Boston Atheists Tell Oprah to Stop Relabeling Atheists

After seeing the incredibly awkward interview between Oprah Winfrey and marathon swimmer and atheist Diana Nyad, in which Winfrey implied that Nyad wasn’t really an atheist because she found awe and beauty in the world around her, the Boston Atheists (an affiliate of American Atheists) are calling for an apology:

In response to Oprah Winfrey’s biased comments against atheists in an October 2013 interview, the Boston Atheists are asking for support in asking her for an apology and some gesture of acknowledgment and affirmation toward the secular community. Whether that means inviting she invites [group President] Josiah D Van Vliet on camera for a sit-down on camera to talk about atheist community organizing, or about how atheists can listen to and understand and appreciate music, depends entirely on how much noise we can make about this!

I doubt that Oprah’s going to invite an atheist on her show just because we’re upset about something she said, but offering an apology to Nyad, on her show or on her website or even on Twitter, would at least be a gesture in the right direction.

To that end, the group has created a number of highly-sharable images that you’re welcome to spread through your social media networks:

If Oprah responds, I’ll post an update. (You may not want to reschedule your plans just yet…)

***Update***: Oprah hasn’t responded yet. But here are four more images!

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.

  • Mick

    I’m guessing she is surrounded by ‘yes-men’ who will be telling her they’ve had nothing but good feed-back about the program. She won’t even know the atheists are talking about it.

  • Jeff

    Ok, I’m claiming conspiracy here…This is what I got when I clicked on “Like” for this article when it appeared in my FB feed

  • Art_Vandelay

    Wouldn’t have to ask for an apology in a rational society because the backlash against her would be so brutal and coming from all people…not just the minority group that she insulted. The media would also have a field day with her. As it is, the only ones outraged over it are atheists. The religious folks just nod their heads over this random act of bigotry. Imagine any other scenario…

    Salma Hayek: I feel awe and wonder with the universe.
    Oprah: Well, I don’t really consider you Mexican then.

    Betty White: I feel awe and wonder with the universe.
    Oprah: Well, I don’t really consider you elderly then.

    Woody Allen: I feel awe and wonder with the universe.
    Oprah: Well, I don’t really consider you Jewish then.

    Stephen Hawking: I feel awe and wonder with the universe.
    Oprah: Well, I don’t really consider you paraplegic then.

  • velveteenRabbit

    omg, fb needs some help on their algorithms…. bristol palin is similar to friendly atheist????? lmao

  • velveteenRabbit

    there were several posts on her website front page. And of course the requisite barely intelligible christ-drone.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Yeah, she probably has the same problem that elected officials and George Lucas do: everyone is scared to tell her “No”, and she only hears from people who need to butter her up.

    This is why it would take very little for her organization to tip over into into actual cult status.

    And why the heck did I get a copy of “O” magazine in my mailbox (addressed to me!) yesterday? An entire magazine about her likes, with her prancing on every cover… gyuh.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Well, her kid is a friendly atheist, though probably not for much longer on either count.

  • closetatheist

    Oprah is more full of herself than your typical ignorant and deeply religious person. Just like them, she will probably never take the time to honestly understand someone else’s point of view, especially after they embarrass her by publically pointing out that she offended them.

  • Tom

    Wait a second … I believe in love … and God is love … therefore, I believe in God! I guess I’m NOT an atheist! Damn, I done got Oprah’ed!

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein redefining what atheists are in order to keep them out of his Acceptable People Box… oh, wait, my bad!

  • Timmah

    Holy opposite day Batman.

  • Robin

    Oprah obviously does not know what an Atheist is. She was trying to make her “see the light”. She is smart in some ways and very stupid in others. She also hasn’t read the bible, or she would know the truth.

  • joey_in_NC

    Wouldn’t have to ask for an apology in a rational society because the
    backlash against her would be so brutal and coming from all people…not
    just the minority group that she insulted. The media would also have a
    field day with her. As it is, the only ones outraged over it are
    atheists. The religious folks just nod their heads over this random act
    of bigotry. Imagine any other scenario…

    You really expect non-atheists to be completely up in arms over Oprah’s own definition of atheism? Really?

  • Art_Vandelay

    Nope. I expect them not to give a shit. I don’t live in a rational world.

  • joey_in_NC

    Oh, so you mean in a “rational world” everyone would be atheist. Well, okay then.

