Let’s not pick on Oprah

Jesus Keyrist, really? Do we really want an apology from Oprah? I’ve seen several articles now screaming, “Atheists want an apology from Oprah!”

Please. No. That is not necessary. We’re starting to look like a bunch of whiney babies. Watch the video. Decide for yourself. It’s harmless. Oprah is courteous and curious. She’s giving her opinion–as she always does; she clearly means no harm.  I get what both of them are saying.

If you watch the entire interview, you’ll see that Diane Nyad doesn’t even believe like many of us nonbelievers. She believes the soul lives on after death, that we can feel “collective souls.” That sounds pretty new-agey to me. It echoes the Jewish and Christian and Hindu and Buddhist idea of an essence that exists separately from the body.  There are a lot of us who would disagree, who would say there is no such thing as a “soul.”

And yet, it’s such a little thing.

So as for the “atheists in awe” comment, it’s no big deal to me.  And I hope there are a lot more out there who think so, too, after watching the interview. Besides, we have bigger proverbial fish to fry.


50 responses to “Let’s not pick on Oprah

  1. I usually always agree with you. In this case, I’ll agree with the friendly atheist. Oprah should apologize for dismissing the fact that Diana Nyad labeled herself as an Atheist. Oprah is not the ultimate authority on how people classify themselves.

    • @Richard – you make a good point in terms of people have a right to define themselves. How often do we hear about a “true Christian” believes?

  2. I completely agree with you!

  3. I agree. Pick your battles. There’s a reason why the godless generally take things in stride and Oprah’s “pronouncements” are based on her own worldview and should be treated as such.

    I had some comments here on that topic — http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/14/oprah-tells-atheist-swimmer-diana-nyad-that-atheists-dont-believe-in-awe-and-wonder/

    • I will look for your comments, LT. There must be a lot because the site is taking a long time to load them.

    • I agree with picking your battles comment. What I do not agree however is giving Oprah a break. She was politely condescending and did nothing but fuel the popular perception that unbelievers are joyless satanists. She articulated the thought better than the most but the message…not so.

      No need for an apology, let the stupid be stupid withour stirring the issue further. We are the “persecuted” minority but way way stronger than those who need skydaddy crutches. Live and let live.

  4. I agree; everyone is just too sensitive these days. Any conflicting opinion is treated like a slap in the face. How awful it must be to be ready for war at any moment, to be so insecure that a 4 minute video can induce such strong emotions. So much ego! So many people who need constant validation that their way is the right way.

    As an atheist I can admit I am in awe of the universe too. From quarks to quasars, it is truly awesome. But I still don’t believe in God or the soul. (As an side, maybe a had was speaking of the 90s rock band Collective Soul.) One misconception about atheists is that we enjoy life to a lesser extent than religious people. Obviously not true.

    • @Lott Holtz This is so true and a good point: “Any conflicting opinion is treated like a slap in the face….So many people who need constant validation that their way is the right way.”

  5. People are entitled to opinions. Having been a fundy Christian for the better part of 20 years I get what Oprah is saying. It was so hard for me to conceive of not believing in a creator.

    Now on this side(being the Atheist/Agnostic side) I can see how totally wrong that thinking was/is. Wouldn’t it be better instead of insisting on apologies to explain to folks who believe otherwise exactly why I now have infinitely more awe and wonder at the universe around me. I didn’t even think that was possible.

  6. Amen. I agree 100%.

  7. I don’t see that she owes anyone an apology either. It was an open and free conversation. Oprah didn’t tell Dianna she is -not- an atheist, just that she hadn’t thought about these distinctions. Dianna was allowed to express herself.
    It’s an interesting point to consider, but it’s not offensive.

  8. A friend sent me a link to that video a couple days ago, and I thought the same thing – I didn’t think anything Oprah said was offensive, and Diane Nyad’s views as an atheist certainly don’t gel with mine.

    I define “soul” as our essence – that which makes each of us unique, that which makes us “tick” so to speak. But it’s not anything that survives the body. I think we all live on in other people’s hearts and memories, but it’s not an afterlife per se; we are certainly not conscious of that “living on,” only those who remember us are aware of it.

    But whatever, right? No apologies necessary.

  9. Watch the video.

    I did. And I agree with you. Oprah was doing her job, asking the kind of questions that her viewers would want to have answered. She was not rude or offensive in any way. And I can say that, even though I’m not an Oprah fan.

    Honestly, when atheists demand an apology for something like this, they are telling the world that atheists are obnoxious anti-social people. They are contributing to giving atheism a bad name.

    I’ll go with the gospel of Rodney King — Can’t we all just get along.

  10. I saw two polite, intelligent women having a thoughtful conversation, with no offense intended, given, or taken. (Of course, a lot of fundamentalist Christians seem to find the mere existence of an atheist offensive.) As long as we are polite and respectful of others’ beliefs, and they of ours, I see no problem.

