What Needs to Change? May 27, 2008

What Needs to Change?

It’s the end of the school year. I’ve started asking my high school students informally what they wish would’ve been different in math this year. It’s my first year of teaching so the list is going to be long.

Among the things I’ve heard: Less lecturing, less homework, more review time before tests, more going outside.

One student, who likes to crack jokes in class, said: “Different teacher!”

(One student won’t be passing my class…)

Anyway, I’m bracing myself for what they say. I know it’ll help me out in the long run. It’s constructive criticism.

I should do the same thing for this blog.

I’m a big boy. I can take this.

Some of you aren’t too happy with the postings lately. And if you’re not satisfied with it, then I’m doing something wrong. At least, I’m not doing what I want to be doing. If you can find certain posts on other websites, I don’t need to be repeating them here. Certainly not in the same tone you might find elsewhere.

What do I want to be doing? I want to focus on positive atheism and meaningful dialogue between theists and atheists.

I haven’t been doing a good job of that.

I explain some of this in more depth in my own comment in the forum thread (along with other comments I’m making here).

So I’ll put the questions out there:

What needs to change on this blog?

What do you want to see more of?

What do you never want to see?

Ultimately, this is my site, and I’ll put whatever I want on it. But I don’t want to alienate readers for no reason. And I want more people — especially those on the fence between being religious and not — to feel comfortable reading and commenting here.

I know I have done a few things rather well, and I should continue that. But I also know some postings just make fun of religion with no redeeming quality. And I know some things I find funny might not be so funny to others.

Except for the baby jokes. Those are always funny.

I want to fix the problems, though.

Please help me out and let me know what you’d like to see changed.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Brian


    I am a usually a quiet reader. I don’t feel the need to argue to often, but this I must argue. Your site is one of very few I frequent. I’m more of the surfer type, but I keep coming back to check your wit and positive atheism. Despite what some people might think, satire is still a form of peaceful conflict. (If that’s possible). Continue what you’re doing, we are in a cold war and every bit of info is necessary.

  • Aaron

    I really enjoy healthy discussion, and I think the inclusion of people like Lindsey Fay is a step in the right direction. It’s nice to hear from people we might not necessarily agree with, to see our differences, and to learn about each other. I like talking about things without having people lunge at each other’s throats trying to prove each other wrong.

    So, what would I change? Less outright religion-bashing. Every other Atheism site already has that, and the word “friendly” has always been in the title of this blog. I’m all for poking a bit of fun, but I think everyone knows exactly when it stops being fun and starts being mean (I’m talking way more about commenters here than contributors).

    I think your focus on “positive atheism and meaningful dialogue between theists and atheists” is exactly right.

  • Not about the website, but concerning the question to the students: there are some things they’ll always say, especially “less homework” and “more review before tests.” I’m not saying to disregard these comments, just know that you can feel certain that you assigned exactly the right amount of work and devoted a perfect amount of time to review and still get students singling those out.

  • Ron in Houston

    I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of atheist blogs so I don’t find fault with you drawing attention to stuff on other blogs. There’s only so much atheist news so it’s only natural that you’ll cross post some things.

    I also like the friendly tone of your site. It’s difficult to keep that tone with some of the insanity that goes on in religion, but I enjoy how you keep things from being strident.

    I give you a B+.

  • This is my favorite atheist blog. I do like the dialog with Mike and probably will with Lindsay even though I don’t know her yet. I guess I would like a more prominent display of who is writing each post so I don’t get confused. I hate when people call me Rebecca on skepchick, and yet I find myself here thinking I’m reading something that you’ve written when it’s really someone else! Also, perhaps at the beginning of the posts by the non-atheists some sort of general note about what is the intention of the post in reference to us atheists, so we know what they would like to talk about in the comments. I am very interested in dialog, but I am not at all interested in debates.

    As I mentioned in my comment on the post about why I blog, I am getting sick of PZs attitude and I certainly don’t want to see this blog echo that (even though I do it myself sometimes), nor would I like to see it merely be another forum for repeating the same topics that PZ covers. PZ fans can hang out at his blog as much as they want to.

    I don’t care if you make fun of religion because you are not mean when you do so. Christians (from my experience) tend to have no sense of humor, so they will probably get pissed. They need to learn to laugh at themselves. That said, we should also be able to make fun of ourselves as well.

    Positive posts about atheism and humanism are also always interesting so you can’t go wrong by going in that direction, I don’t think. We should always be questioning our own assumptions, even about atheism. But when you post things that go in that direction, as well as when you post things that look at even liberal religion in a positive light, you will get some negative comments. That’s unavoidable and it if leads to a good discussion, I think it’s OK. You can’t control what people say in the comments without starting to censor, which I think would be completely the wrong direction to take.

