Last week, the Blaze brought you some startling words from American Atheists' Georgia State Director Al Stefanelli. Since our original report, Stefanelli has been responding to our coverage on blogs and the like.
Last Thursday, we published our article, entitled "American Atheist Leader Calls for the 'Eradication' of 'Fundamentalist Christians.'" Realizing that Blaze readers would be making their way over to his posting after reading our piece, it didn't take Stefanelli long to add the following disclaimer to his original blog post:
PS: To those of you who are coming here from The Blaze, which has accused me of calling for the eradication of living people, take note that I called for the eradication of the doctrines that are espoused by the fundamentalists and radical extremists...
Here, he appears to be denying the "eradication" claim, writing that he was merely talking about doctrines, not people. His explanation came too late, though, as numerous sources and readers, alike, assumed that his words were targeting both believers and radical faith systems. If one reads Stefanelli's blog post, he will see that the word "eradication" appears two separate times. Here's the first mention:
Intolerance toward beliefs and doctrines that serve only to promote hatred, bigotry and discrimination should be lauded, as should extremist points of view toward the eradication of these beliefs and doctrines.
Here, the atheist leader is clearly speaking about eradicating fundamentalist beliefs, as stated in the block-quote. But it was his second mention of the word that really stood out to us:
But the underbelly of fundamentalist Christianity and radical Islam does not operate in the legal system. They don’t respond to lawsuits, letters, amicus briefs or other grass-roots campaigns and they must, must, must be eradicated. As long as they are allowed to exist, we will continue to be inundated with accounts of buses, buildings, markets and abortion clinics being blown up, rape victims being murdered for adultery, wives being beaten (sometimes to death), airplanes being flown into buildings, people being tortured and sometimes beheaded for blasphemy, people being burned for witchcraft and sorcery and all the other horrific, inhumane and insane practices that are part of fundamental Christianity and Radical Islam.
As you can see, he starts the paragraph by talking about how fundamentalist Christianity and Islam don't operate within the legal system. Then, he goes on to say that "they don't respond to lawsuits, letters, amicus briefs or other grass-roots campaigns and they must, must, must be eradicated."
Since the subject of his statement is "underbelly," the use of "they" is curious. The awkward structure of the paragraph leaves its intended subject open for interpretation. While Stefanelli claims that this was, again, aimed at radical belief systems, it can easily be read to mean "they" as in "adherents."
After the Blaze's coverage, Stefanelli encountered some negative comments on his own blog, with one individual calling him out for allegedly encouraging the eradication of believers. In the comments section of the original blog post, Stefanelli responded:
It is most certainly NOT a call for violence. Not once did I ever suggest that we use weapons, violence or physical contact. Not once. Nor did I say we be “mean” to them. Nor is my article aimed at a majority of believers in the world of any one specific religion. The individuals that I am referring to, and that I was very careful to point out, are the fringe groups. The minority of the religious. The fundamentalist extremists who have no desire to talk with us, to open a dialog with the exchange of ideas.
In another response, he continued:
If I used the word “eradicate” in the context of living, breathing human beings, you would be 100% correct. However, I used that word in conjunction with the dangerous and disingenuous doctrines that are held by these fringe groups...I am advocating that the doctrines held by certain believers that call for the use of violence and murder in the proselytizing of their beliefs be eradicated. Period. End of story.
While his explanation is somewhat understandable, he has yet to properly define what he sees as "fundamentalist" Christianity. Most Americans understand radical Islamism's characteristics, but judging from American Atheists' chosen court battles and the like, the Christianity they oppose -- and the Christianity he'd like to see eradicated -- may be something less than radical.
Better structure would enhance clarity in the future, while helping to smooth over any confusion.