October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET
What Oprah gets wrong about atheism
(CNN) - To some, Oprah Winfrey appears to have an almost godlike status. Her talents are well recognized, and her endorsement can turn almost any product into an overnight bestseller.
This godlike perception is fitting, since in recent years Winfrey’s work has increasingly emphasized spirituality, including programs like her own "Super Soul Sunday."
But what happens when an atheist enters the mix?
A few days ago Winfrey interviewed long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Super Soul Sunday. Nyad identified herself as an atheist who experiences awe and wonder at the natural world and humanity.
Nyad, 64, who swam from Cuba to Key West last month, said “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity — all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt.”
Winfrey responded, “Well I don’t call you an atheist then.”
Winfrey went on, “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery then that is what God is… It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”
Nyad clarified that she doesn’t use the word God because it implies a “presence… a creator or an overseer.”
Winfrey’s response may have been well intended, but it erased Nyad’s atheist identity and suggested something entirely untrue and, to many atheists like me, offensive: that atheists don’t experience awe and wonder.
MORE ON CNN: Diana Nyad completes historic Cuba-to-Florida swim
The exchange between Winfrey and Nyad reminds me of a conversation I once had with a Catholic scholar.
The professor once asked me: “When I talk about God, I mean love and justice and reconciliation, not a man in the sky. You talk about love and justice and reconciliation. Why can’t you just call that God?”
I replied: “Why must you call that God? Why not just call it what it is: love and justice and reconciliation?”
Though we started off with this disagreement, we came to better understand one another’s points of view through patient, honest dialogue.
Conversations like that are greatly needed today, as atheists are broadly misunderstood.
MORE ON CNN: Behold, the six types of atheists
When I visit college and university campuses around the United States, I frequently ask students what words are commonly associated with atheists. Their responses nearly always include words like “negative,” “selfish,” “nihilistic” and “closed-minded.”
When I ask how many of them actually have a relationship with an atheist, few raise their hands.
Relationships can be transformative. The Pew Research Center found that among the 14% of Americans who changed their mind from opposing same-sex marriage to supporting it in the last decade, the top reason given was having “friends, family, acquaintances who are gay/lesbian.”
Knowing someone of a different identity can increase understanding. This has been true for me as a queer person and as an atheist. I have met people who initially think I can’t actually be an atheist when they learn that I experience awe and am committed to service and social justice.
But when I explain that atheism is central to my worldview — that I am in awe of the natural world and that I believe it is up to human beings, instead of a divine force, to strive to address our problems — they often better understand my views, even if we don’t agree.
While theists can learn by listening to atheists more, atheists themselves can foster greater understanding by not just emphasizing the “no” of atheism — our disagreement over the existence of any gods — but also the “yes” of atheism and secular humanism, which recognizes the amazing potential within human beings.
Carl Sagan, the agnostic astronomer and author, would have agreed with Nyad’s claim that you can be an atheist, agnostic or nonreligious person and consider yourself “spiritual.”
As Sagan wrote in "The Demon-Haunted World,":
"When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”
Nyad told Winfrey that she feels a similar sense of awe:
“I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching being who created all of this and sees over it,” she said. “But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals, and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.”
MORE ON CNN: 'Atheist' isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman
I experience that same awe when I see people of different beliefs coming together across lines of religious difference to recognize that we are all human — that we all love and hurt.
Perhaps Winfrey, who could use her influence to shatter stereotypes about atheists rather than reinforce them, would have benefited from listening to Nyad just a bit more closely and from talking to more atheists about awe and wonder.
I know many who would be up to the task.
Chris Stedman is the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, coordinator of humanist life for the Yale Humanist Community and author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Oh boy, here it comes. It's going to be great to read 10,000,000 comments that all say: 'MY VIEW OF REALITY IS BEST AND I CAN'T WAIT TO SHOUT ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION OF AN ARTICLE'
"The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'"
"There once was a man from Nantucket"
See I can quote, too.
Typical self-affirming nonsense.
Odd that a religion that supposedly teaches love your brothers, name calls any who don't believe the wild (often false) claims of the bible.
OK so what am I? I believe that the probability that a superior "intelligence" at a level beyond my comprehension exists is essentially 1. The idea that "we" are the highest form of intelligence seems so remote it might as well be 0.
