I Love the Changes to Reddit Atheism

If you visited Reddit Atheism in the past year or two, you undoubtedly came across the following (in order from most to least common):

  • Memes
  • Screenshots of religious people saying silly things on Facebook
  • Images of famous atheists next to one of their best soundbytes
  • Link to articles dealing with atheism
  • Thread in which atheists ask everyone else how to handle some awkward situation

You either love the site or hate it. I’m not ashamed to say I love it… but I don’t take most of it very seriously, I understand its limitations, I ignore the trolls, and I skip over most of the images in favor of the more interesting articles.

There is, at least in my mind, a huge divide between people who are relatively new to atheism — where every contradiction in the Bible comes as a shock and where showing a religious person’s logic to be inconsistent is a badge of honor — and those of us who have been atheists for a while and are looking for articles with more substance to them. The divide isn’t strictly the result of age, but you can’t be blamed for thinking that younger, more rebellious readers make up the majority of readers of the site. (r/TrueAtheism began as a place to talk about more substantive topics, but the 45,000 subscribers pale in comparison to the 2,000,000+ subscribers to the general atheism subreddit.)

A few days ago, the head moderator of r/atheism was kicked out due to inactivity and the “assistant” mods took over, leading to an overhaul of the channel, much to the chagrin of many of its users (partly because they weren’t informed about the changes far in advance). It has gone from an almost-entirely-unmoderated forum to a very-heavily-moderated one.

The biggest change is that direct links to images are no longer allowed, so you don’t see many memes/Facebook screenshots/funny pictures on the channel now. (A more detailed answer: When you submit links on Reddit, you get “karma” points. Posting mindless images is an easy way to accumulate karma and that led to a whole bunch of people doing it all the time, leading to a dearth of substantive posts/discussions.)

It’s a huge change because the front page of r/atheism has almost always been filled with images and not articles of substance. They’re just more popular with more people — they’re easier to “upvote” — which means they often overwhelmed the front page.

By the way, this is not some irrelevant topic. I have made the point many times in my public talks that r/atheism is arguably the most important website for atheists on the Internet. It’s the place teenagers go when they first have doubts about religion and the most popular forum in the world for discussing atheism-related issues. What happens on the channel makes a big difference for new atheists.

More importantly, perhaps, anyone who subscribes to Reddit automatically gets subscribed to r/atheism because of its huge numbers — people have to manually unsubscribe themselves from the subreddit if they don’t want to read it. That gives r/atheism an opportunity to advertise our views to a massive audience of people who might not otherwise think critically about religion, far more than would see our billboards or blogs or lectures or interviews.

The question is: Should r/atheism be known as a place for serious discussion of atheism-related topics or as a clearinghouse for simple memes that, while popular, mock religious people, only take a moment to read, and require little thought?

What do you put front and center on the biggest atheism forum in the world? The new head moderators are betting that discussions with substance will be better than cheap mockery and circle-jerking.

(To be fair, those weren’t always mutually exclusive things… and the circle-jerking will go on regardless.)

The main argument for keeping the direct image links is that they’re funny and entertaining, a way for (mostly young) people to stick it to theists. But those who want to keep them around make it sound like they can’t be critical of religion if it doesn’t come in the form of a meme. They’re acting like their freedom has been taken away, when really, all the memes, Facebook screenshots, and rage comics are around, just in different places.

To paraphrase one commenter, r/atheism took candy away from babies.

There’s an argument to be made that those memes are helpful — I know I would’ve appreciated them in high school — and now they’re being pushed aside to make way for things that are not nearly as “fun.” (For what it’s worth, memes can still be posted, but only in a different format that doesn’t give users any karma points.)

I don’t buy any of that, though. Humor is important, but those memes were a pretty low form of humor, containing little nuance and never challenging your already-held views. I’d much rather have those in the background than the foreground. I’m thrilled about the change. If the number of subscribers to r/atheism goes down as a result, those who remain will be better off.

The only thing that gives me pause is the possibility that if enough people unsubscribe from r/atheism, the channel could get knocked off of Reddit’s “default” list. But I don’t think most Redditors are going to go through the trouble of unsubscribing from the channel because of this change, not even the critics. So no harm done.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reeb

    The problem is, you take away the content which was making it popular, and people no longer see it. The old type of content was always there, and isn’t getting any more upvotes now, because the reality is that it just doesn’t have much appeal (too much wading through poorly communicated stuff).

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods Avicenna

      The old content won’t get more upvotes. HOWEVER, the newer content that is blog posts and written arguments and indeed “youtube videos” are getting higher karma than before.

      Why? They get to the front page and people read them. Otherwise people would have to trawl through scores of memes to get to anything vaguely original.

