Skip to comments.Oprah and the Atheists
Posted on 11/03/2013 8:42:48 AM PST by Salvation
Oprah and the Atheists
October 23, 2013 |
Members of the atheist community are outraged, but not at their usual targets, such as conservative politicians or pastors. Instead, they have set their sights on Oprah Winfrey.
This past weekend on her show Super Soul Sunday, Oprah interviewed Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old marathon swimmer, to discuss her amazing feat of swimming from Cuba to Florida in 53 hours. During the course of the interview the following exchange occurred:
Nyad: I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity—all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity, and is the love of humanity, and as we return to —”
Winfrey: Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.
Nyad: It’s not bearded. But I guess there is an inference with God that there is a presence, there is a, either a creator or an overseer . . .
Atheists responded by criticizing Winfrey’s lack of understanding about atheism, and some, such as the Boston Atheists, are calling on her to apologize for her comments.
Chris Stedman, the associate humanist chaplain at Harvard University, wrote on CNN.com, “Winfrey’s response may have been well intended, but it erased Nyad’s atheist identity and suggested something entirely untrue and, to many atheists like me, offensive: that atheists don’t experience awe and wonder.”
Hemant Mehta, a Chicago schoolteacher who also hosts the popular “Friendly Atheist” blog, wrote on the Washington Post’s website, “Most of us who choose a label for ourselves like that do so only after a great deal of thought. That’s why Winfrey had no business telling Nyad she wasn’t really an atheist. Nyad politely explained her case, but you can understand her hesitation to push back too hard. It’s Oprah, after all.”
Let's Define Our Terms
I’ve watched this short exchange several times, and my takeaway is that it’s really important to define the terms we use in our conversations. When Nyad said, “My definition of God is the love of humanity,” this may have confused Oprah, who heard Nyad define God as something in which she believes. This is the opposite of atheism, or “the lack of belief in God.” If God were simply defined as “the love of humanity,” it would mean that the only true atheists are misanthropists like Ebenezer Scrooge.
But in order to be meaningful, the concept of God can’t be something merely natural, such as the universe or the emotion of love. If it were, then the concept of God would become redundant. Why call the universe "God" when you can just call it what it is, the universe? Nyad got it right when she said that the idea of God includes the concept of a creator or overseer of the universe.
Atheists Can Have Awe
I think Oprah Winfrey suffers from a misunderstanding that is common among those who are unfamiliar with atheism. My book Answering Atheism addresses a very similar misunderstanding at the beginning of the very first chapter:
I was once reading a defense of atheism while waiting to be served in a restaurant. The hostess looked over at my book, with its bold ATHEISM in the title, and asked, “How could someone ever be an atheist? I mean everybody has to believe in something, don’t they?” Unfortunately, this woman confused nihilism (the belief that nothing matters) with atheism (the belief that God does not exist). It’s true that nihilists are usually atheists, but many atheists are not nihilists. They would say they believe in many things that matter, but God just isn’t one of them.
I agree with atheists who are critical of Winfrey that atheists are certainly capable of experiencing awe when they observe the universe. They can do this because awe is simply the emotion we feel when we are in the presence of something more powerful than ourselves. This can be something divine or something natural (such as the ocean or even a tall building). Awe is just the emotion we have when we sincrerely say the word “Wow!”
Atheists Can't Have Gratitude
However, atheists cannot legitimately feel the emotion of “gratitude” or “thanks” when they observe the universe, because they don’t believe there is a creator to whom we can express those emotions. Any feeling of gratitude they have has to be dismissed as misplaced “folk psychology,” platitudes that don’t really apply to what they are describing. Theists, on the other hand, can say that gratitude is a natural emotion for a creature to have and points to the existence of a Creator to whom we should give thanks.
This exchange can be a great springboard for atheists and theists to discuss the following questions:
Have you ever wondered where such an awe-inspiring universe came from or why it exists instead of just nothing at all?
Do you think there is purpose or meaning in life, a way we were meant to live and treat each other, or that everything is just an accident and there is no "proper" or "correct" way we are supposed to live?
Some atheists like Diana Nyad also believe in the immortality of the soul (see 2:52 of the interview) and that there is a life after death. Does the concept of having an immortal soul and a spiritual life make more sense under a theistic view or an atheistic view?