I also believe that the utility of what we might call "goodness" far exceeds the other strategy "badness". Both strategies can be used to "win" but only goodness fosters an existence where "love" and/or "concern" can flourish... badness can't get there... it can only exploit.
In a time-space sense... given billions of years (in this universe) and who knows what if we consider other "dimensions/universes" goodness must have prevailed in at least some sense and/or "space". How can goodness exist without having a "place" where the "absence of badness" has been achieved? The same of course can be understood about badness.
I believe that even "we" (puny humans) will (God willing) soon obtain the necessary level of intelligence required to "live" forever. I believe this has most likely happened before in other realities/space/worlds whatever. Once "we" (or they) have achieved immortality the polarity of good and bad (to my mind) still remains as the very real and understandable conundrum that it is. Some of us will choose good and others will choose bad. Some I suppose will attempt to sit on the fence (but equilibrium does not last forever).
Reality (to me) means I don't/can't "know" but I can make reasonable assumptions based on what I think I know. I think I know that it is possible for us to gain "eternal life"... even if we do it ourselves without a "religious" interdiction. Whether humankind ever accomplishes this is a moot point... at least for this hypothesis.
I also think I know that if I ever became an eternal being..."god like"... I'd would very much want to cultivate and sustain life in some sense. I would therefore also want to do something to "parent"/"endorse"/"encourage" goodness. It just seems so obvious to me.
So tell me... what am I? Atheist or Theist? Atheist because I might not accept the more traditional notion of a Supreme Being or Theist because I don't know what else to call eternal intelligences who might be somehow "engaged" in nurturing/allowing/facilitating the evolution of some form of "life endowed space".
You are a theist. You believe a god may exist. If you think you KNOW a "god" of somekind exists (i.e. it's "knowable") you would be a gnostic theist. If you don't, you'd be an agnostic theist.
I'm fall on the agnostic atheist side of the coin. I don't believe sufficient evidence has been provided to prove the god hypothesis so I have no belief in god.
Actually I was surprised that Oprah doesn't already understand all of this. She's very logical, it seems like such a simple and logical thought to grasp.
It's not Oprah's world view.
Anything that is not Oprah is not.
Well, no. Typically she can see the difference between what she believes for herself, and that others will disagree and they aren't necessarily wrong. She's the type of person that will admit her opinion has changed when she has more information that contradicts how she initially felt. In other words, she's very "adult" about most things. So that's why I was surprised she hadn't already thought this through before.
Fair enough. As someone I saw earlier posted, it's a bit like the Wolf Blitzer wanting the atheist woman to 'Thank God' she was spared by the tornado.
Atheists are a minority. Belief in God is deeply ingrained in people. Most believers don't understand what it is to simply not believe.
some people just can't fathom that anyone doesn't believe in some supreme thing- or that maybe no supreme anything has anything to do with the universe, life and nature in general. they also can't 'get their head around' the idea that there is no greater reason for life than that it is- or that the meaning of life is more life, nothing more or less.
and some people need to believe there is 'more' than this life on earth. i can understand their personal need, just wish they would understand that some of us can be at peace without any such belief and that people believe what they need to believe. i do not personally think people 'choose' what they believe- they just do, based upon their own experiences, observations and either logical or personal conclusions drawn therefrom.
i wouldn't push natural occurrence or chance down someone's throat and wish they would just stop trying to assert that i really do believe what they do (religion). i don't.
I'm loving this! You atheists are as bad as CRAZY, fanatical evangelical christians and Islamists.
Look at how you attack people. You attack ANYBODY that has a belief other than your own. Isn't that why you are atheists? You got sick of people shoving their beliefs down your throat?
Atheism is another word for waste. You waste your days and nights doing NOTHING but sitting on these belief boards, attacking anybody that dares to disagree with you. You attack because you don't have a life, you have nothing to look forward to – after all, you're going to die and that's the end. THE END. Why bother being good to people? Why not bully people? Why not attack people while trying to convince them that they are wrong and you are right? Just sit there. Do nothing. Complain, whine, hate. Why garsh, you sound an awful lot like the religious people that you despise.
You have wasted your time here equally Henryo.
Yes, I have, by bothering to respond to you – the ultimate chat-board troll. But I have to! You're like this perpetual, angry, miserable train-wreck!
Interesting that you use the word "attack" when that's all you've done here. I have met evangelicals that do nothing but call names and spew hate, but I've also met many who were excellent people. Same with atheists. Why must you try to paint a group with the same brush? Did you even read the article? This was a point trying to be made. Clearly, this flew right over your head.