      Ignore the whinging and look at the posts making it to the top. They are genuine things with atheism and religion rather than “Hur! Christianity sucks spheres”.

      • popeyoni

        Yes, but that only appeals to people who are already atheists or at least having doubts and trying to inform themselves.

        The virtue of the “inane stuff” is that it attracts people who might not be at that point yet.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods Avicenna

          The inane stuff doesn’t attract anyone to atheism. You don’t question your beliefs just because of a meme picture or a rage comic.

          The meme picture is an in joke. Only we get it. The outsider just sees a bunch of people laughing at a picture that “isn’t funny”.

          If people laugh at things that aren’t funny they are clearly idiots.

          And that’s the problem. If we delivered the news via Lolcat you would not trust the source.

          Those who have doubts will be benefited more by discussion and dialogue than by injokes. The problem with injokes is that they make atheism inaccessible.

          Let’s take Ray “Banana” Comfort. If we simply posted Bananas everywhere a newbie atheist is going to look at us as if we were insane. Instead if we spoke about Ray then we help educate the newbie.

          • Piroku

            Except that /r/Atheism is full of posts of people saying exactly that; they started questioning their beliefs because of the silly memes on the subreddit that made it to the front page. Just because that isn’t how YOU became an atheist doesn’t mean it isn’t how other people came to that position. I myself became an atheist before the internet was common knowledge, and it was lonely and stressful and isolating. People who come to /r/Atheism find a community their to support them through the hard times, a community I wish I had.

          • Ryan from TGA

            “No one changes their mind because of a meme”

            uuuuuh. memes are by definition idea viruses.

            • http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods Avicenna

              But Internet Memes are less Idea Viruses and more pictures bandied around with well known attributes given to characters with a caption.

              It’s less an idea virus and more a global caption contest.

              • BdrLen

                This is true, however if a “Ray Comfort” meme raises curiosity a half a million pages are just a google search away.

          • popeyoni

            If you search r/atheism, you’ll find a lot of posts contradicting what you wrote. Almost every week I see a post from someone saying that the memes and jokes got them interested and that six months or a year later they realized that they no longer believed in gods.

            I will also leave this here:

      • Matt_S

        And those posts will attract absolutely NO ONE to atheism. You think someone is going to click on an article about an ‘atheist monument’ and have their mind changed about anything? Do you think they’ll even BOTHER to click that article? Of course not. The images slipped in because people clicked them, often without realizing what they were clicking, and were shocked to find their religion so openly and easily ridiculed. It is a huge first step for a lot of young atheists. Posting some freaking blog post isn’t going to do shit for anyone.

  • thinkrational

    “anyone who subscribes to Reddit automatically gets subscribed to r/atheism because of its huge numbers. ”
    It is the funny content of r/atheism that makes r/atheism popular. The popularity of r/atheism will NOT continue with the changes they made, and when r/atheism is no longer popular it will no longer be an automatic subscription for all Reddit readers.

    All those memes with “low forms of humor” are the most popular aspect of Reddit itself. People go to Reddit to relax and browse a variety of content. Memes and “candy for babies” are largely what make the sight entertaining. Most people on r/atheism are screaming in protest to this change to r/atheism because most of us liked it better before.

    When I get a moment to sit and browse Reddit, I want BOTH substantive content as well as funny garbage.

    • Drew M.

      Well said.

    • TheRiverStyx

      My own views of the matter are more in line with censorship of a much needed vent. A lot of the people who post regularly on /r/Atheism are teens and/or people living in religiously intolerant geographical areas.

      Having a place to spout nonsense is what they need. Curtailing it just makes them switch to a new source. I’d rather wade through a river of crap to find the occasional nugget of gold than have a procession of bland fare served up by a taskmaster.

    • ITK

      >The popularity of r/atheism will NOT continue with the changes they made, and when r/atheism is no longer popular it will no longer be an automatic subscription for all Reddit readers.

      Sorry, that’s not how the defaults work anymore. It’s almost purely based on subscriber counts. As the author mentioned, if enough people unsub THEN it will be kicked off default. But not just because people are upset about the new moderation.

      • Finn Nicolas

        As you now know, that is incorrect. /r/atheism was removed from the the default because it had lost the content that made it so popular and well loved, even though it still had a massive subscriber base.

    • Ryan from TGA

      Yeah, a lot of memes suck and I’d rather hit myself in the nuts with a hammer than read AdviceAnimals or RageComics. But atheist memes exist in a different context – they’re not just spreading a quick chuckle or feel. They propagate atheist thought itself in a quick to digest and easy to spread format. Isn’t spreading atheist ideas one of the core purposes of /r/atheism? Have we all not read several posts over the past few days from users who were converted from religion by something as innocuous as a cheesy quote laid over a picture of the solar system?

