Tag Archives: Media

Should We Atheists Just Accept the Facts and Admit that America Really Is A Christian Nation?

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

Often when we atheists are engaging in common political debates, we are faced against the argument that America is actually a Christian Nation. The implication here is that if we are a Christian Nation, we can make laws based on Biblical teachings, and therefore take away birth control for women and fund conversion therapy. The argument usually boils down to the idea that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians, that a majority of the people in this country are Christians, or that somehow our Constitution is based on Christian values.

They’re all bullshit. There are a lot of good arguments to make against them. The most relevant one for me is that even the Constitution at face value doesn’t have an inkling of indication that America is meant to be Christian. So, no. We atheists shouldn’t admit that America Is a Christian Nation.

To be clear: I used a completely misleading headline*. America is definitively NOT a Christian nation.

Mostly I wanted to talk about how we consume our information on social media and how we have discussions.

Every time I write a blog post, I post to the No Religion Required Facebook page. At that point, people look at the headline (and hopefully the short blurb summarizing the post), and make a decision whether or not to read the post or not. I’m happy when they read through the post, and think about what I have said. Perhaps they have some thoughts or disagreements and comment on the post. Perhaps they think I have made some good points (that’s up to you), and share the piece. Or, perhaps my work is is massively flawed and they share it to point out their disagreements.

Unfortunately, a lot of us seem to have a bit of a problem with the middle and most important step, reading the piece. I suspect with this blog post, I’m going to get a few furious comments asking me how I could possibly support a theocratic position. A few people will comment and give long-winded responses explaining that America is not Christian (which they wouldn’t do if they had read this piece). If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even get some Christians sharing my piece as if I’m an atheist admitting that America is Christian (which to be clear, yet again, I’m not). This is all based entirely on the headline of the piece (Which is 16 words, compared to my¬† 1952 words of content).

What’s terrifying is that so many people are starting to rely on their social media feeds for news, and 60% of people share news stories based on the headline without reading the article. It’s often the case that the headline is written to get clicks, since as news outlets are losing their paid subscribers and therefore often need to make up for lost revenue in clicks for advertisers. It’s not news that headlines don’t always correspond perfectly with the words inside an article (and in larger outlets, the authors don’t even get to pick the headline). Even well-written articles can have their message diverted by a terrible headline, which can mislead those who read it without diving deeper into the article. It’s not hard to see why this distorts the spread of information. Even if I don’t particularly care about a certain story, if I see a hyperbolized or skewed headline just scrolling through my feeds, I will be fed a little bit of misinformation for that day.

I’ve seen this play out even when I write headlines that correspond well with the message of my post. One post I’m still particularly proud of is titled “I’m Taking “Offense” Out of My Vocabulary, and Why You Should Too”. In that piece, I talked about how I think the term is overused, it doesn’t really get to the heart of certain discussions, and that ultimately we label people as offended so we can easily dismiss them. Unfortunately, some people just read the headline and assumed that I was complaining about people getting too offended all the time these days (which is somewhat antithetical to my point in the piece). A commenter on Facebook told me they agreed with me, and then proceeded to write an entire paragraph saying that too many people get offended all the time and they don’t care about offending people. I confronted them, stating that in my article I admonished people who say that, since I think that it is a strawman. They didn’t respond.

I’ve seen this play out many other times in skeptic circles, where people should value reliable information and nuance the most. One of my Facebook friends attempted to disparage Bernie Sanders last year by sharing an article titled “Bernie Sanders Vows to Fight Back Against Islamophobia in the 2016 Race”. We atheists often push back on the term Islamophobia and often substitute in “Anti-Muslim Bigotry” since the former implies that we shouldn’t criticize the tenets of Islam or Islamism. My friend wanted to smear Bernie as an Islam apologist. The problem? Never in the article did Bernie once use the term, the only uses were by the author of the piece. My other friend, Eli of God Awful Movies and Scathing Atheist, has often made posts on his feed, and will frequently have to remind people to READ THE GODDAMN ARTICLE, even in the text of his posts. We are often overeager to share our opinion, and we often think that we are informed enough on a given subject to share what we think even though we are completely devoid of context, so we comment against the headline of a piece without so much as peeking at the content.