  11. To demand an apology is to lower ourselves to the Christian level. We should not be offended by the petty. Being that we are the minority, we definitely need to draw the line somewhere, like when the separation of church and state is violated. But to get upset over this is to just move us one step closer to the Muslims that kill over a cartoon depiction of Muhammad. It’s petty and not worth the intellectually advanced’s time.

  12. I thought the steve jobs comment was in poor taste, but I think oprah is more of an idiot than a villain.

  13. I feel Oprah was trying to fit her in a “box”. I see her do this often in her interviews and I think it is a flaw in her. Instead of the guest describe who they are Oprah imposes her views of the world to parapharse what she thinks the guest means. I think it is poor journalism and nothing else.

  14. Deborah, I agree that it is way blown out of proportion, but at the same time, it is frustrating, too. Have you ever dealt with you’re-an-atheist-because-you-are-mad-at-god because something bad happened to you and you rejected god, etc.? That’s the only thing that raises my ire about it. We are misunderstood. Oprah’s soapbox is large. If it was a gay man, for instance, and Oprah told him he really wasn’t gay, for whatever reason, well, you see my point. The outrage is a marker of the collective frustration many of us feel from being continually misrepresented and misunderstood by the mainstream.

    • @Jason Wester Yes, of course, we deal with those misunderstandings all the time from theists. I just think Oprah’s remarks weren’t intended to be offensive. She just doesn’t get it. As a few mentioned above, in getting so outraged over the little things, it makes us bad as the folks we’re trying to distance ourselves from…

  15. Paul M. Preiswerck

    First, the woman Oprah interviewed is obviously not an atheist. My definition of an atheist is one who does not believe in god(s).

    No, Oprah does not have to apologize to the atheist community because she wasn’t interviewing an atheist she was talking to an agnostic, which in my definition is an atheist who can’t come out of the closet.

    What I would like to see Oprah do would be to have an interview with a true atheist. How about it Oprah?

    • @Paul Preiswerck I didn’t get the sense that Nyad was an agnostic. She self-identified as atheist and said she does not believe in a god or intelligent controlling force. I consider myself an agnostic or an agnostic atheist, even, but I don’t believe that way because I’m afraid to come out of the closet or because I’m hedging my bets…

  16. I don’t really want Oprah to apologize, but I’d like her to make some effort to understand, rather than just pigeonhole. Oprah is extremely influential, and she could have done a lot to dispel the negative stereotypes of non-believers, if she had wanted to. If instead of saying “You’re not really an atheist” she had said “That’s very interesting. You’re an atheist, and I’m a theist, but we share a lot of the same ideas and values. Let’s see what else we have in common,” that could have been the start of an interesting discussion. Lots of True Believers™ and woo-woo believers might have gained some new perspectives from listening to that, even if they would never normally consider talking to an atheist themselves.

  17. I don’t really care for Oprah at all and usually find something hypocritically judgmental and irritating in what she says. However this conversation I think was handled well as an interviewer and to get out Diane’s explanation. Also I share very similar feelings to Diane, but would probably use a different word instead of soul. Maybe energy.

  18. Yeah, I can’t really work up a good mad over this. It sounded like your run of the mill, new age-y discussion about Diana’s personal “spirituality”. She may not believe in a god, but she’s got plenty of other woo to take its place and that’s what Oprah was addressing. You might be able to make an argument that she sounded a little eager to move Diana out of the “atheist” camp, but I think even that’s reaching a bit.

    That said, she does have a tremendous amount of influence … so if she does eventually happen to say or do something that completely misrepresents atheism then I think it would be prudent to respond.

    • @Senator Jason Hopefully, she will have learned from this kerfuffle, and will think twice next time she talks with an atheist. Again, though, I think Oprah was just trying to relate. Sort of like the Hindus see god in everything; Oprah was like, “Yeah, that awe is a manifestation of god, too.” I dunno. Just seemed that way to me…

  19. The really unfortunate thing about this is that so many non-believers missed the incredibly bright side of this interview.

    Oprah’s own muddied religious views are what allowed her to find a path of acceptance for an atheist… a wonderful measure of the rapid erosion of traditional Christianity in our society.

    And if Oprah and the Pope can rationalize accepting atheists, the masses can’t be too far behind.

    Now that is something we should be in awe of, not angry about.

  20. I saw this video the other day and just kind of said, “Meh.” Yeah, I wish Oprah could have been a little more open-minded at first, but she didn’t try to shut Diana down or implicate that she’s going to hell, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Considering millions of religious people watch Oprah and saw her tempered response, perhaps they’ll be a little more circumspect when they encounter people with different views.

    I also want to say that the term “atheist” can mean non-belief in a personal god: a-theist, right? I don’t like the whole spiritualist, soul-body dichotomy, etc., either, because I consider myself a materialist. Many people fuse atheism with materialism or some other non-belief in the supernatural, and that’s fine, too.

    Just to say, if Diana wants to call herself an “atheist in awe,” sure, why not? She gets to call herself whatever she wants so long as she doesn’t claim to speak for the rest of us, and I didn’t hear any of that.