      Memes by definition are idea viruses, and an argument could be made that the ones we see on /r/atheism are some of the most powerful tools for changing people’s minds that we as atheists have, especially given our default placement on the front page. People complain that memes are all that make it onto /r/all from our subreddit. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The popularity of memes across reddit and specifically in /r/atheism speaks for itself – they’re an extremely effective way to communicate to the average redditor.

    • joseph66

      Your reasoning is fedorable,

  • Regina Carol Moore

    The best thing would be if the moderators kept close track of the changes in the users and adjusted accordingly. Give the people what they want. Alternatively, they could start another board just for Atheist memes. They might lose followers from the original, but they’d keep the followers who want memes. Many people would follow both anyway.

    • Dave Muscato

      There is another subreddit for atheist memes. It’s at r/AdviceAtheists and actually it’s very popular. People just prefer to post at r/atheism because r/atheism is even more popular and people get more karma that way.

    • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

      There are at least two other subreddits that have atheist memes. r/adviceatheists and r/thefacebookdelusion. They don’t have as many subscribers because the people in r/atheism want that content in r/atheism.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I admit I haven’t found my way to r/atheism yet, but I enjoy this sort of thing on Tumblr. Pithy, funny images appeal to me, and I’m forty-five– though I am admittedly a “young” atheist. I can understand wanting to make a site more serious, of course, but I think there’s probably a place for this sort of thing, too. Humor (even “low humor”) is just another way of dealing with serious issues.

    • BdrLen

      This is a reaction by long time users to the influx of new, younger users. They want to return the subreddit to what it was in 2009, but there’s no turning back the clock.

  • popeyoni

    These changes are extremely shortsighted and will reduce the value of the r/atheism subreddit. The memes and facebook shots are what gets “the foot in the door” and slowly drive people to question their beliefs. Once people get enough interest in the topic they will find their way to r/TrueAtheism. r/atheism is an incubator and should be left alone.

    People who hate the juvenile stuff can easily skip it.

    • ortcutt

      The ideal solution would be to allow insightful image macros and eliminate the inane ones and the 50th-time reposts. The invisible hand seemed to be incapable of doing that though.

      • popeyoni

        The inane images are the ones that initially appeal to the masses.

        As to reposts: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you”.
        I might’ve seen the same Niel Degrasse Tyson post 20 times, but “First time internet kid” hasn’t.

      • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

        Seriously, they complained there wasn’t enough moderation, but instead of moderating, they just made images harder to get to.

      • Thalfon

        Reposts of images are easy to take care of (there are bots capable of comparing two images, and telling that they were the same, for instance — some subs use them to detect when someone links an image from somewhere other than its original source).

        However, distinguishing inane from insightful is a judgement call. It means you have to come up with some way to draw a line between the two, and that “some way” has to be at least reasonably objective, so that everyone can understand the rule in the same way. I’m honestly not sure how you could go about doing that.

      • TheKevinBates

        inane 50th time reposts don’t get lots of upvotes anyway, who cares?

  • Drew M.

    I started reading reddit when the atheist meme machine was in full swing, so I turned to r/trueatheism for intelligent discussion. While a lot of the memes were stupid, there were a lot of funny and awesome ones. Now that’s gone.

    I unsubscribed.

  • http://gadlaw.com gadlaw

    And there is supposedly a ‘discussion’ about these changes today. It’s all been very heavy handed and unnecessary. They decide to break something, to fix it when it wasn’t broken. And they – the they being these a-holes who made this decision for everyone – they decided to tell us that ‘nothing has changed’ you can still post pictures and memes. Except instead of happily clicking along from thumbnails that give you an idea if you want to click on it now it’s a number of clicks to get to something that used to be instantaneous. Stupidity by self inflated mods who decided to take something that was fine as it was and then ‘improve it’ to the displeasure of many folks. Annoying indeed.

    • Drew M.

      Yup. One of my favorite things was hitting “View Images” from within RES and being able to scroll down, quickly viewing them all.

  • sunburned

    I don’t like the changes. The upvote/downvote system is designed so that popular content rises to the top, why mess with that?

    In all honesty there are plenty of outlets for thoughtful discussion, which is why I post here:) Those outlets however do not make my 14 year old come out with his IPAD and say, “Dad, Have you ever seen this quote from Carl Sagan?”.

  • UnhappyLurksumerist

    The 20th or 30th blog or news article on some graduation prayer or city council prayer or whatever is important but you can’t completely write off the “i tip god 10% so why should you get 18%?” as cheep humor. There is a place for both but the mod’s wanted to take over the 2m+ user all-inclusive subreddit instead of using the already existing discussion oriented subreddit(while at the same time directing people who want the happy image clickfest to another already existing subreddit for exclusively that).

