I guess that was a little too complicated

Maybe this is what I get for only spending an hour banging out my last post, but it’s received some genuinely confused reactions on YouTube – and I don’t really know whose fault that is:

Jesus Christ, man. Your post used to be slightly insane, but now you’re just lost it.

What the fuck are you even talking about?

This is a very bizarre choice of topic and an even more intellectually constipated way of talking about sex. Don’t try to *sound* like you are intelligent. Just *be* intelligent. Otherwise you just look like a pseudo-intellectual making up crap. You don’t have to construct these over long sentences in order to talk about gay sex.

ZJemp uses sneaky NLP (Neuro linguistic programming).

While speaking and using this technique, he tries to manipulative his viewers and sound interesting, making his videos seem better than they are.

I’m afraid you’ve lost me on this one. We are what we are; just as you want me to accept you for who you are, you have to accept me for who I am. We are products of out culture, and the dominant culture points the majority to PIV sex. Now it doesn’t make me a bad guy because I don’t find other forms of sex appealing-it’s a line I won’t cross. As you ask for respect for your preferences, I ask the same for mine. That’s MY choice.

Boring, you just said the same thing over and over. :/

This seems like a strawman – What exactly are people doing or thinking now that you think they should change, and which people are doing or thinking those things?

I like the video however… I think it was arrogant to claim that hetros somehow looked down on homosexual sex because it wasn’t PiV sex. I think you’re just making stuff up now.

I enjoy most of your videos a lot. You have a excellent mind and put forth some very impressive arguments. This video however seems like a complete waste of time. I’m a straight guy, and I have no interest in the mechanics of your sex life. It’s not personal, I have no interest in the mechanics of any other persons sex life either unless it’s the person I’m fucking. Then I care. Otherwise, TMI.

Are you saying you don’t fuck your girlfriend? Why would you even say that? How is that anyone’s business? WHy would you even talk about that?? I’m confused.

man, this looks and feels like a justification video for something that happened with your woman and your penis and her vagina… really sad.

(Yeah, even when people insist on trying to read into what I said in spite of the “I’m not going to get into specifics here” and “that isn’t anyone’s business”, they still manage to get it completely wrong.)

It would be easy to blame all this miscommunication on the poor listening skills and other general shortcomings of some people on YouTube, but concluding that they’re just inept individuals only gets us so far if we actually want to explain things effectively. Put all blame and responsibility aside for the moment: The fact is, somewhere, something failed to connect. Why?

Not every response provides a clue as to what was misunderstood – accusing someone of being “insane” or a “pseudo-intellectual”, being “manipulative” with “neuro linguistic programming”, or making “a justification video” doesn’t really help to clarify anything. But some are informative, even if only minimally so. Did I use too many big words? Did I fail to provide enough concrete examples of the phenomena I discussed? Did I not give people a reason to keep watching beyond the first 30 seconds, leading them to conclude that this was a personal video and they would learn nothing useful? Was I not explicit enough about criticizing people’s ideas and not people themselves? Did I not explain things in enough detail? Or was I actually too verbose? Could it be that I was just wrong?

Maybe some people really did need an expansive overview of the various items that can be applied to someone’s body for sexual purposes. Maybe they required a deeper explanation of virginity’s history as a tool for marking women as valuable or worthless, and why it’s an incoherent concept because of ambiguous ideas about what constitutes “sex” and misconceptions about what the hymen is and how it works. Maybe they needed to hear some instances of conservatives characterizing gay sex as less fulfilling and less genuine than heterosexual sex. Maybe they wanted to see some examples of how penis-in-vagina sex is the most common representation of sex in the media. Maybe they actually wanted to know more about my personal life, or maybe they didn’t want to hear about it even in passing. (Maybe I should have learned what “NLP” is so I can avoid doing it by accident.)

Obviously, we can’t please everyone. For every explanation, we have to decide on a certain level of detail and how much background knowledge we expect people to bring to the table. There shouldn’t be a need for a comprehensive review of all lower-level topics from the ground up every time before we can get to our actual point, especially in a 5-10 minute video where only so much territory can be covered. Sometimes we just have to go from Point 1 to Point 2, without stopping to rest at Points 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c). Unless the subject really warrants such a thorough explanation, this is likely to be even less effective at conveying our core points – not everyone is interested in a book-length treatise on our argument.

