Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Godless Rebelution Podcast

Poking fun at all religions in this SLC-based podcast.

Posted By on May 8, 2016, 1:00 AM

click to enlarge gu.jpg
The podcasting community in Utah is kinda in flux at the moment. We're seeing some shows depart or simply discontinued by their hosts for various reasons, while at the same time seeing new ones pop up or become prominent from people who are new to the game. Today we chat with the men behind  Godless Rebelution, a show that pokes religion with a sharp pointy stick and just celebrated their 100th show last month, to discuss forming a new show and their format. (All pictures provided courtesy of Godless Rebelution.)

Ryan Duffy, Dan Ellis & Matt Mitchell
click to enlarge DAN ELLIS
  • Dan Ellis

Gavin:  Hey gang! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

I’m a full-time firefighter, part-time filmmaker and social activist.

Matt: Born in Springfield, Mass., moved to Orem when I was 10 years old. Raised pretty LDS, baptized at eight, etc. Once we moved to Utah, my parents really didn't like the people, and "health" reasons kept them and us from attending regularly. At around age 12, I started having real concerns about the Biblical timeline and how it relates to the dinosaurs, and issues concerning the "sacrifice" of Jesus. I played Hokey Pokey with Mormonism for the next 15 years until I encountered debates featuring Dawkins and Hitchens. That was the first time I saw "atheist" being defined by unbelievers, rather than the strawman definition theists use (which makes atheism seem silly and irrational, usually intentionally). It took me about a month to accept the "A-word" for myself.

Dan: I was born in Brigham City and have lived in just about every city up and down the Wasatch Front. I was raised LDS and baptized when I was eight, but I never had a strong testimony because it never made any sense to me. I was the kid who would always ask my Sunday-school teachers the really uncomfortable questions like “Did God really kill everybody on the planet during the flood? Even all the babies?” I stopped attending church regularly when my parents separated, shortly after I was baptized. Looking back, I realize I have always been an atheist, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I started using the term in reference to my own religious beliefs. Hell, I actually thought men had one less rib than women even after that—until I was in my late 20s. I spent a long time as an “apatheist,” someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods but doesn’t really talk about it or give the subject much thought—before I became an atheist activist. I publicly announced my atheism as an act of solidarity with an old friend of mine who publicly came out as being gay. After seeing all the shit he took for simply being honest about who he was, I figured it was the least I could do. I am currently serving as the Communications Director for Atheists of Utah, and I am also the Regional Director in Utah for American Atheists. I’m a programmer/database administrator by trade, and I like to spend what little spare time I have available golfing and socializing with friends and family.

click to enlarge RYAN DUFFY
  • Ryan Duffy

How did each of you first get into podcasting as listeners, and what shows do you enjoy?

Ryan: I had actually not listened to any podcasts before we got started. Our first show was the first time we had all met in person. Another person had talked to me about doing an atheist podcast. I had mentioned the idea to a few others and I was told that Matt was looking to do the same thing. After a little research, I figured that I already owned the equipment to get started. We had decided to ask Dan to be our first guest. We had fun doing the show with Dan so we asked if he wanted to continue to do it with us. I usually listen to The Nerdist, Smodcast and Serial.

Matt: I have a job that allows me time to listen to whatever I'd like and podcasts fit for me since I'm not into music. Shows I like include Cognitive Dissonance, The Scathing Atheist, Hardcore History, Sword and Scale, God Awful Movies, and Doug Loves Movies.

Dan: I started listening to podcasts about five years ago when I bought my first smartphone and realized I could carry around a lot of the shows I listened to on NPR without needing a radio. Being able to pause, rewind and listen whenever I wanted made doing so incredibly convenient. It wasn’t until after we started Godless Rebelution that I started listening to other atheist podcasts. Initially, it was to see what everybody else was saying, and how they ran their shows. Now I listen to a few of them because I really appreciate the art form and know how much work goes into producing a quality show. Some of my favorites (strictly in the atheist/skeptic area) that I listen to every week are The Scathing Atheist, Cognitive Dissonance, Dogma Debate, and Waking Up with Sam Harris. There’s a lot more that I listen to every week, but those are my favorites.

