Diana Nyad, swam to Cuba fame (atheist) squares up w/ Oprah on atheism!?!?!? 2013!

Frank Furedi:

Oprah is wrong. Atheists can experience wonder and awe

Those who believe in God do not have a monopoly over possession of that magnificent sense of the sublime


In one sense Oprah Winfrey was absolutely right when she lectured the humanist swimmer Diana Nyad about the inconsistency of the outlook of atheism with a sense of awe. For Oprah, a woman of faith, the sense of wonder and awe are inextricably intertwined with religion and God.

Indeed since the emergence of the Judeo-Christian tradition, awe is the mandatory reaction that the true believer is required to have towards God. From this perspective the sense awe and wonder is bounded and regulated through the medium of religious doctrine. In contrast, those of us who believe that it was not God but humans who are the real creators are unlikely to stand in awe of this allegedly omnipotent figure.

Although in the 21st century the term awe and awesome are used colloquially to connote amazement and admiration historically these words communicated feelings of powerlessness, fear and dread. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us, that awe means ‘immediate and active fear; terror, dread’. The OED explains that from its original reference to the Divine Being it has acquired a variety of different meanings, such as ‘dread mingled with veneration’ and ‘reverential or respectful fear’. All these meanings signal one important idea which that ‘fearing’ and ‘dreading’ are inherently positive attributes to be encouraged.

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I often feel awe and sense of wonder. that sense may be biologically hardwired into me. Religion might hijack awe, and graft it onto their silly gods, but that doesnt require me to beleive in fantasies. i have no idea what gives Oprah the authority to speak on anything at all. That people think shes signicant makes me wonder...

I've never watched her (no, not even The Color Purple), and I have about as much use for her as a snake has for shoes.  The influence she has on "the admiring bog," however, is out of proportion to whatever wisdom she might possess.

I've never experienced awe, even when I believed. I've always been a practical person that relied on reason, logic, and science more than emotion.

I do get emotional at times, when I hear a happy or sad story about fellow humans.  I also get emotional when I see some some amazing pictures of the universe, but more so when I see the technology that we've created to explore the universe and life.  

For example, when I watch the movie "Apollo 13", I tear-up when I see the huge lenses on the cameras following the spaceship, and at a couple of other places when the amazing technology is shown.  The huge tractor treads on the machine that carries the spaceship from its hanger to the launch side is incredibly amazing to me.  I can hardly comprehend it, and would love to stand beside it in person as it's moving.

However, I don't call any of these emotions awe.  The words I use are intriguing, fascinating, pride inducing, beautiful, or even amazing, but never awe, and not even wonder, at lease not very often.

Most of us with healthy imaginations have some sort of "transcendent" or "numinous" experience at some time.  It could be a medical situation like wavering consciousness or an epileptic seizure (Saul on the road to Damascus?), deep meditation or perhaps a cascade of dimethyltryptamine in the brain.  Such is experienced as a different kind of reality, and it's easy to see how one might presume it to be the presence of some outside agent wholly (no pun intended) unlike us.  Thus the concept of duality -- mistaken, in my opinion.  Then, whenever that person feels something similar, what they might call awe, they attribute it to this imagined supernormal agent.  And then people get together and discuss as they can these "other" agents and agree (or not) to give them names as gods.  These gods, once named, become conventions of thought, and when someone subscribing to those conventions meets someone else describing awe, they say, "Oh, you've encountered God."  Unless they have some nefarious agenda, all they're really saying is, "I know what you mean", even if they really don't.

I had a lot of experience in the 1960s with psychedelic drugs -- a whole lot.  Now I happen to think that what Mom told me was pretty much right -- that the brain is more of a filter than a funnel.  Our neural connections evolved in such ways that let us survive, and that meant allowing in only perceptions useful for survival and replication, with perhaps some spill-over.  Psychedelic drugs and some other situations cause those filters & gateways to fall, and we are awestruck with overwhelming sensory input such that it feels entirely different from what we've accepted so far as reality.  I did this often enough that I came to see it as just another way that my brain works, without need of attribution to anything acting outside it.  Of course I had never before found any need for gods, and so wasn't predisposed to imagine them in those new experiences.  I have been with deeply religious people who, while on LSD, felt strongly that they were directly experiencing God.  It almost certainly altered their ideas of what their God is, but they more or less remained within their chosen conventions, as I did mine.

Now when I meet someone with sincerely held dualistic God beliefs, I try to remember that we are talking about basically the same thing, though I reject the gods and think that dualism is a tragic mistake that inhibits their appreciation of reality as it exists in their own brains.  They probably feel similarly about godless me.


How is dualism a mistake? As I see it, it's a principle that permeates all of existence, it seems. I've never been able to find an example that contradicts it. I'm not quite sure you thoroughly understand the concept of duality.

