Chris Stedman Goes on CNN to Explain Why Oprah Winfrey Got it Wrong

Earlier today, Faitheist author Chris Stedman appeared on CNN to discuss the Oprah Winfrey/Diana Nyad controversy:

I thought he explained the issue at hand — Oprah’s dismissal of our identity — very well. He disarmed the hosts (not that they were trying to provoke him) and got across his points while coming across as personable and worthy of respect. That’s not easy to do.

CNN wrongly noted that a particular atheist “group” was upset with Oprah, but that’s not the case at all. It’s a large group of individual atheists who are upset with how Oprah (inadvertently) offended our outlook on life, suggesting that we couldn’t find awe in the world if we didn’t believe in God, and how she still hasn’t apologized for her comments.

You can read Stedman’s CNN piece on the matter here.

Also: Oprah. Stedman. Hehe.

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.

  • m6wg4bxw

    I remain unoffended by Oprah’s words. I remain baffled by the meaning of “spiritual.” I remain trusting of my gaydar.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      This will help you to completely understand what “spiritual” means:

      • m6wg4bxw

        Both enlightening and confusing. Well put.

  • Heidi McClure

    If Oprah ever apologized for anything, I think most of the world would have a collective heart attack.

  • L.Long

    Offended? Why? She is a religidiot like so many others and thinks atheists are lower them dung going to hell. You can say nice things and admire the people that do neat stuff and have them be atheists.

    • L.Long

      Sorry but the 2nd line show be …You can’t say….

  • SirWhiskerson

    I personally am befuddled why even classify anything (whether the natural world, or love) with the word “God” when atheist. As an atheist too I personally think the word “God” is completely irrelevant to atheism; the word implies something that really doesn’t mean at all what I could be trying to explain through it if I were to use it. When many people hear “God” they automatically associate it with a deity/higher power, which is why I also think Oprah made the statements she did because when Diana Nyad tried to explain her belief she used “God”, and Oprah being of faith automatically associated it with a higher power, thus causing the misunderstanding. In the end, I personally think being an atheist and classifying ANYTHING as “God” is really just contradictory.

    • Marisa Totten

      I have to say I agree with you. Spirtuality, as an atheist, confuses me as well. I don’t think it helps to facilitate an acceptance of the atheist perspective to trade in religious terminology.

  • Jen

    It took me a minute, but, BWAAAHAAAAHAAAA!

  • cyb pauli

    It annoys me when theists and religionists change the definition of god in order to make their cognitive dissonance go away. I was raised Catholic and I know for a fact that Catholic theology teaches that God the Father is literally a male spirit (hence the nickname Father) and that Jesus is literally a divine man-God. There is nothing in the catechism that justifies the assertion that God is an abstract sense of “love and justice and reconciliation.” God may inspire those things, or include those things but he is still “a man in the sky.”

    • Lando

      “Your reality contradicts with my opinion about what an Atheist is; therefore, your reality is wrong, and my opinion is right.”

  • Rain

    She probably “sees the silver lining” of atheists. If somebody said they like pie she would say they aren’t really atheists. She rescues us from our atheism like we are lost puppies, and calls us not atheists. Yes atheists, even atheists are people too. There is hope for you, compliments of eternal optimist Oprah who sees the little ray of sunshine in everyone. Even atheists.

  • Rain

    No Oprah, being “in the awe” doesn’t mean you have to invent hokey invisible magic people to explain it all. First comes the awe, then comes the magic people. It isn’t the magic people first and then the awe. Lol you got it all backwards.

  • C Peterson

    Whether Oprah apologizes or explains or comments at all isn’t very important. What is important is that this story get high visibility coverage like this. Nothing will advance the acceptance of atheism more than keeping the subject in the public eye. Billboards, news stories, atheists on TV and in the movies, lawsuits… all of these serve the function of normalizing atheism.

  • Susan_G1

    Chris Stedman presented his views very well. Best takeaway: “Relationships are transformational.” Beautiful and true.

  • Abbé Faria

    Did she ever apologize for trotting out the “victims” of satanist groups.

  • Larry

    Part of the problem here is that Diana Nyad is not a philosopher or a perfectly clear speaker. She’s not Dawkins. On Oprah’s show she says God is humanity and God is love of humanity. In tweets she says God is love, God is respect. God is awe. So she herself may be responsible for some of the confusion. She needs to learn how to speak more clearly on the issue. If she is a true atheist she might consider avoiding some this language. See:

  • Mark Heil

    I though Oprah’s remarks were quite selfish in nature. She was confronted with some cognitive dissonance in that here was a woman whom she greatly admired. Then Nyad was saying she was an atheist which Oprah finds so antithetical to her own views. To reconcile this she selfishly tried to force the label of “not an atheist” on Nyad to reconcile her own inner conflict.

