Utah Outcasts | Buzz Blog

Friday, December 16, 2016

Utah Outcasts

Chatting with the crew of Utah's biggest Atheist podcast.

Posted By on December 16, 2016, 12:17 PM

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In a state filled with all kinds of podcasts, we tend to gloss over the fact that many of them focus on faith and religion from various aspects. And why not? We're living in a state where the headquarters of a world religion sits five blocks away from our state capitol. What many may not know is that a good portion of those religious shows deal with questioning it, including Utah Outcasts podcast, which focuses on atheism while exploring the latest news and topics from their point of view. Today we chat with the four co-hosts about the show. (All pictures provided courtesy of Utah Outcasts.)

Felicia, Kyle, Xopher (X), and Geoff
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Gavin: Hey everyone! First off, tell us a bit about yourselves.

So I'm an uppity know-it-all who loves cheese, dirty jokes, feminism, and Doctor Who.

Kyle: Leading with the most awkward topic.  I am a socially awkward introvert that for some peculiar reason loves to speak to groups of people.  It is an illogical contradiction, but I am full of those.  I am a film critic and writer, full-time geek.  I am a middle-aged parent working a comfortable government job.  At 37 years old, you would think I would have a better grasp on who I am, but the existential crisis of identity has no age limits.  It is possible next year I will be a self-identified blacksmith.  The technical details would remain the same; I was born in Salt Lake City, raised in Davis County and spent summers in New Jersey.  I wore out my welcome at the University of Utah after changing my field of study 27 times.  Overall, I am a generally lucky son of a bitch that fell into a good job, happen to become friends with the right people that let me fall into becoming a film critic, and was finally encouraged to begin writing books no one wants to publish.

X: Hey readers! My name's Chris and I'm the host/producer of Utah Outcasts, I go by the moniker X on the podcast mainly because I absolutely hate my first name. Being an atheist and having not only one but two boring-ass Biblical names is a drag. I am a Utah transplant courtesy of the United States Air Force, as this was the one place my old man could find work after retirement in the early '90s. We moved here, to the seat of Mormondom, as strict Southern Baptists, and had a bit of culture shock when we arrived because living in the Bible Belt, you don't meet too many LDS folks, and let's not also forget that this state's makeup is pretty homogeneous. I went to school in Roy and Plain City (way up north here folks), but always had a love for the big city and would go to where all the cool stuff was nearly every weekend. From 1996 until it closed, it was almost a guarantee that I'd be at the Fun Dome every damn weekend. I've been the conductor of this podcast train since it was established in 2015, and prior to that, I hosted another now-defunct podcast that never quite went anywhere, but was where Kyle and I kindled our love for the medium and learned how best to work off one another. I started podcasting around 2008 and racked up around 160 episodes before finally closing out that specific show. The major impetus for me not recording much any more was the additional responsibilities of being a dad to twins on top of having one child already. Being a full-time dad of three takes a toll, I tell you. I decided that in 2015 that I didn't have excuses anymore, and could get back into the medium and resume my hobby, which has become my obsession.

Geoff: I am a Utah County boy. For those that don't know, even though the LDS church is based in Salt Lake City, the “church” is propagated, enhanced, applied and culturally more significant in this “bubble” called Happy Valley. I have a wonderful wife, who taught me “liberal” is a term to embrace, and three boys, who make me happily frustrated in an ongoing relationship with self-doubt. I taught at the collegiate level for many years and now work for The American Diabetes Association. I love nonprofit and activism, so this is perfect for me.

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  • Utah Outcasts

2. How did each of you become or find your way to becoming atheists?

Like how I do most things, I read a lot and asked more questions. First I really believed in God and Jesus, but in the way my parents did, so like a hippie Catholic. Then I found out women couldn't be priests, and that the ancient Greeks believed in their gods, too. Later I really wanted magic to be real, so I read about the "science" of like, I dunno, crystals and stuff. The more I read, the more I had to accept that nope, not that either. I eventually just kind of realized I didn't believe any of it. I'd always had a love of science and knowledge. I simply want to understand. Once you understand enough, the only logical conclusion is that all of the supernatural is just guesses made up by people.

