Does Reddit Hurt Atheism? August 11, 2012

Does Reddit Hurt Atheism?

Derek Miller, the incoming president of the Illini Secular Student Alliance, gave a fascinating presentation at the 2012 Secular Student Alliance conference on perceptions of atheists in society and how to change them.

In short, we know atheists have a bad reputation and we know the Internet has been a blessing (you know what I mean) for atheists… but the Internet may be contributing to our bad reputation.

Derek explains how r/atheism, to name one example, actually hurts atheists. I defended that site earlier in the week, but what Derek says is worth listening to because it says a lot about how outsiders perceive us when we’re being dicks.

At the very least, watch the video from the 1:55 – 9:13 marks.




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  • IWentToTheReasonRally

    I’m not sure that the argument, that we should restrain ourselves from posting affirming or even mocking messages about atheism, holds water. The “purpose”, if there is one, of things like r/atheism isn’t to convince anyone to give up faith… it’s to create a space where people without faith are comfortable in a world that is sometimes downright hostile to them. We shouldn’t have to be quiet at our own party so that the people who aren’t attending don’t get the wrong idea about us… they already do, and no amount of respectful dissent from us is going to make any difference.

    Let us have our clubhouse. It may be loud and it might stink, but it’s ours.

  • John Jacob Heimer-Schmidt

    When s­hit like this gets posted to the front page of r/atheism (which then seeps to the front page of Reddit), I can see why it contributes to a bad reputation for atheists.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/y0nfq/a_christian_friend_of_mine_was_posting_nasty/ 

    You might say the title of the post justifies it, but in fact it is a repost of someone else’s earlier submission, and that original submission is suspected to be a troll anyway. Throw in a bulls­hit excuse about an “intolerant Christian friend” doing it to Muslims and r/atheism laps it up.

  • I’m sure the people that didn’t grow out of the imaginary friend stage don’t like atheists being snarky about them on the internet – why would they? But I find it hard to believe that the overall fractional decrease in their hatred, mistrust, and general bigotry that would be brought about by atheists miraculously stopping being snarky on the internet, would be very big; especially when so many Christians and Muslims completely lose their cool over the mildest, politest, quietest mention that atheists even exist. And get that we’d have given up a safe, supportive space for a minority to feel comfortable around like minded people.

    Can anyone really see that being a good trade?

  • I get the point, but r/atheism is OUR space, leave it to us. The Theists
    have a million places where they can act out, can’t we even be allowed
    one?

  • Stev84

    Exactly. See them foaming at the mouth at even the most harmless, inoffensive billboards. They hate that atheists exist – period. No matter whether they’re quiet or not.

  • IWentToTheReasonRally

     And the solution to that is censorship, even self-censorship? Look, the picture IS offensive. So, too, are wars and politicians fighting to restrict the rights of women, gays, and minorities, a deeply flawed tax system that ensures that the poor stay poor and the rich get richer, and a thousand other issues that I see every single day… not just on Reddit, but in the news and around me in the world.

    Yes, there’s a segment of a social network that “laps it up” when something offensive is posted. And sometimes that means the offensive thing makes it to the front page. That’s how a marketplace of ideas WORKS. We don’t have the right to not be offended. We have the right to ignore messages that offend us or support the ones we like. Does r/atheism have a net negative effect on the overall reputation of atheists? Does offensive art have a net negative effect on the overall reputation or artists?

  • LesterBallard

    Why is it offensive? Because it is graphic and pornographic? Or because it’s Jesus? 

  • I’ve now watched the whole thing (worth the time, by the way, the speaker is good and really quite funny), and it’s not advocating anyone stopping with the r/atheism snark at all. The speaker points out that it’s unlikely to change the mind of any atheist hating religious people (but did anyone think it would?) and goes on to how he thinks atheist could improve religious peoples’ impressions of us.

    I’m not sure I agree with what he is suggesting, but it’s certainly not “Stop being snarky on the internet”.

