Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Oprah ads were on CNN this weekend

The Boston Atheists social media campaign were featured on CNN.

It's great that we're seeing yet more traction with our efforts to alert Oprah Winfrey to the insensitivity of her comments about atheism. This weekend on CNN's "Faces of Faith" segment, Chris Stedman of the Humanist Community at Harvard did a fantastic job speaking to the need for dialogue across the knowledge/belief gap dividing religious and nonreligious communities in the US. A full transcript appears below.

The anchors, interestingly, were, like seemingly uneasy with or unclear as to how an atheist could experience awe and wonder. Mysteriously, the "atheist group" that demands an apology from Oprah isn't anywhere identified as the Boston Atheists! Not that we are surprised that the media would rather reach out to a Humanist representative before an atheist one, to speak about the experience of being a nontheist. 

We know we have a PR challenge ahead of us, insofar as American really do think that atheists aren't good or happy people. That fact is really at the core of Oprah's thoughtless comments.

Please continue to share the #atheistawesome tag on social media, to invite @Oprah and @OWNtv to dialogue about the issue of atheist identity. And share the images in our Boston Atheists Oprah images gallery, as featured on the Friendly Atheist blog! You can find the full set on Facebook.

Transcript of the CNN piece:

October 20, 2013
“Atheist group demands Oprah apologize”

Description: Chris Stedman of Harvard University discusses misconceptions the faithful have of atheists and the common ground shared.

CNN: For today’s Faces of Faith, we’re talking about Oprah.

CNN: Some atheists are demanding an apology from her after her interview with endurance swimmer Diana Nyad.

CNN: Nyad appeared on Oprah’s program Super Soul Sunday to talk about her historic swim from Cuba to Key West. Well, when N talked about being an atheist, Oprah challenged that.

[a video clip is shown:]
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. 
Nyad: 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, that that is what God is. That is what God is! God is not the Bearded Guy in the Sky. 
Nyad: It’s not bearded, but I guess there is an inference with “God” that there is a presence, either a creator of an overseer.
CNN: Oprah’s response to Diana Nyad insulted some atheists. One group started a campaign against Oprah, saying she’s got it all wrong. Now they want Oprah to invite an atheist on to her show to set the record straight.

CNN: Joining us to talk about it Chris Stedman. He’s the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University. He’s also the author of Faitheist: How an atheist found common ground with the religious.

CNN: It’s good to have you with us.

Stedman: Thank you, it's great to be on the show.

CNN: So Chris, explain what Oprah’s getting wrong here.

Stedman: This incident underscores the fact that there is a lot of misunderstanding of what atheists are and what we believe what I took away from this conversation between Diana Nyad and Oprah Winfrey is that Oprah essentially erased Diana Nyad’s atheist identity.

Stedman: She said, I know you identify as an atheist, but I don’t see you that way because my understanding of what an atheist is “this,” and you claim to believe “that,” therefore I don’t see you as an atheist.

Stedman: For me, this really underscores the need for more dialogue and understanding about what our differences are. And what was beautiful about what Diana Nyad said, I think, is that she really emphasized the things that we have in common but also maintained her own position as an atheist. I just wish Oprah had respected her identity, and understood better where she and many other atheists are coming from.

CNN: Chris, I want to read for you and our viewers a tweet from Diana Nyad. October 13th, she tweeted @Oprah: “the collective respect and awe of all living souls is my definition of God. So God is love, in those terms.” [Source: @diananyad]

CNN: My question to follow-up on that tweet is, how do atheists with a belief that there is no overseer, there is no God, reconcile that belief with all the beauty that Diana Nyad just talked about, the seas, the gems, the sunset?

Stedman: To me, there’s no contradiction, there’s nothing to reconcile. As an atheist, I believe there is no God, no overseer, but to me that actually increases my awe and wonder for the natural world. If it wasn’t created but rather is here, I still find a lot of wonder in that. I can look out at the natural world and be amazed by what exists, and I don’t need to connect that to the idea of a god or deity, or any sort of supernatural source to derive inspiration from that.

Stedman: What I really appreciated what Diana Nyad had to say is she really understood and articulated so well that we can get inspiration and aw from humanity and the people around us. For me, as an atheist and s secular Humanist, that is really where I derive my sense of awe and wonder from the most, in addition to the natural world, and everything that’s so spectacular about that.

Stedman: I find that when I see people from all different sorts of religious and nonreligious backgrounds come together and try to understand one another better, work together, and buck our instincts to separate ourselves, to remain silo-ed and apart from one another, I find that to be awe-inducing. I thought that Diana Nyad articulated that so beautifully.

CNN: What I think I’m hearing you say is there’s a difference between religion and spirituality? So are you saying an atheist can still be spiritual?

Stedman: Well, Diana Nyad has said that, and other atheists have said that as well. I personally wouldn’t identify myself as spiritual. I think the important take-away from this conversation is that people identify in many different ways and our understand of the words “spirituality” and “religion” are so different I think I really reflects the need for much more conversation about it.

Stedman: We live today in the United States, in perhaps the most religiously diverse society in the history of the planet, but religious literacy rates are incredibly low. We know very little about religion, and we know even less about people who believe different things than we do. When we don’t know or understand very much about our differences, and we’re not in conversation with one another, fear and misinformation proliferates in the dialogue around religion. What this emphasizes for me is the real need for people to meet and to get to know people who are different from them.

Stedman: As a queer person I know this very well. In the last decade 14% of American have gone from opposing same-sec marriage to supporting it. According to a study, the number one reason why they changed their mind is because they had a relationship with someone who is gay or lesbian. Relationships are transformative. in fact, only 2% of people who changed their minds did so because they came to believe that gay and lesbian people are born that way. So education matters, but really relationships are the key.

Stedman: This underscores the need for much more relationship-building across lines of religious difference, particularly between those who do not believe in god and those that do, so we can come to better understand each other.

CNN: Chris Stedman, from Harvard University. The book is Faitheist: How an atheist found common ground with the religious. We of course like to have that conversation, we appreciate you for being part of it.

Transcribed from