Why Oprah Winfrey Should Apologize to Atheists

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses the recent controversy where Oprah Winfrey told godless marathon swimmer Diana Nyad that she wasn’t really an atheist because she was awed by the beautiful world around her:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • ferulebezel

    Why should she apologize. Part of her job is to re-enforce her audience’s prejudices. Since her audience consist mostly of church going housewives any acknowledgement that their stereotypes are wrong runs counter to that.

    And why doesn’t this page respond to my Disqus login?

    • JMM

      Because your an idiot like Oprah

      • Baby_Raptor

        Shouldn’t call people idiots when you can’t manage basic English such as the difference between “your” and “you’re.”

        • JMM

          Thank you and you’re an idiot also. Sorry for the mistake grammar nazi

          • Baby_Raptor

            I’m an idiot because I call out hypocrisy. I’ll get *right* on feeling bad for that. Really, I will.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      Your technical problems might be cookie-related. You can try visiting disqus.com, and then returning. That has resolved some of my prior issues.

    • Jasper

      Why should a tv show host apologize for reinforcing his/her audience’s prejudices against African Americans? Oh wait, Fox News

    • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

      And why doesn’t this page respond to my Disqus login?

      I don’t know. But you do have to allow third party cookies for disqus to work.

  • Hudson

    Most would recognize the unacceptability of responding to a positive utterance of another guest by proclaiming that they must not bet a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, UU, Gay, Mormon….

    Unless maybe they were prejudiced against that group or a member of that group guilt-ed into acquiescence.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      Prejudice isn’t the only possibility. And I noted your “maybe.” Just be sure to consider other maybes, too, like misunderstanding and ignorance.

      Also, the items in your list are all positive descriptors, while atheism is a negative one. I think this undermines your example.

      • Stephen Miller

        Ignorance may be an explanation for prejudice, but not a defense of prejudice. You seem to equate prejudice with hatefulness. I’m sure Oprah was not being hateful to Nyad. That’s not the point. She was reinforcing a stereotype based on her prejudice, meaning her preconceived and obviously baseless notions about people who don’t believe in god. Can you imagine if she came it out and apologized by saying “I’m sorry for all you atheists who felt offended by my remark. I wasn’t being prejudiced against you, I simply didn’t realize you actually had feelings.”

        • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

          I don’t equate prejudice with hatefulness. The two are obviously separate.

          I think Oprah’s remark was reactionary. It was informed by her own understanding of theism — that awe is a fundamental component of God stuff, or what God people do. And it’s not as if she told Diane Nyad, “You’re wrong. You’re not an atheist.” If anything, what transpired was an indictment of Oprah’s overly broad definition of theism. I don’t believe that Oprah thinks atheists don’t have feelings.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

    Diane Nyad didn’t apparently find Oprah’s mischaracterization / misunderstanding of atheism to be objectionable. Not only that, but she didn’t attempt to correct it. Perhaps those who are upset about what happened should consider blaming Diane Nyad instead.

    • joey_in_NC

      Perhaps those who are upset about what happened should consider blaming Diane Nyad instead.

      That’s a good point. After all, Nyad did say that her definition of God is “humanity” and that she sees no contradiction with spirituality and atheism. Given the context of the interviewee, why are all the criticisms from atheists aimed solely on Oprah and none on Nyad? Nyad was feeding her the material for Oprah to go off the rails regarding the dictionary definition of atheism.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Nyad is free to self-identify as she wishes, and to define her own beliefs. Oprah is *not* free to decide that a person’s beliefs do not match up with what she thinks they should be and then say that the person can’t possibly be X because of that misalignment.

        Oprah committed the offense. Nyad is guilty of confusion at most.

        • 3lemenope

          Meh. Absent Nyad being offended, it’s hardly cognizable that there is an “offense” at all.

          • TCC

            There is an offense here but not really toward Nyad (who really seem to be unconcerned about it). What Oprah did was an attempt at erasure – to deprive atheists of their ability to build an identity and break misconceptions. If Oprah had merely said, “I don’t think that God is a beardy man in the sky,” we could have just accepted that she has a very idiosyncratic (and frankly altogether unnecessary) definition of “God,” but instead she tried to push that definition onto an atheist – and by extension, atheists.

            Personally, my irritation is fairly minor, but I do think that this provides a good opportunity to bring the issue of what atheists do believe (in a general sense, not by virtue of being atheists) to the general public. Whether or not that public discussion will really happen is another matter entirely.

