by Paul Hsieh
Copyright May 2007
Introduction and History
YouTube is a fantastic tool for giving people a voice that can be heard
around the world without filtering intermediaries. In mid to late 2006, an
interesting group of appeared on YouTube. They were atheists. After a few
videos by the infidel guy starting in Dec 2005, there eventually
followed others (starting in late June 2006) such as PFUNK1, AngryAtheist, MrMortonBlogs and a few others. xmeltrut, CapnOAwesome, Nick Gisburne, Aborted
Soul and pdoeman soon signed up and started to gain some small amount of
momentum. It was all soon followed by a featured
video listing statistics which seemed to put atheists in a good light,
followed by a list of prominant people who are or were atheist. A handful of
very vocal atheists (CapnOAwesome, theAmazingAtheist, theboringdispatcher, Nick Gisburne, BrettKeane, ridi0t, chadagg,
GIIVideo, imrational, Pat
Condell) started making and uploading videos that would routinely rank
amongst the top 100 rated, discussed or watched. This created a small
community of atheists (which included myself
and others) that would occasionally challenge theists or present atheist
discussions and basically "keeping the atheism discussion going".
This was in some sense also spurred on by the books "The God Delusion" by
Richard Dawkins, and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris, which were
published earlier in the year and which they had spent considerable time
promoting in the mainstream media (Julia Sweeney, Dennet, Carrier, Pinker?).
This buzz resonated with this small band of atheists. Two high quality
video productions also have been distributed on YouTube (Mr.
Deity and God, Inc.) have also enjoyed tremendous popularity. The
Richard Dawkins foundation also maintains a
YouTube account and posts occasional debates and shows about atheism from
the mainstream media.
In December of 2006, the Rational Response squad and filmmaker Brian
Flemming, issued the Blasphemy Challenge. The idea was if you recorded a
video declaring that you "deny the Holy Spirit" (which is thought to be some
kind of heresey in Christianity) they would send you a free DVD of the Movie
The God Who Wasn't there (which
gives a fairly good argument that Jesus Christ probably did not exist.) As
of February 2007, they've gotten about 1000 responses. While this was
interesting from a social action point of view, what was more interesting was
what happened next. Many of the people who posted videos accepting the
Blasphemy Challenge did so as their first video upload to YouTube, and this
seemed to encourage them to continue to further discuss atheism in subsequent
videos. Many of these people who have became regular YouTube users have
managed to congregate together to form a much larger universe of YouTube
What makes this amazing is that atheists, especially those living in
religiously indoctrincated countries like the United States, in general tend
to be the most anti-authoritarian people on the planet. As I first heard it
put by Ellen Johnson, "organizing atheists is like
herding cats". The social cohesion enabled by YouTube appears to have
overcome this aversion to group mentality. It should be noted that YouTube
atheists generally continue to avoid authoritarianism, as is typically
evidenced by the rejection of the blind following of "leaders".
The name "YouTube atheist", while not creative, seems to have been
first coined by myself (the video where this name appears to be first used is
the reference, unforuntately, is at the very end of the video) on January 13,
2007. If anyone knows of an earlier reference, please let me know.
One of the first things that is common amongst many of the YTAs is they
tell stories about how they became atheist (my story, Greydon's story,
KingHeathen's deconversion challenge etc.) or their interesting encounters
with theists (naomi story).
Discuss faith with believers (firefly515, darfius, dexarouskies, jezuzfreak777, stephen8065, AmazingAtheist's call to Phelps).
- church position on sexuality
- church support or indifference to war
- church position on education
- church position on stem cell research, abortion, euthenasia
- The use of logical fallacies to support religion (2LegHumanist)
Debunking misconceptions about Atheism
- intelligent design
- age/origin of universe
- Conflation with Stalinism
- Belief or faith in logic or belief in non-existence of a god.
- Follows their own set of leaders (such as Dawkins).
- Atheism is a fad, or simply a rebellious phase for young people.