No, Henryo, you don't have to. And the "LOL" at the end of your post... disgusting. I'm betting you're the guy who has to get the last word in every time. Am I right? Or... will reverse psychology prevail? 😉
Yeah paul...and your comment didn't attack me at all. LOL! See, we're all hypocrites aren't we? Just remember – you REALLY are.
Ewww...I don't know dummy, seems like I've hit a nerve with you as well. Maybe you see yourself in my description of the gop er. Maybe you're insecure about your own beliefs.
Oh, and as far as last words...I don't see how LOL is a last word, unless it made you cry so hard that you could hardly type out a reply.
For pete's sake, grow up. Look at how you're attacking me, while you whine about being attacked!
"A perpetual angry miserable train-wreck."
How nice. What leads you to this conclusion Henryo?
Oh my! And you're oblivious to your prior posts in this very board. You can be found ANYWHERE a belief board conversation has been started. Your comments are sad, lonely and usually ruthless. I do feel sorry for you, and others like you, but I also feel sad that you're one of the MAIN faces of atheism.
Frankly I'm flattered that you seem to find me so prominent here.
Mostly what I do here is respond to mean spirited posts like yours that proclaim that people who don't believe in God are a "waste".
No, I didn't say I found you "prominent," I said I found you to be the main face of atheism, in the form of a troll.
Don't be proud. Your comments don't educate people, they don't make people feel good, they don't teach people the good side of atheism (if there is one) and they don't add any good to the world. I'd say you're probably a sociopath, but you probably already know that, don't you?
Such vitriol Henryo. Sociopath even!
I'm delighted to have wasted even more of your precious time.
please reread your own post and see who is doing what you assert is wrong. look in the mirror. please.
No...henryo isn't pointing out anything to the contrary. He's commenting on the article. The article starts with an atheist putting a person (Oprah) down. Typical atheist.
He didn't put her down. He made a point of reference that she tried to tell Diane that she did believe in God when she said she didn't.
How do you interpret someone explaining what they believe and feel as a "put down"?
Jenifer is stupid and has comprehension problems.
Thanks for playing, I hope that rant pumped up your ego.
This rabid opinion you have is the epitome of a stereotypical religious nut job. No one's attacking you, and I defy your claim that you're attacked by athiests at every turn. It simply isn't true. Rather than attack in such a vicious manner, how about you understand the differences you have with other people and accept they don't you to be them any more than you should want them to be you? Athiest, if anything, is another word for equality. They just want to have their opinion about the philosophies of life just like you do. That's equality.
The only attack I ever see from Athiests would be when a fraction of them - not even near to all of them at all - act like no public area should have any religious item on display. That, I will agree with you, is just plain silly. There's no reason we can't have an xmas tree, a menorah, or any other item on display–it's how people learn about each other. Putting these things away doesn't make them go away or not exist. So yes, THAT part is silly, but just like the christians that want to engage in social politics, it's not ALL christians, just the ones that feel some kind of need or satisfaction from oppressing the differences in others.
Sometimes the road to healing together starts with YOUR steps toward others, not by insisting they come to you.
It is sad that your religion is the only thing keeping you from being a sociopath.
Seems like you're the one doing the attacking here sir.
As an atheist I don't waste my time on message boards telling other people they're wrong. It's my personal belief and it is none of your business. Your personal beliefs are yours and none of my business. If you want to discuss them that's fine. I'm not trying to convert anyone, nor am I attacking anyone who simply believes.
I will defend my right to not believe when people try to force their faith on me. I'll stand in the way of religious legislation but short of that I simply couldn't care less what you believe.
But somehow I'm attacking you for that? You call me crazy but I'm the one that's doing the attacking?
Oh my goodness. You are the crazy one. What the hell is wrong with you? Are you just stupid and not using any logic at all? Are you trolling the boards so you can spout your nonsense? What I take away from this post is that you are stupid and you don't and can't appreciate other people's beliefs.
As an atheist firefighter/first responder, I never thought to ask anyone what religion they were. I would check a fallen person for a "Call me a priest" neclkace, or see if they were wearing a cross, or other symbol to ensure they got the right spirtual assistance they sought. It is their choice to believe, as it is mine not to.
