Once Again, Comedian Louis CK Talks About Atheism… and Gets It Wrong May 21, 2014

Once Again, Comedian Louis CK Talks About Atheism… and Gets It Wrong

Earlier this year, comedian Louis CK delivered a fantastic monologue on Saturday Night Live that really pushed some boundaries on the topic of religion:

Do you guys think there’s a Heaven? If you believe you’re going to Heaven, clap if you think you’re going to Heaven.

[To audience member] You think you’re going to Heaven? [“Yes”] How old are you? [“21”] 21… and you’re a lock for Heaven already… Been a grown-up for three years; you couldn’t possibly make a mistake. Well, good luck.

I don’t think… Personally, I don’t think there’s a Heaven. I think maybe there’s a God, but there’s no Heaven. I think that’s the best news you’re gonna get. You die, and you’re like, “Hey God!” And he’s like, “Yep?” And you’re like, “Where’s Heaven?” And he’s like, “I don’t know who’s telling people that! I’m supposed to make a universe and then another whole amazing place for afterwards?! You guys are greedy dicks down there!” “Well, where do I go?” “Just stand in this room with me now.” “I don’t like it.” “Tell me about it! I’ve been here since 1983.” Or whenever. I don’t know when God started…

I’m not religious. I don’t know if there’s a God. That’s all I can say, honestly, is “I don’t know.” Some people think that they know that there isn’t. That’s a weird thing to think you can know. “Yeah, there’s no God.” Are you sure? “Yeah, no, there’s no God.” How do you know? “Cause I didn’t see Him.” There’s a vast universe! You can see for about 100 yards — when there’s not a building in the way. How could you possibly… Did you look everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? Where did you look so far? “No, I didn’t see Him yet.” I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet; it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m just waiting until it comes on cable.

I think if there is a God, I don’t know if it’s the one in the Bible, ’cause that’s a weird story, is He’s our father and we’re His children. That’s it. “Our father, who art in Heaven.” Where’s our mother? What happened to our mom? What did He do to our mom? Something happened. Somewhere in Heaven, there’s a porch with a dead lady under it, and I want the story. Somebody’s gotta check the trunk of God’s car for bleach and rope and fibers.

Well, how can we not have a mother?! At least, maybe, God’s divorced. Maybe he has an ex-wife. God’s a single dad and He’s raising us alone and we’re praying… and He’s like, “I’m trying! It’s just me up here!” Maybe that’s what’s going on. Maybe your life is your time… this is our weekend with Dad, that’s what life is… and then when you die, you go to mom’s house…

There’s a portion of that monologue that slams an atheist straw man, with CK saying that it’s arrogant to say there’s no God when our knowledge is so limited. (It’s really more of a knock on Gnostic Atheism, but I doubt the viewing audience was thinking along those philosophical lines.)

During an interview with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross on Monday, CK further explained how he came to talk about God during that monologue:

… something I’ve learned over the years is that when you talk about religion, you want to talk to religious people. Even if you’re talking about something that’s contrary religiously or provocative, a religious audience is a better audience for that. If you talk to a bunch of cool atheists in leather and suede, you know, sucking on their vape sticks or whatever they’re doing, they’re not going to get it because they don’t even think about God. It’s not even on their radar, you know? So they’re — but if you tell religious people, I don’t know if there’s a God, I don’t think there’s a heaven, where’s God’s ex-wife, these things, they have a connection to it that means something.

Of course, it’s easy to argue that he has it completely backwards. Atheists are *way* more likely to think about God on a regular basis. They’ve put thought into the matter — and that’s why they arrived at that conclusion. Meanwhile, we all know people who claim to be religious but who hardly give it much thought. They just go through the motions and accept the beliefs their parents passed down to them. (These are obviously generalizations and there are exceptions on both sides.)

Which means CK has (again) tossed out a false notion of what it means to be an atheist. I don’t necessarily blame him for it — his goal isn’t to wax poetic about religion and non-religion; his goal is to make people laugh and it works.

Still, it would be nice if he didn’t throw atheists under the bus for the sake of some jokes when it’s abundantly clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Chris Stedman also points out that, in a Reddit AMA, CK once said in the same thread that he didn’t believe in God but “I’m not an atheist.” Stedman also tries to find a silver lining in all of this:

So let’s clear the air: Being an atheist does not require absolute certainty. It doesn’t mean you rule out the possibility of divine or supernatural entities existing. Instead, it is the position that such a possibility is unlikely, and that the case for God hasn’t been adequately made yet.

Perhaps his remarks are an invitation for us to look at how we communicate atheism to others. If atheism is seen as narrow-minded, what can we do to demonstrate our commitment to critical thinking and inquiry? And if C.K. thinks that “when you talk about religion, you want to talk to religious people,” what does that say about how a number of atheists talk about religion?

Those are great takeaways. You can’t blame CK for not knowing what we know about atheism. It’s up to us to educate the public about these issues and change the stereotype that atheists are inherently arrogant.

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