By: Ricky Gervais
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 Jesus 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. Seventy-five percent of Americans are God-fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-fearing Christians. Ten 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 newfound atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. Not a world by design, but one by chance. I learned of evolution—a theory so simple and obvious that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals, and us—with imagination, free will, love, and 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.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this article. Okay, that’s a lie.
Ricky Gervais created the award-winning TV shows The Office and Extras . This fall, he stars in the romantic comedy Ghost Town opposite Téa Leoni.