It doesn’t even have to be headlines. It could be a long-winded post where people are likely to only read a few lines in, or a catchy meme with a more thorough text explanation at the bottom. There was recently a video passed around on my feeds featuring Simon Sinek talking about millennials in the workplace. I happened to watch the whole video, and to be honest, I liked it.** It was a critique of millennials, but it was actually fairly supportive of my generation. However, it had a horrible banner above and below it, saying “This is exactly what’s wrong with this generation”. This feeds into the common narrative that “t3h millenials are d3stroyzing everything! Oh noez!” To someone who has already made up their mind that millennials are entitled lazy youths who don’t know how to work, they are able to merely glance at the video and feel validated in their assumptions before moving on. Not only that, but many are able to spread an otherwise good video by slapping an accusatory tone onto it, thinking they are helping to educate their friends when they haven’t even listened to a minute of what the speaker said.

As someone who puts time and effort into my blog posts, this is disheartening. When someone misrepresents my work, it feels as if someone has taken my voice away from me and abused it to fit their own agenda. And with plenty of distrust in mainstream news already, there are plenty of people out there willing to twist the words of more legitimate sources for their own motives. I almost feel like punching those who share their opinion on somebody’s work without knowing an inkling about that piece. It makes me want Facebook to implement a policy where you can’t comment unless you’ve actually spent time reading the piece.

Not all of the spreading of misinformation is malicious though, sometimes it’s innocuous. I know I’ve certainly made plenty of these mistakes before and I am no better than most people reading this post. I get how easy it is to share something without vetting it. Usually I’m checking my Facebook feed between tasks at work, and I see a catchy headline that validates one of my opinions. Maybe it reinforces a point I had been trying to get across to others. It’s so easy just to go off the headline, share an article, and say “See?” I get it. We want to get to our next task and we don’t want to spend the next ten minutes reading through something word for word when we think we already know what it says, and our time is valuable. But if we care about cultivating a healthy news feed, we should take the extra effort to make sure we are sharing information responsibly.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to making sure I spread information in a manner beneficial to those who follow me.

  • Reminding myself that Facebook is not a news outlet. If we want to be informed, we should make sure to take time out of our day to educate ourselves based on good, professional news outlets, and cross referencing across multiple sources. (also buying a subscription to your local paper is a good way to support good journalism)
  • I never comment on a piece without reading it. If it’s something short such as a death of a celebrity, most of the relevant information is within the first couple of paragraphs, so I don’t feel too guilty expressing my sorrow without reading the whole thing. However, context matters, and I put extra effort into reading the whole article when it’s presented to me. This is especially the case when something is an opinion piece, as common objections or questions I might have are often addressed within the paragraphs of the article.
  • Never share before reading. Make sure the information you’re spreading is actually the information you want to share.
  • Instead of just sharing a link, I share the link along with a short excerpt of the piece in the text of my post. I usually pick a couple of paragraphs that get to the heart of the article. While I may have read the whole article, some people may still only be interested in skimming headlines. This makes it easier for me to spread important information to those who are just skimming Facebook on cruise control.
  • As always, keep your skeptic goggles on, and be critical of any outlet you get your news from. Remind yourself of ways to avoid bad sources.

 

PS, if you’re going to share this piece, don’t give away the actual content. See if your friends are as responsible as they should be!

 


*This idea is not original to me at all. My friends and fellow atheist bloggers JT Eberhard and Matthew Facciani have done similar things. The difference between their posts and mine is small, but they are discussing the spread of actual news events. I want to cover things a bit more broadly, and how we have conversations on social media. Regardless of how unoriginal this post is, this is a message worth repeating.

