Q&A: Andy Hamilton
Comedian and writer Andy Hamilton on being a ‘wavering agnostic’ with sympathy for the Devil
Describe your religious upbringing
I was a choirboy in an Anglican church where my dad was a warden. I liked being in the choir because a) I liked singing and b) I got half a crown for singing at weddings.
Around the age of nine or ten, I began to disbelieve the things the vicar was telling us. I don’t know why. They just didn’t sound right. God, in the Old Testament, seemed a bit of a git. In the New Testament, I could never quite understand why Jesus had to be killed for everything to be OK. All this meant that I was, I’m sure, a genuine pain in the arse during confirmation classes.
Eventually, my voice broke, I left the choir, and, I suppose, the Anglican Church. But I still love hymns and the inside of churches.
What would you describe yourself as now?
I’m not sure how I would describe myself. I’m either a lapsed atheist or wavering agnostic. But I am aware the agnostics are just cowardly atheists. I don’t believe in God, or any god, but I feel that the only honest answer to the question “Is this all there is?” is “How the hell should I know? I can’t even find my keys.”
For a non-believer you seem especially interested in religion and the Bible. How come?
The Bible interests me because in places it’s very funny (especially when it’s seeking to establish divine authority) and because it attempts to answer all the big questions that we started asking ourselves as soon as we had words to think with.
You seem to have a special affinity with Satan – why do you like him?
I think Satan was unfairly treated. He didn’t want to bow down before humans. What self-respecting angel would?
In your recent BBC Four programme Andy Hamilton’s Search for Satan you uncovered some fascinating Devil-facts. Which are your favourites?
There was lots of interesting material that we were unable to squeeze into the documentary. One of the most fascinating aspects was that in some Islamic traditions, Satan (the angel) complains to God that he cannot bow down before Man because Satan can only worship God. In a sense, Satan’s crime is being too much of a purist.
Also, in some Islamic versions, the other angels hint that God may have experimented with some previous creations, similar to Man, that did not turn out well.
In some branches of Sufism, Satan has been forgiven, redeemed and reinstated into Heaven, which, as a story, probably makes more sense than the Christian version.
Your show with Reginald D Hunter was called It’s Only a Theory. God is a theory, and so is evolution. Are they equivalent? If not, why not?
No. God as a theory is not a theory like evolution, because the scientific method cannot prove God’s existence. Perhaps the theory of a God fulfils some kind of human need. But again, that will always be impossible to prove.
When it was broadcast, Drop the Dead Donkey looked like satire. Now it looks like a documentary.
When we began Drop the Dead Donkey we heightened all the worst excesses of the news media to create an absurd, occasionally surreal world. Now, that world has arrived. It is impossible to parody.
You are going to appear at this year’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People [in December 2011]. Isn’t it hypocritical for atheists to have fun at Christmas? Shouldn’t they just stay at home and not laugh, or, better, go to work?
I think it is perfectly legitimate for non-believers to celebrate Christmas. Yes, of course, to a certain extent, we are gatecrashing a party to which we’re not technically invited, but as long as we bring a bottle and don’t throw up in the toilet I don’t see why anyone should mind.
Andy Hamilton is a comedy writer, director, performer and frequent guest on Radio 4’s The News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. He will be touring with his live show Andy Hamilton’s Hat of Doom in April and May 2012