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To The Best Of Our Knowledge
August 4, 2019
Listen to This Week's Show

Your Thoughts on Atheists, Annoying Voices, and Our Sonic Past

Digital producer Mark here. We're re-airing a show about anger this weekend — specifically, can anger be useful? Anger can animate political action, can offer catharsis...and in the case of a national radio program, can provide some pointed feedback. Let's hear from a few listeners.

Frederick in Florida suggests that our show on "Original Sin" ignored the plurality of listeners who have no religious beliefs at all.

What bothers me most about all topics on TV or radio concerning discussions of Christianity is the implicit discrimination because the entire discussion never asks the question: "Is any of this true? Does any of this really make any sense."

In other words, in my opinion, all public discussions of Christianity are endemically discriminatory because they automatically exclude the large population of people who have called themselves "Nones" - no religious affiliation.

According to recent polls, nearly 25% of the population has no religious affiliation, and that number rises to 38% for those under 35 years of age. These numbers are larger than the percentage of the population that are Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish or even mainline Protestant.

I'm a huge fan of To The Best Of Our Knowledge, and I have been for years. I just believe that, with your openness to all things, you should consider the feelings of a huge percentage of Americans when you are considering "Christian issues."

Thanks again for the email, Frederick. The animating question of this particular episode asks: Has religion — particularly the concept of original sin — shaped many non-religious aspects of life in Western countries? And what does that mean if you don't believe? We're proud of this show because it explores how different ideas intersect and shape one another: how religion can impact even those who do not believe. Speaking as someone raised Roman Catholic, and now more or less living an agnostic, secular life, I find that important, because it underscores that those who have a faith and those who do not are not living totally disconnected lives from one another. We're all connected, regardless of what we believe, and we all need to understand what animates what we think and feel and believe. 

It might also be worth noting that shows like this generally bring out public radio listeners who DO have a religious affiliation to say that they generally feel alienated by much of the programming they hear, specifically because religion is never mentioned. We'd like to think we can ask questions that touch everyone, and shows like this make us feel like we might be hitting that mark.


Susan and Ruth listened to "Finding Your Voice" — specifically Anne's piece on vocal fry — and weighed in with their personal feelings on the vocal pattern.

But it's not the vocal fry or the up speak as much as that so many women sound like third graders! There's this little girl quality that seems to have become ubiquitous. Is THIS how we want to assert out feminine power? I don't think so. Power in a voice comes from deep in our bodies, standing firm on the ground, and supported by the breath and breadth of our experience. I hope women will become comfortable with exercising this kind of vocal power and assert ourselves in new, unexpected ways. We need these voices!
I am one of the haters of vocal fry in the voices of podcast hosts and reporters. "This American Life" offers the worst array of examples of this laziness in art. To my mind, it's not simply harsh to listen it, it is a symptom of a lack of professionalism. NPR broadcasts some of the most — OK, I'll say it — beautiful voices on radio, Ms. Stamberg's included. Hers is extra special because it is overbrimming with character. Steve Inskeep, Ari Shapiro, Michelle Martin, Michele Norris, Lulu G. Navarro...I could go on. Young, old, male and female. They are artists of the microphone.

It's a fair point that vocal fry is not restricted by gender — in fact, in the piece, vocal surgeon Seth Dailey explains that it's a vocal pattern that any human voice can have, and is naturally-occurring.

As such, it's hard for me to say that it might be "unprofessional" to have voices on the air that have a touch of vocal fry to them. It's just who those people are. 

Bringing you behind the curtain a bit: as we assemble new TTBOOK episodes, we regularly talk about getting new voices on the air that need to be heard. Old, young, men, women, black, brown, white, of varying education, ability, and origin. It doesn't feel fair to me to work to get those people into a studio to hear out the ideas or experiences that they need to share, only to toss it aside because the literal sound of their voice isn't pleasing enough to our ears.

Maybe that test is different for interviewers versus guests. But these days, nearly everyone we talk to is also creating something to tell their own story elsewhere — shouldn't everyone feel free to share their story? Shouldn't we all try to listen with open ears?   


And lastly, a sweet email from Rick, who said he enjoyed listening to "The Voice" with his daughter last weekend. He also had this suggestion for a future episode.

I would love to know this: how has the pace, noise, torrent of information, and move to industrial and post-industrial society changed our psychological landscape as human beings. There is the romantic notion that we lived in some beautiful, pastoral past. But what was it like (and is it like for people who still live this way) when we spent our lives with only natural sound, no clocks, embedded in the rhythm of nature? Were we closer to one another, more spiritually attuned, less psychologically stressed, more violent (less violent)? What have we given up for a world of modern medicine and technology, what have we lost, how are we different? In 300 years, very little time, really, so much has changed. Not just in the West, but around the world.

This is a really interesting question! We've explored the present day effects of sound but examining the past (and maybe the future!) of how sound shapes our quality of life would be a worthy followup. Thanks for listening Rick!

Keep writing in — we love hearing how every episode makes you think. If there are still questions burning in your mind after you hear us on the air, please drop us a line so we can keep the conversation flowing.

—Mark

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