I came across this old piece from Ricky Gervais today by reading a feature about celebrity atheists.
Gervais’ essay is a good read. I’m not saying that as a Yale-minted MDiv interested in refuting anyone’s personal feelings about faith or a lack thereof. What I do want to say, though, is that there are many, many Christians (like me) who are more in line with much of what he says here than with other professed Christians on all kinds of matters. From the essay:
“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.”
Exactly. John Calvin had a lot to say to the contrary, but agreeing with John Calvin isn’t a prerequisite for knowing Jesus.
Speaking of Jesus, 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.”
Guess what? If we’re defining God as the God of a very narrow kind of way of being Christian, or a God who is smaller than even our own capacities for love and grace and so on, if we’re talking about the out-to-lunch God of so much that passes for religion in the West, then I’m an atheist, too. It’s only when you lose this God that you find yourself again in a place where the confounding message of Christ feels so true that it must also be holy.
My friend John calls me a converted doubter. I thank God for all the faith I’ve lost over the years, and for the way I see God now…in Christ the servant, Christ the underminer of systems, Christ the prophet, Christ the Kind, Christ the Just, Christ the Poor, Christ the Margin, Christ the Savior, Christ the Lord.
Now, more than ever, Jesus is my God. But that doesn’t make me hate or distrust or dislike or not feel connections to those for whom this makes absolutely no sense. I hope they, too, reject false Gods. I’d love for them to see Jesus as I do, because I find his life life-giving, even now. I find strength in him. I can get behind a God who’s not above straw poverty, who’s not above giving every last vestige of power away, who says blessed are the trampled. Give me that God, always.