Atheist shunning

In my work with CFI Ottawa I met ex-Christians, including Mormons, who talked about the practice of ‘shunning’. It’s a very powerful tool used by the church to punish those who question the teachings of the Church. The social damage it can do to a family is devastating. I have listened to the heart-breaking story of one ex-Jehovah’s Witness whose father with whom she would like to be close again, but he has shunned her. With shunning, not only those who leave the religion get shunned, but also those who associate with those who leave the religion get shunned.

Now there is a tech tool called the “Blockbot”, created to block selected people on Twitter. Theoretically, it’s community-run, but getting on the list of people to be blocked seems to be as simple as questioning the teachings of church leaders. Question or dissent with a leader in this community, you end up on the blockbot list, alleged to be associated with the nastiest of trolls. This is shunning. Personally as a sceptic first, and an atheist because of my scepticism, I really don’t care. I do find it ironic that some atheists are shunned as if they were being expelled from a church despite being an atheist.

Frankly in my life I prefer to make the decisions about who or what I will read or listen to, and keep the decisions, about whom to block, in my own hands.


13 thoughts on “Atheist shunning

  1. I have never been part of a religion that practiced formal shunning, but I have to think that they would at least let the shunned person know why he or she was being shunned. The Atheism+ Block Bot does not even seem to extend this courtesy to those it blocks.

    • No appeal process, no review process and the conflation of ordinary criticism of others with the worst trolls and, bigots on the ‘net. On the other hand, the users of the BlockBot in many cases are just as lost to rational thinking as any hard core theist– which makes the comparison apt. The unfortunate part is there are sane users of the BlockBot who are simply not aware of the problems and, just use blanket defaults. All we can do is lay out the problems and, go on doing our thing.

      I actually support feminism (equity) and, LGBTQ folk. I myself have had some nasty bigotry myself in the past hence I can understand the temptation of the BlockBot. (I will be writing about just why “I am late to the party”, once I get my nerve up to write it.) If the BlockBot had some review process I could see myself supporting the idea more.

  2. No Diane ive seen people appeal blocks and get them lifted. Mistakes have happened and they corrected them. This isnt censorship because the bot is opt in not opt out if you don’t want people blocked then don’t use it, people have a right to block whoever they want to.

    Being against feminism or atheism plus gets you on the level 3 list and most people only use the level one list (for doxxers and the worst of the worst) transphobic people and terfs and other bigots make it to level 2, you get to choose what level you use and can change it at any time, it also doesnt block people you are already following. You are basically being really disingenuous right now with this post.

      • Why would you even ask why someone who says that her MO is being an “asshole” (her words not mine), is considered “unpleasant”?

        Why understand that some feminists don’t get along and have deep ideological rifts; and “want nothing to do with it” in one direction, but not the other?

        Why listen to constant accusations of being a “professional victim”; “whiny feminist”; “man hater”; or whistle language like “cry rape” sexist language like “cunt”, “hysterical woman”, etc so forth? Just because that special type of worn-out idiocy is being amplified by people who identify as “feminists” or “allies” or say they are “for equality and apple pie”?!

        The irony here is that some who self-identify as “equity feminists” to distinguish themselves from a feminism that they believe paints women as victims – are the same ones that (as you have done here) paints others as “victims” in the pejorative sense.

    • >ive seen people appeal blocks and get them lifted. Mistakes have happened and they corrected them.

      You haven’t. Once you’re on the blockbot’s lists the BlockBot applies blocks in subscriber accounts on their behalf, effectively acting as them, as far as the Twitter API’s concerned. If someone’s subsequently removed from a BlockBot list those blocks *cannot* be removed by the BlockBot because it can’t distinguish between blocks the user has made deliberately and blocks it’s put on.

      This is because James Billingham failed to analyse the problem properly and didn’t build in an audit. Even if he had there’d still be another technical iissue that I’m waiting for him to run into in the future.

      >’transphobic people and terfs and other bigots make it to level 2′

      I’m on level 2. I’m none of those things.

  3. Hey, Laurelai, you’re batshit crazy if you think that the block bot or atheism plus do not practice shunning. That’s their whole agenda. Take a deep breath and dare yourself to be honest.

  4. So, people are being “shunned” from an organization that they haven’t actually ever been a part of – but not actually *shunned* but instead having a somewhat large number of people block them on twitter who aren’t even all part of the same organization and are not composed of the entire organization’s membership, and even those who DO sign up for the Bot can over-ride the block by following them? – and that’s somehow equivalent to being shunned by a religious organization that is essentially the center of your whole life and social support system, where nobody with good standing in that organization (which is sometimes a very large percentage of small communities) is allowed to interact with you or face systemic punishment?

