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

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  1. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • George Karlson

      Friendly tip: Nobody is going to read a post this long.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • LOFL


      October 17, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Praisethelard

      Very good... can you also quote from other works of fiction?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Reality # 2

      And once again, the dark side of Islam's "holy book":

      http://www.muslimaccess.com/quraan/arabic/005.asp et al
      o "Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Surah 5:51)
      "Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons...he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home..." (Surah 8:12-)

      "Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)

      "...make war on the leaders of unbelief...Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them..." (Surah 9:12-)

      "Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]...until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued." (Surah 9:27-)

      "It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it." (Surah 9:31-)

      "If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men." (Surah 9:37-)

      "Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home." (Surah 9:73)

      "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)

      "Say: 'Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom..." (Surah 17:111)

      "'How shall I bear a child,' she [Mary] answered, 'when I am a virgin...?' 'Such is the will of the Lord,' he replied. 'That is no difficult thing for Him...God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!...Those who say: 'The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,' preach a monstrous falsehood..." (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

      "Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him...He has given you the name of Muslims..." (Surah 22:78-)

      "Blessed are the believers...who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)...These are the heirs of Paradise..." (Surah 23:1-5-)

      "Muhammad is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another." (Surah 48:29)

      "Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?...Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents...They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets...Blessed be the name of your Lord..." (Surah 55:52-66-)

      October 17, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  2. HZ

    Or it could be that some people claiming to be atheists really are not and some people claiming to believe in God actually don't.
    At any rate I don't think Oprah had any malicious intentions and just honestly tries to understand people.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Laughing Skeptic

      Bigots don't intend to offend, they just do offend. Oprah had the hubris to try and re-define Diana's very personal statement right in front of Diana. That not only takes an immense sense of "better than you", it takes a great amount of ignorance. What if a non-Catholic tried to tell a Catholic that they are not really Catholic because they support the idea of married priests? And they did this on national television? There would be a giant uproar.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Ben

      I think that most atheists would define "God", or any other god as something supernatural, or at least some being with vastly more power than a mere human. "Awe and wonder at the universe" doesn't qualify as anything of the kind. The natural universe has always been vast and marvelous enough to spark awe and wonder, and science has only made it more so. The problem here lies in theists continually redefining what "God" is in order to include everyone into their set, wether they want to be included or not. It has more to do with their not wanting to sound crazy for believing in God than any real concern about wanting to include people, I think.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  3. patrick

    Man is quite insane. He wouldn't know how to create a maggot and he creates Gods by the dozen.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  4. Freddo

    Winfrey is a typical believer ... always twisting other's views to fit their own.

    I'd call that narcissism. It's their way ... or their way.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      well said!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  5. Felix Sinclair

    Most theists in the US don't know what they themselves believe.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  6. mfh1957

    If you were offended by Oprah you are not only an atheist, but an idiot as well. Takes more then Oprah to offend me.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • Sara

      I've never really been sure what "offended" means not using the term to describe my own emotions, though Merriam-Webster suggests:

      "to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done"

      I don't think "hurt" would apply here, and angry may be an overstatement. But worried and annoyed are at least justifiable. The problem is that this reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with not believing in a god. And very real people in the US today are still hurt by this common belief, be that by being a social outcast in a southern town, trying to joing the scouts or running for office. If it doesn't worry and upset you when false ideas that hurt people are promoted, then you might want to consider your own ethical system and mental health.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  7. Richard Aberdeen

    Besides noting the author's name "Stedman" has long been associated with Oprah, they also appear to have something else in common. Mr. Stedman talks about the "hurt" people do, thus he obviously believes people are sinners who do harmful things to other people, which is what sin by definition is. Most of us who have been around a block or two just assume Oprah and Stedman are sinners like the rest of us and move on. Who is Mr. Stedman to tell mere there is no God. How would he know and if he doesn't know, then why is he lying to the rest of us? Like Jesus said and Mr. Stedman apparently agrees, people "hurt" other people and, atheists offer us no cure. According to Jefferson and the authors of the Bible, God defines what love and justice are. Atheism provides no foundation for love or justice, nor can it change a single moral or other hair on our heads, nor can it explain our existence, nor does it have any value to the human race.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Rick

      And your "cure" is ancient mythology? You accuse Mr. Stedman of lying then offer evidence from an ancient tribal-god book to back it up? I suggest you have nothing to offer mankind. Science and humanism offers the only real escape from mythology and ancient nonsense. Let go of the fantasy and join the real world.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      how can you possibly speak about "what jesus said"?!?!

