October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET

What Oprah gets wrong about atheism

Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
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(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. Arrogant Atheist

    There can't possibly be a god because it doesn't meet my standards of what a good human should be like.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • james

      Wow, an honest atheist.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
      • Heads Up


        Do you think that that poster is an atheist? It's a parody. A Poe.

        October 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Lisa

      Whose standards would you use?

      October 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • james

        just the standards for that question only.

        October 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • Lisa

        And what standards would that be? Do you judge God by your own standards, or do you judge him based on someone else's standard and who probably wants you to view God the way they do?

        October 20, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
        • james

          lisa, I was just saying that I thought the commenter was being honest about what he said from my point of view and as far as any standards it did not matter to anyone but you it seems and from my point of view, you seem to have a problem with anyone having an opinion that differs from yours. why i even answer you is only because you seem to want one. other than that I do not judge any God or person since I believe that is the privilege of God alone and we just have opinions but is that not the idea of this format? My opinion is that you need more help than I could ever offer here.

          October 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
        • Lisa

          I'm asking, how do you judge that God is worthy of worship? You need some kind of innate sense of what's good and what's bad in order to recognize that God's supposed to be the good one and Satan the bad one, right? So, if you already have that sense, why does anyone need to point to God as the source of knowing the difference between good and evil?

          October 21, 2013 at 9:55 am |
        • james

          Lisa; I look around me and have determined for myself from the evidence I see and read and experience that there is a God,(creator) that is worthy of worship and so I have chosen to do just that. I also enjoy a good discussion here but find that there are too many that just want to criticize and make fun of those who want to enjoy this blog so I really do not get into too many discussions but enjoy reading here and sometime jump in until I find those that would interrupt just take away from others. I hope you are serious since that is why I even responded to you but if you are just here to argue, thanks but no thanks.j

          October 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • rick

      arrogant theist: i do not merely believe, i KNOW

      October 19, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  2. Atheists are wrong about Jesus and ancient religion

    What if Atheists are wrong?[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88GTUXvp-50&w=640&h=390]

    October 19, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • james

      which 12 tribes of Israel? the original or the list in Revelation?

      October 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
      • Atheists are wrong about Jesus and ancient religion

        Twelve ... is the magic number.

        October 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  3. Yes I know


    October 19, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • james

      but the cross is not a part of the truth. the cross is a pagan symbol from egypt and babylon and Jesus was hung on a stake or pole, from the greek Stauros (please do some research) the Romans and Jews would not have used a cross so give up the pagan idols and why wear one around your neck? good thing he was not shot.

      October 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  4. ShiverMeTimbers

    I don't believe in a "master race".

    October 19, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • ShiverMeTimbers

      but if I did I think it would be the mile.

      October 19, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  5. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    The point of this story and the point that Oprah is missing is that we all experience the human condition and the beauty of the world around us. I don't even believe that we are the only species that experiences the sense of awe at the natural world around us. This experience is just not a sufficient reason to believe in the supernatural for some people, and it does not diminish how we experience the world.

    October 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  6. Deeds

    What is the point of commenting on this article if it isn't going to foster a good conversation or do any good at all? Arguing about atheism and Christianity or "Religion" as people say gets nobody anywhere.

    October 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • DeathCake

      Especially since most people tend to mistakenly equate atheism with secular humanism, when they are totally different things.

      October 18, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
      • My Dog is a jealous Dog

        Or like Scalia, you could believe atheism is the path to satan. The misconceptions are simply frustrating.

        October 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
    • Sara

      Sure it does. It gives us experience with people we may not often meet (I personally know few Christians right now) and exposure to how they view and think about the world and how they use language, which is a socially created and constantly evolving structure. I grow as a person debating with people who think differently, and occasionally small things people said resonate later in unexpected ways.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  7. Peter Q Wolfe

    Is anyone here a panthiest like me? All in all that I can't help being who I am in a capitalist and christian dogma that is incompatable with my personality type in the 21st century. Why must we feel that certain minorities be given second grade class and accept that in America anyways? I will end on the note that I am denied access to equitable work and equal rights just for breathing air into my lungs just for being born that isn't right.

    October 18, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  8. Peter Q Wolfe

    Are Christians really charitable? Here is a study that rebukes that analysis url: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/the-flesh-is-weak-churchgoers-give-far-less-than-they-think_b_1846516.html

    October 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Lisa

      A better question would be, are they really selflessly charitable? I doubt many Christian charities would bother to feed the poor if they were denied the opportunity to try and win over converts. That puts them in the same class as all those "free lunches" the time share companies like to host.

      October 18, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
      • Russ

        @ Lisa: so you think it would be *more* loving for them to believe they have ultimate salvation and withhold it for the sake of not making either side uncomfortable? you think that would be more altruistic?

        here's Penn Jillette (note: an atheist) in response...