  • joey_in_NC

    I would think that many atheists would not even consider Nyad a ‘real’ atheist, simply because she believes in some “spirituality”.

  • MD

    She call herself an atheist. She says she doesn’t believe in deities. Therefore she’s an atheist. See how simple that is?

    Atheism simply means not accepting the god proposition. Ta-da!

  • Alierias

    Holy Bizzarro World Superman!

  • Iron Hat

    Well, it would be a step in the right direction.

  • Todd Eddington
  • joey_in_NC

    She says she doesn’t believe in deities.

    Yes, that is the dictionary definition of an atheist. But I guess technically atheists could still believe in souls, voodoo, faith healing, smurfs, and the Loch Ness Monster. Although I agree that these people are still dictionary atheists as long as they don’t believe in gods, I still think it would be reasonable if some people object that they really aren’t atheists.

  • SeekerLancer

    You would be a bad skeptic for sure, but you’d still be an atheist.

    Because it is a dictionary definition, not a religious dogma.

  • Zachary_Bos

    From this morning’s “Morning Read” email:

    Atheists: A Rant Killing the Buddha;
    Summary: “The mere fact of not believing in the supernatural doesn’t make you a well-grounded rational individual, let alone a humane soul.”

  • Art_Vandelay

    Wait…so considering the above scenarios, you’d have to be either Mexican, elderly, Jewish, or paraplegic to be outraged over Oprah saying that they’re incapable of a basic human emotion? That’s quite a little box you live in.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Lots and lots of atheists believe in all those things except for the Smurfs*. “Atheist” and “skeptic” aren’t synonymous. There’s just higher-than average correlation between the two. This is actually something we as a whole have discussed numerous times. Arguably it’s a sub-theme at some conventions.

    Some will call them not “real” atheists, but… No True Scotsman.

    Nyad could easily have been using the word “spiritual” in a metaphorical sense, referring to sublime emotion. That’s very common, and is probably what she meant if she’s aware enough to have considered the topic (and she sounded like she is.) I just hate the word because it doesn’t mean anything when it’s used in a mystical sense.

    *We have video evidence for Smurfs, though…

  • baal

    There is similar and then there is content FB wants to push for one reason (politics) or another ($$, paid to do it).

  • Baby_Raptor

    Man, you need to go back to elementary school. You have serious reading comprehension issues.

  • Claire

    It’s because she also has a blog on Patheos.

  • invivoMark

    Man, I’m glad that this is totally a made-up line of reasoning, and nobody in the world has actually made it before! Yep, I sure am relieved to be living in a world where a Christian hasn’t actually said that to me….

    (Damn, I’m dreaming again!)

  • Amor DeCosmos

    I am an atheist and I love to celebrate the spirit – for me, it’s a synonym for my highly unlikely but very real consciousness – nothing supernatural about it.

  • AWOL

    As rational, by definition, means based on facts or reason not emotion or feelings.

    Then yes, faith-based mindsets are not compatible with rationality.

  • Mark W.

    Now I’ve gone and lost all respect for Oprah and her adoring fans…oh wait, I guess I would have to have had some to begin with.

  • joey_in_NC

    Were you outraged with the “Ghost Burger”, which in that case was clearly an attempt at mocking a group of people? Yeah, I thought so.

  • Timmah

    Oh Dusty… you always know how to cut right to the point. Can’t wait to get home and watch that one lol.

  • Al Dente

    People mean a lot of different things by spiritual. One of my exchanges I told someone I wasn’t spiritual because I didn’t believe in spirits and they countered that I must be spiritual since I was a musician and believe in the spark of creativity. So I asked her if creativity was spirituality was the same and she said yes among other things. So I asked why we need another word with creativity that has so many other connotations. If I could go back in time I probably would have said that I thought creativity was random neural firings filtered through a neural network trained by years of experiences. If I put it entirely in material terms she might have seen my point better.

  • Sven2547

    My mother’s an atheist who believes in ghosts.
    Turns out not everyone fits in a neat, compact stereotype. Mind-blowing, right?

  • Art_Vandelay

    No, I was not outraged at the Ghost Burger and just to be clear, satirizing a silly idea (eucharist in this case) just because someone happens to consider it sacred is not mocking those people…it’s still just mocking the silly idea. This is not at all the same as telling Roman Catholics that they’re fucking sub-human.

