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October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET

What Oprah gets wrong about atheism


Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN

(CNN) - To some, Oprah Winfrey appears to have an almost godlike status. Her talents are well recognized, and her endorsement can turn almost any product into an overnight bestseller.

This godlike perception is fitting, since in recent years Winfrey’s work has increasingly emphasized spirituality, including programs like her own "Super Soul Sunday."

But what happens when an atheist enters the mix?

A few days ago Winfrey interviewed long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Super Soul Sunday. Nyad identified herself as an atheist who experiences awe and wonder at the natural world and humanity.

Nyad, 64, who swam from Cuba to Key West last month, said “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity — all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt.”

Winfrey responded, “Well I don’t call you an atheist then.”

Winfrey went on, “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery then that is what God is… It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”

Nyad clarified that she doesn’t use the word God because it implies a “presence… a creator or an overseer.”

Winfrey’s response may have been well intended, but it erased Nyad’s atheist identity and suggested something entirely untrue and, to many atheists like me, offensive: that atheists don’t experience awe and wonder.

MORE ON CNN: Diana Nyad completes historic Cuba-to-Florida swim

The exchange between Winfrey and Nyad reminds me of a conversation I once had with a Catholic scholar.

The professor once asked me: “When I talk about God, I mean love and justice and reconciliation, not a man in the sky. You talk about love and justice and reconciliation. Why can’t you just call that God?”

I replied: “Why must you call that God? Why not just call it what it is: love and justice and reconciliation?”

Though we started off with this disagreement, we came to better understand one another’s points of view through patient, honest dialogue.

Conversations like that are greatly needed today, as atheists are broadly misunderstood.

MORE ON CNN: Behold, the six types of atheists

When I visit college and university campuses around the United States, I frequently ask students what words are commonly associated with atheists. Their responses nearly always include words like “negative,” “selfish,” “nihilistic” and “closed-minded.”

When I ask how many of them actually have a relationship with an atheist, few raise their hands.

Relationships can be transformative. The Pew Research Center found that among the 14% of Americans who changed their mind from opposing same-sex marriage to supporting it in the last decade, the top reason given was having “friends, family, acquaintances who are gay/lesbian.”

Knowing someone of a different identity can increase understanding. This has been true for me as a queer person and as an atheist. I have met people who initially think I can’t actually be an atheist when they learn that I experience awe and am committed to service and social justice.

But when I explain that atheism is central to my worldview — that I am in awe of the natural world and that I believe it is up to human beings, instead of a divine force, to strive to address our problems — they often better understand my views, even if we don’t agree.

While theists can learn by listening to atheists more, atheists themselves can foster greater understanding by not just emphasizing the “no” of atheism — our disagreement over the existence of any gods — but also the “yes” of atheism and secular humanism, which recognizes the amazing potential within human beings.

Carl Sagan, the agnostic astronomer and author, would have agreed with Nyad’s claim that you can be an atheist, agnostic or nonreligious person and consider yourself “spiritual.”

As Sagan wrote in "The Demon-Haunted World,":

"When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”

Nyad told Winfrey that she feels a similar sense of awe:

“I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching being who created all of this and sees over it,” she said. “But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals, and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.”

MORE ON CNN:  'Atheist' isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman

I experience that same awe when I see people of different beliefs coming together across lines of religious difference to recognize that we are all human — that we all love and hurt.

Perhaps Winfrey, who could use her influence to shatter stereotypes about atheists rather than reinforce them, would have benefited from listening to Nyad just a bit more closely and from talking to more atheists about awe and wonder.

I know many who would be up to the task.

Chris Stedman is the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, coordinator of humanist life for the Yale Humanist Community and author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Celebrity • Ethics • Faith • God • Inspiration • Nones • Opinion • Spirituality

soundoff (4,964 Responses)
  1. sly

    A thorough review of all 13 pages on this blog tells me that some of you believe in god, and some of you don't.

    Over on the sports page, I have come to the conclusion that some folks believe the Red Sox are the team to root for, and some folks don't.

    In politics, it appears that a few politicians believe shutting the government down is a good idea, and many others don't.