Kyle: It was a natural evolution for me.  I was always curious, and inquisitive as a child.  I needed to know how things worked.  If something did not make sense, I needed to know why it did not make sense.  Without realizing it, I was applying unfocused logical reasoning to the religion into which I was born. The more questions I asked in church, the fewer satisfactory answers I got back.  By the time I was 16 years old, I had no belief in God or religion.  At that time, I would not have identified myself as an atheist, but that is because I did not have a good understanding of that concept.  It was not until later in life, studying philosophy at the U of U, that I realized what I was.  I like to put it this way: I was born atheist, and had to be taught how to be an atheist.  Atheism is the default position for everyone.

X: Moving around a lot as a kid, I didn't have a "church" of my own (aside from the occasional chaplain service we attended) until we moved to Louisiana and I found myself going to a strict Southern Baptist church right near England AFB. In church, I was not a good fit for Sunday school, as I've always never been afraid of asking questions, so I got shuttled into just attending the sermons. I found myself not listening most of the time, and the few times where I couldn't sneak my Game Boy with me into the rear pew, I actually found myself reading the Bible cover to cover. I immediately had an issue with stuff in Genesis, and even more so of the wanton violence and insanity that I read from the Old Testament. Even when I got to the New Testament, I had issues because I decided to read all of the gospels at about the same time, and issues arise immediately. Keep in mind this is pre-Internet America; if I really wanted to know something, there were rows of encyclopedias at school (as well at home, some people may remember door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen), or authority figures. Try asking a pastor questions you have about God and religion, and you'll get apologetics. Thankfully for me, I avoided the peer pressure in getting baptized, though I was close quite often with their altar call, especially when my mom went up this one time. I'm rambling. So anyways, questioning youth not getting questions answered, combine this with my dad getting me into science fiction and making me watch Cosmos and Nova with him all the time...I just started to compartmentalize the beliefs I had. Before anyone says otherwise, yes, they were real beliefs. I thought the Bible was written by God, thought that Jesus was a great guy (except that fig tree incident), and had a very very tangible dread of going to hell, possession by demons, and feelings that Satan was absolutely real and coming for me. We moved to Utah and tried to find a local church, but after going for a couple of weeks, my entire family all decided that they were all too clique-ish and we all lobbied to do "church" at home. This meant more family time, time playing video games (for me), and not ever having to wear clothing we all despised. Removing oneself from religion is a multilayered process; there are very few times that it's an immediate "You know what? You're RIGHT!" conversion from religion, but for most of us it's a long, drawn out process that takes place mostly in our own brains. My epiphany was at work when I was about 23, as I'm walking along my route I would always take and thinking to myself: "There is no God, and that's okay!" I realized as there was no pestilence-stricken upon me and no lightning bolt hurled at me, that I was fine, and from that moment forward I was an atheist, even though I didn't know that was the proper term yet.

Geoff: I was the perfect Mormon boy for most my life, and then college gave me an outlet for my cognitive dissonance. I started teaching the members of the congregation about being OK with questioning. This was the beginning of the end. From there the usual steps occurred and I quickly became an unspoken heathen. Once the word “atheist” crossed my lips in a public forum, there was no stopping my pride in being “that guy.”

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  • Utah Outcasts

What has your life been like being openly atheist in a highly religious state?

Nowadays it is completely neutral for me. My family, roommates, boyfriend and most my friends are heathens. My friends or family that aren't heathens can have fun discussing theology without either of us getting upset or offended. I don't work in places where it matters, probably because I put my time on the Board of Trustees with Atheists of Utah on my resume. When I was in high school I was pagan, and I lived near Provo. It was really tough there. Kids would actively ignore me and my family when they realized we couldn't be converted. As an example of the common way we were treated, we once had a minor house fire while my mom was at work in February. The neighbors wouldn't even bother to bring us a blanket. My friend had to go ask if we could borrow one. We saw them looking out the window, but they wouldn't even talk to the teenagers freezing in the driveway while the firetrucks pulled up sirens blaring. The house was fine, and so were the cats.