    Hemant, you are doing a great job and I look forward to continue reading this blog. I hope we can meet f2f some day, too!


  • Pyrona

    It seems like in the last couple of weeks this blog has taken a turn from lots of well thought out, textual, though-provoking posts, to a lot of silly videos and comics. The latter has its place, but I joined this blog for the well thought out commentary and ruminations – not cheap humor. I’d prefer a return to the former, more often than not.

  • Actually, the baby jokes are simply not funny. There has been more than one time when I have not shared a post on Google Reader because off an ill-placed baby joke.

    I’m perfectly OK with religion bashing, jokes, and videos, though. And I really like the comics.

  • Spurs Fan

    I like the blog…I see it almost as a support group (as if atheists have a “problem”, but when you are vastly outnumbered it helps to have chats with people like yourself…even if it’s only cyberchat).

    Sure it can get testy at times, but most on here are cordial enough to not make false assumptions, but still challenge you if they think you’re wrong on something.

    Good job Hemant (by the way, I also give my students end of the year teacher/class evaluations about changes in my classroom…they are usually very helpful). the blog seems fine to me.

  • One thing I’ve noticed that may be a long, long trend from the last year or so that I’ve been reading: You don’t seem to post much of your personal thoughts and ideas about atheism and religion any more. Most of what I see is either short posts with pictures/video/links, or longer presentations of atheism/religion related news with some commentary. But I can get both news and funny links from other sources–what I’d like to see more of is original thoughts and discussions. Your book was excellent, because you were discussing your experiences with churches, and your philosophy and attitude as an atheist–things that are unique and original and that I can’t find anywhere else. Granted, you still do that, but not in as high of a proportion as you did a year or so ago. I understand the time and effort it takes to do this, compared to basing a post off a news item (though that also takes a great deal of thought), and you are busier now than you were then, but it’s still something I’d like to see more of.

    Also, as a huge math nerd, planning to be a college professor, I’d like to hear more about your math teaching experiences. Not exactly atheism-related, I know, but still…

  • One quick suggestion: please put “previous entries” and “next entries” links at the top of the page in addition to having them at the bottom. I’m often behind a page or so, and I like to read from the bottom to the top so that things are in chronological order. When I get to the top of the page it would be nice to be able to click “next entries” rather than having to scroll back to the bottom.

  • Dan


    Like Brian (the first to comment here), I never really comment, but just enjoy reading your entries. However, I must wholeheartedly disagree with anyone who says this blog has gotten mean-spirited or is outright religion-bashing. Have these people been to other atheist blogs? This is by far the nicest of them all, and I think it’s at a perfect level. Don’t get me wrong, I love PZ’s and the other more ‘aggressive’ blogs for what they are, but I think yours is the perfect tone for what you’re trying to be– friendly! So you make some jokes about religion, little *poke poke, nudge nudge*s and the kind, but there’s never anything hateful or degrading here.

    As they say: People who don’t like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn’t have such funny beliefs.

    Please, keep up the great work!

  • Karen

    Please, keep up the great work!

    Ditto from me. I think you a terrific job and this is the first place I check on my daily blog read. Thanks for all your hard work!

  • As I said in the forums, as this blog becomes more popular, Hemant will receive more and more stories from readers. Rather than posting more and more, I think it would be better to exercise more discretion in what kind of things are picked out.

    Which is not to say we should leave out the silly and offensive stories. Half of the focus here is meaningful dialogue between theists and atheists, but the other half is meaningful dialogue between different kinds of atheists. For that to happen, offensive stories are necessary. I think problems arise when Hemant makes a category error, and treats an offensive story as if it were a silly one.

  • I think problems arise when Hemant makes a category error, and treats an offensive story as if it were a silly one.

    What’s offensive and what’s funny is a matter of opinion so there is no way anyone can ever please everyone when posting jokes.

  • Your blog is one of the few that I really look forward to reading…just the way it is. Don’t change it for others. If the direction of your blog is changing (and I’m not sure exactly how much, since I haven’t been a subscriber for too terribly long), then let it evolve (no pun intended).

    As I was reading the comments from people saying that your blog has gotten mean-spirited, etc. I couldn’t help but think about those with dogmatic christian beliefs. It is this type of thinking (’I don’t like what you are saying/how you are saying it! or what you are thinking!” that encourages limitation on thoughts, style, ideas, and presentation of one’s beliefs…the very limitations that many atheists broke away from. Whenever I hear someone shout “mean-spirited” I always assume that some personal beliefs are shoving to the fore-front (e.g. your hurting someone’s feelings…errr…mine). If they don’t like, let them find another blog or start one themselves if they think you’re so bad at it.

    Which is crap, because your blog is good.

