October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET

What Oprah gets wrong about atheism

Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='ChrisDStedman']

(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. Agnostickids

    The author hit the point on the head that understanding and acceptance come from acquaintance. If you have a friend that's an atheist, you'll learn to love and accept their way and their "identi ty."

    But the problem is, all the atheists I meet really ARE angry, bitter and mostly nihilistic. I'm not saying this to start a debate – I'm stating MY OWN experience with atheists. Being agnostic, I really don't care what religion anybody is, as long as the mind their own business (when it comes to religion) around me. But when I meet an atheist, it's shoved in my face; ergo, I know they are atheists! Do Catholics come up to me and say, "I'm Catholic! Respect me for who I am!!!" No, and if they did, they'd be left in the dust.
    Atheists are a lot like mormons, they want everybody to know who they are, how they live and how much better their way of thinking is. When I read the belief boards, I feel like any atheist comment is either in my face or bullying because someone disagrees with them. If you're an atheist, why should it matter that you're an atheist??? So you DON'T believe in a god. Good for you! We're all on some sort of journey in this life – let people believe what they want. If you don't like what religion is doing to humanity or the planet, then GO OUT and make a difference. Telling people what you are doesn't solve anything.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Tired of Silly1

      Hiding what you are if you are an atheist, which is what we are often forced to do, is wrong. Christians of many types are the worst for shoving it in your face and trying to change your views if you don't believe exactly as they do. I've always been an atheist. (Got thrown out of Sunday School at age 5 for telling the teacher that the resurrection story wasn't true.) I felt that I had to hide it for many years because atheists are considered to be "evil" by many religious folks. I don't hide it anymore. I don't announce it when I meet someone, but if the conversation turns to church, beliefs, etc. I simply say that I am a non-believer. If people wish to discuss it further, I'm more than willing. I can't imagine why you think that atheists should hide their lack of belief in the skydaddy.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:04 am |
      • Tom

        Who would want a discussion with someone who is openly insulting?

        October 17, 2013 at 11:07 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          No, that’s why I avoid most discussing it with the majority theists. You own comment above is example enough.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • MiissT

      I've had the exact same experience as you, except in reverse! I'm an athiest, and I've met numerous people who were extremely religous (not any particular religion exclusively) who seem to bring religion into every conversation. I'm like you. To each their own! I even attended my friends baptism for herself and her children when she decided to become Catholic. I stood as the god parents for her children! She knew I was an athiest, but asked me to anyways. I agreed, because I knew it was important to her, and I love her and her family. It doesn't matter that we don't both believe the same thing! I think this author hit the nail on the head in this article as well. I believe in good and bad, right and wrong. I have a morals, and do what I fell is the right thing. I have empathy for others, and try to help people less fortunate than I am whenever I can. I don't need religion to do all of those things. If someone wants religion in their life, that's fine too! What's important is that we, as human beings, are good to each other. Who cares how that comes to be? I just don't like others peoples beliefs (religous or otherwise) being shoved down my throat. And, let me clarify something slightly off topic. I've been reading a lot of where people of religion feel athiests beliefs are being forced on them by not allowing for certain legislation to go through, such as banning gay marriage, etc. By not banning something, you are NOT agreeing to it! I'll say that again, by NOT banning something you are NOT agreeing to it! All you are doing is allowing the choice to be made by the individual. That's all the non conservatives are asking for, we just want everyone to be able to make their own choice. If you ban something, you are not allowing the individual to decide, you have decided for them. You can disagree with it all you want, and you can decide that it isn't the decision you would make. But, why should you be allowed to make that decision for everyone? Sorry to go off topic a bit, it just seemed appropriate to write here. I think that's where there is a big misunderstanding between the conservatives and non conservatives. The non conservatives don't want to force our choices on you, we want everyone to be able to choose for themselves.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Roger that

      'But the problem is, all the atheists I meet really ARE angry, bitter and mostly nihilistic. '

      I'm willing to bet it's not because they are atheists; it's the environment in which you interact with them. Do you work in a law office?

