Laughing religion off the planet – an interview with Pat Condell

With over 5 million hits on YouTube, and another couple of million on LiveLeak, Pat Condell is a leading voice of atheism on the internet. He is also a stand-up comedian, a playwright, a former lumberjack, a talk-show panelist, and a subscriber to The Freethinker.
Pat Condell
We tracked the blaspheming infidel down to a garden shed in London and asked him a few questions.

The Freethinker: Your first Youtube video was a response to the Blasphemy Challenge. Was this your first foray into the world of internet video? If so, did you imagine that it would snowball like it did?
Pat Condell: Yes, it was. I didn’t know what to expect. I was looking for ways to publicise my stand-up show when I heard about the Blasphemy Challenge. It looked like fun, so I devised a little rant about how much I deny the holy spirit (quite a lot, as it happens), made the video in my garden shed and posted it on YouTube. The positive response convinced me that this was a medium I should explore further.

I didn’t know much about YouTube, but I guessed that most of the audience would be in America, so I made ‘Hello America‘ about how I see the relationship between our two countries. Again the response was very positive, especially from Americans. It was viewed thousands of times in a few days, and I realised I could reach a lot more people like this than in a lifetime of performing in small theatres. So I mothballed the stand-up show, much of which was topical anyway, and decided to make more videos.

Then somebody alerted me to LiveLeak, a site with a more newsy edge than YouTube. I posted my videos there and ‘The trouble with Islam‘ took off. To date it has had more than 1,750,000 hits, and with 380,000 on YouTube, it’s now been seen well over two million times.

FT: What do you like about internet video as a medium?
PC: It’s open to anyone. We no longer have to ask someone else’s permission to communicate with a wider audience.

I’ve been criticising religion for years, but only in comedy clubs. Whenever I tried to do it in the mainstream media I was censored, especially by the BBC where jokes about the subject are always heavily edited, and it’s virtually impossible to say anything at all about Islam.

The internet allows all of us to bypass these self-appointed gatekeepers and communicate our ideas without interference.

FT: How has becoming an “internet celebrity” changed your life?
PC: Thanks, but I’m not any kind of celebrity. I’m just speaking my mind. My personal life hasn’t changed, I’m glad to say, because I’m very happy with it as it is.

FT: Your attacks on religion in general, and Islam in particular, have led many people to describe you as “fearless”. Are you?
PC: No. I get death threats and I take them seriously. However, I’ve never responded well to bullies, and I have no intention of starting now.

FT: Christian evangelist Dinesh D’Sousa has accused you of being smug. How do you respond to this?
PC: People have called me a lot worse. I’d never heard of this guy until someone directed me to his blog. Since then I’ve read his book on Christianity, and I didn’t see anything in it to warrant respecting his opinion on anything, so he can call me whatever he likes.

FT: Do you still do stand-up?
PC: I haven’t worked the circuit full time for years. I wrote my last show specifically to say something about religion. Confronted first hand by the political correctness at the BBC, I felt the subject was being falsely represented and legitimate opinion was being censored. As a result, religion, and Islam in particular, was getting an inflated idea of its own importance. Stand-up was the medium I knew best, and as I didn’t see anybody else in the comedy world queuing up to address this situation I elected myself.

FT: How would you describe your personal philosophy?
PC: I’m a vegetarian and I strongly support animal rights. (I hope that’s OK with Jesus.)
I find it hard not to smile at religion’s conceit that we’re superior to animals on the basis that we have souls and they don’t, when five minutes in a slaughterhouse would convince anyone that, if anything, it’s animals who have the souls and human beings who don’t.

As for my opposition to religion, it’s not about theology – I couldn’t care less whether God exists or not – it’s a civil rights issue. I believe everyone should be free to determine their own experience in life and not have it imposed by someone else. We don’t need our reality filtered through religious dogma any more than we need spring water adulterated with chemicals.

FT: What is your favourite thing about religion?
PC: If nothing else it is genuinely inclusive. Nobody is rejected, as it doesn’t require intelligence, only faith. Not that some intelligent people aren’t religious. There are people with biochemistry degrees who devote their lives to proving Genesis true. Nobody could call those people unintelligent, but they are fools.

The best thing about religion is that it’s so transparently absurd it can’t possibly last forever. I’m convinced it will only take a small shift in human consciousness for it to be laughed off the planet, and I hope I’m still around when that happens.

FT: What about the future? Will we see a collection of your videos on the market?
PC: Yes. The Richard Dawkins Foundation is issuing a non-profit DVD of my first thirty-five videos which should be out soon.

FT: What can we do to resist the growing influence of religion?
PC: We can speak out. That’s what the internet is for, and it’s the only reason my voice is being heard. We need to make as much noise as religious people do, and with as much certainty about our right to do so.

Nobody should be bullied into showing respect they don’t think is deserved. If you hear somebody claiming special treatment because of their faith you’re entitled to say: ‘No, I object to this. It offends me, it insults my beliefs, and it’s a violation of my human rights.’

Use their tactics if you feel strongly enough. Make a nuisance of yourself. Make an official complaint. Take it to a tribunal. As an atheist you’re part of a minority whose beliefs are constantly ignored and marginalised while religious prejudice is pandered to and encouraged, and you have every right to be offended by that.

Also, I would urge everyone to join the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, both of whom do excellent work in the cause of sanity.

Remember, one person on their own can’t do much, but a million people each doing a little every day can change things very quickly.

UPDATE (1/4/08): Here is Pat’s latest video, a comment on the uproar surrounding Geert Wilders’ anti-Koran film Fitna:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3_qelW5qp4[/youtube]