NYT article about Blasphemy Challenge
Taking the Debate About God Online, and Battling It Out With Videos
Article Tools Sponsored By
By RACHEL MOSTELLER
Published: February 17, 2007
A religious battle is taking place on the Internet, with two very different groups arguing over the existence of God.
It began in December when Brian Flemming, a 40-year-old filmmaker and playwright based in Los Angeles, started the Blasphemy Challenge, asking people to post videos on YouTube denying the existence of God.
In one video, for example, a teenage girl says, “I know that the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God, the flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, all of these made-up entities do not exist.”
Those who participate at the Flemming site, blasphemychallenge.com, receive a free DVD of the documentary “The God Who Wasn’t There,” which Mr. Flemming wrote, directed and produced. Mr. Flemming, a former evangelical Christian turned atheist, said the DVDs cost him about $25,000. So far, more than 1,000 people have turned on their cameras to deny the existence of God.
The Blasphemy Challenge site advises people how to post their videos on YouTube and how to search for the videos on the YouTube site.
The Flemming Web site so upset Mike Mickey, a 43-year-old police officer from Christiansburg, Va., and Steve Buchanan, a 34-year-old carpenter from Henderson, Ky., that they began Challenge Blasphemy with their own Web site, challenge blasphemy.com. They are asking Christians to “praise the Lord” with their own videos on YouTube.
In one of their videos, another teenage girl says: “I am making this video to tell people that I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He saved me from my sins when I was 8 years old, and I know that he is the living God.”
Referring to those who have denied the existence of God, Mr. Mickey, a Baptist, said, “I pray for their souls’ salvation and that they will repent for what they’ve done.”
In addition to his police job, Mr. Mickey, the married father of three, is also the Web master for RaptureAlert.com, a Web site “sounding the alert that Jesus Christ is coming soon.”
Emily Henochowicz, an 18-year-old who denied God with a wry smile in her video, is among those who find the videos an interesting way to talk through the issues of religion and faith. But others are deeply offended.
“This is a very, very serious situation,” said Denise Gumprecht, a homemaker from Clemmons, N.C., and a participant in Challenge Blasphemy. “We are not dealing with human versus human. It is a spiritual battle.”
The antireligion perspective has been around on the Internet since its beginning, though using YouTube to express such thoughts is new, said Lorne L. Dawson, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, who has studied religion and the Internet.
“To my mind, it is a very unique scheme,” said Dr. Dawson, who identifies himself as an agnostic with a “Buddhist world view.” “In a sense, it is a new twist on a long habit of trolling, baiting and flaming people online and purposely seeking to attract attention and stir up trouble. It is in line with the culture of the Internet and the bad-boy element of the Internet.”
Ms. Henochowicz, who was raised as a Jew, said she began questioning the concepts of God and faith after the death of her grandfather a few years ago. A high school senior, she formerly attended a Hebrew school and prayed to God but felt unclear about what happened to someone after death.
After much consideration, she decided to stop believing in “mysticism,” including God.
Ms. Gumprecht, on the other hand, was raised in a Christian family on Long Island, but said she felt the need in her youth to rebel against her parents’ beliefs.
“I doubted,” she said of her beliefs. “But I came to the realization that this life is not over when you die.”
Mr. Flemming, who says his Web site does not make money, said he started questioning his religious faith during his senior year of high school, when he transferred out of an evangelical school to a secular one.
“Once I started asking questions about Christian doctrine and seeking answers to Christian doctrine, I realized there was no way Christian doctrine could survive,” he said. “I discovered you can’t think your way to Christianity, you have to unthink your way there. Once you start to think about it, you end up not being a Christian.”
“The goal is for us to dump religion from our culture,” he added. “We want to get rid of this supernatural belief in the same way that it would be great if we could dump astrology or phrenology and all of the other pseudosciences.”
Some Blasphemy Challenge participants use profanity while referring to Christianity, others jokingly say they believe in intelligent design.
Some of them, Mr. Mickey contends, have a hatred of religion.
“These guys are malicious and evil towards us,” he said. “They hate Christians with a passion.”
It is the participants who may have made the antireligion videos on a lark who worry Mr. Mickey, who feels that a young person who makes such a video now may choose not to become a Christian later for fear of having committed an unforgivable sin.
For believers like Ms. Gumprecht, whose 16-year-old son said he planned to participate in Challenge Blasphemy, the videos are a chance to share their faith with others.
“We’re challenging them back,” Ms. Gumprecht said. “We are confident in God’s word and we would like to tell others to rethink their position. Despite all this, Jesus has died for them and loves them.”
We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.
~ Richard Dawkins