Yet even for what seem like fairly obvious concepts to some of us, there are essential foundations that many people truly aren’t familiar with. Sometimes, our expectation that they’ll have a basic grasp of the subject turns out to be completely and utterly mistaken. The less accurate our appraisal of their current knowledge, the harder our attempts at communication fail.

There’s one topic that so exemplifies this phenomenon, someone once described it as “the Kobayashi Maru of Reddit” – and there’s certainly no end of opportunities to try your hand at it. That topic, roughly speaking, is the existence of transgender people and the validity of their identities. It can come up almost anywhere nowadays, and the gulf between those who understand the subject, and those who don’t, is vast and often unbridgeable.

Attempts at trying to educate someone from the fundamentals all the way to the conclusion are too exhausting for most, so people on either side tend to talk past each other: the less informed hold a variety of misconceptions at the most basic level, and the more informed make their arguments based on facts and theories which their opponents are not aware of or do not recognize as legitimate.

Almost no one has the time required to bring a single person up to speed on the difference between sex and gender, the fact that gender is not always congruent with sex, the sexual differentiation of the brain and how this process can go awry, the various studies about trans people and their findings, the effectiveness of transitioning, the ineffectiveness of attempts at a “cure”, the importance of evidence in forming our beliefs about the world, the painful realities of dysphoria and transphobia, the value of being decent toward others, and everything that’s necessary to bring trans people into their personal Sphere of Individuals Who Are Treated Like Human Beings and Have Their Suffering Taken Seriously and Their Knowledge, Experiences, Identity and Self-Determination Respected.

Even fewer are willing to bet that their conversational partner is actually interested in knowing these things. Instead of caring about the truth, they might instead value some personal model of reality which reinforces certain ideas and views that they consider too important to give up. This often seems to be the case, and so genuine cases of successful persuasion are especially rare. The occasional positive outcome gives us hope – but not very much. Few of us bother trying anymore. Success may at least be possible, but failure is far too likely to justify investing ourselves in this.

So we make the decision: We’re not targeting the 101 crowd anymore. Someone else can try, but at some point, we need to move past the basics and deal with more advanced topics within a shared background of knowledge. Those who wish to join that conversation are responsible for educating themselves to the level needed to understand what we’re discussing. The cost is inaccessibility to those who lack the requisite knowledge, which may not be such a great cost when so many of them apparently don’t care anyway. The benefit is actually getting stuff done without being eternally bogged down in molasses, arguing over fundamentals with people who care more about their preferred beliefs being seen as right than changing their beliefs to reflect what really is right.

With everything I write, I have to draw that line somewhere, and it’s a delicate balance. Not everything I say will be within everyone’s grasp, and neither will it always be something completely revolutionary that you’ve never thought of before. Sometimes, ideas are complicated. Other times, certain fundamental elements need to be established before we can move forward. I can only hope that I manage to strike a balance that’s useful to everyone on some level, rather than no one on any level.

I guess that was a little too complicated
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"I hate religion," says man praying to God

So here we have a guy who says religion is a crock
It’s hateful and belligerent – but Jesus is his rock!
Now what’s the difference, you might ask, that sets apart his creed?
Religion’s just hypocrisy, self-righteousness and greed
To follow Jesus means you simply give yourself to God,
Who died for all our sins and stuff – now doesn’t this sound odd?

He loves his Bible, church, and Lord, he still believes in sin
But nope, that’s not religion, for the difference lies within
He doesn’t think he’s perfect – oh yes, what a humble soul
He’s not a fan of rules, just believing is his role
So don’t be sanctimonious, admit that you’re a sinner,
Believe that Jesus died for you, and God says you’re a winner!

I’ve never heard of that before, dear Jefferson Bethke
But it sure sounds familiar – oh! It’s Christianity!
Now who on earth would fall for this cute definition trick?
If you don’t think about it, then it does seem rather slick.