        October 18, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
        • Lisa

          I'm sure that you can use that same argument for anyone trying to sell you something. Every passionate salesman feels that you would be better off with their product than without.

          October 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
        • Christopher

          But here's the thing about Christian proselytism: Everybody already knows the story. You have to be living under a rock not to have heard what Christianity offers. So it's not really informing people about something they haven't already heard, it's just annoying pushing.

          October 18, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • Lisa

          And, until recently, very few Christians were exposed to the atheist arguments. To them, it really is like hearing another side of the story.

          October 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
      • Paul

        "I doubt many Christian charities would bother to feed the poor if they were denied the opportunity to try and win over converts."

        Why do you doubt that? What are your reasons for thinking that is true? I know of no Bible verse that commands people to feed the poor only under the condition that they can try and convert them. The poor should be fed regardless.

        October 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
        • Lisa

          Yes, the poor should be fed anyway, but I've seen reports of the poor having to sit through a sermon before receiving their charity from Christians. Isn't that like using the charity as bait? It's the difference between simply feeding the fish and trying to catch them on your hook.

          October 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
        • Paul

          So because of a couple of reports are you assuming all Christian charities are like that?

          October 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
        • bananas

          Can u imagine the horror, Lisa? Having to sit through a sermon as payment for food. I cringe at the mere thought of such unspeakable torture

          October 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
        • Sue

          Christian charities were shown to be the least cost effective charities going. Must be all those fancy expensive dresses, silk hats, and wine, and housing for the priests and other high priced admin overhead.

          Far better to give your charity money to a secular charity.

          October 19, 2013 at 10:35 am |
        • Sara

          "I've seen reports of the poor having to sit through a sermon before receiving their charity from Christians. Isn't that like using the charity as bait?"

          That form of coercion is illegal in India and such legislation would be well considered elsewhere.

          October 19, 2013 at 11:24 am |
        • Lisa

          I was a Christian long enough to be soured by all their charities. Some are more overt than others, but they all have the same primary goal: Spread Christianity. Can you name a single Christian charity that doesn't have that in it's mission statement?

          The charity aspect is always secondary. We had a lot of flooding where I live this summer. Thousands of people volunteered, but a local evangelical church actually had bright vests specially made with their church name on it so that people would know which group their members were working for. They had to wait until they got their vests, you see, because they didn't want to waste their time volunteering without the PR. I saw the same thing after Katrina. Thousands volunteering on their own accord, but church groups making sure that they had identifying uniforms. I consider that taking advantage of people's suffering for your own, selfish aims.

          October 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • bananas

          I was a religious atheist most of my life. Every rotten, twisted, evil, illegal and immoral activity they promoted and practiced was okay, until someone loved me unconditionally. A wonderful saint of god.

          October 19, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Sara

      The numbers for Christian giving are even smaller when you eliminate giving that is just to support the church itself and count humanitarian aid alone.

      One problem in the modern day, however, is theimportance of retirement savings which wasn't for most people an issue in the same way in biblical times. Back then life expectancy was around 40, and if you did make it into old age it was expected your kids would take care of you as there were no nursing homes to save up for. One thing people should be looking at in these days is who is giving their money to charity when they die.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  9. bananas

    Really folks. U r such losers, such total jerks and immature, dumb, party-line stooges. Do u know anything at all?

    It takes something a little extraordinary to create a university vs. Painting a landscape.

    We will have to work extra hard to identify and restrict the privileges these Nazis enjoy

    October 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • niknak

      Are you still having that conversation with your imaginary friend, Banana Split?
      If you are, I hope it is not answering back.
      Either way, you might want to seek some professional help, you are starting to creep us out.

      October 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Wait, wasn't Hitler a Christian?

      October 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • poopmeister

      I can create a "university", it's the school of "nobody gives a crap about your stupid views"

      October 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
      • DeathCake

        You'd better give me an honorary doctorate degree, then. I don't have time for your crap.

        October 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I'll take two for the same reason. I really have been wanting to get my Ph. D.

          October 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • Max

      Speaking of losers, "bananas" is the author of this, under one of her many names, and was highlighted as a "holy troller":

      Karie called Bible Clown a “disgusting, deviant perverted virus,” and a “Bozo,” before ending with this prediction:

      “Hell is coming for you love. Special dungeon just for u and u won’t be able to die. LOL.LOL.”

      Her various troll names:
      dodo murdock
      bootyfunk (stolen)
      point being
      Dr E
      sam tone
      Meredith S. (Stolen from a 9/11 widow!!
      sam stone (stolen)
      yudhisthira mahabharata jr
      Pharisee DM

      October 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
      • bananas

        Have u notified the authorities?

