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Though atheism denotes a lack of belief in God or religion, many practitioners approach it with the same philosophy or enthusiasm as a spiritual zealot. This characteristic also extends to celebrities, many of whom are outspoken in their atheistic or agnostic belief system. To prove it, here are 15 Hollywood atheism advocates who let their lack of belief inform their work.
Former Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais is known for his in-your-face sense of humor. His approach to atheism is much of the same—the humanist comedian is known for trolling Twitter to express his lack of faith spiritually, often getting into acerbic, long-winded arguments with religious fans. His belief also extends to his work—The Invention of Lying, which he stars in and directed, has his character inventing a religion (re: “lying”) in order to ease his mother’s fear of dying.
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In a 2006 interview with James Lipton, British actor Hugh Laurie revealed that, despite being raised by a religious father, he prescribed to science over religious belief. This sentiment is not-so-coincedentally shared with his popular character on the medical investigative drama House. The show and character regularly takes pot shots at religion for its lack of rationality.
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Comedian Kathy Griffin has described herself as a “militant atheist.” The stand-up comedian and fashion commentator makes as many jokes about Christianity as she does about her fellow celebrities. Though atheism fits into her brand of shocking humor, Griffin has admitted some hesitancy to truly join the ranks of atheists and prefers to rationalize her belief system as “fallen Catholic.”
Despite his Jewish ancestry, director Woody Allen has built much of his comedy career on ardent atheism. As a filmmaker he has consistently implemented non-belief as a character motif, particularly with the roles he’s played himself. His one-liners rank among the most frequently quoted by atheist advocates.
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Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla has been a professed atheist since his Loveline days. He’s came under fire frequently for his comments, which some have accused of being anti-Christian. Like any comedian, however, Carolla is an equal opportunity jokester and regularly sets his sights on all religions. He also frequently expresses a distrust for “militant atheists” who practice their non-belief in organized fashion (not unlike religion).
Maynard James Keenan
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Through his metal bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, lead singer/songwriter Maynard James Keenan seeks to implore an alternative means of thinking among his audience. This especially applies to the singer’s atheism, which inspired such songs as “Wings For Marie” and “Judith.” Both songs were autobiographical, reflecting Keenan’s frustration with his mother’s faith following a stroke that left her paralyzed. The latter became a mainstream radio hit for A Perfect Circle in 2000.
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During her stint as the co-host of Air America’s The Majority Report, comedian Janeane Garofalo would frequently promote herself as an enthusiastic atheist. She even recorded a commercial for the Freedom From Religion Foundation that signed off by saying “Proud to be an atheist, Janeane Garofalo.” Despite her non-belief, an episode of Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher saw Garofalo express her desire for tolerance and acceptance of religion balanced with pragmatism.
David Cross is known to most as the goofy villain of the Alvin and the Chipmunks film franchise, which can cause quite the shock to audiences when they hear his scathing brand of stand-up comedy. Religion is a favorite subject of the performer, who regularly pokes fun at Christianity, Judaism, and the concept of church in general.
Guillermo del Toro
Spanish director Guillermo del Toro makes films about gods and monsters but is most certainly atheistic. Describing himself as a “lapsed Catholic,” his films regularly reflect themes of distrust toward authority figures both man made and supernatural. He attributes this to a youth spent with a harsh, devoutly Catholic grandmother who regarded his interest in monsters and fairy tales as truly demonic.
Alex Garland, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Dredd, also wrote Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic space yarn Sunshine. The film, about a group of astronauts attempting to launch a missile into a dying sun, is seen by the writer as an atheistic parable. Garland describes the film as about “a bunch of people who are faced with something really powerful and how they misinterpret that thing and it sort of blows their minds and makes them act irrationally.” Garland also admits that all of his scripts are written from his own atheistic perspective.
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Magician/comedian Penn Jillette, of the duo Penn & Teller, may be the most outspoken atheist in Hollywood. The comedian has written several books on the subject with titles like Every Day Is An Atheist’s Holiday and God, No! Signs You Might Already Be An Atheist.
Comedian and Real-Time host Bill Maher is known for his edgy, liberally minded political comedy, much of which is informed by atheism. Maher regularly critiques organized religion and in 2008 even made an entire movie about the subject, Religulous. Though he considers himself an agnostic, Maher has refused to “split hairs” about the difference between the two. Referring to himself as an “apatheist,” Maher has said “if you are just not a super-religious person, you are on my team."
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The Avengers director Joss Whedon has described himself as a “hard-line, angry atheist.” Despite his non-belief, Whedon continually wrestles with themes of devotion in his work while also examining the random and meaningless lessons taught by death. Whedon most recently critiqued religion with his film Cabin In The Woods. The comedy- horror film saw a government agency offer up a group of teens as sacrifice to powerful Gods… in a federally funded, slasher-movie cabin setting.
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Comedian Matt Stone is an admitted atheist, but one who finds much to mock on both sides of the religious fence. As one-half of the duo behind South Park and The Book of Mormon, Stone and partner, Trey Parker, have frequently satirized religion while also celebrating its positives from an secular perspective. Stone has also admitted a distaste for the hardline, “neoatheist” movement, calling it “d—ky” and claiming it “has set atheism back a few decades.”
Silent film star was one of the first Hollywood stars to come forward as an admitted atheist, well before it was acceptable to do so. His famous quote "By simple common sense I don't believe in God, in none" made it into Manual of a Perfect Atheist by Eduardo Del Rio Garcia. Later in life, Chaplin’s autobiography would skirt around the subject and, before his death, Chaplin opted to clarify he considered himself an agnostic. Nevertheless, the exact classification of Chaplin’s lack of religious conviction is still argued about today, marking him as the Hollywood atheist who started it all.