Everyone is Religious, Even Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais assumes a secular, naturalistic view of the world. He assumes the only valid way of explaining the world is through science while religion is merely social conditioning. If people approach the world through a neutral scientific lens, everyone would be an atheist. In fact, Gervais claims people are born atheists and become religious. He firmly believes that atheism is not a religion. He goes so far as to say, “Atheism should not even be a word. It is not a thing.” Yet in a ten-minute conversation, J. H. Bavinck’s magnetic points still make appearances.
First and most clearly of all, Gervais has a notion of a norm. The norm Gervais presents is science. His main criteria for belief is what science can observe. In a comical segment, he goes so far as to say he would accept belief in God if scientists could “put forward a jar of God, test it for its godiness and if there is anything godly in it, we will write it down.”
Second, he recognizes a sense of totality. He criticizes belief in God, not because of the role it plays in individual lives, but because of the effect it has on others. “If you start doing crazy stuff because God is telling you, that affects me. I have to stop you there.” While he is not talking about a cosmic relationship, he recognizes there is a particular way human beings interact with one another and are expected to conform to because they are connected. Yet such relationships cannot be deduced scientifically. The example he uses is stoning an individual over his or her religious beliefs. While there is a pervasive sense that killing another person is immoral, he does not prove why the action is wrong from science. He indicates he recognizes a moral law that cannot be scientifically deduced, a totality that governs how humans interact with one another.
Gervais also recognizes a need for deliverance. He blames religion for violence and divisiveness. He believes the end of belief in God will deliver humanity from the evils perpetrated by religion. His proposal is to wait until people are twenty to tell them about God or atheism. If no children are exposed to religion, after developing their rational faculties, they will choose atheism, he believes.
Not all of the magnetic points appear in the interview, however. Gervais is not interested in a reality above reality, at least in this interview. Nor does he reflect a belief in a semblance of fate or determinism. In talking about prayer, he says prayer does not do anything. Only human actions effect change in the world.
Gervais’s worldview is appealing in its simplicity. Humanity is not made, so there is no need to ask what it is made for. There is little need to probe existential questions. All that exists is what science can observe and there is no need to bother when anything else. Gervais does not have to work through existential questions nor does he have to spend time proving his beliefs. He assumes the value of science and asks little more than that. He places the burden of proof on those who do believe in a God.
Yet to those who do find themselves wrestling with existential questions, Gervais’s approach will feel like a cop-out since it merely dismisses such questions. Such an approach does not seem to live up to Gervais’s portrayal of himself as someone who enjoys learning, asking questions, and doubting assumptions to see if they hold water. Those asking such hard questions would do well to look elsewhere for an answer to their existential needs.
The Gospel does not shy away from some of Gervais’s critiques. Certainly, many who have claimed to follow God have committed atrocities. Yet religion contains moral commands such as “Thou shalt not murder.” Religion does fail to live up to its own ideals. Yet abandoning faith would not solve the problem. Instead, Gervais is left trying to explain why humanity should uphold religion’s ideals without a belief in God. Atheism cannot explain why “thou shalt not murder.” Instead, if only the fit survive, violence might be a better ethic. The Gospel says that the world does not need less of God, but more of Him. Only God’s love for His creation in the death and resurrection of Jesus can provide humanity with the motivation to love one another. While Gervais might not be able to measure the Gospel scientifically, it provides a far greater cause for peace in the world than pure science and atheism could ever offer.