Religion’s often seen as being hate-filled and judgmental
To have that name hitched to your faith would be so detrimental
So let’s just find another word – let’s call the whole thing “Jesus”
And maybe it might actually change how the world sees us.

Yes, I see what you did there, Jeff, but nobody’s impressed
When one religious movement claims that only they are blessed
It’s nothing new when churches paint all others as a blight,
As sheer demonic heresy – for they alone are right
From doctrine, dogma, sin and Hell, you give us no relief
It’s just a crafty strategy to market your belief.

So who is Mr. Bethke, and from what was he inspired?
He says it’s just a home-made film. Is that how this transpired?
We know that he’s a member of a church that’s called Mars Hill
Where thousands gather every week to hear the holy spiel.

Mark Driscoll is their pastor, a self-styled rebel cleric
Whose stances, theologically, are really quite generic
This macho, hardcore preacher never hesitates to tell:
If you haven’t heard of Jesus, then prepare to burn in Hell!
To him there’s no salvation in benevolent behavior
Being nice won’t help you – you need Jesus as your savior.

And no doubt Pastor Driscoll thinks himself rather volcanic,
When he tells his parishioners that yoga is Satanic
On women in the clergy, we’re assured that he’s no advocate
If they can’t bring in manly men, that means they’re inadequate.

Instructing people on how they should live their married life,
He tells a tale of how he wished to leave his pregnant wife
What would prompt a Godly man to make this declaration?
He found out that in high school, she had sexual relations
And when he goes on Facebook to mock “effeminate” preachers,
There’s little to distinguish him from other Christian teachers.

While Bethke aims to make his faith seem so much more dimensional,
We all know that it’s nothing but religion most conventional
And I don’t think you need so many platitudes to say,
“Religion’s old and stuffy – now let’s go to church and pray!”

Word.

"I hate religion," says man praying to God

“I hate religion,” says man praying to God

So here we have a guy who says religion is a crock
It’s hateful and belligerent – but Jesus is his rock!
Now what’s the difference, you might ask, that sets apart his creed?
Religion’s just hypocrisy, self-righteousness and greed
To follow Jesus means you simply give yourself to God,
Who died for all our sins and stuff – now doesn’t this sound odd?

He loves his Bible, church, and Lord, he still believes in sin
But nope, that’s not religion, for the difference lies within
He doesn’t think he’s perfect – oh yes, what a humble soul
He’s not a fan of rules, just believing is his role
So don’t be sanctimonious, admit that you’re a sinner,
Believe that Jesus died for you, and God says you’re a winner!

I’ve never heard of that before, dear Jefferson Bethke
But it sure sounds familiar – oh! It’s Christianity!
Now who on earth would fall for this cute definition trick?
If you don’t think about it, then it does seem rather slick.

Religion’s often seen as being hate-filled and judgmental
To have that name hitched to your faith would be so detrimental
So let’s just find another word – let’s call the whole thing “Jesus”
And maybe it might actually change how the world sees us.

Yes, I see what you did there, Jeff, but nobody’s impressed
When one religious movement claims that only they are blessed
It’s nothing new when churches paint all others as a blight,
As sheer demonic heresy – for they alone are right
From doctrine, dogma, sin and Hell, you give us no relief
It’s just a crafty strategy to market your belief.

So who is Mr. Bethke, and from what was he inspired?
He says it’s just a home-made film. Is that how this transpired?
We know that he’s a member of a church that’s called Mars Hill
Where thousands gather every week to hear the holy spiel.

Mark Driscoll is their pastor, a self-styled rebel cleric
Whose stances, theologically, are really quite generic
This macho, hardcore preacher never hesitates to tell:
If you haven’t heard of Jesus, then prepare to burn in Hell!
To him there’s no salvation in benevolent behavior
Being nice won’t help you – you need Jesus as your savior.

And no doubt Pastor Driscoll thinks himself rather volcanic,
When he tells his parishioners that yoga is Satanic
On women in the clergy, we’re assured that he’s no advocate
If they can’t bring in manly men, that means they’re inadequate.

