-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
On a recent show of Soul to Soul, Oprah interviewed Diana Nyad, the long distance swimmer who, at age 64, swam from Havana to Key West. During the interview Oprah mentions that Nyad told the producers that she (Nyad) is “not a God person.” Nyad responds: “I’m an atheist.” Oprah responds incredulously: “But you’re in the awe.” Oprah just can’t believe that an atheist could feel awe. While atheists often use reason to understand reality, they have the same emotions exhibited by non-atheists. Atheists just don’t feel the need to affix the “God” label to their feelings.
Nyad saw no contradiction between her atheism and her ability to experience awe, or as she calls it: “weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity.” Oprah was having none of this when she said “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.”
Nyad, maybe sensing Oprah’s uneasiness, offered a concession to the faithful by saying that her “definition of God is humanity and the love of humanity.” That an atheist would make a theist uneasy indicates the theist’s lack of confidence in their worldview. The comfort of theists is not a primary concern for those who advocate reason.
Nyad also went on to explain she’s a “spiritual” person and believes in souls that live on after death. While atheism is not a set of beliefs, it is simply not believing in any god, most atheists don’t accept the other beliefs that accompany God belief. For all the reasons that belief in God unreasonable, belief in the soul is also unreasonable. Nyad’s beliefs freely crisscross the atheist-theist divide.
Oprah’s prejudice against atheists reinforces negative stereotypes. Her viewers will see Oprah’s prejudice as a trait to be imitated and the cancer will spread. For her viewers who already hold anti-atheists biases, those biases have been validated.
Many Christians have characterized Oprah’s beliefs as a form of pantheism, where the universe, or nature, is identical with divinity. While Oprah calls herself a Christian, pantheism is generally not accepted as part of Christian theology. Oprah’s promotion of Eckhart Tolle and his books has done nothing to ingratiate her with Christians.
Overt displays of bigotry against non-believers are tolerated if not encouraged by our society. Studies show that atheists are among the least liked people. This dislike keeps many atheists in the closet. The anonymity of the internet allows atheists to come out on-line while maintaining their disguise at other times. On the internet, people can learn counter-arguments to theological claims and use their own mind to decide which is more compelling.