Matthew McConaughey Says He Chose ‘Contact’ Role to Show the Connection Between Religion and Science — ‘The Two Are Not Exclusive, They Dance Together’

Matthew McConaughey has dazzled viewers in countless roles over the course of his career, but one of his most memorable is his portrayal of Christian philosopher Palmer Joss in the 1997 film Contact.

For some, the film is controversial because it blurs the lines between religion and science. But for Oscar-winner McConaughey, the role is perfect because it speaks to his belief in both religion and science. 

Matthew McConaughey believes religion and science are connected 

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey speaks onstage | Noam Galai/Getty Images for HISTORY

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While a fair amount of celebrities like to keep their religious beliefs private, McConaughey is not one of them. During a recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, McConaughey opens up about his religious beliefs. 

“You know what the Latin root of religion is?” McConaughey asks. “Religare, and ‘ligare’ means ‘to bing together.’ ‘Re’ means ‘again.’ Well in a world that’s saying I’m only spiritual because I want unity, that’s exactly what religion means. We’ve bastardized the meaning of it over time and we’ve excluded people and we’ve corporatized and such, but yes, I am religious.”

Matthew McConaughey’s love of faith and science attracted him to ‘Contact’ role

McConaughey then explains how his connection to religion attracted him to his role in Contact. For the Academy Award-winning actor, the relationship he saw between religion and science compelled him to dive into the role. 

“… That character, you know, I had written stories … and I remember writing things, like, during the making of that movie, like science is the practical pursuit of God,” McConaughey continues. “The two are not exclusive, they dance together … and I never saw those as contradictions. And that’s part of what—the reason I attacked that role and became a part of that movie. I wanted to play a person that had that point of view of a believer in a world of science, not at the exclusion of science, and not at the exclusion of belief.”

He applies ‘practical’ parts of religion to his life

Continuing the conversation, Rogan expresses curiosity about McConaughey’s literal beliefs. mentioning that many outsiders don’t understand which parts of religious writings to take seriously. He asks McConaughey if he takes the bible at its literal word, or instead uses it as a “guidebook” of experiences that have been translated numerous times. 

McConaughey responds by saying that he uses “practical” parts of the bible, instead of focusing on literal examples such as the bible’s burning bush. 

“… I for myself, I don’t know what to do in my daily life with the ‘burning bush.’ I don’t know what to do with that. I do know what to do with ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ … I do know what to do with some proverbs that I can take into daily practice and go, ‘Oh, I felt my life. I felt improvement, I felt success in my relationships and my relationship with the day, with my career by following that. By treating others how I wanted to be treated, the golden rule. So I take the practical stuff, myself. I try to utilize it and pick out what can work for me.”