New Channel, Same Old Atheism

New Channel, Same Old Atheism December 19, 2016

PatheosNonreligious

You may have noticed a change here at Patheos. All of us secular bloggers used to be grouped under the Atheist channel, but no longer. We’re now the Nonreligious channel. Here’s the official announcement on the Secular Spectrum group blog.

To reassure some people who were worried: there was no pressure from above to expunge our blogs of the dreaded term “atheist”. It was an internal channel decision, proposed and discussed among ourselves. There was considerable debate, but there was no firestorm or mass protest. I won’t say who went which way (though you can of course read our varying individual takes), but I will say that the majority sentiment was that we were comfortable with the idea.

To be honest, I prefer the term “atheist”, just because I think it’s clearer. It’s obvious to everyone what kind of content you’ll find on an atheist blog channel. It’s more ambiguous what kind of writing there might be on a nonreligious blog channel (would it include deists? New Agers who don’t associate with any specific faith? disaffected believers who don’t attend church?). If casual visitors had one expectation and came across something very different, they might feel they’d been hit with a bait-and-switch.

But I don’t have a strong preference, and “nonreligious” has points in its favor as well. There are a lot more people who identify as nonreligious than as explicitly atheist (about 23% of Americans versus about 5%, according to recent polls). If we pitch our message more directly to them, we have the potential to draw in a larger audience. It’s also possible that the name change will draw in people who are prejudiced toward the word “atheist”, but who might be willing to give “nonreligious” a hearing. Once we get them in the door, they may be more open to persuasion by what I and others have to say.

I believe it’s inherently a good thing for our message to reach more people, but honesty demands that I acknowledge business considerations also played a role. As I mentioned recently, nearly all media sites have been hurt by Facebook’s changes to its referral algorithm. I make a small amount of money based on page views; I don’t depend on that income, so it doesn’t matter to me whether it goes up or down month to month. But advertising revenue does matter to media organizations as a whole, since they have to pay the bills and keep the lights on. As far as I know, Patheos isn’t in financial trouble, but it’s prudent for us to explore ways we can appeal to the biggest audience possible, without compromising our individual integrity as writers.

In any case, I think any concerns are overblown, because this isn’t a change in content in any sense. No one reads “The Patheos Atheist Channel”. They read our individual blogs, and those run the gamut from firebrand to conciliatory. As you’ll have noticed, my blog is still called “Daylight Atheism”, and that’s not changing regardless of what channel heading it appears under. I’ve never experienced any pressure to tone down my message or to not post on controversial topics. Patheos has given us complete editorial freedom, which I appreciate. If that were to ever change, you can be sure that I’d pull up stakes and move very quickly.

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