(RNS) — In the future in March of this 12 months, Owen Morgan walked right into a Walmart in Kentucky for a fast cease on the retailer’s newspaper rack. Sporting a masks and a hood to keep away from being noticed by anybody who would possibly acknowledge him, he rifled by way of newspapers to see if his identify had made the entrance pages.
A number of days prior, Morgan, who is called Telltale on YouTube, had uploaded a video on his channel titled “My Daughter’s Well being Trainer Tried To INDOCTRINATE THE CLASS.” The video featured a recording of his 12-year-old daughter’s well being instructor discussing non secular beliefs in school. Since then Morgan had been receiving hate messages on-line and offline.
Morgan objected to the instructor telling her sixth-grade college students not solely that it was flawed to be sexually energetic, however relating her cautions about intercourse to the Bible and God.
“For those who’re introduced up with morals and values, then God’s gonna be there that will help you make higher choices,” the instructor is heard saying on the recording.
When Morgan launched his video saying that involving the Bible in schooling is towards the legislation, a lot of his neighbors in West Virginia threatened him and his daughter, he stated, and began posting hate feedback about him on social media and repeatedly driving by his home and honking their horns. In a later video, Morgan stated he couldn’t depart his home, open his doorways and even take the trash out for worry of abuse or reprisal.
Born right into a household of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Morgan got here to consider his household’s beliefs as damaging. On the age of 18, he was disfellowshipped for smoking a cigarette and shunned by most of his family members and associates. He continued to consider within the faith until he was 22 earlier than altering course.
“I wished to know how this occurs to folks. How they arrive to the purpose the place they consider this extremist ideology. Not Jehovah’s Witnesses, however even non-religious ones — QAnon and Scientology and issues like that. So I began researching and attempting to know and began a YouTube channel,” he stated.
Morgan’s channel, which has drawn about 290,000 followers and 54 million views since he launched it in 2016, focuses on cults and religions he deems to be oppressive, with clips from non secular leaders attempting to transform others, viral Christian TikTok theories suggesting Beyonce is a demon and examinations of cult psychology.
However when he turned his focus to his hometown, he immediately discovered himself not simply ostracized however underneath assault. Morgan and his daughter had already deliberate to maneuver to New York Metropolis, the place they stay now, after faculty was out final summer time. The incident compelled them to maneuver up their plans. In the midst of the evening that week in March, they packed up and fled.
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Morgan’s expertise solely emphasised the need for nonbelievers to seek out communities such because the Faithless Discussion board, which Morgan helped discovered with fellow YouTubers Thomas Westbrook and Jeremiah Jennings in 2018. The group’s purpose is to encourage atheist content material creators and to construct a secular group over time. It declares on its web site that it goals to “construct group, promote collaboration, and combat pseudoscience with scientific skepticism and significant considering.”
The group held its third Faithless Discussion board convention in Austin, Texas, in late November to what its organizers name a pandemic-reduced crowd of 170. The three-day occasion supplied workshops to help those that have left their faith, discussions on how faith promotes anti-science tradition and tips on how to elevate kids as atheists, in addition to YouTube advertising strategies.
“We had an overwhelmingly optimistic response,” stated Westbrook. “Lots of people instructed us that they’ve been remoted and that of their group, oftentimes atheists are seen as, you realize, with hostility. And so being in a group the place they’re being in a bunch setting like this the place they are often open and out and freely discussing points like this (is necessary).”
Westbrook, who was raised in a spiritual evangelical missionary household, stated his doubts about religion got here by way of studying as he acquired older.
“I learn a variety of books by physicists. I learn a variety of books about evolution and about biology. Took on-line lessons simply out of curiosity. And I began realizing that a variety of the tales that I used to be taught had been on the very least not literal. On the very least, they couldn’t bodily occur the best way that they’re actually described,” he stated.
He steadily transitioned to liberal Christianity and later atheism after discovering “logical fallacies” in non secular teachings concerning the creation of the earth and evolution.
“Once I turned an atheist, I didn’t really feel comfy popping out straight away. I used to be a closeted atheist for some time. I didn’t actually inform my household or associates, and I didn’t actually inform my coworkers as a result of I didn’t need that to have an effect on my job or my probability for promotions or raises. I simply acted like a liberal Christian who believed in evolution,” he stated.
However Westbrook’s feeling of being lied to pushed him to create consciousness about atheism. His channel, Holy Koolaid, a reference to the mass suicide of cult members at Jonestown, in Guyana in 1978, now has over 216,000 subscribers and over 23 million views.
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On Jeremiah Jennings’ YouTube channel, Prophet of Zod, Jennings seems with a signature look: a grey jacket and an oval crammed with static protecting his face. Rising up Pentecostal in Alaska, he left his household’s religion in his 30s and began his YouTube profession writing materials for his brother’s channel, TheFaithCheck earlier than launching Prophet of Zod in 2016. He makes use of his channel to counsel non-believers on speaking about atheism with the believers they know and love.
“I get messages from folks speaking about a few of the difficulties they’d determining what it means for them to not consider, and speaking with members of the family and stuff,” he stated.
Whereas they’ve left Christianity behind, these creators are missionaries in their very own proper, ones who primarily use social media to unfold their message. However not all social media platforms are the identical. TikTok is nice for brand spanking new publicity, but it surely doesn’t have the identical viewers retention, Westbrook stated. However “with YouTube, you’ll be able to have much more depth. You possibly can have longer conversations. You will get actually laser targeted with stuff and flesh out a subject.”
And whereas TikTok is stylish, Twitter attracts a really various crowd, together with those that might not agree together with his messaging. Morgan stated he additionally likes YouTube as a result of he receives much less hate on his channel, partly due to how its algorithm is structured to usher in viewers with comparable pursuits.
He famous that TikTok’s energetic dialog was barely totally different. “For those who’re a Christian, you go to the Christian TikTok hashtag. For those who’re an atheist, you go to the Christian TikTok hashtag since you need to see folks saying actually bizarre stuff,” he stated.