When did each of you first meet and become friends?

Ryan: We met for the first time during the first episode.

Matt: I met Dan at the 2014 American Atheists Convention in SLC. Ryan and I met when we got together to do our first episode, though we'd been texting prior to that. We've become friends on the show.

Dan: I was being pulled in a million directions during the convention so we didn’t get to talk a whole lot, but I remember he was wearing an awesome tee shirt he had made himself. It was a pretty simple design, but the wording was awesome: “Joseph’s Myth.” We had chatted via text, but I didn’t meet Ryan until he and Matt showed up at my door to record the first show.

click to enlarge CONNIE ANAST-INMAN
  • Connie Anast-Inman

When did the idea come about to start your own podcast?

Ryan:  It just got started very organically. None of us knew what we were doing when we got started.

Matt: As far as I know, Ryan wanted to do a podcast before I knew him, and I mentioned wanting to do one to an AOU board member who put Ryan and me in touch. Dan was our first interview as he was the AOU president at the time, and we decided to continue with the three of us.

Dan: It was never a thought in my mind, really. I had previously only been listening to news and politics shows. I didn’t know about the burgeoning home-grown podcast community and hadn’t ever thought people would want to tune in to what I had to say about anything on a regular basis.

Was there any specific reason you chose to do a show with a focus on religion and the politics that go with it? Or was it simply “the thing to do” being a Utah-based podcast?

Ryan:  I grew up in the Midwest, and religion was never an issue. When I got stationed in Utah, I quickly noticed the religious influence on the state and the way it operated. I became a more vocal atheist, and a podcast like ours gives the minority more of a voice in the state.

Matt: The focus we have on "taboo" social subjects is in large part because of the fallacious and downright nasty ideas that theists spread about atheists. Setting the record straight is a major motivation. Also, unbelievers (especially youth) can face huge amounts of negativity and hostility from the "moral majority," peers, and family members who seem to be completely unable to leave it up to their omnipotent God they claim to have faith in. This leads to diminishing self-worth and being further maligned from society, or even being kicked out of your parents’ home to fend for yourself as a teen. Too often this fundamentalist dogmatic approach spills into politics as well, usually among conservatives. Liberals aren't free of dogma either, of course, but a large section of the Republican base is interested in using the few parts of the Bible they've actually read to "guide" laws and legislation for the rest of us, (LGBTQ, women's rights are hot right now) and so religion and politics are linked, and both need to be discussed.

Dan: Being fed-up with religion and politics is what brought the three of us together, so it’s natural that that’s what we talk about during the show. An upshot of living in a state where one faith has a dominating and oppressive stranglehold is that it inevitably leads to a very strong counter-culture to push back against all of the nonsense. The non-religious/atheist/skeptic community has grown by leaps and bounds here in Utah in just the last five years. One of the mantras I hear from those who are still victims of their childhood indoctrination is that apostates “leave the church, but they can’t leave the church alone.” I’ll leave it alone when it leaves everybody else who is not an adherent of its doctrines alone. People are free to believe whatever ridiculous thing they want, but they shouldn’t expect everybody else to conform to those beliefs.

click to enlarge DAN ELLIS
  • Dan Ellis

What was it like for you getting all the gear you needed together and making your own type of studio?

Ryan:  The studio has come a long way in the last two years. I had the gear that we needed to get started and we have upgraded everything slowly. We wanted to have good audio and thanks to Dan, we have been able to achieve a quality show.

Dan: Ryan had all the basic gear we needed to get started. We’ve slowly been upgrading bits and pieces as we learn what works best. We now have a dedicated studio at my home in Murray, which has been great.

Did you do any test episodes beforehand, or simply dive in with Episode #1?

Ryan:  We just dove right into it and learned as we went.

