For the last two weeks of July, Faitheist is being guest hosted by Sarah Jones, Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The piece below is written by Jones; the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis. Photo by Mike Cornwell, via Wikimedia Commons.

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists Conference in Minneapolis. Photo by Mike Cornwell, via Wikimedia Commons.

Atheist TV brands itself as “an idea whose time has come.”

But after its launch last night, it’s still unclear if the Roku channel—the first television channel specifically for atheists—will establish itself as a viable option for nontheists seeking serious, ideologically oriented programming.

The channel is a project of American Atheists, and the group says it’s intended to address an unexploited entertainment niche.

“We’re going to TV because it’s part of our strategy of going to where we are not,” American Atheists president, David Silverman explained in a statement. “There is a lot of potential here. From televangelists to Christmas specials, there is a plethora of religious TV programming to choose from. With Atheist TV, we’re filling a void: There are a lot of atheists and closeted atheists who are curious and want more. We have it, and the next step is bringing it to them.”

For atheists without a Roku player, the group provides a livestream on its website. And that’s how I spent my Tuesday evening.

Atheist TV christened its launch with a special message from Silverman. In it, Silverman claimed that atheists were “bombarded by religion at every turn.” He described the channel as “a place where we can focus on real history” and philosophy “without pandering to the pseudo-intellectual nonsense peddled by theologians.”

Arguing for a need for the channel, he also asserted that “atheism is the fastest growing religious demographic in all 50 states.”

Silverman didn’t cite a source for that claim, so it’s still unclear where he got the information.

It’s possible that he misspoke: Research shows that religiously unaffiliated Americans are increasing in number, but that’s a broad category incorporating agnostics, those with spiritual beliefs, and even some regular church-goers in addition to atheists.

And, as Politifact noted when it debunked a similar claim in 2012, it’s notably difficult to designate a specific, “fastest growing” belief group. By nature, belief is multi-faceted.  A person can disengage from organized religion without becoming an atheist.

That aside, the prospect of a channel offering programs that debunk Christian revisionist history is of definite interest. And while I likely have more respect for the study of theology than Silverman does, I’ll support any endeavour that promotes rigorous philosophical scholarship to new audiences.

Silverman’s speech was the only segment of original programming available on the night of the launch. There was, however, plenty of archived footage of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, which is somewhat understandable given her role as the founder of American Atheists.

It’s undeniable that O’Hair looms large in the atheist world even years after her death. But one of the segments broadcast last night featured O’Hair in full bore, decrying agnostics (she calls them “gutless atheists”), humanists, and even atheist Unitarians.

And then there’s Richard Dawkins.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation is a content partner with Atheist TV and Dawkins appears in a promo video produced for the channel. Dawkins is, of course, currently embroiled in an ethical controversy after he tweeted that violent stranger rape is “worse” than date rape. The video also features popular YouTube vlogger Jaclyn Glenn; earlier this month, bloggers reported that Glenn had plagiarized tweets and comments from her own YouTube channel.

The decision to feature figures like Dawkins, Glenn and even O’Hair so prominently leads me to wonder exactly which atheists Atheist TV is designed to attract. If Tuesday’s launch is a fair indication of where the channel is headed, secular humanists, agnostics, or even atheists who don’t align with “New Atheism” might not be “atheist enough” for the new channel.

There were some bright some spots in last night’s line up. I’m pleased the channel broadcast “Sophie Investigates The Good News Club,” a student documentary about an Evangelical children’s ministry that targets public schools. And if the channel follows through on its promise of promoting accurate history and philosophical rigor, it’ll certainly be worth watching.

Like any good freethinker, I’ll keep an open mind. For now, however, I’ve concluded that Atheist TV is not for me.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones. Photo courtesy Jones.

Sarah Jones is the Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Prior to joining AU, she volunteered for Femin Ijtihad, where she researched Islamic law and women’s rights. She holds a Master of Arts in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy from Goldsmiths, University of London, and tweets at @onesarahjones.

27 Comments

  1. Okay, Larry and Max. This kind of stuff is YOUR specialty. So I’d like to hear your honest opinions on the matter. What do you guys think of this new Atheist TV gig? Would you recommend it to other atheists?

    And by the way, who’s in charge of keeping these atheist TV entertainers honest? The Christians are being watched by the secular media, the ECFA, the National Religious Broadcasters, and occasionally Congress or the IRS as well. But who is keeping an eye on the atheists?

    • Atheist TV is a good start
      and there is so much it can offer on so many topics.