      October 17, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Erik

      Have you considered that perhaps you don't realize how many 'normal' atheists you know? Do you actually ask folks what their believe system is? Quite honestly I have found this topic doesn't really come up much for me. I don't bring it up, not because of any taboo, but rather I frankly don't care that much. I'm atheist and I doubt the majority of the folks who I interact with have any idea.
      Now, there are those who are "in your face" about their beliefs – theists as well as atheists. Your perception of atheists may well be biased due to your only being aware of this group.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Agnostickids

      For all of you that responded to my post, that are atheists...did you notice how you HAD to point out that you're atheists and that you're right and I'm wrong? A couple of you even dipped into the bullying arena...again.
      You know, it's been said of christianity, that people go out of their way to defend their beliefs because in reality they doubt them....is this the problem with most atheists? I think so.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  2. MillieNeon

    "but also the “yes” of atheism and secular humanism, which recognizes the amazing potential within human beings."

    This assumes that all atheists are "good people" . . . secular humanism is not the same thing as being an atheist. Being an atheist doesn't make you a secular humanist any more than being a Christian means you're a right wing fanatic.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  3. Julie

    Jesus may or may not have been gay but prophet mohammed was almost certainly a pedophile.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Topher

      We KNOW he was a pedophile. How old was the one wife? 8 or 9?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  4. celebrity girl

    The Bible says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord...He stands with arms wide open to all who will accept his perfect gift....get ready, He's coming soon!

    October 17, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Aaaany day now.
      George Rapp said it would be September 15th, 1829.
      William Miller predicted October 22, 1844. Jesus’ failure to arrive is known as “The Great Disappointment”. Many of his disillusioned followers went on the found the 7th Day Adventist Church, who are still patiently awaiting His return.
      Charles Russell, 1st President of the Watchtower Society told his fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus would be back in 1874.
      Rudolf Steiner maintained that from 1930 onwards, Jesus would grant certain people psychic powers to enable them to witness his presence in the “etheric plane”.
      Herbert Armstrong, Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God said 1975.
      Bill Maupin managed to convince his followers to sell all of their worldly goods in preparation for Jesus’ return on June 28th, 1981.
      Benjamin Crème stated that on June 21st, 1982 Christ would make a worldwide television announcement.
      Mark Blitz, Pastor of El Shaddai Ministries says it would be September 30th, 2008
      Jerry Falwell said it’d happen between 1999 and 2009.
      Harold Camping told everyone that the Rapture would happen May 21, 2011 after failing in his first predicted date of 1994.

      Then again, many believe He’s all ready come in the form of Sun Myung Moon, Emanuel Swedenborg, Baha u llah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, David Koresh, Hailie Selassie, John Thom, Arnold Potter, William Davies, George roux, Ernest Norman, Krishna Venta, Ahn Sahng-Hong, Jim Jones, Mashall Applewhite, Hulon Mitchell, Wayne Bent, Ariffin Mohammed, Mitsuo Matayoshi, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, Inri Cristo, Thomas Provenzano, David Icke, Shoko Asahara, Hogan Fukinaga, Marina Tsvigun or Sergei Troop.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:54 am |
      • Paul Mariani

        What about the Stay Puft marshmallow man? Is that an acceptable form?

        October 18, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Julie

      Yea don't hold your breath....

      October 17, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • TheDukeOfHighwayJ

      "He's coming soon!"
      Look busy!!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Topher

      celebrity girl


      October 17, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • snowboarder

      there is no legitimate reason to believe that to be true.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Jesus

      Listen up, I am stuck in Cuba and of course cannot get a visa, so no I won't be going anywhere soon, tough for you, tougher for me.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • Death to all Christians

        So........Jesus is a commie??

        October 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  5. John the electrician

    Lies from the devil

    October 17, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Lucifer

      Leave me outta this!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  6. 2Smart4Tea

    An amazing piece – amazing because it seems to think Oprah is still relevant and that anyone cares what she thinks. I've watched and marveled at her fall – a fall from being an honest person who sought to do good, to a person who feels she can do no wrong. She's surrounded herself with "yes" men, and is paying the price. She really believes that she is ghod-like, mainly because everyone tells her she is. I really feel sorry for her, and for what she might have been.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  7. Did you hear about the stenographer that blew her lid on the House floor?

    ( http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/10/17/stenographer-snaps-rants-on-house-floor/?hpt=hp_t2 )

    Fundy Xtians are panicking. They just can't hide in the information age. Their cover is blown and they are poppin' like popcorn.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:49 am |


      October 17, 2013 at 10:51 am |
      • Paul Mariani

        Roflmao!! Televangelist crooks are hilarious!

        October 18, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  8. Sussay

    Atheism has been misunderstood, but I think I see progress as dialogues like this continue.

