I kind of want to retitle episode 4 of our podcast: When Good Podcasts Go Wrong. Gah.
I spent a fair bit of time this weekend (while pruning trees) listening to the last few episodes of our podcast. It’s a little surreal, listening to myself argue with Benjamin Rosenbaum for an hour or two at a time. Part of it is the general self-consciousness of listening to yourself, but sometimes, it’s also realizing that you can be very stubborn, or thick-headed, or possibly anti-Semitic…
For example, in episode 4, we were supposed to talk about ‘What are humans?’ The podcast is titled “Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans,” after all. But listening, I’d say that the first 45 minutes or so of this really went kind of badly awry.
See, we were trying to talk about the term ‘secular humanist.’ I may or may not have referred to both of us as that; I can’t quite remember, but Ben thinks I did. And that troubled him, because he identifies as religious (specifically Jewish), *not* secular.
And so we went into a LONG discussion, where I spent quite a while kind of rigidly trying to explain that for me, ‘religion’ meant, among other things, belief in some kind of supernatural being. We had a long sequence in here about science fiction and fantasy and what counts as ‘supernatural,’ which honestly maybe just muddled things further.
I think I was so focused on trying to clarify that distinction (a distinction that Ben completely understood, by the way, it’s clear in retrospect), that what I was having trouble hearing at the time…
…was that for Ben, the big problem was that I was essentially erasing / denying the “religious” state of Judaism (which doesn’t necessarily require a belief in a supernatural being, if I’m understanding things right, which at this point, I have no confidence that I was, but anyway).
Additionally, this is the kind of erasure that tends to come out of a Christian viewpoint, and I was raised Catholic, and those views and values have colonized much of the world; it’s honestly hard for me to separate out which bits are Christian-thought-dominance.
So the point is, I was trying to have a kind of abstract definitional debate (and one that as an agnostic, I’m not even particularly invested in), and Ben was experiencing an attack on a fundamental and really important aspect of his identity — and further, an aspect that has a long and bloody history of being under attack.
Honestly, it’s super-embarrassing, listening to it all now. But maybe it’s worthwhile for others to hear, with this framing, seeing just how badly these conversations can go awry, even between two people who are very good friends and who are trying to have a calm and rational discussion.
In the second half, we mostly talk about ethics of causing pain to animals, about hierarchies of value (should humans be above others? why or why not?), why I’m not a vegetarian though I think I should be, why Ben goes to great lengths to try to reduce his carbon footprint, etc., why we might prioritize saving our own families over the greater good, etc. So that part is pretty interesting, I think.
You could just skip over the bit where I’m blithely ignoring Ben’s pain (and totally valid points) if you like. Sigh.