            • 3lemenope

              What Oprah did was an attempt at erasure…

              This is the main element of interpreting Oprah’s remarks with which I do not concur. Not least because it is part of an interviewer’s job to not be snowed under by their interviewee being weaselly with definitions; I think it entirely appropriate for an interviewer to operate off of the definitions they know to make sense of the claims being offered by the interviewee. I know for my part when someone offers an example that mismatches the definition of the word that they use to describe the example, I am moved to challenge the example.

              Now, from time to time, like here, the interviewer is operating off of a faulty definition, and so in applying it they err. This, I think, is a world apart from attempting to erase a group’s ability to define themselves, and easily fixed by more dialogue of the non-forced non-high drama variety.

              • TCC

                Not least because it is part of an interviewer’s job to not be snowed under by their interviewee being weaselly with definitions; I think it entirely appropriate for an interviewer to operate off of the definitions they know to make sense of the claims being offered by the interviewee.

                See, this argument baffles me, mostly because it is Oprah who is being “weaselly” with the word “atheist.” I also think that you’re presuming a more heated interview style than is probably warranted given that it’s Oprah, who (save for interviews like the one with James Frey) is known more for fluff interviews rather than exceptionally hard-hitting ones.

                This [operating from a faulty definition], I think, is a world apart from attempting to erase a group’s ability to define themselves, and easily fixed by more dialogue of the non-forced non-high drama variety.

                Let me correct myself a bit on one regard: I don’t think that Oprah was necessarily doing this intentionally. On the other hand, she tried to justify a negative stereotype by recategorizing someone who didn’t fit it. I call that erasure. I mean, did/does Oprah really think that there are a significant number of atheists who don’t have a sense of awe or wonder about the universe? If so, then dialogue would be a very useful thing to have; maybe then, there could be a better understanding of atheism. Maybe we should lobby Oprah to do an “Ask an Atheist” show rather than as an apology.

                • 3lemenope

                  See, this argument baffles me, mostly because it is Oprah who is being “weaselly” with the word “atheist.”

                  Nah, I don’t think she was trying to put anything over on anyone with her armchair definition; it just happened to be significantly flawed. I agree with you that her oeuvre is as fluffy as a souffle, but even still I’d expect her to react to something that seems as far afield from expectations as this clearly was for her pretty much as she did.

                  Also, something I didn’t much think about through this thread that occurs to me now, it seems to me that Oprah was engaging in skepticism of a claim that, in many other circumstances and contexts, would be applauded by the same crowd that condemns this particular expression. I don’t think most people would take it as reasonably sufficient to alter a held definition due to one anomalous data point.

                  I mean, did/does Oprah really think that there are a significant number of atheists who don’t have a sense of awe or wonder about the universe?

                  I think it more likely that it was the simple result of a definition collision; either her definition of awe had theist baggage or her definition of atheist was overdetermined (or, probably, a bit of both); as m6wg4bxw pointed out below, it is a bit implausible to believe that Oprah believes atheists don’t have feelings.

                  For what it’s worth, beneath everything, she may actually be correct on the narrow point that there are a significant number of atheists who do not have a significant sense of awe about the natural world. Most atheists are, it’s safe to say, apatheists, and most people generally do not cultivate or maintain a sense of awe about, really, anything, and so it follows that as apatheism is the least entailing classification of atheists (and thus the most like “people in general” in trait distribution), most atheists by population do not possess the awe at issue here.

          • C Peterson

            So let’s be clear. Oprah has a Mexican on her show, and calls him a “slimy wetback”. This particular Mexican, a jovial fellow, isn’t in the slightest offended and laughs off the joke. Of course, Oprah has deeply offended millions of other Mexicans with her comment. So she owes nobody an apology or explanation, simply because no personal offense was taken by the person she was speaking with (on national TV)?

            Well, I suppose that’s a valid ethical viewpoint. But it isn’t mine.

            • 3lemenope

              Oprah has a Mexican on her show, and calls him a “slimy wetback”

              If what she had said to Nyad were in any way comparable to a racial slur, you might have a point.

              It wasn’t.

              • C Peterson

                That is a matter of opinion, not fact.

                • 3lemenope

                  Oh, OK. Well, now that we know that any perceived insult can be as horrible as a racial slur, and nobody could argue the point because it’s an opinion.

