Q&A: Marcus Brigstocke
Between the arrogant believers and the smug atheists stands a lone comic, with only a successful career for comfort.
What led you to write an entire comedy show, and now a book, about religion?
A number of things. Seriously, the death of my best friend James came soon after a personal shift towards secularism and a sense that the atheist bandwagon might be rolling pretty fast with me on it. I felt sad and my intellectual rigour was tested by the emotions and sense of loss I experienced. Less seriously, God, as I have experienced Him, is a colossal bastard who needs to answer some pressing questions.
How would you describe your religious views?
I’m a very confused little atheist. I am pretty certain there’s no God. If the God of the Jews, Muslims or Christians exists then I want no part of Him. Luckily He doesn’t seem in the slightest bit interested in me or anyone else struggling to get through here on earth so it’s only His followers we have to deal with. They can be violent and silly but they can’t actually smite so that’s a plus. I am committed to rationality and reason but I see the value of faith. I admire many who have it.
Well, they have THE answer, don’t they? It might be the wrong answer but if you manage the trick of no longer asking all the supplemental questions then it’s THE answer. People with faith in their lives have a system which works for them. They have the knowledge that loved ones lost are somewhere safe and they are cared for. The faithful face death with the knowledge that it is not the end. I get scared and emotional when a really decent breakfast looks like it’s nearly over. They have communities which are strong, rituals which are binding and for many their faith has inspired great art, building and music. Also of course many of them are able to behave really badly, ask forgiveness, get it and start behaving badly all over again
You are scathing in your condemnation of the Abrahamic faiths – what are the worst bits?
All the obvious stuff that liberals wring our hands over: Gays and women ... slavery, genocide, racism, bigotry. God is described as love but if you look at how He chooses to act and what He actually does to many of the people written up in the Holy books of the Abrahamic faiths you’ll see He is not loving at all but instead a vain, scatterbrained, fickle, murdering, sexist, homophobic, racist thug.
You are also critical of atheists. What’s wrong with them?
Smugness mostly ... the insistence that the part of our brain which seeks truth is always better and more noble than the part which seeks comfort. I am critical of anyone who seeks to downplay or trivialise the reasons why people believe in God and the benefits to individuals and communities which faith is able to bring. Secular thought, in its hurry to tear down the structures of the faiths, must be scrupulously honest (honesty is one thing we can be truly certain we have on our side) and we must have humility and empathy. Religion is often arrogant and belligerent, able to be both victim and tyrant at once. If secular thought is to challenge faith it must avoid these same characteristics. Some atheists are thick, some are vindictive, many are intolerant and at least two I know smell bad. Bandwagons rarely have careful drivers.
Whose side are you on anyway?
I am on mine. I am somewhat a humanitarian although I must confess to finding a great many humans frustrating and irritating.
What would your bus-based statement of belief be?
“There’s probably no God – but you will worry anyway so try to find a philosophy that works for you but doesn’t harm (see other side of bus)… others.”
You are frank about your past addictions. Did God help you get sober?
Yes, He did, but if He’s real He also made me a very unhappy addict in the first place. The God I believed in when I got clean and sober and abstinent from compulsive eating was not a God any religion would recognise. He was not Jesus’s absent and irrational Dad, nor was He best mates with the Jews and He certainly didn’t dictate Al Qur’an to a bearded illiterate goat-herder in a cave. The notion of “God” I had was more about creating some order in my life and helping me to find serenity, courage and wisdom after a long spell of pain, fear and insanity. It worked, but then I started asking too many questions and God got in a big strop and flounced off and I haven’t seen Him in a while.