  • Polly

    This is 1 of 2 blogs that I read regularly.
    I had to “let go” of a few others due to time constraints.
    So, you must be doing something right. Damned if I can figure out just what the hell that is 🙂

    I like secularist news. Not so much the intra-atheist politics, but general culture and politics as regards theocracy and secularism. Sometimes, the first (or only) time I hear a news story is right here at FA. I appreciate that.

    May I also recommend “What’d (s)he say?” posts wherein you post any clearly religious comments made by politicians with regard to government affairs? I don’t know if anyone is doing that currently.

  • Hemant – I think I’m the first theist commenter here… unless I missed one while reading. But, for what it’s worth, here’s a few thoughts:
    1) I think the comments about Christians having no sense of humor are accurate and worth noting. Sometimes people need to just learn to lighten up and laugh at themselves a bit. (I’m hoping to read Daniel Radosh’s new book Rapture Ready in the next few weeks for this very reason.) Further, I think you often do an excellent job of providing thoughtful commentary from a non-religious perspective. And inviting Mike and Lindsay to contribute is an excellent way of adding diversity here. (That said, making the author’s name more prominent on each post would be helpful. I’ve read a few of Mike’s posts thinking they were yours and was rather confused initially ;). )

    2) That said, I think you need to ask yourself what your goals are for the blog and let that guide your decision about the satire and humor. If you’re serious about dialoging with theists, then you may need to rein the humor in a bit, so as not to offend theist readers. (“Theist Reader” – it sounds like some kind of radar for detecting religious people or something.) It sucks – I’m a columnist for the newspaper at my university so I know all about cutting a favorite line so as to avoid offending readers – but if you want to be a place for dialogue between religious and non-religious folks, you might have to do it. (Or perhaps you don’t want easily-offended religious folks posting here? If so, I can certainly understand that desire.)

    3) Last thing – I remember in your book you talked about how it was offensive to you as an atheist when Christians talked about you as being, “lost.” However, as a Christian I feel the same way when you say things like, “I’m just thrilled that religion no longer has a stronghold on her. It would be nice if she threw off the shackles of God altogether, but this is still a significant change of mindset for someone.” Granted, the comment came in the midst of a post where you said you didn’t care that this person wasn’t a full-fledged atheist, but all the same, I don’t see a great difference between a well-intentioned Christian calling you “lost” and you referring to a belief that has brought such peace and joy to my life as “shackles” or “a stronghold.” Both smack of an attitude of superiority, as if the speaker has been enlightened and everyone who disagrees needs to catch up with them and their superior intellect. I don’t think it’s meant that way in either case, but I think it comes across that way.

    I hope this doesn’t like I’m just being another overly-sensitive Christian, I like to think I can laugh at myself (I love the Family Guy where Peter creates the Church of the Fonz) but – like any other human being – there are certain things I value tremendously and to see them maligned can be quite hurtful.

    Thanks for the transparency and honesty here, it’s something a lot of Christian bloggers could learn from!

  • SerTyrion

    I’ve been reading the blog for over a year. One of the first atheist blogs I found. I subscribe to around 80ish blogs and this one is in my top 3 favorite.

    I think you have a great balance of friendly and rough edged. When religion really screws up, it deserves to be brought to the attention of the public. The same goes for atheism… but that is a whole lot harder to find. And, I don’t consider it religion bashing to point out when they do something incredibly stupid or wrong.

    Yes, you do stories that other blogs cover, but you have no idea what everyone else reads. I like that, it helps me catch stuff that I might not have read otherwise, I like your opinion on it, and you may include some different information than the other blogs.

    I love everything the way it has been. As far as I’m concerned… nothing’s broken. Keep up the great work, Hemant.

  • Darryl

    Hemant, you won’t please everyone. I like this blog. It’s not mean; it often has thought-provoking articles and commentary. It’s got variety. It reflects your “friendly” approach. I don’t appreciate everything here, but so what–you can’t judge everything by my view of things. I have my blind spots like anyone else. For example, if I had my preference, I wouldn’t make a space for a Mormon blogger to present her doctrines. But, that’s me: I don’t care about Mormonism, I know all I need to know by now, and I find it annoying.

  • Could you dye your hair green and put on about twenty-three pounds?

    Other than that, you’re perfect the way you are.

  • Biggest thing you can change? Fix your site’s theme!! Unless it looks this way on purpose??!!!

    I’ve always been satisfied with your content and look forward to your postings everyday. Don’t change anything in that department.

  • Richard Wade

    I think your blog is successful because you keep a relationship with your readers, and the very act of asking them what they would like to see changed here is an example of that. I agree with some others here that I’d like to see more of your personal thoughts and experiences.

