The Struggle of Leaving Your Faith, Brought to You by Oprah Winfrey Circa 1984

If you’ve ever heard the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker give a talk or if you’ve read his book Godless (a.k.a. Losing Faith in Faith), then you know that he met his future wife (and current FFRF co-president) Annie Laurie Gaylor on a taping of a morning talk show in Chicago hosted by a relatively-unknown-at-the-time Oprah Winfrey.

It was 1984 and the topic was people who have left their faith. (A far cry from The Secret-promoting Oprah we saw many years later.)

Annie Laurie and her mother Anne Gaylor — who started FFRF — appear right at the beginning, while Dan appears at the 6:15 mark.

Sparks are flying :) (I assume.)

Not a bad show, though — well moderated, despite the few well-meaning trolls, and a substantive discussion.

Nearly 30 years later, it’s interesting to see the same topics being revisited, especially with all the attention being paid to the Clergy Project. Sad, though, that atheists still have to go through so much struggle when coming out of the closet.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Thomas Lawson

    Did you hear the gasps at “Nothing fails like prayer” line? You could practically see people almost get up to run from imaginary lightning strikes.

  • CoboWowbo

    This aired before I was born…  O_0

  • Zach Vogt

    Love the part at 14:45 where “Beat It” comes in.  Also, all of these counter arguments to reason sound exactly like everything I’ve heard.  There’s the person saying religion is reasonable, then the cheerleader who appeals to empathy.  Surprisingly civil.

  • TychaBrahe

    That was the year I graduated from high school.

    Get off my lawn!

  • GeraardSpergen

    Never realized how much Annie-Laurie sounds like her mom.

    Also, is Oprah wearing some kind of pre-historic BluTooth things in her ears?

  • gary

    33:25 guys says you are not going to tell me we came from apes. 

    YEA he didnt say monkeys 

  • Akronqui

    I logged out now I can’t log back in and Discus can’t find me. If you had any idea how sick I am of logins…

  • RantBot Grikmeer

    It’s similar to a program that the BBC has done for a few years now called The Big Questions, but as a Brit I was just astounded at the number of commercial breaks o.O

  • Miss_Beara

    I was born in 1984! 

    Safe to say I didn’t see this when it was new. :) 

  • DougI

    A lot of hateful people in the audience but Oprah did a good job of holding back the mob.  Annie Laurie is one fine looking lady, even if the angry zealot thinks she’s a witch.

    But I’m sure all those Christians in the audience made the right choice about their god.  After all, I’m sure they all have those same hair styles too.

  • chriss65

    What I am always amazed about is that religious people always think that the burden of “proof” lies with the non believer.  How does that work?  Why is it that I need to prove something doesn’t exist???

  • chriss65

    I have to laugh at the comment here about the “blu tooth”  in Oprah’s ears! No, they are just huge earrings they wore in the 80′s….you’re all so young! :)

  • machintelligence

    “Surprisingly civil”
    Of course, they didn’t feel as threatened by disbelief as they do today.

  • E3369C0D

    What’s a well-meaning troll?

  • Garren

    Thanks for digging that up, Hemant. I’ve heard Dan Barker talk about that incident, so it’s nice to see how it went down.

    A few years after I left Christianity, I was invited to a large church’s college class on Sunday morning to represent Atheism and Agnosticism in a series of weekly guest speakers from major world religions. It was very similar to what was seen in the video. The students were most interested in:

    * How could I live life without the hope of an afterlife?
    * How could I stop believing in Jesus if I really was a believer?
    * How can I tell right from wrong without the Bible?

    These are the kinds of questions any apostate should be prepared to answer with sympathy for the concerns prompting the questions and confidence in one’s own answers.

  • Rich Wilson

    “Where do you get your morals”

    “What if you’re wrong”

    Some things never change.

    And I can see what Dan heard in Annie.  That was a tough crowd and Oprah IMO didn’t help, but Annie did the Lion’s share of it and did very well.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Is this where Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor met, on this show?
    At about 8:22 when Dan is speaking it totally looks like Annie Laurie is checking him out!
    Pretty cool to have a video from your first meeting with your spouse. They are both awesome. And great to hear Annie Laurie’s mom!

  • Bcaveney9

    Wow. We have come so far. Most of us could have dealt with this audience and Oprah so easily then, knowing what we do now.  I would have loved to see Christopher Hitchens up against this lot.

  • David McNerney

    That was quite intense.

    I was thinking that we today as atheists have so many resource and so much science on our side and so many charismatic spokespersons and when you compare this to back then; maybe there was only one atheist in Wyoming back then. 

    And they are dealing with some of the craziest nonsense being thrown at them while at the same time knowing that most people watching this thought they were evil incarnate.  That guy who stands up and says “Y’all think we come from monkeys and stuff” – people watching probably thought he was a genius. 


  • Patrick

    “We’re going to bring 4 people on the show that you want to ask questions at, and not let them respond.”

  • Stev84

     The correct answer that is: No, we don’t come from apes. We are apes

  • Tainda

    I’m at work and will have to watch that when I get home but when Oprah said “atheist” she kind of said it like it was a bad word lol

  • Dex31d

    OMG they played beat it?? HAHAHA!

  • M. Elaine
  • ortcutt

    It’s because of religious privilege.  In their minds, theism is the default position so non-theism needs to prove that theism isn’t true. 

  • Reddwynge

     One guy–white with a rose-beige sweater vest and tan trousers–asked the same question twice.  It is one they think is the final proof they are right and we are wrong:  “What if you find out when you die that you are wrong?”  In other words, how can atheists not be afraid of going to hell?  I wish one of the panelists had been given the chance to say what I have heard/read in other contexts:  “Just because I may be wrong about no gods existing does not mean that you are by default right.  We could both be surprised by what happens after we die.  In the meantime, I will live guided by my reason and make the most of this life.

  • Rich Wilson

    Or Dawkins’s standard “What if you’re wrong about Zeus or Thor or Wotan?”

  • John Kyrk

    Annie Laurie is the star of the show and a beauty.

  • A Portlander

    I want to make a constructive comment, but all I can think is “oh my hells, look at their HAIR”.

  • Tuasdad

    My favorite was the female in blue who passionately held up her bible and gave all the reasons she was saved and believed as she held up her bible, zipper cover and all, then admitted she had never actually read it in its entirety. Faith Fail.

  • ReadsInTrees

     That was driving me crazy. Ask a question, interrupt before they even get anywhere. *head desk*

  • ReadsInTrees

     I just explained this to my religiously-apathetic husband the other night. Look at a cheering crowd of people, how we all wave our arms and yell, “Woooo hooooo!!!” and then go to a clip of chimps having their own little howling ruckus. A little too similar to deny. When we’re happy we “Woohoo!” and when we’re unhappy we “Boooo!!” Still making monkey sounds…..

  • Anna

    It really boggles my mind how people can make that argument. I mean, it just seems so culturally myopic. Why do they assume that their god and their afterlife are more likely to be real than all the thousands (millions?) of others? Surely they must realize that the god and afterlife they believe in depends entirely on the culture and era in which they were born. From the way they talk, it’s like that thought has never even occurred to them.

  • allein

    She has faith that it says what she thinks it says.

  • Claire Stout

    I love how the four atheists are so eloquent in their speaking and words. They’re always maintaining their composure.

  • 3D

    I guess I’m right in the middle of you two then.  I was 10.

  • allein

    I turned 9 that year. :)