"Not my God!"

- We talk with Sarah Trachtenberg about being an atheist in America Season 1, Episode 34
(Download MP3) (Download OGG)

This week we have Sarah Trachtenberg with us to discuss the personal stories of atheists. She talks about the book she is writing entitled "Not My God - Personal Stories of Atheists in America," which is a compilation of the personal stories of various atheists of various backgrounds and their experiences being an atheist in the United States. We share a bit about our own personal journeys and discuss a variety of issues of interest to us.

Before that, we talk about a recent visit by Neil deGrasse Tyson to a local OMSI Science Pub event here in Portland where he opined about atheists.

And of course, the news, in which we discuss another reason to not eat at Denny's and the problem with people who kill their children through religious negligence. Don't forget, REMEMBER THE ALAMO! We gab about The Lord's "Prayers for Moisture" plan, the Chupacabra religious defense and our unbridled desire to own an authentic, lywood Jesus Riding A Dinosaur piece.

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about damn time guys i wait dayly to watch this...i know i know you guys have "lifes" but come on! GIVE ME CHAROITS OF IRON OR GIVE ME DEATH.
I'm kinda really jealous you guys gotta see Neil deGrasse Tyson oh well...
Eli and I were both excited about the opportunity to see Tyson as well, but the event itself proved to be mildly disappointing. From listening to our last episode, you already know about his atheist steriotyping nonsense. Asside from that he didn't have a presentation prepared (the whole event was Q&A) and didn't even take the stage until two hours after we took our seats.

Don't get me wrong, it was still great to see him. He's very entertaining and has a great sense of humor and showmanship--qualities that make him a great public figurehead for science.
Indeed i actually paused and then wrote this...a problem of mine and it made me a bit sad to hear him say that we are all like the lady that crosses out the god on money(although i think we should lol)
I like him because he gets people intrested in science an importent thing to me..more so then my disbelief in god.(in fact it comes from science in a way)
But hearing him say that kind of made me...idk mad sad all these things, how could somebody so smart misrepersent a people or lack there of so badly?

Another thing unlike you guys whom i agree with more often then not, I dont care if we are mistrusted it plays no role in who i am and i dont care what you think about it. I think this is because i was raised in a secular household, now my parents have 180ed and are like fundies and i fight with them constantly. And when i agrue with people of faith i socratic method it up and "win" almost always.

Actually you guys got me onto Aronra/Potholer/Thunderf00t and to me the most importent thing is fighting blind faith with the shining light that of which is science :)
Well Chris, I'm glad we could turn you onto some of YouTube's best science advocates. Aron Ra is one of my favorites there, second would be Potholer54 than Thunderf00t (if I had to order them).
You guys have done more then that for me...thank you, i think i would have to agree with you on your list, aronra pwning gerup is the funnest thing to watch, and the 15 FFOC are the best youtube videos ive ever seen. I've watched them all at least 3 times.

And everytime you guys talk about creation on Chariots of Iron a vein pops in my brain to.
I get pissed and then start laughing as they discribe you and my wife freaks out.
"Whats wrong with you?" I think her most common responce is...
I'd like to hear you guys talk less about NdGT being wrong, and more about how the community managed to give this impression and how we can fix it. I mean, if this is what one of the spokespersons for The Scientific Community thinks about atheists, no wonder society at large has such a negative impression.

NdGT may be "in the wrong," but the problem belongs to us.
The problem is that this isn't what Tyson really thinks about atheists. That's just his public reaction to the subject. If you watch his participation in the 2006 "Beyond Belief" conference you'll see him a very different view on religion and disbelief.

As far as the community giving that impression, I'm not so sure we do. Even our most outspoken critics of religion aren't the socially retarded fuckwits Tyson was describing when he said, "So, I put some distance between me and atheists because I can't carry on that way. The world is too rich and interesting."

Neil deGrasse Tyson does not believe in God, and if you check out the video from the "Beyond Belief" conference you'll see that he thinks something is definitely wrong with religious belief. However, he also seems to think that "the world is too rich and interesting" to be an atheist. I'm not even sure what that statement is supposed to imply to be honest.

In any case, if atheist are giving a bad impression then I suppose that's something we should all work on, but I doubt that's the case. We're fighting an uphill battle against negative steriotypes and political distancing by members of our own ranks (Tyson being one of them).

The fact is, this problem really has nothing to do with Tyson. Worse still, it has nothing to do with atheism. It's a perception that we have inherited from a religious majority, and it's one we can't shake. Many dictionaries still use words like "immoral" in their official definitions of the term.
I took his "the world is too rich and interesting" to imply that he thinks atheists plug their ears and yell "nya nya nya I can't hear you!" when the word "god" is mentioned, and he doesn't want to do the same.
I was listening to this when I was grocery shopping, and then came back home and my wife had PBS on. And I got to thinking about the political valence of calling himself an agnostic. I'm not so sure I have a problem with it, for the following reasons:

UNO: He does have such a presence on PBS and elsewhere. For all intents and purposes, he's the public face of reason and science right now.

DOS: For what it's worth, one of the problems facing schools today is the steady banging of the religious barbarians at the public education gates. One misplaced word can send all of Texas in a tizzy, and that resonates throughout the entire textbook publishing industry.

TRES: PBS makes more educational materials available to public school teachers (like my wife) than most organizations, and the materials are generally pretty solid introductions to a subject for middle and high school kids. Plus, PBS is under the constant pressure of diminishing funds; they want/need their positive publicity.

CUATRO: Knowing the political environment, if Tyson were to offer up some definitive statement that triggered religious rancor, it'd be very easy for the Loony Lutherans of Lubbock or the Batshit Crazy Baptists of Blacksburg to take that statement and use it as god's fucking hammer. They'd fight to get the PBS materials out of their schools, kill funding for their local PBS stations, and effectively end or significantly reduce the chances of one of those kids coming across Tyson's work and saying "hmm... think I'll look a little more into this."

It's not like they're aren't doing this already, but there's no sense in throwing kerosene on a fire when the fire is effectively contained.

Plus, yeah we may think he's effectively an atheist, and if you got Tyson to sit down over a beer and a rubik's cube to discuss definitions, I'm willing to bet he'd sign on -- at least to saying he's an atheist w/r/t any named and worshipped deity. But in the broader sense, that's not what people register. I just finished teaching a summer school session at my university where the discussion around a Hemingway text came aroudn to whether a character was an atheist, and a good number in the room assumed ATHEIST=EVIL (which was a fun discussion), and so anything this character did was suspect.

If I were in Tyson's position and that was the public level of education and sentiment, I'd be very careful about my choice of words, too. (I've already performed this tap-dance with my own students who've asked me if I've accepted Christ, which always spooks me because we're usuially talking about Plato or Lewis Black.)
That's a fair enough point, but my issue was with him denagrating atheists and not just avoiding the label. I can respect his position on the use of the word "agnostic" rather than "atheist," but I cannot understand what he gains from being an anti-atheist. It wasn't just his words either. His body language said, "those atheists are all a bunch of nuts!" The fact that he is an atheist makes it all the more insulting.
I'd like to see that. I've not had a chance to see him speak in public, but I wonder if he saw a replay of that talk, if he wouldn't pull back a bit and try to clarify his statements.

Or maybe he's just inconsistent on he issue, I'm not sure.




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