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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.

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    So, then…it’s a religion? Without a god? Or is it that the individual with the atheistic conviction is now elevated to the status of deity? I’m inferring here based on your admission that atheism is essentially founded on faith.

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    I’m going to essentially agree with Paul, without the shouting. “Irrefutable” is about as useful and adjective as “unsinkable.” Which is to say, it’s only as useful as the number of people you can get to agree with you. Because I’m pretty sure that whether a think is impervious to refutation is only true insofar as everybody else is willing to agree to the claim and hold skeptics in contempt. Which isn’t all that compelling, after all.

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    Paul, stop trolling. This isn’t helping anyone.

  • Tom

    lol, why?

  • Francis

    “Stop yer yappin!” I speak from the view of the Christian sector. I expected the underling aggression from the Atheist sector, but we Christians? God gave us freedom of choice. Most Atheist that replied vehemently to my Christian brothers do know our truths, they have chosen not to follow. Christ said somewhere to go preach his truths and if the people decide not to follow to “Wipe the dust of” our shoos and forget. To my brothers: Do you think you would win the hearts of the unbelievers if you take a superior and aggressive tone? No, you would only harden their harts against us. Remember, Intellectualism springs from the feeling of being, or wanting to be superior. We, Christians aren’t superior! We only have the truth. Stop trying to justify the truth…it is already proven on Calvary. Rather and ONLY defend your faith through turning the other cheek. We are meek. and we shall become exalted

  • Toby

    First, I would suggest you look at some of the documented miracles that have been used to demonstrate the intercession of saints after their deaths.

    Secondly, you answer neatly demonstrates the different outlook that being a believer gives a person versus the shut in a closed cell mentality that Sir Anthony Hopkins talks about. Do the people on cancer wards deserve to die? First ask the question “do you deserve to die” because just like the person with terminal cancer, you will die too . . . just a question of when. Catholicism does not reject this world, but it adds an extra dimension to our outlook because we are also concerned for the salvation of our souls, acknowledging that death will come to us, but that we may share eternal life with God. That will probably sound nuts to you. However, why do you talk about dying in terms of “deserving” unless you acknowledge an outside power. Further if there is nothing outside of this life, then why worry about dying, acknowledge that you are just a pointless emphemera and go out on a massive pleasure trip. Faith gives you HOPE.

    So I have two questions for the aetheists?

    One – why on earth do you waste your time reading the Catholic Herald ?

    Two – what gives you hope and the power to carry on when everything must just seem so totally futile to you?

  • Toby

    Because you use the wrong comparator. Harry Potter is not claimed to be non-fiction; the Bible is. If you want to provide a correct comparison, you need to find a book which you believe to be fiction, but which is claimed by its authors to be a presentation of truths.

  • Toby

    Ok, let’s start with the scientific topic of causation. How did the law of gravity which Hawking posits as potentially being the cause of something from nothing come about?

  • Toby

    So you are not certain that there is no God?

  • Mpeli082

    He is right !

  • Gandmwilson

    God is all-powerful, and all-loving? If something wonderful happens, then God produced a miracle, if something
    awful happens, then it is your fault because God gave you free will. How convenient is that?

  • Nuser

    Why does he not help when little innocent children are being murdered .raped and abused. What good are brains then?

  • Tom

    Biology isn’t a “real” science?!?! That just proves your ignorance.

  • Tom

    Most of the “experiences” I’ve heard are unsatisfying. Such as a funny feeling during church or a prayer coming true. Other “experiences” such as visions and voices are just crazy. What experiences have you, or anyone else, had that wouldn’t be considered unsatisfying or crazy to an objective observer?

  • Anonymous

    Different strokes for different folks, I’d say. Sir Anthony Hopkins is free to believe as he likes, and we are equally dumbfounded at one another’s beliefs (I am an agnostic). But, perhaps, we can settle on accepting one another as good human beings, who love our children, and hope to build a better future together.

  • M.Burns

    Re: “Look up Medjugorje.”