    Posts that disapprove of religious topics have their place here because in the end, the basic nature of the relationship between atheists and the theist majority they live amongst is a conflict. That conflict can and has been anything from cordial to bloody. Your efforts to keep it cordial are very much needed and appreciated. Satirizing and ridiculing objectionable religious behaviors needs to be done and it is a very difficult, delicate balance to keep the tone positive and inclusive enough to encourage dialogue rather than just provoke rancor. When I read those posts here I usually nod and sometimes I cringe. No one can hit the bull’s eye every time, and you can’t please everyone every time.

    The fact that you are asking for this feedback shows that you want to keep improving that skillful balance. Great!

    One specific suggestion: A few months ago you increased the pace at which you add new posts. That soon pushes posts that may still be active to the second and third pages. It starts to be difficult to find them and that may be stifling further dialogue that otherwise might have continued. I see the activity on those threads only if there is a comment in the “Recent comments” box or a message in my email. So here’s my suggestion:

    The “Most Popular Recent Posts” box makes no sense at all. They’re not the most popular by any measure that I can see and they’re not recent. They seem to be in there randomly. Change that to “Recently Active Older Posts.” Then articles that are on pages two, three and four that have had some comment within say, the last 72 hours can be seen and easily found. I don’t know if your host’s software can do this but I’d be surprised if it can’t.

  • SarahH

    So, what would I change? Less outright religion-bashing. Every other Atheism site already has that, and the word “friendly” has always been in the title of this blog. I’m all for poking a bit of fun, but I think everyone knows exactly when it stops being fun and starts being mean (I’m talking way more about commenters here than contributors).

    I’m the one who started the post in the forum, and this was my #1 concern. About 95% of the posts here seem instructional, informative, thought-provoking and right on topic. But occasionally there’s a post that simply mocks a religious practice with no constructive commentary or a cartoon/joke that basically says “Atheists are better/smarter than theists, nah nah nah!” These posts tend to attract comments that are even more snarky and bullying.

    I think those rare posts can scare off theists who are offended by being grouped with fundamentalists or creationists, etc. The theists who are most likely to want friendly dialogue and the sharing of ideas might not always have a sense of humor that extends to them being accused of narrow-mindedness or stupidity, simply because they believe in a religion.

    We laugh about sites that accuse atheists of being amoral, baby-eating monsters, but few of us would frequent a site that grouped us together and called us stupid or ignorant. I think that cuts both ways.

    I love this blog, but that’s the area where I feel there’s a bit of room for improvement.

  • My advice, give some more thought to your purpose as a “Friendly” Atheist blog. If your goal really is to be friendly, then there are certain kinds of things I would expect to see here and certain things I would not.

    Here are some of the things I would hope to find at a friendly atheist blog:

    1) Posts about atheists and religious people working together for common goals.

    2) Posts about the positive things religion does that atheists can affirm and encourage more of.

    3) Posts about the positive things atheists and humanists are doing – especially in regards to social justice (i.e. not just in relation to atheist causes).

    4) Highlight specific atheist leaders who are doing good things to make the world a better place or to encourage constructive dialogue between religious people and atheists. (Greg Epstein comes to mind.)

    5) An awareness of the differences and nuances between types of religion, and avoiding lumping all religious people together.

    And here are a few things I’d expect to see less of at a blog with this title:

    1) Less gratuitous religion bashing or mocking.

    2) Fewer stories about all the bad stuff religion does. We can get that anywhere.

    3) Less hero-worship of certain famous “unfriendly” atheists.

  • Anthony

    As some have mentioned above, not all of us have the time to check out several atheist blogs/websites and know what gets cross-posted. In that sense, there’s no issue with content that can be found elsewhere to me.. I stay here because I enjoy getting it from your site (and your insight on it).

    And it’s tough, while I can see the merit behind some people finding the playful jabs at religion unnecessary here.. my wife and I really enjoy those, so I’d rather they not go away.

    I appreciate your candor and looking out for your readers, but as far as this one’s concerned, nothing needs to change.

  • Amanda

    I’ve been lurking here for awhile and wanted to comment and say that I love this blog. It’s one of a handful I read daily and the only atheist blog I read. (Otherwise I read mommy blogs.) I personally enjoy the humor and to my sensibilities, it’s not unfriendly. I am married to a Christian and live in the deep south so it’s nice to come here and feel like I’m not the only atheist in the world: ). More positive stories would be great too, but I had to pipe up and say that I enjoy the humor.

  • David Crespo

    Jeff Meador’s comment was excellent. While I understand his chafing at lines like “I’m just thrilled that religion no longer has a stronghold on her,” it is the point of view of many atheists, myself included, that religion is something people should get out of, but are simply unable to because of early conditioning and attachment. The line is similar to a theist expressing joy that an atheist began attending church.

