Ricky Gervais’ Atheistic Holiday Message December 19, 2010

Ricky Gervais’ Atheistic Holiday Message

I don’t know what prompted a Wall Street Journal blog of all places to print this, but I’m thrilled they did.

Comedian Ricky Gervais has an essay on why he became an atheist, what that means for him, and how he has to deal with theists who confront him about it:

I was sitting at the kitchen table when my brother came home. He was 11 years older than me, so he would have been 19. He was as smart as anyone I knew, but he was too cheeky. He would answer back and get into trouble. I was a good boy. I went to church and believed in God -– what a relief for a working-class mother. You see, growing up where I did, mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors; they just hoped their kids didn’t go to jail. So bring them up believing in God and they’ll be good and law abiding. It’s a perfect system. Well, nearly. 75 percent of Americans are God-fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists.

But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

And what happened to him after that revelation? He discovered the beauty of science:

If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it.

I love stories about people becoming atheists, but the religious criticism is so much more sharper and entertaining when coming from a comedian.

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  • Houndies

    i like this guy alot. he has a funny youtube video titled “animals” that should be checked out if you have the time. really funny.

  • Phoebe

    That’s what happens when people stop to think about it.
    There are more atheists out there than anyone knows, they’re just afraid to say anything. I think we’ll be seeing more of this kind of article in places we wouldn’t expect to, as people become less afraid to point out the obvious truth.

  • Glen

    I wonder what religion his mum was? The reason I ask is that at a party last night I made the assertion that only a few religions are accepting when people leave the faith. My parents were Catholic but gracefully accepted it when every single one of the 5 kids left the church. It did not change our relationships in the least.

    Sadly very few religions would allow this to happen. The worst of course is Islam (beheading the apostate) but Mormonism or Judaism are hostile to any ex believers. I think this is a good measure of the relative evilness of a specific religion. If they cannot let someone walk out of their belief system without enmity they are inherently evil.

  • Arallyn

    Glen- It depends on the sect, and on the family/person themselves. I don’t personally know any ex-Islamics or ex-Mormons with good family relationships, but I know quite a few “atheist Jews” (atheist but follow cultural traditions) with great relationships with their (sometimes quite devout) families.

  • Yes, I find that the religious critique is much more sharper when delivered by a comedian 🙂

    [/grammar nazi]

    On-topic: I do believe I saw this somewhere else recently, perhaps it was on a youtube video, some interview he did with (I wanna say) Bill Maher or somebody.

  • B-Ro

    I have to question those jail statistics, particularly regarding false reporting and in-prison conversions. I suspect:

    a. imprisoned atheists are more like to be unphilosophical ones compared to those unimprisoned

    b. unphilosophical atheists are more likely to convert to a theistic worldview (Christianity in the U.S.) than philosophical ones

    c. reporting as Christian (whether true or not) improves a prisoner’s chances of early release vs. reporting as atheist

    All that said, to Mr. Gervais I say, “you go girl!”

  • Rob

    What do you call a Jew that does not believe in God? A Jew.

  • If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa?

    Too funny. I was on a school bus with a girl who found out there was no Santa where this worked opposite for. She was mad the parents had lied about Santa and said if they lied about Santa, they probably lied about God too. First day seemed just angry spouting but the more she brooded, the more she seemed convinced that god too was naught but a myth.

    I think we’ll be seeing more of this kind of article in places we wouldn’t expect to, as people become less afraid to point out the obvious truth.

    There does seem to be more and more people pointing at the rather large elephant in the room.

  • Justin

    Just read the full essay. It’s simply beautiful…

    …but not for some people. Apparently, all the nice things he said automatically become invalidated by the factor of atheism.

    No offense to you, americans, but that land of the paranoid and the home of the passive-aggressive that you live in? – yeah, I’m kinda happy not living there at times like these.

  • wasn’t Gervais a theist as far back as just 5 years ago or whenever that HBO standup bit he had was? I recall there being a bit in there deriding atheists in that performance…..if so, this is pretty remarkable…..that, and his film, “Invention of Lying”, which is probably the best romantic comedy about how much religion is bullshit. lol

  • He grew up in Reading in Berkshire. His mum was probably just C of E rather than one of those special denominations that you have over in North America.

  • Dan W

    I read the whole thing; it was a very good essay. Unfortunately I had to read the comments on it, which of course included a lot of god botherers… ugh.

  • I wish I had an interesting story about a moment when I realized my religious faith was untrue…

    Sadly, I was raised completely secular…

  • Read the whole article and I have to say Ricky articulated it very well. I’ve never been able to explain it so eloquently.

  • Ricky is one of the mainstream atheists I respect. He makes a lot of sense and can throw in humor to help make it all easy to digest for anyone.

  • Patrick

    I’ve always wondered about the prison population belief breakdown, but this is the first reference I’ve actually seen. Although I strongly suspect the numbers are true, I don’t know where they come from. And if they are true, shouldn’t we be using them to refute the standard “morals can only come from god” argument?

  • Oh, lordy, his Q&A is great. There’s a link in the original article. The article itself is good too, but my inner grammar nazi is mad.

    Q:What does a comedian really know about God anyway?

    A:Since there is nothing to know about god, a comedian knows as much about god as any one else…