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

      Unfortunately the misrepresentations from the pulpit will continue though.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  9. Think about it

    It doesn't matter what we believe truth is truth. If I don't believe there is life on other worlds it doesn't make it so. If I don't believe God exist it doesn't make it so. If I do believe in God it doesn't make it so. We are learning and discovering new stuff everyday so we need to get off our high horses and realize we don't know!

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

      but it is entirely reasonable to believe that ancient mythology is just ancient mythology.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • steelerguin

        As it is also plausible to believe in God. Face it snowboarder you don't really know the answers either.

        October 17, 2013 at 11:09 am |
        • G to the T

          Believing in "god" is one thing, believing in "God" is another matter. You can certainly argue for theism and we'll reach a point where we say "on this we disagree". When you bring a specific religion into the mix ("God") it is subject to critical examination and thus far, I've found them all wanting.

          October 17, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Clarence LeBlanc

      Believing in a talking snake needs a suspension of the natural laws that govern the Universe and that are constant. None of these laws have been broken since people could write it all down and it be verified. 2000 years ago these laws were broken all the time. Many men of the time were born to a virgin. The dead rose here and there and everywhere. The only thing bordering on a miricle is that modern day educated people tend to let their lives be governed by 2000 year old myths. What is even more agregious is the industry that being the intermediary has become. The show LA Preachers is simply hilarious but they pale in comparison to the Catholic Church that stands at 8 Billion in the bank. The mega churches in the US, Joseph Smith... If you unemployed in the US...start a church...

      October 17, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Stenbolt

      It's called agnosticism: the view that we lack sufficient knowledge to conclude either that there is a God or that there isn't.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  10. Michael B (former christian now atheist)

    ...and Oprah yet again makes herself look like a freaking ignorant tool on the world stage in a span of less than what.....2 or 3 months? As an atheist, all I can say about this is I can't believe people can't accept that atheism is here to stay and we are human beings like anyone else. I respect your right for being part of a religion as it has been a major part of human society for most of our existence from the over 100k years of animism to theistic religions which dominate the landscape today. It might be the opiate of the masses, but if it gives some people peace, then so be it....worship a flying spaghetti monster away for all I care as long as you don't bash my views as an atheist.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  11. Praisethelard

    Oprah who?

    October 17, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Julie

      Oprah WIndbag

      October 17, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Roger that

      She is the talk show host that overlooks the fact that Christians hate her because she is gay.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  12. Julius Africanus

    Only the Christian worldview can account for the universal laws of logic, mathematics, and morality.

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

      Only a complete ignoramus would hold such a simplistic, narrow view on the world

      October 17, 2013 at 10:40 am |
      • Julius Africanus

        Universal laws of logic are a contradiction in your worldview. Please explain to this "ignoramus" and the rest of the world how you account for universal non material laws of logic and mathematics in an atheist worldview?

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

          I'm not a scientist thus will not speculate or assume to 'know' definitively the exact origins of life or the processes in which enabled life to begin. Astronomers and physicists have a much better understanding of how our universe operates and it's origins, much better than you or I. You, inserting you're god of Abraham where it clearly does not belong or wherever you see fit answers NOTHING. If you cannot see this......than your faith has blinded you beyond repair

          October 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • snowboarder

      lol! i assume that must be a joke.

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

      You should study a bit of history... it took centuries for the Christians to accept the scientific and mathematical knowledge that had been in use by the Arabs for a long time. Of course, since that time, the spread of Islam has halted this Arab advancement.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • ME II

      How so? If there were no laws, logic, or mathematics, then how did God Himself exist?

      Does not existence itself require some rules or order? If not then existence has no meaning as it cannot be defined as anything.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:48 am |
      • Julius Africanus

        God is creator and requires nothing to exist and exist within himself. The universal laws of logic such as non contradiction, morality, and mathematics are attributes or are part of his character. In an atheistic worldview you can't account for any universal non material laws in a random universe. If you can then please explaint to the world how you account for them?

        October 17, 2013 at 11:10 am |
        • Africanus Ignoramus

          I'm here on the shores of reality........and you're so far up the 'Jesus' creek without a paddle that any chances of you reaching THESE shores are non-existent.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:50 am |
        • ME II

          1) The "laws" that you speak of are human descriptions of what we see in the universe. They are not distinct things unto themselves.

