Podcasts are such a wonderful media. I think that they may eventually replace radio shows in the same way that TV programs may become Internet programs. What is so great about them? You can choose when to listen to it, and you can dig out old podcasts that are a few years old very easily.
I am fairly new to the podcast format, and when I decided to give it a shot, I looked for a good podcast on secularism, atheism, skepticism and freethought in general. There are several such podcasts available on iTunes, and I picked American Freethought pretty much on a whim. Their banner/logo may have convinced me. It turned out to be excellent.
I went through the entire catalog of American Freethought in a bit less than 5 months, listening to episodes while programming, being on the plane, or even instead of reading before going to bed. It’s been difficult since I caught up with the current shows because now I cannot get new American Freethought episodes on demand…
David Driscoll and John Snyder are two very well-informed fellows who delve into topics such as american politics, religion and science. The podcast is very conversational and it doesn’t have a very rigid format, but it is nevertheless very well structured. It never feels like they change topic too soon. David and John do a very good job to keep the listener engaged and thinking. There are a number of recurring features that makes the podcast especially interesting.
American Freethought has a number of high profile interviews with people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Phil Plait, PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, Mary Roach, Mr. Deity and a lot of other people who are involved in the skeptics community or the atheism movement. Actually, American Freethought is the main reason I got interested into these people. Controversial topics are tackled head on during the interviews, and one thing that comes out is how diversified are the points of view among the freethinkers.
There are entire episodes dedicated to listener feedback, and they are surprisingly interesting and insightful. Of course, feedback to such a show usually comes in two or three flavours. There is some praise for the good work, some hate from the religious folks, and some criticism from the religious or non-religious moderates. David and John show an outstanding willingness to stand corrected if they get some facts wrong, but they will be very honest if they think the critic is wrong. The attention paid to the listeners is one of the things that makes American Freethought so engaging.
There is also the holey scripture segment, which they definitely don’t do often enough. The goal of the segment is to show how much the bible is not as nice as we think it is. I am already sold on that point, but it is nice to remind myself exactly how much bronze-age mentality permeates the bible, and how astonishing it is that some people can even call it “the good book”. There is definitely some good stuff in the bible as well, but it pales in comparison to the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies and the outright cruelties… In the last 5 podcasts or so, David has been reading the entire book of Revelation, along with some creepy music. Priceless!
From the perspective of a Canadian, this podcast is an extremely insightful window into the religious debate that is raging in the United States, and how it affects politics, education and culture. For us in Canada, this is a glimpse into our future if Harper’s conservatives get a majority. The debate on religion seems to me a lot more opened in the United States than it is over here, and we need to get it going here too. American Freethought would be a good model for a Canadian podcast on religious issues. We need a few courageous Canadian information junkies to get on the project!
On a final note, you can subscribe for free to American Freethought on iTunes, but also stream the episodes on their website where they host a blog.