  • Feminerd

    If you left a comment, you had to uncheck a box or she’d send you a free sample of O, to try to get you to get a subscription.

  • b s

    ” I guess technically atheists could still believe in souls, voodoo, faith healing, smurfs, and the Loch Ness Monster.”

    And technically, theists can believe in the same things. Of course, we all know what happens when theists and faith healing come together, right?

  • allein

    I once “liked” something on a post from a humor page that generally posts cute animal memes and the like, and among the similars was Playboy.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Nope! On reflection, I think it had something to do with my mother. She has this… idea… that it’s appropriate to send off for free items in the names of her children without their permission.

    She made a Facebook page with my name so she could get friend requests from family members and tell me about them to encourage us to talk. Not coincidentally, she is now banned on Facebook for identity theft, and doesn’t know how to get around that. :3

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Where’s your outrage when the Loch Ness Monster gets joked about? It’s the same position to take.

  • Feminerd

    Oh my! Just a coincidence then.

    So, what does Oprah like? :P

  • John David Hutsell

    fuck! quit putting words in Art’s mouth. read what he wrote. think about it. then comment.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Being in a trash can, apparently. The cover image is still smiling.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    “OPRAH: Soo….What I’m hearing is, you’re not really an atheist”

    Wash your ears out and you might hear better.

  • joey_in_NC

    And if you think Oprah is calling all atheists subhuman, then you may be a wee bit sensitive. And you (and others here) think religious people have a persecution complex? Lol.

  • getz

    Was it? Luke Tobias, director of operations for Kuma’s, said the restaurant’s Communion wafers are not consecrated, and thus, not really holy.

    “It’s more or less a cracker with a cross on it,” he said.

    The restaurant bought the wafers online from an eBay-type website.

    They’re not trying to make a big religious statement, Tobias said, just trying to have fun honoring a band they like.

    “If there is a God, I’m sure he has a sense of humor,” Tobias said.

    Some of God’s peoples seem to get the joke, according to Kuma’s. A Presbyterian minister who ate the burger yesterday posted a message on Facebook saying that “sacrilege never tasted so good,” Tobias said.

    But other Christians have a beef with Kuma’s burger.

    Tobias said Kuma’s phones have been ringing off the hook, with some saying that putting a Communion host on a burger is like waving the American flag over a fire.

    Jeffrey Young, who runs a podcast and blog called “Catholic Foodie,” called the Ghost burger “crass and offensive.”

    “For us, as Catholics, the Eucharist is the body and blood and soul of divinity itself,” said Young. “Although the Communion wafer is not a consecrated host, it’s still symbolic, and symbols are important.”

    There’s one thing that Tobias and Young agree on, however: Communion wafers are not particularly tasty.

    “From a culinary standpoint,” Young said, “it’s kind of worthless.”

    Read more:

    But I imagine atheists are more likely to outraged by the proliferation and exploitation of superstitions suggesting wafers and wine have magical properties. Those have far more influence than one restaurant’s hamburger. Or to put it in perspective, the superstitions have so much influence that the existence of the hamburger became news throughout the country.

    The issue with Oprah’s comment isn’t that she mocked a group of people, it’s that she was incorrect. As such, people are correcting her, but most people won’t care or realize that she was incorrect.

    On the other hand, with the ghost burger, the issue isn’t that the wafer and wine are being used incorrectly; no one has even attempted to demonstrate the truth of any claims about spiritual communion or transformation. No, the complaint is annoyance at the suggestion that they’re not correct. That the claims they’re unwilling to support are not respected. In the article,you have people like Young saying it’s the blood and divinity of Christ itself, but nothing beyond the assertion. They even understand that, which is why they said “for us”. For anyone else? It isn’t. In actuality? Nothing to show that the Catholics are correct.

  • Oswald Carnes

    Fuck Jesus.

  • Sam

    I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting to see something like this from the atheist/secular community. Sure we have plenty of groups that try to promote awareness of atheism and the secular community, and groups that fund lawsuits to fight violations of church and state, but what we don’t have is a non-profit group that is entirely devoted to calling out and demanding apologies from these public figures who feel it’s okay to villanize atheists.

    From Steve Harvey to Oprah, to Pat Robertson these people often get away with marginalizing and being bigoted towards atheist because we don’t have a group to call them out on it. We should take another page out of the gay movement’s playbook and start an organization like GLAAD that publicizes these bigots and ask them to apologize at the peril of having boycotts of their advertisers.

