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?
Certainly agree. She is a strange one, and I wouldn’t waste my time watching her.
Nihilism is the unaviodable conseqence of atheism. Apart from a transcendent God there is no objective basis for a universal ethic. Granted, many if not most atheists don't have the intellectual honesty or courage to acknowledge this fact.
Ill gladly accept that representation on your part, and I assume many other atheists are of a similar mind. But, oddly enough, the concern you are expressing regarding governments imposition of their various solutions on your life is what prompts my concern with atheism.
Your complaint that government, is telling you what to do, may not be correct. Its true, it is the government mandates that we must follow, but if you think it through, you might well conclude that it is the media and various interest groups that are the driving force, rather than some politician or faceless government bureaucrat thats simply following orders.
Its certainly true that the politicians and bureaucrats create the policies and draft the orders, but they are really doing no more than fulfilling the demands of society, since the laws that are made are no more than a reflection of our societal beliefs. It may appear to be our government thats moving to take away our right to own a handgun; but in actuality, it is the press and the anti-gun interest groups that push the politicians within our government in that direction. The same thing can be said of virtually every other issue as well. As trite as it may sound, we are the governmentnot necessarily with our vote, but through our collective belief systems. As Pogo once remarked: we have met the enemy and it is us.
So although your desire to have government leave you alone is commendable (and Im speaking as a libertarian who who has voted for candidates like Harry Brown and Ron Paul in the past, and sees much right in the thinking of John Gault); I would respectfully suggest that your objections to government are actually being reinforced by your atheistic beliefs. Im certain we would agree that the individuals within our society are being coerced in various ways to become more and more depended upon government so that our worldly needs are fulfilled. But you and I part company when it comes down to assigning responsibility as to the reason why this is happening. But it is the assignation of that blame where the role of God and the philosophy of atheism are most at odds. (IMHO)
Faithful Catholics believe that all of our needs are fulfilled by Jesus Christwe believe that we do not need a government (or anyone else) to provide us with any of the necessaries to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life on this earth. We look to no one but God for everything. An atheist does not enjoy that faith. For the atheist, his or her needs on this earth must be fulfilled by some other providermost often, government. You and others might say that you dont need government and that each individual will take care of their own selves. A noble thought, of course, but in practice, that philosophy only works well for people who are not experiencing problems. All of us are quite brave, strong and independent before the shooting begins. When that happens as it most assuredly will, most turn for help.
And voila, the need for government!!
Much more could be said, but then Id really be going off topic.