October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET
What Oprah gets wrong about atheism
(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.
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.
Luke 23: 31-43
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[c] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Where are the five dancing Israelis?
Does the doctrine of your particular religion deny the peer reviewed sciences of evolution and cosmology?
If so, it is a false doctrine because it denies evidence found in nature.
That which denies the truth in the name of God is wicked to the core.
2nd law of thermodynamics.
Indeed, entropy in closed systems and conservation of energy is a fascinating topic. I like to give the example of an aqueous solution of sodium chloride (salt water). Random ions of sodium and chlorine just bumping around lending and borrowing electrons from the water environment and as energy and water is removed from the system magic crystals of ordered NaCl form having a lower energy state from that of the water. Reactions proceed according to the most energetically favorable energy state at the time thus we see what humans perceive as order coming from what we would otherwise perceive as chaos. Even more intriguing when we consider energy and space is vacuum energy- energy that must exist or appear in otherwise empty space or space time could not exist in that volume. Physicists are glorified accountants that follow the energy instead of the money.
Har har har, it was only a matter of time before my user id was stolen. Can't I be a little more creative in my silliness though?
Gotta love computers... just questioned the compatibility of my browser and either deleted a post I was assembling, or posted it about half done and prior to spell check. If you follow the illogic of the Atheist who I was replying to, who was ranting about all of the terrible things he read in the Bible, albeit taken out of context, since engineers made this computer and computer sciences tech's created the browser, and I would argue both are a form of science, then all education and science is BAD! Otherwise, how can they justify their creations doing such destructive and/or misleading things? Childish argument!
You must be a Christian, Ric, to blame someone else for your own stupidity and ineptitude like that.
I think the fact that you lost a post is not quite the same kind of destruction those of us who complain about the Bible are referring to.
Not getting to reply to someone on a website isn't quite as serious as genocide, or I don't know, stoning a woman to death, killing every living soul in a village, destroying a perfectly good pear tree because some snotty prophet didn't get his fill of fiber that day – that sort of thing.
Enjay. Christians are at risk of genocide and violence just like any other group. Look at Darfur for example. Maybe the cause of genocide is calling other people "them" and not "us" as in "all of us".
They all deserve it. Every thiest deserves to be treated as they have treated others. Time for there smiting.
Mickey if the world took that logic we'd all be in a lot of trouble. I, as an Australian, would deserve to die for the way my ancestors treated the Aborigines. If you're American, you'd be in a similar boat regarding the Native Indians and Slavery. So many other examples. Now is not the time for silly, throwaway, judgemental and impractical comments. If you actually believe this, and are not just trolling, focus on solutions that bring peace and harmony rather than vengeance. Then maybe you'd sound less like the Old Testament Christian God.
Wow. Worst segue/comparision ever.
Israel is a terrorist state.
Their lies couldn't change things
Ignorance and illiteracy are the natural state of children and every living thing too. Come to think of it, infection, poop, smelly arm pits and death are natural too. Doesn't mean you want to stay there.
Ignorance and illiteracy are also the natural state of creationists.
At least she spelled it right.
ISLAM – POOF!
(from an atheist agnostic)
placed in the wrong spot...
This is really pedantic but the correct term is agnostic atheist. I'm not sure atheistic agnosticism is a thing.
So be it ~~~~~~ "agnostic atheist" it is.
If you want to find out Maher has Dawkins on Friday night.
Richard Dawkins on the Bill Maher show, Fri. Oct 25th
posted on October 23, 2013 05:00PM GMT
Thanks for the heads up Science. It will probably be on icefilms tomorrow (Saturday) for those who don't have an HBO subscription.
The show is on HBO at 10 pm eastern 9 central and by the way fred slippery devil !
With all user id theft in these comments it's hard to tell which fred is fred.
Too cheap to pay for cabletv when I can find things on the Net.
It should be on youtube or richarddawkins.net soon.
fred and I go back to christians be nice article on CNN ...........lost about 50 pages on that one .
Science, the loss of public commentary is truly unfortunate and inexcusable. I'm trying to hang in here with you, fred, Observer (the real one) and everyone else. I see that WordPress is open to public development and comment.
Perhaps an answer lies there. I'll do more research. A you tube type comment style widget is in order I think.
