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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.

  • Pwmy

    Science can help us to discover how things (including us) have been and are formed. Despite what some fashionable academics may say, science does not prove the non-existence of God.

  • Angling.Saxon

    “Except when Christianity retreats – out come people like stalin, mao, castro, pol pot, and hitler.” This is one of those asinine tropes that Christians love to trot out. It’s tiresome refuting it, but let’s repeat the facts:
    1. Hitler was a Catholic. The Catholic Church supported the Nazis. Most Germans were Christians except for that well-known group who weren’t. Was Christianity therefore the defining characteristic of the Nazi regime? Of course not. Was atheism? Puh-leeze.
    2. Stalin and Mao were communist dictators. Their state religion was effectively communism. Does that mean that a religious vacuum necessarily breeds communism or dictatorships? Like no Christian has ever been a tyrant or a dictator, right? Puh-leeze.
    3. Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il were/are messianic dictators. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being religious and 10 being atheist, how would you rate the experience of living in a society like North Korea where King Jong Il is veritably worshipped? I’d give it a 2.

    The idea that a lack of belief in men-in-the-sky necessarily entails fascism and/or dictatorship is farcical and unfounded.

  • Wallace

    According to the OT God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered.

    Of course that’s not including the countless numbers who would have been murdered if the flood story was true..

    Ohhhh and the countless others who were murdered in the name of the Christ since the conception of this ‘Christ’……

    How many peoples God has murdered or had killed in its name is impossible to tally – but lets just say in was more than a few!!

    Ahhh…… the cognitive dissonance of the religious flock.

  • Eric Conway

    It also works in reverse. The writer/philosopher CS Lewis was an atheist before he saw the light of reason. I was also an atheist until I reached the age of reason & then put away childish things !. Anthony Hopkins put’s down atheism very reasonably. Well said Hannibal.

  • Elena

    I am surprised to see how broadly and intensely “atheists” talk and write about religion. I suggest to them to plainly declare themselves “anti-theists”, which is more adequate, in my opinion.

  • Rich

    Bishops are not always right, M.

  • Anonymous

    If this life was all there was I would agree with you that failure to miraculously rescue children from violence, abuse, neglect, disease, war, famine, etc would be strong counter argument to the existence of an all loving God. However, since this world isn’t all there is and since we are to blame for the suffering of these children and other innocents ourselves, I can’t logically or rationally agree that the problem of evil goes against the existence of God (or at least a God we can classify according to our ideas of “all loving” and “all powerful” and “all good”.)

  • Anonymous

    Some people put exceptionally high requirements on God. God must cure all and restore all and all we have to do is sit back and relax. God owes us. He should prevent our wars, famines and save us from disease and each other. Well sorry – I just simply refuse to buy that. First of all we cannot possibly understand God, secondly this is pure egotism. God does help and God most likely takes great care of these child victims of famine and violence but we still expect God to do everything for us.

  • Rich

    Czechingin, you can’t leave it like this, you need to tell more … please

  • Anonymous

    Quantum mechanics is one of those realities :-)

  • Anonymous

    Tom you’re confusing a book which was written as fiction with a set of books written to represent a historical account of events. There is a difference here. If the New Testament did not represent such supernatural claims but the daily events in Pontius Pilates’ court and was treated as historical fact by subsequent Roman historians and writers, you would also see a difference between this book and Harry Potter.

    Of course we don’t have empirical evidence of Christ’s Resurrection etc – there is no video tape.or radiocative soild in Jerusalem.

  • Rich


    Your fisrt point is interesting, as there are miracles that stand up to the rigors of current day public scrutiny and peer review – this isn’t fantasy.

    And regarding your second point, I agree, life is awesome. However, if you believe is God you get this and a whole lot more!

  • Anonymous

    The Scriptures were considered historical accounts and not myth. They are not the Odyssey or Harry Potter. Realise that there is no form of empirical proof that would satisfy you without coercing people into believing and so doing away with free will.