      The King James version of the new testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England. There were (and still are) NO original texts to translate. The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 100's of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts with no two alike. The king james translators used none of these anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve. So.... 21st century christians believe the "word of god" is a book edited in the 17th century from the 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

      So we don't even know if the jesus character existed, much less what he may or may not have said.

      Seriously?! Claiming that jesus said certain phrases is utter mind numbing nonsense, and yet you seem to base your belief on this! Your belief has more holes in it than swiss cheese! It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:21 am |
      • Lawrence of Arabia

        You obviously know nothing of Biblical Textual Criticism. I, on the other hand have made it a topic of study for many, many years, and your post is so full of errors, it's best that you just delete it now...

        I'll just list one fact that will dispell your atheists website copy and post...
        You say that the manuscripts were written 100's of years after the fact? Not true... Look up the "John Papyrus Fragment," Rylands Library Papyrus P52. It was found in Egypt in the 1920's, and contains portions of John 18, and it dates to 125 AD. Proof that the letters of the Apostles were well circulated and used as Scripture as early as 10 years from the time of their writing.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:30 am |
        • Lawrence of Arabia

          *100-125 AD*

          October 17, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      " Atheism provides no foundation for love or justice, nor can it change a single moral or other hair on our heads, nor can it explain our existence"

      You are correct sir!
      Atheism is a negative statement that describes only what one does NOT believe.
      The term itself implies no behaviours, morals, or worldviews other than a lack of belief in gods.

      I am a Naturalist who believes that there is no existence save that which we experience directly (ie: no spiritual realm). I am also a rational anarchist who knows that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.
      It is impossible to shift, share, or distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility etc. are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else.
      Therefore, we should be rational and realize that not everyone will share the same evaluations of good and evil. We must try to live perfectly in an imperfect world, aware that our efforts will be less than perfect while trying to remain undismayed by self knowledge of failure.
      To me, that concept is central to Christianity. Jesus taught that we are all imperfect and must struggle to better ourselves.
      . Faith in miracles, divinity, resurrections, and other fantastical flourishes isn't required to live a life of pacifism, charity and humility.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Tannim

      Others of us who not only have been around the block but blazed the trail for everyone else know that the idea of "sin" is nothing more than a religious creation designed to enslave people to a dogma, and that the real problem is people not following the Golden Rule (which transcends all religions), which has nothing to do with "sin" except in the narrow mindset of one religious denomination. IOW, we reject the concept of "sin" and instead focus on treating people with kindness and equality–no religion or deity needed to do that, either.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • not my chair

      its a good thing he waited thousands of years to write the bible, i could imagine what the world was like before god got around to telling us what justice is or love is

      October 17, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  8. Peter Q Wolfe

    The persons at most awe are atheists cause the daring to challenge and consequently discover the natural world. Its religious people who bow under the weight of nature not atheist, so its time to flip that around cause that is illogical on its face. Who wants to cure my blindness? Guarntee you that clinical trial specialists are not orthadox christians, yet support STEM Cells, gene therapy, and the alike not christians as much.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Sara

      I dunno...awe is a pretty ill-defined and subjective term. I would want to see some hard data that first, describes a good measurement of awe (or at least a solid study definition) and second, actually measures this in a suitable populations of theists and non-theists.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  9. Rick

    It is so amusing to read the ravings of these so-called Christians. Delusion is the real name of their game. To be fair it's not only Christians who continue to be deluded by ancient mythology as there are all sorts of silly ancient religious beliefs still floating around this insane world. Science is the only true answer to our global problems. When we leave behind all of this ancient, noxious belief in sky gods crap will we really advance as a civilization. Until that time we will have to deal with silly ravings we constantly hear from the "religious".

    October 17, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • nclaw441

      Rick, if your goal is to persuade others to believe as you do (not just Christians, but those who observe them) the insults and name-calling are not likely to be effective. Science is a great thing, but it hardly "the only true answer to our global problems" as you suggest. There are issues of interpersonal relationships that science cannot touch.

