Oprah pisses off atheists by saying they've no sense of awe or wonder

On a recent episode of Super Soul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey told long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad that it's inconsistent for atheists to experience "awe" and "wonder," prompting one of the most awkward conversations about God and faith that you'll ever see.


Nyad is the 64-year-old long-distance swimmer who recently swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without the benefit of a protective shark cage. She's also an atheist and a humanist. But while on Oprah's show, she said, "I'm an atheist who's in awe" — weirdly prompting Oprah to argue that Nyad isn't really an atheist at all:

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…

Winfrey: Yeah…

Nyad: … and suffered. 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…

Nyad: Okay…

Winfrey: … and the wonder…

Nyad: Okay…

Winfrey: … and the mystery…

Nyad: Okay…

Winfrey: … That that is what God is! That is what God is! God is not the Bearded Guy in the Sky.

Nyad goes on to agree with Oprah that God is not some "bearded guy in the sky," — but he's also not a Creator or "overseer" either. Unsatisfied, Oprah tries to get Nyad to admit that she must be spiritual, eliciting a response that was a bit too accommodating and wishy-washy:

Winfrey: Do you consider yourself a spiritual person, even as an atheist?

Nyad: I do. I don’t think there’s any contradiction in those terms. I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching Being who created all of this and sees over it. But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals, and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.

Winfrey: Well, I believe that and feel that so deeply. It’s why every time I enter my yard or leave, I say, “Hello trees!”

The uncomfortable exchange, which has now been seen over 20,000 times on YouTube, has raised the ire of many atheists this week, including the Friendly Atheist, who had this to say:

Nyad’s explanation is the same sort of breathtaking awe that scientists will often tell you they feel when they gaze at the stars or look through a microscope. It’s not religious. It’s not spiritual. It certainly has nothing to do with a Higher Power. It’s just amazement at how life, the universe, and everything works — how evolution made it that way and how lucky we are to be a part of it at all.

In Oprah’s mind, that’s not really atheism. Because she can’t fathom how atheists could ever truly appreciate life the way she does as a spiritual person. There’s no contradiction in what Nyad is saying (though she could have been much more firm about what she does and doesn’t believe in).

There is, however, all sorts of definitional waffling going on with Oprah. Despite her decades of interviews, she still hasn’t figured out how to accept the fact that some people just don’t buy into her nebulous spirituality.


On a related note, there's the Feynman Series — videos that explore themes of beauty and creativity in the words of Richard Feynman.


[ h/t Friendly Atheist ]


Nyad: I'm an Athiest, and I think things are awesome.

Oprah: God is awesome. You can't be an atheist and believe in awesome

Nyad: I'm pretty sure I can.

Oprah: No, you're not an atheist.

Nyad: I really am.

Oprah: God makes things awesome, how do you live with your tiny view of the world?

Nyad: I'm awesome.

Oprah: You poor, foolish thing. How do you get up in the morning?