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Sir Anthony Hopkins: I couldn’t be an atheist

By on Friday, 11 February 2011

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Anthony Hopkins stars as an exorcist in the forthcoming film The Rite (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Sir Anthony Hopkins told the Catholic Herald this week that he “couldn’t live with” the certainty of being an atheist.

The actor, who was knighted in 1993, said: “Being an atheist must be like living in a closed cell with no windows”.

Sir Anthony said: “I’d hate to live like that, wouldn’t you? We see them, mind you, on television today, many brilliant people who are professional atheists who say they know for a fact that it’s insanity to have a God or to believe in religion. Well, OK, God bless them for feeling that way and I hope they’re happy.”

He added: “But I couldn’t live with that certainty, and I wonder about some of them: why are they protesting so much? How are they so sure of what is out there? And who am I to refute the beliefs of so many great philosophers and martyrs all the way down the years?”

Sir Anthony, who is most famous for playing the cannibal Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, stars as Fr Lucas in The Rite, based on the experiences of American exorcist Fr Gary Thomas.

  • Toby

    The Christian God is not a “god of the gaps”. If you read Aquinas he deals with this and because of the limits of our reasoning, understanding, and time, he sees the need for Revelation.

    God has revealed Himself in this world, in the person of Jesus Christ, in miracles, in the working of the Holy Spirit, it’s up to you to evaluate the evidence.

  • Toby

    and if the man was fit and healthy with a family who loved him dearly, but wanted to be killed?

  • M.Burns

    First, it must be remembered that the focus of my comment was to encourage Anne to use approved apparitions to further her point rather than false ones which will ultimately only negate her point. (The local bishop is the one who has all the details of the investigation(s): the populace do not.) Having said that:

    Re: “…the bishops are right because they say they are right…”

    That is not what I wrote, and it is not what the Catholic Church teaches. You have obviously read my comment through some bias.

    Re: “…what they say goes…”

    No, what God says goes. He has given the Apostles and their successors (the bishops) the duty and the required authority to teach His truth. As Christians we must humbly obey the authority He has put in place and the truth that authority teaches for God.

    Re: “…lest we suffer the same fate as Satan??! [sic]”

    Do you believe that we can willfully disobey God without suffering any consequences?

    Re: “…we should talk about how the Holy Spirit inspires holiness on [sic] those he touches.”

    I *was* talking about the Holy Spirit inasmuch as He is God. Again, you seem to have read my comment through some bias.

    For any further discussion, I must refer you to a far better orthodox source than I: catholic.com. Their Web site has thousands of free articles on this and other topics. Their live call-in radio show can be listened to online, via radio, and satellite (and they heartily welcome anyone to call in with questions – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – and gladly give biblical references with their answers). Their live shows can also be downloaded in mp3 format for free. (Also many of the guests on their show are former Protestant ministers, such as Tim Staples.) Another source loyal to the Church’s teachings is ewtn.com, who also have shows available for free in various formats.

    We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)

