Ricky Gervais: Atheism ‘Is Not High on My Agenda’

Comedian Ricky Gervais has joked about religion in his standup specials, made “controversial” comments about God when hosting the Golden Globes, and is often interviewed specifically about his atheism.

In a recent interview with Robin Ince in New Statesman, though, Gervais says he’s not really that big on promoting atheism. He just happens to get noticed for it more than others:

[Ince:] You seem to have been more vocally atheist this year.

[Gervais:] I say that’s not true. My atheism might be higher-profile than other people’s atheism, but it’s not high on my agenda. But it’s the thing they always pick out. I can do 30 tweets of my cat, a bath pic, a Karl [Pilkington] quote, plugging. The one tweet that’s… I mean, I don’t even know what an atheist tweet is. Sometimes they’re scientific tweets that oppose some of the “facts” in the Bible. And I get: “Why do you keep going on about atheism?” One of [the questions] is “Why are you obsessed with God if you don’t believe in him?”, and I want to say: “I’m not obsessed with God, I’m obsessed with people who want to do things in his name.”

Another one is: “Why are you obsessed with only the Christian God?” How many times have I stated that I don’t believe in any God? There are possibly 3,000 so-called deities. If we’re talking about monotheistic gods, I believe in one less god than you. When they say, “Why don’t you believe in God?”, I often say, “Which one?”

Gervais may be right that he doesn’t obsess with atheism like some may claim, but the fact that he talks about it at all is why he’s endeared himself to so many atheists. It’s great to see a celebrity so comfortable with not believing in God that he can joke about it and talk about it with ease. He never shies away from questions about his beliefs and that alone will expose those ideas to an audience that may not read books by the New Atheists (or learn about atheism in some other way).

(via John Sargeant, who has more of the interview)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • pete084

    Here in the UK religion is lest fraught than in America, we are quite complacent as a nation, so much so that the relevance of religion in daily life is confined mainly to those who are threatened with eternal damnation (or whatever!) and the nut cases!

    Sadly I’ve noticed an increase in nut case evangelists, and some of the uprising can be traced to American mega-churches looking for additional income stream.

  • http://twitter.com/Ro542124 Gideon

    Don’t forget the movie, The Invention Of Lying. Religion is one of the newly invented lies. (Or do forget the movie. It’s not one that I feel the need to watch one more than once.)

    • http://twitter.com/bnt0 brian thomson

      I saw it, and enjoyed it, but I think I saw something in it that some missed. It’s not just about religion, I read it also as a warning against being too rationalist and hard on people who are different to you. For example, the characters looking to “mate” are basically eugenicists, seeing to optimise prospects for their progeny in the most rational way: excluding those who might have genetic “defects”.

      If you’re *too* rational, you have no space for love, hope or other such “beneficial” delusions in your life. That’s what I took away from that film.

      • kev_s

        I thought it showed that religion is the natural by-product of lying.

      • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

        The notion of humans being too rational is ludicrous. Biologically speaking, as a species we are emotional creatures with a thin veneer of rational ability. Even if the entire global population devoted itself entirely to rationalism and skepticism we would be in no danger of becoming too rational.

        Eugenics, whether implemented on the state / institutional level or as individual choice, is an emotional reaction, usually based on fear such as racism, preservation of the status quo or fear of the “other”, that is rationalized to give the appearance of reason.

  • jose

    Responding “which one?” conveys an important point, that God is part of religion. Many people will say they believe in God, just not in the church or in organized religion, as if God were an isolated concept that can survive outside religion. No, God was invented when religions were invented. It’s part of the package.

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      Plus, a lot of Christians point to the fact that most believe believe in a god as somehow being evidence of their god. Which I think deserves a strong rebuttal. Those gods have nothing in common with the biblical deity.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Cool. We need a full spectrum of out-of-the-closet atheists, including those who dedicate substantial time/energy to secular causes (and those who don’t), those who are outright anti-religion (and those who aren’t), and even those who are nonchalant but comfortable and open about their non-belief.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I’m not obsessed with atheism, it’s the people who know I’m an atheist that are obsessed with my atheism. I always end up talking about it because they always end up bringing it up. Defending what I [dis]believe somehow equates me to a fanatical atheist.

    • Tainda

      I have the same problem. Half of the people I know are appalled and want to save my soul and the other half are intrigued and want to hear my view on everything lol

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        I’m (almost) jealous. No one has ever tried to talk to me about my atheism or save my soul, LOL.

        • Pepe

          You should live in rural Texas for a while :)

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            Would be an interesting cultural experience, for sure!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          You must not live in the United States.

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            I live near San Francisco. People tend to keep religion very private. I’ve known people for decades without having them tell me what (if any) religion they follow. It just doesn’t come up in conversation.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

          Are people in your family religious? If it wasn’t for my super religious family, it really wouldn’t happen that often since I’m in a liberal area and most of my friends have no problem with my atheism.

          It’s mostly just my family who tries to pull me into every argument on religion, the paranormal, and pseudoscience and get frustrated with me when I disagree. What they never seem to notice is that I very rarely join in on these conversations until one of them forces me to, but they seem so mad that I have the nerve to disagree with them. It definitely makes things interesting, but I wish I had a bit less of that going on.

          • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

            None who are hardcore. My immediate family is all pretty secular. The extended family consists of moderate, liberal, or non-practicing Catholics and Lutherans, but they never talk about it. I’d actually be interested to have theological discussions with some of them, but it’s really just not done in our family. We don’t talk about divisive things like religion or politics.

  • Santiago

    He looks like wolverine, kinf of.

    • Rebecca

      I like whatever this look is on him. :)

  • http://twitter.com/RealHeathenMike Michael McCarron

    It’s funny. I think that society at large is religious enough that when someone like Gervais or whoever is comfortable enough with their non-belief to speak openly, it seems to come across as “strident” or “confrontational”, when really, we’re just stating our position.

  • houndies

    I swear alot. I had one friend say “for someone who doesnt believe in jesus, you sure say his name alot.” i dont even get that….at all. I should have said “for someone who doesnt think Santa is real, I sure hear you say his name alot”


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