Krista Tippett annoys me again

November 23, 2015 • 8:15 am

The one disadvantage of shopping very early on Saturday morning is that, if I’m unlucky enough to be driving after 7 a.m., I’ll have to listen to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show on National Public Radio. The show was formerly called “On Faith,” but, probably realizing that the religious overtones might cost her listeners, Tippett changed the name. Unfortunately, the subject remains largely the same: spirituality, which Tippett tries to inject as often as possible into the discourse. (This resembles the sociologist Elaine Ecklund, who, funded by Templeton, spends her academic career trying to show that science and religion are compatible because many scientists are “spiritual”). And, of course, Tippett never defines “spirituality.” She has a weakness for religion, so, in her mouth, the word seems to flirt with the ambits of divinity.

This week’s show, an interview with artist Ann Hamilton, was particularly distressing, forcing me to keep my eyes on the road rather than bang my head on the dashboard. If you can bear to listen at the link (it’s a year-old interview from Minneapolis), you’ll hear two people talking almost entirely in Deepities, so that many times I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. Further, Tippett does her usual up-talking, a style of speaking that irritates me.

The show started off promisingly as Hamilton shut Tippett down at the very beginning, when the host tried to drag in spirituality. But then things went south when Hamlton began palavering about religion. Here’s my transcript:

Tippett: A lot people speak of you as a spiritual artist, or an artist who’s in the realm of spirituality. Actually I don’t really see you claiming that word so often.

Hamilton: I mean, I think that word makes me very nervous, because I don’t actually know exactly what it means. And I think it’s a word that is for a lot of people very loaded and means very particular things. And I think that artists are very slippery–that we want to not be categorized.

[JAC: Tippett doesn’t know exactly what it means, either!]

Tippett: So if I ask you, you know, what was the spiritual background of your childhood—in the best connotations that you fill that word with.What do you think of?

Hamilton: I’m a Calvinist, and I certainly grew up going to church with my family . . .

Of course what Tippett means by the “best connotations” of spirituality is opaque to any rational listener, but if you know of her show you’ll realize that she means religious connotations.

Conclusion #1: If you’re going to use the word “spiritual,” define it, for most people imbue it with religious overtones.

Conclusion #2: I still want to do an NPR show called “On Thinking,” in which I’d interview scientists, science-oriented philosophers, and rationalists of all stripes. When I suggested this before on this site, one reader responded, “They already have that show: it’s called Science Friday.” But that’s not the show I’d have; it would be more like Tippett’s show, with interviews, but it would deal instead with real issues— with the wonder of reality—rather than with insubstantial and woo-ish “spirituality.”


Picture and description from here (my emphasis): U.S. President Barack Obama (R) presents the 2013 National Humanities Medal to radio host and author Krista Tippett (L) during an East Room ceremony July 28, 2014 at the White House in Washington, DC. Tippett was honored for thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.

My snarky comment: she may have delved into them, but she hasn’t solved any of them. Solving them is for science!

(July 27, 2014 – Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America)

Here are Tippett’s two books; I read the later one—a fulsome dose of accommodationism—and won’t read the first:

  • Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters—and How to Talk About It (Penguin, January 29, 2008)
  • Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit (Penguin, February 23, 2010)


50 thoughts on “Krista Tippett annoys me again

      1. Me too. I had thought it was a particularly New Zealand characteristic, turning every phrase into an implied question. It used to be very prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s (or that’s when I most noticed it).

        I had thought the phrase would refer to a different but even more annoying style of speaking, the relentlessly cheerful faux-optimistic tones used by some presenters – frequently accompanied by bad puns – for any topic that isn’t actually disastrous. Makes me want to slap them.


        1. That method speaking annoys me as well. Diana McPherson put an article about it on Facebook a while ago. I’ll ask her is she can remember it.

            1. Well I can’t argue with being all around pleasing. 🙂

              Be sure to watch the video on the Naomi Wolf one. They demonstrate the vocal fry. I heard some girls talking this way on a shuttle bus at work for the first time as they were describing someone, in their vocal fry dialect as “a baaaaad student”.

              1. I watched it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before, so it must be one of the ones you’ve posted previously.

                I find it quite amazing young people think it means people sound educated. It’s certainly not what I think when I hear it!

  1. Thanks for the “up talk” definition link. Until now I didn’t know that there was a phrase that was used to define that thoroughly annoying manner of speaking.

    I despise it as well. Whenever I hear someone talking in this tone I go all convulsive, like Kramer did when he heard the voice of Mary Hartman.

  2. The cloying ingratiation that many NPR personalities offer to religion has made it so that I can no longer tolerate much of their programming. The NPR voice is also nauseating.

    I guess I’m just another liberal who has become disillusioned with the Regressive Left.

    Having been raised in a very religious home, one thing I can say about religious conservatives is that, in some cases at least, their beliefs are based on arguments that are logically valid (but not sound). I was this way growing up: “Given that god is real, given that the bible is his word, conclusions A, B, C, follow necessarily.”

    Religious liberals are infuriating because they have jettisoned logic altogether. They speak in Deepak deepities, and they’re smug about their ability to savor sentences that are nonsense. Influenced by modernism’s rejection of logic and “narrative” (I hate that word), religious liberals think that there’s beauty and poetry in talking in prose poems, i.e., highly rhetorical and lyrical gibberish.

    1. A related observation some have made: criticisms of criticism of religion which assume that “people don’t really believe X” are pretty insulting to people who do in fact believe X.

  3. I haven’t listened but it does sound extremely irritating. To have a good artist on your show and yet steer the conversation to spirituality rather than art is a bit like having Yo Yo Ma on your show and spending the entire time talking with him about chess.

  4. Conflating science and spirituality is like saying that screw drivers are spiritual. I guess someone has a loose screw!!

  5. How to start Sunday annoyed. Tippet is on from 7-8AM which is when I , daily, turn on the radio to see what is happening in the world. Then comes verbal soup from Tippet and her pals. It really is as if she threw words up against the ceiling to see how they landed: I never have the foggiest notion of what she is talking about. Gibberish. AND she got a medal??!! For mush! Have complained to
    VPR, asking for “diversity” in content to no avail.

  6. Last week I heard an NPR program about how science and religion are not at odds. No sirree. It was not with Tippett, but you can guess what they said.
    But NPR still has good programs, including Science Friday and news and entertainment.

  7. There are a number of solutions to this problem.

    1. Play music CDs in the car while driving.

    2. Download podcasts from the Internet, transfer them to CDs and listen to them while driving.

    1. That’s exactly what I do. Talking books and plays are also great for longer journeys. It’s about 30 years since I listened to the radio in the car. I don’t even know how to tune it in.

        1. Exactly my thought.

          ‘I’ll have to listen to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show on National Public Radio.’ – No, Prof CC, you truly don’t.

          On getting into a pool car at work, my first two actions used to be: 1: start motor 2: stab frantically at the Off button on the radio before the inanity seriously damaged my brain

          In my own car the radio is permanently off, I’d sooner listen to the motor. But in modern cars that have things like cassette tape drives or even CD players, there’s no need ever to listen to somebody else’s choice of ‘music’ interspersed with mindless babble. Still moderner cars will, I think, accommodate things like MP3 players, which are even easier than CD’s to load music-of-choice onto.


  8. Tippet confirms my observation that theists are either dolts or deluded or often both. Of course she (or anyone else) is not to blame for either. This program would seem to exist solely to pander to those seeking affirmation of their own theistic beliefs.

  9. Jerry, just to clarify–do you get annoyed by any talk about ‘spirituality’, including the way Sam Harris treats it?

  10. The title of CT’s earlier show was Speaking of Faith not On Faith – unless I missed an in-between iteration of the show, which I hope I did. I’d like to miss as many as possible.

  11. I mean, I think that word (‘spirituality’) makes me very nervous, because I don’t actually know exactly what it means. And I think it’s a word that is for a lot of people very loaded very loaded and means very particular things. And I think that artists are very slippery–that we want to not be categorized.

    QFT. Tippett then proceeds to demonstrate this reference to the slipperiness of semantic proselytization by using the old tactic of “well, why don’t you use the word in the way YOU think it makes sense?” C’mon, how nice is that?

    They’ll do this with spirituality, religion, God, faith, alternative medicine, positive thinking, space aliens, astrology — you name it. The more they can get skeptics and critics to slide over into publicly endorsing reasonable natural re-interpretations of words grounded in supernatural concepts, the less they feel they need to defend their ideas.

    “Golly, we don’t argue with folks we agree with! Look at us seeking harmony! We’re making progress by making friends.”

    Clarity is not their friend. Neither is consistency and curiosity. Instead, they muddy the discourse with a lot of confusion, credulity, and compartmentalization — and call these waters “deep” and their perception “nuanced.”

    Wankers. I think maybe this last ditch attempt to cling to bullshit which they call “Spirituality” might in some ways be the most offensive and the most direct attack on us. After all, its main public stance has devolved into a very focused mandate of “Don’t Be An Atheist.” Anything but that. You’re too nice.

    1. For better or for worse, the word IMO spirituality has become increasingly slippery over time.

      When Sam Harris uses it, I know exactly what he means, and I know he does NOT mean anything ethereal or entailing contact with the dead, etc. Likewise, a few folk when talking about Bertrand Russell’s “spirituality” are basically referring to the clearly unmuddied ideas in Russell’s essay “A Free Man’s Worship”. People who talk about Percy Shelley’s “spirituality” in his poem “Prometheus Unbound” know this work is in continuity with his essay “The Necessity of Atheism”.

      By contrast, when Deepak Chopra collaborates on a debate book with a scientist and the other representing the scientific perspective and DC representing the “spiritual” point of view, I not only don’t know what DC means, I am worried he is going to use “spirituality” elastically to mean…anything he wants it to mean.

      [The book is “War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet — and Do Not”
      by Deepak Chopra & Leonard Mlodinow ]

      For Deepak Chopra and other New Agers, “spirituality” is the joker in the deck which is a wild card that can stand for the Ace of Spades or Two of Clubs or anything one wants. (And a lot of New Agers deal it from the bottom of the deck as well!!!)

      As you say, much of this talk entails “confusion, credulity, and compartmentalization”

      1. Words aren’t magic and their meanings aren’t fixed in the purity of their origin. If the word “spirituality” slowly gained popular acceptance in its secular sense then I’d be happy to join Harris in his attempt to claim or reclaim the word. But it seems to me that the supernatural interpretation is not only primary, but overwhelmingly popular.

        Go to the “Spirituality” section of the bookstore. Are you ever going to see it filled with books of photographs by Ansel Adams, explanations of String Theory, or anything by Bertrand Russell? Or will it be Deepok Chopra and Rhonda Byrne? Angels and ghosts and Metaphysics?

        Till it shifts I intend to treat the word as a Trojan Horse. I used to argue otherwise — but that was before I realized how very, very sloppy, inconsistent, and ‘tricksy’ the public discourse on religion is. If they CAN misunderstand you for their benefit, they WILL. Rule of thumb.

        1. I haven’t myself encountered much of the
          “we don’t argue with folks we agree with! Look at us seeking harmony!”
          phenomenon you mention, but I’m sure you are right that it is out there.

          (To continue my poker analogy, it’s folks trying to persuade you the game is Texas Hold’em when it its just ordinary stud poker.)

        2. But note also that Chopra’s use is even more extreme – most theists are dualists, believing in mind things (ideal things) like gods, minds, souls, and so forth, as well as matter (like hydrogen atoms and cats, or at least cat bodies). However, Chopra is an idealist – he thinks that *everything* is mental (spiritual). (Or at least his marketing is such, anyway.)

          1. Yes. That’s why atheists class idealistic monists in with dualists — and why idealistic monists try to place naturalists/materialists/atheists in with the dualists. They’re trying to more or less blame secularism for creating all the mean, bad, false religions where one group tries to control another — while they drift above the lower argument in the blissful peace of a harmonious world view.

            I’m friends with several self-identified idealists, and they are all heavily indoctrinated in the view that atheism is actually a form of dualism to the point where they don’t seem capable of comprehending any other way of categorizing the systems. It’s the popular old “I know you are but what am I” tactic formed into a sort of presuppositional apologetic. Icky ick ick.

  12. In the transatlantic battle of the goddist minnows, BBC Radio 4s ‘Beyond Belief’ takes a surprising materialist turn today and asks, ’What do you with a problem like Sharia?’

    Seriously, the discussion bordered on the reasonable – how to stop Western Europeans getting attracted to ISIS’s credible interpretation of Islam.

    ‘On Being’ 0-1 ‘Beyond Belief’.

