For more than a decade, it’s just been accepted as common wisdom that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was an atheist. While he was raised Jewish, the story went, he fell away from the faith shortly after his bar mitzvah. His Facebook profile even said he was an atheist at one point (before he removed his religious preference from his page). The Wall Street Journal alluded to his atheism in a 2007 story as well.
But yesterday, in a post wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah,” a commenter asked him, “But Aren’t You Atheist?” (Which, let’s admit, is an odd question to begin with, since it suggests Zuckerberg couldn’t wish other people happy holidays…)
Zuckerberg responded with a definitive “no.”
No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.
(That’s not a fake account. That’s actually him.)
To be sure, saying you “believe religion is very important” is quite different from saying you are religious (much less a follower of a specific one). If this were a survey on religion, Zuckerberg would be firmly in the “None” camp. But the somewhat-cryptic response doesn’t clear everything up.
Does Zuckerberg believe in God? I’m not sure. I don’t know whether he was saying no to the label of atheist (with a capital “A”) or the belief that God doesn’t exist. Plenty of atheists don’t like to use that word, even if they don’t believe in a Higher Power.
Still, as it stands, it’d be unfair to say Zuckerberg’s an atheist. We can quote him directly on that one.
This is a lot to say about what amounts to a two-letter answer… but it’s important to call attention to because his atheism was a point of pride for many of us. When Zuckerberg and his wife promised last year to give away the bulk of his fortune, that story went around my circles as an example of how an atheist could do good in this world without God — just like fellow billionaires (and alleged atheists) Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Zuckerberg’s response is now more along the lines of what Gates says, which is that the question of God’s existence is an open one, but he sees merit in the moral aspects of religion.
It’s a polite way of saying “Don’t ask me that question because I don’t want people getting mad at me, but here’s a way to show respect for religion without admitting I believe any of that nonsense.”
He even joked about religion in another part of the thread:
At least he feels comfortable with that.