    Perhaps you are not Catholic and so are not aware that the local Ordinary having jurisdiction of Medjugorje – the Bishop – has stated many times that the Blessed Virgin has NOT and is NOT appearing there, notwithstanding any so-called ‘healings.’ (The appearance of a healing could be due to any of several factors including the placebo effect, the natural course of a disease, the deception of the Evil One, etc.)

    However, the Catholic Church does have medical doctors examine ‘healings’ of patients who claim they were cured by divine intervention via a saint praying for them (intercessory prayer); the miraculous water at Lourdes, France; etc. as a help in determining the authenticity of the healing. There are many approved apparitions, like the one I’ve cited above, that are better able to prove your point.

    Oh, and two miraculous healings via the intercession of the (saint) are required for that person to be recognized as a saint, i.e., canonized (and therefore worthy of being a role model for the faithful).

  • Tom

    So, since there is no such thing as truly irrefutable evidence should we respect WWI deniers theories? If not then what term would you prefer over irrefutable? Personally I think irrefutable, in a colloquial sense, is a great description of the evidence for the existence of WWI.

  • Alex

    Your statement is ill-founded: most of the people I know are atheists and most of them come from some form of religious background. I myself used to be a believer — been there, done that — until I grew out of it. At some point, you have to face the reality of the world you live in. It’s the adult thing to do.

  • Alex

    Maybe he doesn’t think differently; maybe he just doesn’t exist at all. Maybe your belief in an imaginary being allows you to feel comfortable with innocent children being raped or dying of hunger. Maybe you need that justification to feel good about being helpless. Maybe you need to face reality: prayer does feed hungry children, other humans do.

  • M.Burns


    This is a valid question. It can seem like there is no God when there is so much evil in the world. That is, however, until we remember that God gave each of us free will.

    Without free will we would be no more than animals, and we could never choose to accept His love or choose to love Him in return. Without free will, we could never choose to love anyone or choose to accept anyone’s love: our spouse, children, family, friends, etc. God does not force us to love Him: forced love is not really love at all.

    But given the freedom to choose to love Him, we are also given the freedom to choose not to love Him. It is from this choice – not to love Him and not to accept His love for us – that all the evils of the world originate. Free will cannot be separated from our humanness. However, God is God of justice – we all have to face the consequences of our choices, whether they be evil choices or holy choices. With holy choices we choose eternity in heaven with God, our Creator. With evil choices, we choose eternity in hell, an eternity of suffering and without God.

    Further, regarding those who have been victims of evil choices, choosing to accept the love of God into their lives and choosing to love God in return is VERY healing – I speak from experience. The Catholic Church has a theology on suffering that you might want to look into (after all, our Saviour suffered and died for us!). You might also want to read “Little Book of Eternal Wisdom” by Blessed Henry Suso.

  • Me

    Mr. Hopkins is obviously forgetting that great philosophers have advocated as much for every imaginable god as they have against them. Clearly, acting like one is as close as he’ll get to being a great philosopher himself.

  • Tom

    Though this wasn’t addressed to me I would like to respond anyway.

    “I would suggest you look at some of the documented miracles that have been used to demonstrate the intercession of saints after their deaths.”
    Are there any documented miracles that have stood up to the rigors of scientific study and peer review? If not you should ask yourself if these documented cases are reputable. It would only take one miracle that stands up to scientific scrutiny to prove that miracles are possible. The fact that there are none is telling.

    “why on earth do you waste your time reading the Catholic Herald ?”
    I am interested in how other people think. Atheists are boring and predictable. Religionists have such a wide range of conflicting beliefs that it is fascinating to study. Also, anti-atheist articles appear under my news feed.

    “what gives you hope and the power to carry on when everything must just seem so totally futile to you?”
    Firstly, you are wrong to assume that everything seems futile to me. Personally, I feel like I won the cosmic lottery just by being alive. Just consider how many people could have been born who haven’t. The number is almost too big to imagine and yet only a few billion have. We are incredibly lucky to be able to experience life. There is no way I am going to waste it. What gives me hope is that I’m free to experience life how I choose. I can experience it with the people I love and with things that make us happy. What gives you hope? An empty promise that you will get to see dead relatives again? An empty promise that if you waste this life worshiping your god he would give you an eternal one?

