Podcast 004: Forget Polite, Let’s Talk Religion

In This Episode: “We’re told that in polite society that you don’t talk politics or religion.” Yeah, whatever: as Clare says, we’re not always in a polite society. Episode 2 talked politics, so let’s get to religion!

Jump To…

Show Notes

  • Columnist Ken Herman’s column in the Austin American-Statesman was the basis for the story discussed.
  • I quoted the Freedom From Religion Foundation in my discussion.
  • The font for road signs is called Highway Gothic Expanded.
  • Tom Robbins’ book that Clare mentioned: Tibetan Peach Pie (A True Account of an Imaginative Life) — Which Robbins declared was his “un-memoir.”
  • Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, a production of the 121-employee Slate Group, which was created by Graham Holdings Company (of the Washington Post fame) but is now owned by Univision Communications, a multimedia company with 16 broadcast, cable and digital networks; 61 television stations; and online and mobile apps, products and content creation facilities in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, is here.

How to Subscribe

Support Uncommon Sense on Patreon: at the $4 level, you’ll also get the Premium edition of TRUE’s newsletter.

Search for Uncommon Sense in your podcast app or on iTunes, or manually enter this feed URL into your app: https://thisistrue.com/feed/podcast

Also available via Google Play, PlayerFM, and more to come.

Comments and Questions?

Your comments on this episode are welcome below. Questions can be added there, sent via this site’s Contact Page, or tweeted to @ThisIsTrue.


Randy: Welcome to the Uncommon Sense podcast. I’m your host, Randy Cassingham.

Clare: And I am Randy’s co-host, Clare Angelica.

Randy: Yay!

We’re told in polite society that you should not talk about politics or religion.

Clare: I don’t think we’re polite society sometimes.

Randy: Maybe not. Maybe not! Well, a couple of weeks ago we talked about politics, and you know it’s only episode four: let’s go for religion.

Clare: All right.

Randy: Last week’s newsletter had a story out of Texas. In 2011, Texas legislators passed a law theoretically to raise awareness for motorcycle safety. And what the law does is allow family or friends to buy a sign that the state will put up at a crash site in memory of the person who was killed. The kind of interesting thing about this, and why it’s religion, is the law requires, no matter whether the person was religious or not, and no matter if they were Christian or not, that like the top 40% of the sign is a big Christian cross.

Clare: And this is specifically for motorcycle accidents?

Randy: Yes. There’s actually been some other signs in Texas for other kinds of crashes and that kind of thing, but this one’s specifically for motorcycles. But instead of having a motorcycle or something that would actually clue somebody in that it’s a motorcycle crash, it’s a red Christian cross. It’s not a red cross like the American Red Cross has; it is a Roman Christian cross. Ken Herman, who’s a columnist at the Austin American-Statesman, wrote about this, which is what brought it to our attention for This is True. The Texas Department of Transportation claims that this is not a Christian cross.

Clare: So they say. I’ve seen the sign.

Randy: Yeah, it sure looks Christian to me. And Ken Herman concludes his story on this by saying, “As a non-Christian, I respect and recognize the cross as a religious symbol. Seems ludicrous for the state, in this case, to ask Christians not to.” So, the interesting thing about this is what they say this red cross on the memorial sign is. They actually say that the cross is a quote, “Non-sectarian symbol of death.” Which is a pretty interesting thing to say about that. So, I made this the story of the week last week, which means it gets graphicized — and I will put that on the show page at thisistrue.com/podcast4 so you can see this story, and you can actually see an example of the sign.

When I posted that on Facebook, one of the first comments was from a guy named Dan who says, “Well, I guess crosses were a symbol of death prior to Christianity; they were torture and execution devices.” So, people are responding to this in kind of an interesting way.

Clare: Yeah, think about that next time you’re in church.

Randy: Well, you know, when you’re in church usually there’s a cross right there in front with Christ hanging on it, or at least a representation of Christ, dead on the cross, so.

Clare: Not something I’d want to look at. Not as pretty.

Randy: Yeah. It’s interesting that the state– I mean, we do have a prohibition against the state promoting one religion above another, and this really seems to do that. So, Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman did talk to one of the families and, you know, what did you think about this? And they said they didn’t want a cross, even though they were Christian. They wanted something that was motorcycle related, because otherwise how do you know that this sign that you drive by has anything to do with a motorcycle crash? But the state wouldn’t let them do it.

Clare: I haven’t seen the sign in real life, but if I were to be driving down the highway and see it, I would think it was a major medical accident or some horrific thing. There’s nothing to pinpoint that that’s motorcycle.

Randy: Yeah, so you can guess when there’s a road sign that says in memory of a person, and a date, you can kind of guess that they died there, but how? Were they run over? Is this for pedestrian safety? Is it because they were priest that got run over? What? You know?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation actually complained about this sign several years ago, and they say, “Not only does these signs prominently feature a Latin cross, the signs fail abysmally in raising awareness about motorcycle safety.” You know, the state says this, but it’s a famously right-wing state that is kind of pro-religion, so you kind of wonder about their claim that they’re not trying to be sectarian here.