  • Jessica

    I’m don’t subscribe to Reddit, so my opinion probably isn’t worth much on this topic. But, my boyfriend is a redditor who took the time to unsubscribe from r/atheism despite the fact that he is an atheist. From what I’ve seen/what he’s told me, it’s a cesspool and a bit more moderation might not be amiss.
    (Although, I think most of Reddit is a cesspool, with the exception of r/aww. That’s just adorable, and I can view it without subscribing to the rest of the crap on there.)

    • http://twitter.com/pegghetti mathsnail

      Yeah, I’m on the same page here. Never registered for Reddit, never will. Seriously, obnoxious Reddit atheists, with their memes and smugness, kind of make me embarrassed to be atheists. I’m glad they made those changes, and if memes were really so popular, couldn’t there be a separate “atheist memes” Reddit or something?

      • Mary Howerton

        If you guys don’t like or use reddit, why ARE you posting?! Unless you mean for us to do the opposite of what you say.

        • http://twitter.com/pegghetti mathsnail

          I would TOTALLY use Reddit if it were better, that’s what!

          • rg57

            There is always /r/TrueAtheism. What’s wrong with reading that instead?

      • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

        What difference does it make what subreddit has the memes? r/atheism was a subreddit where the users upvoted the memes. Why can’t there be a separate memes subreddit? Because there’s already a reddit for atheists to post memes. r/adviceatheists took some of the traffic, but I honestly don’t think it was necessary.

        You realize reddit is based on a voting system, right? Popular posts at the top, unpopular posts at the bottom.

  • Jessica

    Just to clarify, he unsubscribed and I avoided registering well before the changes happened.

  • Rain

    Now the dignified atheists will have a good place to hang out with their Cabernet Sauvignon* and their fancy cigars. Their chauffeurs will be able to read the twitter synopses of the events, of course.

    *At room temperature of course.

    • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

      Like a sir. ;)

  • Kaddy

    Why does it have to be an either/or situation, Surely there is enough room on the site for both. We can find what we want.

  • Puddinhead

    I was an r/atheism redditor back in the day, and remember when we celebrated our one millionth subscriber. the subreddit didn’t become so big due to it’s current state. It has devolved into it’s current state. It began picking up steam when it was like the more substantive subreddit they’re trying to return to and I applaud them for their efforts. It grew then and it’ll grow now.

    For the record, cheap shot meme posts aren’t the only thing that makes it up to the front page from /r/atheism. One of my recent posts from there was #3 on the front page and it involved, not a quickie image link, but an opinion article from an atheist parent on CNN that was under review for removal. Substantive posts do well in the subreddit. The changes enacted by the current mods have already been undertaken in some of the other, larger subreddits with great success. I look forward to quality over quantity with these changes.

    • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

      That’s bullshit. I remember when it hit a million. It was less than a year ago. I’ve been on reddit since January of 2012 and r/atheism was just what it was the day I joined.

      • Puddinhead

        Jan 2012 was a year and a half ago. I didn’t claim it was otherwise. You can disagree with someone without resorting to calling ‘bullshit’ etc. I think discussion benefits from civility.

        • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

          If you think “bullshit” is uncivil, you’re more interested in arguing over words rather than ideas.

          • Puddinhead

            Not at all. It’s your entire tone, as referenced above. I doubt you’re any more open to seeing it than you were about your mistake regarding Jan 2012 being “six months ago.”

            Now you can say something snarky and officially ‘win.’ :)

            • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

              It’s not my job to do reading comprehension for you, but I will simplyy clarify that I didn’t say that January 2012 was six months ago. I said that’s when I started going on reddit, which was prior to it hitting a million subscribers, which you describe as some kind of r/atheism golden age.

  • Awko Taco

    Who’d have thought redditors could be so butthurt about having to click one extra time to get to their image memes? I haven’t heard them collectively squeal this loud since the last time it was pointed out how sexist they were.

    • http://gadlaw.com gadlaw

      Well you know, it’s the nature of people to complain. When people have something to actually complain about well then all bets are off. In this case things are a certain way then they change without notice and without input from anyone involved which would be the more than 2 million people subscribed. I’d be more concerned if people didn’t express their views, so be as mocking as you want. Ha ha, so funny and so superior of you.

    • Mary Howerton

      The problem is that they are changing it away from how reddit works. The whole thing with reddit is that content is not chosen and filtered by moderators, but by the public at large. These individuals have taken a popular forum and turned it into their own personal playground.