Instructing people on how they should live their married life,
He tells a tale of how he wished to leave his pregnant wife
What would prompt a Godly man to make this declaration?
He found out that in high school, she had sexual relations
And when he goes on Facebook to mock “effeminate” preachers,
There’s little to distinguish him from other Christian teachers.

While Bethke aims to make his faith seem so much more dimensional,
We all know that it’s nothing but religion most conventional
And I don’t think you need so many platitudes to say,
“Religion’s old and stuffy – now let’s go to church and pray!”

Word.

“I hate religion,” says man praying to God

WHAT? TWENTY THOUSAND!?

I’m subscribed to the American Family Association’s mailing list, since I like to keep track of what they’re up to – I suspect many people are subscribed for the same reason. Today, they sent yet another riveting missive: “An unusual request from American Family Association”. My immediate impression was, wait a minute, everything they do is unusual by any rational standard. Like calling Home Depot the “Homo Depot”, which I’m sure is really amusing if you’re 12. Their latest cause, however, actually is pretty unusual:

With your help, YouTube has agreed to feature an AFA-produced patriotic video on their front page!

A few months ago, AFA commissioned Christian songwriter/singer Eric Horner to write a moving patriotic song to honor our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Without any fanfare, we posted it on YouTube. The response was so overwhelming that YouTube called us to find out what was going on!

The fact is, the video is patriotic and inspiring, and it shares the message of faith. People love it!

YouTube has told us that if we can get 20,000 people to watch the video, they will feature it on their front page. That means that the tens of millions of people who visit YouTube’s website each day will be offered the opportunity to watch the video – a video with a Christian message!

Okay then. First of all, if your video currently has fewer than 20,000 views, YouTube is not going to be calling you about it. Maybe if it was 2 or 20 or 200 million views, but it’s still rather implausible that YouTube would actually call you to “find out what’s going on”. (YouTube, being YouTube, would likely have a better idea of that anyway.) It is possible that they would email you and invite you to enroll your video in the Individual Video Partnership revenue-sharing program so that they can run ads on it. But this is fairly common and part of an automated process – it isn’t that exceptional.

Getting 20,000 views on a video may seem like a lot, but in an absolute sense, it’s still not especially significant. For instance, an above-average video of mine might get 20,000 views. This has happened many times, and it’s not such an “overwhelming response” that anyone was calling me about it. Just for a sense of scale, here are a few select YouTube videos and their respective view counts:

This is what your anvilicious Christian takeover anthem, now sitting at 51,076 views, is up against. Good luck!

Now, as for their video being featured on the front page of YouTube if it gets 20,000 views, this is almost certainly false. That’s not a guarantee that it will appear on the front page, and that specific number likely has nothing to do with it. There are videos with both higher and lower view counts that are listed in the featured section of the front page, and YouTube has stated that featured videos are now selected by an algorithm, not manually chosen. As for including them in the spotlight section of the front page, it seems unlikely that YouTube would choose to place a controversial and partisan message front-and-center on the site. That’s something they tend to shy away from. And even if they were willing to do so, a threshold of only 20,000 would mean having to feature millions of other videos which meet that same requirement.

However, it’s quite possible that their video will be featured in general, which is distinctly different from being highlighted on the front page. According to a YouTube employee I met with, videos that are enrolled in the revenue-sharing program are automatically entered into the pool of videos that can be “featured”. Videos which are marked as featured aren’t necessarily featured on the front page; they can be displayed as featured at the top of the related videos on an individual video page, or alongside search results. Many of my own videos have been featured in this way despite having fewer than 20,000 views, often being placed atop the pages of people criticizing me – which they just love.

In any case, there’s no assurance their their video actually will be shown on the front page, and 20,000 views is a pretty low target to meet. It’s hardly an “overwhelming” response – for me, that’s just a decent day on YouTube. If anything, I’d expect their video to get more views from being mirrored on one of the many channels that ridicules tacky religious nonsense. Aim high, guys!

WHAT? TWENTY THOUSAND!?

I bet I can find at least one good reason for what I do

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.

I bet I can find at least one good reason for what I do