  • h2ocean

    I think it would be best to do away with using “God” and to some extent “spirituality” to refer to awe and wonder. Words like “God” rightly belong to religion, (and good riddance, they can have it). Also, awe and wonder and have been co-opted by religion because they get used as synonyms for spirituality. the more we use spirituality and god to refer to awe and wonder, the more it muddles things and allows religious people to take those words as their own.

    Calling God “humanity” or “awe” or “love” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. God refers to a supernatural being that has powers either in creating, maintaining, or intervening in the universe and is often anthropomorphized. You might as well call humanity, awe, or love a cheese sandwich.

    Not to say that Nyad wasn’t free to say what she said or that Oprah was right and shouldn’t apologize. I think Orpah could have asked for clarification in a much better way.

    • 3lemenope

      I am uncomfortable prescribing a definition that hasn’t consistently applied even within the context of religion, never mind more broadly. Tillich identified God with an abstract metaphysical root for the universe, the “Ground of Being” as he called it, and that was nearly a hundred years ago. He was hardly the first theist to conceptualize God in such terms.

    • Don Cole

      Religion dilutes wonder and awe AND love. Period

  • Rob Cahill

    I thought Oprah retired a few years ago?? Why is she still interviewing people really badly?

  • D.L F

    Part of Oprah’s problems is that she is trying to put her own definition on a word that has a set meaning in most people’s minds. God is not just a feeling of awe or love for humanity. God is higher power or entity, usually one who can think or feel. Oprah wants to be open minded but I think that she is so locked into her own mindset that she can’t understand why her words would offend people.

  • Don Cole

    Boy you got that one right. Beard, lol, and they cost a lot to keep up these days if you get my drift.

  • baal

    I’m nervous whenever I hear Chris Stedman is involved but I have to say he did all right and it’s great to see an overall positive MSM video on atheism.

  • Gregory Marshall

    The anchors still didn’t get it. They still tried to frame “awe” as spiritual. They still don’t understand that you do not need to believe in “woo” to be awed by the fact that we are alive in a universe that is so hostile to life, in so much of it.


  • Daniel Brown

    Why would they have the guy with ear guages, nose piercing (I think? His right side?), 5-oclock shadow… He looks like the Mark Driscoll style of Christian. Why couldn’t they get someone who looked more professional? Christians will be super quick to judge this guy on looks.

  • Zachary_Bos

    It was great to see our social media images being used on the CNN interview. I’m glad Chris was asked to talk about it; he’s a great representative of how positive and inclusive the nontheist community can be.

    I feel CNN had it both ways, wrongly. They reported that “an atheist group” is asking Oprah for an apology (first, it’s the Boston Atheists, not an unnamed group; and second, we’re not asking for an apology, we’re asking for dialogue); AND they are presenting the situation as if there is ONLY one group behind this social media campaign, when in reality — just as you write, Hemant — it’s a collection of individual persons and groups who are upset.

    If it’s a single group, why can’t you identify them by name? That’d be nice.

    If instead it is a whole diverse collection of people and groups upset, why can’t you acknowledge that fact?

  • Matteo Watkins

    Do we really need or want Oprah to apologize? That kind of paints us as just as petty as the next “special interest” group that needs an apology every time somebody sneezes. Fine to make the point, but lets not be whiney little bitches like the rest of society while we do it… I for one like to think that being an atheist already elevates me intellectually… sheople thinking just drags us down man.

    • Zachary_Bos

      “Do we really need or want Oprah to apologize?”
      We (speaking on behalf, only, of the Boston Atheists) want this opportunity to not be wasted. Oprah is very prominent, so if she can be seen making an effort to walk-back her (mild, and largely uninformed) ignorant bias about atheists and atheism, that’s going to have an impact.

    • baal

      We’re about as far as possible from being a whiny special interest group. We’re also insulted about every time the word ‘atheist’ comes up. I think the MSM needs to know that they can’t blanketly condemn us.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I for one like to think that being an atheist already elevates me intellectually

      It does not. Lots of atheists are stupid people. Lots of them are misogynists, racists, and dogmatists who ascribe to petty, harmful belief systems. Many of them can’t tell the difference between an opinion and a fact. Many of them don’t even try. Soviet Russia was largely atheistic. They were not all above-average thinkers.

      Edit: This wasn’t intended as a personal attack, though I just realized it could be read as one. More a caution about espousing superiority either for oneself or for a group.