Is the ‘How Not to Defend Atheism’ Jogger for Real?

True story: One of my work colleagues emailed me the following video, (jokingly) adding, “You’re doing it wrong.”

The video shows some crazy atheist barefoot jogger screaming at a preacher at UC Berkeley.

In the first minute alone, the unnamed atheist tells the preacher he should be going to prison and calls all religious people (a.k.a. “God-botherers”) anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, and war criminals… before screaming “Atheism forever!” Later in the video, he yells, “Christians are responsible for slavery!”

There’s also this bit:

“I’m sick and tired of Christians being tolerated,” he asserted. “You need to do something about the Christians here, I don’t feel comfortable. This is a free speech zone, and I’m exercising my right to free speech by telling them the truth about Christianity and all organized religion.”

The video, originally uploaded on April 27 by Brian Erwin, is (appropriately) titled “How Not to Defend Atheism.” It went viral last week, receiving over 200,000 views relatively quickly, before being flagged by viewers and taken down by YouTube. (You’re seeing a re-uploaded uncensored version above.)

But here’s the more important question: Is it real? What atheist would ever do anything like that? It’s not that atheists are incapable of acting as dickish as this guy, but he is completely over-the-top, playing off of every stereotype people tend to attribute to “angry atheists.”

If it’s acting, it’s really bad acting.

If it’s for real, the guy’s reaching levels of self-parody.

As I’m watching this, it just feels like I’m watching an act instead of a genuine rant. I mean, no atheist represents the views of all other atheists, but

Here’s my (completely hypothetical) theory: This is some conservative pretending to be an atheist, knowing he would be videotaped, maybe even planning on being videotaped. The jogger knew this video would be uploaded. Maybe the jogger even helped spread the video around, all in an effort to discredit atheists. I mean, Christians are used to atheists picking apart people like Mark Driscoll and Pat Robertson and James Dobson, and many Christians surely cringe at the idea of being associated with those bigots. Here was a chance for atheists to feel the same way, while making everyone else look better in the process.

I’ve contacted Erwin to see if he can provide any more information.

So far, in numerous Reddit and YouTube threads, no one has identified the name of the jogger. They all seems to be taking the video at face value, as if it’s completely serious.

I’m not saying a Christian did this. I’m just not tossing out that possibility until I find out more information about who this jogger is.

And if I’m wrong? Well, shit… Atheists, don’t do that.

***Update***: Brian Erwin, who filmed the encounter, explained to me via email why he thinks this is a real scene:

For the jogger to have staged it, he would’ve had to have been practicing for weeks and waiting for someone to come out and stand on my campus with a sign trying to prove the existence of God. I just can’t see someone taking the time to practice something like that, over and over, in hopes that a religious person will one day show up with a sign attempting to prove God.

The sign holder also could not have been in cahoots with the jogger because I sat and spoke with him for about two hours after class and listened to him speak to all the students who asked about his sign and pamphlet. He’s from Los Angeles and he is not a frequent in Upper Sproul. He was taken aback by the jogger and was actually wondering if the guy was insane or able to have a reasonable two-way conversation. He too could not believe what was happening, which is why he asked if it was a thespian tryout, but as the bombardment kept coming, he realized it was real and decided to stay quiet to avoid an altercation.

Next is the joggers “acting.” It’s too spot on to be fake. He’s very passionate about his message and when I was there, I got the idea that he really believed the words that he said and was really offended by the sign and message. He talks about being bullied in school, being on drugs, and the most critical part of his protest was unfair treatment for being gay. It’s clear that he’s a militant atheist, but he’s also a wounded homosexual. The bulk of his conversation is his hatred for laws that hinder gays from having equal rights. I can understand that the hysterical aspect could raise some eyebrows, but the fact that if that one aspect changed, no one would question it (if he was calmly saying the same things and the Christian was simply listening and not responding), shows that it’s genuine. That is, him yelling everything can’t be the only reason for suspicion.

The next thing I can’t see is what he stands to gain by this. He makes both religious people and atheists look bad. So there’s no gain for him if both parties are wounded/offended. There was also no guarantee that I’d be there to film it, and even with all the cameras, there’s no guarantee that any of us will post on YouTube. And there’s no guarantee that if any of us post, anyone will search and find it. My video went two months with no views. I don’t even know how it was discovered. I just woke up one morning and it was viral.

Next is the chance he takes of being tazored and arrested. Our campus is known for protests, police brutality, students being tazored, etc. No rational person practices being an atheist and comes out ready to get tazed and arrested for the fuck of it.

From the 3000 comments the video originally had, the only people I saw really questioning or denying the authenticity were atheists, and I can understand that because I know how it feels for someone to put the camera on a wacky religious person and be embarrassed for being associated with that person. But the video just goes to show that there are wackos on both sides of the spectrum, and when I think about that day, it was as if the embodiment of the hatred on YouTube and other online discussion forums was brought to reality, and I was amazed to witness it. The authenticity of the jogger is not so hard to fathom once all the forums and comments from sites like YouTube are taken into account. It just finally happened in person. People always rant like that online, but when they come out in public, they act calm and reasonable, but this atheist decided to be true to himself and state all of the things he probably says on the internet, in person, and with the same intensity he says them online.

Finally, things like this happen on my campus all of the time, so if I’m there, you can expect more videos of both religious people and atheists doing funny things (because I just consider it a very humorous video and my reason for uploading was to share a laugh with the world).

So if you think it’s staged in the sense that he got together his arguments before confronting a religious person, then I agree. But if you think it’s staged in the sense that he’s not really an atheist or gay, or that he really is religious but pretending to be an atheist, etc, and he just came out for attention with no motive, then I disagree.

Brian’s points make a lot of sense and I’m inclined to side with him. (I’m certainly not accusing him of anything.) For some reason, though, the jogger still seems fishy to me. He’s like an Angry Atheist Poe.

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.


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