This week the organization American Atheists announced the premiere of Atheist TV, available through the streaming service Roku and over the Internet. That news will certainly prompt assorted knee-jerk reactions in some quarters, and perhaps some confusion:
“Atheist TV? It'll be full of incest and smut and debaucheries of all kinds. Oh, wait; that’s HBO.”
“Atheist TV? It'll be nonstop mockery of conservative Christians and Republicans and Middle America. Oh, wait; that’s Comedy Central.”
“Atheist TV? It'll be godless wiccans and flesh-eating zombies and serial killers and all manner of other people who lack the Judeo-Christian morals that built America. Oh, wait; that’s practically every mainstream network and cable channel.”
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At a party Tuesday night celebrating the premiere, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, described a channel that won’t be any of the sordid things that certain religious types might envision, but that will be a challenge to a lot of things those people hold dear. The channel, he said, will “provide a breadth of content, from science to politics to comedy, all centered around our common freedom from religion.”
American Atheists, founded in 1963, is a serious organization that advocates the absolute separation of church and state and a view of life that emphasizes the here and now and provable. The channel, Silverman said in the first streamed broadcast, will have no psychics, no ghost hunters, no “science fiction presented as science fact,” and will be “a place we can call our own, where we can speak the truth as frankly as we want.” It intends, he said, “to promote the idea that religion can and should be criticized.”
That will make it a lonely outpost. Religion isn’t hard to find on TV, including some negative images of it – see the debate over the Muslim characters on the new FX drama “Tyrant” – but not many outlets that rely on advertising dollars are willing to ask probing questions about religion as big business, religion as an instigator of wars, religion as a suppressor of intellectual inquiry.
At first, Atheist TV will be limited, offering interviews with leading atheists, film from atheist conventions and other content from the Richard Dawkins Foundation and like-minded organizations. But it has plans to introduce original programming.
Among the people helping to bring that about, the channel has announced, will be the producer Liz Bronstein, whose credits include reality shows like “Whale Wars,” on Animal Planet, part of Discovery Communications – a company that Silverman slammed hard Tuesday night.
“The TV networks kowtow to the liars who make money off of misinformation,” he said, singling out for special contempt outlets that mix silly supernatural gunk with more serious science and nature shows.
“The Discovery Channel treats ghosts like they’re real,” he said, adding later, “Bigfoot, psychics, aliens, ghosts, spirits, gods, devils - all bunk, all pushed by the so-called truthful and scientific stations in an effort to placate the waning religion segment at the expense of the growing segment of atheists who should be, but are not, their target audience.”
Whew. If he sounds peeved, well, it’s hard being an atheist in the United States, where plenty of people behave in decidedly un-Christian ways, but to speak ill of Christianity or other religions can be career-ending. How low in the hierarchy are American atheists? Dogs had their own channel before atheists did. Sarah Palin, too.
So expect a fair amount of bluntness when Atheist TV gets rolling. The outlet may have enemies in Very High Places: At the Tuesday event, seven minutes into the streaming of the first broadcast, the Internet feed in the room gave out. But if that was God sending a message, Silverman wasn’t deterred.
“Atheist TV is live,” he said, “and it’s going to stay live, 24/7, until the sun burns out.”