        October 19, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  10. bananas

    Seriously here folks. Is there an atheist around that knows anything about anything?

    October 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • zampaz

      bananas you are!

      October 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
      • bananas

        Very funny, girlfriend

        October 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
      • bananas

        Very funny, girlfriend!

        October 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  11. bananas

    Atheists have ruined this nation

    October 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • bananas

      DM, problem?

      October 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • bananas

        What is your role here DM, besides blocking my right to free speech?

        October 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
        • bananas

          Y r u so shy?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          out of interest.
          how are they blocking your 'free speech'?
          and why do you think you have 'free speech' on a private forum anyway?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
        • bananas

          Out of respect, tell the snake prison is well deserved

          October 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
        • cedar rapids

          okaaaay. *shrug*

          does anyone have any clue what that reply was meant to mean?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
        • ME II

          You mean other than the appropriateness of the name? No.

          October 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
      • bananas

        Not a word about DM

        October 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • niknak

      Bananas have ruined this nation (helped along by people who still cling to stone age fairy tales).

      October 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • bananas

        He sure fooled a whole bunch of people! Some great moral teacher!

        Go back to first grade

        October 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
        • niknak

          You are pretty creepy Bananas, even for a believer.
          Is DM another of your imaginary friends?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
        • bananas

          DM Murdock!

          October 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Cam

      This nation reached it's apex in the 50s and has been sliding downwards ever since, right? That corresponds with the rise of conservative Christianity, doesn't it?

      October 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • bananas

        Exactly! Them pilgrims were wild-eyed leftist commies like u

        October 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
        • niknak

          How one dimensional of you to use "leftist commie."
          Tea party much?

          I bet you can't even define what communism is.
          But since Glen Beck says it as a put down, you must think it is something bad.

          October 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
        • bananas

          I know darling. Simply dreadful

          October 18, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
      • Paul

        "This nation reached it's apex in the 50s and has been sliding downwards ever since, right? That corresponds with the rise of conservative Christianity, doesn't it?"

        Nope. The 1950s is when evolution started to be heavily published in school text books.

        October 19, 2013 at 9:56 am |
        • Cam

          It's also when they put "In God We Trust" on the money.

          Evolution was being taught in schools since before the Scopes Trial, where it was only an issue because it was happening down in the South.

          October 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • bananas

      y r u so foolish?

      October 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Doris

      Nonsense. Now there are some drive-by trolls that degrade this blog by continuously posting rubbish that they fail to back up.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
      • bananas

        Called doris

        October 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  12. Christina

    If you created a nice piece of art, such as a painting or a sculpture, wouldn't it be nice to get a little bit of recognition for it?

    October 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • ME II

      If you create it, then sign it and I'll give credit where credit is due.

      If, however, you claim to have painted the sunset, or know the one who did, I'm likely to suspect that you are lying.

      October 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      sure but dont think i would condemn anyone to everlasting torment if they didnt think I did it.

      October 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • Lisa

      Again, we're talking about the actual landscape here, not a painting of the landscape. There are no signs of nature actually being the creation of some being.

      October 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
      • bananas

        Comparing the creation of the universe with morons and their belief in astrology is one heck of an argument, DM

        October 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • bananas

        Listen up u moron, we much is easier, painting a landscape or creating the universe? Rhetorical, DM

        October 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • niknak

          Was that English that you were attempting to write?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • newsrell

      Yes, if the author creates a beautiful, peaceful piece of art, then he/she deserve the recognition. However, if the author threaten to put in jail/hell anyone who wouldn't believe her, then it a shame to claim credit. Moreover, if the piece only has peaceful, beautiful quality, then yes, credit, but if it creates misery, murders at the same time, then again, it is shameful for the author to claim credit, even if the author says she works in "mysterious " way. HAH, does that reminds you of something ?

      October 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
      • dooper

        what an analogy.

        not liking the final product doesn't exactly refute the argument in favor of a creator, does it, fool?

        and not a word about DM Murdock, the space cadet scholar from lala land? knows nothing. can't be quiet. thinks she god. hates everyone. consumed with self-pity and too much time on her hands promoting her comic strips.

        funny. athies cannot not respond to the slightest whiff of anything at all no matter how trite, but DM draws complete silence. Dorothy, u cowardly dingbat

        October 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
        • newsrell

          No, I don't refute the authorship, if your god is really dumb enough to claim credit for some goodiies, some badies she created. I only think that I prefer my god to be much more powerful and generous, giving out goodies and absolutlely no badies. If you are content with your god being LESS POWERFUL than mine, then that is fine with me, really!

