10 Celebrities You Probably Didn’t Know Were Atheists
The political beliefs of celebrities may be a constant subject of public speculation, but their religious beliefs aren’t discussed quite so often. Sure, there are more than a few celebrities who have made their faith a major part of their public persona and even their onscreen work (Mel Gibson, for one), but the many celebrities who lack any religious beliefs don’t seem to discuss their atheism nearly as much. There are exceptions to this. Writers and directors Ricky Gervais and Seth MacFarlane have used their work to critique religion and trumpet atheism.
However, let’s focus on the quieter celebrity atheists for once, with a list of famous folks you probably didn’t know were atheists.
1. Darren Aronofsky
Director Darren Aronofsky has found critical acclaim and commercial success for his psychologically fascinating films like Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Wrestler, and most recently, 2014’s Noah. Though the latter film was based on biblical lore, Aronofsky has publicly admitted to not believing in the Christian God, or any God whatsoever. “It’s probably because I’m Godless. And so I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking, which is — ultimately what my God becomes, which is what my mantra becomes, is the theme.”
2. George Clooney
“I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell,” George Clooney admitted to The Washington Post in 1997. “I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life — the only thing I know to exist — to be wasted.” He elaborated further on his beliefs, and his reservations in a 2006 appearance on Larry King Live:
I don’t have a specific … Yeah … I don’t … You know. It’s an interesting thing. I’ll tell you what’s tricky about this. In talking about religion, if you’re well known, anything you say, it sort of takes off about a bunch of other people and attacks their belief. So I always try to say that, you know, first and foremost, that whatever anybody believes as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else, it’s fair enough, and works, and I think, is real, and matters. I don’t happen to have those beliefs, as much, you know, I don’t believe in those things.
3. Jack Nicholson
Perhaps unsurprisingly, since he started his career as a fixture of ’60s counterculture filmmaking, three-time Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson is an admitted atheist and has been since his 1992 interview with Vanity Fair, when he said, “I don’t believe in God now … I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience.”
4. Angelina Jolie
When Jolie was among a number of celebrities asked the question “Is there a God?” for a September 2000 edition on the website, The A.V. Club, she responded, “Hmm … For some people. I hope so, for them. For the people who believe in it, I hope so. There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything, either.”
5. Brad Pitt
Celebrated actor and former teenage heartthrob Brad Pitt neatly summarized his own religious beliefs, or lack thereof, in a 2009 interview with the German magazine Bild. When asked if he believed in God, Pitt smiled and said, “No, no, no!” “Is your soul spiritual?” the interviewer asked. “No, no, no! I’m probably 20% atheist and 80% agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.”
6. Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman may have played the Christian God in the 2003 Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty and its sequel, Evan Almighty, but that doesn’t mean he believes in any such God. On CNN in 2010, interviewer Kiran Chetry mistakenly assumed Freeman was a “man of God,” but Freeman laughed and insisted he was not. Chetry eventually asked more specifically, “What is your view of faith?” Freeman gave a truly confusing response, saying, “Questions of faith is whatever you actually believe is. We take a lot of what we’re talking about in science on faith. We posit a theory … and until it’s disproven, we have faith that it’s true. If the mathematics work out, then it’s true. Until it’s proven to be untrue…”
7. Bruce Lee
An international icon of cinema and martial arts, Bruce Lee was first asked publicly about his religious affiliation in 1972, to which he replied that he had “none whatsoever.” The journalist then asked if he believed in God, and Lee said, “To be perfectly frank, I really do not.” Author John Little expounded on Lee’s beliefs in his book The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee:
Lee felt that anything which substituted the ways or beliefs of others in the place of teaching you how to cultivate your own was a step in the wrong direction. For this reason, Lee was opposed to the doctrines — or rather the dogmas — of organized religion.
8. Natalie Portman
When Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her performance in Aronofsky’s Black Swan, she didn’t thank any God, like many do. The Jewish-born actress has said she’s “more like a product of a doctor than I am a Jew.” When asked about the afterlife, she responded, “I don’t believe in that. I believe this is it, and I believe it’s the best way to live.”
9. Christopher Reeve
The man who embodied Superman in the public consciousness for decades, and therefore represented “truth, justice, and the American way,” didn’t believe in a God. He admitted as much during a speech he gave in Minneapolis in 1996, hardly a year after he was paralyzed from the neck down due to a horseback riding accident. When asked if he believed in the Lord, Reeve said “Even though I don’t personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching.”
10. Frank Sinatra
Ol’ Blue Eyes himself admitted that he didn’t believe in a God, at least not in a traditional sense, during a 1963 Playboy interview. His entire response to the question is fascinating, “I believe in you and me … I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice.”
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