I once did a good deed for an elderly lady. She thanked me for being a good christian. I told her, Maam, I don't believe in God, but I do believe in you"
Awww....aren't you just a saint?!?!
Even the named saints were usually not good enough people to be called a metaphorical "saint".
"we came to better understand one another’s points of view through patient, honest dialogue." Here's the problem: on this forum that is impossible, as to engage in a patient, honest dialogue it must be in person, and to one whom you have some degree of respect. Here we are anonymous, and don't have the luxury of human eye contact, and a one on one conversation. Mostly, it is just name-calling, and expressing anger at someone who disagrees with you. A world of difference from a real conversation.
You're wrong on all counts, Mr. Poopy Pants.
So why did you bother with your post?
I will admit that it is difficult to have a genuine dialog. There are lots of people who immediately lob grenades (from all points of view).
When things are a bit slower than they are right now, it is possible.
God is God. He has defined who He is and He sent His Son Jesus to show us who He is since Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him. Those that saw and heard Jesus, saw and heard God.
Oprah, the swimmer and the author can define or not define God however they want but the fact will remain that God will still be God as He has been since before He created the universe that folks are in so much awe about...or not as the case may be. In a billion years, God will still be God and be the same as He has ALWAYS been.
I find it interesting when atheist talk about "love" and yet can't recognize the source of all love, God. Without God, there would be no "love" and we would simply be intelligent animals that would operate on a survival of the fittest philosophy. To do otherwise would not be rational. Thankfully, that is not the case and his Holy Spirit continues to do His work through people whether they believe in Him or not.
However, the Bible makes it clear that it is His will that EVERYONE does believe and spends eternity with Him. We will ALL live forever. The only question is whether we will spend it WITH God or apart from Him.
My continued prayers are that everyone will come to know His Son Jesus Christ because nobody gets to be with the Father except through Him.
"I find it interesting when atheist talk about "love" and yet can't recognize the source of all love, God."
Why do you find that interesting? We don't believe in god.
Because on the one hand atheist are all about logic and reason but then on the other "love" is neither logical or reasonable. It was rational or logical for God to send his only Son to be tortured and killed. None of us would do the same. But that act more than any other in the history of mankind defined what "love" is. There is no greater love than to give your life for another. Jesus gave his life, even though he was all powerful and perfect, so that everyone else could be forgiven and have eternal life. Thank you Jesus!
"wasn't" rational or reasonable rather.
So you accept the basic immoral position that it is OK for someone else to take your just punishment?
I believe I called it not rational and the ultimate act of love. Nothing God does is immoral.
God chose to come in the flesh and suffer in the flesh and take the punishment that every single one of us deserve.
No JCF...it is your immorality that would allow someone else to take YOUR punishment.
How do you reconcile that?
He sent His Son Jesus
Does it ever strike you as odd, that a being so supreme and powerful enough to create this vast universe would only have 1 son? Seems like he'd have more than that.
Much of what God does is a mystery to me but I am okay with that because He is God and I am not.
ALL of what God does is a mystery to you, and everyone else. That's what religion is...man's attempt to build structure around notions that can't be known. You say things like "God sent his ONLY son", but ignore the logic that if God can create this unimaginablely vast universe, he can do anything, including having as many children as it took to deliver a supposed divine message to ALL his equal creations. If you buy into christianity, you separate youself from your human brothers and sisters with no access to christianity. It's ok to believe in God without christianity. God didn't create christianity, man did.
Then possibly athiests exist to teach you a lesson, if you are OK with things existing that you can't explain. Rather than insist everyone have your religious beliefs, simply have your beliefs. If people want to come to know God or JC, they will. They can't miss him, it's very easy to access religion.
You might benefit from understanding that not everyone believes as you do, and that it is actually OK that they don't believe what you believe as long as they aren't hurting people because of what they believe. This understanding starts with knowing you don't necessarily have all the answers for everyone, you can only decide what answers you know for yourself. From there you treat others that disagree with you respectfully, which means drop the preaching and obstinate stance that everyone must find your path to religion.
I wouldn't say "all", some of it makes perfect sense but yes, God for the most part is beyond my comprehension. His existence on the other hand is very clear and self evident to me just looking around at all that He has created.
That all sounds just fine. I don't disagree, hard to look around at the beauty of this world and not have a spirtiual notion. But.......that doesn't mean you need to align yourself with a religion. It's ok if you do, but don't forget what religion is........a creation of man, that is meant to try and answer questions that we are just not capable of answering.
