Hi, Aaron. As you’ve probably come to expect of me, I’m just going to jump right into analyzing some of the things you said.
Your central point appears to be that my videos make no difference – that they fail to influence people’s religious views, and are thus a waste of time. You seem to place all potential viewers into two distinct categories: either they already agree with me, making my videos superfluous, or they don’t agree and are completely beyond the reach of any kind of persuasion, firmly and inextricably entrenched in their views.
This probably isn’t the case. Not all of the people who don’t share my views are forever inaccessible and totally unable to be convinced otherwise. Some are, but they certainly don’t comprise the entirety of everyone who disagrees with me. There are actually plenty of people whose belief systems, while different from my own, are capable of changing when challenged in one way or another. They are potentially “vulnerable” to that – they have not all placed themselves off-limits to argument.
One case of someone who may be open to persuasion would be a person who perceives that there may be something not quite right about their religion, and harbors some primordial doubts about it, but lives in an environment where their culture and even their own life has been thoroughly infused with religion, to the extent that actively rejecting and leaving their faith is unthinkable. These influences may deter them from further pursuing any doubts they may have, and they’ll instead simply “go with the flow” as their family, friends and culture expect of them, remaining observant of their religion. They may not even be aware that outright nonbelief is possible, let alone capable of offering a more richly developed and satisfying outlook on life than their current faith. Exposing such people to the atheistic worldview can open doors for them that they might not have even realized were there.
Another example would be the people who simply don’t think very much about the religion they follow. If it’s something they’ve always been a part of, they might not have contemplated the possibility that there are other religious views available, or that they could be wrong. Some people really have just never considered these things, instead operating on “autopilot” for a large part of their lives without critically examining their own beliefs. In this case, there could definitely be certain arguments that might make them think about their religion in ways they never have before. It’s quite possible that such people can have various different “threads” hanging from the sweater of their beliefs which, when pulled, kickstart the process of unraveling the entire thing. Some people really do have weak spots in their belief systems that can be targeted by specific arguments.
In essence, there is still a movable middle here of people who, while religious, can be persuaded to change their views. Religion is not always a fully-enclosed, impenetrable and unfailingly self-reinforcing system for everyone who believes in it. For instance, I’ve received numerous responses from Christians and other nonspecific believers who acknowledge that I have good points, even if they don’t fully share my views. There are also many atheists who were previously religious, but eventually settled on atheism because something happened that helped to change their beliefs.
You said that, if someone is capable of becoming an atheist, they can “get there on their own” without our assistance, and that they can only “see it and realize it for themselves”. But not everyone truly is capable of reaching these conclusions on their own. It isn’t an inevitability; simply being capable of arriving at a position of atheism does not mean that one necessarily will. Individuals are not fully complete, independent and self-reliant fonts of rationality unto themselves. By sharing our ideas, we fill in the gaps in each other’s abilities, the different areas that were missed and left blank by our varying faculties. Outside perspectives are valuable because they present ideas that people may not have realized or discovered by themselves – or it may have taken them a much longer and circuitous route to get there. So, while you maintain that “if someone’s smart enough to connect the dots, they’re going to do it with or without your help”, we can still accelerate this process by smoothing the path ahead of them. Even if they are smart enough to connect the dots – and I certainly hope they are – they could nevertheless benefit from having the dots clearly pointed out, in the form of pre-digested and easily accessible arguments. They aren’t equally obvious to everyone, even among potential atheists.
You are right to point out how important it is to reach people as early as possible and provide them with the intellectual tools to recognize, resist and reject religious belief systems. Prevention should certainly be a significant component of atheistic outreach. But religion, once acquired, is clearly not an incurable condition. These people are not forever lost, and it’s just as important that we try and reach them as it is for us to keep religious belief from taking hold in the first place. Not all of them can be written off, because there is a real possibility that some of them could change their views – given the proper approach. It would be foolish to ignore all of them as hopeless when many may not be.
So, am I really making no difference here? Is it true that “no number of YouTube videos will win people over”? I don’t think so. The format in particular lends itself to easy, widespread dissemination of ideas and arguments. YouTube is an immensely popular platform, and there are many people who prefer to simply watch videos as a “passive receiver”, rather than having to actively read something which requires greater effort on their part. Perhaps unfortunately, video can be more popular than the written word, and it appeals to a very different kind of audience. I consider it worthwhile to present my views to them, because I think it’s possible that they could find it helpful, and it could ultimately effect some kind of positive change in their beliefs. Posting videos also makes it simple for viewers to share them with their own networks of acquaintances, and expose more and more people to these ideas. In this way, it can take on a life of its own, and grow into something more than I could accomplish alone.
Are there “better battles to fight” than this? Quite possibly – I certainly wouldn’t doubt it. But religion is still a very important one. Working to reduce the prevalence of religious belief and observance holds the promise of, in turn, reducing the problems it causes, and that is not a minor issue. If this can realistically be achieved, it’s worth fighting for, and I hold that my efforts can be effective in influencing people’s beliefs here. While it’s obvious that the unreachable people are unreachable, not all people are. And the ones who can be reached, should be.