I don’t agree with everything he writes but when he does publish a post it is thorough (he is a scientist) and he doesn’t need to make shit up. I generally trust what he is saying. It’s also pretty easy to tell when he is being blunt and most of the time the target deserves it.

When the feud first blew up I checked things out on both sides of the story and agreed with PZ that Nugent’s forum on his website was “defending & providing a haven for harassers, misogynists, and rapists”. I might not say that Nugent is a wanker but he is flirting with that label especially with his obsessive stalker like harassment of Myers.

It’s telling that Atheist Ireland provided PZ a platform when he was going after religion and Catholics yet now there is a problem. PZ hasn’t changed only the dance card has. PZ is an equal opportunity pitbull. In a sea of wishy-washy accomodationists, I like how PZ holds all of us to a higher standard.

And how can you claim the moral high ground if your own house isn’t in order?

The fact that Nugent is going after PZ and not the participants in Nugent’s forum, or the famous atheists who do stupid stuff, is all you really need to know about who is on the correct side of this feud.