A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist

topic posted Sun, December 19, 2010 - 7:09 PM by  Will
As someone who is most definitely not an atheist, I thought this was great:

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith”. I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe”, comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence - ‐ evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe”, this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me”, but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith”. If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

This, is of course a spirituality issue, religion is a different matter. As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all- ‐powerful all knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are. From what I can gather, pretty much the worst type of person you can be is an atheist. The first four commandments hammer this point home. There is a god”, I’m him, no one else is, you’re not as good and don’t forget it. (Don’t murder anyone, doesn’t get a mention till number 6.)

When confronted with anyone who holds my lack of religious faith in such contempt, I say, “It’s the way God made me.”

But what are atheists really being accused of?

The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe”. Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.

So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God”, I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.

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.

But living an honest life – for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that; they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine. “Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is - ‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.
posted by:
SF Bay Area
  • How bout some levity?

    What do you get when you cross an Agnostic, a Dyslexic,and an Insomniac?

    (I'll share the answer tomorrow.)

    As for Today....

    Happy Solstice!


    if you don't believe in that...

    Happy Winter!

    • Someone who stays up all night wondering if there really is a Dog.
      • Thanks Enrika,

        Oops...I was tardy in my follow up.

        Here's another...

        How many surrealist painters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
        • Fish.

          (That was my *very* favorite joke for a few years. :) )
          • Say what?
            • sa
              offline 55
              She said "fish."

              I love that joke (key word: surrealist).
              • The way I always heard it was just "surrealists" instead of "surrealist painters." It works either way. :)
                • Gawd! I'm so literalist. I still don't get it!
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    Q. How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

                    A. Fish

                    Get it?

                    It's a surreal answer.
                    • Ah! Thanks! I'm so unsurreal, once again I realize!
                      • Humor experts recognize 3 elements as creating a good joke: anxiety, superior perspective (listener relative to narrative protagonist) and a surprise.

                        I consider that the 4th element is the replacement of an implicit logic with an alternate logic.

                        This produces a surprise, but it is not the only kind of a surprise, and it is not merely a surprise.

                        Ideally, the surprise item reveals and clearly articulates the alternate logic. When this works, we "get the joke".
                        When we miss the alternate logic, we may be surprised, but we do not "get the joke". When we see the alternate logic,
                        but are not surprised by it, we "get the joke" but it is not funny, or not ver funny.

                        In the surrealism joke, the implied logic is that a number of surrealists will be explained as necessary by way of rtheir surreal behavior.

                        The alternate logic is that in the joke, as in a surrealist painting, a quantitative and implicitly logical question about some person or persons can have in place of its natural answer, an arbitrary or random object. Moreover, almost nothing fails to answer the question so utterly as something like a fish, which is also a viable painting subject, especially for surrealists, as it is easy to place out of a logical context.

                        This borders on metahumor, but it is mostly self-contained in that it should be intelligible as surreal even to someone who does not have any familiarity with the lightbulb joke format. Granted, the format help.

                        The "no soap radio" jokes are more strictly metahumor in that they rely on an expectation of an alternate logic, itself, and the joke must be clearly understood as a joke in order for the joke to work. If it is revealed as a joke in the listener's mind only at the punchline, it is not a functional joke because the replacement of an implcit secondary logic with a total absence of logic is only funny if the secondary logic is effectively implied in the first place.

                        In my favorite jokes, the surprise is a return or partial return to the default logic which the listener has been complicit in abandoning by accepting the premise of the joke. Such as when Brian on "the Family Guy" sometimes points out that he does or cannot do something "because I'm a DOG!".

                        Better example:

                        A skeleton walks into a bar.
                        The bartender says "what will you have".
                        The skeleton says "I'll have a pint of beer and mop".

                        The default logic includes the fact that a skeleton is not an effective receptacle for beer,
                        a point of reality we are implicitly invited to forget along with the fact that a skeleton can't walk into a bar, much less order a pint of beer.

                        The application of the 4th principle also explains how to write a setup for a punchline or how to write a punchline for a setup.

                        A great example is the unfinished joke which Judd Nelson improvised during the filming of "The Breakfast Club"


                        "A naked blonde walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm and a 10-inch salami under the other arm. The bartender says 'I see you won't be needing a drink."

                        The film didn't require a punchline, as the joke gets abruptly interrupted with Nelson falling through a ceiling, and noting "I forgot my pencil!". So the punchline didn't exist when the film was released.

                        My preferred punchline (found with google, natch) is:

                        "And the poodle says 'are you kidding?... once I have that drink, I've got it ALL!"

                        The alternate logic being that the bartender must have been talking to the dog, in which case it logically follows that the dog should respond as the owner of the naked blonde and the salami.

                      • Will (and,

                        The answer the first time I heard it was an Orange...and yes I've also heard it as a fish.

                        Quite literally [ ; ) ] though, just about any answer works, as long as it is not literal or logical.
                        • Anything should work. But the more likely the thing seems as a thing that would appear removed from logical context in a surrealist painting, the better. That's why "a fish" ranks high on the list.

                          Again, I should point out that it's the existence of the implied default logic that is needed in order to make the implied alternate logic appear funny. Anything that articulates an intelligble alternate logic will result in some kind of a joke, provided that it is sufficiently transparent. But the greater the contrast between the two forms of logic, the more effective it will be.

                          That's why it's important to understand the default logic of a setup in order to write a good punch line.

                          In Judd Nelson's joke, for example, the default logic is obviously that the "owner" is not the poodle; the owner is, of course, the salami.
                          • IMO,m that's exactly why I missed the point: surreal means IMO 1: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; also : unbelievable, fantastic <surreal sums of money
                            2: surrealistic
                            1. The whole thing was completely surreal.
                            2. Despite all the hassle, though, I would not want an ordinary name. I know of one other person in the world who shares my name, first and last. I know nothing about her except that she lived in New York at the same time I did, and that she and I subscribed to a few of the same publications. I found myself in the surreal position of having to explain to circulation departments that I was, in fact, me, and not that other version of me on the West Side. —Johnna Kaplan, Newsweek, 3 Mar. 2008

                            • I'm trained as a music theorist, not a comedy writer.

                              But many of the same principles of good comedy also apply to good music composition.

                              One principle is entrainment and disentrainment.

                              That is, you basically start by establishing a real or implicit pattern, and then immediately break the pattern.

                              What to do next depends on how effective the material breaking the pattern happens to be in establishing a new pattern.

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