    Ok ... now, back to life. (oh, and did I mention, some folks believe Blue is their favorite color, while for others it's not blue).

    October 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • In Santa I Hate

      Prove the color blue. Come on, don't be a coward. We are waiting.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
      • sly

        Jesus was wearing blue corduroy's when he walked across the Pacific Ocean.

        Now ... there are some who claim it isn't true – that they were aquamarine.

        It is a very big argument in the Jesus circles. I am sure it was blue, cause it says it in the big book. (Levi's in fact).

        October 17, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  2. Peter Q Wolfe

    Why can't we all admit that eugenicizing certain population can do wonders in decreasing poverty internationally? We have lots of people in the U.S with inheritable diseases whether recessive or dominant that could be prevented now not later. No more illogic time for a planned international economy not one with illogical intentions and illogical outcomes. Ultimately children bare the brunt of the Christian, Muslim or Hindu extremist and they dont' carry this load like catholics against contraception or stem cells in the past. DUH DUH DUH!!!

    October 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Ari

      Take a deep breath and try again. You sound like you've had too much coffee.

      October 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  3. Bill

    Who is more "moral"?

    1. A Christian, who does good deeds with the promise of everlasting life in heaven or the threat of eternal damnation in hell.
    2. An atheist, who does good deeds with nothing but non-existence as the outcome, regardless of thoughts or actions.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • capiers

      The motivation to be good and do good should not come about one fears going to "Hell".

      October 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Pastor Colin

      Both people are imaginary and only exist in your head. Care to talk about reality?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
      • Hoss

        lol...your god is a imaginary character in your head...care to talk about reality

        October 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • Pastor Colin

          Yea, God is just an imaginary character in my head. And a sky fairy. And a bearded man in the sky. Whatever you imagine in your head must be right.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
        • OKfine

          So Pastor if you really are one, how do you justify in your mind making a living off of the scam of religion? Why not go out and get a real job that does not require selling snake oil to the rubes?

          October 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
        • Pastor Colin

          I'm an atheist. Yet I know not all pastors do what you describe. Get over it.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  4. church

    You’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:

    The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

    We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe and the idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to talk about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine makes no sense to us.

    The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, [the Christian] god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

    We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

    We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”.

    We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the time and region.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more naive, timid minds among us.

    We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

    “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is almost always impossible to prove a negative in this sense.

    When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, talking snakes, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

    It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Obama is a great man because his biography says so, and the reason I believe his biography is that it is about Obama, who is a great man.”

    In short, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

    So, the next time you proudly proclaim that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a ten year-old, you might like to consider where your beliefs fit into the bigger picture

    October 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Hoss

      I dont believe because there is no evidence to justify theism. I also find religion/theism being a human construct a satisfying explanation.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • M

      Kudos! Wonderfully eloquent, well-reasoned, and non-confrontational. Unfortunately, your comment is not likely going to change the mind of those individuals entrenched in religion.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Catherine

      VERY, very well stated. I applaud you.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Mark

      Atheists have as much faith as theists: because there is no universally accepted objective proof that God exists or that God does not exit, we both take a leap of faith and end up with a "yes" or "no." The only group that does not take a leap of faith are the agnostics - those who decide that they do not know whether there is or is not God, and also decide not to pursue the matter further. In the end, whether theist or atheist, we both are believers. Let us respect each other for having the courage to have some faith, and leave belittling to the side.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • G to the T

        Not persue the matter further? Agnosticism and Atheism are not exclusionary. I understand that I cannot prove that god exists (Agnostic) but, based on all the evidence presented to me so far, I don't believe the case has been made for its existence (Atheist). I wouldn't call it a "leap of faith" in any sense as it's still conditional (based on evidence so far). Belief in the positive (Theism) does require this "leap" because it's making a definitive assertion (that god does exist).

        October 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
      • church

        re·li·gion noun \ri-'li-j?n\
        A mass human psychosis that usually results in participants believing in incredibly silly crap and acting like total retards.

        delusion |di'lo?oZH?n|
        noun
        an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.

