When Bill Maher turns 59 this month, you can bet there’s one divine being who won’t be excited about the day he was born. Maher, an outspoken atheist, has never shied away from criticizing God and religion. In fact, the stand-up-comedian-turned-turned-talk-show-snarkster has become atheism’s poster boy — a poster, that unequivocally rejects soft focus photos of the sunlight peeking through lavender clouds. In 2008, Maher starred in the documentary Religulous, in which he mocked believers of all denominations (don’t think you’re off the hook, Zoroastrians!). The film had a strong opening weekend, but was edged out that weekend by Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Act of God? Let’s hope not. Let’s instead look at other famous heathens, shall we?
It took Ricky Gervais about an hour to convert to atheism. He was around eight years old, doing homework for his religion class when his brother walked up to him and asked him why he believed in God. Neither his brother nor his mum were believers, and pretty soon the future comedian rejected Christianity. In 2010, he wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal explaining his views: "Do unto others…" is a good rule of thumb," he said. "I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is — a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. 'Do this or you’ll burn in hell.'"
Keira Knightley doesn’t believe in the existence of a divine creator, although I assert that her fabulous cheekbones and pooching lips might suggest differently. In 2012, she jokingly said that she wished she were Catholic so she could ask for forgiveness of her sins. "If only I was a Catholic I could get away with anything – you’d ask for forgiveness and then you’d be forgiven." It didn’t take a Da Vinci decoder ring for Catholics to figure out that she was being facetious.
Julianne Moore 'bout done lost her mind in her Oscar-nominated role in Still Alice, but don't assume that the redheaded beauty would be asking the Man Upstairs for any help if tragedy struck her in real life. James Lipton once famously asked Moore what God would say to her when she appeared before him at the pearly gates. She replied, “Well, I guess you were wrong, because I do exist.” Zing! Wait, can you zing an omniscient being?
Some say A Million Ways to Die in the West is God’s way of punishing us for Seth McFarland’s sins. Okay, no one actually said that, but if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean. His show, the Family Guy, routinely pokes fun at religion, a cause he recently championed in an interview with Esquire. When asked why he was so vocal about his atheism, the former Catholic responded, “We have to. Because of all the mysticism and stuff that’s gotten so popular and unrepentant.”
You don’t often hear celebrities telling Jesus to “suck it.” So when Kathy Griffin accepted an Emmy for her reality show My Life on the D-List, her speech was even more shocking than the fact that Kathy Griffin won an Emmy for her reality show. "A lot of people come up here and they thank Jesus for this award,” she said. “ I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. So, all I can say is, 'Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now!'" Her comment drew ire from the Catholic League, but the comedienne was unrepentant. “My parents sent me to Catholic school, which only made me the vehement militant atheist that I am today. (Don’t get me started about those priests.)”
You won’t be seeing the Piano Man at church anytime soon. And that’s not just because he was raised Jewish. Billy Joel went to mass with friends growing up and was put off by the images of crucifixion and the talk of original sins. An attempt at being baptized at the age of twelve went horribly wrong, also, so the musician instead decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and renounce religion entirely. “I believe that all important matters have to be settled here, not in the clouds somewhere after we kick off,” he said.
Sam Harris is an author and neuroscientist who’s one of the nation’s most outspoken atheists, although don’t use that term in front of him. Rejecting the label, he says non-believers should simply be “decent, honest people, who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them" — kind of like a civil version of Shark Tank. You can read Harris’s criticism of religion all over the blogosphere. Trained in cognitive science, he has used MRI technology to examine how the brain processes religious beliefs. And if you’re not convinced by his neuroscience background, how about his background as a ninja? No seriously, he taught ninjutsu in college.