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I Spent a Day Watching AtheistTV -- and It Was Horrifying

Society & Culture  (tags: religion, atheism, media, TV, stereotypes, God, society, dishonesty, freedoms, interesting, internet )

- 1779 days ago -
After watching four hours of its programming and even despite my own lack of religious belief, I find it hard to imagine that even a casual nonbeliever would tune in, let alone someone on the fence about the existence of a higher power.


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Carrie B (306)
Sunday August 10, 2014, 11:24 pm

The Christian right has some things figured out. These days, Christian entertainment isn’t just the didactic “700 Club” — it includes spectacles as high-flying as History’s miniseries “The Bible” or as wacky as GSN’s “American Bible Challenge.” If these entertainments, relying as they do on knowledge of the source material, do any converting, that’s a fringe benefit; they exist to further galvanize the faithful in their beliefs.

American atheists haven’t learned from these projects, it seems. The recently-launched AtheistTV, which is available over the Internet and through the Roku streaming device, frames itself as an outreach project of sorts. It consists of acquired programming (for instance, from the Richard Dawkins Institute), with call-in shows and broadcasts of speeches and rallies. All of these set forth the tenets of atheism — there’s no “American Bible Challenge”-style tomfoolery here.

And yet after watching four hours of its programming and even despite my own lack of religious belief, I find it hard to imagine that even a casual nonbeliever would tune in, let alone someone on the fence about the existence of a higher power. AtheistTV adheres to nasty stereotypes about atheism — smugness, gleeful disregard for others’ beliefs — to a degree that’s close to unwatchable.

When I first tuned in at 2 p.m. on Thursday, the closing credits for a show were scrolling, set to a parody hymn that rhymed “Don’t be offended by a word to the wise” with “There’s no real estate in the skies.” Then, after several seconds of dead air, came a prerecorded call-in show called ”The Atheist Experience,” whose co-host Matt Dillahunty, wearing a black Hawaiian-style shirt decorated with flames and infinity symbols, needed no prompting to begin his show with the Biblical story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. “This is just absolutely horrible,” said Dillahunty. “And it’s the type of thing we get when we begin with the idea that the Bible is true and good, and you run into absurdities.”

What absurdities these were the viewer would have to fill in for himself; there was no extrapolation from this story in terms of what social ills have happened in the name of God, no sense that Dillahunty was bothered by people following the Bible for any reason other than that he thinks it’s nuts to rely on a book for wisdom and guidance. “I don’t worship any being,” he said, “though I respect a lot of people and a lot of fictional characters.”

“If you know why your God is so stupid,” he said, “feel free and call us.”

The show did field one call, from a young man whose thoughts were so muddled (he was introduced as devout, then explained he was questioning his faith, then said he’d been dead for a week, then said he often thought the world would be better off after he died) that it’s not really fair to criticize. But it’s worth noting that Dillahunty repeatedly suggested he was dealing with a prank caller but refused to disengage and make time for a caller who might have done a better job of representing himself; it was more important to score rhetorical points off someone clearly not equipped to play.

AtheistTV frames atheism as a perpetual reaction against a conquering force. And that reaction isn’t reasoned debate. It’s unattractive nihilism. After the second broadcast of a single “Atheist Experience” episode, the channel showed a 2012 rally in Washington, D.C.; speakers consistently described a future in which all Americans would join the movement, a future that they’d get to by mocking and hassling the beliefs of others. One hardly needs to be religious to see the rhetorical flaws in Andy Shernoff, the frontman of punk band The Dictators, describing himself as “a little like Martin Luther King” before asking the audience “Ready for some sarcasm? Ridiculous ideas need to be mocked.” That Shernoff’s performance indulges straight-up homophobia and misogyny in a frankly mean-spirited song about giving Jesus oral sex is just a fringe benefit of being a radical truth-teller who doesn’t care whom one offends. Beyond the catharsis of mockery, what can AtheistTV offer? What alternative does it provide? Leaving aside even the question of winning over believers, how can it even keep atheists watching if it’s just a perpetual drumbeat of calling Jesus “the zombie Jew”?

After the rally broadcast, in the final episode of “The Atheist Experience” I watched, both hosts recommended that viewers tune into “Cosmos,” on Fox. That show, starring the scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, made the argument that the religious right had deleterious effects on the world by using concrete examples from history. The show also inspired awe by presenting something in which to believe — the majesty of the universe, the wonders of science. It wasn’t reacting to any doctrine; it was doing something all its own.

AtheistTV has a similar opportunity to inspire, and instead feeds its viewers a diet of scorn. The “Atheist Experience’s” new co-host, Don Baker, pivoted from talking “Cosmos” to introducing today’s topic: “I’m talking again about the failures of Christianity. I’m just scratching the surface — a lot of failure! So much fail. But today I’m going to talk about Christianity’s dependence on ignorance.