        October 18, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • church

      Another Favorite....
      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

      October 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mike

      Wow...that pretty much sums it up...nice work.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Ric H

      Your philosophy is based upon all manner of irrational assumptions that are based upon the fact that you have not experienced personally what many others have.
      You assume no person has ever spoken to or been spoken to by God.
      You assume that no one actually knows God exists because they have interacted with God.
      You assume that people only believe in God through Faith, or something they read, or something they were told.
      You assume that because you find something hard to believe that it cannot be true.
      You assume that fear is the most common motivator for belief in God.
      Many Atheists assume there is no life after death, that with the death of the body all self-awareness and existence ends.
      Many Atheists say and believe many things that they cannot prove are true to anyone else.

      I have no fear of death of my body whatsoever. I have things that I want to do while in this world which are very important to me. I fear the evil that men do whether they believe in God or not. I am not afraid of them, I am afraid of the evil that they do. I do not want to be murdered by some idiot who taunts, “So now you are with your God?” I will defend my human and civil rights without any reservation as to what happens to those who violate them.

      Most Atheists and many scientists confuse the concept of observing with understanding, or seeing as knowing, or knowing how. They can't even explain how an electron does what it does yet they expand from that un-admitted ignorance to thinking they understand all things in nature and the cosmos by simply observing. Science (like Atheists) forgets they are limited by their own perspective, their literal physical position as a human being here on Earth. They don't understand the primitive limits of the tools they can make, yet brag about what they see or make with the tools they have. This type of belief system is just a circular definition of assumptions and assertions that they believe is good enough. Good enough to launch a rocket into space and land a rover on Mars to investigate Mars? Yes, but what does that actually accomplish other than get them paid for a few years?

      Take a “simple” process like photosynthesis. Science thinks they can absolutely explain what that is. Yet the second they state it requires a source of light in the appropriate spectrum, they have taken for granted something they cannot explain. They cannot explain what light is or how it does what it does. They claim they can, and they claim others cannot disprove their assertion. Again, science is mostly a series of circular definitions that THEY believe are good enough.

      God help us all!

      October 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  5. robertholt

    I can appreciate the wonders of creation just as much as Diana Nyad but I do not worship it. There is creation and there is a Creator. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:25. I pray that in time, Diana Nyad will come to know Christ as Savior.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      As a general rule, Atheists don't "worship" anything, including nature.

      Heck, even Pagans don't worship nature. Worship, in my experience, is largely a Christian thing in this day and age.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Chris

      You'll have more success quoting the New Testament to fellow Christians. To everyone else, it's a bit irrelevant.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • sybaris

      By that logic something created your god

      October 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Grayson

      That's part of the problem... there is nothing wrong with she believes. It doesn't mean you need to make her see things your way.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • church

      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian
      ...

      October 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  6. benhazin

    Its funny how many young White men find God when they are incarcerated with Black Baptists and Hispanic Catholics. George Zimmerman 's faith is stronger now than before he killed Trayvon Martin. The threat of prison was all it took.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Steve

      It's funny that our prisons are overwhelmingly populated by Christians. Think about that.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
      • sly

        True – prisons hold many really really bad people.
        Bad people feel really guilty sometimes about all the bad they have done.
        Guilty people like to turn to religion because it is supposed to offer them a chance to forgive themselves.

        Pretty simple really.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • Ann

          Bad people in prison also like to present themselves as being remorseful so that they can manipulate others into thinking they've changed their ways. This accounts for a LOT of attendance at prison religious services. That, and it's a good place to hold clandestine meetings.

          October 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
      • Pastor Colin

        Think about a logical fallacy? Don't be absurd. You are pathetic.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • Bill

          It is true, so it is not a logical fallacy.

          But then, accepting facts that contradict your silly beliefs has never been a strong point of any religion.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • bob

          His isn't the logical fallacy. The original poster's is. How is theism proved true by the fact that a non-believer relinquished his objection in the face of death and torture? That people in foxholes or on deathbeds are never atheists is not proof that god exists, it's exactly the opposite – proof that belief in god is utiliatarian – a balm for the weak mind.

          If you torture someone until they admit that to whatever it is you want them to admit to, is that proof that what they've then said is true? No, because, obviously, they had extreme and topically unrelated motivations to say what they said.