Without "Christ" there would be no Christianity and no, man did not create "Christ", God did. The Church is the body of Christ and true members of the "Church" which is not a building or a certain denomination, are parts of that body.
Without "Christ" there would be no Christianity and no, man did not create "Christ", God did
God created Christ the man, humans created christianity the religion. Humans have created all religions. What if you'd had been born in Egypt? Would you be a christian? No, you'd likely be a Muslim and you'd then believe christians followed a false religion. This is just an example of the arbitrary nature of religious preference. It depends on lots of things out of your control. If there was really only 1 "true" religion that God wanted everyone to follow, don't you think it would be accessible to everyone on earth?
That why He told us to make disciples of all nations. It is up to us to tell those that don't know about Him that He exists now. Jesus was a Jew living for a short time in a small geographical area and yet billions all around the world have heard of Him. His message is getting out as He intended. That in itself is a miracle and further proof of God. There have been many that have come and gone that claimed to be the Messiah, yet Jesus's words continue to transform hearts and lives to this day and will continue to do so.
...and to correct myself, it would have been more accurate for me to have said that nobody created Christ since He has existed with God since the beginning of time.
God is defined by man. Look around you at all the various version of God. From the Evangelical Right Christian God of Fire and Brimstone to the Soft Hearted God of love and tolerance. The LDS God of a man lording over a planet to the violent jihadist God of Osama...
God comes in many forms but each is defined by the men who "worship" that form.
It's weird that you don't give credit to your all everything deity for creating hate.
JC Follower. you refer to the bible, so I assume you believe everything written in the bible; The world is 6,000 years old, noah built an arc and carried two of each animal, woman was created from adam's rib, jesus rose from the dead, water to wine, two loaves of bread, and on and on. these are all silly stories translated and re-translated over thousands of years. do you believe in santa claus and the tooth fairy, too? basing one's beliefs on fables written in an old book because you have been brainwashed throughout your "lemming like" life seems silly to me. i don't know how any sensible, logical human bieng could believe in the bible and/or god. it's just silly, but i suppose it makes the weak feel better about themselves and their lives. i don't need that to be a good, caring human being.
Obviously not a phil major or even a logic major...
Some of the most loving and caring people I have met ..claim to be atheist. Some of the biggest ass-holes in the word claim to be Christian. God is a spirit which is love. The parables in the Bible are meant to teach lessons of how we are to live and love each other. We are judged by our hearts....my atheist friends don't believe in judgment. One day we will learn this great mystery......thought to consider,put love in your heart and you may experience awe also.
God's primary characteristic is not love, it is jealousy.
Depends whether you're talking about the Old or New Testament.
So, if you tell your kids they can go to the concert it's because you're jealous of their interest in the artist? Isn't it more likely that you are trying to protect them and want to keep them safe?
God can give me something miraculous that no one else can, and keep me safe, and Love me even though I am not perfect. If that Love is Jealous, in that it knows there is no greater Love, then I am all in! 🙂
Oops, that should be 'can't' go to the concert. I guess God wants them to go to the concert, after all, it's just a concert and music is a gift. 😉
How about all the other species on earth, does god judge them or only humans that buy into the myth?
parables in the Bible are meant to teach lessons of how we are to live
All of us? If so, why didn't God simply provide these lessons to ALL the humans he created?
And why did the majority of the world's population have to wait to be discovered and for The Babble to be translated into their native language before they got to hear the alleged word of some unproven god?
OK guys, stop asking embarrassing questions.
The religionists are getting a migraine.
Good way to get someone to break up with you is to confess that you are an atheist. Especially a woman..
Be careful, they might just latch onto you more because of that whole "Chicks dig bad boys, and think that they can change them" thing. I've been a su cker for that one myself.
As a woman and an athiest, I feel the same way. If a guy I am not interested in asks me if I go to church, I have my exit strategy delivered.
It's cost me more than one potential relationship. Sad.
Atheist = non-theist. It simply means that one does not have a theistic view of God (i.e. a belief in "a" God. It does not mean that one does not have a spiritual view of the universe, and does not mean that one does not have a positive view of those who teach theist tradition, e.g. Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Moses, Baha'u'llah, etc. We are all spiritually related at a deep level, but that does not mean that it's necessary, and is in fact counterproductive, to think of a separate Godhead.