      The mere fact that all civilizations over recorded history have at a minimum considered their origins and have tended to attribute those origins to God or a god or gods, seems to suggest a genetic predisposition (for most people) to look beyond ourselves for creation, meaning and purpose.

      Is Christianity right? It is a matter of faith. Why ridicule it?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        "There are issues of interpersonal relationships that science cannot touch. "

        Incorrect. Science is a tool , that includes techniques for studying things. ALL things. Science can be used to study anything that exists, and theoretical sciences can assist us in finding answers to questions we do not even know to ask ...yet.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • not my chair

        we look beyond our selves for a god or some great being that created us because we want to feel special and that we actually have a purpose besides reproducing

        October 17, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • BLJ

      I would be careful to dismiss all religion so lightly for a few reasons. The vast majority of the world is religious, so if you call what they are doing stupid, you have not gotten off to a good start on making your point. You have only offended everyone. Also science and religion are not exclusive. Science says that the universe abides by certain laws and therefore is predictable. I do not know what about that is irreligious. Unless you are saying that science only can explain all there is, which is an odd statement because science itself does not tell us this. Thirdly, if the physical is all there is, then there is no meaning. If everything is finite, then nothing will be counted toward eternity, and therefore nothing is truly counted. You also have no basis for arguing the good of something. "Good" based on what? If all that is is matter, then nothing matters. I am not here arguing for the existence of God, but I am arguing against a casual dismissal.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:41 am |
      • Ric H

        Your comment reminded me of a little word game I wrote to explain the difference between me and life, and matter when I was still a young kid.

        The matter of the matter is, that it doesn't matter to the matters mattering, whether or not the matters mattering matters to the matter of the matters mattering.

        Later I thought, since I believe I have a spirit/soul that is only residing in this temple called my body, which is made up of matter and flesh, I thought, what happens I I remove all references to matter as matter, not the other forms/definitions of the word, from my little ditty? That results in a whole other matter! 😉

        The matter of the is, that it doesn't matter to the mattering, whether or not the mattering matters to the of the mattering.

        Warning, it will take a lot of intellectual discipline to understand this latter form, even if the key is that it in the latter form 'the' can be pronounced like Thee, or not, (a form of word play).

        Atheists will very likely tire of both statements with little consideration. I believe Atheism is arrogant and egotistical, even if they do not conduct themselves in an arrogant and egotistical manner when interacting with others. However, if the comments on this blog are any example, they really like to insult the beliefs of others, and that is arrogant and egotistical. Am I guilty of the same now? You got me! However, I realize it is my OPINION and some others will most likely disagree as is their right.

        October 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  10. Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

    I like the Hitchen's challenge:

    Name a moral act that a believer can perform that a non-believe cannot, and

    Name an immoral act a believer has performed.

    For the second one, I'll note Hitler committing all of the atrocities with God by his side.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • JosephS

      Hitler was not a Christian.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        "Gott mit uns"

        October 17, 2013 at 10:21 am |
      • gary

        What department was Hitler's God in? .. how do I get to yours? .. dang there are so many of these out here .. how do tell the real one?.. I'm sure you can help me since you know for sure. (steeped in sarcasm)

        October 17, 2013 at 10:22 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        "My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice."

        -Adolph Hitler Munich April 12, 1922

        What I can't distinguish here is how Hitler differs from the god-ordained genocidal murders of the bible, or the christians who carried out brutal attacks in Alexandria in order to quell knowledge, or the christians who carried out the crusades, or the witch trials, or the burning of "heretics", a.k.a., scientists. Is your argument that anyone who does bad things like this could not possibly be a christian? And if so, by what authority do you make the claim?

