Thank God for Ricky Gervais
by Becky Garrison
Much of the post-Golden Globes buzz centered around host Ricky Gervais’ delicious skewering of faux celebrity culture. But I’d like to thank Gervais for standing up and proclaiming, “Thank You to God for Making Me an Atheist.” Someone needed to skewer those “Christians” who thank God whenever they score an award like a Golden Globe or a Superbowl ring, as though the Almighty blessed them while damning those who went away empty-handed.
I thank God for atheist comedians like Gervais, Lewis Black, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard, and Sarah Silverman, who point out the dangers of blindly following a fundamentalist form of Christianity. I too decry the rise of the Fox News faithful, who seek to remold America into a “Christian nation” and damn those of us to hell who dare to differ with their mantra: “Jesus Said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Such a mindset fosters a climate that produces a American exceptionalism that drapes the cross with the American flag. Such symbolic gestures signify to the rest of the world that the US of A believes they have been Bible blessed while other more secular (read “heathen”) nations are destined to hell.
Even though some Christians feel comfortable sending those who do not subscribe to their version of God into the fiery pits of hell, Gervais does not reciprocate this unilateral hatred for those who do not share his beliefs. In a holiday message he posted in The Wall Street Journal, “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.”
Thank God to Ricky for not painting all people of faith with the same brushstrokes and recognizing that not all Christians represent the love child of Fred Phelps and Sarah Palin. In my travels, I keep meeting people who would describe themselves as spiritual though they are reluctant to identify with Christianity or any other faith tradition due to the toxic baggage they feel has become associated with the term “religion.” In fact, it was my quest to find new ways of exploring what it means to follow my own spiritual path that led me towards places like Killing the Buddha, an online site that describes itself as a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches.
When I was in Portland, I connected with Marcus Borg for a chat about his latest projects. In his new book Speaking Christian (April 2011, HarperOne), he reflects on a spiritual truth and goodness that one can find woven throughout the strangs of our collective humanity.
People can live a good life without knowing or using a Christian language. And by a “good life” without knowing or using a Christian language. And by a “good life,” I do not mean simply a happy life or a decent life, but a transformed life that embodies virtues enshrined in Christianity. Christianity is not the only path to goodness and transformation. But Christianity ha shown itself throughout its history to be an effective pat for goodness and transformation—a path that is affirmed by millions and still has the potential to be a powerful force for our future.
As I noted in a column for Washington Post’s On Faith: “Like comedian Eddie Izzard, “I believe in us,” and I believe there exists a desire among many Americans to explore what it means to live as citizens in an increasingly pluralistic global society. But do we possess the will to practice what my ancestor the Rev. Roger Williams termed “liberty of conscience,” the idea of uncoerced faith that should be free under God to act on its own without state sanctions?”
I pray to God that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” I sense Gervais would probably agree.