  • Gideon

    Maybe I’m in the minority. I dropped my faith around age 27. I visited reddit for the first time a couple years later: for the focused sub-reddits not the *ugh* front page. As someone who took his religious beliefs more or less seriously for around the first 27 years of my life, the humorous stuff on /r/atheism was an argument against atheism. It seemed to say that the point of an atheistic life is to point and laugh at anyone with different beliefs. So I switched my subscription to /r/atheismbot. And had a few philosophical discussions on /r/trueatheism, although it didn’t take me long to notice that the sub-reddit often had the same discussions over and over again: agnostic vs. “gnostic”, the cosmological argument, the basis for morality, etc.

    • http://gadlaw.com gadlaw

      Well that’s the thing isn’t it? Who knows if you’re in the minority or not? There was no discussion, no review. And I agree if you don’t like a subreddit the whole thing is designed so you can either find what is more your style or make what is more your style. Which is exactly what you did. It’s like the newspaper, or how they used to be – News, editorials, comics, …. – Lots of folks don’t like the news but like the editorials or whatever and you can pick and chose what to pick up and read or in the case of Reddit – subscribe to what interests you and unsubscribe to what you don’t want.

      • Mary Howerton

        Well said–the whole point of Reddit is that there isn’t a heavy-handed moderator! You control your content, advised by the masses.

    • Baby_Raptor

      That says more about you than it does /r/atheism.

      If you can look at one section of a topic on one website concerning something as big a Atheism and allow yourself to get the feeling that this one section of this one website is an accurate summary of everything about that big topic, you need to develop your critical thinking skills a bit further.

  • Flip

    If you want serious discussion, go to /r/TrueAtheism

    Some of us older atheists still love to get cheap laughs at orginized religion. Also memes are still allowed, its just in self post style. So if you want to avoid memes, think of r/Atheism as a minefield.

    • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

      They’re treated as if they’re only for unsophisticated kids. I’m not exactly refined, but I’m 29, hold a job, continue my education and enjoy the hell out of memes.

  • Name

    wasn`t there a filter to filter out all the memes?
    I never tried it because I liked the memes, but I think simply putting in a filter would have sufficed. Now, sure all the funny stuff is somewhere, but not at the same location, and I don`t have the function of “only the really good long texts make it through all the memes”-filtering option.

    • Jim Davis

      There was a filter. You had to click one button on the /r/atheist page, once. Apparently that was harder than convincing a moderator to change the whole subreddit. The irony is that the changes prevent that filter from working correctly, now.

  • qt314

    Reddit as a whole is an awful circlejerk, not a place that will ever be known as for “serious discussion.”

  • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

    r/atheism was seen as a place to vent. It was a site for atheists and the critics of it complained about how offensive it was to theists. There were other subreddits started to try and syphon some of the memes and facebook shots (r/facebookdelusion, r/adviceatheists) but the site was still pretty much open to whatever got the most upvotes.

    What it looks like happened is a bunch of people who hate r/atheism are now in control of it. I’ll be unsubscribing.

  • Taz

    There’s still one huge meme going over there. It’s the one about everyone who liked r/atheism the way is was being “childish”, “immature”, “whining babies”, etc. It’s one of the most idiotic memes I’ve seen in a while. I’m sad to see it’s found its way here.

  • s

    Why don’t they just have one thread where people can post all the memes?

  • Mary Howerton

    The reason I like reddit is that content is filtered by everyone via up and down votes, not moderators. That’s how it works. If I wanted a site with content controlled by a select group of individuals, I would go elsewhere. I’ve been taking a break from r/atheism, but this guarantees I will not be going back. I think I’ll even go and specifically remove it from my list on my reddit account.

    It’s just a few vocal individuals complaining about the images and whatnot. Obviously, the upvote system indicates that people LIKE those things. The irony of atheists ignoring the data is painful…

    • AaronS

      Unfortunately the upvote/downvote system doesn’t really reflect what people want. Image links can be seen and absorbed faster and will get more upvotes in an hour than an article. Because of the way the reddit algorithm works, the images will get to the front page faster and then be seen by more people and upvoted. And the memes are still there, you just have to click twice to open them.

      • Mary Howerton

        My point exactly. People want to look at things quickly, not read a long article. If everyone wanted to look at long posts, they’d take the time to look at them and upvote them. Yes, you can upvote more short things per unit time than you can long things, but it would work out if everyone valued those long posts so much more than the pictures. Obviously they don’t. At any rate, I’ve voted with my unsubscribe.

      • rg57

        Then your complaint is with reddit, and humanity, not r/atheism.

        The change that prompted this discussion is, at best, a kludge, on a system that the majority of its actual users thought was already working well.

  • Chucky

    I don’t understand what the big uproar is all about. People can still post whatever content they want to that subreddit, but now have to do those images in a self-post. Self-posts really would only be an issue to someone posting purely for karmic gains since they won’t get the karma they would have previously received.

