We need a few new terms to differentiate between moderate theists who oppose their religion’s fanatics, moderate theists who ignore their fanatics, and moderate theists who offer support to their fanatics. I say this because of a recent email sent in to my podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe (SGU), complaining about our coverage of Helen Ukpabio, the evangelical Christian Nigerian witch-hunter who was recently successfully blocked from entering the US.
If you’ll recall, Ukpabio is the head of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries. She preaches a literal interpretation of the Bible and maintains that children and elderly women who act strangely are witches who should be driven from their homes and murdered. This has real-life consequences, as there are currently many women and children who are homeless, mutilated, and/or dead due to witch hunts. Ukpabio was meant to visit Houston back in April to spread her ministry, but skeptic and atheist activists launched a campaign that prevented her from completing her trip.
We’ve talked about Ukpabio a few times on SGU, including reporting on the most recent success from skeptical activists. Here’s the email we received last week (it’s copy/pasted so everything is [sic]):
First Name: Stan
Last Name: [REDACTED]
Location: [REDACTED], KY
Subject: Moving beyond Skepticism toward agendas
Message: Thank you guys/gals for years of entertainment, lessons regarding logical fallicies, interesting interviews, laughs and the ‘how-to’ in approaching a supposed “science-based” essay.
I continue to download your podcast weekly, though lately I find myself only to listen briefly to your science news, check who may be interviewed and skip to ‘Science or Fiction.’
Over these years (in MY subjective estimation) you have continued to drift toward an ‘agenda-based’ position forwarding not only skeptical thinking but actively pushing atheism.
It’s no longer limited to Rebecca’s consistant slam on organized religion, but seems woven through most your dialogues whenever the subject arises.
OK, example please! Late examples would be the story of a supposed Christian lady leader in Africa killing witches (the one coming or who came to Houston, TX). These acts of this organization in Africa are terrible. And so, you blame it on the religious group(s) for allowing or supporting this. In the same vein, let’s poke at the religious for our history segment on burning witches at the stake (last week). Skeptically, I think the anthropologists would look more at the local government structures at the time to be the culprit; but, religion is an easy target for you.
I wondered today, that say a man entered a local bank, loudly declared himself to be an athiest and proceeded to rob the bank at gunpoint, how you would spin it on SGU.
By what I see as of late, I think you would not deem it noteworthy, since 1) It’s not a topic driven by my afore mentioned agenda; 2) You wouldn’t accept that he was an athiest just by his declaration; and 3) You would NEVER associate his atheism (if he was) to this disassociative act.
If the last two reasons above seem sensible to you, why not apply that with inflamed news that includes religions?
I don’t think you can defend the position that you do give religious news the ‘fair skeptical look,’… and thus my first point (not your agenda) has grounds.
Though I may slowly drift from your podcast, I do thank you greatly for your lessons, and for introducing me to various energized skeptics across the globe who can keep focused on the “Science” and fair “Skepticism,” not focusing on groups to slam in order to feel good or more right.
My co-host Jay responded with this:
As a listener of many podcasts, radio shows etc. I’ve had similar experiences where I thought I noticed agendas or changes in editorial positions arise. Now that I am 7 years into my own podcast I have a different perspective on some of the conclusions ive drawn about other shows. Shows evolve over time with sometimes little conscious decisions for course changes. We have never steered our show away from our original editorial position which is to educate our listeners not what to think but how to think. We also decided to only talk about religion when it crosses into the realm of science. Every news item that we discussed that has anything to do with religion is only being discussed to point out how it contradicted science. We don’t talk about religions for the sake of putting down religion. Most of us are not atheist. We are agnostic and as i’m sure you know there is a significant difference. I personally don’t have it out for religion and my feelings about it have only marginally changed. It would be far more accurate to come from the opposite perspective and say that I believe in science, critical thinking and education.
Thanks a lot for the honest email,
However, I remained confused by the initial email. So I responded with this:
I don’t understand the complaint at all. Helen Ukpabio founded an evangelical Christian ministry based upon her interpretation of the Bible. She preaches to congregations around the world about witches, telling them that God hates these children and demands that they be cured or murdered.
Why on earth would we discuss that without mentioning religion? She is literally using religious belief to convince people to murder children. We never said that this is what all Christians do. We never even said that this is what all Christians believe or support. So what did we say that was incorrect?
Several days later, we received this response:
Jay, I appreciate your reply, and your clarification of your positions. I do think the response by Rebecca does speaks for itself, and I could not have illustrated my point more vividly, ever. The Helen U. news had nothing to do with science. And before we voice a knee-jerk reaction in defense, lets ask how many times has SGU covered beheadings or dismemberings taking place in areas dominated my the Muslim religion?
I do like your whole group, guys and gals, and with fairness you need to know that Christians have standards of measuring news too. For instance, when Steve cites this is a “small study,” the same logic applies when I read stories like Helen U., or what the Pope might say, and so on.
Atheism does not equal agnostic (as you said). Creationists don’t equal Christians. Christian does not equal Roman Catholic.
There are plenty of podcast resources for the just mentioned topics (I’d love to share them with you sometime….) but the point is, please stay with science.
At this point I realized that I had been mistaken. I thought his initial complaint was that we mentioned Helen Ukpabio’s religion while discussing the fact that she literally preaches that God wants parents to murder their children for being witches. After this email I realized that his actual complaint was that we discussed her at all.
Apparently I don’t merit a direct response, but I’ll try once more, anyway. Witches are paranormal creatures that do not exist. Our podcast is called “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.” Skeptics often rationally discuss the paranormal.
Now, I’m very curious: please explain why we should not have covered the Helen Ukpabio witch-hunter story.
That was two days ago and there’s been no response. Perhaps he’s only interested in talking with Jay.
From what I can tell at this point, though, this appears to be a moderate Christian who won’t tolerate even the mention of an extremist from his own religion, even when that extremist is making very, very dangerous claims of the paranormal, even on a podcast devoted to discussing claims of the paranormal.
To me, that is the very worst kind of moderate Christian one can be.
And trust me: the day an atheist leader starts convincing the members of his atheist club to murder kids because atheism tells him that they’re goblins, you can be sure we’ll report on it.