What does it mean to have a spiritual anything? What makes it spiritual, unless there is a supernatural "spirit" involved?
"Spiritual" as in emotionally moving. Good music, or a really good football game can be a "spiritual" experience.
I would call it a "moving" experience.
In this context spiritual generally refers to interest in the human spirit (what makes us human) and to an interest in understanding ones place in the universe. The origins of the word spirit are not religious but more psychological. It refers to consciousness and being, ghosts etc, or alcohol. In the context it is about the first, though many people's "spiritual" understanding does include a god or gods...others don't.
mid-13c., "animating or vital principle in man and animals," from Old French espirit, from Latin spiritus "soul, courage, vigor, breath," related to spirare "to breathe," from PIE *(s)peis- "to blow" (cf. Old Church Slavonic pisto "to play on the flute").
Original usage in English mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah. Distinction between "soul" and "spirit" (as "seat of emotions") became current in Christian terminology (e.g. Greek psykhe vs. pneuma, Latin anima vs. spiritus) but "is without significance for earlier periods" [Buck]. Latin spiritus, usually in classical Latin "breath," replaces animus in the sense "spirit" in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Greek pneuma.
Meaning "supernatural being" is attested from c.1300 (see ghost); that of "essential principle of something" (in a non-theological sense, e.g. Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1690, common after 1800. Plural form spirits "volatile substance" is an alchemical idea, first attested 1610; sense narrowed to "strong alcoholic liquor" by 1670s. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768).
Sybaris <<<<<< Born again human
Cool. What were you before?
Wow! Is your mom OK?
God-like? This boor can't even control her fork!
What Oprah gets wrong about atheism is pretty much what she gets wrong about everything. And that is, that she knows anything except how to make money because most people are more stupid than she is. Read a book because SHE likes it? And your expertise? Literary scholar, etc.? Sure, and let's have you kiss her ass because she likes it. The cult of personality! Oprah, who gives a turd what you think, if we can think without your help? And a few of us still can. Enjoy your money and shove it where the sun don't shine!
A tad bit jealous, are we?
Feeling awe is not spirituality, it is just brain chemistry doing its work. No more than pain, anger, laughter, or any other emotion is some ethereal godstuff, ie "spiritual" in nature, just neurochemicals.
"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" Oprah doesn't really listen to anyone, or hadn't you caught that yet?
She is afraid of losing viewers if she isn't poisonously nasty to anyone who doesn't believe. See comments for details.
She wasn't nasty – just prejudiced in that unconsiously superior way people are when they're part of an unquestioned majority. If she reflects on it, it should help explain some of the racism she's seen in her life and how racists work. When part of an unquestioned majority, and a minority starts expecting equal treatment and rights, unquestioned assumptions of your natural superiority tend to remain for a fair while.
Your writing illuminates exactly how I feel about atheism.
I feel it is important for atheists to "speak" about their atheism, but I have found my actions speak louder for me. People I know and/or meet see my volunteer work, giving away possessions rather than selling them, and helping those in my community. They are often shocked to find I am an atheist. The reason I believe we see a decline in theists is not because we don't have prayer in schools, and the like. It's because the young people see so many atheists doing "Christ's work" while they see too many theists who don't live it, but rather just judge and hate.
I'm thankful there are many younger people, like yourself, who see the merit of being kind and helpful without a threatening stick.
Well put. I have also had people amazed that I could be an atheist – "But you're so nice?!?"
Obviously, in public, I don't feel inclined to speak about my beliefs, but I guess that's one of the great things about the internet. It may not all be pretty, but it does allow for an amazing capacity to share/gather information without too much fear of reprisal.
I would be OK coming on the show and standing up for my Atheism.
Most of my friends are atheists and they are far and away more tolerant of others than Christians of almost any stripe. They are also kind, caring and seem to genuinely care about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. None of them would deny health care to the poor or lobby for a minimum wage below poverty. They are all upstanding, educated people, even what you might call pillars of the community, but because of religious intolerance in this country, if not downright hostility on the part of people who call themselves Christians, they keep their atheism to themselves.
"They are all upstanding, educated people"
= = = =
There is the problem, see: being educated lowers the chances of being sucked in by imaginary tales. That's why religions want your child as soon as it leaves the womb – to indoctrinate it before unbiased education helps them to think independently.