    There’s also a distinction to be made between religion-bashing and deserved criticism or religion-motivated action. Certainly an atheist blog should maintain a generally critical attitude toward religion, regardless of the additional attitude of tact and conciliation. And friendliness can be extended towards more “unfriendly” atheists every once in a while, eh? I got into this because of Richard Dawkins. I can’t just ignore the guy.

    Like the above commenter, I can’t say I think anything needs to change either.

  • Kate

    Ditto to what Mike Clawson said with all the suggestions and things to stay away from.

    I’m actually pretty pleased, lately. For awhile I was fairly certain that this site had gone a direction that wouldn’t recover but I REALLY liked the way you stuck by your decision to add Lindsey on. And I was pleased with your decision to add her in the first place.

    Atheist assholes can go hang out at PZ’s blog. Speaking of which, I REALLY liked how you called him out on his nasty attitude. If you ever need to check the status of your blog, compare it against is. If it’s 100% opposite, you’re doing great.

  • You totally knew my comment was coming.

    What needs to change on this blog?

    I think you need a more constant writer who will pose questions in regards to religion. Someone who will actively work at creating discussion between readers on different philosophical and religious ideas. Not just christianity, but all faiths and religions. And this person should be heavily active within the comment threads.

    I realize you’re only one person – and I don’t think it should primarily be you anyway, because I like what you post a lot. You’re hilarious and you find really entertaining things. But if you could find someone to do those meaty discussion that would be sweet.

    What do you want to see more of?

    Baby jokes… and a focus on the social/political dealings of different secular organizations. …Like the FAC getting their radio show syndicated internationally, CFI’s social programs, how the SSA is helping gazillions of students, HAC funding the Darwin exhibit in Canada, the One School System project, CFI-O’s new initiative of working with the multifaith center, student groups doing faith panels and the outcomes… the list goes on and on. And it’s all interesting and all positive dealings with atheist organizations.

    I completely disagree that you should stop the satire and the humor. Even as someone who is really really concerned (educatedly devoted, even) to the discussion of religion and atheism I think that stopping all the satire and humor would make your blog REALLY boring. But I think adding some more philosophical/discussion oriented posts would most definitely counteract the satire – because it would give theists a place to throw their voice in more regularly.

    What do you never want to see?

    Lindsay. hahaha I’m kidding!

  • SarahH

    I completely disagree that you should stop the satire and the humor. Even as someone who is really really concerned (educatedly devoted, even) to the discussion of religion and atheism I think that stopping all the satire and humor would make your blog REALLY boring.

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that all comics and joking and satire is unfriendly or doesn’t have a place here. Some of us just think there’s a line – usually crossed by satire that’s particularly harsh and also lumps all religion together.

  • The blog is great.

    I agree that you could use a little more depth, as long you don’t cut back too much on the media and fun stuff.

  • I’d be careful about thinking in terms of reining in humor or pulling punches. The fundamental problem I see with the kind of atheists who get slapped with the label “fundamentalist” (whether the label is accurate or not) is that they are wrong. They get sloppy. They cross the line between correctly pointing out that theism is mistaken and incorrectly insinuating that theists are stupid or crazy. For the most part, though, you’re pretty good about not making the same mistakes as the “fundamentalists.” If you stay truthful, then you should end up pretty friendly.

  • Chris M

    The content of your site’s great; it’s one of my favourites.

    The formatting of posts could use some minor tweaks to improve readability, though.

    If you only make one change, make your post’s headings larger. Be big, be bold.

    When two posts are back-to-back there’s so much clutter in between (an unstructured mess of Technorati tags, a Share This link, a popularity rating (which never seems to say anything but “1%”), an inscrutable squiggly thing (FSM? who could tell?), a Permalink and a Comments link (each with their own inscrutable icon), then, sometimes, a light grey date, then a heading (that’s lost in all this junk), then another inscrutable (FSM?) icon, Posted in (followed by random categories), a time-stamp and a name. That’s a lot of administrivia.

    Exacerbating this is the fact that the stuff that follows each post (Technorati tags to Comments link) is actually closer to the following post, which makes it look like it belongs to the one below, rather than the one above. Argh.

    All this is bad enough in a regular web browser, but on devices like the iPod touch or the iPhone, each post’s heading is actually the same size — or smaller than — the rest of the text (plus, it’s a link, so it’s a mid-tone colour, which makes it harder to see than the surrounding text), and it’s quite hard to tell where one post ends and the next begins. And I have 20/20 eyesight.

    Last point, while I’m being well-intentioned but arrogant-sounding-designer-guy™: the masthead photo. It’s a nice, friendly, portrait, but what’s up with the dithering (all the little dots, due to the restricted colour palette)? 1994 called; they’d like their dithered GIF back. Please replace with JPEG or PNG of same.

    Recap: mercilessly cull the inter-post clutter as much as you can; make headings bigger, and no dithering!

    And keep up the great blog, Hemant — you rock.