        - GodFreeNow

        October 17, 2013 at 10:23 am |
      • tom

        Nor was he a Scotsman apparently.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • BLJ

      Here is a Christian answer to that challenge. There is no moral action that cannot be reproduced by an unbeliever. However the Bible says that if you give away everything that you have to the poor and don't have love, it is meaningless. The standard it gives is not just to do a good thing, but to actually care and have pure motives. You might disagree with me on this, but I think our motives are usually tainted with pride and doing things to feel better about ourselves rather than just pure good will. I might also argue that truly loving your enemies is an act that can only be done with divine intervention. Jesus told us to do it because that is what God himself does. It can be difficult to say the least. Also a Christian might commit any number of immoral acts. All that I can say is that I personally am better than I was and better than I would be without God.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • Joey

        That is nonsense, god expects us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek, but he gets to burn his enemies in hell for all of eternity. Basically, the Christian god is a sadist and a hypocrite.

        October 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Jeff

    Why does anyone have to support or oppose gay marriage? Can't we just leave people alone to do what they want to do? It is none of my business what two other people want to do...

    October 17, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Tannim

      Because religion is ultimately about controlling others, including their thoughts, words, and actions. Just like government.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  12. Mike

    Amazing...People can see a car..and know that is has a designer..they can see a watch and know that is has a designer..everything created has a designer and a manuel to go with it. This concept was started by God himself. We are created higher than animals and in the Image of God. Amazingly many people choose not to believe to their own detriment because they want to live their lives without consequense and without any conviction of having to answer to a higher source. I've known atheist who have finally sked themselves hard questions and common sense led them to know that they to will one day have to return to the creator. The thing is..The manuel states that if you reject him Know "Christ" You will no wise be with him upon your death. Unfortunately Hell is a real place and denying God's beauty of animals, life, earth, people, Mountains, trees. air..and simply saying it's beautiful etc and denying the creator and painter of this world and all it's beauty. Is a slap in his face. And end the end many souls will be lost to an eternity WHERE THEY WILL REALLY WISH THERE WAS A GOD. They will be cursed with a memory of this email and many others who tried to speak to them in love about the truth of God. I do respect your right to believe what you want..But fire burns wether you believe it or not, the world is round wether you believe it or not. God is real wether you believe it or not. And the consequences of your beliefs and dismissal of Him will cost you an eternity in a lake of fire. I pray that you open your heart and Mind before death" The great equalizer" Finds you.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Youtube - Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Perimeter of Ignorance

      You're referring to the "watchmaker analogy," which is a disproven logical argument, that by the way, provides no evidence.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Rick

      Silly, silly, silly man!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • tom

      If there was a god, and there was a heaven, and there was a hell I would find the prospect of an eternal life to be a nightmare, no matter which side of the "pearly gates" I would end up at.

      After about 1.000 or 10.000 or 100,000 years i would be ready to let it all end. there is ony so much "basking in glory" to be had before it became mundane. Then extrapolate the 100,000 years a 100,000 more times, and 100,000 more of those after that.. and still have an eternity ahead of you/ Screw that!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • nclaw441

        Tom, do you get to choose your reality? I recognize that my faith is just that, faith, and that is not something one simply choose to have. (Christians believe that faith is a gift of God, but that is not the point here.) If I believe the sky is yellow that does not change its color. My faith doesn't change reality, either. I admit that I could be wrong, but what I believe is what I believe.

        If there is a heaven and eternal life, we can't reject it by not believing it.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • tom

          I see no reason to consider heaven or hell as part of reality. It is unsubstantiated.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:42 am |
      • Sara

        tom, if there were some sort of eternal life you probably wouldn't have the same type of brain based consciousness with human emotions like boredom. Unless you take some of the more materialist afterlifes, like Mormonism, in which I agree that might come to be a. problem.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:45 am |
        • tom

          Well I did come from a Mormon upbringing

          October 17, 2013 at 10:48 am |
        • Sara

          Yeah, that would make sense. Most Christian sects and other major religions don't support a material afterlife.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:06 am |
        • tom

          Well the thought of existing for eternity in any sentient form is not an appealing thought to me.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:10 am |
        • Sara

          tom, maybe not, but its a weird discussion to talk abouthow we feel about being something other than what we are. You wouldn't have the same emotions or views, presumably, so even the idea. of "wanting" or "boredom" would be different if not non-existent. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but I think the idea is a bit out of our grasp.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:29 am |
        • tom

          As well as unsubstantiated. Regardless any musings of what my understandings or brain functions are in some indeterminable afterlife, it has no appeal to me.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:38 am |
        • G to the T

          An eternity without human emotions? What's the point of eternal life if I'm not still "me" to experience it?