          2) Your description does not "account" for them in any way. You simply define them into existence along with a supposed God, but fail to account for how they or God exists. If you can state the the "laws" are a part of God then I can state that they are "a part of" they universe, or multi-verse.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:55 am |
        • Damocles


          This always makes me chuckle and shake my head.....

          'My deity didn't need to be created, it has always existed'

          'Well can't we say that about the universe'?

          'What??!! No, no, no!! You can't say the universe has always existed, that's crazy talk'!

          October 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      And who invented the mathematical concept of zero?

      Oh, that's right it was the Muslims. And we still use Arabic numerals for all our math by the way.

      The only people who use Roman numerals are the NFL at Super Bowl time.

      October 17, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  13. George

    I have plenty of non-Christian friends that include atheists, pagans, wiccans and we all get along because we don't hammer each other about ones belief or another. Of course I believe in God being the Creator and that my friends are wrong, BUT that is their business. They know how I feel and I know how they feel. And when we are together, we have a great time being friends. THAT is what it is all about!

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

      religion, like politics, is best not discussed in polite company.

      i have a friend that is very evangelical and it seems to bother her greatly that i am an atheist. i never bring up the subject, but when she starts drinking it is her favorite subject. that and the muslims.

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

        Actually, both are very entertaining, informative and enjoyable topics *when* discussed in polite company.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:56 am |
      • George

        Yeah, alcohol tends to loosen lips. And I have been in some of those discussions, but respectfully and usually only bouncing off the statement of someone else. I figure if you say something related, it opens the can. I am pretty good at not being the one to open it, but I don't always allow an opportunity to voice my opinion pass by either. 🙂

        October 17, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  14. 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 a race called "human being".

    October 17, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • ME II

      @Richard Aberdeen,
      Didn't you post this on the precious page?

      1) I don't think this article is telling anyone that God does not exist. Its telling everyone what the author cosiders and Atheist.

      2) Atheist is often simply a lack of belief in god(S) and as such does not offer any of those things you ask of it. It does however free up humanity to consider such questions without the shackles of belief holding us down.

      3) When exactly did Jefferson (I'm assuming you mean Thomas Jefferson) say that "God defines what love and justice are"?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • ME II

        "precious" -> "previous"

        October 17, 2013 at 10:40 am |
      • ME II

        Should read:
        "It's telling everyone what the author considers an Atheist."

        (wow, I think I need more coffee)

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

      You seemed to have completely missed the point. The author was not telling you what to believe, he was telling you that Oprah misrepresented what Athiests believe. To understand what someone else believes in no way requires you to believe it yourself – but it does enable you to have more respect for others.

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

      Many of my friends and I are atheists and care very much about justice and helping the less fortunate.

      . Many so-called Christians act in very unChristlike ways, such as begrudging needy people healthcare and food.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • BE

      Where in the article does Mr. Stedman say there is no God. He says that he believes in “love and justice and reconciliation”, he is “in awe of the natural world and that {he} believes it is up to human beings, instead of a divine force, to strive to address our problems”.

      What “cure’ does Jesus offer? You wrong a person (kill, maim, lie, cheat) and years later you ‘accept’ Jesus and everything is OK. That’s not a cure for the person killed.

      Atheism provides the best foundation for love and justice – because it is the right thing to do. Not because of fear like so many religions preach.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  15. Shawn

    Thank you for your column because of it were are more in tuned to what it means to be atheist. I think Oprah was trying to relate in her comment but that is just my thoughts and not reality...lol

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

      omg before someone corrects me...we are or we're and also atheist should be Atheist.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:34 am |
      • Andrew

        um no...One of the earliest signs that a person doesn't really understand what atheism is comes when they spell "atheism" or "atheist" with a capital A in the middle of a sentence. In English, this is only grammatical with proper nouns and thus this signals that the person imagines atheism to a be a proper noun — in other words, some sort of ideology or religion like Christianity or Objectivism. When you see someone inappropriately capitalizing atheism, beware.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  16. Was Jesus gay?

    Let's be honest here, people. Jesus was most likely a gay man. Think about it. Never married. Died a virgin. Hung out with all men. Had dinner with only men. Slept with only men. Not exactly indifferent to kissing a man. Obsessed with the 'body' of Christ........Gay Jesus is being vilified and portrayed as something he was not. Someone has to right the wrongs here.

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

      He also had amazing abs!