**A quick review: It was a nuanced look at how millennials behave differently from past generations, and a critique of their behavior. I am the first to push back against millennial hatred, and I feel like we have been gaslit into thinking that we’re lazy or entitled. Throughout the whole video, Sinek emphasizes that it’s not millennials’ fault that our behaviors are often incongruous from the perspective of previous generations. I think he’s missing a lot of the story by not emphasizing the poor economic conditions we entered the world in, and how we have enormous student debts that we have to pay off when we have trouble getting jobs. However, he uses evidence-based methods to describe at least some of the problem well. Most importantly, it’s miles of quality beyond much of the disparaging discourse focused at millennials lately, and escapes the reactionary anti-millennial narrative that we are regularly bathed in.

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Open Thread: Avoiding the Negativity vs. Being Informed

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Jeremiah Traeger

Skepticism isn’t easy. It’s far more than just “disbelieving things”. It’s aligning your beliefs as best you can with the best available evidence. That takes work.

We know we can’t just consume media from one perspective. When a new controversial story comes out, I tend to look past the Huffington Posts and the Alternets to avoid my left leaning bias. I avoid Breitbart for just being untrustworthy, but the Blaze is often good for a laugh. It’s good to get a story from multiple news sources, even “fair and balanced” sites that claim to present the news as it is while still having a bit of a slant. Usually I’m able to see why they have the opinions they have, even if I find them based on faulty premises.

The “skeptics” I most disagree with tend to be people who make 20-30 long YouTube videos. Watching just one is exhausting, especially when their rhetoric and mannerisms are so condescending, reminiscent of the bullies who alienated and attacked me growing up. Yet when I don’t engage in watching the whole thing, suddenly I’m intellectually dishonest. Even though sometimes it will take pages and pages of blog posts to rebut a single video (Thanks to Stephanie Zvan and Martin Hughes for those). That’s exhausting.

I don’t even have time to listen to podcasts from people I consider friends and that I largely agree with. My podcatcher is filled with episodes from people I enjoy talking to a lot yet won’t listen to this week… or next week… or the week after. My rule of thumb is that if the next episode comes out before I’ve listened to the previous one, the previous one gets removed. The atheist podcast community is pretty oversaturated, unfortunately, and I just can’t be exposed to every point of view.

This also means if I want to be exposed to other viewpoints I have to actively carve out time specifically for that. I have to give credit to Secular Media Group’s Paleo Radio for providing a pretty reasonable perspective that occasionally is lot more centrist/libertarian than my progressive peers. I’ve recently listened to a No Religion Required listener’s Creating a New World, a podcast focused on eliminating government entirely, something that’s probably far out for most atheists. And whenever there’s drama within the community (such as one podcaster calling another podcaster out), I’ve tended to listen to the “other side” more often than not, if only to hear the specific grievances of what that person says and not just take the word of people on my side.

Then there’s the big problems that the general public would know more about than those involved in atheist communities. We have to be informed about Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Syria. In this year’s election season, I need to know about climate change, the tax code, our border policy, religious freedom, women’s healthcare, police violence, election reform, police violence, party corruption, Hillary Clinton’s emails, Donald Trump’s bigotry, GMOs, vaccines, gun control, LGBTQ rights, the Trans Pacific Partnership, student debt, and where people should be allowed to pee. These topics intersect with each other, yet any one could take hours to get a decent perspective on any of them.