  • Zeggman

     In the marketplace of ideas, when images which are deliberately offensive are upvoted by the majority, thoughtful people usually conclude that the majority is a bunch of a-holes.

    Yes, I would hope that self-censorship (in the form of downvoting this sort of hate-imagery) would lead to different conclusions, but my experience on reddit is that the hive mind of atheists is just like any other mob.

    I refer to myself as a secular humanist now rather than as an atheist, because I think secular humanism has something positive to offer. Atheism defines itself by negation and opposition, and may be unique in that regard. I’ve kind of drifted away from the r/atheism group of reddit, in part because I prefer to affirm what I favor rather than mock what I consider silly.

  • Wild Rumpus

    Ooohhhh… It turns outsiders off atheism? Aren’t outsiders predisposed to be turned off atheism anyways?

    On the other hand I have read post after post on r/atheism from people saying r/atheism is the only place that they can safely express themselves without fear, and it allows many closeted atheists a chance to find solidarity.

    Sure there are a bunch of “Jesus was a sheepfucker” posts, but there are also a lot of intellectual discussions and references to other media that support atheism and atheists.

    Keep r/atheism for us to enjoy confirmation bias circlejerks, it is a safe place for many of us to focus our philosophy, practice talking about it, and prepare for the very real bigotry that is out there.

  • John Jacob Heimer-Schmidt

    It’s not offensive to me, it’s offensive to the vast majority of people outside of the small circle of laid back sarcastic-minded atheists. 

    How would you react if Christians started posting memes with Darwin, Dawkins, Sagan, or a neckbeard atheist stereotype fucking animals? Regardless of whether you’d be personally “offended” by it, you’d think they’re a bunch of immature, insensitive douchebag assholes.

  • LesterBallard

    I asked why it was offensive, not who was offended by it. I personally wouldn’t give a fuck what memes Christians started posting. I care more about how they oppress women and GLBT and shit like that. When all that stops maybe I’ll start to give a shit about them being offended by a picture of their imaginary friend fucking a sheep. By the way, I thought Richard Dawkins fucking Mr. Garrison was hilarious.

  • Casey Bowman

    /r/atheism isn’t a good representative for atheism because, frankly, many of the posters on there can’t present a coherent argument for atheism. Being obnoxious can occasionally be forgiven, but I will not forgive moronic arguments that don’t even make sense half the time. We know there is a wealth of good, logical arguments on our side, but I see so much “meme”-driven drivel on there that I’ve just stopped looking.

  • LesterBallard

    “neckbeard atheist stereotype fucking animals?” Wouldn’t bother me. Where I come from we wear sweatpants, because when the sheep hear a zipper go down they scatter.

  • Socoral

    This is exactly the attitude the lets that phony Atheist S. E. Cupp go on national TV and claim she could never vote for an Atheist, we don’t represent enough of the population.

    Better not as her what percent of the population a Mormon would represent.

  • Revyloution

    Being perceived as a dick is a step up for atheism.  Prior to Reddit (and the internet in general)  atheists were perceived as unpatriotic, communist, amoral baby eating monsters.   Graduating to just being ‘dicks’ is a huge step up from where we were.  

  • He’s right (although I think he overstates the power of the Internet in this area.) And it just supports my assertion (made elsewhere) that forming groups around “atheism” is silly, if not outright counterproductive. Atheism is a negative. If you create a forum for atheism, what else is there for most people to do but sit around and make jokes about the batshit crazy beliefs of religionists and theists? All true, but what end is served, except a lot of mutual mental masturbation, and the possibility of coming across as jerks in the eyes of those who oppose us.

    As atheists, where should we be? Secular organizations (e.g. FRFF, and Miller’s own group). Rationalist groups. Freethought groups. Skepticism groups. Humanism groups. These are all positive things. They attract atheists with common interests without excluding others. They encourage positive action (what kind of positive action does atheism encourage?) They offer just the sort of support that many atheists are looking for, while providing minimal negativism for the anti-atheists to get their claws into.

