Jesse Galef rocks it on CNN (and why I don't have his job)

The contents of this post are the opinions of JT Eberhard, not the Secular Student Alliance.

Here’s Jesse’s interview on CNN.  The anchor shoveled propaganda at him and he cut through it like a laid back chainsaw.  Good for him.

The man is a savant at his job.  He can hear questions like that, smile, and sincerely give a patient answer to someone who is obviously taking a negative position from the outset.   Jesse did a masterful job of not taking the bait.

I probably would’ve failed.  I probably would’ve said something like…

That doesn’t mean they won’t believe in god in the future.  When you’re young you do question things.

True.  But this generation is doing it more than the previous generation, which did it more than the generation before them, and so forth.

See how the previous generations didn’t have that lovely downward spike in their youth that the Millenials have?  That’s the difference.

Some Christians might argue that because these groups are in high schools, you’re indoctrinating them at a time when it’s not proper because they’re not old enough to handle questions like that.

Oh please.  Where is your outrage over Campus CRUSADE for Christ?  Where is the tantrum over BASIC, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or IGNITE?  These groups existed long before us with the expressly stated purpose of converting their peers.  There are certain laws like the Equal Access Act (which was passed 28 years ago, plenty long enough for you to unsheath your ire before now) that guarantee us an equal spot in public schools.  You know why those laws exist?  Because of Christians who wanted to get the bible into public schools.  Spare me your manufactured displeasure with indoctrination.  Don’t get pissed when we use those same laws to provide a safe haven for atheist students from the bullying they often experience at the hands of believers.

It’s unfortunate, because indoctrination is a thing to be really pissed about.  Vacation bible school when kids are 4 or 5 (too young to think critically)?  Please.  Even the Good News Clubs assert they want to get at kids between 4 and 14 years-old, and on public school grounds!  This is something to be pissed about.  The problem is that the people who shriek “indoctrination” when a group of atheists gets together for a pizza party aren’t pissed about real indoctrination.  In fact, it’s a cherished part of their culture.

Some people would accuse you of trying to shape the beliefs of young people and they say that’s dangerous.

You’ll note that the people saying that generally have no problem with all the above groups whose stated missions are to shape the beliefs of young people.

But we are trying to shape the beliefs of young people.  Admittedly so.  We’re trying to show them that atheism isn’t immoral.  We’re trying to show them that atheism is nothing to be ashamed of.  We’re trying to show them that there are other atheists out there, and that you don’t need god to be good or to have community.  Are we trying to tell people they’re bad for believing in god?  No.  Are we wanting to have the conversation about god’s existence?  Sure!  But so are they.

I’m sure that what we do is dangerous in the eyes of many believers, because it’s creating a more comfortable and accepting world for atheists.  Even if we’re not actively opposing faith, this has the effect of making it easier for people to walk away from faith.  This creates that downward spike on the above graph that means less money in the offering plate when this generation comes of age.  Of course, I don’t think that’s dangerous at all.

This is why Jesse is the Communications Director and I’m not.  :P

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Alverant

    I’m not happy with CNN lately. They’re infested with conservatives. See the comments section about what gov Scott is doing in Florida. There’s a few rational voices being pushed down by his supporters.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I guess I couldn’t do the job either since that’s largely what I was thinking in response to those questions as well. What really got me was that the anchor didn’t seem to have the decency to at least recognize the outright double standards in her line of questioning. All of the veiled accusations in her questions are better directed at the groups she’s likely be okay with.

  • Jaime

    He really did handle that swimmingly. He made the anchor look paranoid and insecure, all by simply being polite and honest.

  • brianpansky

    It disgusts me to no end. The world is full of indoctrination. They better crack down on the believers who use it. But no, a handful of atheists might be allowed to have a high school group! They might brainwash people!

  • Mike

    Wow, the prejudice against atheists was strong in those questions. Jesse Galef handled that suprisingly well. I would have expected something like this from FOX not CNN. Just goes to show you.

  • baal

    Wow, that anchor couldn’t have been more condescending if she tried. There was an undercurrent or “atheism is wicked” underlying her questions.

  • Andrew B.

    I especially like the “some might say” and “some would argue that…” Who is the mysterious “Some” and when might we see him/her?

  • jimmy60

    Some Christians might argue that because these groups are in high schools, you’re indoctrinating them at a time when it’s not proper because they’re not old enough to handle questions like that.

    I can see why they might think that as indoctrination is how they tend to operate. If a Christian student were to join a secular atheist group what they would find is that independent thought is encouraged. Questioning things is encouraged. Exchanging views and discussing them is encouraged. Indoctrination is quite the opposite, thinking and questioning is discouraged and faithful acceptance of whatever is being spoon fed as information is expected.

    So, no, indoctrination is exactly what the student won’t find at a secular atheist group.

  • Alverant

    #6 Mike,
    CNN has taken a turn to the conservative lately. They used to give the appearance of unbias. That’s gone now in favor to become Fox Jr.

  • Matt Dillahunty

    Exceptionally well done. I, like JT, would have had different answers.

    First, when she said something like “it’s normal to express doubt when you’re young” – I’d have said “…and we’d like to encourage that doubt, so that it carries over into adulthood. We should all be encouraged to express doubt and to follow the evidence where it leads, rather than training ourselves to lead the evidence where we want it to go or where we’ve been told it should lead.”

    On the indoctrination thing…

    “I find it strange that someone might think that what we’re doing is indoctrination, when we’re promoting questions and not dogmatically offering answers…but the idea that these students are too young to deal with these questions is strange considering that they’re already dealing with them. The concerns about indoctrination are ironic in that they come from people who regularly began indoctrinating their kids from before they could speak.”

    And I might have been tempted to point out that some indoctrination begins with circumcision…

    I’m glad Jesse was there. Way to stay positive!

  • Zach

    Jesse handled that interview like a true diplomat, but I have to say I would have loved to see how she would have handled your answers, JT.

  • Benoit

    @Mike “I would have expected something like this from FOX not CNN.”

    No. Fox would have been worse.

    And better, in way. They wouldn’t have weaseled into every question with the “Well, some critics would say…” preamble.

  • Wren, a Tru Hoppist

    I particularly liked the video jump to the pope at the end. Very professional how when the atheist is doing well, being a good, patient, calm person, you switch the video to an asshole. It provided a good contrast between a good person and a pedophile protector.

  • Michael

    Did she say religion doesn’t do harm to people?! I am living proof that it does as a matter of fact do harm. Great interview!

  • Tod


    Jesse was so strident!

    and did you see all the aggresive smiling he was doing?

    hehe :)

    excellent job done,very calm, to the point and good answers…

  • John Horstman

    I have to say, his insistence on treating the questions as though they were being asked in good faith and not heavily baited seemed quite effective to me.