â€śOne of the most awkward faith-based conversations youâ€™ll ever hear.â€ť Thatâ€™s how Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta is describing a recent interview between talk show maven Oprah Winfrey and record-breaking swimmer Diana Nyad.
While this characterization may be a bit of an overreach, the conversation, which focused, in part, on faith and Nyadâ€™s self-professed atheism, is worth exploring â€” especially if you have an interest in theological matters. The discussion was, at moments, odd, but it remained respectful on all fronts.
The 64-year-old swimmer who recently broke records by being the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage, told Oprah that sheâ€™s a non-believer who finds herself â€śin awe.â€ť
But the OWN founder and host seemed perplexed that Nyad would call herself an atheist, while claiming sheâ€™s so overtly enamored by her surroundings. Nyad, of course, sees no such conflict.
â€śI donâ€™t understand why anybody would find a contradiction in that,â€ť the swimmer said. â€śI can stand at the beachâ€™s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew â€¦ and weep at the beauty of this universe.â€ť
Rather than embracing a theological construct that includes a â€śgodâ€ť who oversees, directs or has an omnipresence, Nyad simply believes that â€śGod is humanityâ€ť and the collective â€ślove of humanity.â€ť
After she made these proclamations about the almighty, Oprah attempted to tell the swimming phenom that she might not be an atheist after all.
â€śI donâ€™t call you an atheist, then,â€ť the host responded. â€śI think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery that that is what God is â€¦ God is not the bearded guy in the sky.â€ť Nyad, though, didnâ€™t really embrace this interpretation, however she did say she has no ill will against religious people. And rather than possessing a rigid secular view, she seemed entirely open to possibly being wrong on the matter (Oprah quipped that the swimmer might have an â€śoh wowâ€ť moment if she dies and realizes sheâ€™s been wrong all along).
â€śWhat do you think happens when we die?â€ť the host later asked.
â€śI think that the soul lives on, because we have created so much energy and when we display courage and hope, it lives on,â€ť Nyad responded. â€śBut I do believe the body goes back to ash and it is never more.â€ť
The athleteâ€™s answer was a bit confusing, especially considering her use of the word â€śsoul,â€ť however itâ€™s clear that she does not believe the human body continues living postmortem (then again, almost everyone is in agreement on this latter sentiment).
Watch this portion of the interview, below: