Janet Heimlich and the Last Episode

Here it is ladies and gents

For reasons I explain in the podcast this is the last episode of Leaders in Free Thought, unless something way cool comes along that I just have to make an episode about; an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, perhaps. Or I find persuasive evidence of the coming rapture and biblical apocalypse necessitating that I warn everyone and let everyone know that what we’ve been saying on the podcast is WRONG! However, I imagine the probability of that scenario coming to pass is unlikely at best.

The long and the short of it is that A) I do not have the time to dedicate to the podcast that I used to, and B) There are only so many times you can affirm something does not exist or that magic is not real before you check that box and move on. To be sure, I believe this topic is an important one – very important – however, there are others more knowledgeable and more competent than me who can continue to carry the torch.

This episode features an interview with Janet Heimlich who recently authored a book titled Breaking their Will: Shedding a Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. It is mostly a collection of accounts of children suffering (physically, emotionally, and sexually) at the hands of religious parents or religious authority figures and usually in the name of a given religion. If you enjoy reading about such things then this is the book for you. My thoughts on it are pretty close to this review I found on Amazon.

Happy trails everyone!


Texas Road Trip Part 1 with Jeremy Schlaepfer

Link to mp3

I’m back!

After a few weeks of hiatus I’m finally getting my shit together and putting together episodes again. Although this episode and the next would not have been possible without my father flying me down to Texas for a week. So here’s how it happened: My father wanted me to visit for a bit in the summer, but I had no scratch so I had to decline. Eventually he offered to buy a plane ticket for my wife and I, so I accepted his generous offer. My wife on the other hand  had to work every hour she could get so we could pay rent and eat, plus she is not a fan of Texas anyway (especially in the summer). So I ended up flying down and spending a little time in Azle with friends and family which did me some good.

Can I just say that I think the number of churches in the Azle area have increased by 100%? Really. I didn’t do any counting but I did notice quite a few protestant churches that did not exist when I left in 2007. Some were those manufactured steel frame buildings, some were nestled in little strip mall areas next to a subway and a family jewelry store, and I even noticed some that looked like they were double-wide trailers. Plus the older churches that existed while I was growing up all have undergone new remodels and renovations and additions to accommodate their growing memberships. I mention this because for the past few years I have been very involved in this so-called New Atheism movement that, according to polls and relevant statistics, has been growing steadily. I have become interested in books and films and all kinds of media, really, that give voice to secular humanism, skepticism, atheism, free-thought, and what-have-you.  But it was interesting to get out of my atheist bubble for a bit and look around at Smalltown, America and realize that (in at least some areas) religion remains unfazed by the likes of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens and seems to be growing quite nicely. That’s my observation anyway.

So as I mention in the episode I had no more content to publish so I went ahead and brought my audio equipment in case there was an opportunity to record something interesting. Luckily for me my cousin’s fiancee had recently been released from prison (or is it “jail” or the “penitentiary”? I never know) and was hanging around and wanted to talk to me about his recent conversion to Christianity while inside. His name is Jeremy and he’s a real gregarious guy so I was happy to talk with him. To be honest I went into the discussion thinking it was going to be some kind of a debate, with Jeremy trying to prove to me the truth of Christianity. I was kind of thrown for a loop, though, when I realized that he just wanted to explain to me how and why Jesus worked for him. There ended up being not a lot to debate.  I’d like to thank Jeremy, Christi, and my mother for giving me some time while I was there.

Here's a pic that I yoink'd from Facebook of Christi and Jeremy

Dustin Lance Black

Dustin Lance Black mp3

LiFT on iTunes

Dustin Lance Black everybody! I can’t believe we got an Academy Award winner on the podcast.

I discovered this little event kind of inadvertently. Christopher Hitchens was slated to come to CSU and debate Dinesh D’Souza in April. I was quite stoked as you can imagine. Hitchens coming to little old Fort Collins, Colorado in spite of his health problems. Who knows how much time he has left, right? I better get while the gettin’s good, as they say. The tickets were cheap–like two bucks or four bucks—so I got a few because I knew it was gonna sell out soon, which it did. I have seen and heard plenty of debates online featuring Hitch, and I love his style, his speech, even his mannerisms. But a few months after his diagnosis he debated William Dembski in Plano and it was a drastic change. It seems to me like his whole approach to debating had changed, and I really dug it. So, again, I was chompin’ at the bit when his debate was announced. However, the event was cancelled not long after it was announced. Hitch’s cancer was getting worse and he was scheduled to undergo some heavy treatments at the time. So I emailed the SLiCE (student leadership involvement and community engagement) office about a refund and received a reply that my refund should arrive in a few business days, and I could get some complimentary tickets to see a Dustin Lance Black talk for my troubles. (I later found out that tickets to Mr. Black’s event were free to all, but no matter.) I accepted those gratis tickets and started searching online for some contact info to try and get him on the podcast because I was a big fan of his work. Well, Milk at least. I never saw Big Love–although I have heard good things– I’m not wealthy enough to afford such luxuries as HBO. Anyway, I came up with zilch on any kind of contact info, so I wrote the SLiCE office again and asked them to ask Lance on my behalf if he would be willing to do an interview with us. I informed them of the nature of the podcast and included links to our past shows. I received no response from anyone, so I assumed it was a no-go. Eventually I got an email the morning of his talk stating that we could have 20-30 minutes with Lance about an hour before he goes on. So I took the day off work to prepare some questions and informed Jeff that this DLB thing was happening if he didn’t have plans and wanted to join in.