          October 19, 2013 at 10:41 am |
      • dooper

        well god claims credit and you are going to hell, like it or not

        October 18, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
        • newsrell

          Thanks for admitting your god claims credit for millions of miseries around the world. I know, you can claim some goodies in there too, but if it were my god, I would prefer her to be creator of purely humane and holy expriences for mankind, nothing ugly and bad as you admitted your god did. Thanks for the revelations.

          October 19, 2013 at 10:30 am |
        • bananas

          That's the best u got?

          October 19, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
        • newsrell


          I am perfectly satisfied at claiming your god did ugly & cruel deeds and saw no defense from followers, including you. Thanks for admitting these ugly deeds.

          October 20, 2013 at 5:54 am |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Would you smash it, roast it in a fire, as it screams in agony, if you were denied your recognition? If not, then you're more moral than the bible's god is.

      I 'created' my kids. I wouldn't kill them if they decided to deny me. I wouldn't even hurt them.

      October 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  13. koietsu

    I have to agree with the author. I do rather find this comment offensive. I can look at the expanse of nature, at the sky, or in the ocean and see the beauty without believing in a creator. Oprah, don't involve yourself in something unless you mean to change it for the better, and not just your version of better.

    October 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • bananas

      She needs your advice! Thanks so much

      October 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  14. Gary

    I do find the comment offensive, actually more ignorant that offensive. I guess I am labeled an aetheist but I don't talk about it very much to avoid the astonishment and criticism.

    October 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • niknak

      You mean you don't go out and knock on stranger's doors and try to talk them into being an atheist?!?
      And you don't go out and try to impose your atheism on others and make them pay for the taxes on your non house of worship?!?
      Or try to elect politicians who will further the atheist cause?!?
      Or shoot abortion doctors in the back?!?

      Me neither.

      October 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  15. Christina

    Why is there matter?
    Why do atoms have the properties that they have?

    October 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • niknak

      Wow Christina, you just proved god!
      All these years we have been looking for proof and you found it!!
      I best get my secular self to some house of worship somewhere and repent.

      Hey, which one should I go to?
      There are quite a few to choose from you know.

      October 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
      • Christina

        Thank you!

        October 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
        • niknak

          But you did not tell me which one I am supposed to go to.
          Which one gives it's followers the most free goodies?

          October 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
        • Christina

          I don't want to tell you what to do.
          You can decide for yourself.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
        • Madtown

          You can decide for yourself.
          That is most certainly NOT what religion does, let you decide for yourself. Christianity, as an example, says pretty explicitly what to believe, or you risk spending eternity away from God.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • niknak

          Well that cinches it Christina, I am going to believe in YOU.
          I am gonna sell all my belongings and start the Christina Krishna Kristian religion.

          Maybe I can get a following and get the local property owners in my area to pay all my taxes like the other religions get.

          Here is to the start of the CKK!!!

          October 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
        • The Perimeter of Ignorance

          God is, for the most brilliant minds, the point where there is currently no answer. It's like a drug to many, and they have trouble see what's staring them in the face – that today's answers were yesterday's gods.

          October 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
        • The Perimeter of Ignorance


          October 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
        • Paul

          @The Perimeter of Ignorance
          "God is, for the most brilliant minds, the point where there is currently no answer. It's like a drug to many, and they have trouble see what's staring them in the face – that today's answers were yesterday's gods."

          That's a straw man argument. That's not how most people see God. Try asking people God instead of making assumptions.

          October 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Lisa

      Either wait for a scientist to find the answer, the actual answer, or become a scientist yourself and discover it for all of us. Until then, what's so wrong with admitting that you just don't know? Why the compulsion to assign an answer just for the sake of having an answer?

      October 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
      • Paul

        "Why the compulsion to assign an answer just for the sake of having an answer?"

        Why do you assume people are assigning an answer just for the sake of having an answer? Try asking people for the REASONS they have for believing in God.

        October 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Lisa

        I've seen their reasons, but am not impressed. I'm talking about some gap in our knowledge, like what "started" the Big Bang. We may never have the ability to know what the real answer is, so why is it justified to just scribble "God" as the answer? You would be just as likely to be right if you marked down some other creator god's name. Without proof positive it's all just aimless conjecture. What's wrong with just leaving it as an unknown until we do discover the answer, the actual answer?

        October 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
        • Paul

          "We may never have the ability to know what the real answer is, so why is it justified to just scribble "God" as the answer?"

          We're not just "scribbling God as the answer" as you put it. We're examining the evidence and making an inference to the the most reasonable explanatin.

          "Without proof positive it's all just aimless conjecture."

          I'm not sure what world you're living in, but even scientists don't operate on 100% certainty. What level of certainty to you require? 100%, 90%, 75%, 60%, 50.00001%, 25%?