Puting forth positive arguments for Atheism
- lack of evidence
- contradictions in religious doctrines
- the problem of evil
- no relevance
- "flying spaghetti monster", "orbitting teapot"
- scientific progress
- one finite lifetime
- series by GIIVideo
Numerous in-print dictionaries put forth misconceptions about what atheists
are. Typically written from the point of view of a believer, it suggests that
atheists are devil worshippers, pagans, or ascribe to all sorts of alternative
theories about what atheists believe or not.
The users pdoeman, gklr, websnarf (that's me) and eventually mwilliams0
endeavoured to come to an agreed upon definition. We agreed that
atheism, or weak atheism is basically a lack of belief in any
deities (and there does appear to be general concensus on this) which appears
to be the most encompassing and technically accurate definition. This
allows, for the concept of being an atheist agnostic, for example (one
who chooses not to believe in god, but also denies that there is proof one
way or another as to the existence of god). As a side effect, strong
atheist is defined as someone who has a specific belief that there are no
dieties. Note the difference between "lack of belief" and
"belief in a lack". I personally, changed wiktionary to reflect
these updated definitions.
Unfortunately, this has left the door wide open for Paganism,
Satanism, Buddism and Unitarian Universalists to claim
that they are inclusive of atheists.
Some definitions of Paganism, for
example, say that any religion one who does not follow one of the three major "book
religions" (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) is technically a Pagan, thus making
all atheists Pagans.
However, Paganism often encompasses other beliefs in the
supernatural such as witchcraft, which are generally rejected by typical
atheists. Satanism is very similar in this respect. Such
definitionism appears to be used to give an impression of false
membership by all or many atheists when this is not the case.
Atheists in hiding, transition
Most atheists, especially in the USA, live in a religious family and
environment. Often, they are people who were religiously raised, but have
come to reject religion in favor of atheism. However, in many cases it is
difficult to express their atheism openly. This difficulty, in fact, has lead
these people to hide their atheism. As such, much like closeted gay people,
atheists tend to be under-counted, and can find themselves isolated.
YouTube has provided an outlet for these atheists to express their views
and themselves either behind masks, or under the assumption that their friends
and family will not stumble upon them there (Chadagg).
For these atheists, making their atheism public is a process. The progression
is roughly theClosetAtheist (recently revealled himself to YouTube, and
changed his account to NodToxique in unmasked form), Chadagg (who put his
face on YouTube and has even appeared on national TV, however has attempted
to hide his atheism from some of his family), ridi0t (who is openly atheist
but under enormous pressure from family because of it), fattychunks (a
completely transitioned atheist who still has to deal with negative feedback
but simply deals with it).
There have been a number of videos that have characterized who atheists are,
what kind of statistics we have (the original Atheist video, howtofoldsoup's
suicide rate, neotropic9's atheist educational statistics) the question of how
intelligence correlates to atheism (there is a correlation, because most
adult atheists arrive at atheism through a process of reasoning). Podorator,
and Billy7766 have done some historical analysis of religion and atheism,
joined by a truly fantastic journey into one incident in France by
There has also been consideration for how to teach atheism to children
(kr8all video, my response, CanadianGirlfriend's response to another video),
or how to prevent them from being indoctrinated by religious belief.
Debates between atheists
8) debates between atheists. (effectiveness of the brights, believe not vs no
belief, strong vs weak atheism, philosophical analysis, atheists infighting)
9) Actions (bible burning, correcting wiktionary w.r.t. defn of
atheism, challenging YouTube's censorship policies, substituting the word
"Logic" for "GOD" on the US currency, letter writing to BBC about their
programming, Call Pete Stark Challenge, Atheist Blood Drive.)
Exploring ideas in Atheism
10) put forth ideas about atheism (AmazingAtheists' "faitheism", the meaning of "proof")
The YouTube environment for atheists has become a kind of substitute for what
church gatherings are for believers. This allows for socialization between
atheists that would ordinarily be next to impossible, especially in countries
(like the USA) where atheism is relatively uncommon. A natural side effect
of bringing atheists together on YouTube, has been to bring them together on
other mediums such as skype, instant messaging systems, and stickam. It is
likely that Google is missing a business opportunity here (as of early 2007.)