In the meantime, for everybody who is commenting, please keep it up! To give up, is to give in, and reading your opinion is important to me.
I typically get Mahr episodes from icefilms.info albeit the source is not always consistent in content availability.
I'm watching Dawkins on YT right now. I love thoughtful discussion between people.
John Lennox vs Dawkins, a first of what I believe are two debates.
The episode is online as mentioned above and the overtime is available here:
Athiests have the same problem that Christians do: The most outspoken ones, and therefore the ones we know and recognise, tend to be bullys.
Well, if it is a difference of opinion, I would agree. If it's a denial of science, then they deserve ridicule, just as we would if someone decided they would choose to ignore the color blue.
And they will feel the same way...but they are delusional and biased, having been brainwashed, while scientific-minded people can be just as dogmatic and stubborn and close-minded – showing that they, too, have incurred some sort of brainwashing, they are not equivalent – rational positions are not equal to non-rational positions, but the strength of feeling can be the same while the strength of logical argument is always on the science side with all the evidence, yet the delusional person will feel that their irrational position has more authority as well as more "certainty" – the certainty of a fool.
"while scientific-minded people can be just as dogmatic and stubborn and close-minded"
Actually, that's not true. Scientific theories invite debate, and if someone can present proof, we change – the better we understand reality the better we can address it. That's not what's going on with religion.
And lacking that proof, we are additionally left with the obvious immoralities and contradictions throughout the Bible. If the people who created the Bible could have seen the future, my guess is that they would never have included the Old Testament, and would have just had Jesus come down as a savior to remind people of a better way to live – the golden rule.
It would be interesting to know how history would have been changed if the Bible had been written differently – would the Crusades have happened? The Spanish Inquisition?
In history I think religion has acted as a sort of cohesive force in society. In a strange way I believe religion helped civilization flourish. The invention of religion was necessary for law and establishing a higher authority before the invention of science. It was important to have some kind of consistency (even if inconsistent:) before science could get it's wing and take flight.
As Americans, we must not allow our society to slip back into a dark age because of religious willful ignorance and denial of science. NDGT-TPI, I wish I could give every one of my fellows a pat on the back, theists and atheists alike, for standing for science when confronting creationists.
I believe humanity's perceptions of itself can change in a wonderful and remarkable ways, because we can educate each other through social media.
So you laugh at color blind people? Or blind people? Please prove to them the color blue exists.
Blindness is not voluntary, as opposed to refusing to become science-literate when one has the tools to. People who cover their eyes on purpose and claim not to be able to see colors - or claim red is blue, or that colors don't exist - deserve to be ridiculed. (Just as Colbert did to Bush the Lesser at the 2006 White House Press Correspondents' dinner.)
I've known a few people who call themselves athiest, but it has been my experience that they are simply anti-Christian. They are quick to accept at face value the beliefs of other faiths such as Buddhism or Islam, but Christianity? No way. I have never met anyone who denies the existence of God regardless of the audience.
American Atheists tend to be more vociferous when it comes to Christianity becuase that is the preodminant religion in the USA.
I am a naturalist and find all supernatural claims equally ridiculous.
Do you know that nature is all that there is or is that just something you believe?
Do you know sin exists, or is just something you believe?
So, you've met atheists who believe Allah created man out of clay? I doubt your veracity.
You need to meet more people. Atheists do not believe in a god or gods – from *any* religion. Buddhism has no gods, so it's not in the mix of theistic philosophies.
Small point, but American Atheists (with a capital 'A' atheists) is a specific (non-profit) organization with a membership of a bit over 2,000. American atheists (lower case 'a') is a better phrase, since it seems like a lot of people get confused when the organization "American Atheists" says or does something that does not necessarily speak for all American atheists.
Good point. American Atheists are generally a bunch of d-bags, especially Silverman. Also, O'Hair was a truly nasty person. They're not an organization I want to be associated with.
I'm sorry Dave...
Yeah, while they have more moxie that I do regarding popularizing atheism, I wish they had chosen a different name. People get confused about it way too often. It's sort of like people thinking that the U.S. is a Christian nation because there is a Washington National Cathedral (a private Methodist church, that just happens to be in D.C.).
* than I do...
** sorry, the Washington National Cathedral is the Episcopal Church (not Methodist)
Tomato, tomato (ok, that doesn't really work in a non-verbal context). It's all the same hokum.