    It would be more credible coming from an organization that is entirely devoted to this rather then being taken up by groups who are not so sympathetic to the religious majority like American Atheists or the FFRF which does a lot of legal work.

    Hemant please continue to post these stories whenever they come up.

  • guest

    and….Boom! goes the dynamite.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Claiming that atheists lack emotions that other people have is exactly that. Might want to look into word definitions before projecting.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Saying that someone is incapable of experiencing a basic human emotion such as awe is indeed implying that they are sub-human. It has nothing to do with being sensitive. I’d feel that way had she said it about any group of people.

  • joey_in_NC

    Claiming that atheists lack emotions that other people have is exactly that.

    Nyad herself said that her own definition of God is “humanity” and the “love of humanity”. Given this definition of God, do you consider her an atheist? Given the premise, then how can you reason that she would be an atheist? She won’t be…again, given the premise.

    And for the sake of argument, let’s simply suppose that Nyad agrees with the reasoning above and personally doesn’t consider herself an atheist (which isn’t true, but let’s simply suppose this to get my point across).

    Would that mean that she thinks the ‘real’ atheists who disagree with her definition of God must necessarily NOT love humanity? Of course not. She’s not dehumanizing these people. She simply has a different description of what an atheist is compared to the generally understood definition.

    Same can argued in Oprah’s case. She’s not claiming that the ‘real’ atheists are incapable of awe and wonder of the universe, and are therefore subhuman. She simply feels that a person who feels awe and wonder of the universe doesn’t fit her own personalized definition of an atheist (no matter how bizarre that definition might be). So Oprah is not dehumanizing you (assuming you feel awe and wonder of the universe), but rather she simply doesn’t consider you an “atheist”.

    If people want to gripe about Oprah’s redefinition of atheism, then fine. I think that’s perfectly reasonable. Claiming that she regards atheists who feel awe and wonder but don’t agree with her definition of atheism as subhuman is completely unreasonable (ridiculous would be a better word).

  • James

    Oh thank you for introducing me to Dustin.

  • Art_Vandelay

    So getting back to the original post, if Oprah had her own “personalized definition” of Mexicans and it included an inability to experience awe and wonder and she then told Salma Hayek that she doesn’t consider her a Mexican because she feels awe and wonder would you not consider Oprah to be a huge bigot?

  • Matt Turner

    What are you, 12? Should we list every example of everyone who should be upset about this?

  • James

    M.A.A.M Marginalized Atheists Against Marginalization.

    It’s a work in progress.

  • Matt Turner

    The stupid is strong with this one…

  • Matt Turner

    God is by far the worst thing ever invented by man.

  • joey_in_NC

    Saying that someone is incapable of experiencing a basic human emotion such as awe is indeed implying that they are sub-human. It has nothing to do with being sensitive. I’d feel that way had she said it about any group of people.

    First of all, see my response to CL below.

    Secondly, what do you seriously think Oprah’s definition of an atheist actually is? Do you really think it is the following…

    An atheist is someone who is incapable of awe.

    Do you really think that? Seriously? If so, then sure one can argue that Oprah views these ‘atheists’ as subhuman. But there is also reason to think that Oprah doesn’t believe such ‘atheists’ even exist, since she never claimed that there does exist people who are incapable of awe.

  • joey_in_NC

    No…I would consider her definition of “Mexican” to be completely jacked up.

    If she went out and said, “Hey YOU, you are completely incapable of awe and wonder because of your citizenship with the country of Mexico!” Then that would be reason to think she views certain people as subhuman.

  • Rain

    “But you’re in the awe”.

    That Oprah quote sums up Oprah pretty good somehow. I can’t explain it but it just has Oprah written all over it, lol.

  • m6wg4bxw

    This is merely a semantic difference, and yet another case of people being more concerned about words than meaning.

  • Matthew Baker

    I keep getting Ray Comfort when I like assorted Atheist stuff on Facebook. I have found some new pages with the ‘you might also like’ but my skin crawls every time i get Ray grinning yap.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m sorry. I can’t with you anymore. You have a serious reading comprehension problem. I’ve tried. It’s useless.

  • Phoebe

    A lot of “woo-woo” religious people like Oprah will just take any thing that sounds good and say “that’s what God is”. “Love is God”, “awe is God” etc. If the word god can mean anything, it means NOTHING.

