Friday, 2 April 2010

More like YAYtheist.

I went on the radio. I have never been on the radio before, and I had a lot of fun doing it - though, as most people listening will attest, I was a little nervous. But that is not what is important. Apart from a little bit of flustery umming and ahhing, I think the whole thing went quite well. I'll try to reconstruct what I remember of it to give you all an idea of what was talked about.

1 - Welcome Mitch, tell us about Atheism.

It's quite a bit of pressure representing a group of people who are so utterly unrepresentable by a single point of view. This is why, when the lovely Carol Duncan asked me for a quick summary of what it is I believe and why, I went overboard in stressing that it was my personal take on the issue. Right off the bat we dealt with the poor reputation that atheism has - something that we, as atheists, are going to have to get used to - and how it is should not be taken as a blanket representation of the entire movement. I suspect that many atheists listening, if they were of the hardcore variety, may have been disappointed at how little I fought back against this stereotypical perception. But the object of this discussion wasn't to argue or get petty about definitions - it was to have an honest chat and show everyone that a hardline atheist could actually be a nice and approachable kind of person.

2 - How atheism and faith overlap

Though it wasn't specifically referred to like this, the Dean and I had an interesting back and forth about the strength of conviction amongst people. I haven't mentioned the Dean much up until this point so I shall remedy this now - he is a very stoic individual, was much more composed than I on the microphone, though he was far more reserved than I expected. This might have been because he was expecting an atheist of the kind I was specifically trying to demonstrate I was not. I do not blame him if he was wary. Though it's entirely possible he is just a reserved man that chooses his words carefully. Anyway, I digress - the Dean mentioned that many people who consider themselves unbelievers may not have thought too carefully about their belief systems and therefore come under a more agnostic kind of umbrella. I didn't get a chance to hear what he thought of my return point that many, many more people who live under the umbrella of their parent's religions and have thought exactly as little about their religion might be put in the same category. My point being that, for a lot of people, faith versus unbelief is not going to be a day-to-day consideration. We didn't get too much of a chance to talk about this, but I thought it was at least one of the rare times I got the point I was trying to make across quite clearly. With a minimum of stuttering.

3 - Upbringing, Scripture and Respect

The Dean, at one point, mentioned the Steve Fielding is an Earthworm quote by Dawkins at the atheist conference. I didn't bite. I was tempted to defend the professor by pointing out that he was never heard saying those words and that, really, were they that offensive, but I didn't. I wasn't there to fight, and by the time the conversation naturally moved back to me the topic was somewhere else. If I had butted in, I'd have been being petty. I let it slide.

However, this particular mission statement of mine - make friends, be my normal lovely self - may have let me down at one point in particular. My early childhood upbringing was rasied (in an entirely not-hostile way) and it came out that my parents had never put me through scripture. A decision on their part that I was quite sure was not specifically an atheistic one, rather a decision to keep me separate from indoctrination. That is not to say that scripture is an indoctrinating force (it may very well be), but that my parents didn't want to take the risk. I mentioned that I will always thank them for doing that as it allowed me to make my own decision later in life as to what I believed on these terms. I would have been horrified to look back, for example, and see that I had been pegged as an atheist child just as much as if I had been labelled a christian or muslim or jewish or wiccan child. A child is none of these things, ideally. And guess what? I was the ideal.

The host then mentioned that she was sending her own children through scripture so that they will learn respect. Now, at the time I must admit, I assumed that Carol was talking about respect for other religions (particularly after she mentioned comparative religion studies). I wholeheartedly agreed with her shortly thereafter about the merits of religious studies, especially comparative religion, and mentioned that it was perfectly fine to teach children all about religions of the world, perhaps without the particular point of view that any one of them is the right one. It only struck me later when talking to people who had been listening to the interview that she may have meant respect in general, in which case I think a bit of argument and contrary talk would have been merited. I fervently disagree that studying or belonging to a religion is what fosters respect in young children - it is a value taught by parents and developed in socialisation with others. God has no part of it.

My consolation as I look back over the interview is that, if this was the intended point (especially when I recall that I was asked 'in hindsight, do you wish you were put through scripture?'), I vindicated myself by carrying out the discussion with nothing but the utmost respect for all the religious and secular parties to the discussion and listeners in the audience. Plenty of opportunities for cheap points presented themselves but I let them sail by without a word - I was not there to argue. I was not there to be controversial or contentious. I was there to try and let everyone see what an atheist really sounds like - and it is remarkably close to what a everyone else sounds like.


I don't mean to make it sound like this was a down point of the interview - there were no down points. I honestly had a great time in the studio and would do it again in a heartbeat, especially now that I know I don't sound like a fool behind the microphone and that the concept of being on radio isn't as scary as I had it built up to be in my head. It was a fantastic experience and, if you're reading this as a result of hearing it, thanks for following up on it.

Stay Tuned...

...over the easter weekend. I'm keeping abreast of all of the media coverage of the new atheism movement as reflected on by priests around the country. So far, there have been some really awful things said about us for no apparent reason other than it's fashionable to mention how religious atheists are.

It's remarkable to paw over the media coverage of atheism and try to find the balance. I can find, just so far, three anti-atheism articles written in the last three days and exactly zero anti-religion articles written since the GAC, unless you count a review of Catherine Deveney's 'God is Bullshit - That's the Good News' show in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I don't count it, you may. It's still an imbalance of three to one.

Who knows what the count will be up to by the end of Sunday.


  1. I listened to the interview, and thought you did quite a good job, man.

    Question for you: have you ever read the Jefferson Bible? It's the story of Jesus's life excluding all of the miracles of the New Testament, written by Thomas Jefferson (3rd US President).

  2. My greatest apologies for the delayed response! Thankyou very much, friend, for the words of support - like I said, a bit flustered, but all in all it was positive.

    I haven't read this particular book, in fact - but I have found an online text and perused it as much as I was able in the last few days. It was of course an admirable attempt to find the moral core of the new testament sans what he called the charlatanism, untruth and imposture.

    Beyond that I can't really view it as anything but a pruned down bible, which is after all what it is. Whatever Jefferson may have thought of Jesus' moral teachings, however, it still can't be used as a case in favour of the moral integrity of the bible itself. The very fact that so much of it was thrown away seems to give that away. I won't naysay what Jefferson was trying to do, though. He was an optimist.