    Something like r/atheism brings together a bunch of disparate people with no real common interest… and that shows up in the sort of content degeneration Miller demonstrates. I don’t know if r/atheism is hurting atheism or not, but I sure don’t think it’s doing much good.

  •  One of the better comments on the subject I’ve read in quite some time.
    Very refreshing.

  • Scientismist

    I watched up to the 10 min mark, as recommended, and noted the following:

    1) He says public service is important because atheists are disliked. (He expands that later to recognize that it’s just the right thing to do).

    2) Framing God as an “imaginary friend” is not insightful and is bad web content. (Incredibly, he seems to really mean this. I remember suspecting this when I was in my teens, hearing Christian music about “What a Friend we Have in Jesus” — I wish I had been able in the 1950’s to know others suspected the same thing.)

    3) At 2:41 Mr. Miller brags about being able to repost a false quotation on r/atheism.

    At this point I was curious about those 136 comments, so I stopped the video and did a search of r/atheism for the post by “K0mbaticus” (with a zero), and found other posts on r/atheism by K0mbaticus, but nothing with “Galileo”.  A search for just the title (“and honestly, i’m still mad about what happened to Galileo”) turned up one post by juggaloholocaust to r/magicskyfairy with 4 replies.  I returned to the video, still curious if anyone had disputed K0mbaticus’ repost to r/atheism, and heard Mr. Miller explain that someone did indeed correct the error. (Apparently, Mr. Miller later removed the thread?)

    4) He attributes the problem to confirmation bias, and asks what we would think of his uncle’s rather anti-Obama-ish Facebook page. (Personally, I was somewhat curious about the red white and blue toilet seat.)

    Conclusion:  He seems to think that r/atheism is a problem, even though it was that sub-reddit that debunked his reposted quotation from another sub-reddit where it was languishing.  He thinks that confirmation bias is a problem (true, anybody trying to shoot down what his uncle puts on his Facebook page will very likely be ignored and deleted).  But it is r/atheism that should change?  In the name of public relations?  Really?

    Mr. Miller is a good speaker, and will do well; but he needs to sharpen his critical thinking skills a bit more, and perhaps learn to appreciate the good, as well as the bad, in a truly open forum like r/atheism.  I recommend he read skeen’s post “A reminder: the philosophy of r/atheism”.

  •  There is some irony in you commenting so frequently on an online space called “Friendly Atheist.”

  • Not really. I’m an atheist, and I value civility. The point is, I don’t define myself by my atheism, which seems to be what many overtly atheist groups seem to expect. And I don’t see that here. Not to speak for Hemant, but he doesn’t appear to define himself by his atheism. His posts are mainly about secularism and civil rights… very few challenge theism directly.

    I like this group because it is pretty friendly, isn’t overburdened by trolls, and has an eclectic complement of interesting, intelligent posters. The same can’t be said for every group!

  • B E Daniels

    Having read the comments below, I can understand the feeling
    of a need for an “atheist space” and that its subjective as to if
    this kind of content really makes a difference.  I also understand the
    need to vent and have a laugh at the ironic and sarcastic humour.  I do
    myself sometimes.

    That being said, as a Secular Humanist, I tend to think that regardless of your
    opinion on r/atheism, it’s better to spend your time on constructive rather
    than deconstructive activities.  This is called opportunity cost and I
    encourage you to look it up if you don’t understand it due to its primary use
    in the business world.  I also think that if you are going to engage in
    any form of activism, it should be along optimised strategic lines such as
    outlined by Sean Faircloth. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsGj3ziCStc&feature=g-user-u

    It’s quite clear that the religious right have made inroads and reshaped the
    entire west by being organised, forming policy consensus, mobilisation and
    having a framed and well structured marketing drive.  If atheists want to
    run around like a bunch of hapless pissed of undisciplined reactionaries, then
    expect to lose and have your rights further supressed against a better
    organised opposition.