  • Czechingin

    Rich, The details are somewhat irrelevant, but since you asked. . . .
    Let me say that I am a loyal Catholic. I live between Phoenix and Tucson in a town called Casa Grande in the state of Arizona USA.I had been listening to the radio when I heard that a lecture on “Demons and the Kingdom of Darkness” was to be given in Phoenix. I attended the first lecture, and over the course of a few lectures became friends with this preacher out of Phoenix.
    He is still a licensed psychologist in the state, but has retired from the secular practice. His information can be found on the website hardcorechristianity.com. He is what the protestants call a “Deliverance Minister”. Do your own research into what that is, but the short version is that they deal specifically with demonic oppression which is quite different from demonic possession. I was the first Catholic he ever became friends with in so much as he could ask me about the faith, and I could give him answers. It took a while before he even believed I was a Christian. If you knew the American protestant-Catholic atmosphere, you would understand the deep-seated and ridiculous beliefs the uninformed have about us Catholics.
    Eventually I was able to bring some people I know to be ministered to / counseled by him. It was at these times that I occasionally heard a words emanating from the body of the person being oppressed. Usually they were words of defiance and hate. It was not as dramatic as the Hollywood versions portray. But in a sense it is more dramatic because it is real and you see it before you.
    As for the limb growing out, my friend and his team were ministering in my town at a local church. A man with a shortened limb was prayed over by a very aggressive young “assistant” to my friend the minister. He commanded the limb to grow out using the authority of Jesus’ name. I saw this arm literally grow out. It was only two inches or maybe three, but I saw it with my own eyes.
    A few months after that, I was invited to pray with some sorely oppressed people in a small village on a local Indian reservation. It was there that I first publicly prayed for a young woman to be free of depression. The Holy Spirit moved and using Jesus name’ I saw her wretch and vomit as the demons left her. Again it was less dramatic than Hollywood, but it is real. I spoke with my parish priest and two other priests as well, though one was not in my diocese. These things tend to more easily found in parishes with strong minority presence or in parishes with an active charismatic Catholic group, but I first learned about it with the Protestants.
    Incidentally my protestant friends do not charge for their ministry, have no paid staff, and all work their own regular jobs in order to support themselves in their ministry, thought they do take donations. But they are not con-artists or publicity hounds, but since I met them, they have started a low-budget home-made TV show and radio program available locally or on the internet. Rich if you are further interested in my story, you can contact me by email at czechingin [at] a website that sounds like boo-hoo.

  • Rich

    Hmm, what happened to generosity of spirit?

    No bias I promise, other than positive bias towards the Catholic church.

  • Raymund Osborne

    He should stick to acting.His remarks are typical of an unenlightened mind and lack profundity

  • http://www.hoilogoi.com/ Der Wolfanwalt

    Depends on how you define knowledge, and how you define reasonable. Reason, unfortunately, is like a strong man with a game leg – it can build quite a bit, but it can’t get around to find raw materials. So, if a reasonable proposition is one that has been built of smaller propositions by reason, I would as you how you came by your smaller propositions?

    The only reason the the definition is useless is that it doesn’t allow for the latitude of casually designating religious faith as unreasonable. My entire point is that what faith leads to – religion or otherwise – is essentially based on what the individual is willing to accept. You can critique the rationality of the conclusion based upon whether it follows the premises; or you can attack the premises on any given level based upon what train of reason led to them; but I do not think you can credibly “combat” faith with reason. They are indispensable to each other.

  • http://www.hoilogoi.com/ Der Wolfanwalt

    Rich…I disagree. Do you have anything substantive to add to the conversation? I don’t mind being one taking on two…but the cheerleader thing is just annoying.

  • Monty

    Totally wrong. It is the religious who are locked in the windowless cells and it is of their own making. An interesting analogy; indeed, the idea of a windowless cell features much in religious history as monks and nuns have shut themselves away in such cells and the religious have shut away so-called heretics as part of their barbaric treatment of those who dare to differ in their views, even merely to the slightest degree.

    The very purpose of religion, its dogma, its structure, is to obviate the need for individual thought and investigation. Religion provides all the answers and doesn’t even want you to ask the questions. The atheists are outside the cell, free to look at the world, to study it and draw conclusions based on evidence. The reason they are atheists is that there is no evidence of any deity, only the hypotheses that the religious are commanded to believe as fact and on pain of death even today. Whatever Anthony Hopkins believes it is pretty certain that at some stage in the history of the Christian church he would have been imprisoned, probably tortured and even killed for holding those beliefs.

    People with closed minds exist on both sides of the divide but, fortunately, not all are of this nature. Irrefutable evidence of a deity would be recognised by an atheist with a logical mind. The reason it is so easy to be atheistic, however, is that none has been found and the behaviour over the millennia of the religions that propagate these myths has been inconsistent, cruel and heartless and that does not endear them to thinking men.

  • Lucy

    I love Anthony Hopkins, however I disagree that “being an atheist is like living in a cell with no windows”. I actually found it very freeing. I am a moral person, but do not believe in all the dogma and “rules” that you need to follow to supposedly get to Heaven. Not worrying so much about all the little infractions has made me more joyous in living this life! Not worrying if I prayed enough to change an outcome is also very freeing. I don’t have to say Why me , Lord? It’s just nature and nothing personal (re:illnesses). Being an atheist is the best thing I ever did!!!!