          If on my deathbed I believe in heaven, that is because I am afraid of death. It is not proof that heaven is real.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Topher

        I think it also lends itself to demonstrate that the atheistic worldview just doesn't work. Do anything you want because there's no God to answer to only gets you in trouble. And the reason people sober up and turn to God is because every one of us knows He exists already.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
        • myweightinwords

          What atheists believes that they can do whatever they want without consequences?

          I'm willing to wager that anyone who believes such a thing has a mental issue that has nothing to do with his faith or lack thereof.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
        • JWT

          I See you are fantasizing and assuming you know about the inner minds of other people. Tsk tsk tsk.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • Bill

          "I think it also lends itself to demonstrate that the atheistic worldview just doesn't work. Do anything you want because there's no God to answer to only gets you in trouble"

          So, Oprah is your hero? You like telling people that you've never talked to what they believe?

          Dolt. You have no idea what my or any other atheist's world view is until you ASK. So, uhm, keep your stupid to yourself. kthx.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • Topher

          myweightinwords

          "What atheists believes that they can do whatever they want without consequences?"

          If there's no higher-standard giver, why shouldn't I kill babies for fun?

          October 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Topher, there are millions of atheists. Please name that has killed babies for fun?

          October 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • benhazin

        The drug laws are not based on Christianity but on White racism and crony capitalism! The proper term for crony capitalism is Mercantilism according to Adam Smith , author of "The Wealth of Nations". The political establishment merely pays lip service to religion. Witness our national decline and impending fall.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Isn't George Zimmerman an Hispanic Catholic?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • church

        Nope, he's a white latino remember...

        October 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
      • benhazin

        Sure. But his luck won't hold much longer. Especially if he stays in Texas!

        October 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  7. frustrated

    I am so tired of CNN giving time and attention to this subject. Atheists are not interested in learning about or discussing God because they have it all figured out – right? Then quit giving them press!!!

    October 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Steve

      Go take out your se.xual frustrations privately, not here, stupid.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Provide the evidence for a god and you'll have a world full of believers and in the same god.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • George70

        That's actually not a true statement. We all like to disagree, even when we know the truth.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • G to the T

          I would like to think that most people wouldn't be contrary for the sake of being contrary when the stake are so high. I'm certainly not.

          October 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Non-belief is merely the other side of the coin to belief.

      Why is that inappropriate on the "Belief Blog"?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Sara

      Why would you think atheists believe they have it all figured out any more than anyone else? Most atheists I know are very open to their being thousands of possible explanations for the universe. I find gods interesting, and some even possible. I would love to see discussions here, too, on the nature of the universe, quantum theory and emergentism vs. panpsychism. There are an infinite number of interesting topics of belief.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • Pastor Colin

        Relax.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • myweightinwords

          That seems to be an odd reply.

          Why would you think Sara isn't relaxed?

          October 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • Word of snuffleupegus

          All those sciencey big words scare you pastor? and @frustrated: The only thing Atheists think they've figured out is that we don't know everything and we don't need to, I'll take the world as it is and appreciate every moment I have here on earth rather than live for some imaginary post mortem eden and marginalize the wonder all around us by chalking it up to a magic man in the sky.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "Atheists are not interested in learning about or discussing God because they have it all figured out – right?"

      You tell me.

      Christian: "I know the creator of the universe is Jesus and I pray to him daily"

      Atheist: "I see no evidence to support any deity or anything supernatural, therefore I do not believe in any God/gods"

      Which of those two believe they "have it all figured out "?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • G to the T

        Well said!

        October 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • church

      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christian
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, catholicism and church history – but still call yourself a Christian
      ........

