Ricky Gervais Doesn’t Believe in God

Yesterday British actor and comedian Ricky Gervais posted an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called “Why I am an Athiest”. It is filled with the usual shots at faith and tributes to science and on the whole is pretty unremarkable. His arguments pretty much come down to this:

  1. The universe is logical and there are no scientific proofs for God.
  2. It’s arrogant to say that what works for you is the only truth and beat me up with it.
  3. The burden of proof is on the believer.
  4. It’s wrong to kill people because they don’t believe in your God or follow your rulebook.
  5. There are many gods so it isn’t logical to say that  just one of them is the true one.
  6. The only reason that many people believe in God is because it is popular and culturally acceptable.

Written out like that, his arguments look pretty silly and I imagine that a more profound apologist than I would have fun picking them apart. The thing that really struck me, though, was a passage in the middle of his article which talks about his childhood faith. Read this:

I used to believe in God. The Christian one that is.

I loved Jesus. He was my hero. More than pop stars. More than footballers. More than God. God was by definition omnipotent and perfect. Jesus was a man. He had to work at it. He had temptation but defeated sin. He had integrity and courage. But He was my hero because He was kind. And He was kind to everyone. He didn’t bow to peer pressure or tyranny or cruelty. He didn’t care who you were. He loved you. What a guy. I wanted to be just like Him.

One day when I was about 8 years old, I was drawing the crucifixion as part of my Bible studies homework. I loved art too. And nature. I loved how God made all the animals. They were also perfect. Unconditionally beautiful. It was an amazing world.

I lived in a very poor, working-class estate in an urban sprawl called Reading, about 40 miles west of London. My father was a laborer and my mother was a housewife. I was never ashamed of poverty. It was almost noble. Also, everyone I knew was in the same situation, and I had everything I needed. School was free. My clothes were cheap and always clean and ironed. And mum was always cooking. She was cooking the day I was drawing on the cross.

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.

Wow. No God. 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. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

This passage really impacted me. His simple, honest childhood faith is palpable. And the loss is painful. It’s also a reminder of how important it is that as parents we can answer our children’s questions honestly. It’s tragic that to a young Ricky Gervais, the God of the Bible was on a level with Santa Claus.

I don’t know that there’s much more I can add to what Gervais wrote… it really does say it all: “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.” The point is that there is a God, and it is always okay to ask. The truth is never threatened by honest inquiry, there’s nothing to hide when you are really, honestly looking for the truth.

4 Responses to “Ricky Gervais Doesn’t Believe in God”

  1. You didn’t understand his article. And the short parts you wrote summarizing him and giving your opinions at the end are weirdly redundant, confusing, illogical, lacking, and nonlinear all at once.

  2. Dave

    You missed the fundamental point, it’s OK to believe in something but don’t take it personally if someone constructs an hypothesis that makes more sense than yours.

    You have the right to believe in something but other people do too. Your country (assuming you’re American) justifies far too much in the name of freedom and effectively forces the rest if the world to see things from your point of view. I could add that this goes against the constitutional rights
    you guys hold so dear but that would no doubt be lost on you.

    I too was like Ricky and had my brain-washing phase and then woke up to the wider world to realize that Christianity provides a set of social rules by which to live by and the fact is there are many religions that were built to explain phenomena that science can now reasonably explain.

    Keep on your soap box but don’t get defensive because someone who is smarter than you (and me) puts it down so clearly on paper.


    Remember that organised religion provides a social framework, a set of rules.

  3. Interesting WSJ article. I agree with you, Dave. And also that each point could be debated at length by an apologist. I’ll bet you could do a good job yourself. I do understand that it was not your attempt to pick apart Ricky G’s points piece by piece. I do not understand the few reactionary comments.

    re: Scott & Bill: I don’t see how Dave missed fundamental points. Nor do I think he questioned Ricky G’s right to believe in the no-God theory/faith. It is his blog and his opinion, yes?

    And here’s my opinion regarding brainwashing. We are all “brainwashed” into what we believe about everything from the way we brush our teeth, to the way we solve math problems, and on to politics to religion to the God question. Our reasons are a seemingly infinite mix and personal. Some reasoning is logical, others less so. Some intuitive, some emotional, and sometimes irrational. (Think about your teenage years.) Our reasons can be motivated by mixes of honor and decency, to apathy and laziness, to courage and duty. Etc. Etc. Etc. All this to say it is beyond my capacity to fully understand the way I, let alone others, process information. I only know that brainwashing is part of that process. The word “instruction” could replace “brainwashing” but it lacks the emotional vitriol.

    I readily acknowledge my brainwashing because I know we all suffer (or benefit) from it. Man’s innate search for truth helps us make adjustments to our brainwashings on the big questions. For that to happen one has to acknowledge that absolute truth does exist. Some folks do not and fall into the wishy-washy, all-truth-is-relative hole.

    The truth is, it isn’t truth if it is relative. We are now forced to add “absolute” to counter the “relative”. Ridiculous. It is more accurate to argue there is no truth than to say that there is such a thing as relative truth.

    I’d like to think everyone is ultimately involved in an honest struggle for the truth. Unfortunately, evidence contradicts this hope. So more accurately, I think all of us can be challenged to rethink our positions when given truth. One problem is that as we grow older, we cement our positions and reasoning, refusing the courage to look into opposing rationale. Then even for this, one can have seemingly good reasons to hold our position. Another problem is that many of us are stubborn. Clear thinking can be difficult for all of us sometimes. That includes me.

    Most (probably all?) atheist attempt to use logic to conclude that there is no God. I have yet to hear a convincing argument by atheists. I’ve read some, listened to Dawkins debate, Hitchens rant etc. Their reasoning always fail to stimulate any movement from my positions. None. Zero. Zilch. The one atheist I’d like to hear from is the studied thinker who has a reasoned position on who Jesus is. CS Lewis put forth an argument that we have only 3 choices. Jesus was either, 1) a liar, 2) a lunatic, or 3) who he said he was- the Messiah, Son of God. Since #1 or #2 have liabilities, #3 is is most rational position. Jesus is my best argument for God.

    Always striving for clarity. Take care.

  4. Hi Dave,

    For clarity, i’d like to start with this:

    I believe in God.
    I love my faith, though I’m slightly less enamoured with the Church that uses His name.

    The issue I have with your article comes at the end when you said “The point is that there is a God, and it is always okay to ask”.

    Without in any way arguing semantics, that phrase is exactly the sort of issue that people like Ricky have with those of us who have a different opinion or belief: We state it as pure fact.

    I tell people “I believe there is a God.” I don’t tell them “there is a God”. Although I believe it to be 100% true, there is no way of proving or disproving, (and nor would I want to), so I always make sure that I’m happy in my FAITH that God exists.

    I always feel a little uneasy when people start talking about beliefs as facts.

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