  • Zachary_Bos

    To be clear, Boston Atheists IS a local affiliate of American Atheists. I think you should be looking to all the national orgs — FFRF, AA, SCA, SW, AAA, AHA, CoR, AU, etc — for more of this kind of cultural engagement. From my perspective, inside and outside of the organizational leadership, I’d say there’s a widely acknowledged sense that this is where our big-tent movement is going, and needs to go.

  • joey_in_NC

    You have a serious reading comprehension problem.

    In other words, “I finally see your point and I have nothing else to add.” :)

  • Ryan McCourt

    Well intended, no doubt, but this falls flat. Terrible typeface, specifically, and terrible design, generally.

  • Peter

    Oprah is yet another wealthy windbag who’s out of touch with us mere mortals.

    How would she like to hear that she’s not really black because she relaxes her hair? Pretty sure she’d be pissed off, right?

  • joey_in_NC

    I can’t be any more clear and concise if I tried. Bravo.

    Now get ready for all the negative votes…

  • Timothy McLean

    I dunno, I think Windows Vista is probably pretty close.

  • Zachary_Bos

    Thanks for the feedback, Ryan. My phone number and email address are public; next time you’re feeling the critical urge, contact me and we’ll make use of your advice. If you have the energy to take potshots at other people’s activism online, I say we channel that energy into constructive aid.

  • Kate

    I am an athesit and I really don’t care what other people’s religion is. They can do whatever they want, but what really gets me is people belittleing what I think when nobody talks bad about their religion. It is just plain mean rude and wrong.

  • K

    I believe in love also, and congrats to you on believing in something so vigrously BUT please don’t be mean when talking about others religion. P.S. Athesits can love also. : P

  • m6wg4bxw

    I don’t need preparation for down-votes. Being devoid of content, they’re barely a concern at all. Why someone disagrees with me is much more interesting.

  • NathanExplosion

    I noticed Zachary not taking kindly to public criticism of his(?) work (below), and obviously that isn’t how the world works, so I shall give him some more…

    the group has created a number of highly-sharable images

    Ryan is right: Waaaay too many words for the space. Font choices are hard to read. links are awkward. White text on differing-colored backgrounds is hard to read. And asking that she put your group on her show so she can apologize is bad form and ain’t happening.

    I like the idea, but much like the NASCAR ad for marijuana legalization, the execution needs some work.

  • Derrik Pates

    Calling for an apology… but you can only get involved through Facebook. Sorry, I’m not creating a Facebook account. I don’t care how good the reason, it’s not good enough.

    And I do agree with the criticisms of the images. They are hard to read. The print gets a bit too small in some. I approve of the message, but the presentation could do with some improving.

  • BAS

    Aren’t we all ignoring the elephant in the room here? I am in awe of Diana Nyad and her incredible achievements … I’ll concede that she is obviously not conventionally religious. However, I too contend that she is not an atheist … she stated that she believes that there is a soul that “lives on” after death. The answer to the “what happens when you die is question is that you’re dead, there is no “soul” that lives on. Read Aaron Freeman’s great essay about how you should have a physicist speak at your funeral.

    You can find it here

  • Johnonymous

    If you are demanding an apology, why the hell would you start it out with a statement like “Atheist feel awe and wonder just like ordinary people”? I demand an apology for you insinuating that I am anything other than just an ordinary person simply because I am an atheist.

  • Feminerd

    Did you forget Windows ME? *shudder*

  • E.T.

    I totally agree with that “wee bit sensitive”. I fell away from my Episcopal Church (that I loved) when I was young because, in part, I felt uncomfortable with groups of people who seemed judgmental and hypocritical. Gee, I kind of get the same vibes by reading this “back and forth” verbal stabbing. Makes one think it’s best to stay away from groups and.. ..gee, best not dare to open your mouth. Oprah didn’t insult anyone. Can’t a person be free to wonder and make small errors in discovery of beliefs. Seems a bit much like like a religion here, uh..religiously practicing anti religion. I’ll continue to stay away from “all of it” thanks. Has anyone suggested, GET OVER YOURSELF?

  • ShoeUnited

    And so that Mac users don’t feel left out: OS9

    But nobody used a mac until OSX.

  • ShoeUnited

    “BUT please don’t be mean when talking about others religion.”

