If Your Blood Pressure Rises Listening to Adults Talk About Angels, Try Being the Sole Skeptic on the Panel

John Figdor is the Humanist Chaplain of the Humanist Community at Stanford and he appeared on a HuffPost Live segment discussing angels.


It would make sense if the panel consisted entirely of six-year-olds, but these were grown adult humans talking, John being the only voice of reason:

Seriously, just listen to the sort of thing John was saying throughout the broadcast (11:06 mark):

John: … From my perspective, the belief that one has angels looking out for oneself must be immensely comforting to someone. To think that God or God’s little representative is personally looking out for you must be wonderful, but it’s just clearly not true.

I mean, anything supernatural is non-existent. There are no angels, there are no demons, there are no monsters, there are no… Bigfoot, there’s no Megalodon shark… there’s no mermaids. There’s nothing that’s supernatural.

Yet, he’s berated by the others, including his former advisor at Harvard Dudley Rose, for being too dismissive of another panelist’s personal experiences with angels.

It’s painful to watch, but it’s just the sort of thing we see all the time: Otherwise intelligent people who are impervious to reality.

We all have blind spots when it comes to beliefs that make us feel good. Then people like John come by with a healthy dose of skepticism and, instead of greeting him with open arms, we put up a shield as if to say “Don’t ruin my fantasy.”

We need more people like John willing to snap people back into reality, whether they welcome it or not.

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.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “there’s no Megalodon shark”

    Correction, there currently is no Megalodon shark. Out of everything listed it at least existed at some point. Am I correct in that he is mentioning that discovery channel “documentary” where they only gave a 3 second warning at the end that it was not real?

  • SeekerLancer

    Where were the angels before the planes hit the towers on 9/11, on coffee break?

  • CanadianNihilist

    The angels were standing over everything discussing what to do after they screwed up and left some survivors.
    They’re either incompetent murders or incompetent saviors.
    Not sure why you would want either one really.

  • mike85

    You know who’s at fault, the Angels that decided to make a Guardian Angel Workers Union, if it weren’t for the fact that they Had to take mandatory breaks that day those people would still be alive. /sarcasm lol

  • Bruce Martin

    Oh, what a Friend we have in Bigfoot.

    It would be very comforting for most people to believe that they had a very strong personal bodyguard, even if he is 8 feet tall, hairy all over, and never willing to be on camera.

    Just think how smoothly that next office meeting would go, if you are the only one with a personal ape-man ready at your side. I’m feeling more comforted already. Praise him (it?).

  • Kimpatsu

    Angels are clearly real. The Doctor fights them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFKa9tQqzrs

  • mike85

    It’s funny until you realize people in power all over the world believe this stuff.

  • Anna

    I still remember when angels started to become popular again. Wasn’t it around 1995? It seems like it just came out of the blue. Anyway, I recall being completely gobsmacked that people actually thought they were real. By that point I’d become accustomed to claims of deities, souls, spirits, and afterlives, but actual angels? Threw me for a loop.

  • Mitch

    I’m a fan of Mitch Hedberg’s verdict: Bigfoot is a naturally blurry creature.

  • SeekerLancer

    Haha, I was going to go for a union joke but I decided to go simple.

  • SeekerLancer

    That was around the time Touched by an Angel came out and some people acted like it was a documentary.

  • Mitch

    So what Dudley seems to be saying at around 13:00 is (I’m paraphrasing) “We can’t solve some theological problems (like a loving god saving some people but not others), but that doesn’t mean we would be right in rejecting all of theology.”

    Turn that line of thinking a little bit, bro, and consider this. Just because science hasn’t figured out everything about existence ever doesn’t mean we would be right in rejecting all of science and embracing the angel/god argument.

  • Miss_Beara

    I hated that fucking show.

    Speaking of treating movies or TV shows as documentaries, I shocked some Catholic relatives of mine when i said that I liked the movie The Ten Commandments. It isn’t a documentary.

  • Mitch

    Now tell me, where did the angel touch you? If you are uncomfortable, here’s an anatomically correct doll so you can just show.

  • Travis Myers

    I love that the two books on either side of the humanist chaplain are The God Delusion and On the Origin of Species.

  • Pofarmer

    That’s my wife and her family, right there, angels, miracles, the whole bit.

  • Pofarmer

    BTW, you really need to get some believing Catholics for the full effect. Bread and Wine really dose turn into Flesh and blood. Mary is sitting on the right hand of Jesus in Heaven relaying our prayers to him, etc, etc. And they BELIEVE it.