    There is a good case that having your twitter nym added to a list with the terms “unpleasant” and “annoying” attached to it is public shaming; but “shunning” is pretty ridiculous. The constant hyperbole is getting old.

    • I’m curious, have you read any of Carrier’s posts on the matter? If that’s not a call for open shunning, I don’t know what is. BTW, dishonest public shaming can get you shunned from more than just atheism — it can ruin your career and your life.

      • I’m not sure being deemed “annoying” by some internet group is apt to negative effect someone’s career and life. Though I have heard that the BBC coverage about the Bot should have been more clear to make distinctions about the nature of the bot.

        I have read some of Carrier’s posts on the matter, so have other people – and he’s gotten quite a bit of flack for it. My understanding is that he is more self-appointed than representative. His idea (on their face) make perfect sense, but he doesn’t seem to grok that it’s not his values people are pushing against – but the idea that he (or anyone else for that matter) is trusted to define those values in practice.

        If you take Carrier’s message and convolve it with the Block Bot – as if those listed (all of them) exemplify an inability to interact with other people in a positive way – I can see how that would be extremely problematic.

        However, that’s not the message I’m getting at all. There is no social pressure to collectively “shun” those on the list – therefore it is not shunning. If shunning were taking place in the manner that the OP is implying, I would personally be in deep shit with the A+ crowd by now (so would a lot of other people) – but I’m not.

        On the other hand, I’m not naive to a “camp” mentality. For goodness sakes, there was a while (when people didn’t really know me very well yet) where some people wouldn’t talk to me until I linked them to my blog post criticizing Thunderf00t and other people wouldn’t talk to me until I linked them to my blog post criticizing Laden.

    • It seems like your definition of shunning is different to the dictionary one. Diane is using it correctly.

      Also, no-where did she make a comparison between the damage done between church shunning and the BlockBot. You’ve just gone off on one about something she didn’t even say. The point of this post is the similarity between how the church behaves and how A+ behaves. Both treat dissent as something to be ignored and fail to engage with criticism, even when it has valid points. That’s very worrying for an apparently skeptic-based group.

      • I’m saying that the comparison itself is hyperbolic because the difference in damage as well as the behavior is pretty stark.

        I know people who have been shunned and those put on the block bot – the idea that these things are comparable is sort of outlandish. Even if there is a small range of similarity; that range is very limited. The comparison is less illustrative and more simply trying to make associations with things that are universally disliked.

        Some A+ associated folks go rounds and rounds with people with “dissenting opinions”; others don’t have the fortitude or the patience to rehash the same arguments and topics over and over and over again. Some are in situations where being confronted with the same old shit constantly is emotionally taxing.

        If someone doesn’t want to engage someone else, for whatever reason, that’s their own businesses. Believe it or not tweeters on the internet are not indispensable purveyors of novel concepts. Blogs are not “the literature”.

        I’ve given some push-back to the idea that providing incessant criticism (if you can call it that) of a group that someone is not actually affiliated with sort of rude and obnoxious. For every “valid point” in the spew of anti-A+ bile; I’ll raise you about a dozen “fascism!” “you worship PZ” “professional victims” “whiny bitches” blah blah blah

        I don’t use the bot myself, but I completely understand why anyone who is constantly targeted by that special type of bullshit would want to get away from the din of it.

        Constantly confronting that type of “dissent” is not what a skeptic-based group should be doing – that’s just a waste of time and energy. Constantly mounting that type of “dissent” is also sort of weird and counter-productive.

        I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to talk about topics beyond whether or not A+ has a right to exist and do whatever the fuck they want?

        Actual criticism – as in – discussing actual words and ideas that people actually have; as far as I’ve seen (when not framed by “you fucking cunts” and sometimes even when it is) tend to be engaged with.

  5. So I had a longer reply to melby with details and the like, but then I decided Hmm…follow the money as it were.

    And look who shows up under the list of blockers on the block bot: @MAMelby (

    What. A. Surprise.

    Which makes this statement rather funny:

    “I don’t use the bot myself, but I completely understand why anyone who is constantly targeted by that special type of bullshit would want to get away from the din of it.”

    Really? You’re a blocker, but you don’t use it? you just put people on it then?

    Oh, and another surprise, at no point does Melby disclose their *slight* conflict of interest on this issue. Awe. Some.

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