  • lucy

    PS I have a degree in Biology. It is a real science and I am a nonbeliever.

  • Saxotelephone

    I love his comments here but he’s not a thiest – He’s an agnostic.
    http://io9.com/#!5744377/anthony-hopkins-reveals-the-secret-atheist-message-he-put-into-the-rite

  • Anonymous

    As an atheist I can assure Sir Anthony that I do not feel as though I am living in a closed cell. Saying “I would hate to live like an atheist” is like saying “I would hate to be a different person”. If you were that different person, you would not hate being so. And who are these professional atheists who say that believing in God is caused by insanity, as opposed to upbringing? He gives no names, and I can’t think of any. He asks “Who am I to refute the beliefs of so many great philosophers etc”? I would reply “Hopefully you are an intelligent person able to question the past”. Aristotle was a great philosopher but believed slavery to be acceptable. Would Sir Anthony (who acted in “Amistad”) not question that?

  • Anonymous

    Atheists become anti-theists when theists become sufficiently annoying.

  • Anonymous

    Any nonsense can be beautifully spoken.

  • Anonymous

    Dawkins thinks that religion is a “virus of the mind”. (google that & his name).
    I’d hate to be an Objectivist, for instance, yet I’m sure if I was actually one I’d like it. I’m not sure what your point is.
    Hopkins is agnostic – by definition that questions the beliefs of theologians anyway.
    I’m not even sure why I bothered replying – I normally despise the increasingly common practice of getting spiritual advice from people who, while they may be good actors, don’t actually know more about non acting things than anyone else.

  • Anonymous

    When Dawkins metaphorically describes religion as a “virus of the mind” he means that (a) it spreads from person to person (especially from parent to child) in the manner of a virus and (b) that it can affect the capacity for rational thought. Not always thinking rationally, however, is not the same thing as insanity. Dawkins does not believe that religious people are generally insane, and insanity was too strong a word for Hopkins to use. My point about Hopkins saying that he’d hate to live like an atheist is that by projecting the implications of his own leanings onto those who don’t share them, he deceives himself into imagining that he is in a better position. I get cheesed off by those Christians who assume that my life must be a poor thing compared to theirs because I don’t share their religion. Numerous Christian advertising campaigns do the same, and so does Hopkins here. I would never assume that a person is not leading a full and happy life just because he doesn’t share my atheist outlook.

  • P.M. Gleason

    Pardon, but I find more than a little irony in someone saying “How are they so sure of what is out there?” and judging them for it, while they are Christian, and even moreso, likening it to living in a closed cell with no windows.

    It seems entirely counter-intuitive to the function of faith.

  • Tom

    “So, if a reasonable proposition is one that has been built of smaller propositions by reason, I would as you how you came by your smaller propositions??”
    Actually, a reasonable proposition doesn’t need to be built by smaller proposition by reason. It can be obtained by chance, such as the first time you touch a hot stove. Or it can be obtained by brute force such as trying all the combinations of a simple puzzle. Etc… Then once enough reasonable propositions have been obtained then reason can be used.

    “what faith leads to – religion or otherwise – is essentially based on what the individual is willing to accept.”
    This is very true. One’s willingness to accept a proposition represents the dividing line between most atheists and theists.

  • Tom

    “but there will always an element of doubt until you know for certain”
    Where would you draw the line between certainty and uncertainty? Do you view ALL decisions as being based on faith? If so, what use is faith if all decisions are faith based?

    “but he will still need to have faith / trust in her”
    Ultimately yes. However, he doesn’t think like that. He thinks and makes decisions as if he is certain. That is what is important.

  • Tom

    “if you think that religious adherents in the main follow their beliefs because they think it would make them happier then that is quite patronising.”
    I am sorry for insulting you. Of course I don’t think that all or even a majority of religious people believe mainly because it makes them happy. I am just saying that it is the only rational reason I could think of for believing. Everyone else believes based on irrational reasons which they are free to do.

  • Tom

    “the Church also needs two miracles to prove conclusively”
    I would consider that a lack of diligence. For me to be convinced I would need several more miracles. Also, they would need to meet scientific standards to eliminate the risk of accidental or intentional errors or bias.