      October 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  8. capiers

    Why can't religious and non-religious people simply believe what they want and not judge others based on their differences. If being religious allows you to live a full and happy life so be it, the same for non believers. Why does it have to be one way or the other. I don't believe in man made religions but I do understand how people can be attracted to them. I get offended when a religious person starts to espouse that "non religious people will be judged" and that day is coming soon. First off they have no idea that what they are saying is an actual fact due to the simple fact that Religion is based on faith. Faith and fact are not necessarily interchangeable. Believe what you will, but more importantly treat people the way you would want to be treated. I don't need religion to help me be a better person, I just use my Humanity and compassion for other living creatures.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • OKfine

      Ok fine keep religion in its place that means out of government and there is no problem. Unfortunately religions just can't butt out, why is that?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Rick

      It seems to me Faith requires Facts. Faith without evidence is a foolish kind of faith indeed. I have faith that the sun will do it's thing tomorrow because of what the sun did yesterday and many yesterdays before that. I have faith in God because God has proven himself faithful in the past, and most recently in my own past. God wants to be known and makes himself known. Those who seek God find God. That's God's promise.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • Patty Biller

        yes, God said (in the Psalms I think) "You will find Me, when you search Me with all your heart."

        October 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  9. Drew

    I would argue the burden of proof is on the believer. Simply not having an answer is no reason to make one up. By that logic anything can exist. Why not santa clause? I can't prove he doesn't exist. This is why religion requires faith. A belief in something that cannot be proven.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Santa

      *Claus, not clause

      October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • Steve

        Personally I like to have a Santa clause in my contracts.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • LeRoy_Was_Here

      You no fool me! There ain't no Sanity Clause!!

      [Stolen from Chico Marx.]

      October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • J. Cheever Loophole

        Yeah, those boys sure made some timeless fun.

        I chuckled over the connection with "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" on that other article about the preacher woman's tats.

        p.s. there used to be a poster, Rufus T. Firefly on here. I wonder if he still is here under another name?

        p.p.s. maybe you are just playing around, but you do know that the graffiti was "Kilroy was here", right?

        October 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Santa, like Jesus, is based on a real person.
      Santa Claus = Saint Nikolaos of Myra, who was present at the Council of Nicea where they decided what bits of the bible would be canonized.
      One of the myths about him is that in the middle of the night, he tossed bags of gold through the window of poor man so that he might have a proper dowry for his daughters.
      Hence Santa Claus brings presents after the kids are asleep...

      And just like Jesus, the real human being has been mythologized as time has passed....

      October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • Willard Bolinger

        Doc Vestibule..Two questions. Who else attended the Council of Nicea and what about Jesus and who was he patterned after? Thanks for the contrabution!

        October 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Rick

      Faith is not necessarily belief in something that can't be proven. I can say I have faith that the chair will hold my weight. To actually have faith, I sit in the chair. Faith is proven by my actions. And if I land on the floor then something is not worthy of my faith. Moment by moment, I put my faith in God who holds me up far better than I ever could.

      In my younger years I trusted my wits. People encouraged me to trust education, or money, or health. They all failed to one degree or another. God has proven faithful as I lean hard into God and he holds me upright. Faith is proven every day.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  10. Sivick

    Can more theist please quote the holy book of their choice at me and pray for me. that'll totally convert me and not be a waste of your time. you better hurry though. Apparently if someone reads me the whole lord of the rings trilogy I have to worship Tolkien as my new god or i'll be sent to mordor.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  11. Joe Shmoe

    Of course atheists experience awe! We just don't attribute it to an old white guy in the sky, we attribute it to the nature or other humans that created whatever it is that inspired our awe.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  12. Tom

    Atheists talk about feelings. Let's talk about facts and logic. How do you explain the Big Bang? How do you explain the principle of gravity, which created order out of chaos? Or how about DNA, the basis for all life forms on Earth? Do you think it happened accidentally? Do you think it happened spontaneously, an effect without a cause? Nonsense. Einstein was not a conventional believer, but he believed in a First Cause. He had no time for atheism. Neither do I.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      How do you explain those things (and please provide your proof)?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
      • Drew

        The burden of proof is on the believer sir. I can't prove the easter bunny doesn't exist either. Does that make it real then?

        October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • George70

          Why would a believer be burdened to prove anything?