    Ernie Rae is back next week with some arcane theological non-question which he’ll manage to stretch out over 30 minutes. x

    1. That was my immediate thought – effing stupid thing to be giving an award for if you ask me. Which no one did of course, but that’s never stopped me giving an opinion. 🙂

  13. Jerry, I’d love for you to get into that sort of interview format.

    May I suggest? Start with an irregular podcast. You don’t need any fancy equipment nor skills, and there’ll be no shortage of people eager to help you get started if you want.

    After you’ve got a few episodes under your belt, pitch it to the UofC’s student radio station (which I’m assuming exists). Then you should be able to get the local public radio station interested…but, if not them, then certainly one like that one in Northern California that recently interviewed you in their fund drive. From there it’s a short step to national syndication.

    I know from spending time with you in person on your road trip that you’d be great at it…you’re very easy to talk to and lightning quick on your feet, getting right to the important and interesting bits.

    You’ve also got lots of connections with people like Sam and Sean Carroll and Da Pinkah who’d make perfect guests and would be happy to join you in a conversation…and, if you make a full run at it, I hope you won’t neglect cats and music and boots and even Hili and all the rest that make WEIT such a wonderful online home.


    1. You suggested something similar last time, and I said nothing then, but perhaps if some more of us agree with you, it would encourage Jerry to do it. I’d certainly listen.

      1. I think we should start a campaign to spam Jerry begging him to at least give a podcast a try. Maybe somebody reading these words has already done the podcasting thing and could wrap up the technical bits with a bow and hand it to him on a platter?


        1. That’d be great. There are a lot of atheist podcasts in your country – I’m sure some of them read WEIT.

          As for spamming Jerry, we might get un-friended. Perhaps we could threaten a spam campaign?

          Or Jerry – how about writing a post to see whether there’d be support for a podcast and see what your readers say?

  14. I don’t see how talking or writing about spirituality equates to “delving into the mysteries of human existence”. Why is spirituality a mystery? Because it isn’t based in reality; because there is no proof of spirits; because it doesn’t make any logical sense, or? The biggest mystery to me is why so many people buy into this delusional bs. But that’s not really a mystery either since scientists and other rationalists have already revealed our brain’s ability to fool ourselves.

  15. When you read some of these blogs…they are going to end up with the exact OPPOSITE of what they want re: Cultural Appropriation.

    In their version of reality, when a minority culture takes from a dominant culture, it is not appropriation.
    It is only appropriation when the dominate culture takes from a minority culture.

    So, if people obey these rules…the minority cultures will adapt from the majority culture what they like and what works for them…and that influence will spread further. Whereas the minority culture will languish as others are excluded from spreading it.

  16. I listen to Krista Tippet Sunday mornings at 7AM (before my wife gets up) here in NYC. I am a recovering artist myself so the conversation with Ann Hamilton hit a high note on my doofus meter. Artists can be barely intelligible anyway but paired with Tippet and her spiritual ideology it is a perfect word salad storm. I am usually beset with doubts and perplexed by so many things in my day to day life but when listening to shows like this I feel like Steven Pinker.

  17. Ugh, I am another public radio listener who immediately turns it off when the “On Being” drivel comes on.

    Her deliberately slowed down speech and sing song use of words of less than three syllables to explain the power of prayer always remind me of the aphorism, “Praying isn’t just wishing… it’s wishing really, really hard.”

  18. Whenever you rail against Krista (by the way her show used to be called “Speaking of Faith” although she pronounced it “Speaking of Faaaaaiiiith” in this way that made you know how much she loves faith) I have to put in a plug for my NPR blog where I have repeatedly excoriated her.

    I can’t have you supplanting my top position for the weirdly frequently employed Google search terms “Krista Tippett annoying”. (I’m completely serious.)

  19. Even worse than Tippet’s noxious verbal effusions is the fact that her show’s website provides a platform for one of the smarmiest Islam apologists this side of Reza Aslan by the name of Omid Safi, a regular columnist for On Being.

    Here he is in typical form in a tour de force of whataboutery, denial, deflection, obfuscation and deception, writing on the latest atrocities in Paris:

    Where he describes Richard Dawkins as a “troll”:

    “Watch Out for Trolls.
    No sooner had the atrocity in Paris happened, before the bodies were buried, out came the trolls. There was Richard Dawkins, who came out against Islam yet again…”

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