    “As we’re looking to prove the existance of God … will another miracle do or does it need to have the same heritage?”
    Proof of a god would require much more impressive evidence than the occurrence of miracles. Firstly, one would need to define the god since there are so many. Many gods by definition logically can’t exist such as the Christian god which is claimed to provide perfect justice yet is capable of mercy.

  • Tom

    “what fascinates me about these laws is that they seem to point towards an intelligent mind behind creation.”
    Why so? There is no evidence that these laws are capable of being any different. Both intelligent and natural processes can be demonstrated, in thought experiments, to produce universes with these values. What is the evidence that it was an intelligent process? Wouldn’t the simpler natural process be the Occam’s Razor default choice? At this point we don’t have enough evidence to make a conclusive choice.

    “I’m not quite sure how your statement above gets us away from the need for a first uncaused cause”
    This statement demonstrates that you don’t fully understand the science behind Hawking’s theories. It can be demonstrated that causality doesn’t exist at a quantum level. Therefore a natural uncaused cause is not only possible, but experimentally proven to occur every day.

  • Tom

    “what fascinates me about these laws is that they seem to point towards an intelligent mind behind creation.”
    Why so? There is no evidence that these laws are capable of being any different. Both intelligent and natural processes can be demonstrated, in thought experiments, to produce universes with these values. What is the evidence that it was an intelligent process? Wouldn’t the simpler natural process be the Occam’s Razor default choice? At this point we don’t have enough evidence to make a conclusive choice.

    “I’m not quite sure how your statement above gets us away from the need for a first uncaused cause”
    This statement demonstrates that you don’t fully understand the science behind Hawking’s theories. It can be demonstrated that causality doesn’t exist at a quantum level. Therefore a natural uncaused cause is not only possible, but experimentally proven to occur every day.

  • Tom

    “knowledge we can’t rule out a use for that junk DNA”
    Of course, we could never rule that out. However, ALL evidence points to junk DNA being simply benign random mutations that have no selection pressure. It would be wrong to assume anything else until evidence presents itself.

    “Is it fair to say there’s more to life than we currently know?”
    Absolutely.

  • Tom

    This is a difficult scenario because it represents a moral conflict. I see three possible choices. Based on your source of morality you can chose to let him die or to save him. The third choice would be to choose randomly. Personally, with only this information I would let him die because I would consider the lack of freedom to choose to be a form of suffering (though I would attempt to convince him otherwise if I had the chance). A god with a plan would choose to save him and a natural cause, such as a coin toss, could go either way. As you can see, my choice is the only one based on real demonstrable reasons.

  • Tom

    “Just because something can be falsified, it doesn’t mean it always is.”
    Of course, a person would see the same vision weather the source is LSD or divine revelation. The kicker here is that LSD is the only cause here that can be demonstrated to actually occur. ALL stories of revelation, almost by definition, are merely anecdotal. Demonstrable evidence in infinitely better than anecdotal evidence.

  • Tom

    “the scientific method itself cannot be used to show that it itself is the only way to have valid information about the world.”
    I agree and would even go as far to say that science is NOT the only way to have valid information about the world. For example, you would have valid evidence about the world if I told you that I am typing on a cell phone instead of a laptop right now. This would be a revelation that you received from me. Science, however, is the only way to be reasonably sure that your information is valid. How much more confident you would be in my story if you could observe me right now? Once you make the observation then where is the faith?

  • Tom

    Just to be clear I feel obligated to say that Hitler was arguably NOT an atheist. Just read his speech to the Stuttgart on February 15, 1933 where he speaks out against people who deny God’s existence.

    Regardless, even if he was, atheism has no dogma and is thus free from responsibility. ANY action made by an atheist is due to their affirmative beliefs. In the case of Stalin it was his belief that religion was the “opiate of the masses” and needed to be wiped out for a communist state. Hitler, it was his belief that the Jews were responsible for the downfall of Germany and needed to be wiped out for a successful nation. These are dogmatic beliefs and are responsible for actions. Can you think of ANY action that is necessarily and sufficiently caused by atheism?

  • Tom

    So true, yet a god isn’t one of them.