          October 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
        • Patty Biller

          you would absolutely have them, my friend. 😉

          October 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
      • JosephS

        If your limited interpretation of an afterlife includes conciousness and thought as it's defined in this reality, I suppose I'd hate it too. Others would disagree with that interpretation.

        October 17, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Jon

      Why does this God have such an ego problem?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • TLORop

      If everything has a designer...who or what created god.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:15 am |
      • heh

        Super God

        October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
        • Dyslexic doG


          October 17, 2013 at 10:25 am |
      • tom

        shush your mouth! He is exempt from the watchmaker argument. I have yet to figure out why, but since it is also known as the argument from complexity and that according to this argument everything is too complex to have just happened, the obvious conclusion is that god is very simplistic and not complex.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      Isn't it funny how the 'Grand Designer' can design all these wonderful things, but couldn't come up with a way to stop making sinners after Adam and Eve supposedly spoiled the entire deal......

      Any other company would've had a recall and shut down until they get it right. Or at least that would be the (ahem) 'morale' thing to do.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • nclaw441

        You assume that God wanted there to be no choice to love Him or to sin. I don't believe that is a correct assumption.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:41 am |
        • AverageJoe76

          Well, I don't actually believe in 'Bible-god', BUT..... the way the Bible describes the god character, "yes"... humanity is pigeon-holed into loving him OR suffering eternally.
          And if that god didn't have no other choice but to make it such a rigged system, why is god so powerless? If god can't change the rules, who can? A god beholden to some other 'law' is not really the god I've imagined.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Cris

      I'm so glad I'm not religious anymore, something about gleefully telling people that they were going to be tortured in hell by God (who loves them?) because they were exactly as he made them in the 1st place. Yeah, Even if was in any way true, who would worship such a psychopath?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • gary

      Mike, it's okay all we have to do is follow the bread crumbs

      October 17, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Momsacorn

      Sooooooooooo .... despite the fact that I am a productive member of society, harm no one, pay my taxes, am kind and thoughtful to friends and family, perform volunteer work with the elderly, provide a loving home for rescue dogs, have talents in writing and artistic endeavors, totally respect all religions and never try to impose my beliefs on anyone, and generally live a decent, fruitful life, I am going to burn in a hellesih lake of fire when I die because I'm an atheist? Hey man – if that's your idea of religion, you can keep it. I want no part of that, and certainly no part of so-called "Christians" like you! Eww.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • PeruvianCartel

      But what if Zeus is the one true god. Then you have just been worshiping the wrong one and you too shall burn in eternal hell...

      October 17, 2013 at 10:26 am |
      • nclaw441

        Is hell part of the Zeus theology? I truly don't know.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:42 am |
        • G to the T

          If you haven't investigated whether or not there is, how can anyone say they've made an informed decision about your afterlife?

          October 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Rob

      So says a believer. If you truly believe that, it's your business. I do not. I'm not worried about fire and brimstone and hell and heaven, they don't play a part in my life. And, before you condemn me to hell thereafter, I'm probably morally and ethically on par with most people in general. I don't steal, I don't assault, I don't threaten, etc. I live a good life and when it ends it ends. The problem with religous peeople are they expect everyone should be like them.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:27 am |
      • nclaw441

        Rob, if you truly believed as Christians do, would you not want to spread that to others?

        October 17, 2013 at 10:44 am |
        • Sara

          Agreed, if I operated from a Christian world view I would believe I was helping by spreading the message. That's why we need to have some level of regulation to prevent harassment while allowing believers to spread their message. The internet has been a great development in that area.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Dan

      Part of being an atheist, Mike, is being a good person because it is simply the right thing to do, not because you will spend an eternity burning in hell if you're not. Atheists don't need fear as motivation to be good.

      Not to mention, I can't chose to believe or not believe in a higher being... I just don't. Under you're scenario, saying "I believe in God" won't automatically get me into heaven; I'd actually have to believe. It's like a gay person proclaiming "I am straight!". It doesn't make you straight, it just means you've said it.

