Oprah Winfrey has caused a stir among atheists by suggesting that non-believers cannot experience “awe” and “wonder”.
In an interview with American swimmer Diana Nyad on her show Soul to Soul, Winfrey questioned her guest about whether she could claim she was an “atheist in awe”.
Winfrey asked Nyad: “You told our producers you’re not a God person, but you’re deeply in awe?”
Nyad replied: “Yeah, I’m not a God person. I’m an atheist", prompting Winfrey to question: “But you’re in awe?”
Nyad said: “I don’t understand why anyone would find a contradiction in that.
"I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist and weep at the beauty of this universe, and be moved by all of humanity.
"So to me, my definition of God is humanity, and is the love of humanity.”
Winfrey, who has spoken about her Christian faith on television before, replied by telling Nyad that her beliefs did not fit with traditional atheism.
“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 the bearded guy in the sky,” she said.
Nyad continued: “It’s not bearded, but there is an inference with God that there is a presence, that there is either a creator or an overseer. I don’t criticise anybody because we will never know, we will never know until our last breath.
“Just for me, I’m an atheist who’s in awe”.
Continuing to press the point, Winfrey said: “So do you consider yourself a spiritual person, even as an atheist?”
Nyad replied: “I do, I don’t think there’s any contradictions 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, we animals, we plants and maybe even the ocean and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.”