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5 of the Worst High-Profile Attacks on Atheism This Year: How Oprah, Time Mag and Scalia Sold Nonbelievers Short

America's top TV personality suggests atheists lack an emotional connection to the universe.

According to a recent study by the University of British Colombia, atheists are distrusted almost as much as rapists. Atheists are not only the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry, they also seem to represent everything about modernity that Americans dislike or fear. Here’s a look back at the five most notable anti-atheist related news stories of 2013.

1. Oprah says atheists are incapable of awe.

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who earlier this year swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64, explained that she sees no contradiction between her atheism and her ability to experience awe, or in her words, “to weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity.”

Oprah found Nyad’s comment to be inconsistent with her definition of atheism. She responded, “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is.”  

In Oprah’s eyes, atheists must be cold, emotionless rationalists, and for those atheists who do experience awe, well, they really do believe in God, they just don’t know it yet.

David Niosce, author of Non-Believer Nation, writes, “What is most alarming about Oprah’s revelation is that she doesn’t even realize its invidiousness. Atheists, to her, don't feel that deep, emotional connection to the universe. She has drawn a circle that includes people of all faiths, but excludes atheists, thereby confirming negative attitudes toward nonbelievers.”

2. Time magazine swipes nonbelievers.

In the wake of the Oklahoma tornado, Time journalist Joe Klein published a piece on the therapeutic value of public service. It’s an interesting read up until Klein writes: “But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals.”

But according to atheist blogger Hemant Metha, a great number of humanist and atheist organizations contributed to post-tornado relief. Foundation Beyond Belief raised over $45,000 for Operation USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Atheists Giving Aid raised over $18,000, which was donated to local relief groups in Moore, Oklahoma, and local atheist groups such as Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization organized volunteers, resources and blood drives.

In addition, there are many atheists, like myself, who don’t consider a lack of belief in a god to be the most critical component of their identity, much in the same way nonbelief in astrology or homeopathy is not a central part of many people's lives. You don’t find many atheists walking around disaster sites wearing T-shirts that say, “Hi, I’m an atheist," which explains why Joe Klein didn’t see any “organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals.”

3. Justice Scalia says atheism "favors the devil’s desires."

It’s almost a given that Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia will say something so outrageous he’ll end up on any number of annual Worst of the Worst lists. In previous years, Scalia has equated homosexuality with bestiality, and more recently he remarked that the Separation of Church and State would come scrutiny under a Supreme Court with a Scalia majority. This year, in an interview given on the 27th anniversary of his swearing-in on the high court, Scalia said that not only does he believe Satan is a real person, but atheists “favor the devil’s desires.”

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