      I respect your right to believe in a higher power, but don't threaten me with an eternity burning in hell because I haven't shared your religious experiences.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • nclaw441

        Dan, I appreciate your honest and well-stated post. Many Christians could learn from it. Faith is NOT something we can just decide to have. It just isn't. I think many Christians mislead themselves by thinking they can say the words and that is sufficient. For them, Ephesians 2:8 is instructive: By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

        We each have to do our own search, within ourselves, seeking guidance as to how and what to believe. I think that is true whether you end up at Christianity or somewhere else.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • ME II

      "Amazing...People can see a car..and know that is has a designer..they can see a watch and know that is has a designer..everything created has a designer and a manuel to go with it."

      Cars, watches, etc. DO NOT REPRODUCE and therefore evolution is not a factor.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Just another guy

      I applaud the try, but posting on message boards is not going to change anyone's minds or probably even get any positive comments. The message boards on all of these newsites have become the domain of trolls and the self-absorbed and those seeking attention in any way they can. (That is not to say that all on the boards are like that, but the majority in my experience.)
      And trying to convince an atheist that there is a God is going to be hard slogging. An agnostic is easier in that they admit that they don't know. An atheist has made up their mind. Imagine an atheist trying to convince you there wasn't a god. Atheism takes faith as well and they generally have it in abundance.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  13. Casey

    Hats off Chris! You speak for many who've experienced the same prejudices and misconceptions about atheists. Selfishness, nihilism, and closed mindedness are character traits that people from any culture or faith can and do possess but the idea that because aetheists default to this is ludicrous. Compassion, empathy and awe are induced by understanding your place in the univers and it doesn't require the existence of any supernatural beings or an afterlife. Thank you and keep up the good work!

    October 17, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  14. mainepotter

    Funny how God believers manage to twist everything to support their views.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • nclaw441

      Maine, whatever our views are, don't we try to support them with our arguments? We all do it. And why not? We each believe we are right (or else why believe it?).

      October 17, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  15. George Karlson

    Spiritual atheists are so funny to talk to. Especially the yoga lovers.

    October 17, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Sara

      Non-theistic forms of Buddhism and Taoism have been around longer than Christianity. Apparently you don't get out much.

      October 17, 2013 at 9:57 am |
      • George Karlson

        Such as?
        Believing in an imaginary force instead of God does not make you an atheist. Many religions consider God to be "that which existed before anything existed"

        October 17, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • Sara

          Really, George? Please list the religions that use the word "God" that way, other than when they are trying to get their kids into the boy scouts or get elected in Texas.

          This is how the word "God" is used in English:


          An atheist does not have a belief in this concept. It's really very simple.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am |
        • George Karlson

          I can see why you are not comfortable with God being used in that context. For those of us who do consider God to be a primal existence, we are offended by the anthropomorphic descriptions used by atheists when attacking us for our faith.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:22 am |
        • Sara

          George, you are just trying to repurpose an existing word for your own purposes. The term 'God' evolved in reference sentient powerful beings and if your 'God' lacks power and consciousness, you are abusing the language in using that term. I have no idea what you believe so no idea what attacks atheists might have on your beliefs, butif you describe them I mightbeable to help you outwithsome less confusing language. That is, if youdon't have your own reasons for wantingto steal this term from theists and Deists. Butifyoucontinue touse an inappropriate term you should expectto continue to be addressed as if you believe in the attributes commonly assigned to that term. If you go around saying "I support cannibalism but don't think eating other humans is right" don't be surprised when people balk, ridicule or criticize.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:38 am |
      • Chris

        Sara, you're my hero.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • gary


        October 17, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  16. ascension protocol

    Nyad also went on to say that she believes in an afterlife... So glad to see an atheist come out and admit to 'spirit' and believe in that life continues on after death!

    October 17, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Sara

      There are millions of Buddhists who believe in an afterlife but no gods. Plenty of belief systems have similar ideas, including many non-theistic systems that attach consciousness to all matter.

      October 17, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • huskiemom

      Yeah, I like it when they say things like that. It makes me want to jump up and say,"Your argument is invalid!".