1) I have never met an atheist who thought more of Islam than Christianity. I suspect you are confused by the fact that atheists in the US are more threatened by Christianity than Islam. Try asking the next atheist you meet, "If you could wave a wnad and magically see either Islam or Christianity disappear from the earth, which would you choose to make disappear?"
2) Many forms of Buddhism have no gods and so are irrelevant to discussions of atheism. These are the more common forms in european american communities.
Islam. The Enlightenment calmed Christianity down (a bit).
ISLAM – POOF!!
(from an atheist agnostic)
Well, maybe theists are threatened by atheists. Richard Dawkins wants to make church attendance illegal for anyone under 18. Mao and Stalin killed more people than all the wars of history combined. Not bad for a couple of atheists. Seems like a threat to me. Doestoyevsky once said that if there is no God, "then everything is permissible." Can't blame people like Mao for following simply logic.
Their reasoning was faulty, their premises shot through with a bazillion holes and they made the mistake of thinking people need to worship something, such as the state or themselves, without any rational basis for thinking that way – a leftover from their religious upbringing and brainwashing.
They had nothing to replace the gods they were banishing, but their mistake was thinking the gods needed replacing at all.
That sort of thinking is why some religious trolls assume, quite ridiculously, that there must always be some sort of "worship mechanism" and that if there isn't a god like Jesus being worshiped, then the atheist must be worshiping themselves, when such is never the case.
Why in the hell would theists be afraid of Dawkins at all, Matt? Do you think that Dawkins is so influential in the world that he can get every country to do that? Absurd.
The chances of that happening is about the same as the chances of you giving me a billion dollars.
And you do realize that Stalin and Mao didn't kill those people in the name of atheism, correct? You understand the concept of totalitarianism?
you need to get out more, dan
"I have never met anyone who denies the existence of God regardless of the audience."
Uh... you don't get out much do you? I deny the existence of a god - the god of every religion. I'm not picky.
Twisted the words uttered by the guest and Oprah. Athiests are showing their true colors, stooping to the same levels as some religions that kill people physically and mentally for uttering anything at all. The guest said she believed in no god and that she could experience wonder. Oprah was in a discussion. The guest brought up God first, what the heck do you expect the woman to do? Nod sagely and say 'yes, athiests are right'... dont bring it up and you won't get the discussion. This is not about Gay rights people, nor is it about assisted suicide, its a philosophy that has nothing to do with life and death, you keep your mouth shut about your athiesm and I'll keep my mouth shut about my religion. I have better things to do than argue with some filthy truth twisting liars about any subject. period.
That's wonderful – except the guest did NOT bring up God first.
Gosh, Billy Boy, how many atheists are knocking on your door trying toconvince you that no god exists?
Sammy Boy, Richard Dawkins wants to make church attendance illegal for anyone under 18. Mao and Stalin killed more people than all the wars of history combined. Not bad for a couple of atheists. Yes, they do knock on your door. Doestoyevsky once said that if there is no God, "then everything is permissible." Can't blame people like Mao for following simply logic.
I already refuted this repeated post of yours. You just don't care how or what or why, you just hate anyone that doesn't go to your church or have the same skin color as you. Go forth to NASCAR, Billy-Matt, and be profound unto the beer and dawgs and stop printing your dew-lap philosophy around here. Git.
Really? Atheists knock on your door and try to convince you to abandon your religion? Or are you trying to use a metaphor, when clearly sam was talking about the Christian door-to-door proselytizing?
Show us where he said that, Matt
Come on, boy. Doesn't god say something about bearing false witness? Show us where Dawkins said that, or go home and get your fvcking shinebox
Oprah unfortunately suffers from the Three B Syndrome i.e. Bred, Born and Brainwashed in Christianity. There is an easy cure. Details are available upon written request.
The things that opra gets wrong about any given topic is amazing. She is a no talent hack that made her money telling stories to unemployed housewives. She is little more then a cross between murry povitch and the cast of any given soap opra. entertainment for the mentally challanged.
Oprah Winfrey is far more successful and rich than you will ever be. And she likely can spell FAR better than you.
You confuse success and money with talent. Under your definition, the Kim Kardashians of the world are also talented and that is clearly not the case.
