5 Ways CNN’s Special On Atheism Could Have Been Good

cnn atheistsIt opens with, “they say there is no God” and already we know they’ve got it all wrong. Between referring to Dawkins as the “Father of atheism” and the insistence of interviewing only those who mimic religion in their absence of it, the entire CNN special last night was a bust. While there were moments of honesty, it’s obvious they were looking to make this a sensational piece that would create a buzz both in the secular world and the dogmatic one. It was, without mincing words, total horseshit.

Here are a few ways they could have gotten it right:

1. Interview a more diverse group of well-known atheists – Limiting your interviews with atheist “celebs” to just Dawkins and Silverman makes it painfully obvious CNN was looking for the most controversial way to present atheism. I take zero issue with either of these two men and rather enjoy listening to them talk, but they are, for whatever reason, two atheists who tend to rub people the wrong way. Why not supplement these interviews with well-known atheists who are perceived as gentler and cheerier? Lawrence Krauss’ permanent smile would have brightened up the piece. Perhaps even Jaclyn Glenn’s down to earth approach or Sam Harris’ cooler than cool persona. Limiting it to the two men in the outspoken atheist community who get backs up whether they intend to or not, is transparently unobjective.

2. Don’t make ridiculous shit up – Richard Dawkins is not the “father of atheism”. He is a brilliant scientist and writer who articulates many of the things atheists think and experience in such a way that a lot of us relate to it with ease.  It’s the same way Tom Robbins wrote ideas that resonated in me, or how reading Che Guevara’s An African Dream had me nodding in agreement at times. It doesn’t mean I’m a boob-obsessed mystic in Seattle or a guerrilla revolutionary. It just means some things they say ring true. Dawkins and I have very little in common. I am a Canadian copywriter, blogger and mom who doesn’t believe in God and he is a British scholar, scientist and author who doesn’t believe in God. Our worlds couldn’t be further apart if he was a bishop in the Catholic church. He does not represent me and I don’t particularly think he would want to, either.

3. Offer a more realistic picture of what an atheist is – The entire hour made it clear that CNN, like most of the religious world, cannot wrap it’s mind around the lack of worship. By asserting that Dawkins is “the father of atheism” and interviewing only those who lead a church, a group or an organization, it’s clear that they wanted to paint an image of atheism as a movement with a sort of clergy. It’s the same old argument, in visual form this time, that atheism is an organized religion. The only moment in the entire hour that challenged that idea was when Richard Dawkins briefly stated that all an atheist is, is someone who does not believe in God. The rest of the time, we were painted as this congealed group of Dawkins-worshipping religion copycats who attend pretend church.

4. Interview lifelong atheists and atheists who have never experienced adversity due to their lack of belief in God – CNN’s interviews with atheists other than Dawkins and Silverman were almost entirely limited to those who have experienced some form of shunning or discrimination after coming out. How about those of us who were raised in secular households, or those atheists who live openly secular lives and have had no negative consequences come from it? That’s the vast majority of us. It’s important to show the stories of loss and discrimination, of course, but it’s nowhere near the entire picture. We’re not this crippled, beaten down pile of victims trying to lash out to get a leg up. We’re normal, everyday people and CNN’s attempt to dehumanize us was poorly executed at the very least.

5. Use a dictionary – The assertion that all the labels CNN listed, humanist, freethinkers, skeptics, etc are all the same community is absolutely unfounded. There are definitions for these words and they differ from each other. There are Christian skeptics and Buddhists who identify as freethinkers. There are atheists who are not particularly skeptical about supernatural ideas, other than God. Humanists believe in the power of people. We’re all different, we’re diverse and linking us all together as one big group is just another transparent attempt to make us just like them: victims of groupthink.

Lumping us all into this idol-worshipping, church-going, proselytizing group of non-religious religiots who all believe the same things, have the same moral code and cry tears of reverence at Dicky-Dawk’s every tweet pisses me off. Why? Because it lumps me in with a man who just shot and killed 3 Muslims. It lumps me in with the old white guys who drone on about the same old shit, when I am anything but. It lumps me in with every last atheist who has ever lived, and that’s not fair. Part of the reason I am an atheist, is because I choose to think for myself. I don’t worship anyone, I don’t consider any text sacred and I’ll change my mind when given better evidence.

I am not you, CNN. I don’t do groupthink. I don’t do blind following. I don’t identify completely with anyone. I know it’s hard to understand or wrap your mind around a person who doesn’t thoughtlessly step in line with the masses, but that is what the vast majority of atheists are.

We are happily ourselves, living our singular life in reality. CNN, you missed that mark by about an hour.

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  • Yes! I was thinking the same things after reading their recent series of articles about atheism. Start with a dictionary. Maybe use Google for “what is an atheist?” before concocting such an untrue mess.

    On the other hand, media in the U.S. (with minor but notable exceptions) is known for oversimplifying even fairly simple issues.

    • I just felt like it was not about me at all, and a few little adjustments would have made it more inclusive of all atheists. It as just focussing on the negative, sensationalist crap. being an atheist is wonderful, and not once was that captured.

  • Pandora’s Daddy

    I thought it was a decent effort, but frankly thinking atheism could be summed up in a single one-hour segment was not going to give us a very complete picture. I also caught those stumbling blocks and I called CNN out on them, but largely not bad. There were a LOT of places it could have been much, MUCH worse.

    • That’s true, and at least it’s a conversation now.

  • Da G Man

    The only thing we can absolutely say we have in common is our lack of belief. That’s it!
    Do I follow Richard Dawkins on Twitter? Yup. Do I retweet everything he says or hold it sacred as some sort of pseudo holy scripture? Hell no! I find that I have more in common with your tweets than old R.D. I like what I do because I’m an independent freethinking individual and not because I’m part of something that would be considered “I can’t believe it’s not religion.” I’m a non conformist. I don’t do things because it’s trendy or to piss people off intentionally. (Unless that twatwaffle deserves it.) I do anything I do because it makes me happy or I deem it for the betterment of society as a whole. Plain as that.

    • agreed. also, stealing “twatwaffle”.

      • Da G Man

        Only if you could take away all the twatwaffles that afflict my life lol

  • I didn’t see it because I knew they would only focus on the most well-known atheists. From what I’ve read about the show, my suspicions were correct. (Especially the fact that there were no atheists of color on the show.)

  • Offensive Atheist

    Although I understand where you are coming from @godless_mom:disqus, I think you may have set your expectations too high. Just the idea that CNN could do a special on atheism in a positive light makes me think we are progressing. Was it perfect? No. Could it have been better? Of course. I think the most important thing this special has done is open a discourse.

    Being a closeted atheist, the idea of open discourse on the subject has given me a glimmer of hope. Hope that one day non-believers will not be labeled moral-less baby eaters. Hope that one day I can come out of my closet here in the deep south, and not be stigmatized. Hope that this open discourse could lead more “de-churched” people down the road to reason. There are millions of people who are atheist, but just don’t realize it. Even here in the south, church attendance is at an all-time low; although when asked, people still refer to themselves as Xian. Opening this discourse could help them see what has been obvious to them all along.

  • Robert Douglas

    To expound on your point, the entirety of the news media “is transparently unobjective.” In seven years of working in the newsroom of an ABC affiliate in a top 40 market, never once did I see anything that looked even a little bit like journalistic integrity.