      October 17, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • profbam

      Actually, Jesus was an Irishman. He didn't leave home until he was at least 33 years old, he hung out with 12 drinking buddies, he was a carpenter, and his mother thought that he was God. That is the very definition of an Irishman.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  17. CurtisG

    " I believe it is up to human beings, instead of a divine force, to strive to address our problems"

    The difference between atheists and theists is not the positive things they believe in. They both believe that love and justice and reconciliation and central to all life. The difference between an atheist and a theist is what they believe happens when things are not good. What a human fails, an atheist believes that person is a failure because there was not sufficient human strength or resources to solve their problem, while a theist believes that when a human fails, there is a higher power that offers unconditional love and forgiveness, despite human failure.

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

      Thanks for telling us atheists what we all 'think'. To take your statement (which is completely untrue for me) and turn it around, an atheist beleives if a person fails, they fail, a theist believes if a person fails, it is someone else's fault (God) and they are not responsable .

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

        In a way, I think we agree. On a civic level, both theists and atheists believe all individuals should be held responsible for their behavior. But on a human level, a theist believes all people have inherent value and worth, regardless of their failings. While an atheist assigns value relative to human achievement, a theist believes there is a higher power that assigns equal value to everyone, unconditionally.

        The concept of forgiving an evil person, like Hitler, has no room in atheism. Yet a forgiveness beyond all human understanding and capacity is central believe of a theist.

        October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am |
        • Susan StoHelit

          Depends on the theist. Many religions talk of original sin and believe everyone has a 'sin nature', so all people are essentially bad and only prevented from that by the threat of hell. And for far too many religions and religious people, impossible expectations and unrealistic goals are given for people – and if you miss – and you're told we all will fail – then you are a failure. Where for an atheist, we're all just people – most of us are good decent people, but we don't expect that you must entirely deny your every impulse or deny your own self interest to be good.

          When people 'fail' in one area – that doesn't make them a failure – it's just that they failed that time. We all have our good moments and not as good.

          October 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually athiests don't think as a group. We all have our own responses to situations that arise in our lives. Personally, I think the only real failure is giving up. You have not failed until you stop trying.

      Your description of how christians view failure sounds like the behavior of children, running back to a supernatural daddy when things go wrong. Atheism to me is simply accepting that I am the adult in the situation, and that the responsibility for my life is ultimately mine.

      October 18, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  18. Hunter

    Ironic that believers think of atheists as “closed-minded"

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

      In what way?

      October 17, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • Michael B (former christian now atheist)

        Typically, Christians that i've met through the years will say that because of the single fact that they don't believe in a god, that they are closed minded. It isn't logical, but a lot of Christians think that way of Atheists.

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

          That does not explain what is ironic about a believer doing that. Further, who said anything about Christians here?

          October 17, 2013 at 11:00 am |
      • Julie

        If you can't see the irony.......i mean c'mon

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

          Being close minded or open minded has no bearing on the beliefs of the person. A close minded person will believe what they believe and not listen or consider to others views and opinions. The quote that best describes open-mindedness is, "It's the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought." That's entertain, i.e. consider. Accepting the thought depends on that consideration.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:55 am |
        • neoritter

          I also think you may need to look up the definition of ironic here.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:57 am |
      • ME II

        In the way that many Fundamentalist YEC Christian won't open their minds to the facts staring them in the face and yet call Atheists closed minded.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:54 am |
        • neoritter

          Don't be hypocritical. You have no facts to sway their opinion. To call them facts is to merely expose a close minded perspective. More importantly, accepting your facts is not an indication of being open minded, it's not even and indication of being close minded.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:05 am |
        • ME II

          "Don't be hypocritical."

          Perhaps I should clarify. I was referring to known scientific facts related to things like evolution, the age of the Earth, Geology, Plate Tectonics, Astrophysics, etc. Many, or all, of which many Fundamentalist YEC Christians deny.

          I was not claiming any facts about the existence of god(s) or lack thereof.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:49 am |
        • neoritter

          Those facts are irrelevant though. They don't, in a general sense, have bearing on the belief systems of either group. It's entirely possible that an atheist would believe that evolution was wrong. On another note, science doesn't dictate that these things must and always hold true. To offer the opinion that denying these scientific discoveries as unchangeable truth is close minded, is also hypocritical. Scientific thought dictates that these are not absolution truths and are subject to reexamination given a thorough use of the scientific method.

