. . . the results are often unintentionally funny.
Here’s Ricky Gervais’ take on God in the most recent issue of Best Life. Look, Gervais the comic actor is a scream. The Office undoubtedly deserved the accolades it garnered (despite one or two errant episodes, in which tastelessness superseded the giggles). Its deadpan, laugh-track-less tone succeeded in rebooting the dying sitcom genre.
But for some it’s not enough to have achieved a level of success in their chosen field. They have to prove they’re deep thinkers as opposed to just clowns. And so Gervais has made this straight-faced contribution to New Atheist literature.
Two quick comments. First, the prison stats: Assuming they’re valid (I’ll bet there are more Nietzscheans in solitary than the sociology reveals), there’s an obvious explanation for the disparity between God fearers and God shirkers. Most of those sitting in prison are from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, folks who by virtue of their precarious life situations have a greater sense of contingency, dependence, a sense that they are subject to many and frightening forces they cannot control. And so faith in Someone who has Ultimate Control offers hope that at the very least they will be protected from the very worst. Sometimes that hope fails, and rage takes over, landing them in government housing of severely circumscribed square footage.
The tiny percentage of Americans who would describe themselves as real atheists (as opposed to “None of the Abovers”) is, I would bet, smaller than the 10 percent figure Gervais cites. But, again, let’s assume it for the sake of argument. Who are these atheists? Most likely people of higher economic status, people with letters after their name, people with a sense of control over their lives, even one of superiority. And so what do they need with a god? They’re masters of their own fates, captains of their own souls. And it’s just that class that is less likely to commit the kinds of crimes that result in jail time. They may cheat on their wives or on their taxes, but they’ll most likely stay out of jail.
On those occasions when the high and mighty do get sent off to the hoosegow, they often use their newfound free time to reconsider their notions of control and superiority—and, mirabile dictu, experience some kind of conversion, raising the percentage of believers sitting in prison.
As for the “free will” business: Has Mr. Gervais read his fellow atheists? I would argue that more atheists believe in some form of material determinism than in free will, with all the concomitant anti-human implications.
I look forward to seeing Ricky Gervais in his next film, Ghost Town. I will spare myself any more of his “deep thoughts,” however.