                  Seriously, at least try, because on its face, asserting that awe is not a component of atheism is not on the same planet as “slimy wetback”.

                • C Peterson

                  Again, a matter of opinion.

                  It seems very simple to me. Oprah made a number of statements that factually misrepresent atheism, and which many atheists perceive as demeaning, offensive, harmful, distasteful… pick your word, but they are all negative.

                  In doing this, Oprah presumably had no intent to give offense, but was simply speaking from ignorance. A nice person would acknowledge that. A jerk wouldn’t. Her choice.

                • 3lemenope

                  Perceived injury may, in some sense, be a matter of personal opinion. But that doesn’t mean all such opinions are valid.

                  If a small child skins their knees or cuts themselves, they often react as if it is a grave injury. Is it appropriate, in light of that fact, for parents to call an ambulance every time the child has an injury of similar extent?

                  So, in light of the fact that you desperately want to equate the severity of two comments that couldn’t under any sane rubric be put in spitting distance of one another, I will happily concede that it is a matter of opinion and your opinion on the matter is invalid, being predicated as it is upon an utter lack of perspective. If you really still want to hang onto that equivalence, I suggest you test drive it on some Hispanic atheists and see what they think.

                • C Peterson

                  Perceived injury may, in some sense, be a matter of personal opinion.

                  Oprah presents herself as a person of great sensitivity. She has been informed that people perceived her remarks as hurtful. If her projected persona is accurate, her response is obvious. There is no reason why her own opinion should come into play.

                • 3lemenope

                  So Oprah would call the ambulance?

                  Sorry, no. Her opinion still comes into play. Given your characterization, if accurate, I imagine that Oprah’s ethical reading of the situation is informed primarily by whether the person she was speaking with was offended.

                • C Peterson

                  In which case, we’re back to the wetback situation.

                  She was speaking to a person on national TV, and said something offensive to many people. That’s what she needs to acknowledge.

                  I don’t know about you. But if I say something publicly, it turns out to be wrong, and I find out that people took it in a hurtful way, even if I did not intend it that way, even if I don’t see it as hurtful at all, I will normally make an apology. That just seems like the decent thing to do.

    • C Peterson

      The apology doesn’t need to be directed primarily at Nyad, but rather at atheists in general.

  • Robert Stoll

    I just went to a euphoric a cappella concert- I often do at live performances. She was out of line, but is probably ignorance.

  • Betty

    Although I am not a big fan of Oprah’s spirituality, I think you are making way too much of this.

    • Jasper

      When much of the grief we get from the religious stems from their misconceptions about us, the PR battle surrounding a nation-wide popular person reinforcing the notion that atheists are robots, who cannot feel awe or appreciate beauty, etc, is a legitimate battle in the war.

      • 3lemenope

        But perhaps not a battle most effectively fought by extracting attrite “apologies” from public figures that trip over their misunderstandings about atheism.

        Personally I have a difficult enough time being offended on behalf of a person who is not themselves feeling offense. But I have never, aside from the most egregious offenses (which this doesn’t come close to touching), seen a demand for an apology make much sense either from a tactical perspective or even from an ethical one.

        • musical beef

          If we don’t fight this battle by calling to account those who perpetuate the misconception then how do we fight it?

          ???

          • 3lemenope

            Well, I tend to think it opens space for a dialogue. Which would be squandered by demanding apologies and shaming a person that, in all probability, made an honest error.

            • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

              Agreed. I’d rather insist she meet informally (dinner or something similar) with some atheists and just have a conversation about what everyone believes (or doesn’t) and why. That would be productive. The best people usually get out of insisting on an apology is a the standard non-apology “apology” (as in, “I’m sorry that people were offended by my remarks”) which is meaningless in to me often more offensive than what the person originally said.

        • anniewhoo

          I think the call for an apology is necessary. If Oprah even entertains the idea to publicly apologize, she will have to revisit the event and hopefully grow from all of this. Oprah is an extremely powerful person in the US. Just ask any author whose book she chose for her book club. Her voice of addressing the issue, even if in the end she chooses not to apologize, would be a good thing.

          • 3lemenope

            Her voice of addressing the issue, even if in the end she chooses not to apologize, would be a good thing.