  • Hemant,

    In all honesty, you are already doing a great job. The main thing, as you said, is that this is your blog. You run the show, and it’s perfect the way it is because it is an expression of you.

    Of course you can accept constructive criticism and suggestions; but speaking from experience, if you start listening to too many suggestions (and I see there are plenty already), your own vision can somehow become unclear.

    It is unique, there’s nothing else like it, and something about it draws us here day after day. Even when we don’t like what’s posted or disagree with (even get offended by) what’s being said, we find ourselves back here for whatever reason. There’s nothing you can do about those who decide not to return.

    Friendly Atheist is what it is because it is never ashamed of what it is and never pretends to be something else. Everything changes. Nothing ever stays the same. I have a feeling that the blog will naturally mature and evolve. You, as well as the other authors, will change and the types of things that you choose to post will also change according to that.

    I really don’t think an intentional change is necessary. I love it the way it is. A few days ago, I wrote about Friendly Atheist and how it has done wonders for my faith and dedicated it to you.


  • Of course you can accept constructive criticism and suggestions; but speaking from experience, if you start listening to too many suggestions (and I see there are plenty already), your own vision can somehow become unclear.

    These are the words I should have used when I said “it shouldn’t be you” who writes the new depthy discussiony posts.

  • I would love to hear more of your personal ramblings on everyday life. You are a very interesting person, Hemant, we all are. Everyone has a story to tell. I personally get great comfort in reading about other peoples personal experiences as atheists, like Julia Sweeney as an example. It makes me feel less alone in my conviction that there is no God. That’s why I come to this site daily, for reaffirmation! Keep up the good work… PS I am reading your book now, so I feel like a little peice of you is in bed with me every night…. ( that sounds so wrong.. sorry. lol). I even read my favorite passages aloud to my husband!

  • I wouldn’t change a thing, honestly. I think your blog has the perfect balance of nice introspective stuff and snarky little jabs. I know some people get upset over the latter, but come on. Even when you say something sarcastic, it’s hardly offensive. I came here from Pharyngula because PZ was just too abrasive and outright nasty for me. He seemed to have the goal of pissing off people in mind, while you’re usually just making a witty comment. If wit and humorous insight offend people, maybe they rethink why they’re so offended.

    Sorry for the little rant, but I’d hate to see this blog get watered down. I mean, you’re already super nice…any nicer and it’ll just seem a bit too sugary and unrealistic.

    Oh, though one thing: Your top banner kinda sucks. Why so pixelly? There, fix that =P

  • Ironically, I started reading this blog only 3 days ago. It was recommended to me via Google Reader. Already it has become my favorite religion-based blog. I personally wouldn’t change a thing. The only advice I’d offer, though you’ve done fantastically thus far, is to kepe up your habit of not focusing on the same tired stories that every other atheist blog is and keep those “under-the-radar” posts coming in.


  • JohnB

    I wouldn’t change a thing, honestly. I think your blog has the perfect balance of nice introspective stuff and snarky little jabs.

    I agree. It’s nice to have a place to go where I don’t feel like I’m just one of the angry atheist mob. (I do think religion is silly, I do get upset with creationists interfering with educational integrity and I do think they need to be challenged often and insistently. Even laughed at occasionally. I mean, Ray Comfort and the banana thing…how could you not?)

    If I want excessively strident, I can always go over to PZ’s blog, and I do. But there I feel like a visitor. Here I feel like I’m home and I like it that way. And I think the site is fine, grainy banner and all.

    So keep up the good work. You’re doing great.

  • Jen

    I enjoy this site. If anything, I get a little tired of all the complaining- if I were you, I would be nervous to post anything, and I don’t think that is conductive to dialog either. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having opinions that other people disagree with, and sometimes it seems to me that people think “Friendly” means “Never disagree with me/make a joke/have any fun/poke a troll”. I think its ok to post, say, a comic, and comment that you know its controversial, you laughed at it while at the same time realizing it is problematic, and what do the FA readers* think? We know many of your views on religion, and I don’t think you have to delicately proclaim that you respect the right to believe even though you disagree blah blah blah every single time.

    I also think it is fine to post a comic that totally bashes religion and let us draw our own conclusions.

    I think there are plenty of places that treat religion with kid gloves- remember, no one ever posts a big atheist A in front of townhall in December. I am all for sending away the Christians that can’t take harsh views of their religion occasionally- I’ll still hang out here, with Linda. I agree that there should be dialog, but lets not have that because we completely sacrifice everything that makes us atheists. If you become too much of a people-pleaser, no one will care anymore. Court a little controversy, and let those who can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. (end of trite phases).

    I have noticed you rarely comment anymore, and I think that is a shame, but I understand you are probably spending too much of your free time just writing posts/maintaining the site. I also agree with some of the above comments that your posts are shorter and less “meaty” (for lack of a better word)- again, understandable, since you have a full-time job.