What doesn’t help is that for a good many of these, I could easily not care about them. No nondiscrimination law is likely to affect me in the near future. I’m in a largely white city with low police violence, and due to how I’m perceived I’m unlikely to get pulled over for a busted taillight. But if we make the wrong choice on LGBTQ issues, people die. If we make the wrong choice on gun control, people die. If we make the wrong choice about our poverty problem, families get kicked out of their homes and then they die. For a lot of minorities and marginalized folks, these discussions are far more than just intellectual academic disagreements, they are life or death. We can talk all day about what makes women uncomfortable in bathrooms, but encoding transgender bathroom rules into law can lead to them getting killed. We could argue forever about our local housing communities, but blacks will continue to be disproportionately targeted by gentrification. These topics are exhausting for me to be informed about, and none will affect me in any personal way. I do not envy anyone who has to end up arguing with people every day where they get to urinate, something so basic that I barely give a thought about doing it when I need to. This has some serious mental health implications (something I also need to be informed about).

At some point, it’s important to take care of ourselves. I like to go home, read blogs, cook dinner, and see if I can catch some new pokemon. I already wrote why it’s ok to focus on your personal problems even in a world filled with such massive issues, and that should extend to taking care of yourself. But how am I supposed to compensate? I’m privileged to have a job that I can sometimes listen to podcasts (I also have to be informed on the relevant scientific literature for my job, which is more of the same problem I’ve been discussing here). That’s often not possible, so then I have to catch up on the news and media once I get home, where I have limited time to take care of myself before going to sleep and going to work the next day. I’m not capable of finding out the whole spectrum of opinions on every topic that was in my Facebook feed today. I’m exhausted once I get home from work, and according to some people if I don’t take the time to watch a bully on YouTube that’s even more exhausting, I’m intellectually dishonest? And if I’m exhausted getting home from work, how more exhausted would I be if I were a trans woman coming home to my news feed with people threatening to beat up “a man in a dress walking into my daughter’s bathroom”? I’d have a choice to let that bullshit go unchallenged and give myself a mental break, or taking time and energy to call someone who clearly doesn’t value my humanity. I don’t blame someone taking either choice, but there is some negative outcome either way.

I think it’s awesome that we can so easily connect with like-minded people via the internet. This allows us to find communities. Yet I’m always aware that I need to expose myself to others who disagree with me. It’s one reason why I never really unfriend people for disagreement (I’ve only done it twice, one for blatant transphobia and one for blatant racism, and I had already called both of them out on that before). But I’m also sympathetic to people who just can’t put up with bullshit. I’m also definitely not going to criticize anyone cutting someone out of their life or blocking someone for being abusive. But even sometimes, one person’s “intellectual disagreement” can have drastic consequences on the life of another. May I remind you about LGBTQ teens who are homeless cause their parents “don’t agree with the lifestyle”?

Does maintaining intellectual honesty conflict with taking care of yourself? Does being a good skeptic mean trying to be informed on every single issue all the time? Obviously no. No reasonable human would mind someone cutting off all contact with someone harassing them. But being informed about the ills of the world brings some stress into my life, to the point where it can impact my daily life and productivity in a hugely negative way. Perhaps this isn’t a problem with anyone else, but wanting to be exposed to the “other side” certainly makes it a lot harder for me to share the memes that encourage people to cut all the negative thinking out of their life.

beautifulthings

[Image: Beautiful things start to happen when you get away from the negativity. Source: positiveoutlooksblog.com]

About the only conclusion I’ve come to myself is that I will never be informed on every issue. While it’s not ideal, it takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders. I’m more interested in how other skeptics deal with this problem. Where do you draw your lines? At what point do you stop following certain media or unfriending people? How do you make sure you have time to take care of yourself, while at the same time making sure you’re not clueless about the world you live in? Do you expose yourself to hatred, knowing that you could use that exposure to correct some of the problems you see? And if so, how? How do you spend your time at home, when you are able to relax and effectively shut out the world? How do you balance that out?

Please comment below.