            See, this I agree with. There’s nothing wrong with re-engaging with Oprah on this issue, and I think both atheists and Oprah would benefit. I just think the call for an apology is inappropriate given the circumstances. If she persisted aloud in opining that atheists can’t feel or experience awe, then there might be better grounds for demanding apologies (and even then, it just doesn’t sit right with me; I don’t generally think people, regardless of their prominence, need to forever be apologizing for everything they believe about others that rubs those people the wrong way).

    • WillBell

      This incident isn’t nothing – but it certainly isn’t as big as some people seem to be making it a I agree.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I don’t have a problem with what Oprah said. I don’t see that she needs to apologize.

    Oprah holds a very negative stereotype about atheism, and that stereotype is held by very many people. The interview was all about assuring herself and her viewers that Diana Nyad does not fit that negative stereotype.

    You might be offended. But Nyad did not seem to be offended.

    You have a particular view of what “atheist” means. Oprah has a different view. You do not control meaning, nor does Oprah. Meaning is not controlled by dictionary definitions. As Wittgenstein put it, meaning is use. Meaning is controlled by the way that it is used in the culture.

    Of course, people disagree about meanings, and these get argued out. But it seems a bit much to demand an apology for what amounts to a disagreement about meaning.

    The irony of all of this, is that demanding an apology only reinforces that negative stereotype of atheism.

    • C Peterson

      You have a particular view of what “atheist” means. Oprah has a different view.

      But Oprah’s view is factually wrong. And wrong in a way that many atheists find damaging or offensive. “Atheism” isn’t defined by individual viewpoints, any more than ethnicity is.

      A person such as her, in a powerful position with the respect and ears of many, has an ethical obligation to be fair and accurate. Of course, she has no such legal obligation. But if she’d rather be perceived as someone in the Rush Limbaugh school of talking heads, I guess that’s her business. Or, she can simply admit she was speaking from a position of ignorance, and correct her error.

    • musical beef

      This isn’t about “meaning” or “usage”. This is about people. Are you a cold, wonderless, grumpy atheist? If not, then Oprah is wrong.

      This is a misconception that needs to be corrected.

    • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

      If someone called a black person the n-word on TV and that person let it slide, the party who said it would still owe the black community an apology.

      It’s one thing to tell someone their beliefs are wrong, but to tell someone they don’t actually believe what they tell you they believe just because YOU don’t get it is the height of arrogance and condescension.

    • cyb pauli

      I wonder how Ms. Winfrey would feel if I told her on her show that she’s not as dark as my grandfather, so she’s not really black. And then tried to pass that off as a positive comment.

      • 3lemenope

        Except it’s nothing like that.

        An actually comparable circumstance would be having Rob Bell on and her saying “…but you don’t believe in Hell. How can you be Christian if you don’t believe in Hell?” Or perhaps if she had Bishop Spong on, similar sitch if even more extreme.

        Do you think it would be reasonable for either of them to take umbrage at the question or be offended that it was asked?

        And how come it’s fine and dandy for people to go and visit S. E. Cupp’s atheism (as it clearly is in this here community; it’s practically a contact sport) but not okay for Oprah to visit Nyad’s?

        • cyb pauli

          Good lord. Christianity is believing Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a divine being and worshipping him. That’s what Christians have in common. They argue about the rest amongst themselves. Atheism is a lack of belief in theistic claims. That is what atheists have in common. Just like Hell has nothing to do with the meaning of the word “Christian” neither does the ability to feel awe have anything to do with atheism. {{So I suppose my answer is yes, it would sound just as ignorant and be just as irritating for her to ask such prejudiced questions of them.}}

          • 3lemenope

            I’d be willing to bet quite a lot that your definition of Christian would not be assented to by most Christians. Is it appropriate or acceptable for you to define Christianity for them in a way that they would not accept?

            • TCC

              I’m with you on the definition part of this; I tend to agree with the idea that there is not one Christianity but many Christianities (and that goes for a lot of other religions like Islam and Hinduism). The thing is that the point you’re making against cyb pauli is what Oprah is guilty of here: of defining a position (atheism) in such a way that many atheists would not agree with.

              • 3lemenope

                The thing is that the point you’re making against cyb pauli is what Oprah is guilty of here: of defining a position (atheism) in such a way that many atheists would not agree with.