  • Anonymous

    The Gospels and many of the letters were written within 30-40 years of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians was written within 10-15 years. Neither Harry Potter nor the Odyssey turned people into martyrs. Now that does not mean that the events actually happened but that they were taken as historical by the contemporaries of the Gospel writers who themselves were alive when Jesus was alive.

  • Rich

    Tom, fantastic – now please tell me where do you get your own sense of justice?

  • Anonymous

    # someone who denies the existence of god
    # related to or characterized by or given to atheism; “atheist leanings”

    Atheism is commonly defined as the position that there are no deities. It can also mean the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. A broader definition is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.

    # atheism – the doctrine or belief that there is no God

    # atheistic – rejecting any belief in gods

  • Rich

    Tom, this is brilliant. The trouble is all I see is clean brush strokes – DNA, the complexity of the human brain, the whole cosmos. All of this, all of it, is magnificent. And if all of this has been made by natural law, without direct intervention, that’s even more remarkable. How much more imaginative can the creator be?? WILD!

  • Rich

    Alex, I’m interested. What made you grow out of it? What made you discount what you once believed in and make a complete U-turn. Seriously, I’m interested.

  • Rich


  • Rich

    Sorry Rob, that’s not quite good enough.

  • Anonymous

    Angling.Saxon did Hitler base his ideology on Catholicism or ideologies opposed by Catholicism at the time, eg works of Marx, Engels, Nietzsche and even Darwin? To put it more simply Hitler and his fellow architects of National Socialism based their regime on secular literature. They also believed in the sociology and biology which said that White Germanic Aryans are the Master Race and that Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and others are undesirable sub-humans (a non-Catholic teaching).
    In pre-Revolutionary Russia many atheists turned to Communism. You also cannot call Communism a religion as atheism is not immune to it – as atheism claims lack of belief or no belief in a supernatural deiety but no definition of atheism includes any form of immunity towards any other ideology. In fact Communism was also a pseudo-scientific theory – class struggle – a new utopia of the proletariat without the superstition of the church and oppression of the capitalists. Again the Communist teachings from Marx et al were not religiously inspired but secular by their nature and not incompatible with atheism. It can be argued that a Christian cannot be a Communist since Communism includes atheism but an atheist can easily be a Communist. In fact many people who dismiss God nowadays believe that they can figure out morality on their own and are happy to consider playing with peoples’ lives the way Communists played.
    3. Both Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il are Marxists messianic dictators and not supernatural Jewish messianic dictators – unlike Jesus Christ who is said to be God, these guys are just super enlightened benefactors, protectors and most definitely human. You’re following some weird propaganda there thinking that these guys portray themselves as super natural. Again atheism is not immune to these people and in fact is more compatible with their teachings than is any Christianity.

    I’m just laughing at the cognitive dissonance used by the atheists who deny that atheism makes one immune to any ideology including pseudo-scientific ones and the constant No True Scotsman Fallacy employed by atheists who claim that Pol Pot, Stalin et al were not atheists and Hitler was in the very least not a practical atheist.

  • Anonymous

    Of course all people can be obnoxious. We are all imperfect. We are all fallen. No-one says that going to Church is going to make you perfect. But at least serious religious people have an extra hangup against doing evil. Atheists? I wouldn’t trust them. For the atheist is only afraid of the law, but the religious person fears (or loves) God and also has the law. People like the famous atheist Prof PZ Myers who said he does not see newborn babies as fully human exemplify a possible atheist view which could be dangerous. How do you challenge someone like that? Well I applaud him for his honesty
    in saying this, but what do you use against this man’s logic? He says that infant’s minds aren’t fully developed so they are not real persons so they could in theory be killed. How do we counter that? We can’t because according to his logic this is entirely true. If you consider a worldview where we infer personhood and the right to life on other people ourselves (because there is no God to do it) well the man is 100% correct in his conclusion.