Speaking as an atheist, I couldn’t care less whether Oprah apologizes or not...she’s simply showing her ignorance on yet another subject.
The famed "atheist" Madalyn Murray O'Hare, according to her son who is now a Baptist minister, used to set up a Christmas tree and a Nativity scene on the floor close to the tree and proceed to stomp on the Nativity figures in front of her children.
Wouldn't a true atheist, or one that we would probably recognize by the atheist propaganda, just ignore the whole Christmas scene?
But, really. At this point “what difference does it make?”
I certainly consider myself a "true" atheist, and I don't completely ignore Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't celebrate any of the religious aspects of it, but I do thoroughly enjoy what has become a largely secular festivity...presents, Christmas music, Christmas trees & lights, Rankin Bass cartoons, the family getting together, etc.
Heh. In the case of Oprah, not much....
“shes simply showing her ignorance on yet another subject.”
She got it right. Atheists are narcissists.
Some are, certainly...as are some believers, yes?
At life’s end is it more comforting to know that there is a merciful, loving God or that one just passes into an eternal nothingness? If every beautiful and awesome work of art, music and literature has a creator of it why is it so hard to believe that the sun, earth and the whole universe also has a Creator? To believe otherwise is a big disconnect of logic, IMHO.
Atheists responded by criticizing Winfreys lack of understanding about atheism, and some, such as the Boston Atheists, are calling on her to apologize for her comments.
Oh, some things are better not said.
It was fake. It was propaganda.
Could have been, but who knows the mind of Oprah?
In the early days of their movement, the homosexuals generally denied there was any universal effort or intention to convince society to embrace homosexuality as normal and acceptable. The argued that they simply wanted to be able to be left alone to practice a lifestyle that they wished to follow without interference by the heterosexual community. That, of course, turned out to be untrue, as we now see that the ultimate goal was to re-order societal thinking into believing that homosexuality is normal and good.
Now I realize that the atheistic community is no more homogeneous than the homosexual community, but do you believe that, generally speaking, atheists simply want to left alone to believe (or not believe) what they wish without societal interference? Or do you believe that, like the homosexuals, the atheists have a larger agenda and actually want society to do what it must to convince God-fearing members of our community to embrace atheism in the same manner that they embrace theism?
I don't quite follow the sentence structure of your 2nd question. When you say, "in the same manner that they embrace theism, who is the "they" of which you are speaking? Are you asking if atheists wish to force believers to reject their long-held beliefs and become atheists? If so, I would have to answer, "no". Even the most vehement of atheists in the West don't (as far as I know) advocate the forced conversion of Christians.
As for the first question, I think very few atheists are active in the "pro-atheist" movement. Heck, there's a lot of social pressure not to even admit that one is an atheist (although that has lessened considerably in the last 40 years). I think most atheists do, in fact, simply wish to be left alone when it comes to their lack of belief.
I will freely admit that most of the "Nones" (atheists, agnostics, and those indifferent to religion) trend left-wing in their politics, although there's a substantial Libertarian/Ayn Randian wing. I certainly lean (not all the way, mind you) in that direction myself.
I think many outspoken atheists are leery of the fact that the only true atheism is nihilism. After all, they think that we accidental confluences of chemical actually have some worth, that a person exists.
I had to read that sentence a few times myself to figure out what I was trying to ask; but your understanding of it was correct. Nevertheless, I sense that like any other movement, the goals of the the activists will shift as their philosophy become more acceptable, and eventually, they will want believers not to believe. And Im not making that statement in any negative way; I simply think its reality.
Nevertheless, as a traditional Catholic I pray that the Modernist bishops of our Church speak out in a much louder voice against atheism than they ever did against homosexuality. The results of their muted response to that sin is all too evident today.
The atheists worship nogod. Despite their anger at Oprah, Oprah, based on her comment about her god, worships someone other than the Holy Trinity.
We'll see, I suppose...I certainly have no desire to force anyone not to believe; for that matter, I don't even want anyone not to believe. Different strokes and all that.
(The main thing I want is for the Government to simply leave me alone, but that's a topic for another thread)
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