And Let's Stop Assuming She Makes Any Sense
Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams is displeased about Oprah Winfrey's response to legendary swimmer Diane Nyad about God/spirituality at "Super Soul Sunday." More people should be highly skeptical, and not only for this. Williams notes that last weekend
Winfrey took strong issue with Nyad’s assertion that she’s “not a God person, but a person deeply in awe.” It’s true that perhaps appearing in a venue with the word “soul” in it might seem an unusual choice for a self-described atheist, but Nyad explained. “I don’t understand why anyone would find a contradiction in that,” she 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.”
Oprah quickly stepped in with some semantic disagreement. “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then,” she said. “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. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.” But Nyad, who knows a thing or two about being undeterred, pressed on, explaining her skepticism of a “creator or overseer.” Later, Oprah, still trying to pin Nyad down, asked her if she felt she was “spiritual,” Nyad replied, “I do. 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.”
Presumably, Nyad had to cop to being "spiritual" rather than suffering the ignominy sure to come to someone bold enough to deny it. Williams remarks
Even if Oprah seems to have pushed her into saying it, Nyad can call herself “spiritual” if she wants. It doesn’t have to mean the same thing it means to someone who practices a religion. It’s her word and her interpretation of it. And no atheist on the planet needs a believer to tell her that she is wrong, or that she secretly clings to the concept of God after all.
Winfrey evidently stopped short of telling Nyad the latter is wrong about God, though telling an atheist that God exists should be no more offensive than an individual herself professing to be an atheist. Still, Winfrey's suggestion that the existence of "awe and wonder" is evidence of God's existence simultaneously demeans both non-believers and believers. One can be overcome by the overarching talent and performance of Peyton Manning and LeBron James without being a deist. And surely the evidence of God's existence goes well beyond the trite suggestion that beauty in the universe ends the argument.
But neither Nyad nor Williams ought to be surprised that Oprah Winfrey is among those, as Williams suggests, who are "unyielding and unquestioning and determined to make everybody see the world exactly as we do." Winfrey is the celebrity who in 2008 did "a happy dance" for Barack Obama, breathlessly promoting his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, then was less active following his nomination. In 2012, the sole opponent of incumbent Obama was a Republican, and she fell silent.
In New Jersey, Ms. Winfrey endorsed neo-liberal Newark mayor Cory Booker for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. However, once he was nominated, she said nothing, as she has about the race progressive State Senator Barbara Buono has run against GOP governor Chris Christie.
To be fair, President Obama also endorsed Cory Booker while assiduously avoiding endorsing Barbara Buono. To be accurate, that does not count in Winfrey's favor.
Oprah Winfrey's judgement is seriously flawed. But we stand in awe and wonder of the business acumen of someone who amassed a billion dollar-plus empire. And of her "spirituality."