My Opinion on Why Most Christian Movies Suck!

sylia

Sylia Gray

As an aspiring screenwriter, I was listening to a screenwriting podcast called “On the Page.” And in one particular episode, the host of the show Pilar Alessandra, who is also a professional screenwriting instructor and author, invited two experts from some Christian media group as guests. And they were talking about screenwriting for a niche market of religious films. (Pilar’s podcast is secular. Faith-based films is just a subject of this one particular episode.) In that episode, they were talking about the faith-film market, and how religious people among the listeners could break into that niche outside of the Hollywood mainstream. And one of the things that the guests said that surprised me (if I correctly remember how they said it) was that even they themselves were dissatisfied with how most Christian movies tend to alienate general audiences because they tend to get too preachy. And as an atheist, I totally agree.

To be honest, there have been some Christian-themed movies that I have enjoyed even as an atheist. One of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies was Wall-E which was written and directed by Andrew Staunton and Pete Doctor – both of whom are devout Christians. And as devout Christians, during the story’s development process, both Doctor and Staunton took creative liberties to instill Christian themes into the story for Wall-E. But in spite of the Christian themes, they were still able to make Wall E into a successful movie with mass appeal for the general audiences worldwide and generating half a billion dollar in revenue. In fact, Pete Doctor once said in an article about his role as Pixar’s storyteller is that his Christian faith is his own private business, not anyone else’s. Which I admire.

Another Judeo-Christian themed movie that I enjoyed was Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie. Aronofsky (He’s is an atheist Jew) and Paramount Pictures didn’t have an agenda to preach the Bible. They just want to entertain broad audiences, Christian and non-Christian alike, by presenting the story as a Jewish mythology (which, to my understanding, the Jews actually ripped from the Babylonians).

Now… I think the reason why some Christian-themed movies like Noah and Wall-E are enjoyable and appealing to broad audiences as opposed to hardcore Christian movies like any of Kirk Cameron films is because Walt Disney and Paramount Pictures’ business is to entertain people in order to make money. And in order to cash in and make as much money as possible, studios need to produce movies that are generally appealing to a broad range of audiences. Disney and Paramount’s agenda is to make as much money as they can by entertaining wide range of audiences by making widely appealing movies.

The problem I see with a lot of hardcore Christian movies is that many of them tend to have preachy storytelling with an “in-your-face” approach to conveying Christian themes. You know, where it has things like:

– Christian characters, like a preacher, going “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” or “The Bible says this and Bible says that” almost every 10 minutes.
– Stereotypical (and often deliberately misrepresenting) caricatures of LGBTQ people, atheists, and other non-Christians

For those who read this post, let me ask you:

Why do you think people go to the movies? Why do YOU go to the movies? You go to the movies because you want to be entertained, right?

I think most people go to the movies because they want entertainment first and foremost. And a hardcore religious film with a preachy in-your-face message would be a HUGE turn off. Thus, wasting $10 – $15, plus, you cannot refund the 2 – 3 hours you could have spent on watching something more enjoyable. General moviegoers want to be entertained, not preached to. If they want to be Preached to, they’ll just attend church, mosque, synagogue, etc.

Apparently, unlike mainstream Hollywood, it seems like most hardcore Christian movie studios have their agenda backwards. Their movies appear to be produced to preach to audience first, rather than to prioritize on entertaining them. It’s no wonder that most Christian movies only tend to appeal to their core Christian audiences, even if it stars Hollywood heavyweights like Nicolas Cage. And there are people like Ray Comfort whining and complaining about Aronofsky’s Noah movie not “being Christian enough”. And speaking of atheists and Christians, Kirk Cameron blames atheists for his Saving Christmas movie’s spectacular failure. (Kirk, it’s not our fault that your movie sucks! It’s YOUR fault that you can’t make movies that are appealing broadly beyond your core Christian audiences!)

Here are two quotes I found interesting that I think relates very well to this thread:

“Out of our years of experimenting and experience, we learned one basic thing about bringing pleasure and knowledge to people of all ages and conditions, which goes to the very roots of public communication. That is this: the power of relating facts, as well as fables, in story form.” – Walt Disney

“Orestes is made to say himself what the poet rather than the story demands.”
– Aristotle

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