    Why? There is nothing so sacred that it can’t be talked about. Anything that crumbles under the light of inquiry wasn’t worth keeping. Gods and religions and demons and tricksters should go on the back shelves of humanity like flat earths, aether, and alchemy.

    Religion isn’t owed respect, and when it tells certain people that they can and should be tortured forever; it certainly hasn’t earned it.

  • ShoeUnited

    Nyad is an atheist. Atheists tend to be humanists. Humanists tend to love humanity. God loves humanity. God created man. Man has sex to create man.

    Ergo: Man is god.

    Now what?

  • zara

    she could invite the 2 athiests that happened to star in the number 1 boxoffice hit at the moment, clooney n bullock…

  • Zachary_Bos

    On the contrary, we’re all for criticism. I’m going further, even, in inviting active participation. Don’t stay on the bench, folks, get in the game. If you have an idea for improving the design of this series — or any other campaign — then reach out and we’ll make use of any helpful suggestion.

    I don’t know about you, but when I see someone’s critical contribution being wasted in the cul-de-sac of blog post commentary, I am surprisingly comfortable suggesting that their time, energy, and intelligence be directed int a more constructive direction!

  • Peter

    I think he’s volunteering to design the next round of messaging.

  • Zachary_Bos

    We’ll take the help.

  • DeviousSoybeans

    This happened to me after I clicked on a Friendly Atheist article a couple of weeks ago! It gave me my scare for the day.

  • Carmen

    But if this is enough of a question that it’s a sub-theme at conferences and there are factions that define “real” atheists and “not real” atheist among the inclusive group of people who self-identify as atheists, why does a non-atheist have to apologise for asking for clarification?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Hmm, let me try to clarify. There’s discussion of pseudoscience/woo at conventions, which umbrella does cover some supernatural ideas, and which many atheists and even some “skeptics” fall prey to. Some panels address how NOT to fall prey to these bad ideas just because they sound not-religious enough to trip alarms, or discuss how bad thinking is not something limited to just theists and good thinking has to be actively pursued, not assumed.

    To my knowledge, there aren’t factions calling those with bad ideas out as “not real atheists” or convention panels where their trueness is debated, but rather, panels where the ease with which nontheists can fall into the same mental traps as theists is the topic of discussion. No True Scotsman is invoked by individuals, at least on the atheist side, I expect that some religious groups teach it as a matter of form, given how often they bring it up.

    Oprah wasn’t asking for clarification; she was directly telling Nyad that she was wrong about her own “religious beliefs”. Not that those beliefs were wrong, but that Nyad didn’t have the beliefs that she stated she did. This could only come from one or more of three places: arrogance, ignorance, or a moment of stupidity.

    In so doing, Oprah was saying that a group of people aren’t capable of positive emotions because of their beliefs. Her comments implied that if a member of that group does show positive emotion, they aren’t “really” a member of that group. But consider if a beloved, world-famous talk show host listened to a Jewish guest as they described organizing a charitable foundation. and then told that guest, “Then I don’t call you a Jew.”

    Her statements affect many thousands of people. Intentional or not, they spread and rationalize prejudice and slander. When she fucks up – and everyone who talks for a living will fuck up while talking, that’s no sin – there are consequences to it that she needs to address directly.

    The thing is, with the way that people like her get insulated, she’s probably not even going to hear that there was a problem, let alone consider it. And that fact actually makes it more important to call her out. Leaders don’t have the right to sit in bubbles and make blithe, hurtful pronouncements from on high.

  • Carmen

    Honestly, the reaction on this website, and the anger in your comment confuses me. I’m not trying to be a jerk (tone can be hard on the internet!) but I just really don’t get it. I hadn’t seen the clip when I first commented because of other constraints, but I just took the time to watch it, and I don’t see where you get your interpretation at all. This woman, Nyad, went on a show that has a religious/spiritual focus to talk–at least in part–about her beliefs. The particular configuration of her beliefs surprised Oprah (as it did me–I don’t think of “atheism” and “souls” as going together), and Oprah commented on it. Her comment amounted to “but that sounds like what I believe in, and I believe in God so I think you do too!” She then proceeded to listen as Nyad explained herself. She did not argue with her, and she gave her lots of time to express her views. Her comments were focused on trying to find common ground, which is pretty sensible in a talk-show format.