Clare: Even the colors that they chose for the sign.

Randy: Yeah. So, the story that I have posted on the show page shows the sign. I didn’t want to use the newspaper’s photo, because that’s copyright violation to use. Obviously that’s somebody else’s photo. So, I went and recreated this sign going to the specs of the state. I even found the exact font that they use for road signs and downloaded the font so I could make it look right and created this sign. And I went a little bit editorial with it: instead of in memory of some particular person, I said it’s in memory of telling the truth. So, you know, I like to be a little provocative sometimes.

Clare: Oh, what?

Randy: I don’t believe the state that they’re not trying to be religious about this.

Clare: Yeah, I’m not quite buying it — at all.

Randy: You know, even the family that was interviewed for this story is Christian and that’s not what they wanted, and clearly Jews or Buddhists or somebody else probably wouldn’t really want their memorial to have a Christian cross on it.

Clare: Right.

Randy: So, Texas Department of Transportation says there’s 43 of these signs around the state. Three more are in the works. The family or friends that have to pay for it pay $350 for the privilege. It’s not required, they don’t have to have a sign if they don’t want, but if the family wants one, they have to pay for it. After paying $350 to have the sign made and put up, it will only be there for a year.

Clare: $300 for a year?

Randy: For one year.

Clare: Wow.

Randy: And I hope they get to keep the sign if that’s what they paid for.

Clare: Yeah.

Randy: So again, that story is on the show page at thisistrue.com/podcast4.

We also have an interesting letter this week, Clare, that you have in your hand. This is probably one of the first letters we got about specifically the podcast. Who’s that from?

Clare: The letter’s from Karen in Indiana, and she was very nice and said, “I’m not going to publicly talk about your podcast,” but we are. So, here’s her letter.

Randy: Yeah, here we go, telling her about– That’s a letter to the editor, so I think it’s pretty fair game.

Clare: So, Karen says, “I don’t want to review your podcast publicly yet, because it wouldn’t yet reflect what I think you are capable of. I know you’re still working out the kinks, so I went ahead and subscribed. Before I post a review, I’d like to see you tighten the thing up quite a bit. I listened to all of episode zero, part of episode one before I got bored and stopped, and about four-and-a-half minutes of episode two before I got bored and stopped. If it’s always going to be mostly about you and Clare schmoozing, then maybe it’s just not for me. An example of a podcast that I love: Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. I’m sure it’s scripted in advance, and I don’t know if scripting would ruin the fun for you. I’m rooting for you, and I won’t say anything negative about your podcast publicly, but I also won’t vote for it unless/until I’d feel comfortable recommending it to someone who is not already a fan of yours. I hope this helps, good luck.”

Randy: So, what’s your reaction to that, kind of in general?

Clare: It’s a little bit of an ouch.

Randy: Yeah.

Clare: I mean, it’s feedback, which you know we can always improve on and–

Randy: Right, and I definitely think we could improve and tighten things up. That’s why I’m trying to go for more meaty stuff like talking about, you know, like this religious story in last week’s issue. But that said, I think it’s fairly obviously this show is not scripted. We’re definitely playing it by ear, knowing in advance what topic we’re going to cover, but then just jumping into it. And that’s the way I want it to be. When I’m not using a script, I’m not the most fluid speaker in the world, so what you hear is pretty what you’d get when having a conversation with me in person. That will appeal to many listeners, but not everyone — and I’m fine with that.

So, I did reply to Karen in Indiana, saying, “Thanks for your candid comments, but no, my podcast is never going to be a scripted performance show like Gladwell’s. You’re comparing a guy with about 30 audio production and editing professionals behind him, not to mention a large media corporation, with a guy working mostly alone out of a spare bedroom in his house. If you’re only going to be happy with slickly produced stuff, you’re never going to enjoy my show, and that’s OK. I’m sorry you missed the fun part of episode two. I can’t tell if you have been interested in it or not, but when I compare that episode with other independent podcasts I’ve listened to, it holds up very favorably, and I know I’ll improve over time. Compared to large media offerings, not so much, and that’s OK with me too. So, with that in mind I have no problem with your deciding not to rate or review the show, and you’re welcome to ignore such suggestions in future letters. I appreciate your supporting words, and cheers.”

Clare: I think we got another comment, but I think I just responded and didn’t even tell you.

Randy: Oh, OK. Great.

Clare: I don’t remember who it was. It wasn’t bad, it was just, “Loved it. Clare needs to be louder.” And I–

Randy: Right, I did see that one.

Clare: Oh, OK. Yeah, I responded something like, “Well, Randy’s got that radio voice. I’m working on it.”

Randy: Right, so we’re both learning on this stuff. So, Karen was responding to my request in the newsletter to, you know, rate or review the show. That’s what really helps get the show out there, because other people aren’t going to subscribe to something they don’t know what it is unless there’s some decent ratings and reviews of the show, usually on iTunes.