  • Bdole

    Heh, I JUST “discovered” reddit like a week ago only because a friend told me about it. Then, I went there and saw, by golly, there’s a sub-reddit called “atheism” which my friend couldn’t care less about. Many lost hours of productivity later I shut off my computer bleary-eyed.

    I don’t have an opinion since I have no real basis of comparison. The pics were fine, but most were old news anyway.

  • Ted Thompson

    r/atheism was a gateway drug. You could get the people hooked on the funny/offensiveness, generate a discussion, and from there have them move to the more serious pages. Several people have indicated as much from their stories in the past couple days, and there’s no reason to doubt it. I was already an atheist when I found the page, but it opened up new content to me after I was done looking at the silliness. I think an important dynamic has been lost by ditching the candy, leaving a lot babies wandering around who still don’t understand the candy in the first place.

  • regexp

    In which I express surprise that anyone over the age of 19 stills reads reddit.

  • Persephone

    Respectfully submitted:

    Please consider discontinuing use of the term “soundbyte” to refer to a snippet of speech intended to convey a single idea. The correct term is “sound bite,” and it has nothing to do with a byte of computer data. It originated in the US media in 1972, long before bits and bytes were widespread knowledge. I have great esteem for your writing and your work, and it pains me to see such an error being repeated so frequently.



  • Ozymandias

    It is the bumper sticker mentality that has brought r/atheism to over two million members and changing the policy midstream, especially after so many years of proudly saying the forum was open to any and all was just dumb. This would be the same as the catholic church suddenly deciding the Pope is fallible. Reddit has a procedure for creating a new sub and this should have been used rather than just pissing off all those regular subscribers just because the mod wanted to.

  • Thomas Farrell

    Hemant, I have 24 years experience as a senior software engineer, and 25 years experience using networked online discussion systems. I am professionally trained in the psychology of how humans interact with computer based discussion systems. It is my professional opinion that /r/atheism was doing fine, and that these changes will destroy it.

    There was already a subreddit with the features you say you like. It is /r/trueatheism . Go enjoy it. You’ll note that it’s nowhere near being a top 10 subreddit, while /r/atheism is a top 10. Please notice that this indicates that that isn’t what people want, while the essentially unmoderated /r/atheism is what people want.

    I, for one, will be unsubscribing /r/atheism within a week if these changes aren’t reversed. I suspect a lot of others will too.

    I am also going to unsubscribe from The Friendly Atheist right now. When you say “To paraphrase one commenter, r/atheism took candy away from babies”, you’re calling those who disagree with you “babies”, and really, I have better things to do with my life than read your blog if you want to use it to call me a baby.

    • FuckAtheistIdiotsInTheAtheist

      Are you going to cry about it too?

  • notblueclk

    First off let me say that I alway enjoy your blog.

    We all start off in this world as atheists, and most of us get indoctrinated into the dogma of religion. Virtually all religions attempt to shutter free expression within their ranks, rather like how casinos try to dissuade gamblers from finding the exits. The same holds true for the religious forums on Reddit, which are heavily moderated.

    My point is that while there are certain aspects of being moderated which may be useful, to limit the expression of the forums members by content or media type is too heavy-handed. As your article points out, there are many other sub-reddits such a r/TrueAtheism, which allow for more intellectual debate. But our sense of humor, even if in the form of low-brow memes and Facebook screenshots, is our greatest asset. The ability to laugh and make little of religion, gods, homophobia, creationism, etc., in an imperative in a world which so many not only hold these things in reverence, but attempt to shackle all of us with their beliefs.

    I can understand the frustration felt by many to want to bring serious discussion to a captive audience, but we all need to understand that our ability to mock the religious and intolerant is our greatest weapon. I fear the new moderation policy on Reddit in effect make us appear as what we are not and do not want to be … another dogmatic religion

  • David Austin-Groen

    I liked the memes.
    Here’s the thing: most folks I know from my conservative christian upbringing have such shallow understanding of why/what they believe, that those memes were solid arguments to many religious assertions.

  • HappyGoPink

    I really dislike that people are so concerned with the “image” of atheism. It isn’t a breakfast cereal. If people are put off by r/atheism because of the kids, they probably wouldn’t embrace atheism anyway. The kids are the ones in most need of stress release and guidance anyway. Trying to clean up the joint to appease the “mature, serious” atheists is only going to alienate the kids, and that’s a huge mistake, in my opinion.

    • Ryan from TGA

      Yeah, a lot of people seem strangely concerned that our cool factor across the rest of reddit is low and that /r/atheism has become the butt of many a joke. From there they assume this is happening because /r/atheism is somehow worse than many other subreddits, either through the content it is propagating or the discussions being had in the comments section.