When Jeff and I got there we discovered that the event was catered with some quality food, but no time for feasting we have an interview to do! We went into the theater and set up our equipment and played the waiting game. As you have no doubt noticed by now these are extraneous details surrounding the interview that are probably boring you right now. The rest of this post will just be more details surrounding the event with no big payoff or twist-ending. If you are not enjoying this then why are you reading good sir (or madam)? Either deal with it or go back to Facebook. So anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, so Lance’s plane into Denver was delayed so when he finally came in it was about 30 minutes before he was scheduled to speak. Our event contact informed us that we could either do a quick ten-minute interview now or we could wait until after the talk which would mean less pressure on everyone. I said “I don’t mind either way, but if we do it after will we get more time with Lance? I don’t want to be rushed.” “Of course,” was the reply, along with “I’m gonna need a copy of your questions to review before you see Mr. Black.” Is this normal? Is there anyone reading this that’s in the journalism biz that can tell me if this is a common occurrence or an affront? It actually didn’t bother me beyond my obviously thinking that she didn’t trust me. I can’t really blame her, though, when you consider that Jeff is about 6’5” with a good amount of meat on his bones and I am 6’6” and just shaved my head so I may have appeared like some neo-Nazi skinhead. She may have thought we were out to do some kind of hostile interview. At any rate, after she gave our questions her seal of approval Jeff and I decided to help ourselves to the smorgasbord of cheese and vegetables and fresh fruit that was available and did some mingling.

Lance gave a great speech. I recorded it, too, so I will likely put that up as the Android app bonus content for this episode. After it was over Jeff and I shuffled quickly into the green room, met with Lance, and dived right into the interview. The disappointing part was when we were five minutes into the interview the event contact who had approved my questions earlier slipped us a note to wrap it up. I mean, it’s not like we wanted to talk for hours but five minutes? So I ended up having to scratch a few questions about Prop 8, but it was still a great interview. I was very honored (and intimidated) to meet and talk with Mr. Black, and I am grateful that I got even a few minutes with him.


Get the Hinduism mp3

I was a few days late getting this podcast out, though not for a lack of production activity on my part. Our Android app came out not too long ago, and I wanted to go back and retroactively add a bunch of extra content to each episode. This way if you feel like shelling out $1.99 for the app then you would at least get something for your money. And please believe me when I say I had absolutely no control over the price, other than to make it more expensive. If you are unhappy with the price go bitch to Libsyn, not me. So anyways I was back-logging the app with a ton of extra content, but this had the negative effect of filling up my monthly allotment of mp3 storage space on their server, so I had to wait until Libsyn freed up some extra space for this episode. Edit (2/15/2012): I have moved all the audio to archive.org and cancelled the Libsyn hosting for this show so any Libsyn links will henceforth no longer work. However, (assuming archive.org does not go belly-up) the mp3s should be available indefinitely.

Jeff and I sat down this week with a couple of Hindu friends I recently made, Sridhar and Gaurav. Sridhar is a PhD student studying nutritional biochemistry. Gaurav recently received his Master’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition (specializing in functional foods) and is about to move to New Jersey and begin developing new food products at Kraft. I worked with both of them for about six months in a lab at CSU where I was planning on attending grad school, but UW was too strong of a pull.

Early on we would talk about religion and geopolitics when our equipment would break down, and that’s how I found out that they were both Hindus. So before I moved to Seattle I practically begged them to come on the podcast and talk about their religion, of which I knew almost nothing. They agreed and this show is the result.

Sridhar is one badass motherfucker.


Shambhala Buddhism

Get the Shambhala Buddism mp3

"The Great Stupa"

Hi everybody! I know I’ve been delinquent in my posting duties. This Shambhala post is coming more than two weeks after the episode was actually released. I was hoping Jeff could get around to doing it at some point, since he’s a more engaging writer than me, but alas he has found a job and now has limited time to devote to blogs. Strangely enough I have now been unemployed for nearly a month and I am still too busy to post on time. Job hunting and despair are sucking up quite a bit of my free time.