          October 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Do you think you are the first person to ever attempt to use this argument?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Tom' presents a form of the Argument from Ignorance fallacy.

      http://fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      October 17, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Sivick

      lack of an explanation doesn't mean you can say "god did it!" and declare anyone who challenges you ignorant. you have no proof, no facts, and declaring some god just came and did it is short sighted and holds back real science.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Most christians will not accept that Genesis is not supported by evidence as it undermines credibilty for their personal god and for the original sin which is the basis of the religion. We don't know how the singularity came to be but that is not evidence of a god and certainly not the god of any religion.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • OKfine

      If you are implying that some supernatural god did the deeds please list all of the gods ever created on earth and explain how each contributed to our present condition, thank you.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Howzewr

      Umm, you have your facts wrong there sir. Einstein wasn't a religious man according to his writings – he leaned agnostic at best, while disbelieving in any sort of "personal god".

      October 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I thought you wanted to talk about facts and logic? Of course there was a "cause" but theists like yourself claim that a god, and of course it is the god they pray to, was THE cause....and of course you do not have facts and logic to back that up. Saying you think there was a cause is one thing...claiming you know what that cause was and claiming it is a being that "exists" outside of time and space is another.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • sybaris

      Funny how Christians keep perpetuating these urban legends about Einstein and religion.

      Anyway, your questions assume that your god did it. Please provide the evidence.

      What is intriguing though is that Christians will dismiss the scientific theories of creation but they will however accept that their god created everything out of .................... nothing.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • DK

      Don't ever accuse atheists of being the close-minded ones. An atheist seeks the truth, whereas you dismiss the truth in favor of your fantasies. I grew up being taught the parables of religion. I later became educated and dismissed the silliness of those teachings. My moral compass, however, probably points straighter than yours in that I would never treat people with different beliefs as you do.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • capiers

      So because you can't explain those things you decided it must be GOD. The concept of GOD was created by man. If GOD was real man would not need to go to church it would be born in us to believe always. What would be the advantage of creating man and allowing them to have free will. Man has free will because GOD is not real.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • Rick

        Or...there is a God who loves us, his creation, and wants us to have the opportunity to love God in return. Without free will there can be no love. Love is an act of the will. Good news for us is that we have free will; we can receive and give love. Life would be greatly diminished were there not free will and responsive love.

        October 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • DK

      You want to talk facts and logic (do you know anything about those concepts?). Go look up argumentum ad ignorantiam. I'll save you the trouble – it is a logical fallacy that asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false. A fallacious argument, having no basis in logic or fact. Sound familiar?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Dover

      If you don't have time for this, why are you commenting on it? Or are you going to be one of those cowards (That has doubts about his own argument) that just spits out his opinion and then slams the door?

      October 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Here's a few questions about belief, actually about what sort of belief satisfies the God of Christians' requirement for belief:

    Is completely unfounded belief in God good enough?

    Is justified belief what's needed?

    If justified belief is needed, then what works as justification?

    Example: You believe in God and salvation through Jesus Christ only because of a lie you were told. Is that good enough?

    October 17, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Topher

      Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I'll try to answer some of these for you, dude.

      "Is completely unfounded belief in God good enough?"

      No. Simple belief isn't good enough, but it is part of it. "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."

      "Is justified belief what's needed?"

      I might be getting away from your meaning here, but no, belief, justified or not, isn't enough.

      "Example: You believe in God and salvation through Jesus Christ only because of a lie you were told. Is that good enough?"

      Can you explain this further?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        I understand that belief alone is not enough, but you and others have said that belief is necessary. What kind of belief is necessary?

        October 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          Belief as in John 3:18

          Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • Topher

          Tom, Tom, the Other One

          "I understand that belief alone is not enough, but you and others have said that belief is necessary. What kind of belief is necessary?"

          Well, in Jesus Christ ... that He was/is God and that He paid the penalty for our sins for us on the cross ... that He died and rose again, defeating death. That's a good starter.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
        • Patty Biller

          Big amen!!!

          October 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          So, what kind of belief in Jesus Christ's various attributes is called for? Justified belief – like Thomas or John you saw and touched the resurrected Christ, or you believe on the basis of some evidence that to you seems incontrovertible? Unfounded belief – you want it to be true and you believe for no other reason than that? Other?