    In line with Hemant’s recent posts re “fatigue”, it is rather
    tiresome to see post after post people arguing over what exactly is an atheist,
    agnostic etc., posts about people affirming their views about the fairy tales,
    posts trolling or slating…….   I’d like to see some positive energy
    like one sees with Neil De Grasse Tyson.  All this negativity just makes
    one continue to focus on the shit most of us had to endure due to religion and
    that has most likely made a lot of us angry.  This video at minimum was
    positive for a change in approach and such approaches better for humanity than slagging
    and slating your way through life.

    Time for a more mature dialogue, a more mature representation to the public, a
    more humanistic engagement with the public and a more intellectual approach to atheism
    and what it really means to be an atheist.  Simply slagging and slating
    all the time is just bigotry and a little hypocritical even if it is funny.

  • guest11235

    I don’t know if r/atheism is hurting atheism or not, but I sure don’t
    think it’s doing much good.

    I suppose, but on the flip side of the same token is it really possible to hurt a negative?

    Atheism will be whenever theism is. The ideas that support an atheist conclusion spread just as memetically as those that reinforce the theist mindset. And there is nothing that comes close to the power of the Net for replicating and disseminating memes.

  • I suppose, but on the flip side of the same token is it really possible to hurt a negative?

    I think it is. If we define ourselves as atheists (rather than as humanists, secularists, etc) we validate the idea that “atheism” is a thing, a belief. And that’s something that can be used against us… and is used against us, as Miller explained in his talk. It doesn’t matter that it’s a negative. Harm is done if people with valid, positive viewpoints (which are popular with atheists, but are not exclusively atheistic themselves- like secularism) get buried in the noise of us all being simply “atheists”. When that happens, it’s a lot harder to get the positive message out.

  •  f

  •  “If we define ourselves as atheists (rather than as humanists, secularists, etc) we validate the idea that “atheism” is a thing, a belief.”

    Who actually *does* that? I don’t know of any who do.

    I actually happen to be one of those who try to promote the ‘positive’. But I *still* don’t believe in any gods, and so I’m still an atheist, by definition. There’s no shame in that, and I won’t let anyone hold the fact of my atheism against me. Likewise, not every atheist speaks for me. But why should I expect them to?

    I’m lots of things, and atheist just happens to be one of those things. It’s not my whole identity, but it’s also nothing I need to shy away from.

    Some ‘offensive’ atheists ‘harming’ atheism is like Dr. Evil ‘harming’ baldness.

    When there’s a systematic campaign to defame bald people, I’m sure someone will start an /r/baldies and someone like Hemant will start up The Friendly Bald Guy.

  •  “In line with Hemant’s recent posts re “fatigue”, it is rather
    tiresome to see post after post people arguing over what exactly is an atheist,
    agnostic etc., posts about people affirming their views about the fairy tales,
    posts trolling or slating…….   I’d like to see some positive energy
    like one sees with Neil De Grasse Tyson.  All this negativity just makes
    one continue to focus on the shit most of us had to endure due to religion and
    that has most likely made a lot of us angry.”

    Ironic, then, that you end up posting a mostly negative comment about it.

    Trust me, I find it rather tiresome to see post after post about how this or that atheist is ‘harming’ atheism, or is one of the top five ‘worst atheists’, etc.

    The ‘old’ thing is not atheists ‘offending’ people. That’s the *new* thing. The old thing is people trying to shut atheists up just because they happen to be atheists, and being an atheist (especially an outspoken, unapologetic one) tends to ‘offend’ folks who are hyper-offendable about religion.

    If you think the solution to making the world more tolerant of atheists is for atheists to ‘stop being so darned offensive, you!’, then you need to rethink that, because:

    a) It has never, ever worked, ever, for any social movement.
    b) See a.
    c) Prove me wrong. I dare you.

