6 Aug 2009

Natural Born Atheists

An interesting short article from the Proud Atheists blog. Not merely a rant about the lunacy of the Pentecostal church with its unwavering message of "you're going to hell!", but picks up on the idea that there are people just born unbelievers. Religious indoctrination starts at such an early age that it is very difficult to investigate how, or even whether, the average human goes through phases of religious thinking and development. From the comments, there are a few out there who do not recall lapsing from any religion but rather have always been faithless skeptics.

As some religions would dearly love to find some 'God spot' in the brain, thereby connecting us mere mortals to some alleged metaphysical eldorado, so they wish to claim that we are all 'wired for God', thereby adding yet another lame metaphysical proof of God's existence. I mean, if you find a door then it must lead somewhere - building a door on a brick wall is slightly surreal but does evolution include such aesthetic pranks? I'll come back to this door in a minute.

So are people born with a natural sense of religion or are they just indoctrinated into their parents' cult? There are some for whom belief is just not part of the program. I, for one, do not recall ever believing the stuff spoken by priests. Not only did the words not mean anything but I saw how people behaved in both church and outside it and, apart from the rampant hypocrisy, I was left bemused as to what exactly they were doing. Kneeling down in a gesture of prayer was easy to imitate but what was going on in their heads?

I suspect - or perhaps hope - that most young children go through a process of thinking through who they are as their brain goes beyond learning how to walk and starts to focus on where to walk to. I also think parents do their kids an injustice by not listening to what they try to tell them about life, the universe and their dreams. I do recall having an intense period in which it was very important for me to figure out who I was, what was it that made me conscious of being me, and so on. I had nothing that could be called 'faith' in any great gig in the sky. I was the doubting Thomas - show me! However, the revelation that eventually appeared was very interesting and best described in Buddhist terms as naked awareness - a kind of atomic consciousness. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of Buddhism at the age 6 or 7 but I did know that such experiences were not part of the Catholic canon. My natural born faithlessness grew into a conscious rejection of the whole racket. Not only was Christianity wrong (people are wrong about many things all the time, it's called learning) but it was actually a lie, which struck me as a more serious charge.

So coming back to that door. The attempt by some religions to distort neuroscience into locating some God-terminal in the brain has already started. The structure of our mind is a fascinating and important area of research, both from a scientific and personal point of view. The structure of our deepest and most basic part of the mind is normally left unconscious and yet in some individuals under some circumstances it does manifest. Such experiences are often life-changing and hence should be treated with respect. In my opinion, the delusion propagated by religions is not the delusion of such experiences but in the mind-map propagated to explain such experiences. The mental door is not a gateway to a metaphysical deity but the opening up of previously secret areas of our mind.

Are we, in the end natural born fideists or atheists? We are undoubtedly conscious. We can choose to open those doors and explore our consciousness - explore what it means to be human - or we can get faith and close all those doors, lock them up and throw away the keys. Thankfully, those keys can always be found again if one starts to wonder about those locked doors.

How to Make Some Money From Your Atheist Blog

Blogs come and go, and atheist blogs are no different. However, there is one aspect of blogging on atheism, agnosticism and the whole family of faithlessness that has been bothering me for some time: how to make some money doing it? Now, anybody who has tried inserting some Google Adsense advertising on their blog or website immediately comes up against a problem – there are few if any relevant adverts. Perhaps worse than that, a lot of the advertising space has been bought by religious websites, no doubt as part of their proselytizing mission. On the one hand, it might be fun to check out the fundie sites (and they are paying a bit to the blogger for the privilege of your curiosity!), but most blogs end up taking the adverts down as click-through rates (CTR) are generally very low and the bulk of readers don't care about the latest mission from God.

To get this out of the way quickly, I am fully aware that many bloggers don't care about the income. They blog because they find it interesting and to build up a social network of like-minded individuals. They have an income and a few extra pounds every month probably won't make a lot of difference. However, the dearth of income sources for the individual blogger is mirrored by the same problem for larger sites such as atheist blogging networks. In short, atheism is a niche interest with apparently no niche income sources. Philosophy is important, but writing on pointless gadgets makes more money. However, if it were possible to make some extra income, I think many bloggers would think again before totally abandoning their blogs.

