YouTube Atheism

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 atheists.

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 here; 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.

Atheist Stories

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).

Challenging Theists

Discuss faith with believers (firefly515, darfius, dexarouskies, jezuzfreak777, stephen8065, AmazingAtheist's call to Phelps).

Debunking misconceptions about Atheism

Puting forth positive arguments for Atheism

Defining Atheism

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).

Atheist Culture

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 hardcaseownsyou.

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.)