Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Atheist Televangelism?

Christian evangelists have employed television for decades to broadcast their beliefs to a wider audience than a single congregation. Not to be outdone, atheists are now getting in on the act with their own television channel, AtheistTV. Salon has an article up today reviewing this recent venture, and so far, the news is not good. Even though the reviewer is himself an atheist and therefore theoretically part of the channel's target audience, he found the programming excessively smug and "close to unwatchable."

AtheistTV frames atheism as a perpetual reaction against a conquering force. And that reaction isn’t reasoned debate. It’s unattractive nihilism. After the second broadcast of a single “Atheist Experience” episode, the channel showed a 2012 rally in Washington, D.C.; speakers consistently described a future in which all Americans would join the movement, a future that they’d get to by mocking and hassling the beliefs of others. One hardly needs to be religious to see the rhetorical flaws in Andy Shernoff, the frontman of punk band The Dictators, describing himself as “a little like Martin Luther King” before asking the audience “Ready for some sarcasm? Ridiculous ideas need to be mocked.” That Shernoff’s performance indulges straight-up homophobia and misogyny in a frankly mean-spirited song about giving Jesus oral sex is just a fringe benefit of being a radical truth-teller who doesn’t care whom one offends. Beyond the catharsis of mockery, what can AtheistTV offer? What alternative does it provide? Leaving aside even the question of winning over believers, how can it even keep atheists watching if it’s just a perpetual drumbeat of calling Jesus “the zombie Jew”?

My biggest problem with this is not atheism itself, but rather that there are all sorts of issues that an "Atheist Channel" could tackle besides simply making fun of the low-hanging fruit that is literalist Christianity. I cover some of those stories myself here on Augoeides, like the ongong Oklahoma monument debate, the fight for Pastafarian recognition, and the silly antics of creationists. Instead, though, it sounds like all anyone who tunes in sees is a never-ending discussion of whether religious people are stupid, or really stupid.

In fact, if I were to create a parody channel that lampoons atheists the way Stephen Colbert lampoons conservatives, I imagine that it would turn out exactly the same as what this channel is currently doing. That suggests to me that they probably need a better format if they want to make atheism seem smart and appealing, rather than annoying and ridiculous.

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Nerd said...

This channel already exists. It's called The Discovery Channel.

Scott Stenwick said...

What, with all the ancient aliens, monster hunting, and Bible code nonsense? I might agree with you if the Discovery Channel had the same sort of programming these days as it did back in the 1990's, but these days they show a lot that the secular skeptic crowd has big problems with.

I know that's not all atheists, and even the current programming isn't religious. But if you define atheist television as anything that doesn't mention God, that's actually most of it. Even most paranormal shows shy away from mentioning deities from real religions.

Scott Stenwick said...

Hey look! You're not the only one with that idea. AtheistTV posted an article on New Scientist today trying to distance themselves from Discovery Channel stuff like ghosts and aliens. There'll be none of that on their channel!