I would like to suggest a solution to the above problem: syndication. It can mean a lot of different things but here I have one specific thing in mind: copying your best blog posts to third party websites. But not just any websites, rather those that actually pay you, either per view or a share of advertising revenue. These are generally known as social networking revenue sharing websites, which is a huge mouthful but at least describes what's inside the box. They also come in two flavours, being either article directories or bookmarking websites. If you are already bookmarking your articles to Digg or Reddit, then also bookmarking at Xomba and Infopirate will often yield larger readerships and some income too.

There are thus a number of advantages to cross-posting some of your blog posts. Firstly, for purely marketing reasons you will be driving traffic back to your original blog, which is always a good thing. Secondly, you will also be reaching a new audience. I have had many comments agreeing with my articles from people who hold similar views but who do not frequent the large atheist communities. With perhaps 20% of non-believers in the world, that's a large audience. Thirdly, we come to money; the readership on third party websites is very diverse and the probability of generating relevant advertising thereby increases. The users are not irritated by the advertising as they expect it to be there, and with Adsense's new algorithm that tries to track user interests the chances of a paying click further increase. What was a negative on your blog becomes a positive on a revenue sharing website. Furthermore, a few sites pay per view rather than sharing clicks. If your writing is controversial or generates a lot of interest then you will be earning some money whether or not the advertising is appropriate.

I write on a number of different topics and have found these social networking sites particularly useful and profitable – indeed far more profitable than the big bookmarking websites, many of which promote corporate sources at the expense of the individual. But one thing I've noticed is how few atheist writers are on these revenue sharing websites. I have spotted a few who obviously had the same idea but then perhaps couldn't be bothered with that little bit of extra work. I'm not sure if laziness or time can account fully for this phenomenon. Perhaps it is also a matter of gaining little feedback but this is where the more bloggers participate the more likely the chance of creating micro-communities within these larger social networking sites.

Like I said, I've been thinking about this for some time but have finally rewritten this article and posted it because I've also only recently finished publishing The Ultimate List of Revenue Sharing Writing and Bookmarking Websites. I was irritated at coming across similar popular lists that were sadly completely out of date so published my own and will update it every few months or so as new sites come and go.

The list is surprisingly long. If you're just starting out I would suggest joining all the income sharing bookmarking websites. Bookmarking is quick and easy and you can freely bookmark your own articles with no fear of being labelled a spammer. At the same time you can also bookmark your sources giving you further potential income. As for the article publishing websites, join those that allow you to re-publish previously published articles in full – yet again, this is a quick and easy copy and paste – so long as you hold the copyright to the original work. In such cases it is a good idea to create a username that is identical or very similar to your blog byline so that it is easy to verify you as the original author. Lastly, if you have the time and the inclination, there are those sites that demand unique articles that have never been published elsewhere. In these cases you will need to rewrite your whole article, not just change a few words. As there is a general lack of good articles on atheism and philosophy it may still be profitable to write a 400 word short article based upon your 1,000 word original.

Everyone's experience is different and each site develops its own style and community, so it is necessary to experiment a little bit. My own experience is that Xomba and Infopirate have been by far the most profitable, even though other sites appear to have more traffic (assuming one trusts Alexa's data). For those interested in taking this step you just have to experiment. With so many different social networking websites time really becomes an issue so just prune what doesn't work and add a new site to the experiment – but give it at least 3 months to see how each income source develops.

As a final coda, if anybody has any questions please fire away. If anybody likes the idea but really doesn't have the time then let's talk about ways I can help. If there is any interest I can help in doing the tedious syndication but that's currently an idea I'm letting float out rather than a fully worked out business proposition. For everybody else, I hope this helps in spreading your blog far and wide... and being able to dine out on it every once in a while.