Last month, Dec 2021, 15 of the non-religious channel authors downed tools and walked away from the Patheos platform.
What happened, what motivated this exodus?
We will get to that in a moment. First a bit of context.
What is Patheos.com?
Their “About Us” page reads as follows:
Patheos.com is the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality, and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs. Patheos is the website of choice for the millions of people looking for credible and balanced information about religion. Patheos brings together faith communities, academics, and the broader public into a single environment, and is the place where many people turn on a regular basis for insight, inspiration, and stimulating discussion.
Launched in 2009, they host a total of roughly about 450 writers spread amongst various channels such as “Catholic”, “Evangelical”, “Buddhist”, “Hindu”, “Jewish”, “Muslim”, “Progressive Christian”, “Spirituality”, etc…
There was also the “Non-religious” channel. There the old posts up to last month remain, but they have all abandoned ship. It is in effect the Mary Celeste channel now. It is there, but it has been mysteriously cast adrift and abandoned.
They don’t just have anybody writing there. Instead, they select their authors and pay them.
Their business model is an advertising one. If you read one or more of their writers, then you will be faced with a barrage of ads. (Hint: Ad-block might indeed be your friend)
They also advise “If you are interested in writing for Patheos, please contact [email protected] to learn more about our editorial opportunities. Thank you for your interest in joining the Patheos writing community!”. I did several years ago reach out, but I got no response at all.
It is today the largest English language religion and spirituality site in the world and claims that they get roughly 6-10 million unique hits per month.
The one writer on Patheos that I do follow on a regular basis is the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta. He announced on Dec 6th that he was moving his blog to a new home. There he explained …
Patheos and I will be parting ways on December 14 – it’s mutual and there’s no bad blood, I promise – and I’ll be heading to a new platform in january.
At that time I thought it was just Hemant making a personal choice to move on.
If you follow any of the other non-religious writers on Patheos, that it would have soon become clear that it was not just him.
- Roll to Disbelieve – Last posting 14th Dec
- A tippling Philosopher – Last posting 14th Dec (He writes, “I would like to say more about this, but alas, not here, not now”)
- Daylight Atheism – Last Posting Dec 13th
- Cross Examined – Last posting Dec 14th
Rinse and repeat.
A total of 15 writers on the Patheos non-religious channel all walked on more or less the same day.
Clearly something happened.
The Religious News Service has the insight
There they explain it as follows … (Bold emphases added by me) …
Efforts to reach Patheos’ management team were unsuccessful, but the departing bloggers and their channel manager, Dale McGowan, said that about a year ago, Patheos decided to change its editorial direction. Bloggers were advised they could stay at Patheos so long as they stopped writing negative or critical posts on religion or politics and instead focused on how to live a good life within their own worldview.
In other words, the non-religious bloggers faced a gag demand. Say only nice things about belief and Trump, and don’t you dare criticize any of the batshit crazy claims, or you are out.
Faced with that, they have quite rightly walked.
Hypocrisy, intolerance, and bigotry, all now get a free uncritical ride inside the Patheos sandbox. You can now not criticize religion there, and that includes even the batshit absurd claims. Nor can you criticize any of the obnoxious politics. For example, pulling apart GOP lies and deceptions would apparently be banned.
One word – censorship.
Am I being unfair?
While words such as “censorship” and “gag” are highly emotive, I do find the shoe fits. Any and every platform does of course have the right to have an editorial policy. This however is not quite that. Previously the non-religious writers had no such constraints, and so this is a major shifting of the goalposts for writers who did not sign up or agree to this when they joined the platform.
As best as I can tell, Patheos has been wholly fair. The new policy was not an immediate ban hammer. Writers were advised well in advance and Patheos does appear to have facilitated the transfer of content away for those that wish to depart.
I speculate that this was most probably a business decision by Patheos. It was perhaps hard for Patheos to attract advertisers who wanted to promote to a religious audience, yet there nestled amongst the content sat very popular channels that were deeply critical of the religious.
In a world where the nones are a rapidly expanding demographic and the religious, while still a majority, are shrinking rapidly, then that decision, in my opinion, was not exactly the smartest business move on their part.
In the end, it comes down to this. While I might criticise their decision, I do also recognise that it is probably commercialy motivated. I wish them luck, but as for it being a platform for me to consume from now … nope, they made the choice to close that door.
I suspect I’m not alone, many of the writers who are leaving have been writing for over a decade and have built up a very robust following, it is a choice that will see Patheos lose a lot of traffic.
Where will the non-religious writers all go now?
They are launching a new platform called OnlySky. It goes live in roughly mid-January, so not too long to wait now. By the time you read this, it may already be up.
OnlySky might sound like a weird name until you realize that it comes from John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” …
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Good choice for a name … in the US.
However, for the UK, where one of the primary TV Broadcasters is called Sky, perhaps not.
OnlySky will be very different
The founder and CEO is Shawn Hardin.
He is an experienced Bay Area entrepreneur with heaps of business experience and has been quoted as follows …
“We think the unaffiliated are a woefully underserved segment of the population, We’re pretty optimistic about our opportunity to build a business that meets the interest of the audience and can invest in its own growth.”
One of the departing Patheos bloggers, Barry Duke, describes OnlySky as follows …
OnlySky has been created as an explicitly secular media outlet – the first of its kind – with international contributors covering a variety of subjects from a shared secular perspective.
The site will have a look and feel very different from Patheos. Instead of a network of blogs, it is a media site featuring news, storytelling, opinion columns, podcasts, and video by both new and well-known voices across the secular spectrum, serving the nearly one in three Americans who identify as having no religion and non-believers across the globe.
Because the non-religious are overwhelmingly (though not completely) progressive politically, the OnlySky creative team and its editorial posture will lean toward the progressive end of the spectrum on the issues it covers.
Will it live up to its promise?
I can see them advertising for permanent roles. The founder, Shawn Hardin, also has a good track record. He has created several media products for AOL, Yahoo and NBC.
If belief or even just spirtuality is your thing, then Patheos is still the place to go.
If however you are looking for a secular platform, then OnlySky, when it launches in a few days, may indeed be well worth checking out.
Side Note: No, I’m not being paind to promote anything here, nor have I even been asked to do so. I just thought you might be interested in knowing what has been happening.