Maybe it’s time we just came out and talked about it. Ask an Atheist is a pretty geeky show– we wouldn’t be very good at hiding it, even if we tried. Which, frankly, we’re not. That doesn’t mean that the geekery is front and center, there are many other, better places to get that sort of thing, but it is a thing we do.
Mike’s comic book fandom is legendary. I accidentally turned Becky into a Doctor Who fanatic. I seem to make a hobby out of collecting hobbies. We’ve probably logged a thousand hours talking about the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert. Mike’s geekery could not be contained within Ask an Atheist, or even within a single podcast: witness Mike and Pól, and Radio vs. the Martians.
So, it’s no surprise to me that we got this email:
I’ve been enjoying your podcast for some time now and have even gone so far as to kick in some cash to help out. You’ve asked a few times for some suggestions about how the show could be improved. I’ve been tempted to send this suggestion in for some time but haven’t done so to avoid offending you. After the last couple of episodes, though, I figured I should speak up.
I think it would be wise to minimize your references to comic books, super heroes, and video games. I understand that these are things you enjoy but I feel that it takes away from both the credibility of the show and of the hosts when you make frequent references to these topics.
It’s your show and you are obviously entitled to do as you wish. I just thought I’d offer this up as I want very much for you to be successful and I honestly think that those references hurt your cause.
Keep up the (otherwise) good work!
Mark on Vancouver Island
Mark, let me say right of the bat that your assistance in keeping the lights on is appreciated, and I’m taking this email in the spirit in which it was given. Thanks for your help! Doing some back-of-the-SQL-database calculations, emails on this subject lean more geek positive than negative. But I do see value to your argument, so I’d like to talk about it publicly.
There are a few themes we discuss internally that inform our decision to
include occasional references to geek culture in the show.
One of the more obvious ones is that atheists are people and atheism is a community. That’s pretty obvious from inside, but you’d be surprised at how often I am challenged on that outside of the show and atheism. Their arguments make sense: not believing in god doesn’t come with a free shared activity in the way that religions do.
So what do we talk about when atheists get together? Well, when I started hanging out with the community in 2006, I found out. Sure, we spoke of evolution, the intelligent design debate, and stuff recently said by Christopher Hitchens, but that was only about half of it. What was the other half? Comic books. Movies and TV shows. Baseball. Knitting. Motorcycles. Video games. Music. Homebrewing. Both flavors of football. And a heck of a lot of sci fi.
I think talking about a little bit of the geekery is a fair representation of the community as we see it. Overdoing it would be too much: the show should be about atheism, skepticism, and the separation of church and state. But an occasional mention of our other interests paints us as human beings, which is part of our goal.
Which, I have to admit, makes me a little baffled by the credibility argument. A lot of the shows that I listened to in the years before I started doing Ask an Athest were run either by people with decades in activism, a string of degrees, or both. We wanted our position to be people “in the trenches,” and still very much exploring our place in the atheism visibility movement, bringing in guests to act as our experts. I don’t know how well we’ve communicated that in the show, and I don’t know if we can keep that up as we continue on this path and learning so much from the community, but that’s what we’ve aimed for.
Also, thanks to the Internet, being into comic books, video games, and other frippery isn’t the social handicap it once was. Is it still a handicap in a context of a radio show about atheism? I honestly can’t say: I don’t think it’s hurt us, but how would I know?
So, I ask you, The Rest of the World: Does Ask an Atheist get too geeky? Should we lay off? Or is it as much fun as we think it is?