The article raises some good points for discussion. I am a Baha'i. I believe in "God" but as an unknowable essence, not the proverbial little old man in the sky. I also believe each person has their own spiritual path to follow, and if that brings them to atheism along the way, that is between them and their own (heart/soul/spirit/mind) (or for me, God) and not for me to criticize or judge. My belief system focuses on the understanding of the unity of the human race, the unity of religion and faith, and the unity of "God"; and we are focused on building peace in the world and the betterment of mankind; but I can enjoy a philosophical discussion with anyone, so long as we each respect each other's right to his or her own opinion.
You can't have it all ways or both ways. You are helping evil people do evil things while pretending or believing you are allowing them their rights, but no one has the right to crime. Religion is not above the law. You can't be for unity if you are for both sides.
Either you are for sanity or you are for delusional people getting away with murder. Your choice.
Sgt, I agree. When one compermises with evil, then you allow evil to win.
So are you saying that anyone who is not a believer is evil?
If they are, I would have to say they're extreme atheists. There are surely believers who discard the nonsense and act morally.
max, I did not miss the Point, I wanted to give my answer. why can't people answer for themselves and not others?
Who said you couldn't, Harriet?
I like brevity. I also like reply buttons. I can see you don't like either one.
niknak, which God? God the Father Jehova, God the Son – Jesus and God the Holy Spirit, I know you will not be able to comprehend this without the Holy Spirit, but you asked the question. Men did writed the Word of God, they were inspired by the inspiration of GOD. Dare to try him, if you do you will find him to be Real and will have a different aurgument.
In other words, your Christian God. You completely missed Nik's point.
Humans have worshiped literally thousands of gods throughout history, Harriet. There is equal proof for all of them. Your belief does not make your god real.
, Rick responded to me and I responded to Him, If you want to take the challenge as well take it, if not let Rick respond for himself as well. I think we are all capable of thinkin, saying and believing for ourselves, God Gave us Free will. But he also said in his Word for those of us who believe to share it with others, so that none would be lost, that is ultimately his desire.
At least according to the MEN who wrote the bible.....
Which god Harriet Tubman?
There seem to be quite a few to choose from.
What a terrible apologist. Anybody can preach the choir, "doc." But it still comes down to some MAN'S opinion about what others should believe with ZERO evidence.
Sorry that the best you guys can do is apologize. Must svck.
It's evident that you don't know what "apologist" or "apologetics" means. It comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to give a denfense."
Cpt. Obvious is an atheist apologist because he defends his atheism. He's not very good at it, but he's an atheist apologist nonetheless.
I never would have thought of Harriet Tubman as a theistic option, interesting. You can definitely verify that she existed.
Rick, we could both be wrong, but again I say that I believe with all my heart that I am right and I have a challange for you since you feel that way. What do you have to loose if you just make a decision to try God, just ask him to show you that he is REAL, let that just be between you and yourself – or you and God. I know that he will prove himself to you. Then Rick someday you will be able to tell the World that god is REAL, read about Paul.
Um...Harriet, who is Rick?
Your challenge is admirable; if it were for people that hadn't already experienced your god, or the lack of your god, as it were.
It's fantastic that you have your beliefs. Now let others have theirs.
Many an atheist has taken your challenge – if there's no harm in checking to see if you are right – when are you going to try being an atheist? Read some Dawkins, really look into the Bible – heck, please read the whole thing – as a very high percent of atheists have.
I gave religion, Christianity a good chance. Read the Bible cover to cover, as open mindedly as possible. The whole I found was nothing remotely good nor believable – you can cherry pick some pretty verses, as pastors, priests and preachers do – but there's pure evil in there, and from the supposed god.
OOOOOO OOOO it's a Ray Comfort disciple!
Let me guess, if the person takes your advice and they don't fall into the confirmation bias, then it's just their fault and your point is still valid no matter what right?
and I'll never be able to look at a banana with a straight face again..lol.
Same with soda cans. I just laugh all the time when I see a banana or a soda can.
The sheer stupidity of Ray and his arguments is just fantastic.
The best thing about Rays banana argument is that it was refuted within 1 month of him saying it, and it took him 2 years to retract the argument and admit he was wrong.
when someone says they believe with their heart, it means they really want to believe, but their brain is saying that what they want to believe is absolute nonsense
Speaking only for myself if I COULD believe I would. I just can't. That's all there is to it.