“Christianity requires ignorance — and con games require ignorance too.” I shut it off. A game of three-card-monte may be frustrating, but one can keep walking by. A person shouting at you on the subway is far more irritating.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_


Regan Copple (16)
Sunday August 10, 2014, 11:48 pm
So the point is, they need to do better, right? What they're doing right now is inadequate, correct?

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Monday August 11, 2014, 2:01 am
Too bad, there are some REALLY CLEVER Atheist CARTOONS on some websites. I hope people look up some of them! Too bad they can't use those!
[Copyright? or, they just didn't think of it?]

This is why I feel Atheism does need a "Spiritual Element" and not just to be a Negative.
Not "'God", but a realization that there's MORE than just the Material World...

"There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy". [Hamlet, speaking of his Father's ghost...]
There are MYSTERIES...

Also, that's why I think the thing they call "Atheism PLUS", is a good idea.
That's Atheism PLUS Social Action - sortof like some of us here on C2!
It's a Liberal, Progressive Atheism, not an Ayn Rand kind...
It's Political, and it's Caring for Human Beings and the Natural World...

It seems you can go thru just pure "Atheism" without anything else, in a few minutes! The rest is filler...
unless you ADD something...

Catrin Schuetz-Kroehler (47)
Monday August 11, 2014, 2:30 am
Interesting post Carrie and thanks for sharing this with us , i know you consider yourself spiritual, christian/catholic . Well by looking at that picture you thought it was a commercial to put you to sleep .And what this Atheist TV needs is cleary no Andy Shernoff with his MLK comparison and giving Jesus Oral Sex comment . If you take that looser out the equasion it starts to look like a brighter day already . Hopefully they will get their act together , see their need for some overhaul and get with it before it gets shut down .

Don't know about you guys but i always like to read the article comments , they are sometimes better than the article itself .

Gloria picchetti (304)
Monday August 11, 2014, 7:11 am
Atheism is just another religion.

Maitreya L (23)
Monday August 11, 2014, 12:09 pm
I'm wary of anyone who compares themselves to MLK. I don't think just publicly insulting religious people is the way to go. I don't really want to "convert" people to atheism or agnosticism, so much as to encourage people to learn more about science and develop critical thinking skills, and counter bigotry in it's various forms. I don't really care whether people believe in a higher power or not.

I think Neil deGrasse Tyson has good approach, he tries to teach people and excite people about science rather than trying to convert them to anything.

AtheistTV is new, so maybe they'll figure out. It sounds like they need more positive and exciting material. Also as atheists (or agnostic in my case), I don't think we should just insult religion without offering something to replace it. Churches do often provide a sense of community and support as well as charity. I want to end all the bigotry, oppression and violence caused by religions, I don't want to end the good parts.

Lois Jordan (63)
Monday August 11, 2014, 2:47 pm
Noted. Thanks, Carrie. I didn't know about this, and really don't think I'll be tuning in. While I've given up on all religions, I appreciate the humor of Bill Maher on this topic. I hope they improve the quality of the show, too, for those who like to feel the camaraderie.

Yvonne White (229)
Monday August 11, 2014, 3:20 pm
*sigh* Bitching about religion(s) is fun to a point..but I think they'd be better off investigating (archaeologically if possible) the myths & facts of all religions, the Historical backgrounds, etc. People get enough Holier-than-thou crap from Professional Talibangicals! ;)

Vicky P (476)
Monday August 11, 2014, 6:02 pm
No Gloria, it's not because there is no book of atheism. It has no belief system, Atheism means lack of belief in god and that is it, please feel free to use google, it's about 5 seconds away.

Eternal Gardener (734)
Monday August 11, 2014, 7:06 pm
One of the points of having no religion is that you don't have to gather into groups or affiliations!
Freedom yes, disrepect NO!

Edwin M (346)
Tuesday August 12, 2014, 3:49 am
I wouldn't tune in to this program for the same reason that I don't watch religious programming, I don't need someone trying to persuade me to adopt their myopic view of life.

Lona Goudswaard (66)
Tuesday August 12, 2014, 4:47 am
Only people living in a country where Atheism is still a dirty word and Atheists are the most distrusted of all groups, would feel the need for something like AtheistTV. I'm so glad I live in a society that has evolved in a very secular one and Atheists need not fight for their place in it. Eternal Gardener hit the nail on the head: if you have no religion you don't have to gather into groups or affiliations and you do not need to convince other people that your view is the right one. You need not spread your 'gospel' because there isn't one. In Europe it seems to be a question of education. The better people are educated and the more they are allowed to think for themselves and be educated free of religious influences (those are left at home or in church) the more people profess to be an Atheist or a Something-ist. Mind you, this doesn't mean that people are taught Atheism, they are introduced to different religions and the lack of a belief system. Atheism just isn't an issue with us.
In a poll of all university professors in the Netherlands, more than 90% of the respondents said they were Atheist. Theology professors were the main exception, of course. Make of that what you will.

Past Member (0)
Thursday August 14, 2014, 12:57 am
I believe that not having a belief system, is a belief system itself.
You can't escape logic, but you can manipulate it - consciously or not :)
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