      The first day of broadcasts had lots of repetition, but that was great because it gave the curious a glimpse of how large the number of Atheists is in the USA and it broke the stereotype – these folks were just regular people.

      I think Atheist TV will accomplish great things.
      The world has no future unless people find new ways to be swept away, entertained, satisfied, and thoroughly inspired without referring to gods or other such superstition.

      For most Atheists it is art, music, film, literature, science, poetry, theatre, philosophy and culture which fills the need once filled with religion – along with being available to help friends and others.

      Compare that to Christian TV where every hour is full of head-scratching abjection (“you are not worthy”), indulgences (“send money and god will help you”), rip offs (send money), promises of miracles (if you send money) mumbo jumbo (speaking in tongues), clowns (Joyce Meyers), frauds (Creflo Dollar) and outright superstition (Pat Robertson).

      Too bad Christian belief is so damaging to society – because it is awesome entertainment.

      Atheist TV won’t be for everyone
      but it will be perfect for the doubters and the curious who may be wondering whether their church is based on something real or even harmful.

      Evidence leads to smarter questions.
      I think Atheist TV will be a bit like CSPAN for awhile until the favorite shows emerge.

      There are dangers.
      Atheism is not a religion and it is not a cult. It is just a lack of belief
      in gods. If, in an attempt to gain ratings it cultivates certain personalities and starts to promote religiosity or present certain humans as worthy of worship, etc. It will have strayed into the danger zone.

      Atheism has no ‘gods'; neither of Reason nor Science.

      To stay safe and positive and godless,
      Atheist TV needs to commit itself to skepticism.

      I don’t know if it has done that yet.
      But it will lose my vote if it doesn’t.

  2. Love the concept. Certainly looks less cheesy than the various Christian broadcasters. At least they don’t have the equivalent of televangelists preying upon the poor, elderly and naive for funding.

    Dawkins seems to be suffering from “Noam Chomsky Syndrome” as of late. A brilliant person who says really ridiculous when speaking outside the scope of their professional expertise.

    “And by the way, who’s in charge of keeping these atheist TV entertainers honest? ”

    Its on the internet, so its pretty much “the wild west” there.

    • Sadly, Larry, when people do not have competence in the areas in which they attempt for work, worst of all, areas where they seek profit, they often seem like buffoons. But worst of all, consider the harm they can do to others with their deceits.

  3. “without pandering to the pseudo-intellectual nonsense peddled by theologians.”

    Whew! I was worried they’d try to live out the tenants of humanism and actually treat their opponents with dignity and respect.

    • “Whew! I was worried they’d try to live out the tenants of humanism and actually treat their opponents with dignity and respect.”

      Yes, voicing one’s opinion of an opponent in a public forum is treating with dignity and respect. Much better than trying to force by the color of law, engaging in discrimination, petty attacks and vandalism, or trying to have an opponent’s views banned.

      This cartoon pretty much describes the difference
      http://s88563448.onlinehome.us/Atheist/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/militantatheist.jpg

    • Chris: That is a must if we ever expect to get anywhere in changing this fight into a discussion. We must all be dignified and show others, even the opposition, respect. And we should require it of the opposition, too. One need not watch, listen, or read much to see how defensively ugly religious extremists have been. We must not copy them. We must show them better ways. And we must expect changes on their part to respect us.

  4. I agree that even atheists look upon O’Hair as a nut case, she’s an embarrassment. This channel is a great idea! I will love watching some of the documentaries and commentaries. We need alternatives to the 700 Club and all those big-haired jewel-encrusted egomaniacs who will sell you anything from holy water to condos; they are not “godly” men, they are hawkers who will steal the last dime from your grandmother. The “New Atheism” seeks to bring atheists out of the closet and into the mainstream so we can start having some meaningful dialogue with religious people and start changing some minds. Why preach to the choir all the time? In Austin we even have food drives for the needy. Fair review, by the way.

  5. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, this reads like an apology for the opposition, not a writing by someone working for Americans United for Separation of Church and State–as our Constitution just happens to require–and as the history of religion proves is absolutely necessary in any society.

    This history of religion shows its violence against those who held differing beliefs as well as against the freedom from religion. Knowing their history well is the very reason the Framers of our Constitution set the separation of church and state, the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion, as the very first item in our Bill of Rights.

    After only a single episode of Atheist TV, questions are raised about its purpose and its potential in a put-down manner? That is something one would expect from the far right evangelicals or their mouthpieces on Fox News, from Pat Robertson, in their lame attempts to force their childish notions of religion onto everyone else in this country–and to do that by violating the very Constitution that supposedly protects religious freedom. Religious freedom includes freedom from religion!