      I’m interested in knowing why people would assume that rather than what to me seems like the more obvious reason: that atheists are already one of the least liked groups out there (this is backed up by stats). There’s the religious people that don’t like us and then the other non-believers who like to consider themselves more respectful of religion and generally less dickish than ‘militant atheists’ who go around giving their often harsh opinions on any story or comment that could be seen to have some sort of religious connotation.

  • rufus_t

    “But I don’t think most Redditors are going to go through the trouble of unsubscribing from the channel because of this change, not even the critics. So no harm done.”

    Are you kidding? Consider the number of people who this has annoyed (myself included, I enjoyed the mixture of memes, facebook idiocy and links to articles (including links to this blog)) and exactly how easy it is to unsubscribe from it (hell, there’s even a how-to in r/atheism’s FAQs for those who can’t see the big red unsubscribe button).

    I haven’t unsubscribed yet, but it is very much yet.

  • Mackinz

    As an atheist who A) was decidedly deconverted after seeing those memes, facebook posts, and comics, and B) found this site through /r/atheism, I am extremely disappointed by these short-sighted changes that seem to have castrated /r/atheism and all of the caustic posts that would corrode the not-so-deeply-held religious beliefs of so, so many.

    I can understand why some would like the new changes (I, myself, enjoy them a bit..) but the problem in my eyes is that now /r/atheism will be nothing more than what /r/trueatheism was.

    The memes, facebook posts, etc. served a purpose. They made people laugh but also sometimes made them re-evaluate their religious beliefs. They also could start discussions in the comments, so it was not like there was a shortage of discussion on /r/atheism (though, what is there really to talk about when we all pretty much agree that there is no gods?).

    I believe that the moderators went too far in their attempts to wrangle /r/atheism into what they think it should be. I was also getting a bit tired of the overwhelming meme spam, fake facebook posts, etc. but that should not mean that we block all image-only posts. Maybe if the mods had actually started removing reposted or obviously fake content, it would have been better. But removing all but the self-post images has made a huge impact on the attitude of /r/atheism, one that severely lacks the sharp humor that drives people to question things.

  • Jon Peterson

    Obviously there’s no clear-cut right or wrong here… the opinions being expressed by various parties across the spectrum lack data to back them up.

    But personally, I always avoided Reddit in general, and r/atheism especially because substance is so sparse. While the new mods’ direction for r/atheism may not match with the general feel of Reddit… I can’t help but agree that it’s better.

    Regardless of substance, it’s nearly impossible to change deeply held beliefs. I don’t see the argument (that memes are better at implanting that seed of doubt) to be anything but a straw man. As ranges of atheists enjoy varying levels of substance, so do theists require varying levels of substance to instill doubt.

    I sway towards substance because I place intrinsic value in learning. While memes are fun (I certainly get some giggles out of watching theist mental gymnastics matches), they don’t do much to educate people… and with the current state of aggressive theist backlash over the growth of atheism worldwide, I think that it’s important to provide information about atheism. The more that theists understand us… the more they see that we’re just normal people like them, the harder it is for them to demonize us…. the easier it is for them to accept us.

    And acceptance is an important step for atheism. We’re on the threshold of it, but we’re not there yet.

  • Qwexy

    I think you are literally worse than mega-hitler for liking the changes.

  • jaxative

    I like the article for it’s depth but disagree with it’s substance. Two million subscribers has to mean something and easily digestible chunks are the modern delivery system.

  • Anna

    I actually have no idea what Reddit even is!

    I’ve seen it talked about a lot, but I think reading this blog is enough atheism for me.

  • rg57

    “The divide isn’t strictly the result of age, but you can’t be blamed
    for thinking that younger, more rebellious readers make up the majority
    of readers of the site. ”

    Well, it is reddit. What were you expecting?

    By the way, I’m neither young, nor stupid. But I found the images to be the best part of /r/atheism. And they still are.

  • Friendly_Autist

    But without the mindless content, which it is, I grant you, r/atheism will lose popularity. Perhaps raw exposure, at least for r/atheism, would be better than rational debates, which can be found on r/DebateReligion and r/TrueAtheism.

  • RilGerard

    I am not much of a fan of the new r/atheism. I liked the stupid memes, and jokes about religion, or religious people. I did also enjoy the articles, I liked it all. But r/atheism IS the memes and religious jokes, not the articles. r/truatheism is the one full of pure atheist articles.

  • Tom

    What is double bad about the changes is that a monitored forum that only has “serious” stuff on it already exists, /r/trueatheism. There was no need to do this. I bet another forum will start that will be like the old /r/atheism and this one will die.

  • Chakolate

    There is about one in ten of those memes (maybe fewer) that I find worth the time to open. With the RES add-on, I can open them all at once, in the same page, and skim down through them quickly. I can find the jewels without wasting time on the dross.

    If r/atheism gets ‘serioused-up’, it will fall off the front page, which is a very high price to pay to be high-brow.

