This morning I was up early to do the live radio show, Atheists Talk. My guest was Keith Lowell Jensen, a stand-up comedian who incorporates atheism into much of his work. We spent a portion of the first section (about seven minutes) discussing his religious upbringing, when he started including atheism into his material, and the purpose of doing so. Then we moved on to talk other things like his new album, Atheist Christmas, Keith’s work with Stand Up! Records, his comedic style and influences, etc.
This did not sit well with Roger from Saint Louis Park.
Atheists Talk is live radio and we encourage listeners to call in or send emails during the show. When possible we like to get those voices on the air. When a call comes in, the studio engineer answers the phone, screens the call to make sure the question or comment is relevant to the day’s show, and then writes a short description of the question for me to see prior to putting them on the air. From the beginning I could tell our caller was going to be a special snowflake. As he took the call, the engineer’s forehead was furrowed, and he gave me a hesitant look and a shrug. His written summary of the caller’s question was “making fun of religion.” Ah well, what the hell – we weren’t overwhelmed with callers and I like to recognize our listeners. We put him on.
Roger had called to take me to task for not focusing more about the lampooning of religion in Keith’s comedy, and for spending too much time on promoting the guest’s merchandise and his work. He accused me of not doing the job that listeners and supporters want me (i.e. Atheists Talk) to do, and when I invited him to ask the questions that he thought I was missing, he told me that He Was Telling Me that I needed to be asking better questions (there’s some paraphrasing here, but that’s the jist of it – the entire show can be heard here and Roger comes on at 34:20).
I don’t deal with hecklers on a regular basis, but my guest happened to be a seasoned stand-up comedian, and Keith promptly responded to the caller’s attitude and accusations of over-promotion by giving a long accounting of all his work and where they could be purchased across multiple venues. Don’t mess with professionals, folks.
But Roger’s complaints aren’t unique. Atheists Talk gets nastygrams almost every time that we address a topic that doesn’t directly relate to atheism. We’ve had guests discuss global warming, feminism, songwriting, sex, paleoanthropology, abortion, fashion, politics, history, biology, and astrophysics. Our detractors would say that these topics have no place on a radio show that purports to be about atheism, but all of these topics absolutely do have a reason to appear on an atheist show: They are topics that – when discussed in the absence of religious belief – provide a clear and reality-based conversation to which other nonbelievers can relate.
Being an out atheist means that I spend a lot of time speaking about religion and my nonbelief, but that’s a side effect of being in a culture where most people do claim some belief in gods. In a culture that wasn’t dominated by religion, I wouldn’t have to talk about being an atheist. There might not even be a word for “someone who doesn’t believe in gods.”
So on good days, being an atheist means that I don’t have to speak about religion and why I don’t believe. I can just go about my day. Being an atheist means that I can discuss topics like science and my life without one single mention of religion. So when I have a atheist comedian on the radio show, we don’t have to spend the entire 45 minutes bashing religion or praising atheism. When we discuss climate change we can talk about the science without giving “equal time” to extremist religious views which argue that it doesn’t exist. We might mention in brief that they’re out there, but the majority of time is going to be spent on the science – not on religious opposition.
On a related note, the Freethought Blogs network has authors who discuss a whole range topics, and they may or may not have anything to do with religion. Sure it’s fun to mock Pat Robertson, Kirk Cameron and Michelle Bachmann. And it’s important to demand justice for people who have been harmed in the name of religion, and to be vocally outraged about religious privilege that discriminates against and/or harms nonbelievers. It’s vital that we hear from bloggers about their own experiences with religious persecution, as well as get their opinions and viewpoints on religion and culture as they have lived it.
But it’s also nice to not talk about religion and non-belief. It’s nice to be able to marvel at the newest images from Landsat 8 and the Naia archaeology find without having to deal with commenters who want to argue about the age of the Earth. It’s good when discussing patriarchy and white supremacy to be able to start the conversation without having to first dissolve religious-based viewpoints.
There is a place for the absence of religion in atheist media. When I write about travel I don’t have to preface my experiences with statements like “I love being on this naturally-formed thousands year-old beach that a god didn’t have any hand in creating!” But you also won’t see “This beach is beautiful! Thank God in all of His greatness for this wonderful day!”
blessed wonderful Sunday.