    Of course, for the record, while I don’t comment there, I like PZ, which apparently makes me a strange atheist, or a complete bitch.

    *Some blogs have names for their readers ie: Pandagon.net readers are Pandagonians. We should get some sort of awesome name.

  • I’ve been a fan of this site for quite a while, and I hope you keep up the good work.

    I like that you believe that Christians and Atheists need to work together. However I hope you will continue to stand up for atheists and why we believe what we believe.

    I don’t mind the humor, though you might want to consider focusing more on the people who want to impose their religion on the rest of us. That way other Christians might feel more comfortable visiting.

    Ideally, I’d like this blog to be a space where atheists can talk and joke about what they don’t like about religion, but at the same time, they don’t consider religion to be the great evil that must be eliminated. It can also be a space where Christians can laugh at themselves, and learn that we’re not immoral evil people.

    Of course this is your blog, and I’m sure I’ll be along for the journey. 🙂

  • Mriana

    Well, between having finals and working, I was pretty busy and then I was just tired after finals. I wasn’t interested in reading blogs, conversing, or anything else. Of course, there are some things that are posted that I am just not interested in even when I’m not tired. This doesn’t mean others aren’t though. So, I don’t know if it matters as long as people are reading and commenting. What interests some will not interest others. It’s difficult to please everyone.

  • Matt

    This is only one of two blogs I actively read. I really enjoy your commentary and how you keep me up-to-date on current events related to those with and without faith. So long as you keep the friendly tone and good humor, I’ll keep coming back.

    I suppose any criticism I can think of would be to focus more on the nutcases (Pastor Hagee, people thinking C-14 dating is Satanic, throwing babies off buildings, etc.) than the harmless religious practices that may seem weird to us.

    – Matt

  • I’d be careful about thinking in terms of reining in humor or pulling punches. The fundamental problem I see with the kind of atheists who get slapped with the label “fundamentalist” (whether the label is accurate or not) is that they are wrong. They get sloppy. They cross the line between correctly pointing out that theism is mistaken and incorrectly insinuating that theists are stupid or crazy. For the most part, though, you’re pretty good about not making the same mistakes as the “fundamentalists.” If you stay truthful, then you should end up pretty friendly.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head J.J. I’m almost never bothered by the humor or satire stuff. But I am bugged by these sorts of things. IMHO, the key to being a friendly atheist, Christian or whatever is to realize that people often have very good reasons for what they believe, and just because you disagree doesn’t make those you disagree with stupid or crazy or immoral.

  • I’ll still hang out here, with Linda

    Awwww… Thanks, Jen!! 🙂

  • Hemant,

    I think you are doing a great job and wouldn’t change anything except for perhaps slow the posting pace down a tad. As Richard said, it doesn’t take long for the posts to migrate down to the subsequent pages and “drop off” for most people. But I love the blend of different topics you bring.

  • slut

    I also think the baby jokes are not funny. They are simply stupid and disgusting.

    Otherwise, I like FA a lot, one of my personal faves. I’ve been on a trip abroad but still found time to stop by a couple times. Always lots of information, links, etc. I would like to see more in depth discussions…maybe skip the really superficial stuff.

  • Jack D

    Hemant, I have been a quite reader of this blog for sometime now. And i like do like baby jokes.. Other than that i don’t think there is any possibility of rational discussion with lets say someone like Lindsey.. I mean don’t get me wrong, I still think she is funny and all. But I don’t think anyone wants to discuss her beliefs or anyone else’s beliefs for that matter. I hope this blog doesn’t become a support group who just respects each other’s beliefs. What’s next? Some scientologist come and blog about his/her belief? Shouldn’t they deserve a similar treatment?

  • This is one of two blogs that I read each and every day. I really don’t have any complaints. There is going to be snark, whether it’s in something you post, or from someone else in the comments-this is the internet, snark is to be expected.
    As for what I’d like to see more of-more constructive criticism of atheist ideas, alongside constructive criticism of religious ideas. I thought it was great of you to comment on PZ’s post (even though I’m a big fan of his blog as well), and we atheists shouldn’t be afraid to be critical of each other. I frequently read stuff on other atheist blogs that I think crosses a line.
    The reason I like this blog so much is that there seems to be a much more accpeting group of people here. You set the standard, and for the most part, you’ve attracted a group of people here that see the benefit in having a blog where we can have thoughtful conversation about that middle ground (between the secular and religious.) I think this blog is much more in line with the real world-where we have to interact respectfully with religious people on a regular basis-than most atheist blogs.