          October 17, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Rick

      I was told Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh (John 1:14n Phil 2:5ff; et al.)
      I was told that in about 30AD Jesus let himself be executed for a crime he did not commit as a way of satisfying Justice for all our injustices – like one who pays a penalty owed by another. 1 Cor. 1:20-31.
      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%201:20-31&version=NIV
      I was told that Jesus proved he was more powerful than death by coming back to life after dying. 1 Cor. 15:1-8
      It takes faith I don't have to believe that a man is stronger than death.
      It takes little faith to believe that God is stronger than death.
      I was told that I could entrust my life to this One who chose to die on my behalf and who offers me the same Spirit who has already proved He is stronger than death. Eph 1:13
      Then I tried to prove it was all a lie. But the evidence was too strong. (Check out Josh McDowell and other apologists of Christianity) So, in spite of my inclination, I believe.

      October 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Suppose that to the best knowledge of the people or person who told you all this, it was all a lie. Not something they believed. Would your belief be what John 3:18 is talking about?

        October 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  14. sybaris

    A tree is evidence of a tree.

    To construe that it is evidence of Zeus or Ra or Quezocotl or any other god is rediculous.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  15. BL

    This WAS a piece about theists and atheists/agnostics finding common ground in the good things in life. I tend to be of the same clothe as Diana Nyad. I don't know one way or another about the god thing and can't from where I'm situated in space and time. I can experience what is verifiable with awe and joy.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  16. shoos

    Good article.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  17. Kathy

    While it can be fun to mock or rage at those that have beliefs different from your own, what's the point? Those comments aren't designed to foster the kind of open dialogue of the sort proposed by the author. Yes, there are people of faith that have used their religion to justify their own bad acts or limited minds. Yes, there are atheists who have used the faith of others as a cheap punch line or a reason to dismiss their ideas out of hand, all while citing lack of tolerance as a reason to hate religion.

    As a Christian, I can say that my faith has helped me to withstand tough times like the death of my dad and to be a more empathetic person. I hope that whatever you have in your life (be it religious faith, humanism, etc.), that it gives you that peace.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      As an atheist I can say the same – and I've no problem with anyone else's faith, especially when it serves them well, just so long as they don't want to force it on me, we're all fine. I think those like you and I are the majority – but on the forums the loudest voices are the easiest to hear.

      October 21, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  18. Peter

    A true atheist is one who can transcend space & time. One who can fashion out of nothing, something remarkable. One who is not limited to created matter. One who does not need to feed on anything, breathe air; one who can discern the depths of the ocean and the entire breadth of the universe at an instant of a moment. Argo, there is no true atheist that exists! Even a free spirit acknowledges the existence of God. I am a personal witness of Christ Himself. I dare them "atheists" repeat their views when they come before the judgment seat.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • jay1975

      Ridiculous. I do not believe in your god and I have no worries of any judgement. What makes your god any more real than Allah, the Jewish god (they reject your messiah too ya know?) or any of the other hundreds of gods claimed by man before?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • Patty Biller

        Salvation come in NO other way!!! Jesus said" I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes through the Father; except by me. Search it out!!!

        October 17, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
        • jay1975

          Oh, I've read the book. I just don't believe it. I am in no need of your "salvation". I know that life is short and precious and try to live as happily as I can without the burden of worrying about the wrath of some imaginary judge.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • Steve

          Now if only you had some proof of your crazy fairy tale, Patty. Talk to any snakes lately?

          October 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
        • George70

          While I agree, Patty, this isn't the place to make an impact.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
      • George70

        Everything.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • jay1975

          So compelling. Now, if you had actual evidence, that would be another story, but your child like belief in an old book, I suppose, is all you need. I, on the other hand, cannot fall for such lunacy.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
        • George70

          Evidence? I doubt that would even make a difference, as I'm sure there is little evidence for most things that you believe, only what others tell you.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
        • jay1975

          You have no evidence, you have a book that paraphrased many of the religious myths that came before it. The OT is full of a wrathful god who killed the whole world, except one family, then the NT has a loving savior who didn't want to see anyone suffer. Ridiculous. You either believe because your parents made you go to church as a kid, or you were looking for answers during hard times and the thought of a better after life comforted you. Neither is really a good reason to surrender your common sense.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • George70

          Actually, neither one of your theories is true, but that's okay you can assume anything that you like, that's the beauty of our country. I never said exactly what I believe, but that didn't keep you from the defensive tone. All of us tend to shy away from things that we don't fully understand or have been hurt by, which is only natural, I understand that.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • Peter

        I did not ask you to believe. I am merely stating a fact!