So, Clare, you and I both being writers who put our stuff out there to the public, we pretty much have to develop thick skin. So yeah, I think the average person would say ouch that she says she got bored and stopped listening, but I actually appreciate her feedback.

Clare: So, one of the best advice I got, I just read, well, not just read, but it was Tom Robbins’s … You looked it up for me. Tibetan Peach Pie.

Randy: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins, a self-declared ‘un-memoir’. And I’ll link to that on the show page.

Clare: One of the favorite things that I read was he stopped reading his reviews for books or anything he did long time ago. He just said, “I don’t see the point.” He’s writing for himself. I mean, not himself, he has his fans, but he’s writing because he loves writing. Not everybody’s going to like it. It’s just part of the gamble.

Randy: I think that’s true of any writer, that we’re writing because we’re driven to it. And we don’t expect everybody to like everything we do, and you know, lots of people won’t like anything we do — and they’ll write to tell us about it! I don’t have the luxury of not reading my reviews. His reviews are in newspapers and on TV, big media reviewing his stuff. I don’t get big media reviewing my stuff, and I don’t think you do either.

Clare: Not yet.

Randy: I do glance through my Amazon.com reviews of my books, but most of the feedback I get from readers: they’re emailing directly to me, because I make myself available.

Clare: Right, and I think that’s pretty important, especially having a smaller operation kind of like yours.

Randy: Right.

Clare: Yeah. I think it’s good.

Randy: So, I want to be accessible by my readers, and my email is on every newsletter. You could actually just hit reply to my newsletters. It will come to me. I don’t have anybody, such as yourself, intercepting my mail and making sure I only get the good stuff. No, I want it all!

Clare: It’s true, it’s true. You answer it all. It’s pretty cool.

Randy: I don’t answer it all. I look at it all.

Clare: Well, most of it. OK, OK. That’s fair.

Randy: Yeah, I can’t. I wouldn’t have any time to write if I answered it all, but I do at least skim through it all. Premium subscribers who pay to get the newsletter, they actually get a little bit higher priority, but I do actually respond to a lot of all of it, not just the premium feedback. I think it’s good to stay in touch with my audience, and sometimes, yeah, it’s pretty tough stuff, and pretty direct, and even harsh. But you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to read it. I want to react to it. Sometimes I will argue with the reader. Sometimes that pisses them off that I didn’t just take it and shut up! You know, it’s like hey, you’re writing to a writer and you don’t think I’m going to reply? Come on. But I do sometimes reply and sometimes they get all huffy and they leave in a fit of anger, but you know, that’s their loss as far as I’m concerned.

Clare: I agree. They’re missing out.

Randy: That’s it for this week. The This is True newsletter and the Uncommon Sense podcast are supported by your subscriptions and via patreon.com/thisistrue. Pledges there at the $4 level will also get you the premium edition of This is True’s weekly email newsletter, but even a dollar or two really help. The show notes for this episode with the links and the story discussed this week are at thisistrue.com/podcast4, that’s the digit four. I’m Randy Cassingham. Clare and I thank you so much for joining us this week on Uncommon Sense, and we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

4 thoughts on “Podcast 004: Forget Polite, Let’s Talk Religion

  1. Long ago (I think it was Emily Post) a mannerist claimed there are 3 things that are not discussed in polite society: Sex, politics and religion. But what are the most important things in human experience? Sex, politics and religion.

    I don’t think I like polite society very much.

    You’re right: I need to look for a good sex story to feature! -rc

  2. Disappointed that you didn’t reference the original source of the red cross for this purpose – that it was a symbol used by a major motorcycle organization:

    “David Dobyns of Kaufman, Texas ABATE state coordinator, said the red cross is something his organization has used for many years to memorialize “fallen bikers.”

    This isn’t one of the egregious violations of liberal principles that Texas is notorious for; it appears to be a bona fide attempt to use a symbol relevant to the affected community. One can certainly argue that it isn’t widely enough recognized to be effective as a reference to motorcycles, but a cross and flowers by the side of the road are also used up here in the northeast to indicate the location of a traffic fatality, and I’ve always assumed it’s shorthand for a grave. A mound of dirt with a cross at the head is commonly used in cartoons and caricatures to indicate graves, and in that respect I buy the “symbol of death” explanation. So while I agree it looks like use of a Christian symbol, (particularly since it’s Texas), and most people will not get the reference to motorcycles, and non-Christians may want something different, I hardly consider it a major violation of the Church/State conflict.

    I must say, when I saw the title of the podcast, I expected something meatier.

    A Roman cross is a Roman cross. People driving by aren’t going to look at it and say “Huh, that’s the symbol from ‘A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments’!” They’re going to see it for what it clearly and obviously is. So we talked about what it means, not about who adopted it several years ago. -rc

  3. I recently read that using a cross to commemorate a god (or religion) is like wearing a rifle to commemorate JFK or MLK.

Leave a Comment