Matt: Dove in-and still diving. We never do a test/rehearsal episode. We feel that the show is important for reasons outlined above, but it's also a hobby and a release. We all have full-time jobs doing other things, so we spend a significant but not consuming amount of time on each episode.

Dan: Diving in sounds too professional. I think it was more of a cannonball, and we’ve been working to constantly improve the show with each episode. I had no idea what was going on for the first episode because I was just slated to be the first guest.

click to enlarge CONNIE ANAST-INMAN
  • Connie Anast-Inman

Over the first few months, what was it like for you guys recording episodes and getting a feel for the show?

Ryan:  It was fun, we definitely experimented with the show a lot at first. I think it took us about 20 shows before we started to refine our style. We continue to grow as a show and are always learning.

Matt: For me it was mostly about the technical things. Staying right up on the mic and voice projection. As time went on, I got a better feel for material preparation for the show as well. I like to start pulling stories the day after we record which allows me the most time to really absorb it which leads to a more natural interaction when recording- or a smoother reading if I'm presenting the article.

Dan: It was a huge learning experience through trial and error. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we had a shit-ton of fun doing it anyway.

What was the listener response like as your audience began to grow?

Ryan:  At first it was very local, but when we started getting messages from listeners overseas we realized our listener base was a lot larger than we realized.

Matt: As the listenership grows, so do the critics and fans.

Dan: The response has been hugely positive and supportive. One of my favorite things in the world is getting listener feedback regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. The positive feedback refuels my give-a-fuck tank, and the negative feedback (thus far) has only been to correct something we got wrong during an episode. Both are invaluable for putting out the best show possible.

click to enlarge SARA KRAMER
  • Sara Kramer

How do you go about deciding the topics and theme for every episode?

Ryan:  Some topics are based on what guest we have on that week. When we don’t have a guest we pick from current events. We don’t script the show which helps make it more of a conversation.

Matt: Finding topics is a pretty simple process. The headlines and current events are already made public and each of us gather a handful (I usually try to dig a bit to avoid overlap) and we run with the major ones.

Dan: Current events and the time available between shows are the biggest drivers for me. We try to keep the show topical, so having the time to review the world around me is hugely important. Even when we have a guest on the show, I like to do as much research as possible about the person we’ll be speaking with so it’s easier to guide a productive and meaningful discussion. Working full time at a regular day job, family life, volunteering as a board member of Atheists of Utah, and trying to maintain some sort of social life outside the show eat up a huge amount of time. I try to maintain a balance between everything, but it’s not an easy thing to do.

Occasionally you have guests on for various reasons, depending on the topic. Do you tend to like those episodes more or just as the three of you?

Ryan:  I enjoy having different guests on. It brings in another voice to the conversation and I always learn from our guests. The shows with just the three of us we have fun just being us. I think we all bring something different to the show.

Matt: Guest appearances are always interesting and welcomed. It's a unique experience to be able to sit down with doctors, leaders, authors, etc. and get their take on events or situations we're all familiar with. Of course, it's nice to do host-only shows with Dan and Ryan, but guests are an exciting and fascinating perk of doing the show.

Dan: That’s a tough question because we try to be a pretty laid-back show regardless of whether it’s just the three of us, or if we have a well-recognized or famous guests like The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson, Doug Mesner (A.K.A. Lucien Greaves), or American Atheists President, David Silverman. I like having guests on the show so we can promote and support what they’re doing. It’s also exciting to be able to speak with other important figures in the secular community to get their take on any given subject, but sometimes it’s nice to just rant and laugh at each other’s jokes, too.

click to enlarge LISA MILLER WESTBROOK
  • Lisa Miller Westbrook

I've read and listened to episodes where you get criticized a lot for your thoughts and opinions? Do you find politics or religion get more attention from the audience?

Ryan:  I think we get more of a reaction from the political topics and when we talk about police shootings.