  21. @Anonymous Yes, this is a good point: “Considering millions of religious people watch Oprah and saw her tempered response, perhaps they’ll be a little more circumspect when they encounter people with different views.”

    As long as she has dispelled some of the fear and judgment around those of us who don’t believe, that is a good thing.

    The definition of atheist continues to change. I like using the words “materialist” or “naturalist,” too, because they seem more specific.

  22. Originally I thought perhaps Oprah took it a little over the line by saying “You’re not an atheist” but then really, frankly, the show is about showing different beliefs and opinions. I think Oprah knows it may have been taken wrong by some, let’s let it go. And, the real thing is, she is speaking to an atheist with a religious audience watching and she is having an intelligent and graceful conversation about someone else’s beliefs. That’s enough to give the woman a break, that was likely her intention anyway, to expose people to something they are normally afraid of.

  23. Just because —

    Every animal leaves traces of what it was; man alone leaves traces of what he created. ~ Jacob Bronowski

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jacob_bronowski.html#drUdovMf6t4HHzPb.99

  24. Good quote by JFK. Of course, it is difficult to actually make reality. People often say they cannot separate religion from their personality.

  25. Passing through, but I get the feeling that atheism is —in America—fast becoming a religion in its own right~?

    The world, the universe, and all that is too complex to be reduced to simple names. I am an atheist both by definition and by being very anti-religions whilst holding a ‘live and let live credo’. I regard all the formal religions that I’m familiar of (of, not with …) as nothing more than a means for the unscrupulous to fleece (it means to rob blind) the gullible of their monies. Religion, power, and pelf are too often interchangeable terms.

    But I also harbour an open mind, and presently am finding some of the unorthodox scientist-ic thinking attractive: that the mind is external to the human being, for example. Having done ‘impossible’ things (done, not ‘can do’ — big difference) myself I tend to regard me as an unimpeachable and totally reliable witness.

    For anyone to state “Oh, that’s religious thinking!” (soul) and so write it off is not good.
    I do not and cannot accept the concepts of ‘soul’ or ‘divinity’ as presented by any religious franchise but am leaning heavily towards reincarnation. If the notion of being born again is contrary to The American Atheist’s Dogma I feel sorry for some—as closed a shop as the religiosi they oppose.

    • Hi Argus, Thanks for commenting and sharing your views.

      No, I would not say that atheism is “fast becoming a religion in its own right.” I understand your gripe, though.

      The word atheism now encompasses so many different types of beliefs. There are people who believe in the “soul” and those who do not. Live and let live is also my motto.

      If you are leaning towards reincarnation, then would you consider your views more in-line with Buddhism?

  26. I saw in a recent comment words to the effect “How does one convert to atheism?” … so it seems as if atheism is regarded by some as a form of religion. To each his own.

    Dammit, I had a reply written but double-clicked by accident and blew it away.
    In brief, Buddhism (what little I know of it), no.
    As a simple—unreligious—fact of existence, yes.
    Any ‘religious’ philosophical slants lead towards purpose and I see no purpose, just fact. One might equally ask ‘What is the purpose of a schlogg of foam in the surf?’. No purpose, just a fact of existence. A foam is a consequence of intelligence-less actions.

    The conclusions I’ve come to regarding ‘time’ caused me a degree of grief in the past but recent issues of ‘New Scientist’ magazine (and thinkers like Sheldrake, Lipton and others) suggest my thoughts are entering mainstream. (Nothing novel there either, I believe the Hindus beat us all to it by millennia.)

    I’ll accept my own existence—Blogito, ergo sum—but it would take a lot for any religion to convince me of the existence of god, God, gods, goddesses, godlets … or divine purpose.

    I’m an atheist, but really don’t mind what Oprah calls me—so long as she otherwise leaves me alone. A bit like watching a couple of four-year-olds explaining the thunder …

    • @Argus Sorry. That’s happened to me before–where I wrote a comment and then it was lost! It’s frustrating.

      I think some people want to label atheism as a religion so that they can say, “look, your views are faith-based, too.” But it’s really the opposite…

      Hinduism is one of the oldest known religions, but they believe in the existence of millions of gods. Buddhists may or may not believe in one creator god.

      How has your view of time caused you grief?

      I don’t really care what people believe (like Oprah) as long as their respectful to others and don’t try to push their agenda on the rest of us. 🙂

      • To explain my views would require a lot of groundwork and communication, and sadly there’s no way I can ‘prove’ any of it. In fact they run so counter to the intuitively accepted (the obvious, in fact) that my best efforts are merely the ravings of a crank. But I do have the satisfaction of seeing reputable publications now beginning to ‘test the waters’ as it were.

        The grief comes in having to accept the derision. Still, the atom was unsplltable once, and long after doing so flying machines were still impossible. My consolation is that greater minds in antiquity thought much the same; my thoughts aren’t (so far as I know) original to me.

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