Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For the Love of Ricky Gervais

I think Ricky Gervais is a comic genius.  I've been a fan of his for many, many years now, ever since The Office (UK version, of course) came onto the scene.  I watch everything he produces, listen to all the podcasts (many times over, in fact), and I regularly read his blog and follow his Twitter feed.  Beyond being ridiculously funny, Gervais strikes me as being intelligent.  In fact, I wish he was my friend (though I know, from watching and listening to Karl Pilkington and Robin Ince, just what Gervais is capable of as a friend).

That said, where Gervais is neither very funny nor very witty is in his comments on religion.  Don't get me wrong.  I think there are many good and philosophically defensible reasons to be an atheist, and I think there are many, many good reasons to point out the very evident flaws that are an inherent part of organized religion.  But Gervais' brand of atheism is the currently fashionable brand being promulgated by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens (RIP), Daniel Dennett, et al.  This brand of atheism is militant in its hatred of all religions, and bases this hatred on a thoroughgoing materialism and on an understanding of religion as inherently irrational and violent.  I don't pretend to have anything new to say about the New Atheists.  I've read many of their books, and actually enjoyed reading them.  I would thoroughly love to sit down and have a beer with them, and I wish I had had the honour of meeting Mr. Hitchens.

However, there are some very basic flaws in the methodology and logic of New Atheism that need to be pointed out over and over again, particularly as there are people, like my beloved Ricky Gervais, who keep discussing religion from the New Atheist viewpoint as if it were simply common sense.  Terry Eagleton's brilliant review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion provides a particularly good critique.  But one of the best books on the New Atheist movement is David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.  Hart is a remarkable theologian whose philosophical and theological training is almost unparalleled, and whose arguments are both devastating and witty.

I encourage you to read the book if you haven't already.  Here's a little taster to whet your appetite (emphases in the text are my own):
"I can honestly say that there are many forms of atheism that I find far more admirable than many forms of Christianity or of religion in general. But atheism that consists entirely in vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness, is as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism. And it is sometimes difficult, frankly, to be perfectly generous in one’s response to the sort of invective currently fashionable among the devoutly undevout, or to the sort of historical misrepresentations it typically involves...
[A]mong Christianity’s most fervent detractors, there has been a considerable decline in standards in recent years. In its early centuries, the church earned the enmity of genuinely imaginative and civilized critics, such as Celsus and Porphyry, who held the amiable belief that they should make some effort to acquaint themselves with the object of their critique. And, at the end of Europe’s Christian centuries, the church could still boast antagonists of real stature. In the eighteenth century, David Hume was unrivaled in his power to sow doubt where certainty once had flourished. And while the diatribes of Voltaire, Denis Diderot, and the other Enlightenment philosophes were, on the whole, insubstantial, they were at least marked by a certain fierce elegance and occasional moral acuity. Edward Gibbon, for all the temporal parochialism and frequent inaccuracy of his account of Christianity’s rise, was nevertheless a scholar and writer of positively titanic gifts, whose sonorously enunciated opinions were the fruit of immense labors of study and reflection. And the extraordinary scientific, philosophical, and political ferment of the nineteenth century provided Christianity with enemies of unparalleled passion and visionary intensity. The greatest of them all, Friedrich Nietzsche, may have had a somewhat limited understanding of the history of Christian thought, but +he was nevertheless a man of immense culture who could appreciate the magnitude of the thing against which he had turned his spirit, and who had enough of a sense of the past to understand the cultural crisis that the fading of Christian faith would bring about. Moreover, he had the good manners to despise Christianity, in large part, for what it actually was—above all, for its devotion to an ethics of compassion—rather than allow himself the soothing, self-righteous fantasy that Christianity’s history had been nothing but an interminable pageant of violence, tyranny, and sexual neurosis. He may have hated many Christians for their hypocrisy, but he hated Christianity itself principally on account of its enfeebling solicitude for the weak, the outcast, the infirm, and the diseased; and, because he was conscious of the historical contingency of all cultural values, he never deluded himself that humanity could do away with Christian faith while simply retaining Christian morality in some diluted form, such as liberal social conscience or innate human sympathy. He knew that the disappearance of the cultural values of Christianity would gradually but inevitably lead to a new set of values, the nature of which was yet to be decided. By comparison to these men, today’s gadflies seem far lazier, less insightful, less subtle, less refined, more emotional, more ethically complacent, and far more interested in facile simplifications of history than in sober and demanding investigations of what Christianity has been or is" (David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, 4, 5-6).


  1. I am an agnostic/atheist, and I don't think Ricky has the background knowledge and education to speak on this topic. He is an intelligent man with a philosophy degree, but has spent his life making comedy rather than as an academic.

  2. Gervais is awesome.end of

  3. I think Ricky has some strong views against Christianity. Which i do not like.

    1. Do you like his strong views against islam?

    2. No, I do not. They're terribly naive and misinformed.