    Besides, humor goes a lot farther than logic and reasoning. They shouldn’t have changed it.

    Oh, and by the way, your page won’t let me sign in using google – when I click that, I get taken to Discus. So I’m posting as guest.

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    Ahhh the need for good PR pushes the typical atheist to the side. Instead of censoring the “mindless” stuff why haven’t people mass posted “good” stuff. They are changing the rules which doesn’t address the issue that mindless stuff was there because the people didn’t post enough stuff of substance.

  • ShoeUnited

    As if reddit was ever worth reading. Really get’s hard to justify when the upvote system (circle jerking) or image macros makes it just a poor man’s 4chan. And 4chan is just a teen hideout.

    In summary: And nothing of value was lost.

  • duder

    I don’t understand why would you want to restrict thought and expression in any form? Even if you consider it base or immature or offensive, restricting it or minimizing it is exactly what atheists fight against. Stupid move.

    Unfollowing your blog.

  • Joe just Joe

    This article was posted well before the mass-deletions began occurring Monday night, with the addition of a whole bunch of new moderators. Things have gone from really, really bad to really, really, really, really, really bad.

  • Jono H

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheismrebooted just asked me to plug it where ever it was relevant so…


  • GeordieFaithful

    I would compare the change in /r/atheism to going out for a drive round Silverstone with Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel in an F1 car before being driven home by your Great Auntie. You’ve went from a subreddit that was a hive of activity, to a slow paced and rather humourless place to visit.

    I used to visit /r/atheism several times a day including a brief browse during my lunch break, having a laugh at some of the posts and pictures. Since the changes I’ve lost nearly all interest in the subreddit. The reason is beautifully simple. Religion is put on a pedestal by billions of people and you risk all kind of consequences depending on where you live for challenging that. So to have something that is considered sacred by so many to be mocked is the best way to challenge it’s authority. Yes, all the articles and debates are fascinating, but they aren’t going to make your average theist stop and think because there’s too much information in too long a post. The meme’s and pictures, if the information is valid, may be a short sharp thrust which could sow seeds of doubt in the minds of a lurking theist who catch themselves laughing at one of the many contradictions in the Bible for example.

    The whole idea that a community built on a principle of openness and freedom to post whatever you want, being turned into a heavily moderated community is just abhorrent. It makes me think of America actually, built on freedom of speech, liberty and completely secular with freedom of and from religion to a country which has a deity included in its Pledge of Allegiance (as a British citizen I really don’t get that) and having ‘In God we trust’ on your currency.

    I’d be very interested in seeing the traffic stats from /r/atheism in the past week.

  • here_or_there

    Any opinions on them ignoring the vote they organized when it didn’t go their way, banishing protesters to another entire subreddit and censoring any dissent?

  • Kevin Bates

    ugh. Heavy handed moderation and splintering of an incredibly popular sub that got many users’ foot in the door by being on a universal frontpage, which the new version or new alternatives will not be? sounds like a recipe for destruction.


    Reddit is supposed to be a system where its a true democracy. Everyone gets a voice, and everyone gets a say in content by the up/downvote system. Having mods pull a coup and start enforcing arbitrary rules because THEY’re in charge is a slap in the face to the function of Reddit and the opinions of the overwhelming majority of atheist reddit users.

  • Kevin

    Also, why should i care how many internet points some person I’ve never met has? Furthermore, why should I care how many internet points I have?

  • BdrLen

    The debate isn’t memes/no memes as it is being framed. There are new rules and they are not being consistently applied. The mods have made the changes to rehabilitate the image of /r/atheism with the rest of reddit. What they have done is to hide most of the subs content from /r/all and the front page. Now that only “serious” links are permitted people are submitting content that is repetitive and quite frankly bad. Some of the biggest detractors and trolls of /r/atheism have been added to the moderators. One of the biggest problems previously was troll posts and raids. The mods have done nothing to address these problems. Furthermore, if they find people posting self posts with questions or observations that are deemed to be repetitive or “not contributing to the discussion” they delete them rather than letting the up/down vote system sort it out.

    There was a series of filters available to the users of /r/atheism to allow them to decide what content to see or exclude. When the changes were implemented this broke the filters and denied the ability of users to see the content they wanted. Instead the mods decided what content the users could see exclusively.

    They complained that Faces of atheism was an embarrassment to the sub. Then one of the mods does the now infamous “Stop. Think. Atheism.” post. Now it’s the mods embarrassing the subreddit..

  • BdrLen

    Looking at your post history, I wonder if you will change your mind about the new moderation policy. Under the new policy you are a spammer as you only post links to your own blog and not other content. We will see what you think when the moderators begin to remove your posts as blog spam, or conversely allow them while removing posts by other people doing the same thing.