by J Warner Wallace
Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Frank Sontag on his KKLA Los Angeles radio show (if you’ve never heard Frank’s show, you can listen daily and catch up on past episodes). We talked about the recent Oprah Winfrey “Super Soul Sunday” television show. Oprah interviewed distance swimmer, Diana Nyad, and inadvertently started an online firestorm over their comments related to atheism and theism. During the show, Nyad identified herself an atheist and said, “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. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.” After hearing this, Oprah responded, “Well, 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. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”
Nyad attempted to reaffirm her lack of belief in a Divine Being, but Oprah seemed to miss the point, attempting instead to rope her into some form of theism on the basis of Nyad’s admitted awe of God’s creation. Later in the show, Nyad spoke of her belief in the soul, in spite of her atheistic worldview: “We all have souls and I feel their (humanity’s) collective souls.” When Oprah asked her what happens when we die, Nyad said, “I think that the soul lives on because we have created so much energy and when we display courage and hope it lives on. But I do believe the body goes back to ash and it is never more.”
Both Oprah and Nyad displayed a similar form of what I call “Easy Theism”. Oprah is willing to accept any expression of awe and wonder as some form of belief in God, and Nyad (although she claims to be an atheist) accepts a form of substance dualism (as exhibited by her belief in a soul) incompatible with atheistic materialism. Both Oprah and Nyad have cobbled together a worldview, borrowing ideas from one another until they’ve created something palatable and comfortable. If nothing else, this exchange between Oprah and Nyad illustrates the danger of Easy Theism…
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