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:
- The universe is logical and there are no scientific proofs for God.
- It’s arrogant to say that what works for you is the only truth and beat me up with it.
- The burden of proof is on the believer.
- It’s wrong to kill people because they don’t believe in your God or follow your rulebook.
- There are many gods so it isn’t logical to say that just one of them is the true one.
- 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.
Filed under: Deep Thoughts on December 20th, 2010