                That’s why I pointed it out. I would suggest that the behavior for whom people are clamoring for an apology is not exactly egregious; we are pretty much all comfortable engaging in it pretty much all the time. We have conceptual schema, and how we respond to anomalies in that schema is how these things tend to shake out. Some definitions are tightly held (because they are important to the schema or for sentimental reasons) and so a person holding them is more resistant to revisiting them. Some anomalies are more startling from others, or have more disturbing implications, and so provoke a stronger reaction of incredulity.

                I think cyb pauli put it best elsewhere on the thread:

                I don’t care who apologizes for what. I just wish people knew that I do feel awe and wonder. I also wish it was socially unacceptable to reinforce negative stereotypes about atheists… but you know what they say about wishes.

                I feel almost exactly that, and not just about atheism. I constantly have a bit that I have to do where I explain that yes, I am a conservative, even though I don’t sound like the stereotype of my kind that might form from occasionally hate-watching FOX News, and no it probably means you don’t know what I think about XYZ issues, and what’s this, I’m a conservative-in-name-only because GOP and Jesus and blah blah blah.

                It *is* tiresome. But I also think that people are allowed some preliminary expectations that, if I am to flagrantly violate, am consequently going to draw some “this doesn’t match the model of the world I have in my head so you’re full of it” flack. Categories and definitions are the simplifications with which we navigate the world; if you go around muddying people’s categories, you have to give them time and space (and the ability to save face) to catch up.

          • Artor

            Good lord.

            Heh.

        • TCC

          Honestly, I don’t much like the questioning of S.E. Cupp’s atheism, either. If she lacks a belief in gods, then sorry, she’s one of us (in the very broadest sense).

          I do think, though, that your hypothetical analogy is telling in that you had her asking the question “How can you be a Christian if you don’t believe in Hell?” That’s not really what happened, at least not in the end. That would have been an opportunity for dialogue (which Nyad might or might not have wanted to have; her response that God to her is humanity indicates that she probably didn’t). The proper analogy would be if Rob Bell went on Oprah, and she told him, “Well, I don’t consider you a Christian if you don’t believe in Hell.” That’s the kind of thing that I’ve been criticizing pretty consistently.

          • 3lemenope

            The proper analogy would be if Rob Bell went on Oprah, and she told him, “Well, I don’t consider you a Christian if you don’t believe in Hell.”

            Good point.

      • TCC

        This is a fair point. You could even go deeper and say, “Well, you’re cultured and articulate, so I don’t consider you black.” I think we can all agree that this would be a deeply offensive statement.

    • TCC

      I’ll agree that a demand is uncalled for, but I don’t think that you can so easily wipe away what Oprah tried to do by appealing to different usages (a point which I entirely agree with in a general sense).

      Let’s say that someone identifies as gay, and they come out to a homophobic family member. That family member then says, “Well, don’t you believe in love and monogamy?” When the gay relative agrees, the family member then says, “Oh, well, I don’t consider you gay, then.”

      Is the family member justified in denying that person’s statement of identity because they have an inherently negative view of gay people? I would say no, regardless of whether the pejorative usage is widespread enough to communicate an idea meaningfully.

  • Darwins Damsel

    ..She knows she is idolized by millions of xtians so why should she give two figs about our insignificant Atheist community..and let us not forget, she has ‘god’ on her side, now doesn’t she..lol

  • Philip Vassar

    Much ado about nothing. Your right to be offended of course but it is you taking offense not Oprah giving it. We all define words, hardly any of us self described as atheists will agree with a definition beyond “without god”. My personal view on atheism doesn’t give just anyone the right to call themselves atheists. To me atheism is something you grow into from studying religion as a serious student, it means accepting yourself as the final arbiter of good and correct action taking responsibility for yourself and having a strong moral code and ethics. I laugh when I hear children under 50 describe themselves as atheists and yet they are still “hungup” on religion which they see as their mortal enemy. If religion is a problem for you you are not an atheist (by my definition which is to live without god) If religion and religious people upset you then you have not liberated yourself from religion.. You are a dry drunk as the 12 steppers would say. If you know what you are and don’t give a flying fuck what strangers think of you then why is your definition anymore important than mine or Oprah’s or Diana Nyad’s? There are many more things in this world that could use the attention of rational thinkers. Oprah really isn’t one of them irregardless of the size of her megaphone. Offered respectfully to those who still struggle over religion and definitions of what an atheist is.