Also, speaking as a person who'd tried DMT, and various other substances, I realize the point is not "having a whole lot of psychedelic experiences," but rather exceeding a threshold. Terence McKenna would often emphasize the "heroic dose." For me, it was easy to see how such an experience could be translated to "God." In fact, it's led me to believe that perhaps these colossal altered states of consciousness are the very root of religion; that Christ, Gautama, Muhammad, etc. were simply regular human beings (just like you and I) who had undergone this colossal experience of what the contemporary psychedelic community refers to as "ego death," or what Alan Watts and Richard M. Bucke referred to as "cosmic consciousness." I'm not the only one to have come to that conclusion. Aldous Huxley expressed the same view in his book "The Perennial Philosophy," likewise I believe Alan Watts adhered to that view, and so did Terence McKenna.

And sure, the brain is a filter, but that's because people can only deal with it through images that they know. You know, Marshall McLuhan once said, "We drive into the future using only our review mirror," and so people gravitate towards language and metaphors of the most profound things they're familiar with. So, if you're a religious person, you may call it "God," a UFO nut may be inclined to think that he has fused consciousness with the extraterrestrial, and I've even heard an atheist describe it as "glimpsing a higher dimension." Sure, it may be 'another way your brain works,' but your brain may be intertwined with 10 dimensions you didn't even know exist.

So, in any one of these cases, obviously what these people are experiencing is something profound, transcendental, and offers a direct sense of our interconnectedness to the universe.

oops -- double post.

I didn't see any problem with what Oprah said. Oprah wasn't saying that atheists couldn't feel "awe," all these articles are putting words in her mouth. Why don't you look at the actual interview? I'll post the link below.

Oprah interviews Nyad

Let's recap:

Diana said, "My definition of God is humanity, and the love of humanity." Then, Oprah 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! God is not the bearded guy in the sky."

Then, a little later, Diana says, "For me, I'm an atheist who's in awe." 

And Oprah doesn't disagree with her. It's not as though Oprah said, "You're not an atheist, then!" She said, "I don't call you an atheist, then." And even after she Oprah said that, Diana continued to maintain she's an "atheist." People have taken this out of context, as though Oprah was attempting to correct her. She was simply saying from he point-of-view, Diana's not an atheist, because Oprah doesn't define God as the "bearded guy in the sky." 

So, ultimately, I believe this may be a semantic issue that people have a problem with, and I think it's because the word "God" can be so loosely defined, and since "God" is the term that also defines how atheism will be defined, people can run into this sort of confusion. It's just like Matt Dillahunty from "The Atheist Experience Show" once said, "If you define God to be a tree, then of course, I believe in God. However, I don't define God as a tree, I'll need more convincing than that."

I listened to it, I agree Oprah doesn't seem to be doing anything oppressive

Not clear in what sense Diana Nyad thinks the soul lives on. 

Yes people define God is this non-literal way, and people take it in a literal way when they want to. The slipperiness has a reason.   

I disagree. I don't think people intentionally surround the concept of "God" with slipperiness, if that's what you're implying. I mean, if you take the notion of Brahman in Hinduism, for instance. Now, here's an example of the divine that's thought about in a completely antipodal way than that of western religion. For starters, it's not thought of as an "entity," and that boggles the minds of some atheists who've spent their entire lives imagining "God" as an "all-powerful, all-knowing being," but that's only because they've grown up with some form of western religion, and have based their atheism on the rejection of that definition of "God."

If you're interested, I'll post a clip by Alan Watts that describes how it's viewed in eastern philosophy so you can see how it differs from the omniscient entity of western religion, listen out for "final Self."

Alan Watts - "Final Self"

There's something that Sam Harris always emphasizes that I believe should be added as some kind of conversational Gricean maxim, and that is Ignosticism. Ignosticism aims to define the word "God" before any discussion or debate takes place. If this were practiced, I don't think we'd run into this vague madness. For instance, The Five from Fox News had a reaction to the interview, and you could see the confusion and sputtering diatribe that goes on.

The Five's Reaction

No, I didn't mean they're intentionally slippery, and I was thinking of Christians, the kind of religious people I have experience with.  But the vagueness is there to avoid being pinned down about what they're actually saying.  So that people can talk about "God" doing this and that when they're actually talking about a sense of community or mutual aid - giving it a holy feeling, and feeling "religious" and part of the community.

And it's slippery to avoid examining what they really believe and whether it makes sense. 

Also it's slippery so that the Christians who don't actually believe in anything supernatural, can fit in with the ones who do. 

When I look up at the sky at night and view the moon and constellations, I am pretty awe-stricken. I don't know where theists get off on saying that we have no right to recognising beauty in nature. Wouldn't we be the most likely to recognise that beauty because we believe that that's all there is? 




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