          October 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
        • neoritter

          Excuse me, "*absolute truths"

          October 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
        • ME II

          "Those facts are irrelevant though."

          I disagree. For certain Christians their belief is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible which is contradicted by the evidence we have so far. Disregarding evidence in favor of belief in the absolute truth of ~2000 year old book seems to me to be the height of closed-mindedness.

          "It's entirely possible that an atheist would believe that evolution was wrong. On another note, science doesn't dictate that these things must and always hold true."


          "To offer the opinion that denying these scientific discoveries as unchangeable truth is close minded, is also hypocritical. "

          Who said anything about unchangeable truth? While facts are unchangeable in the sense that they are past events and no longer changeable, but scientific knowledge or understanding about those facts is subject to change based on new information, e.g. facts. That is science.

          "Scientific thought dictates that these are not absolution truths and are subject to reexamination given a thorough use of the scientific method."

          Exactly, open (minded) to new information and data as opposed to many Fundamentalist YEC Christian who are locked into a single description of events regardless of the evidence at hand.

          Although that is science, not Atheists per se. Atheism, for many Atheists, is simply a lack of belief in god(s), which technically doesn't say anything about their open or closed mindedness.

          October 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  19. Kristi

    If Atheists would stop being antagonistic toward non-atheists..perhaps we might give a crap about your plight. So quick to point out the "invisible man in the sky"...as if you discovered some great secret that God does not exist and the people that do believe are a bunch of idiots. I absolutely believe in God...as much as we may want to argue here and point fingers-neither one of us is going to sway the others beliefs. I trust that eventually atheists will be presented with proof. This I know.

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

      You "know" nothing.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • tom

        John Snow.....

        October 17, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Lola

      You know nothing of the sort. That is a gross assumption on your part and a reflection of you ignorance and closed-mindedness

      October 17, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • neoritter

        Lola, try to hold back the knee jerk reaction there. Kristi is right, Atheists (and everyone else) will eventually be presented with proof. When we die, we'll have our proof. If the Atheist is right, they may not know they got their proof, but they got it.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:46 am |
        • Verimius

          Good point, Neo. There is an asymmetrical situation here. If atheists are right about no afterlife, then nobody - believers or non-believers - will ever find out. We'll all be just plain dead. On the other hand, if believers are right, we'll all find out at the end.

          Of course, then you have to decide which of the 4,200 religions in the world is the right one...

          October 17, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • Roger that

      You get that from both sides of the argument. It's more noticeable when it's directed towards your side.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • neoritter

        Atheists are the only people I've known to go on tirades about how God doesn't exist merely because someone said, "Thank God." I've yet to see a comparable reaction from theists of suitable frequency and consistency.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:42 am |
        • Roger that

          That's rare. I say "thank god" all the time. It's a figure of speech. I also say gawd dam and holy sheet. That doesn't make me religious.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:55 am |
        • ME II

          Except of course when some say Happy Holidays.

          October 17, 2013 at 10:57 am |
        • neoritter

          @Roger that – That's kind of the point here, saying things like "Thank God", "Jesus Christ" (as an expletive) are not necessarily religious in nature. The tirades would be an overreaction wouldn't you agree to those situations?

          October 17, 2013 at 11:07 am |
        • neoritter

          @ME II – A) Not comparable. The tirades are usually not denying the validity of other holidays during that period. Further, utterances of "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hannukah" have been met with some resistance pushing them to be censored from use in certain situations. The reactions by believers to the statement, while an overreaction, is coming from a validly perceived threat on their ability to practice their religion and more specifically their holiday. The utterance of "Thank God" after say a tragedy are in no way tied to the perceived attacks against Atheism that Atheists believe.

          B) Not of the same frequency. Utterances of "Happy Holidays" only happens during the holiday season, ie Christmas and Hannukah. The others happen reliable year round.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am |
        • ME II

          "The tirades are usually not denying the validity of other holidays during that period."

          I disagree, especially when it is followed closely by "it's the reason for the season", i.e. 'the season should be called Christmas, because it is a Christian holiday'

          "The reactions by believers to the statement, while an overreaction, is coming from a validly perceived threat on their ability to practice their religion and more specifically their holiday."

          How exactly is saying "happy holidays" a "validly percieved threat" on praticing Christainity?

          B) "In God We Trust" happens every day and "...under God..." happen throughout the year, not to mention the mulitude of time references to God occur throughout people's daily lives.