    The very fact that there are any “closeted atheists” in this country of supposed freedom betrays the fact that we are free, that we are a democracy, or that our current House of Representatives with its religious extremists and tea party hasn’t made a mockery of being a legislative body by doing nothing out of opposition to the rights of all and out of ugly prejudice toward President Obama simply because he is half-black. There illiterate extremists do not even realize that their ugly prejudice extends to themselves because Obama is also half-white.

    The right talks of suing, even impeaching Obama. They would only be suing or impeaching him because of his white and black racial background! That’s religious? That’s humane? That’s respectful? That’s democratic?

    As for sources to support David Silverman’s claim that atheism, at least non-religion, “is the fastest growing religious demographic in all 50 states,” we do not need to depend on numbers, especially unreliable poll numbers, to decide our religious or non-religious directions. The fact that mainline churches are diminishing and the Catholic Church’s real growth is in backward, illiterate countries, leaves any continuing strength in religious numbers to the evangelicals. Such numbers are as weak as they are large.

    Evangelicals can easily be demonstrated as relying on emotion rather than intellectual pursuits, least of all respectable philosophy and theology, for their religious convictions. Those are the numbers that matter, not what Pew publishes after its shallow surveys. Pew’s questions show exactly how respondents provide the answers they think are popular at the moment and what’s expected of them so they do not seem to be out of the mainstream.

    “Broad category,” to say the least about any claim that the number of religious devotees is increasing in this country. Why have secular pursuits replaced the formerly “sacred” Sunday mornings? It appears that Sarah Jones, the author of this criticism, is more selective yet produces less real evidence about any growth in religion in this country.

    Remember one thing, the vast majority of religious people are not much versed in the basic tenets of religion. They have been brain-washed with their beliefs since before they were able to conceive beliefs or ideas of their own, based on knowledge. Those who accept religious beliefs do so because they think those tenets are somewhat popular among the majority. How many have done any serious study of philosophy or theology? How many have much understanding or respect for the sciences? How many are aware of the evils that have been committed in the name of religion throughout its history?

    No non-believer of religion should have timidity in admitting that position out of fear of the reaction from religious moderates, absolutely not out of fear of the reaction from extremists on the evangelical religious right. It is long past the time that non-believers respect themselves, their study, their knowledge, their thinking, and their convictions.

    There is one important lesson to be learned from the history of religion by non-believers, and that is not to copy any of the ugliness of which religious history is so full. We can defend our positions with respect for those who disagree by using history and the sciences. We can disagree respectfully, and we must require that any religious opposition return that respect. There should be nothing snide on either side. We should not show that, and we must never accept that. We must agree to disagree–with respect.

    • “Unfortunately, very unfortunately, this reads like an apology for the opposition, not a writing by someone working for Americans United for Separation of Church and State…”

      Well, yeah. That is par for the course with Stedman and his “faitheist” crew. What else is new?

          • Harry S. Truman

            Like when I desegregated the military. Whooeee that caught a lot of flak. Abuse of executive power is what they called it. Going to lead to the end of society as we know it, is what they said. As I figured it, why give them commies a real gripe. We needed all our boys to fight them

  6. The Great God Pan

    An old roommate and I used to amuse ourselves by watching Christian televangelists on the dozen-or-so Christian channels “offered” by our satellite TV package. You were stuck paying for them whether you wanted them or not, so why not make the most of it?

    Our favorites were “Dr.” Mike Murdock and the improbably named Reverend Peter Popoff. We also enjoyed seeing a clip of Brigham Young University’s production of “Starlight Express.” We wondered, did the administration at BYU realize their drama department had been infiltrated by gays on skates? Christian music videos were also fun.

    Atheist TV sounds less funny. I will probably take a pass unless they develop a news show that reports ugly, silly or otherwise embarrassing religious news from around the world. That would be cool.

    • Great god Pan: It seems that life is important enough that it requires some serious attention in the midst of all the escapism of humor and comedy–or only laughing at the opposition. Everything has its place, but balance seems to be the real salvation.

    • “I will probably take a pass unless they develop a news show that reports ugly, silly or otherwise embarrassing religious news from around the world. That would be cool.”

      Would this count? “What Religion Has Contributed to the World This Month” by Religion Hurts Humanity: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9zmXhEAnxT9hXW_2NJ7ZvdbiMuwSN5Ll

  7. This was written by a Communications Associate for Americans United for Separation of Church and State? Seriously?? Stedman and crew seem determined to undermine unbelief while elevating his “brand”. Good luck with that. It’s not as if atheists can’t see through this guy.

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