      October 17, 2013 at 9:58 am |
      • Sara

        Here is the definition of God from Merriam-Webster. These are what most people mean by those terms:

        God : the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe

        : a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people : one of various spirits or beings worshipped in some religions

        : a person and especially a man who is greatly loved or admired

        How would belief in an afterlife or in spirits (which could be ghosts of powerless consciousness) in any way contradict not believing in gods? How would believing in unicorns or elves, for that matter? Atheism is a pretty simple concept. Certainly there are many atheists who have some contradictory ideas, but you are going to have to look at them one by one and not make assumptions about people's beliefs.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • gary

      will we ever put down a book made by all men authors a long time ago? why is it so important to bible thumpers to have a God? Does anyone realize how many "Gods" there have been. Both supernatural and men alike being gods. Its very simple minded people. You are slowing down the herd! (hint natural selection)

      October 17, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  17. kd

    I never really saw the awe and wonder of the world until I dropped religious beliefs and found myself an atheist. Never happier, never more aware, never more involved in helping my fellow citizens of the US and the world. Churches always talked a good talk but rarely walked the walk. And when they did, there were always strings attached. Oprah clearly was threatened and that's why she said what she said. Sad.

    October 17, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Atheist, me?

      Unbelief is not Atheism.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:01 am |
      • tom

        Lack of belief IS athiesm

        October 17, 2013 at 10:02 am |
        • gary

          belief is stupid

          October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am |
        • Momsacorn

          This may be a fine-line difference, but there is a difference between not believing in God (implying that there is/may be a God but one doesn't believe in that), and the definitive belief that there is no God.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:29 am |
        • tom

          @ momsacorn, yes there is a difference; however both of your descriptions are atheist. One (saying with certainty that there is no god) is a subset of the other. Both lack belief in god, and both are atheist.

          I cannot say with certainty that there is no god, however this claim is severely lacking in substantiation, and without substantiation I cannot believe that there is. I am an atheist.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:39 am |
        • Ric H


          That's what you believe.

          October 18, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Susan StoHelit

      It's an amazing world when you realize that god didn't make it – people did. That makes it so much the more amazing, the little progress from so many millions and billions of people doing their little bit to make the world a little better. And then evolution and such – really cool when you look how little changes over so much time works out as it did.

      October 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  18. JLS639

    Theists: when almost everyone who believes in such things says the word "God" they are referring to a conscious being that is usually anthropomorphic. This whole "love, beauty and justice" nonsense is a cover for those who are too intellectually dishonest to admit that reasonable people do not share their beliefs.

    Atheists: I advise against ever saying anything sounding remotely spiritual to theists (the fact that it is not spiritual and you are just discussing your feelings is irrelevant). Many see it as weakness and will start to badger you. Fellow atheists, recognize that conversations about spirituality are inherently unproductive. A greater understanding of the nuances of nonsense is just more nonsense.

    October 17, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • George Karlson

      An anthropomorphic god is almost entirely exclusive to Christianity. Muslims and Jews do not consider God to have ANY human characteristics.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:07 am |
      • JLS639

        Judaism version of Genesis says man was created in God's image. The idea was adopted in the earliest days of Islam, apparently to attract converts from Christianity, Judaism and Gnosticism. Anthropomorphic features are seen in depictions of gods from, well, just about everywhere. Some traditions may have abandoned anthropomorphic gods, but they are the norm.

        October 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Rick

      Well stated. Lucid and spot on!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  19. It's true

    Atheists cannot think for themselves, and this is proof of it. That is why so many need their idol Oprah to do their thinking for them, and tell them what to believe. Typical of the shallow mindlessness that is Atheism.

    October 17, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • kd

      Ew. Look in the mirror my friend. You harbor a great deal of hatred.

      October 17, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • raw_knolwedge

      Pot meet kettle. Oprah does not represent atheists, in fact form the this article she comes across as a theist.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Moses the mass murderer

      "Submit to the lord or perish in flames and anguish. Resistance is futile......only in the end will the true lord show his presence.....and all heretics and blasphemers will burn in hell for all eternity."

      October 17, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Sara


      "People often ask me what is the secret to the success of the show," she said. "How have we lasted 25 years. I non-jokingly say, my team – and Jesus."


      October 17, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • gary

      God's calling .. your brain is ready

      October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  20. gizzardgullet

    What happened to disqus?

    October 17, 2013 at 9:47 am |
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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.