    Furthermore we can extend it to children and even adolescents as their minds are still not fully developed – abstract reasoning develops late in adolescence. Since we don’t trust children to vote or drive cars it should follow that as newborn infants they too could in theory be killed and it would not be murder because they could be construed not to be actual persons yet. You can’t make a choice to want to continue to exist without fully developed minds. You can’t want to exist when you can’t think in abstract terms yet.

    With a Bible Thumper you can start to quote Biblical passages against murder, etc but with people who think the Bible is toilet paper? Well just appeals to outrage. Atheism and free thinking is nice as long as most people are Christian in some way and that worldview somehow prevails but once most of your people become agnostic or atheist – well anything goes.

  • Anonymous

    Many Biologists are not atheists. Sociologists, psychologists, gender studies etc those are the most atheist of disciplines. Most atheist scientists are either agnostics or weak atheists or weak theists. Science leads to agnosticism, dogma leads to faith or lack of it.

  • Anonymous

    No. And you can’t use science to prove that the scientific method is the only way to have any knowledge either. Of course as a research scientist I believe the scientific method is most effective and yields great results but won’t answer our fundamental questions which religion handles.

  • Rich

    I agree with Tom’s definition, and he’ll be pleased to know its entirely consistent with Catholic teaching.

  • Anonymous

    As an agnostic do you think the view expounded by PZ Myers about newborns is compatible with a better future or not? If not, please explain why not. How would you counter his views which are most scientific and logical IMO.

  • Anonymous

    They have? You mean great philosophers have advocated for Zeus and Thor? Even the ancient Greeks knew their gods were made up.

  • Anonymous

    Using gnostic theists can confuse people and suggest that most theists are Gnostic Christians.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that the secular world pontificates about religious matters too. So Christians may retreat, but schools, colleges, government departments, media etc will speak their anti-religious secular polemics.

  • rich

    Esnofla, if I may, you logic goes wrong in sentences 5 and 7:

    Therefore to believe in God requires logic – really sorry, but it doesn’t. It requires faith.

    Therefore Atheists behave and act like animals – this doesn’t quite follow, I’m afraid.

    I would add that I would expect someone who believes in God to respect our fellow human beings, and not try to put an animal tag on them – just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    Bulldogs what you describe is a pantheistic god – eg a god as found in Buddhism, or at least as close a concept to god as the Buddhists have. In Christianity, God is beyond His creation and transcends it but is not a part of it. So while God made the multiverse (it’s fashionable to say this now), God Himself is not dust or light. God is not another object in the universe which can be found eg a unicorn or a tea cup around Saturn.

  • Rich

    Thunder mate, why are you so bitter??

  • Rich

    yeah, why?

  • Anonymous

    When you say reality you mean atheist dogma, pseudo-skepticism or general pessimism?

    Many believers turned atheists had some false expectations to begin with. For example one woman said she prayed for a pony as a child and when she did not get one for Xmas she started to doubt in God. Not saying that that’s necessarily you but many atheists have these types of stories.

  • Rich

    Good man.

  • Anonymous

    It would not necessarily have to be crazy to an objective observer. Human beings only have a narrow range of experiences they can manifest – our materialistic nervous systems are only capable of interpreting several experiences, emotions or states. That means someone who experiences a vision could be hallucinating in the same way a schizophrenic is. He would see Mary if Mary showed herself to him and he would see Mary if he was hallucinating her on an LSD trip. Just because something can be falsified, it doesn’t mean it always is.

  • Anonymous

    Believers don’t claim to know what God does. Everyone will die, ultimately. We have a 100% mortality rate as human beings. Some will die of cancer, others will grow to be 105 and die in their beds while dreaming of their youth. Such is life. God never said this life would be heaven.

  • Anonymous

    Tom, many atheists say that they would believe in God if God was demostrated using the scientific method. However, the scientific method itself cannot be used to show that it itself is the only way to have valid information about the world. These people are using faith to justify their religious view.

  • Rich

    How d’you know??

  • Der Wolfanwalt

    I have to disagree, Rich. I don’t think there’s anything in the Faith that
    we are required to believe that demands total ignoring of evidence. Some
    things may transcend evidence, but that is an important distinction to make.