Kyle: It is not much different being openly atheist as it is being any religious minority.  Growing up, I was Mormon, so I went to church with other kids.  The difference was I called bullshit on people a lot, like when one friend tried to tell me the earth was less than 10,000 years old and dinosaurs did not really exist. I was always a bit of an outcast, even in the church I was a member of, so leaving the church and religion did not change much.  There is the occasional ass that makes a big deal out of it, but it has only had a positive impact on my life.  The biggest impact is the growing feeling of being disregarded by the current state government.

X: The positives for me are that on Sunday there is NO traffic where I live (near Syracuse, Utah), stores are devoid of people shopping, and going to Lagoon is always a blast when there's no line. For the most part, being an atheist, aside from having to groom my friend list on Facebook, I can be as open about it as I want without fear of repercussion, as most LDS folks are more curious than offended, except my mother-in-law, she still has issues with it. As for negatives, I didn't come here until the ninth grade, so there was obviously push back in junior high and high school from the predominant religion not wanting to associate sometimes with my heathen self. There was always a general feeling that I wasn't quite part of the communities we lived in or in some of the classes I attended (especially from the teachers that wore their faith on their sleeves).  All in all, I quite enjoy living here as an atheist. We've got great booze, we've got great views, great culture in SLC, and an all around nice populace.

Geoff: I find that the cultural groupthink application of the act of passive aggressiveness, this state is proud to use, is a real treat. People rarely ask me about my atheism in a group but I have many ask me in private. “Always doubt your doubts” is the unofficial state motto. It is harder to make neighborhood friends when they know your theistic classification beforehand, but not if the neutral ground is the first meeting. I frequently get the “...but you're so nice!” clarifier more than I like to admit.

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  • Utah Outcasts

Do you get a lot of people being confused over what atheism is these days, or is it generally accepted?

Mostly I get confusion. "So you don't believe in like any god?" Most people just move on with their lives. Sometimes you get the "Well then why aren't you just killing everyone?" to which I have to basically respond with "Because I don't want to hurt people, and I'm guessing you don't either."

Kyle: There is a lot of confusion that is the product of misinformation.  It is unfortunately still misunderstood; it is something we have to deal with frequently.

X: I had problems coming to terms with the word atheist at first. As a Baptist, they teach you from an early age that an atheist is an evil person who may or may not take part in Satanic rituals, claim that there is no god, possibly eat children on the regular, and ultimately wanted to live an immoral life until they die and are cast into the deepest pits of hell. It was all pretty dramatic. A lot has changed since the Satanic panic era, and it's becoming more and more prevalent (especially in Utah) that there is no stigma attached to the word anymore, and the easiest definition is that it's a person who lacks a belief in a god or gods. Everyone is atheist toward anyone else's God except their own, we just take it one little step further and say none.

Geoff: Even my parents can’t grasp the concept. They are on their own path of deconversion, but the word still scares them, just as it did me. My siblings have always been on their way out, so the family dynamic hasn’t been affected.  My kids are all “Nones” and it's a fun journey. Just recently I was in a meeting with legal counsel and my ex-wife. My world view was brought into the conversation, and I just sat back and let them work it out. P.S. I won that one. My wife fully accepts me and still crooked-eyes me when I have “divisive comments” about religious things. She’s got her own hangups, but she’s well on her way. The afterlife still has her heart on a string. I’m a very vocal person. I’m a very vocal activist. I’m a very vocal Atheist. I will not allow misinformation to be spread. I almost search out opportunities to be the heathen in a crowd so an open conversation can happen in a large crowd. I have no more expression of “Geoff” than when people dislike my worldview. The challenge of ideals makes me energetic.

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  • Utah Outcasts

How did all of you come to find each other and become friends?

X got on an atheist Facebook page we all were on and said he was starting a podcast and wanted to know what content people liked. I messaged him, and just said I wanted to be on, and he let me join. It turns out we just all liked each other and were fast friends.

