atheist gervais

If you follow comedian Ricky Gervais on Twitter, whose show Derek airs in the UK and returns to the US on May 30th. you know that when he doesn’t have a project to plug, it’s all animals, bath selfies and jokes about God.

“Imagine if you carried on believing in Santa and the tooth fairy into adulthood. And even killed and started wars over it.” “Remember kids, if you don’t sin, then Jesus died for nothing.” These jabs and others have led some of his followers to accuse him of being a “militant and pathological atheist.” Part of his assaults on religion come from Gervais being a notorious button-pusher – he’ll do whatever it takes to irritate you, whether it’s crack jokes about your god or sing Humpty Dumpty over and over – but the other part is just myth.

Gervais tries to set the record straight in interviews. “I’ve got no problem with spirituality, I really haven’t – that’s another myth,” he told Piers Morgan.

“I always try to make the difference clear between spirituality and religion.” He isn’t bothered by people believing in God or even religion if it makes people kinder. What concerns him is groups using their collectivism for power and corruption.

“It’s when I see these religious fundamentalists saying that they’ve told their five-year-old that if they turn out gay, they will burn in hell. That, to me, is child abuse,” he told Morgan.

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Yet the stigma remains (and the cover of New Humanist magazine featuring Gervais in a Christ-on-the-cross pose with ‘ATHEIST’ scrawled across his chest isn’t helping to quell anything). But one new tool in Gervais’ belt is his latest show, Derek, which centers around Derek Noakes, a nursing home employee who makes kindness his lifestyle.

After the backlash from Gervais’ film The Invention of Lying, which some saw as an attack on religion, Gervais’ new show takes a much less combative approach to religion. It’s more thoughtful, honest and gets to the heart of Gervais’ philosophy: it doesn’t matter what your religion is – just be kind. “I don’t think it matters if there is a god or not,” says Derek in the season one finale. “I’ve met people who believe in God that are good and that are bad. And I’ve met people who don’t believe in God that are good and that are bad. So, just be good.”

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Derek is “sort of Christ-like,” Gervais told The Guardian, “Or, what Christians should aim at being.” Derek models religion without the history of persecution. This doesn’t mean Derek won’t be accused of being propaganda as well, but propaganda whose decree is kindness? There are certainly worse messages on TV.

Derek returns for season two on Netflix May 30th, and is available in the U.K. on Channel 4 on-demand via FilmOn.

Jaime Nelson is the editor of, a blog about British TV and comedy for Americans.

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