  • Toby

    And where do natural laws come from Tom – do they not have to be created?

    Also don’t look too close at the brush strokes or you’ll miss the bigger picture.

  • Anonymous

    Being an atheist is irrational. For one, even if God does not exist, believing that does not leads to a higher rate of depression and suicide. Lately a 30 odd American nihilistic Nietzsche inspired 30 odd year old atheist in despair killed himself as an experiment in solipsism. I happened to read about a young Italian terminally ill girl on the same day. She was a believer and while in hospital she tended to other sick children and did so almost until her own death. Of the two types of behaviour I find hers to be more admirable than the self centered conduct of this man. He even killed himself in a place where people could see and so shocked quite a few innocent bystanders.

    There is no logical or scientific proof for atheism. If one assumes that the Jesus historical accounts are real and there is nothing in terms of proof to say they are not, and one realises that God only wants to be reached through humble submission, there is no way that can be reconciled with finding God under a microscope. As for God of the Gaps, that is not how the religion went. People did not invent God because they had to explain thunder away. Even the ancient Greeks had naturalistic ideas.

    The Church vs Atheist or secular institutions. This is a no brainer. Most wars but 6% have been fought for non-religious reasons. Ranting against religion is like living in an HIV affected country and ranting only against swine flu because it is so deadly. Secularists and religious people inspired by secular motivations are what drives most conflicts and has done so for 1000s of years. We should eliminate secularism and all ideologies, politics, inequalities, aspirations, emotions etc to end violence. Eliminating religion in Communist countries and relegating it to a subservient role in Nazi/Fascist countries did not make those countries better but worse.

    Finally Pascal’s Wager: an atheist who knows how God wants him to approach Him, yet chooses to reject that option because of the idea that the atheist knows all and God must come to him on his terms (even if he exists) is logically rejecting God the way the Scriptures describe. It means you are choosing to be away from God in the afterlife (assuming it exists). You are selecting yourself for hell, ie a place of seperation. If God exists, doing so is not only intellectually silly but also incredibly unjust.

    Living a just life is more rewarding. This is true. Ancient Greeks knew this too. Even if God does not exist (and I doubt that) leading a real Christian life (eg in Catholicism) leads one to be more moral than being self centered and believing that one themselves can make moral decisions based on one’s own flawed reasoning. If you’re a materialist, you should reject your own mental processes because they’re not even coherent in their origin, they’re dependent on biochemistry and ion flow induced electrical field brain states. From that follows absurdity.

    You won’t find God in a test tube or in a black hole. But you will find God with humility and submitting yourself sincerely to Him. The first method is a way to get to hell.

    Of course if God does not exist, we all go to the same place, but at least the theist has a more pleasant journey. Puny intellectual debates matter not in the vastness of the multiverse.

  • M.Burns

    A miraculous escape for little girl the Pope blessed

    The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that a 3-year-old Australian girl has survived being run over by a bus – without serious injuries. The article can be read at However, an excerpt is provided below.

    “The tyre marks were yesterday visible on her tiny abdomen, but she astounded her parents and medical specialists by surviving the ordeal without internal injuries, broken bones or lasting physical damage of any kind.”

    An explanation of what the Miraculous Medal (a sacramental when blessed) referred to in the report is can be read at New Advent:

  • M.Burns

    Little Book of Eternal Wisdom by Blessed Henry Suso can be read for free online at Catholic Treasury (a site which has given an excellent rating for its faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church). The link is below.

  • M.Burns

    Re: “Bishops are not always right…”

    This is true in a *general* way.

    However, it is also true in a general way about the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament and the writers of the Old Testament (i.e., the Hebrew scriptures). Yet it is acknowledged that God, wanting His children – ALL His children, which is all of humanity – to have and to live in truth, protected those people from teaching error when teaching on faith or morals, the ‘categories’ that are important to our eternal salvation. This also applies to the bishops of the Church Jesus founded, as they have the Divinely given mission of teaching God’s children the things we need to know to get to our heavenly home.