    • Jen

      I agree that demanding an apology is probably giving more life to this issue than it deserves. It’s enough that many many folks voiced their opinion and called her out. But, I’m struck by your other comments. I’m an atheist because I was raised in a secular household, am unindoctrinated and have no impulse whatsoever to fill in the blanks of what I don’t know with the supernatural. To ask me to study religion as a serious student and then reject it (does that mean the default position is to accept?!) is the same as asking me to seriously consider whether the Harry Potter books should form the basis for my personal ethics and to consider whether Voldemort is real. I don’t have a problem with religion generally but there are a few religious people who do really bother me. Last year, my younger son was told by a classmate that “all good people go to church.” After my son said “I don’t go to church and I’m still a good person.” the kid punched him in the face!!! Sorry if I seem ‘hung up’ on that…I guess I’m just sensitive that way. It doesn’t matter how ‘liberated’ I am in my own mind- when (some) religious people are trying to ruin the lives of gay folks and prevent me from controlling my own body I definitely give a ‘flying fuck.’

    • C Peterson

      Atheism has one meaning only: lacking a belief in a god or gods. Don’t conflate atheism with other aspects of your personal philosophy.

      Oprah was factually wrong in her comment, and that factual error caused some actual damage to people. Ethically, that demands some kind of response.

      • 3lemenope

        …that factual error caused some actual damage to people

        [citation needed]

        • C Peterson

          It caused damage to me. People I know who watch Oprah walked away with a mistaken view of what it means to be an atheist, and therefore with a mistaken view of my personal belief system, which changes the way they interact with me.

          My goal is to change society to a form more in line with what I consider ideal. One of the features of that society is universal atheism. A respected public figure misrepresenting atheism works against my goal. That is harm.

          • 3lemenope

            My goal is to change society to a form more in line with what I consider ideal.

            Being stymied in achieving your vision is not exactly what I would call “harm” or “damage”. People having a mistaken impression of your beliefs because of a label you carry, likewise, very weak sauce.

            • C Peterson

              Being stymied in achieving your vision is not exactly what I would call “harm” or “damage”.

              On that we’ll just have to be very much in disagreement. I consider the drive to improve society one of the loftiest goals, one of the activities of greatest import and merit. I see disinformation- both deliberate and accidental- as the greatest impediment standing in the way of progress.

              There is no difference between misrepresenting atheists and claiming that mankind isn’t changing the environment. The first piece of misinformation harms those seeking to reduce the intolerance and hatred spawned by religion, the second harms those seeking to preserve Earth’s climate. (There are, of course, many similar examples.)

              Do not trivialize the harm others experience merely because you yourself may not.

              • 3lemenope

                I consider the drive to improve society one of the loftiest goals, one of the activities of greatest import and merit.

                Something we have in common. That said, none of the rest follows.

                That progress isn’t progressing in the direction or speed that you desire is not harm. This is the sort of logic that evangelical Christians use to bemoan all the “harm” they’re experiencing by having to interact with and work with people who think that, in parts, their vision is dumb and wrong.

                I see disinformation- both deliberate and accidental- as the greatest impediment standing in the way of progress.

                Assuming for a second that this “disinformation” is not simply an artifact of dialogue being a messy process, there are oodles of things more dangerous to a goal of positive social change than bad information floating about.

                There is no difference between misrepresenting atheists and claiming that mankind isn’t changing the environment.

                There are huge differences between the two that make the analogy inapt.

                Most people lack both the expertise and access to equipment that would allow independent confirmation of AGW. Conversely, finding out if an atheist can experience awe is as easy as asking a question. The degrees of error are likewise difficult to compare, as is the relative difficulty in correcting the error.

                Do not trivialize the harm others experience merely because you yourself may not.

                I’m not trivializing the harm because I’m not affected. I’m trivializing it because it isn’t “harm”. Having your personal vision impeded isn’t harm, it’s a natural consequence of living on a planet with other people, all of whom have a different vision than yours and some of whom think your vision is dumb and wrong.

                • C Peterson

                  That we are not becoming a more Christian society is, indeed, harm if you are a Christian who believes that such a society is a desirable goal. That we are slowed down in our goal of a more secular society by Christian politics is, indeed, a harm if you are a secularist who believes such a society is a desirable goal.

                  Harm is a relative thing, not an absolute. If I intend somebody harm, I owe them no apology if I succeed. However, if that isn’t my intent, and I inadvertently harm them, I will choose to apologize.

                • 3lemenope

                  So you’ve ably redefined harm as the world not going exactly the way a person wants it to go.

