As another self-described atheist, I also listen and appreciate the premise of this show. However, insights I'll occasionally extract from extremely long interviews are usually parallel to and not directly from the discussion. My point is to clarify what Charles is saying. To put it in a word, the attitude of this show towards its subject is consummately "glib". It's a space for religion without the expectation that anything anyone's saying will have relevance to tangible action or change--which is mysticism.People like Richard Dawkins would say that's the nature of any theological discussion, and for the most part he's right--the trick is being productive with our theoretical discussions in either churches or scientific conferences. Most of the work I've done in college as a religious studies scholar is to listen to people trying to articulate what it is that makes them feel obligated to defend or declare some sort of faith. It starts with making sense of my Catholic education. I've attended church seminars and interfaith panels, etc., on top of school research, and all I can say after nearly six years of sustained attention to the subject is that religion is primarily a one-sided conversation. It's implicitly judgmental in a society where atheists primarily get public recognition from the lawsuits they file, or long and thought-out books that few read beyond the cover. The change from "Speaking of Faith" to "On Being" politically acknowledges a wider range of listeners, but still doesn't broaden the discussion when all guests are speaking in the vocabulary of faith.
While this is my lasting impression, I don't turn off the show because (A) it [intentionally or not] sets the tone of the national conversation about religion--it's National Public Radio, not some local community showcase. (B) In trying to defend my minority perspective (just as any biologist who may have to defend evolution or pro-choice politics in the Bible belt), On Being is actually a tool for me to exercise ways to change the conversation. That is, you can't change people's minds if you aren't familiar with the network of false associations they have about you. This goes both ways, but you (Ron) perpetuate some false associations just by calling yourself "devout". Atheism is a philosophical position, not a sense of identity and association. Alain De Botton is experimenting with the public as far as I see, he is not interested in fact checking, but places 90% of his focus on a kind of social mysticism. To be brief, the point here is that facts are dependent on reliable theories, and the point of conversation is to compare theories and resolve our contradicting relationships to certain facts. THAT would be constructive. Instead, the conversation is usually limited to stating the obvious facts that people experience something they call faith, that they also experience situations that cause doubt, and that people like me just don't get it. If Krista and her team were bold enough to sit down with someone like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, or any other serious atheist for a 90 minute interview, they would have to acknowledge that those who "just don't get it" aren't simply ignorant of some great beyond but are actually very tangibly engaged with what it means to be alive...what "being" is.
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