Matt: One could do everything perfectly with a mundane subject and someone will disagree and complain. We specialize in taboo and hotly contested topics, so, of course, we have critics. Some of it can be dismissed as simply a difference of opinion, or if it's clear they haven't really given it much thought, but occasionally we get very constructive criticism that we try to use to get better. Nobody is perfect—and when you make your opinions public, you'll hear all about how you aren't either. Mostly, though, it's a chance for us to examine nuances that we may have overlooked and get it right the next time.  Religion and politics are inextricably linked to each other and to the individuals themselves. People tend to use these more than anything else as a way to define who they are, and disagreeing or criticizing either is seen as a personal attack. (Hence the moratorium on discussing these things in public settings) Religion, I think, is the main draw to our show (outside of covering debates) because theists have dictated so many of the things in everyone's lives that it can be therapeutic to hear some pushback.

Dan: I think they get equal amounts of attention from our audience, but we get the most feedback for some of our political stances. This is natural because at its core atheism is simply not believing in a god or gods; nearly everybody in our listening audience agrees on that one specific thing, so our views on religion and its pernicious effects are almost universally accepted by the audience. But that is only one subject, really, and the secular community is not nearly as homogenous as outsiders seem to think. Can someone be an atheist and still be very conservative as far as their political beliefs? I don’t understand how that works, but it clearly does for some people.

For those who have never heard the show before, how do you best recommend they jump in?

Ryan: I would just start with the most recent episode since we usually cover current events. Episodes with guests are not always tied to current events so I think those could be listened to anytime.

Matt: Since our show is topical, it's pretty easy to start with the most recently posted episode and if you enjoy it, downloading the ones that seem appealing. It's a podcast, do it how you do.

Dan: I’d start with the most recent episode. If you like it, browse through the past episodes to see if there’s something you’re interested in hearing. We’ve got a lot of great content out there.

click to enlarge RYAN DUFFY
  • Ryan Duffy

Last month the show hit the two-year marker and you recorded your 100th episode. How does it feel to hit those milestones?

Ryan:  It feels like we just started and it’s hard to believe that we have already done 100 shows. I can’t wait till we get to episode 200.

Matt: The fact that we all basically met on Episode #1 makes our podcast relationship pretty unique. It's pretty amazing that it has worked as well as it has and hitting milestones like two years, and 100 episodes are, in a sense a record of the relationship the three of us have and it's a special thing. I don't know of any other show in which the hosts didn't have a relationship of any kind prior to recording.

Dan: Maybe it’s because we’re always learning how to improve the show, or maybe it’s that I have a great time doing it, but it really doesn’t seem like it’s been two years and 100 episodes. Not many home-grown shows have that much staying power, so they’re definitely important milestones, but I think they’re really just the start of what will be a very long-running and successful show.

Do you have any plans to expand the show or the content in any way as you continue to record?

Ryan:  We are going to expand the show over to YouTube and I am hoping to be able to add some content exclusively for YouTube.

Matt: "Expanding" doesn't have too much meaning for our show, since we don't adhere to a strict subject matter. We have a general bubble to work within, but ultimately, we can discuss whatever we like. The only area of true expansion may be to include a theist at some point for a discussion, but I don't think any of us are really gung-ho about validating their position with a spot on our show and we're not a platform for them to promote magic and superstition. They already have so many places to get their voices heard. Ahem... Utah State Legislature.

Dan: As Ryan mentioned, we’ll be rolling out all of the episodes to YouTube sometime in the near future, and we’d like to get some video content out there as well, but we don’t have any huge plans right now.


What can we expect from all three of you and the show over the rest of 2016?

Ryan:  The show will continue to grow and we will have more great guests on. We are always improving the show, and maybe we will do another show with a live audience.

Matt: For me it's to continue on the same path: Host interesting guests and stay frustrated with regressive politics.

Dan: As a bit of corporate-speak, it’s all about continuous improvement for me. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it seems like I’m always finding something we can do better. Our audience deserves and should expect no less.

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