                  If I intend somebody harm, I owe them no apology if I succeed.

                  WTF?

                • C Peterson

                  How is it not harmful to a person to not have society move in the direction they desire?

                  I recognize that my efforts to secularize society are perceived as harmful by some religious people. I do not apologize for causing them harm. The society that I prefer requires that some people suffer the loss of the society they prefer.

        • islandbrewer

          I hurt my neck when Oprah made me shake it vigorously!

      • Philip Vassar

        Damage? As in mental anguish? Life must be tough for those who can’t live thinking someone thinks differently from them.How can her opinion be factually wrong? She says she doesn’t consider someone who can experience the wonder of the universe an atheist (by her definition) I accept it to mean “without god” period. Discussions concerning god are not “without god”. You can’t argue about something that doesn’t have existence. Technically you can but isn’t that truly a waste of time and intellectual effort? It is to me. As I said it is up to each of us to take offense or understand or ignore what Oprah said. I expressed the OPINION that it was much ado about nothing (of importance). YMMV I probably shouldn’t have even bothered to weigh in on the subject. I submit religion isn’t the problem: it is the people using it as a means to excuse their own questionable behavior or to justify a position of superiority, dominance and or greed.

        • C Peterson

          She doesn’t get to make up her own definition of “atheist”.

          Personally, I wasn’t offended, although I think that given her audience, the misrepresentation did more harm than good for atheists (although the opposite may be true, depending on how widespread the coverage of her gaffe is).

          I’m not one of those demanding an apology. I’m simply pointing out that in not acknowledging that she was speaking from ignorance, and not acknowledging that she might have caused inadvertent offense, she is acting out of character with the person she represents herself as, and I will respect her less (as, I’m sure, will others).

    • pRinzler

      “We all define words . . . .”

      Are you serious? So we can make any word mean whatever we want? Goodbye, communication.

      • Artor

        What are you saying? What do those words mean? What am I saying? OMG I’ve lost the power of languarrgghblle!

    • Stephen Miller

      How would you feel if I called you an imbecile and then said you have no basis for taking offense because I use the word imbecile in it’s original sense from the French meaning “weak” and I merely meant I believed you made a weak argument. Furthermore, by my definition, if you weren’t an imbecile, then you would in fact be strong, and you wouldn’t have taken offense in the first place. Finally, in the grand scheme of things, we’re all going to be dead one day anyway, so if you just put things in perspective, it doesn’t really matter if I call you an imbecile anyway.

  • Greg G.

    Oprah should not apologize. She should consider the absurd implications of her spiritual and theological beliefs, abandon them, and spend the rest of her life and fortune helping others escape their delusions.

    • LaAbuela

      I agree with you Greg.

  • Mr Ed

    When we are meet with new ideas or concepts we try to fit them with what we already understand. While Oprah may have talked to or know atheist I think the video shows her processing the idea that awe and wonder -concepts she had previously thought of as dealing with religion- could be felt outside of religion.

    It takes time and some mental gymnastics -something not everyone is up to or willing to do- to fully process new ideas. Oprah was just working through it. Giver her time and reinforcement.

  • Randy Meyer

    Steve Harvey needs to also. He has said some pretty hateful things publicly about atheists. Moreso than Oprah.

    • C Peterson

      Steve Harvey actively dislikes atheists. He doesn’t owe anybody an apology, any more than I owe Christians one when I make the claim that Christianity damages people’s moral compasses. He’s entitled to his view, which is honest.

      Oprah is doing something different. If she simply stated that atheists are assholes who will go to hell, fine. I’d think she is wrong, and misguided, and not a nice person, but that’s her business. What she did, however, was to factually misrepresent what atheism is. Unless she prefers to be seen as a jerk, that’s something that requires clarification and acknowledgement. I don’t think it requires some sort of dramatic, teary, Oprahesque apology.

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    Well, Oprah, you’ve proved that you are a theist by your inability to wrap your brain around what atheism actually is.

  • reasonableGuy

    It’s alright, next time some Christian tells me that they’re very deep or thoughtful, I’ll just repond, ‘You must not be a Christian, then’.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I was about ask where these Christians are that like to claim that they themselves are deep or thoughtful, then I realized that one was posting on this site like twelve hours ago.