          "What's wrong with just leaving it as an unknown until we do discover the answer, the actual answer?"

          Nothing is inherently wrong with it, but like I said, most people try to make sense of what they are looking at and come up with an explanation – even scientists. Look at how all the scientific theories have changed over the years.

          October 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
        • Lisa

          How is the Genesis account any more "reasonable" an explanation than any of the other creation stories of world myth?

          There is 0% certainty when it comes to creation myths because we have zero evidence of gods and magic.

          Scientific theories have changed over the years, in response to newly discovered evidence, but never towards the explanations found in creation myths. If you are betting that the final scientific answer will be "God", then you just haven't been paying attention to the research. A completely naturally occurring universe seems the ever more likely actuality.

          October 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          My apologies in advance, Lisa, but do you happen to be single?

          October 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
      • Lisa

        A better example. People use to believe that some thunder god threw out lightening like some kind of spear. That was the answer until science discovered what actually produced lightening. Some people still insist that some god must have created the universe. I'm betting that science will discover the real cause of that too, if it's possible to discover. I wouldn't bet on the god answer.

        October 18, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • Paul

          "I'm betting that science will discover the real cause of that too...",

          Now you're no longer engaging in science. You're engaging in scientism.

          October 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
        • bananas

          That's y u r a loser.

          October 18, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
        • Lisa

          I have confidence in science finding the answer before religion does the same way that I have confidence in medicine curing cancer before faith healers do. I see progress in one, and only baseless claims in the other.

          October 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
        • bananas

          I Know. You are blind

          October 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
        • bananas

          Science explains the components of electrical discharge. Therefore, god doesn't exist because people once believed god was throwing spears as lightening. R u as stupid as u r?

          October 19, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
        • Sean Lynch

          bananas you are!

          October 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
  16. Skeptimist

    Trying to capture and explain my spiritual experience in a box made of language is like trying to catch light in a bottle.
    Language is a poor instrument for the task but, lacking any better tool, I choose those terms that seem to give the best (and conversationally convenient) approximation of my personal experience. As a result, I identify myself as a Christian because I have tried certain instructions in the Gospels and found that they work.

    However, I do not subscribe to the idea that any doctrine has an exclusive corner on eternal Truth. Indeed, I have discovered considerable empathy and agreement with others who describe themselves as Hebrews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans and agnostics. Though we may differ in our dogmas, we share the same spiritual attributes; the capacity to love, a reverence for the universe and a persistent curiosity. The variety of our party clothes does not alter the fact that we are all involved in the same celebration.

    Mr. Stedman's tasteful and intelligent description of his atheism seems to be but one of the many reasonable conclusions that may be drawn from a wide range of evidence and experience that led me to a different opinion. I think we'd make good neighbors.

    Since I first confronted the vast expanse of my own ignorance I have been more respectful of other's opinions. That has also led me to hope that God regards my own opinions with Her divine sense of humor... which prevents me from taking them too seriously.

    October 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Lisa

      There are people who swear that following their zodiac works as well. Some say that voodoo works, and others claim that mediums are real. Surely there are things that you are skeptical of, and probably for the same reasons we're skeptical of your claims?

      October 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • bananas

        DM uses this joke all the time. Honey, just because some idiots make a claim, it does not follow that others' are all idiots, 2!

        October 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • newsrell

        I read a lot of debates about religion and rarely come across an argument this good. It is really hard to swallow, but hard to argue against for anyone trying to force their belief on others.

        October 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • niknak

      To long, too boring......

      October 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  17. ThisGuyRightHere

    What always annoys me about the religious believers...and this applies to the radicals as well as the more reserved temperate ones because its fundamental to believing.....did any of them stop and think just how arrogant and selfish it is to be a "believer"? as the timeless argument goes...no one can or ever will "prove" or "disprove" the existence of god...so basically what it amounts to is them saying "i believe that i deserve something more than what i've already got here on earth". or, if i don't deserve it now....there is a "path" or life that i can lead that will allow be to earn my way to something more than what i have right here on earth. They look around and think...yeah, this life is great and all....life is cool...but I kinda want more. I dont wanna die and just have that be it. i believe there has to be more for me and us because this just isnt good enough. How arrogant can you be? How selfish? they can lead a "good" life but ultimately its so that can in principal be in their god's good graces so they get this fantastic afterlife. I mean look around you and just let the reality of the natural world sink in. I dont know about ya'll but its plenty fantastic for me and I'm more than satisfied with this reality. Just be a good person...it doesnt need to be a preamble or precondition to something more. Not that it matters to an atheist....but one would think that approach alone would put you in god's good graces without having to cause so much strife here on earth. and if not, i dont think i want to know that god anyways.