  • M.Burns

    Re: “defying gravity”

    St. Joseph of Cupertino

  • Tom

    You are the one searching for your god in the wrong place. In your example, we are looking at the sculpture, but that is not the case. In reality we ARE the sculpture or a painting. If a character on a painting (like us) is incapable of sensing beyond the painting then it is futile to try to search beyond it. To pretend that you have evidence from beyond is dishonest or insane. Instead the character must search within the scope of it’s senses. It must look at the brush strokes, the composition of the paint, the intricacy of the the objects, and the way they interact with each other. Science is looking at the brush strokes. Yet, when we look closely we don’t see clean brush strokes like a creator would have. We see exactly the type of brush strokes we would expect if they were made by natural laws.

  • M.Burns

    Re: theo347 “Given that 90% of people all over the world believe in God, have had some kind of experience of God….”

    Re: GodsGadfly “…most ‘scientific atheists’ are actually psychologists….”

    What is interesting is that psychology goes by what the norm is for any given culture. If the above statements are true, then so-called scientific atheists are deviating from the norm and are, therefore, the ones in error per the science of psychology. (Generally speaking.)

  • Tom

    Do you have to be certain to believe that your team is going to win the big game?
    No, but if they are good enough you can almost know for sure.

    Can someone believe their team is going to win despite all the evidence that they will lose?
    Sure, because belief don’t require knowledge although, for some people knowledge helps to develop their beliefs.

    Is it appropriate to ridicule him for believing despite the evidence?

    Please, stop confusing knowledge (gnostic/agnostic) with belief (theism/atheism).

  • Tom

    Nope, not a religion, because there is no dogma. Atheists simply lack a belief that a god exists, though they all have their reasons for it. If you consider belief despite the lack of absolute knowledge faith then so be it. I consider faith to be belief without considering the evidence. Based on my definition atheism is not a faith.

  • Anonymous

    For Tom …and Thunder:
    It will be nigh impossible to convince you of the truth of miracles such as at Lourdes in this small space but
    it would seem that you could arrive at the information you are seeking by reading some of the literature
    on these authenticated miracles on-line…where committees of objective doctors have studied these cases
    over periods of time …and concluded that no medical explanation for these exist…One has to in addition
    be in the frame of mind to accept certain things on faith…much like you do all day long in your daily lives.
    In the gospel of Mark today’s reading is 8: 11-13…about those, like the Pharisees, who demanded from
    Jesus to give them a sign….then they would believe. Faith usually does not come about that way…very
    few Christians or believers have an experience like St Paul did on the road to Damascus. The Catholic
    Church explains ( you can read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ) the role of suffering in the
    plan of God’s salvation for all men. You can also try reading that source…if you really would like to learn
    how to explain, as a believer does, these phenonmena. God bless you for seeking after Truth…if you are
    sincere and humble in your efforts you will experience the miracle of faith first-hand.

  • Angling.Saxon

    “Christ said somewhere to go preach his truths and if the people decide not to follow to “Wipe the dust off” our shoes and forget.”

    As an atheist, I can get behind this wholeheartedly. If Christians and other religious people could simply pray in their homes and churches and religious institutions without attempting to impose upon the rest of us, that would be terrific.

  • Angling.Saxon

    “If I claim that Jesus rose from the dead…then I show you evidence in Scripture where these things are written, have I not shown sufficient evidence?”

    No, no, a thousand times no. As a collection of writings the Bible is the most important and wondrous work of literature in the Western world. But as evidence of virgin births and resurrections and miracles and an invisible man in the sky with whom Christians engage in one-way mental telepathy with it is no more convincing that anything written by L. Ron Hubbard. Actually, less even, come to think of it.

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    So then you have faith in the accuracy of your private definition over the
    general understanding of the term? Because there is a fairly glaring
    deviation between your definition an that of a dictionary. If you were to
    have said belief not based on evidence – as opposed to belief *in
    spite of *evidence
    - the way that people generally use that term, then both of us are arguing
    from positions of faith. Of course, if the game we’re playing is rejiggering
    the meanings of common words to suit our rhetorical needs, then I didn’t
    come to the party with the right props and I’ll have to find something to
    level the playing field. But I tend to find Calvinball to be a boring sort
    of game.