          Ultimately, if you claim the right to say "Thank God" at any time, which I agree that you and everyone has, then you cannot deny others the right to say "Don't thank God" at any time.

          Now if you want to debate who reacts worse, Christians or Atheists, perhaps we can start that discussion in Westboro...

          October 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
        • neoritter

          "I disagree, especially when it is followed closely by "it's the reason for the season", i.e. 'the season should be called Christmas, because it is a Christian holiday'"

          You didn't establish that what I said is not the norm. Or rather you did not explain why you disagree.

          "How exactly is saying "happy holidays" a "validly percieved threat" on praticing Christainity?"

          I answered that in my previous comment. Please read the whole context of that quote.

          "B) "In God We Trust" happens every day and "...under God..." happen throughout the year, not to mention the mulitude of time references to God occur throughout people's daily lives."

          Red herring and a separate argument. My argument was that Atheists are the ones that will go on a tirade for the mere mention of God. The addition or mention of God in governmental mottos and pledges goes beyond the mere mentioning. And are a different scenario than the casual or sympathetically driven "thank God" comment. There are valid concerns to the usage of God in the pledge, etc. That said, would you not find it annoying if everyday in school an atheist took the time to mention that God doesn't exist every time the pledge was spoken. That would just be spiteful and inane complaining.

          "Ultimately, if you claim the right to say "Thank God" at any time, which I agree that you and everyone has, then you cannot deny others the right to say "Don't thank God" at any time. "

          This is a straw man, I never made such an argument.

          October 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
        • ME II

          "My argument was that Atheists are the ones that will go on a tirade for the mere mention of God."

          Okay, honestly, I had taken this as a larger argument, so if that is your argument I'll, hopefully, cut this short:

          I disagree that Atheists go into tirades at the "mere mention of God".

          The longer version:
          While some Atheists, may occasionally "go into tirades", if you are implying that it is inordinately Atheists versus Christians, then I would say that some Christians, as you perhaps admitted, also overreact to the denial of God and/or the mention of evolution.

          Further, it may be your experience that certain Atheists "go into tirades", but do you know all the Atheists that just ignore such comments without notifying you that they are in fact Atheists? Or are you committing a fallacy of confirmation bias by only noticing the outspoken Atheists while discounting the quiet ones?

          October 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • John


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

      Maybe if you got outinto the world and met some atheists that aren't writing on belief blog comment boards you'd realize that non-believers mostly don't bother discussing religion at all.

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

        I have, and I can tell you that's not true at all. From the atheists I've run into that go on a rant anytime someone mentions God or belief, to the Atheists that look at people funny when they say they believe in God.

        October 17, 2013 at 10:47 am |
        • neoritter

          I should clarify, yes I've met well intentioned and respectful atheists. But they're usually agnostic atheists and are willing to accept they are holding a belief/opinion that may be wrong.

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

          Most of the atheists you've met probably haven't told you their beliefs. And I have a hard time believing that they give funny looks any more than Christians do when they meet a non-believer. The majority of non- believers in Gods don't talk about the issue at all unless they're stuck in some backwater Texas town fighting for their sanity.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:05 am |
        • neoritter

          Maybe it's where I'm from, but no theist that I've seen or know bats an eye when someone through any range of dicussions says they don't believe in God. The typically response usually is to acknowledge it and either drop what was being said or to move forward with whatever the conversation was with that in mind. I've only ever seen an Atheist respond in apparent disbelief or with a look like you're trying to "punk" them when you respond with, "Yes, I believe in God."

          The important point here is the anecdotal nature of this discussion. And admonishing a person to go out into the world assuming that they'd come back with the same experiences and interpretation of events that you have is irrational.

          October 17, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • JC

      The only reason you hear from atheists at all is because we are trying to stop the believers from controlling our lives. When you put god in our pledge of allegiance, put god on our money, and try to put religion into everything public, then you will hear from us. Just live your life without trying to control others. Trust me, atheists hear from you believers a lot more than you hear from us. You just don't notice all of the religious stuff because you agree with it.

      October 17, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  20. Tracy

    Oprah was just displaying her typical narcissistic, ignorant mentality. She believes that everything revolves around her. That's why she completely disregarded Diana's views and insisted upon labeling it "God." I don't think anyone is surprised by Oprah on this. Diana managed herself with dignity and afforded Oprah a respect that wasn't certainly not earned.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:26 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
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.