So let’s get down to business… Some months ago Jeff had the idea of heading up to Shambhala Mountain Buddhist Center – a kind of Buddhist retreat in the gorgeous and moderately remote area of Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It’s about an hour northwest of Fort Collins.

It actually took quite a while to get permission to do any kind of recording up there, because whoever was in charge of media relations was quite reluctant to agree to anything, fearing we would do some sort of ambush interview and edit the show in such a way as to make the center in particular or Buddhism in general look bad. Seriously. I was accidentally CC’d an internal email to this effect. But once we convinced the gatekeeper that we had no agenda and that this episode is essentially for our own edification on Shambhala Buddhism (and an excuse just to go into that beautiful area) then everyone involved was beyond accommodating and generous with their time.

Michael Gayner, director of Guest Services of the center, and Joshua Mulder, stupa architect, gave us a bit of a private tour from “basecamp” to the center’s stupa, a few hundred feet higher up in elevation. As we walked they explained to us about Shambhala Buddhism and their experiences with it.

By the way, this is going to be a picture-heavy post. Deal with it.

Michael and Jeff walking up to the Stupa.

The fountain of junk we mention toward the end of show.

The plastic card in the foreground might be the Blockbuster card that Jeff was taken with.

Apparently I have reached my limit regarding pics I am allowed to upload to WordPress without paying a fee, so instead I will link to them from now on. Hopefully it turns out okay.

These are from my Picasa album

Jeff and Michael recording in from of the “junk” structure

A view from the stupa looking toward the rockies

Views of the beautiful and intricate design from the outside

Views from the inside

Upon arriving at the stupa I went inside and sat crossed-legged on those cushions they have on the floor and closed my eyes and for a few moments. It was pure bliss. It may have been that I was tired of walking and out of breath, but whatever, it was nice.

I would like to give a special thanks to Joshua and Michael for being so generous with their time and expertise to a couple of strange atheists from the city.


Joshua and Michael

Here’s a link to the whole Picasa album if you would like to browse

Science Communication

Get the Science Communication mp3

Today’s podcast is all about how to bring science to the masses. Jeff and I attended a mixer following a two-day long workshop at CSU.  We basically grabbed some random people there and started chatting them up, starting with two working scientists fresh out of the workshop telling us what they learned. Then we were fortunate enough to talk to Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach at COMPASS and author of Escaping the Ivory Tower, and she told us why it is important for scientists to get their research into the public sphere. Finally we speak to Susan Moran about her experiences as a science journalist in both print media and as the host of a local radio show.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible

Steve Wells Episode mp3

LIFT Podcast on Itunes (remember, a subscription costs nothing, but it helps us get that shallow, impersonal sense of external validation that is all anyone really wants out of life)

We start out the podcast with an interview with Steve Wells.  Steve Wells is easily the most important skeptic you’ve never heard of, and though you may not know the man, you definitely know his work.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve found yourself in this situation.  About four beers into a six pack you decide to bounce around a few web news sites; after all, you’re in your refractory period, and you’re starting to worry that if you scamper any further down the YouPorn rabbit hole, your internet service provider is going to put you on some special list.  Anyways, as you click from story to story, you see it, out of the corner of your eye . . . a comment with the word “Truth” in it, that’s right . . . capital T Truth.  

As you start to read the comment, your child like innocence is shattered;  sure, you thought you were just watching a video of Asimo the dancing robot, but “Souljah4christ84” says that according to Revalation 13:11-18, the beast will come in the form of a super computer, and the technicians at Honda are just helping to bring about the biblical Apocalypse; not only is he right, but he has the bible passages to prove it?!?

But, here’s where the panic sets in, what to do, what to do?  Someone is saying something bat-shit insane on the internet, for this you will not stand, but you’ve had a glass of OJ now, and you’ve just realized the girl in the Asimo video is insanely hot, (seriously, go take a look, I’ll wait) you have ten minutes, at best, to throw a couple of passages back in souljah boy’s face, but that bible the Gideons tossed at you outside of Brewfest is nowhere to be found.  That is when you let Steve Wells author of the Skeptics Annotated Bible save the day.

In a project spanning over a decade, Steve has worked his way through the Bible, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, marking flaws, contradictions, and flat out absurdities to create one of the most powerful online tools available to skeptics, atheists, and the religious alike.  During our interview, Seth and I got a chance to ask Steve about some of his experiences working with the SAB project, his book “Drunk With Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible”, his plans for a possible print version of the SAB, as well as a few of his “favorite” bible passages.   It’s an interview you won’t want to miss.

Later on, inspired by our talk with Steve, Seth and I round out the podcast by tossing mics in front of a handful of drunken skeptics for an erudite and rational dissections of a few of their “favorite” bible verses.

Finally, we wrap things up by reminding you to give us a 2 and 2, tell two friends, and take two minutes to leave us a review on the interwebs.

Thanks for listening.