  • To be honest, the only place I’ve ever heard of Reddit is this blog. I’ve never been there, so I’m not sure exactly what kind of site it is. I don’t know how popular it might be, but I assume that other parts of the Internet would be equally influential, if not more so. Everyone’s heard of YouTube, for example. Reddit, not so much.

  • This is no doubt why you will see a lot of posts about gay rights on r/atheism. I agree though that it might be more productive and ultimately less “been there done that” if they broadened out to more topics that fall under the rationalist umbrella. Though this is Reddit, so you could just subscribe to skeptic as well.

  • LesterBallard

    Well, the sheep doesn’t look too happy. Maybe he means hate against sheep.

  • B E Daniels

     @facebook-100001074236927:disqus .  Either I completely failed to communicate (which I don’t think so after re-reading) or you didn’t bother to try to read and understand my point.  My intent was not to be negative at all and if you re-read, I don’t see how my comments are negative about the video at all.  If anything I’m backing the guy up.

    Now I still can’t find the bit where I suggested that people should ‘stop being so darned offensive’.  If you bother to read, I was talking about opportunity cost.  What is your objective?  Is it to offend or just to let of steam? If so, cool, I understand as would most people.  Is it to convert to atheism?  Is it to try to stop the relentless march of the right wing religeous?  One would think ones objectives should match his/her actions outcome.

    Errmmm, on the last points.  Please provide some evidence for such a broad sweeping claim.  On (c), are you serious.  Do you expect me to go research peer reviewed sociology, anthropological etc., papers so that I can throw them back in your face on this blog or are you just stupid.  PLEASE!!!!

  • Zeggman

     Any time you show the leaders of the other team engaging in bestiality, it’s both pornographic and hateful. Get a grip yourself.

  • Good points, but why does r/atheism have the responsibility of looking nice toward people who might deconvert? 

    The facebook page where this young man’s uncle gets his Obama pictures is not responsible for giving intellectual talking points to Democrats or Independents who stumble onto their page. 

    It’s a place for people already on their side and I think atheists deserve a similar space to gripe, complain, or ridicule since it’s hard to get more than a few of us together IRL in some places and we have to play so very nice in every other public space. (In fact, we have to be so nice that we are often silenced. My mom has recently disowned me a second time in the last three years for posting a quote from a Mormon prophet who said we’d never go to the moon. She labelled it hate speech).

    For a lot of people, r/atheism is a haven. There are still people who actually do deconvert through r/atheism despite the less than tactful posts. Almost every week I see at least one self post describing a believers journey from coming onto reddit to save atheists to realizing they don’t believe, so it does happen.

    The creator of r/atheism recently posted that when he created the subreddit, it was to have a place moderated as little as possible because atheists are forced to self-moderate so much in their daily lives, going as far as never telling their closest friends and family that they are non-believers. To me, it’s more important we have a place that we can express ourselves safely than worry about an image. After all, we’re worrying about that image day in and day out to our families, friends and co-workers. It’s nice to be able to go somewhere we can let our hair down.

  •  I am referring to the negativity in your post, as evidenced here (highlighted *like so*):

    “If atheists want to *run around like a bunch of hapless pissed of undisciplined reactionaries*, then *expect to lose* and have your rights further supressed against a *better organised opposition*.

    In line with Hemant’s recent posts re “fatigue”, *it is rathertiresome* to see post after post people arguing over what exactly is an atheist, agnostic etc., posts about people affirming their views about the fairy tales, *posts trolling or slating*…….   I’d like to see some positive energy like one sees with Neil De Grasse Tyson.  *All this negativity just makes one continue to focus on the shit most of us had to endure due to religion and that has most likely made a lot of us angry.* 

    This video at minimum was positive for a change in approach and such approaches better for humanity than *slagging and slating your way through life.*

    *Time for a more mature dialogue*, a more mature representation to the public, a more humanistic engagement with the public and a more intellectual approach to atheism and *what it really means to be an atheist.*  *Simply slagging and slating all the time is just bigotry and a little hypocritical* even if it is funny.”