Kyle: X and I have been friends for a few years now.  He actually hired me for this government job, so we work in the same place.  We became friends I started podcasting with him a few years ago, on a show that was fun but never went anywhere.  We wanted to do this kind of podcast for a long time, but it took us a while to build up to it.  Once we built up to it X put a post into a local atheists Facebook group looking for anyone that might be interested in joining in.  Felicia was the first person to jump in with us.  The rest, as they say, is history.

X: I helped get Kyle his job where we work, and then roped him into not only writing on one of my websites doing movie reviews, but I also snagged him for the podcast I was about two years deep in recording weekly. Felicia, as she said, came about because I was looking for anyone in our local Utah Atheist group on Facebook who might want to do a podcast, I announced to the group in a rather devil may care attitude who wanted to be on, she volunteered as tribute and the rest is history. Our newest addition, Geoff, was a guy that I heard on another friend's podcast and said to myself, "Damn, that guy has a way of keeping a conversation going and has good comedic timing". I tried him out on the show for a few episodes and he fit, so we kept him!

Geoff: Kyle is the only person I’ve ever physically met. Our mutual social awkwardness was evident before I was a part of the show. I respect each of my lifelong friends for many reasons and I can’t wait to make the physical connection a confirmation of my love for each of them. Being new to the group, I try to back off when discussions are about the group, but these people are a very important part of my life and I don’t express that enough. We all live in different areas of the state and it’s difficult to meet, other than online.

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  • Utah Outcasts

When did the idea come about to start up a podcast about the subject?

 We like to talk atheism, pop culture, social issues, politics, news, religion and make dirty/offensive jokes. I know X had an idea of the show before we started, and he's still the one who generates the content. Mostly I think the show just grew from our personalities.

Kyle: The idea came about a few years ago, X and I would talk about setting up a show where we can talk about serious subjects, like atheism, that we were both interested in.  We would be in the middle of a conversation and kept saying, “We really need to make a show about this, we can’t be the only people that love this”

X: Well I had been wanting to get back into podcasting, but felt that the market was way too saturated especially here in Utah with strictly geek culture shows, and as much as I absolutely love that its mainstream. I couldn't get nearly as involved with video games, television, or movies like I had before. Instead, I found myself constantly concerned with the comings and goings with the worldwide atheist movement and how we are in a unique state to host an atheist/politics/religion/news (you know, all the stuff you're not supposed to talk about in polite company).

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How did you go about setting up the show, and what made you decide to do Skype recordings to start?

I live in Salt Lake, Geoff lives in Utah County, and X and Kyle live up north. We didn't really have a place to meet to record altogether in a central area. Also, we like to drink alcohol, and drinking and driving is bad, kids.

Kyle: With the show X and I did we would use Google Hangouts, we recorded with friends in Seattle and Florida and Portland.  It is really the only way to bridge that distance.  Using Skype was a way for us to overcome the initial problems of not having a studio, or mixing board, or even microphones.  Not to mention just getting everyone in one place was a challenge with schedules.  I know I would probably die the nights we run long and finish recording at 1 am, and I have to wake up at 5 a.m. to go to work, if I then had to drive home, instead of just jumping into bed.  Not to mention that it makes it much easier to drink.

X: I know in the future we plan on doing shows together in person more often, but as it stands, Skype is the way to go for us. Originally we had decided that the show was going to be an "at the most 90-minute show", which went right the fuck out the window as soon as we started talking about topics we care about. Get Felicia started on Black Lives Matter or Female Genital Mutilation, and you've got a 20-30 minute diatribe and roundtable coming. We now do the show for about 3 hours each week, which includes stuff on Patreon including stuff nobody but them will see, and of course the entire show on YouTube complete with slides and video. I've really been trying to up the production value and it's fun but also a challenge, it's the work I'd love to do full time, so it never feels like it.

Geoff: My new foray into podcasting is an awesome learning experience. X, and the entire panel inspires me to do what I want and move into online broadcasting as a lifestyle.

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  • Utah Outcasts

Did you do any test episodes prior or just dive into recordings?

Just dove right in. Maybe don't start listening at the beginning of our available episodes.