  • Tom

    Yes, a very weird and fascinating one I might add.

  • Tom

    “There are three possibilities regarding belief in a God”
    Actually, there are four possibilities.
    1. One is certain that a god exists and thus believes.
    2. One is uncertain that a god exists and believes.
    3. One is uncertain that a god exists and doesn’t believe.
    4. One is certain that a god exists and thus does believe.
    See, belief, or lack thereof, is not contingent on certainty

    “. If atheism is not in itself certain of the non-existence of a god, then even the most ‘devout atheist’ would have no reason to so vehemently declare that there is no god, and to attack the theist”
    This would be nice, but certainty is impossible. There is always doubt.

  • Tom

    What logical flaws?

  • Tom

    I agree that we’re the same, just different ends of the spectrum. I guess if we’ll find out if you’re on the right side. And if I’m on the right side I guess we won’t (lol). However, even if I am wrong. I am confident that if a god existed that I would want to spend eternity with that he would be one that would value my honest search for truth more than any amount of faith and if he wanted me to know him he would revel himself conclusively.

  • Filmlover

    Fantastic article! Thanks! The movie was a bit mild for my taste though.

  • Rose

    Nothing would exist without a creator, not science , not humans, not a universe

  • Rich Wilson

    If that were true, then we’d need a creator to create the creator.

  • http://twitter.com/un_cura cura

    Sir Anthony Hopkins: No podía ser un ateo

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LXBAD6GU3IHLB4CWGX4OJV5GCQ Kate Gerald

    Doesn’t explain natural disasters, genetic diseases, or human specific parasites.

  • David Melbourne

    I can’t imagine life without faith.
    As an arts collector, I can’t imagine life without Raphael and Michelangelo of the Renaissance, and, more recent, Warhol’s Marilyn with the gold Byzantine iconic background.
    The high points of Western culture have been transmitted by the Church.
    The atheist apologists seem mere animals.

  • http://www.amerika.org/ Brett Stevens

    If the believers are wrong, we should find a way to interact with them that does not involve demanding they admit to being wrong. If we are not sure the believers are wrong, we should take no position. That to me seems logical.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4YD2Z5RYEWC7CIXJWNDNIAB7AM Mar Zutra

    It is not scientific to believe in God however to believe in “Science” behind “Global Warming” and all the IPCC Al-Gorian gods are somehow examples if shining scientifically authorized certainty? 

  • Dian

    Yes, science doesn’t provide the information for everything and anyone who claims so is a liar. Science is, however, our best path on the quest to discovering as much of the mechanisms of the universe as possible.
    The same goes for religion, though. Anyone who claims that their religion is the right one is also a liar. Going around and stating ‘blessed are those who have not seen and have believed in X religion’ is the most arrogant thing anyone can ever say, and running to and fro asserting that you can’t be or can’t do this and that without it is beyond egotistical.

    Presupposing that your notion is somehow the most correct one, or that atheists/theists somehow are fools or are living a deprived life is just outstandingly asinine. I respect sir Anthony Hopkins’ decision, but saying that non-believers are ‘living in a cell’ has disappointed me. I thought a wise man as him would know better than to say something so biased, but I guess I understand where’s coming from, given his back story.

  • Brojdlane

    Read George Bernard Shaw’s quote,”The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt.It’scouncels,which should have established the millennium, led ,instead directly to the suicide of Europe.I believed them once .In their name I helped to destroy the faith of a millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds.And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith . Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist that there is no God”. Out of the mouth of one who used to insist that there is no God !!

  • Dean

    So one man, just like many other men, who has made a name for himself, just like many other men, said something, just like many others did. And that is proof of what exactly? We can quote famous people of either side all day and we will still be on square one.
    It seems that this biased website keeps only those comments it sees fit. I don’t care if this gets deleted, too, I’ll say it again.
    Anyone who has the guts to declare one thing as absolute truth is a deceitful person of the highest order. Be it the existence of a God or anything else. You don’t even possess one gazillionth of a fraction of one billionth of the knowledge that is within this universe, yet you already flaunt that you have comprehended its origins and destiny completely, based on nothing but blind guesswork? You people are more full of yourselves than I ever thought possible.