    October 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • bananas

      Dorothy, get a life

      October 18, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Dawn

      You have it right in that is how a lot of people feel about an afterlife. Yes, it seems arrogant but I don't necessarily think that's the main emotion they're feeling. I'm just projecting, but I would think that the thought of the end of "self" is too shattering and that fear is the primary emotion here.

      In a conversation with my father-in-law (raised as a Catholic but only goes to mass at Christmas), when queried about his beliefs he stated that "he'd like to think that there would be a reward for doing good". Yah, that does sound arrogant, but I think those are just words that hide the deeper fear. My husband and I were a little surprised that he feels this way, as we need nor expect any incentive for doing good. And God knows what any of us meant by doing good, we should have carried that conversation a little further. Did that mean mean we had an extraordinary impact on our fellow humans? Or did it just mean we don't go around harming and screwing others over? As for my father-in-law, I kept thinking later did he mean he would have been living his life differently if he had not that belief? I don't think so, he seems to fundamentally be of good nature. But it does make me wonder that if for as much harm as has come from religion, that we haven't also been offered a good amount of protection from our fellow human because of it. Now that's a really scary thought.

      October 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
      • ThisGuyRightHere

        You are right....that is a scary...and sad....thought that there are those who only "do good" as some kind of investment in an afterlife 401(k) so to speak. I just wish more folks did some true personal reflection on WHY they believe as opposed to WHAT they believe (other than thats just how they were raised). I dont get why so many people think atheists can't have a moral compass. Its as simple as live and let live. At a minimum, don't intentionally cause harm to others, and at best, help out where you can...without expectation of a reciprocation.

        October 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Lisa

        Who gets to judge whether what we do is good, or evil? Am I being good by starting my own business and employing a number of people, or am I being evil by taking customers away from existing companies, and forcing them to fire people? Things are rarely black and white, are they?

        October 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
        • ThisGuyRightHere

          Your example is a little hyperbolic because i think most would agree that while, yes maybe a small business gets put out by walmart....its still part of living within the context of a functioning society. i'm talking about infringing on other peoples rights or life based on one's own predjudices or misguided beliefs.

          October 18, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
        • Lisa

          You'd be surprised by how easy the word "evil" gets tossed around. Part of the problem with your other part is getting people to recognize other people's rights. Conservative Christians have a real problem recognizing gay people's right to marry their partners. That refusal would be "evil" by your definition, correct?

          October 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • ThisGuyRightHere

          I dont' think the nomenclature is the issue...call it what you want....evil, immoral, unjust, personal overreach. Yes, conservative christians objecting to gay marriage is a great example of 'mind your own business'. Their prejudice is out of line and unfair.

          October 18, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
      • zampaz

        "Morality" is part of being a member of a social species. A good person will enhance the well being of others because they want to do good or minimize the harm they do.
        Good is according to the cultural norms of the person.
        "Social norms are group-held beliefs about how members should behave in a given context. Sociologists describe norms as informal understandings that govern society’s behaviors,Marshall, G. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology."
        You need not fear the non-religious.

        October 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  18. Aha moment

    Stedman is right and so is Scalia!

    October 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Delaney

      1 John 4:1 ESV

      Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.

      People can be spiritual, not all spirits are of God.

      October 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
      • niknak

        You win the prize Delinquency!
        You are the first thumper of the day to quote us a meaningless babble verse.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
      • Aha moment


        October 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • ME II

        Wait... how do you tell a spirit from God? I only wonder because apparently we aren't supposed to test God and I don't want to test when I shouldn't or not test when i should.

        October 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          In the great words of Admiral Akbar, "It's a tarp!"

          You test the spirit to find out if it is "of god," you find out it is (using my spiritestomatic(TM)), then you are condemned to eternal damnation for testing god. Oops, at least I turned a profit on spiritestomatic!

          October 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • niknak

      Stedman is NOT right, and Scalia is a backwards cretin.
      So what's your point Ahi Tuna?

      October 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • Bzaro

        Sounds just like you, no facts..just opinions.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
        • niknak

          I don't need facts, because I am not the one positing the hypothesis that some creator exists.
          You believers are, and as such, the burden of proof is on you all to post some facts.

          But all we seem to keep getting from your ilk is opinions.

          October 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
        • Paul


          Burden of proof is on the one that makes a claim. If an atheists claims "There is no god." then that requires proof.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
        • niknak

          OK then Paulie girl, then prove to me that bigfoot does NOT exist.

          I will make the claim it does, provide zero evidence for it's existence, but if you can't prove it to not exist, then by your logic, it must exist.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
        • Paul

          "OK then Paulie girl, then prove to me that bigfoot does NOT exist."