  • Spurs Fan

    I am married to a Christian and live in the deep south so it’s nice to come here and feel like I’m not the only atheist in the world:

    Amanda — my sentiments exactly! I try to find atheists I could talk to in person, but we don’t come out of the closet very often.

  • I don’t have a problem with people explaining their beliefs to us outsiders so we have a better understanding of where they are coming from (no trying to get converts, however), but I reserve the right to make fun of them or poke holes in them if they are absurd. It’s perfectly acceptable for religious people to make fun of or poke holes in absurd things that atheists believe as well. Although atheism in itself is just the idea that no gods exist, so the stupid things some of us may believe are not because we’re atheists, but just because we’re humans. Whereas many of the stupid things religious people believe are the core doctrines of their religions.

    That doesn’t mean we have to be rude or mean, but many religious people will think we are being rude and mean just because there’s been that unspoken law for so long that it is not acceptable to criticize religion, at least large, established religions like Christianity. Well, um, too bad. As someone said above, if you don’t want to be laughed at, don’t believe stupid things. I can get on board with the love your neighbor stuff, but believing that a virgin had a baby or that people rise from the grave is just as crazy as scientology or the other religions that it’s acceptable to make fun of.

    The part to remember is that we are talking to real people when we post here. So we shouldn’t post anything we would not say to someone face-to-face, and we shouldn’t use a tone that we would not use in person. That keeps the conversation civil, I think.

  • As for what I’d like to see more of-more constructive criticism of atheist ideas, alongside constructive criticism of religious ideas. I thought it was great of you to comment on PZ’s post (even though I’m a big fan of his blog as well), and we atheists shouldn’t be afraid to be critical of each other. I frequently read stuff on other atheist blogs that I think crosses a line.

    This is a helpful suggestion. Another thing I would expect from a “friendly” atheist blog is more constructive critique of some of the unfriendly things some atheists do or say (i.e. more stuff along the lines of “hey guys, we can do better than this.”)

  • severalspeciesof

    My advice:
    Just keep blogging.

    Keep questioning (both yourself and others) while remaining true to yourself.

    Your site is generally one of three sites I commonly go to, the other being PZ’s and Richarddawkins.net. (Daylight Atheism comes in a close fourth) I like PZ’s because generally he holds no punches, and Richard’s because it can be a wild and woolly ride through the comments. I come to yours because it seems to be generally a ‘safe’ haven, and there is usually nothing wrong with being safe as long as you have good reason to be so inclined. (Though it is sometimes good to step outside the box.)

    If this site should ever become a chore, just walk away. You can always walk back.

  • severalspeciesof

    You know it occurred to me that I really didn’t answer your questions directly, so here goes:

    What needs to change on this blog? This is your blog, not mine.

    What do you want to see more of? This is your blog, not mine.

    What do you never want to see? This is your blog, not mine.

    There, all done 😉

    In other words, while it’s good to get feedback, remember that the surest way to do nothing is to try and please everyone.

  • slut: “I also think the baby jokes are not funny. They are simply stupid and disgusting.”

    I always thought of the baby jokes as an ironic joke on the perception of atheists as eeeeeeeeeeeeevil.

  • Pseudonym

    This is slightly off-topic, but baby jokes have a longer history than most people think. I once knew this guy who was a Sinologist, who translated a Medieval Chinese joke book. And it was full of baby jokes.


  • I like the baby jokes.

  • Don’t change it. Or at least not too much!

  • David D.G.

    For what it’s worth, Hemant, I like the content and tone of your posts here — expressing at least 95% “friendly” atheism, by my purely offhand estimate, and about 5% snark or indignation reserved for those particularly heinous things done in the name of religion or by those hypocrites who profess their religion-based moral superiority.

    Unlike some atheist-friendly (as opposed to “friendly atheist”) blogs or websites that tend to be about 95% snark (or just plain abuse) aimed at religious hypocrisy and lunacy, you tend to run a very civil ship, and I find that respectfulness and restraint extremely refreshing. (Some of the passengers here occasionally get a little bit carried away with the religion-bashing, but I don’t see that as your fault — and your example tends to keep this place from developing into Godflame Central.)

    I think that, if anything, you sometimes try a little too hard to be “friendly” toward theists and theism in this respect, and give benefit of the doubt even when it is not, in my own opinion, particularly warranted — but, as I said, snark isn’t at all hard to find elsewhere, so this means that your blog isn’t just going along with the rest of the atheist or anti-theist flow, but pursues its own independent and reason-driven course. Kudos to you for having that integrity, and for having the pleasant disposition to do things in a positive manner instead of a negative one.

    ~David D.G.

  • Maria

    I like the baby jokes too. and I think Mike Clawson and Richard Wade made some really good points. overall I like the blog, I just would like to see more about religious and non-religous working together as well. I’m glad you can be critical of other atheists. also, maybe post a little slower-I can’t keep up!

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