    Second, although there have been cases of bishops granting approval of x after they or another bishop had voiced their disapproval, these cases have not been the result of the error of the bishop but rather the result of inaccurate or incomplete information that was available to him at first. The Catholic Church takes the salvation of souls VERY seriously – this is its sole mission and so is its specialty. There are criteria (biblically based) that she uses to help her determine the authenticity of an alleged apparition. For example:

    – do the alleged seers obey the local bishop?
    – do the alleged seers profit financially from the ‘apparitions’?
    – are the alleged seers loyal to God’s Church and what He teaches through her?
    – does the apparition promote teachings contrary to the revealed truth of Christ?
    – does the apparition instruct or encourage disobedience to what God teaches through His Church?
    – does the apparition instruct or encourage disrespect to those whom God has given the authority and duty to teach His truth?
    – are the seers sincerely humble and shun publicity, or are the apparitions a vehicle for their pride?
    – do any prophecies uttered by the apparition come true in a specific way?
    – etc.

    Notwithstanding any slivers of good (not only does God allow evil only if there will be some greater good to come from it, but the Evil One specializes in wrapping his evil in the appearance of good), Medjugorje fails miserably. If we love Truth, then we must look at ALL the evidence, even if that means acknowledging that something we wish were true is not actually so.

    Third, the bishop is the authority and so we must humbly obey him. (The only exception would be if he is telling us to do something contrary to what Christ teaches through His Church or contrary to the laws of said Church.) Remember, Satan’s fall came from his disobedience which was itself due to his pridefulness/lack of humility.

  • Anonymous


  • Toby

    I am not sure that a good scientist should have the mindset that something is “irrefutable”. Evolution is a theory that I subscribe too and it is the best possible explanation we have based on current evidence. However, that it not to say that it is not revisable or indeed potentially refutable. Much science that we previously thought was irrefutable proved to be far from it. Beware the mindset that thinks that we are no so far advanced from our ancestors that we are nearing the discovery of the universal truths in science which will never be challenged or changed. Look at the last 100 years and the developments that have occurred in science, in the context of humanity this is a very short time – who are we to say that the next 100 will not be equally monumental with radical overhauls of prevailing orthodoxies.

    Also let’s try and refrain from patronising comments like “Go back to school” and “Do some research”; I suspect that most of what each of us know about evolution is based on trust and we have not forensically examined the data for ourselves, nor gene mutation. Let’s not pretend that we have discovered what we claim to know for ourselves. We have believed what we believe to be trustworthy sources – little different to accepting the witness of the Apostles and the disciples.

  • Anonymous

    If God does not exist humans have no intrinsic worth. Yes we give ourselves intrinsic worth but honestly who are we? We’re just DNA replicators. If God does not exist and we are an accident then our whole existence is without any purpose for this world will one day cease to exist and so when the last human dies, there will be nothing left of us, even if we don’t kill ourselves off sooner. Those dead innocent children could be said to be spared the death of their loved ones and suffering meaninglessly on this planet and those who were raped and lost their faith in God and humanity (please) have discovered a valid truth that no-one really loves or cares about them, unless they have power (money). Even then, it is a falsified emotion.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe God does not exist. But if you’re wrong you’re in for a very bad time after you die, if I’m wrong, nothing bad will happen to me. Why would anyone need a justification for feeling helpless when you can end up in hell? Hell is a nasty place and you get to be there, without God for eternity. Truly being serious about religion is very difficult. Why not create an easy Hippy religion – we all live happily, we all have group sex (only with beautiful women) and we make tons of cash to spend on hedonistic exploits. Then after death, heaven follows with pure pleasure for all eternity or until you’ve had enough and you move on. I could construct so many nice heavens and religions, so many easier ones than this rather demanding spoilsport CHristianity.

  • Rich Wilson

    Boy are you in for a surprise when you meet Anubis.