Roger Ebert Discusses His Religious Views April 17, 2009

Roger Ebert Discusses His Religious Views

Film critic Roger Ebert doesn’t use the word atheist, agnostic, or Secular Humanist to describe himself, though he tends to follow the tenets of Humanism.

He was a wonderful piece on his site today describing his feelings toward religion — it mentions the good and bad qualities of churches, how he came to leave his childhood faith, and the experiences from Catholic school that shaped him as he grew up.

My favorite excerpt:

Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word. When people rail against “secular humanism,” I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them. Over the high school years, my belief in the likelihood of a God continued to lessen. I kept this to myself. I never discussed it with my parents. My father in any event was a non-practicing Lutheran, until a death bed conversion which rather disappointed me. I’m sure he agreed to it for my mother’s sake.

No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.

(via Roger Ebert’s Journal)

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  • Chal

    Your link is a bit screwy, you need to get rid of the extra “http” at the front.

  • Your link is a bit screwy, you need to get rid of the extra “http” at the front.


  • Troll

    If he’s not a believer, wouldn’t that make him, by definition, an atheist?

  • I think this goes to the difficulty some people have defining atheism and agnosticism and also whether you want to label yourself. I would say since he doesn’t actively believe but it still questioning and wondering that he’s agnostic. My reading of it is that he doesn’t feel a label for what he believes is necessary and I can respect that.

  • Aj

    I like the story about shaping of thoughts as a child on ethical problems, collimating in the realization which direction morals flow. It’s nice to see a reverence for science from someone who studies the arts. It’s apparant from his reviews he likes to think about meaning and ethics, and enjoys scientific questions.

    I disagree the need for people to believe fairy tales is evident, but I’d be interested in hearing a justification. Beliefs deserve no respect except what evidence and reason can give. I’m pretty sure science is secular, otherwise it would be called theology. I’m not sure why not knowing would imply anyone could know although it might have something to do with why a lot of what he wrote is confusing to me.

    I’d describe Roger as a meta-agnostic, an agnostic that doesn’t know they’re an agnostic. Agnostic in the modern sense of “unknowable/unintelligible”, or strong-agnosticism. Also an atheist, as he does not believe in gods.

    Buddhists often claim recent scientific theories but its so vague, intentionally so, that it could mean anything. They’re behind the game, Christianity has been using the same trick to claim the accomplishments of science for much longer. If they knew then why did they decide to leave the context and details that actually make the theories meaningful? It’s not like they’re Moby or Katie Melua, with lyrical considerations demoting other concerns like accuracy or informativeness.

  • magdalune

    The labels assigned to us and the labels that we assign to ourselves can be different. I try to respect the latter rather than the former.

  • P

    Though I’ve delved into the origin of space-time and all that physics stuff that’s still way beyond me, I sincerely appreciate this quote
    “I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.”
    It shows a general humility of the limited knowledge we humans possess. It inspires me to learn more and to help spread the word.
    Fantastic post, kind sir!
    Cheers to all!

  • That was amazing! Thank you for posting it up, ot I’d never have seen it. My favourite quote:

    “I have no patience for churches that evangelize aggressively. No interest in being instructed in what I must do to be saved. I prefer vertical prayer, directed upward toward heaven, rather than horizontal prayer, directed sideways toward me.”

  • Ebert states that he doesn’t think the question (of the existence of gods) can be answered, which is a near-exact fit for Huxley’s original definition of Agnosticism. Still, I can respect his desire to avoid labels, and I’m not keen on telling other people who they are, just as I don’t like it when people do it to me!

  • Bill

    Isn’t saying you’re not a believer and not an atheist kind of like being hairless but claiming you aren’t bald?

  • benjdm

    I am not a believer, not an atheist

    Logical law of non-contradiction fail.

  • Cat

    It’s disappointing that people are afraid to call themselves atheists. Or agnostics.

    In reality, he (at least to me) appears to be one of the two, but thinks he doesn’t fit the stereotypes of an atheist/agnostic.

  • Its OK if he doesn’t belive in God, but thank goodness he’s not an atheist! 🙄

  • Devysciple

    I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.

    It’s nice to see that other people think along the same lines as oneself. I always had greater trust in people more who had more questions than answers, and haven’t been disappointed down to the present day.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    If all believers were like Ebert, I wouldn’t be so anti-religious. He criticises the ways in which churches go drastically wrong; the horizontal prayer, the mega-churches.

  • I don’t think Ebert contradicts himself when he says he is neither a believer nor an atheist nor an agnostic. I think it is analagous to me saying that I am neither white, nor black, nor yellow. A spectrum of belief exists and some people do not fit neatly into existing categories. Perhaps someone like Ebert would identify more with a term like “questioning” or “independent.”

  • I guess I can respect everyone not wanting to “label” him, but just saying you don’t want to be called something doesn’t change the definition of the word. I can tell you I don’t want to be called a human, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am one. Comparing atheism/agnosticism/religious to race is completely incorrect. These are exclusive, you either believe, don’t believe, or don’t know/don’t care/don’t commit. Race, on the other hand, is not exclusive, you most certainly can be multiple races. I would say his entire belief/non-belief is summed up pretty well by his quote: “If I were to say I don’t believe God exists, that wouldn’t mean I believe God doesn’t exist. Nor does it mean I don’t know, which implies that I could know.” That is agnosticism. The definition of agnosticism covers a wide spectrum. That’s fine if he doesn’t want you to call him that, but that doesn’t change what the word means.

  • Becky

    Religion is a complicated thing. Is one religion better than another religion? I think that it was M.A. Curtis’ book titled, Dominance & Delusion that outlined a totally different way of looking at religion.

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