  • flyb

    I, for one, believe in angels.

  • Mick

    Religion has been selling angels for thousands of years and the mugs in the pews have been buying them for just as long.

    It is never going to change. In a thousand years from now Christians will still believe in angels (and still believe that Jesus is about to return to earth).

  • randomfactor

    But it’s on my short list of five or so movies that are BETTER than the books they’re made from.

  • RobMcCune

    How convenient, they only move when you don’t look at them. This is just so typical of silly superstitions…


    OH HOLY SHIT !!!!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I miss him dearly.

  • Obazervazi

    I can’t say he took the right approach. The fact that her sighting of angels was completely inconsistent with their depiction in the bible and based entirely on pop culture should have been a more convincing argument to show that she imagined the whole thing.

  • mike85

    I couldn’t pass up on it, I don’t always get the chance to come up with something coherent when I try to be funny Hahah!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    One of my distant family members wrote this on facebook in 2011:

    Happy new year everyone. I feel like I was given a free pass on life. Was hit by a car on Tuesday and still alive. My angel was watching over me. Love my family and friends. Be safe and celebrate.

    Now I replied to her, which she has removed but I said something along the lines of her angel should be fired for sleeping on the job. What is funny is she left her reply to it which was.

    It was there because it kept the car from running completely over me and I was able to stand up and walk away.

    She has one shitty angel if you ask me. It will let a car hit you, knock you to the ground but allow you to walk away.

  • Paula M Smolik

    One person admitted? bragged? that the angels she “saw” looked exactly like the angels depicted in Michelangelo murals. Gee, I wonder why that is??

  • Robster

    Can the fact that some people believe in angels and other such stuff, be a surprise? These are people that believe that the old mary pops up on toast at brekky, the wine and cracker REALLY are various bits of the baby jesus, the reason they got a park where they wanted is because jesus and or the holy spook are on patrol and other extremely silly nonsense. Compared, belief in angels doesn’t seem so extreme.

  • cary_w

    My parent’s garage was used in an episode of Touched by an Angel, so I can assure you, they were a bunch of actors, not real angels!

  • tdd68

    I think it might have been a little earlier than that. I can remember in 1991-92, someone’s grandma showing me a picture of an “angel” taken “through an airplane window” supposedly during a storm. I can’t claim to know that it was photoshopped, since I had no ability to judge…but it was very suspicious to me, even then.

  • islandbrewer

    And there was a Sharknado, too. Please say there was.

  • ShoeUnited

    At least there’s photos of bigfoot (even if it’s just a guy in a suit). And the Megalodon actually existed. We’ve got the fossils to prove it.

  • trj

    Maybe the planes were too heavy for them.

  • Coolred38

    Recently, while discussing/arguing with a newly born again Christian (who had lead a very “sinful” life, being a lesbian among those perceived sins), I was very polite but determined to show her the errors in her reasoning. I don’t care so much that people believe but that they used reason of some kind to get to that point. Obviously, when it comes to religion, reason is not high up on the list of useful traits. Anyhow, after several such discussion/arguments, she complained that she needed to delete me from FB (though we lived in the same town and had been friends up until then) because she didn’t want to be “educated out of her faith” as she was still new to it all. In other words, my insistence on making her face reality was at odds with her newly conceived fantasy world.I’m curious if this fingers in ears approach is so commonly practiced because believers simply do not want to be “educated out of their faith”? Personally, I really want to know how you can purposely prevent yourself from being educated. I mean it gets thrown at you enough times. I know you hear it because you come back with insane replies…but really, how does it not GET IN your head and stay there the absurdities of your beliefs? That whole adage, ignorance is bliss, might be good for the ignorant, but it can be down right lethal to the rest of us.

  • Coolred38

    Those on the ground that survived…were the miracles the angels performed. Oh yeah, and that steel beamed cross. That was the angel’s handiwork. The miracles are there…you just have to squint and tilt your head to see them.

  • jfigdor

    I actually made that point. Great minds think alike.

  • jfigdor


  • Abbé Faria

    I was working an afternoon shift when a discussion about angels suddenly started during the lunch break and it turned out that I was the only one who of the five people sitting there who didn’t have a story about ‘when I met an angel’. After 10 min I faked a phone call and got out of there.

  • Guest

    Six minutes in, and people die, sprout wings, and change into Roman togas. She works for the FBI. She writes a book… Oh, her cat wants something, too.

  • A3Kr0n

    If angles weren’t real why is there a real angel museum in Beloit WI? Some things you can’t fake, and it was even on Oprah, so you know it’s real then. She knows her angels!

  • A3Kr0n

    I read your comment and first thought “crap, I thought I didn’t send that a half hour ago”.

  • SeekerLancer

    Maybe they were afraid of getting sucked into the engines like canada geese.

  • Dave

    Haha a flock of angels sitting at the end of the runway discussing who to save in the plane crash, then BAM, roadkill.

  • Greg G.

    My guardian angel is wonderful. What would I do without him? His death was the best thing that ever happened for me.

    Sorry, he was looking over my shoulder as I typed that. The idiot is rather touchy. He’s like, “If you think you can do better, we can arrange that.” They can make it look like an accident, too.

  • Deus Otiosus

    Size matters not, … Look at me. Judge me by size, do you?

  • Peter Mountain

    “It would make sense if the panel consisted entirely of six-year-olds,…” LOL ~damn!
    But, I have lots of silly beliefs that make me feel good. Escaping each day to that small eastern section of the brain (guarded by a cherubim) allows me to consistently re-enter the snake pits 9 to 5; Monday thru Friday. Call me a bliss ninny but I play my music in the sun!

  • Mitch

    Indeed. I miss him and Bill Hicks.

  • Without Malice

    The Muslim angels were in charge that day.

  • Without Malice

    No Bigfoot? John, you’ve clearly crossed the line. All joking aside, it’s just incredible how people trade childhood fairytales for adult fairytales, i.e., religious beliefs in all kinds of supernatural beings like angels, demons, witches, devils, evil spirits and the like. There’s not one bit of proof for any of them yet so many still believe. I think most people just like living in fantasy land.

  • http://lessofthedifferent.wordpress.com/ Yui Daoren

    Yes, but “Damning with faint praise”.

  • WallofSleep

    My cousin’s son was just hit by a car. Nearly every bone broken, with many punctured organs. He’s currently in an induced coma, and likelihood of death is high. These angels are a capricious and untrustworthy lot.

  • Without Malice

    I think the modern craze actually started with Billy Graham’s – excuse me while I gag on the sound of the name – book “Angels – God’s Secret Agents”, which came out, I think, back in the eighties.

  • Hat Stealer

    Nah, I’m sure it must have been me hallucinating. After all, everything I’ve seen up to this point has reaffirmed my belief that statues don’t-



  • John

    The terrorists renamed the plane “Iron Chariot,” and they couldn’t stop it.

  • katiehippie

    It’s a mystery for sure. /sarcasm

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    I believe in angels

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Seems these angels love my family members more than yours.

  • cipher

    I’m curious if this fingers in ears approach is so commonly practiced
    because believers simply do not want to be “educated out of their

    Absolutely – forcing a believer to confront the inadequacies and contradictions in his/her belief system is perceived as the worst thing you can do. It’s worse than making disparaging remarks about his/her mother.

  • cipher

    Upsetting about Dudley Rose; he’s supposed to be a huge liberal.

  • Stewart
  • Tom

    I can understand someone entrenched in their religion, with a lot of emotional investment, having that reaction to rational argument, but someone who’s only just started? That’s weird. Must’ve been one emotionally intense conversion.

  • Anna

    Good grief, that show was bad. I used to watch Highway to Heaven when I was a kid but never imagined that people could possibly think the characters were based on anything real. To me it was no different from watching any other show about people with magic powers.

  • Anna

    I can’t recall exactly, but I do remember that angel-themed products started showing up all over the place. Raphael’s Cherubs seemed to be especially popular:


  • Anna

    Could be. I was pretty unaware of religion in the 80s, but I do recall a pop culture surge around the mid 90s.

  • Spuddie

    Just show us on the doll where the angel touched you.

  • Anna

    I think the mindset is pretty common. People like your friend are referred to as “baby Christians” and are instructed to stay away from people like you because they’re not yet strong in their faith.

    It sometimes happens that people who make their profession of faith have the best of intentions but just didn’t have someone to help them or teach them and, so, finally just stopped going to church or fell away for whatever reason. They never really began their walk with the Lord because they didn’t know how. Some of them, not knowing the Word of God, may have listened to wrong information and allowed it to influence them somehow so that they never developed as mature Christians. It is essential that you learn the Word of God so that you will be able to discern the truth from lies and deception concerning God’s Word.



  • Gus

    80% of Americans believe in angels? Stop the country, I want to get off.