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Interview with the Creator of the YouTube Atheist Video

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This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 14 - Challenges & Opportunities.

One of the most popular videos on YouTube.com is titled 'Atheist' and was created by film student Zachary Kroger. This popular video has been featured on many media channels and has been rated as one of the most discussed videos on YouTube. The SSA's Senior Campus Organizer interviews the creator about his simple but powerful film. In case you haven't seen it, here's the film:
Alison: What motivated you to make this video?

Zachary: Part of what motivated me were the study results (which are mentioned in the video) indicating that atheists are the least trusted group in the US. This, along with knowing about divorce and prison rates in relation to Christianity and atheism was also a factor. Partial motivation was also due to receiving random emails and messages from people (who I have never met) who felt it was their job to tell me I was stupid for not believing in God. They would always cite Psalms 14:1 as "proof" that God thought I was an idiot.

So in some sense, I wanted to call out all of the fundamentalist Christians who claim that atheists are stupid, angry, immoral people who can't possibly give anything positive to society.

The main thing that pushed me over the edge and motivated me to actually make the video was, like so many things in life, because of a girl.

My girlfriend of three years was from a family of extreme fundamentalist Christians. About two years into our relationship, I had lost all of my faith in anything supernatural. Because I was an atheist, her entire family hated me, which is sad, because I am a really nice guy (and humble)! So while I understood that they wouldn't like the idea that I think they are wrong, it was absolutely incredible to me that people could be so closed off to reality that they would judge my character based on what the Bible says, rather than by getting to know me.

So to make a long story short, after three years, she couldn't take the pressure from her family anymore, and that was that. As I am sure many readers know, extreme heartbreak is pretty much the worst thing… ever.

So that was what REALLY motivated me to sit down and put the video together. It was more of just a way to express my disgust for people who view atheists as bad people. I didn't really make the video FOR anyone other than myself. But after I had put it on the Internet, I found that I wasn't alone.

A: I see that you posted this video on YouTube.com, what was the reaction?

Z: At first, there wasn't much of a reaction. But every few days I would get a comment from someone who had seen it. At first, people just had pointed out spelling errors and stuff of that sort. So after fixing the errors, I finally put up the version that you can now see (which still has one spelling error, can you find it?).

But after a few weeks of having the video up, infidelguy.com put the video on their website, and that got it a lot of attention. Some atheist groups on myspace and other websites also started featuring the video as well, and then its popularity really started to skyrocket.

One evening, I checked YouTube, and saw that I had over 3000 video comments and dozens of messages! I was absolutely shocked. What had happened was that the video had gotten featured on the front page of the site, so thousands of people ended up seeing it.

A few hours later though, the video was removed from the front page… I still don't know why (but I can venture a guess).

Because of the large number of comments I received, I could no longer reply to all of them, so I had to limit myself to responding only to personal messages and emails that people sent me. Usually, the positive responses were just people thanking me for the video and saying they enjoyed it. So those took no time to respond to. What took a lot of time was responding to the Christians who would write me these enormous messages. Since all of their objections were quite fallacious, I felt I should respond to them and point out the inconsistencies in their arguments. The main objections were "you are taking that verse out of context", "the Christians in those studies aren't REAL Christians" and "you are going to burn in hell." These types of objections were so common that I eventually just wrote up general responses and would email them, which saved a lot of time.

As for the positive emails and messages, I tried to personally respond to all of them. I have gotten emails from writers, professors, scientists, teachers, preachers and just about every other walk of life you can imagine. It also got some attention from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, so that is very exciting!

A: So this became a very popular video, was there any backlash due to its success?

Z: Well obviously, there are a lot of Christians who didn't appreciate it. However, there has also been a TON of positive feedback from nonbelievers and Christians alike. Generally (as far as the Christians go), they either express outrage, or apologize for how some Christians behave and perceive atheists. However, some are just curious why I don't believe in God, and so we have nice email conversations on the topic. Nonbelievers generally just express their appreciation, explaining how they are constantly being put down for their lack of belief and that the video made them feel like they aren't so alone. One guy emailed me saying that the video inspired him to "come out" to his family that he didn't believe in God. Stuff like that makes me smile!

There have also been quite a few "response videos" on YouTube. Needless to say, none have come close from to actually rebutting the video. But don't take my word for it, check them out yourself. Anyone familiar with basic logical fallacies will have a hard time taking some of them seriously.

As for sheer numbers of people that have seen the video on YouTube, it's somewhere around 200,000 (this includes the number of people that had seen the old versions as well). However, with people posting it on websites, and showing groups of people at meetings, I would guess the number is significantly higher. But whatever the number is… it is far larger than I ever expected.

Although the YouTube honors have been removed (I don't know why), the video has been ranked the #3 most discussed video in the entertainment section, and #64 most discussed video of all time. Pretty awesome!

A: What's next for you and your great video?

Z: Well, as for the future of the video, I am not sure. But the more people that see it, the better. Quite a few freethought groups have requested copies of the video, to show to members of their group, so that is pretty cool.

As for me… I have no idea, haha. Ideally, I would like to work for some sort of group such as Center For Inquiry (CFI), the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), or some other group that promotes science and critical thinking. Apparently, people seem to think I am decent at making little videos… so if I can use those skills to help promote reason, science, skepticism, critical thought, etc., I would love to do it!

But as I have recently learned from very first hand experience, life does not always conform to the plans you make. So I will continue to try and promote things I am passionate about, but I will also just have to see what happens.

A: There is not yet a secular campus group at your school in Vancouver...are you interested in starting a freethought group?

Z: To be short, no. Vancouver Film School is a four-year program packed into one year. Unlike back in college, I don't have 3-4 hrs of class a day. I have up to 10 hrs of class a day, as well as exercises and shoots/practice shoots on the weekend. So there isn't a whole lot of time (or energy) left to set up some sort of group. Besides that, many Canadians don't really seem to have any sense of needing to join secular groups. I know it sounds crazy, but I haven't met a religious Canadian yet! And just a side note on that-out of all the Canadians I have met, almost none of them have heard of "creationism." The few that have, thought it is some sort of joke (which it is).

However, while I was an RA at Central Washington University, I ran a set up programs entitled "GOD?". It was a weekly get-together of people of all views and beliefs/non beliefs. It was highly successful and I got a few awards for it, but after I left, I don't think it really continued.
A: Thank you so much.
You can contact Zak Kroger at zachary_kroger(AT)yahoo(DOT)com.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 14 - Challenges & Opportunities.

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