    Clear?

    “Now I still can’t find the bit where I suggested that people should ‘stop being so darned offensive’. ”

    The part where you spend several paragraphs slagging off people for slagging. (As if that was even an accurate description of what goes on in the online atheist world a la reddit.)

    “If you bother to read, I was talking about opportunity cost.”

    Very little of your post was about opportunity cost. You basically told people to look it up for themselves.

    “What is your objective?”

    To point out your hypocrisy and to challenge your claim that outspoken, unapologetic atheists are ‘doin’ it rong’.

    ”  Is it to offend or just to let of steam?”

    Is it neither? Is it a false dichotomy or is it an *evil conspiracy*?!

    “One would think ones objectives should match his/her actions outcome.”

    One thing I do agree on, wholeheartedly. My objectives vary, but in this particular instance here, my objective is to stand up for the unapologetic atheism as a valid, ethical, and successful method of atheist activism (i.e., I’m supporting the efforts of the r/atheism folks against what I perceive to be unjust and unevidenced sniping from the sidelines).

    “Please provide some evidence for such a broad sweeping claim.”

    I’ll admit that point a) is my opinion, and I’m willing to take it back if proved wrong. I state it with the same degree of certainty that I state “The claim that god(s) exist(s) has never ever been supported by sufficient evidence, ever, for any theistic conception of god(s).” Meaning, I’ve looked and looked, and never seen an example of any social movement, ever, succeeding via the strategy of ‘shutting up and not being so offensive’, to paraphrase.

    “On (c), are you serious. “Absolutely. As serious as I am when I ask theists for evidence of their god(s).

    “Do you expect me to go research peer reviewed sociology, anthropological
    etc., papers so that I can throw them back in your face on this blog”

    No, just one single counter-example (a wikipedia or other reasonable link will suffice) of any social movement, ever, having taken on the approach of ‘not being so offensive, darn it!’ and having succeeded because of, or largely due to that change in strategy.

    “or are you just stupid.”

    Do you think asking for evidence of someone’s claims is ‘stupid’? I don’t.

    Do you honestly believe that atheists would be better off without r/atheism and/or other atheist-related groups who are often charged with being ‘offensive’ and dismissed as merely ‘trolling, slagging, and slating’?

    If you do, I’m asking you to back that up with evidence. I’ve seen it claimed a lot. Just haven’t seen much (any) evidence that it’s actually true.

  • Honestly?  It wouldn’t bother me at all.  They’re just people and it doesn’t matter what they are depicted doing in cartoons.  People get way bent out of shape so darned easy by comics and cartoons.  The only ones that get me all bent out of shape are the Chick tracts that are used to brainwash children.  Other than that, I don’t care who is depicted doing what.

  • Efrique

     

    but I sure don’t think it’s doing much good.

    The daily stream of  effusive ‘Thankyou!’ posts from people that have been helped in one way or another strongly suggests otherwise. The last 24 hours are no different, there were several posts with explicit thank-yous to the subreddit.

    In any case, it’s not a public advocacy group. Indeed it’s not an organized group in any sense at all. It’s just hundreds of thousands of people doing whatever it occurs to them to do. The fact that it has a very large and very active subscriber base (it generates over a million pageviews a day) suggests perhaps it’s fulfilling some kind of function for many, many people.

  • Sorry, my statement could have been clearer. It should really read “but I sure don’t think it’s doing it much good”, meaning that I agree with Miller that forums like r/atheism may be harming atheism as a cause. I wasn’t suggesting that it wasn’t doing any good in other respects, such as providing support for individual atheists.

  •  Nonsense. You’ve never heard of parody? Hate has a meaning. That picture does not embody it.

  • Joephoenix68

    Reddit is arguably the most popular site on the Internet. r/atheism is on the front page of Reddit everytime, typically with some picture that assumes that every (Christian) thiest are absolute trash with no intellect whatsoever.

    Doesn’t do anything for the stereotype.