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    Hardly. I just think that you should watch where you fling superlatives

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    Scratch that, my bad. I meant to say “absolutes.”

  • Toby

    Thanks Tom,

    I am quite satisfied that the miraceles are sufficiently scrutinised and that experts in the relevant fields are brought in to independently verify that their is no known scientific explanation. That, of course, is no guarantee of the veractiy, but is a good indication, and of course the nature of science is that it is constantly open to revision. There is also an increasing secular movement that seeks to independently disprove any claim of miracle and I have been unconvinced by their claims in any of the cases I have read about.

    Re your final parapgraph – everything you say in it up to your question to me – I get too. However, not all my hope is in things which can be taken away in a flash, friends, my life, my freedoms could all be taken away in an instant. I have a hope which endures, a hope which is not self-centred, but which looks outside me. I believe that my soul is something more than just the wiring in my head. As to whether the promise that sustains this hope is wrong; well, we’ll only find out if I’m right!

  • M.Burns

    The has an article titled “Faith in the darkest of moments: Many torture victims tell convincing stories of divine intervention in their ordeal,” which can be accessed at .

    Also, The Telegraph has an article from 2009 by Damian Thompson titled “The last, unfinished sermon of a wonderful priest”, which includes how Divine intervention via the Rosary (which is a sacramental when blessed) saved a girl from serial killer Ted Bundy when he was on a murderous rampage in her dorm. The full article can be read at However, an excerpt is below:

    “[Fr.] Kerr got the call from the police in the middle of the night to rush out to the sorority house. When he arrived he was told that all but one of the girls in the house were dead or near death, killed by a serial killer who was later to be known to the world as Ted Bundy.”

    “Later, Bundy would tell Monsignor that when he entered the girl’s room, he just couldn’t go on, he dropped his weapon, and he fled. Such is the power of our Mother’s protective mantle.”

  • Paul12345

    If you actually think that there is no evidence that points the way towards believing in a Supreme Being, Then I suggest you study both physics and metaphysics to a decent level. I am in no way confusing belief with knowledge.

  • olean ollie

    You have count the don’t win with misses!

  • Tom

    The way in which I used the term “irrefutable” was the only useful form of the word. There is no such thing as absolutes in life. When you focus on the useless version to mean absolutes you are simply dodging my argument. I suspect you are smart enough to understand the intent of the original argument, so I won’t bother retyping it. Please try to focus on the argument rather than the semantics of my word choice.

  • Esnofla

    Let me see. You say nonsensical and yet give no justification. Show me where my logic goes wrong, please.

    Only Humans can believe in God. Animals cannot.
    Humans can act like animals. Animals cannot act like humans (only humans can use logic).
    Therefore to believe in God requires logic. Therefore, humans that do not use logic are like animals.
    Therefore atheists behave and act like animals (Hitler, Stalin, Mao-Tse-Tung, etc…)

  • Esnofla

    Why uncharitable John? What would you call the three great atheists of the enlightenment? Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao-Tse-Tung? Humans? At best, sinners. Yes, and the worst of sinners. I could have rephrased it better but I was trying to make a point to these who constantly consider believers as being fools and ignorant. My apologies to you and to all who were offended.

  • Jordan

    If God doesn’t exist, who cares that innocent children are being raped or dying of hunger? If God doesn’t exist, what does “innocent” even mean??

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    Given our other conversation, I think it’s safe to say pot, meet kettle.

    I’ll take your step down to pointless ad hominem barbs as a concession. I
    assume that if you had more ammo, you would have used it.

    My point, btw, still stands. Unless you were actually in WWI, then any
    confidence that you have in its existence as a historical reality must
    involve some sort of evidence. However, whether or not you choose to accept
    that evidence requires you to make a series of assumptions about the
    universe that you cannot actually prove. Ergo, your decision to believe
    anything at all ultimately becomes an act of faith.