          I didn't make the claim that bigfoot does not exist. The burden of proof would be on the one that makes the claim. Likewise, if someone claims that bigfoot does exist, the burden of proof is one them to prove that it does. Since I made neither claim, the burden of proof is not on me.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
        • niknak

          Pauli girl, you must not know how this all works.
          Until something is proven to be true, it is considered false.
          There is no proof that a god exists, therefore it is false.
          Me saying that god does not exist is backed up with the fact that there are NO facts making god's existence true.

          You believers are making a claim of fact with no facts to support your claim.

          Again, just like LisaSimpson said, you are just speculating.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
        • Lisa

          Gods are only a possibility until one is actually proven to exist. All claims of real gods have been proven baseless. That's why I don't believe in any gods. The Christian god, however, is just to illogical to be real as usually defined. A "good" being with the power to end suffering would end suffering, but the Christian god somehow wants to keep evil around, for some stupid reason. If he exists, he won't match this definition, and most Christians would likely reject him for not living up to their expectations.

          October 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
        • Paul

          Please tell me about these so-called facts.

          October 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
        • Paul

          "A "good" being with the power to end suffering would end suffering, but the Christian god somehow wants to keep evil around, for some stupid reason."

          Besides suffering, what sorts of evil things would you like God to put an end to?

          October 18, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
        • Lisa

          Why not anything that people consider "evil"? Why put people through some kind of Survivor-like compet ition to earn his favor when he already knows who'll win? Are we some kind of experiment, or does your God enjoy the suffering as much as he joy?

          October 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Sonoma

      Matthew 8-And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. ...

      October 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • Aha moment

        Exactly! If you say you are spiritual and do not have God, guess who you belong to?– satan.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
        • niknak

          Wrong again Ahi Tuna.
          Satin is just another of your made up beings.
          It does not exist, nor does your particular god(s).

          October 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
      • Napa


        And you think that pig/demon suicide really happened?! Really?

        October 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
        • niknak

          Never underestimate what the believer can come up with to further their sky fairy myth, NapaCabbage.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  19. Dawn

    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.”
    Clearly, Winfrey is applying her own definitions to the words "atheist" and "God". We have language so that we can effectively communicate with each other. If you have to stretch so greatly the definitions of word then you're not effectively communicating. Nyad's usage of the words "atheist" and "God" are in accord with just about any source you can look up. And with those words, Nyad clearly was trying to communicate that she does not feel the same way about existence that people subscribing to religions do. Winfrey attempted to obliterate that sentiment by in effect saying with her comments "no your wrong, we all feel the same about it because I've redefined the words". That's ineffective communication and downright pushy and self-centered.

    October 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • niknak

      That's ineffective communication and downright pushy and self-centered.

      What you describe is about where the average believer is, RayDawnChong.
      I have never met a believer, from any religion, who says,
      "I know I don't have any proof of my belief so I won't push it one you, but I feel that a creator exists, so let's hold hands and watch this beautiful sunrise together."

      They instead tell you how you are wrong, are going to hell if you don't believe the way they say, and if they are Muslim, scream Allah Akbar while trying to kill you.

      October 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • Dawn

        I don't quite get the RayDawnChong thing, can you elaborate?

        October 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
        • niknak

          I always come up with something that can relate to someone's screen name, and that actress just popped into my head when I saw yours.

          October 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Paul

    @Apple Bush
    "What is sin and saved from what?"

    That a good question but a little odd since your previous comment was " I don't need anyone to "save" me or die for my sins. I feel sorry for Jesus."

    The word "sin" means to miss the mark, to fall short of a set of standards. Think of standards as an archery target. If you aim the arrow and it fall short of that target, it's a sin. All have sinned and fallen short of God's standard. Can we meet God's standards on our own? No. That's why we need Jesus to save us.

    October 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Lisa

      Why should we care about the standard of some god that is nothing but pure speculation?

      October 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • KGuldin

        For some of us, He's not.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
        • Lisa

          What's your evidence then? Without evidence, it's all just speculation.

          October 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • KGuldin

          I say this with no malice: I'm not trying to convince you. I'm merely saying, that for me, and for some others, God is not speculation. My evidence is my relationship, my healing, the changes in my life, my experiences, and my legal contractual covenant.

          October 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
        • niknak

          So that makes it true then Kfed?
          The rest of us have to go along with your "feelings" of god?
          We have to pay higher local taxes to support your house of worships?

          And why is your "feeling" about god right, and all the different religion's followers "feelings" wrong?

          What if I have "feelings" that the Pink Unicorn is the actual creator?
          Does that make it true?

          Face it bro, you have bought into a great big lie.

          October 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
        • Lisa

          I get it, you have personal revelation that God exists, which puts you in the same category as the folks who claim to have been abducted by aliens, seen Bigfoot, been reincarnated, or are spiritual mediums.