    The person who wrote the first article on the show seemed much more disrespectful to Nyad to me, suggesting that calling herself spiritual was “unfortunate” and then saying that what she described was “not spiritual,” although she had chosen to go on a show whose topic is spirituality and had used the term herself. This seems to completely ignore the fact that Nyad does seem to believe in something that she is quite comfortable calling spiritual, dismissing Nyad’s own words in precisely the way the author accuses Oprah of doing. He literally takes a woman who goes on a show called “Super Soul Sunday” and which is focused on, among other things, spirituality, and then says that when the woman says she’s spiritual, actually what she means is not anything spiritual but the same as what a scientist feels.

    This whole uproar seems to really miss the point that Nyad was given ample and respectful space in which to express her views. As a talk show host, Oprah made a classic move: she gave voice to a broadly shared opinion of an opposing view. Why I say she was respectful is that she then gave Nyad tonnes of time to talk about what her views actually are, and to express the distinction between her views and the one Oprah expressed. That’s pretty standard in good tv interviewing. Oprah didn’t do anything to suggest that her first “reaction” was right, rather she gave a platform to an atheist to talk about her views, to an audience that most atheists don’t get to talk to en masse (the kind that watches spiritual talk shows, that is), and issued a friendly “challenge” as an in to speak to that audience. And for this, the atheist community decides she needs to apologize. It’s bizarre.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Yes, the word “god” can in fact mean anything.

  • E.T.

    E.T. scratching head. Oprah said that? Whoa, the horse has gone crashing through the barn!

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Oprah has been describing God this way for years an years, her description sounds more like humanism than theism. So, if anyone is confused about common terminology, it’s Oprah!

    That said, it’s her perogative to self-identify how she wishes (and in fact she may inadvertantly proselytising FOR atheism with her non-theistic personal definition–changing the substance now may be a smoother transition for some, one can always change the label to humanism later.)

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    That’s a point that to me as a believer, gives me personal comfort in regards to loved ones who don’t believe. IMO I believe that at the point of meeting our Maker they may even have an easier time recognizing Him than some self-proclaimed believers.
    BUT, that’s MY belief. If an athiest self-identifies as an athiest, that’s completely their perogative.

  • FredO

    Sorry, but Oprah is being completely logical. Atheism by definition asserts that the universe is totally without meaning or purpose. So it’s quite incoherent to ascribe awe and wonder to any phenomenon—it’s radically meaningless, right ? The birth of a child, listening to Mozart, picking your nose, losing at Russian roulette—it’s all equally pointless, right ?

    Please be consistent, folks. If you say you’re atheist, then accept the radical and transformative consequences of your beliefs, like Nietzsche (or lately Alex Rosenberg) suggested. Don’t announce that you’re just like everyone else—because you’re not.


    I agree.

    You damned inconsistent Atheists.

    Get back in your clearly marked box so we can hate you without anybody getting confused.

    (P.s. Jesus)

  • C Kippes

    That’s a point that to me as an atheist, gives me personal comfort in regards to loved ones who believe. IMO I believe that if you utilize modern medicine, or buy health and car insurance you are, in fact, an atheist.
    BUT, that’s MY belief. If an atheist self-identifies as a believer, that’s completely their prerogative.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Huh. I wouldn’t go around telling atheists they believe in God nor theists that they are atheists. What I do appreciate, though, is common ground. There’s room for everyone in a community with mutual respect and love.

  • Jonathan

    Are you being serious right now? Please tell me you’re a troll. Just please

  • DavidMHart

    Atheism doesn’t assert anything other than that there is insufficient reason to believe that any gods exist. But, as a practical consequence, it does imply that the universe as a whole is without meaning or purpose that has been imposed on it from outside by a sentient creator. It absolutely does not imply that our own lives cannot have meaning and purpose to ourselves and each other. And the idea that we would be unable to find awe and wonder in a phenomenon if we didn’t believe that that phenomenon had been created by a supernatural being is just baffling – how do you figure that?

    I really don’t understand why anyone would think that we are incapable of creating our own sense of purpose, just because we haven’t had a prefabricated purpose handed to us from above.

  • OGRastamon

    I call bullshit. Oprah doesn’t owe us any more respect for our lack of belief than Pat Robertson. She doesn’t owe Nyad any respect either.
    Why do we feel the need to browbeat the publicly ignorant into hiding what they really think? Yes, point out where they’re are wrong; change their minds if you can but don’t ask them to engage in phony back-pedaling pageants of insincere apology. Nobody gains.