Kyle: We could count our first few episodes as test drives, but for the most part, we relied on past experience, and just ironed things out on the job.  X and I are not really afraid of public embarrassment, so we are not afraid to allow our audience to see, or hear, how we have grown and refined the show.

X: Technically, we have two episodes on the server that we had released, but had to pull later due to creative differences with an original panelist.

What were the first few months like for everyone doing the show?

Kyle: Interesting is a good way to put it.  Because X and I had a history, we fell into familiar territory. We knew each other’s story; we knew how to play off each other.  However, neither of us knew Felicia when we began, so becoming familiar with her was a lot of fun, but was also a challenge.  The fun part was getting to know her in this format; if you listen to the show, you can hear the three of us becoming very close friends.  You can also hear us really learning how this medium works.

X: Things took a LOT less time, I can tell you that much. I wasn't scripting the show back then, had maybe a short list of topics we wanted to talk about. Figuring out people's schedules was always a bit of a hassle, and getting to know Felicia and working out the dynamic we now have took some getting used to. There's always a good couple of months when starting a show where you experiment with the way you do things, with what segments you might want to do, and of course testing the panel's limits as well as the limits of your audience. The best advice I can give anyone getting into podcasting that hasn't done it before, is to give themselves about a year of doing the show to find yourselves in the medium. After that point, you're good to go.

Geoff: Scheduling and life hate each other. It will always be an ongoing issue because there are times that I can’t participate. The show has a very high production level and I am proud to be a part of it. Herein lies the problem. I’m still in my first few months and I love every second, even the tired ones. Learning the conversation dynamics of latency is the real issue. It’s like a typical corporate conference call that you actually want to be a part of.

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  • Utah Outcasts

How do you decide what topics you feel like covering each show and what guests you want to bring on?

I'll let X talk about deciding on topics. Mostly we just want guests who have something to say. We like people who have different perspectives. Personally, I'm really proud of our episodes with theist guests. The conversations were really productive and fun. They've all enjoyed the conversations so much that they want to be back. We can be pretty scathing when certain preachers or conservatives say really horrible or just factually incorrect things. Yet that's not how we treat your average believers. We were all believers, so we can empathize with their beliefs. We also bring on guests from other podcasts, or even sometimes just fans of the show.

Kyle:  There is what is happening in the news, that is a big one, so current events are a big part.  We talk to each other all the time about things that are happening in our lives, at work.  If something is bugging us, there is a good chance it will come up on the show.  With guests, we tend to ask everyone to come on.  We want and love a very diverse array of guests.  If you want to guest on our show, just send us a message.  We think everyone is interesting, and we love viewpoints and experiences that are different from ours.  That said there are a few things we look for in guests—how willing they are to be challenged, if they are okay being occasionally offended, and they are okay with staying up late with us.

X: That would be pretty much me dictating the flow of the show. Of course if someone wants to talk about something that's happened during the week, we will, but for the most part I sit down about a day or two prior to the show recording and script out intros/outros, liners and pull copy from the stories we're going to report on, as well as making bullet point statements for the videos we plan on lampooning that episode. We hash things out in our always-running Facebook Messenger group, and post stuff on Twitter and our Facebook page all the time as to what topics we might have. It's really interactive and if the audience wants us to talk about something we'll gladly do so. We're always open for suggestions.

Geoff: X is a genius when it comes to content. He drives the conversation and is awesome accepting outside topics. He provides show notes and does a perfect job making sure we are up to speed with the conversation.

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  • Utah Outcasts

What kind of feedback have you received from the public?

Our listeners are so awesome. Our feedback is largely very supportive. I was once told a person didn't like my laugh, to which I responded: "Well, there's nothing I can do about that so maybe... don't listen?" What we really need is more hate mail.

Kyle: We love our YouTube comments; they are the most hilarious things.  We do not take them seriously, but we have had some trolls and some great negative feedback, and we have had some fantastic positive support.  If you listen in, we will frequently take some of the reviews, comments, and feedback we receive and address it on the show.