    I didn’t think that it would have been necessary to actually spell that out
    so clearly, but there you go.

    You may commence with additional flailing at whatever point is convenient
    for you.

  • Paul12345

    Except when Christianity retreats – out come people like stalin, mao, castro, pol pot, and hitler. So we kind of have an obligation to preach what is true because otherwise we might face another century of pain. Then of course there is the fact that Christians do almost 90% of the worlds charity work, and you want us to be replaced by who exactly?

  • Paul12345

    Of course, except that when you start studying reality – then you start to realise that certain things are not imaginary.

  • Anonymous

    When people describe them selves as atheists or agnostics, believers in a deity take it as a personal affront to themselves . I’ve always been convinced that what turns people off more than anything is not the concept of a creator & giver of life, but what too many people do with their beliefs. I grew up Catholic & was an altar boy for many years, back in the days of ‘Dominus vobiscum’. I was very active in the church, & have only fond memories of church life. But people in the pews can be the very definition of obnoxious. And I hate to say it, but the worst were very often converts. Last evening, I watched online, part one of a BBC documentary on madrassas, or Muslim religious schools in Indonesia. Many were founded by a Muslim leader whose name escapes me, but he’s regarded by most western nations as an extremely dangerous Islamist. The interviewer translated his answers to questions posed. He said ” the government of Indonesia says that all religions are good, but I say that this is false. Other religions are a threat to the truth, which is Islam only.” Where have we heard that before? God has to be totally fed up with fervently religious people. (Being a senior now, I’m quite sure that I’m not short listed for canonization……..years back, as senior Mass servers, we’d oftentimes joke with the priests in opposition to early a.m. Masses, telling them that we knew for certain that the Almighty himself doesn’t get his divine glueals out of bed before 10:00 a.m.) Nobis quoque peccatoribus…..

  • Raphmichgabr

    Has science proved non-existence of God?

  • Dee

    Hopkins comes across as the worst kind of agnostic: not just a “don’t know” but a “don’t care”. And not just any old “don’t care”, but proudly opposed to anyone else caring or trying to understand anything either.

  • Anonymous

    The comments from the un-believing here seem angry and hostile towards those who have faith and
    admittedly some of those claiming to believe also exhibit varying degrees of anger. Can’t we all just
    get along? Perhaps our Victorian ancestors were correct in believing that the civilized amongst us
    did not discuss politics or religion..or even, heaven forbid, sex! At least not in what was considered
    polite society. This world might be a whole lot better place if we reverted to this wisdom of yore and
    kept our opinions on these subjects private except for Sunday worship and the November trip to the
    polling booth! Most people, as this blogspot shows, are not equipped for public discourse on these
    matters without resorting to the most vile behavior. Just thinking…..

  • Czechingin

    Gerry, I really do understand what you are saying. I was there, and I am not a nut. Just ask my team of psychiatrists. Seriously though, Gerry, I am a regular guy, college educated, working for a living like most of us here. I understand your skepticism. What I asked all skeptics to do in my post was to go out and seek the miracles I witnessed. Yes I was standing next to the person whose limb grew back. The person who helped (as a conduit for God’s power) perform the miracle was not some faith healer or parlor magician, but a blue collar working man well known to me, I have cast out demons myself and heard their voices myself. It doesn’t take a theology degree or ordination to do so.
    Go out and see these things for yourself instead of just sitting their close minded against the possibility of these things happening. It took me some searching, and some initial faith to see these things, and let me tell you, when I saw the limb grow out with my own eyes, even then it was hard to believe I saw the miracle. But it did happen! Have you looked? And in the end, I have to be so round-the-bend crazy, that not only do I believe it happened, but I have to believe the person who had it happen to them, and the person who “performed” the miracle were both part of my delusion.
    It is easier to believe my own eyes and my own experience. I’ve never bungee jumped, but I hear it’s an interesting experience. I have cast out demons, and I’ve seen others do it too. THAT’s an experience.

  • Hct

    Is God doing the rapeing or killing? God says Thou shalt not kill!