          Tell me, do you believe that people can become delusional? Isn't the test of that our not being able to experience what they claim to?

          October 18, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
        • KGuldin

          I do believe that people can become delusional. But I am not claiming that I have had an experience that you can not. You can have any experience with God that I have had.

          October 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
        • Lisa

          And the folks who believe in reincarnation will gladly tell you that you can experience your past lives as well, if you undergo hypnosis. The people who tell you that you can experience God will also define for you what that experience might look like and I'm not convinced that what they're describing necessarily indicates a contact with a real god. Not when the same thing can be described by someone else as evidence of alien contact, or of past lives. When the same thing is being used as evidence for multiple beliefs it casts doubt on all of them equally without hard evidence to actually support a particular one. I don't doubt that you've experienced something, I just doubt your conclusion of what that something actually was.

          October 18, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
      • Paul


        How did you come to the conclusion that God is pure speculation?

        October 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
        • niknak

          Because all of the religions have zero facts to back up their claims of their particular sky fairy(s).
          Yours is no different.

          There are no facts to back up your sky fairy, therefore it is just speculation on your part.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • Lisa

          As far as I can tell, the only "evidence" anyone ever puts up for the existence of God is personal opinion, stories, including the entire bible, and personal testimony. Nothing concrete at all, just speculation of this kind. Even the Bigfoot believers have hair samples and prints to show off. The god believers have nothing of the kind.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
        • niknak

          But they will still kill you and your children just the same to show how much they love their god(s).
          At least the bigfoot crowd won't do that to you if you don't go along with the joke.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Vic

      Also, "sin" is "transgression" or violating the law. It is acting upon "iniquity," which is the "desire to sin." And, as you summed it up, that's why we need the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from the wages of sin. (I am speaking from a theological stand point and w/o imposing my belief on anyone.)

      October 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Lisa

        Whose Law? I'm not a Jew living in the bronze age Middle East. I'm not a Christian cherry-picking what Jewish laws I want to keep. I'm an American citizen following the secular law of this land, which was derived democratically. Any law that you claim that is above that would be law imposed upon me by a tyrant.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
        • Vic

          " (I am speaking from a theological stand point and w/o imposing my belief on anyone.)"

          October 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
        • Lisa

          Well, you certainly aren't keeping your opinion to yourself, are you? Tell me, if you met a racist who told you that you couldn't possibly be as good as he was, wouldn't you still be offended even if they didn't actually threaten, or attack you? Some Christians feel something similar towards everyone who isn't one of them.

          You could argue that we're being equally tribal in offending you with what we believe, but that's where the discussion begins. By labelling atheists as "evil" and serving Satan Christians are dodging responsibility for defending their beliefs by choosing to ignore our criticisms.

          That puts you in the same league as the racist who doesn't actually beat up blacks, but doesn't hesitate to call them dogs to their face. Like it, or not, you are

          October 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
      • niknak

        No Vic, I don't need anyone or anything to "save" me.
        Maybe you still need a security blanket to get thru life, but us non believers don't.

        It has been what, 2000 years, and you believers STILL have zero proof of you sky fairy.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • Vic

          " (I am speaking from a theological stand point and w/o imposing my belief on anyone.)"

          October 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
      • ME II

        So then is "sin" a voluntary thing? If one doesn't subscribe to that theological viewpoint then one cannot transgress or sin, correct? And therefore would not need saving, right?

        October 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Seraphina


      October 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Madtown

      All have sinned and fallen short of God's standard
      I'm all for following God's standard, since it seems that would be pretty high. But, how do we know what it is? Where is it referenced?

      October 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
      • scientist/believer

        Jesus said that all Jewish laws can be summarized by the two most important ones: 1. love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind... and 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you do these two things, you fulfill the 10 commandments and all other laws. What God asks us to do is so simple, and yet impossible. That's why all people sin, and that's why Jesus had to come.

        October 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
        • G to the T

          You have more "faith" in the source materials for that quote than I am able to muster.

          October 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
        • Madtown

          The problem with that, is you mentioning Jesus. With that, you obviously align yourself with 1 particular religion. When you align yourself with 1 particular religion, you actually separate yourself from your human brothers and sisters. As a believer, don't you believe God created this entire universe/world and all life within? Sure you do. As such, aren't all humans equal in terms of their humanity? Sure they are. So, if God created all of humanity, and had a set of rules/standards that he wanted us all to follow, he'd give them to us all. There is no 1 religion that is shared equally by every human being on the planet. Simple logic then says that God's standards can't possibly be within any religion, or else we'd all need access to it. Sorry, God's standards aren't in the bible.

          October 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
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About this blog

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.