X: Just this past Wednesday (Dec. 7) while at my Clark Kent job, I got a call that was pretty mundane and very much business as usual, but near the end, there was a bit of a hesitation from the person on the other end as they said, "Hey Chris, make sure you let Kyle and Felicia know how much you guys have helped me get through a really rough time lately." Now keep in mind that this caller was way the hell across the United States in Ohio, arguably one of the most hotbed swing states in the union, and here this person was (unbeknownst to me) thanking us for making their life a little better. I had no idea my secret identity had gotten out there, but I can tell from the few Patrons we have, from the YouTube subscribers, and from the reviews on iTunes, we've got a really great thing going for us.

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  • Utah Outcasts

What impact has your show had with the atheist community in Utah?

This one really touches me, actually. I've had several people say that they really look forward to our show. Some have even been convinced by some of the things we say. I've had the occasional fan reach out to me to express how they were affected by the show. It means a lot that we can bring people some joy, or even share some new ideas with people.

Kyle: Good question, I do not know if we have had much of an impact yet, other than to help bring a few people together.  My lack of ego makes it hard to envision an actual impact at all, but I love the thought.  The truth is I do not know, we could be screaming into the darkness unheard.

X: The show has given voice to a very much maligned and misunderstood segment of the state, but we make no qualms about the fact that this show is very much not only for the atheists and anti-theists, but also for the feminists, humanists, social justice warriors and pretty much anyone who has had it with being "Mr/Ms/Mx Nice Liberal" and wants to vent, so we provide a nice safe space where our voices can be heard without being shouted down.

Geoff: I’ve had many high school friends inform me that they follow me and the show. I’ve yet to have a negative interaction directly related to the show. It’s an important service that we provide and I hope to push it farther with every episode.

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  • Utah Outcasts

Where do you hope to take the show down the road?

I want to tackle some significant subjects.  I would love to spend a show really dissecting arguments, or theory.  I want to also do more with media, take on Christian films, especially the awful local Mormon films.  We recently took on Ray Comforts film The Atheists Delusion; I want to do more special episodes like that.  I hope that we never stagnate, and are never unwilling to try something new.

X: What we're aiming for are live shows in locations across the valley, pretty much anywhere people will have us and our recording gear. I know we're looking at doing the show at The Watchtower Cafe, a local winery (if they'll have us), and possibly somewhere like Brewvies or Club 50 West where our listeners can have libations or food while we do the show live. I've talked to people about getting us on location at Comic Con for a showing, as we do tend to have geeky followers, or possibly going to a secular convention nearby to test the waters. Ultimately I'd like to have a once monthly live showing at a venue where we can get our fans together, and do the show. I live to perform.

Geoff: Open phone lines and deep listener interaction. I’m also excited to bring well-known Utahans on the show to give their voice to the movement of secularism and atheism as a whole.

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  • Utah Outcasts

What can we expect from all of you going into next year?

I WILL talk about cheese some more. I will go off on at least 6 feminist rants. I will geek out about science, art and sex. We will likely do some fundraising efforts because we're genuinely concerned about our President Elect. Oh, and we will be delightfully, roundly offensive.

Kyle: A lot of ranting, and advocating for activism, and a commitment to produce a better show from week to week.  Look forward to more rants and stories from me, and live broadcasts.

X: Let's see, in 2017, for the show specifically we will have 52 episodes that anyone can download for free anywhere. We'll have 52 secret episodes for patrons that won't be released to the public until our totally arbitrary six-month exclusivity clause expires. There will be an additional 12 episodes for patrons only that have a one-year exclusive deal...and finally the occasional not-for-anyone-else-but-our-fans episodes that will sit behind the paywall forever.  A vast majority of these episodes are on video via YouTube and audio via our site UtahOutcasts.com. You might see Kyle or myself jump up on stage during an open mic night at Wiseguys, or any number of people might start blogging on the website.

Geoff: Deep connection with the show, its listeners and the content. The show provides an unfiltered access to the minds of many people on a weekly basis. We want to shoot for the stars, and make a show that can be proudly shared in a world full of opposing views. 

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