        October 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
        • Ergo

          Peter,

          There was not a verified "fact" in your entire post. "Argo"[sic], you are silly.

          October 17, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • True Scottsman

      I like Haggis.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
      • Thinker...

        Then you are not a True Scotsman!!! True Scotsmen LOVE Haggis!

        October 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      So your god is an atheist?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • George70

        Explain?

        October 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Are you saying your god is the only true atheist?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Drew

      I found jesus once. He was behind the couch the whole time.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Thomas

      "Argo", really? You try to sound intellectual, but what you presented is really just plagiarized garbage.
      The correct term is "ergo". Good luck with the minimum wage job.

      October 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  19. RSC

    I think the author is going about this the wrong way. Frankly, I think many (if not most) atheists spend equal amounts of time trying to convince theists that they are correct, and generally trying to defend their positions. I wonder, Chris, how much time you have spend talking to Agnostics? I embrace the idea that I cannot know the answer, and in doing so, it makes it easier for me to embrace all religious viewpoints (so long as they are not trying to harm others). Yet, when I talk to my atheist husband, he is determined to convince me that there is no possibility that there could be a God. I find that just as frustrating as Christians who try to convince me that there is.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • shoos

      I disagree, I think most avoid discussing because it's a futile argument. Life's too short, it's not worth the energy.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
      • George70

        Why is life too short?

        October 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • brooke

      although your husband argues there could not be a god, that is not the contention of most atheists. i am an atheist. my belief (or rather knowledge, because it is fact-based) is that there is no *evidence* of god. period. and with that knowledge, i carry on with my life.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Sara

      An atheist who said to a Christian (as some do) "You are not really a Christian" would probably, in most cases, out of line. But this is a story about that happening to an atheist in front of millions of other atheists in a country where that group is still a disadvantaged minority. This is about dismissing and relabeling a belief because you don't like the way it sounds to you. The fact that there are a lot of annoying atheists is a "bad thing" but simply irrelevant to the problem here.

      By the way, your husband sounds like a jerk. My parents had different beliefs and I never once heard them argue the topic. Then again, I don't know what you say about god or how spontaneous his comments are. Did you have differing beliefs when you married or did one of you change?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Sara

        To be honest, I also think your husband sounds like an idiot if he thinks there's no chance of any god. No one could measure such a probability. But keep in mind that many who use the label atheists are essentially the same as what you term an agnostic. That's a terminology issue, but your husband by most atheist standards would be seen as an extremist.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        The "labelling" problem might be the biggest issue facing contemporary atheism. I continue to think simpler is better.

        The notion of believers and non-believers (in a God or higher power) works best for me.

        October 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
        • Sara

          Yeah, labeling is a problem. I never refer to myself as an "atheist" unless someone directly asks "Are you an atheist" because I wouldn't refer to myself as an a-unicornist either, unless it came up. If someone asks my religions (which is rare) I would either say that I'm not religious or respond with a bit more, like "I'm not religious, but I'm mostly a neutral monist rule utilitarian if that helps"... usually it doesn't and the topic changes.

          October 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
        • G to the T

          Yeah, it kind of stinks. "Brights" was pompous, "Skeptic" (my personal favorite) seems to just lead to blank looks, "Atheist" and "Agnostic" are misdefined (or are ill-defined may be a better phrasing) constantly. And even then, none of those things define who I am, only a how I view a certain set of propositions.

          October 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It is frustrating to atheists to continue to hear believers telling them what atheists are supposed to think – according to the believers' definition.

      October 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  20. John Calvin II

    Chris Stedman has written like a good athiest who is trying really hard to justify himself, although his reasoning is severly flawed and his conclusions totally unsubstantiated.

    October 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      What flaws? What evidence do you have for a god?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • tagapay3

      He said "Wonder does not equal God." How do you prove either?
      At least he can use a dictionary to substantiate his claims. What do you have?

      October 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.