  • WallofSleep

    As far as I am concerned she can keep her apology, so long as she takes it and the rest of her bullshit to a distant, preferably uninhabited planet.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Yes, she should apologize but I wouldn’t expect that too happen. Oprah suffers from the same syndrome that plagues other celebrities and corporate executives. Some of what she does is good and some of it is horrible, but she’s so surrounded by people who get paid to tell her what she wants to hear that valid criticism is unlikely to get through. In addition she has to filter out so much unfair criticism (as do the other aforementioned types) that it’s unlikely she’ll hear or understand the objection. Almost everyone at that level of success and/or wealth lives in a similar bubble. There’s no malice involved, just a lack of understanding what it’s like for everyone else.

  • cyb pauli

    I don’t care who apologizes for what. I just wish people knew that I do feel awe and wonder. I also wish it was socially unacceptable to reinforce negative stereotypes about atheists… but you know what they say about wishes.

  • JN

    “Jokingly” Pastafarian? Please don’t dismiss my sincerely held beliefs… :)

  • R Rose

    This is one of those little petty things we don’t need to worry about. Who cares what any celebrity thinks, especially Oprah? Of anything she should apologize to Nyad not all atheists everywhere.

  • Tayjen

    I have to agree. By comparison, if I said to Oprah ‘I don’t think you’re black because I can understand what you’re saying.’ I’m sure a lot of people would be offended.

  • nude0007

    I don’t think she was being hateful or intentionally demeaning, but her own prejudice that everyone must believe in a god definitely biased her response into saying that an atheist cannot feel something theists can (essentially). It is definitely a slur and she needs to learn what atheists are and what they think before making demeaning thoughtless comments about them. An apology would be nice, but I’d rather see her correct her misconceptions than mouth an apology that neither corrects the problem, nor has sincerity in it.

  • Ophis

    I am a little uneasy at this idea of demanding an apology. She’s defined God in a way that’s inconsistent with the general use of that word, but if she chooses to define God as being a sense of awe, mystery etc. then that does entail that anyone who experiences those things is not an atheist. She hasn’t denied anyone their right to call themselves an atheist, she’s just stated that she would use the term in a different way.

    I think her definitions have problems, and I would argue against using those definitions, but she hasn’t insulted anyone or tried to restrict anybody’s rights. She’s merely used words in a different way to us. Claiming that such a minor disagreement is offensive, and demanding an apology for it, is likely to do far more damage to the image of atheists than Oprah’s comments could.

  • god

    you poor lost souls may you one day see light to guide you

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Bad troll is… yawwwwnnn…

      Fuck, sorry. Couldn’t be arsed to finish.

    • Ed Adams

      have your meds adjusted. you’re seeing lights that aren’t there.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Dear god,

      Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but there is a very good match between your personality and that of someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

      • Feel grandiose and self-important,
      • Be obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, power,
      • Be firmly convinced that he or she is unique and special,
      • Require excessive admiration, adulation and attention,
      • Feel entitled,
      • Use others to achieve his or her own ends,
      • Be devoid of empathy,
      • Be constantly envious of others,
      • Feel superior, omnipotent, omniscient and invincible, immune, above the law,
      • Rage when frustrated, contradicted or confronted by people he or she considers inferior.

      Hope this helps.

  • rustygh

    I wouldn’t waste the time to listen to her apologize. Just stop paying any attention at all to this lady.

  • Artor

    I see others have the same feeling I do. I don’t want to hear Oprah apologize, I just want her to STFU and go away. Let her retire in obscurity and stop pushing her woo on the world.

  • Skeptnik Garrison

    I wholeheartedly disagree with my atheological cohort here. By trying to force apologies in the public realm, we in effect, are suppressing discussion and openess regarding these issues. Was Oprah wrong, hell yeah, from our viewpoint. But, let’s not silence her, let’s refute her and show how her thinking is in error. This kind of interchange should be encouraged, not discouraged. It gives us the opportunity to expose the flaws in the common thinking in our culture. Let’s get it out there and controvert it, not suppress it.

  • WalterWhite007

    Oprah does not understand the definition of atheist. No surprise there. Most people don’t. Nyad basically gave her the definition and Oprah still couldn’t get it.
    It’s no wonder Oprah is a believer. She’s a billionaire pop icon with little real talent.
    It’s no wonder she’s in awe. So am I. I’m in awe that many of the highest paid people in America are devoid of real intellect.

  • Diane Moffatt

    Oh I am offended. Bloody arrogant woman – “if I think it it must be true” thinking.


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