Louis C.K.’s “Great Mystery”

by Matthew Sitman

In an NPR interview last week, Louis C.K. unpacked the comments he made, critical of some atheists’ certainty that God doesn’t exist, during his opening monologue when he hosted SNL in March (seen above):

[S]omething I’ve learned over the years is that when you talk about religion, you want to talk to religious people. Even if you’re talking about something that’s contrary religiously or provocative, a religious audience is a better audience for that. If you talk to a bunch of cool atheists in leather and suede, you know, sucking on their vape sticks or whatever they’re doing, they’re not going to get it because they don’t even think about God. It’s not even on their radar, you know? So they’re – but if you tell religious people, I don’t know if there’s a God, I don’t think there’s a heaven, where’s God’s ex-wife, these things, they have a connection to it that means something. …

I feel like the math in my head tells me that we’re just – that everything is just science and randomness and patterns but the main thing I feel is that it’s a great mystery. I feel like I need to be humbled before the mysteries of life. I have no idea what’s caused all of this.

In response, Chris Stedman questions C.K.’s understanding of what atheism entails:

This isn’t the first time C.K. has offered confusing statements about atheism; in a 2011 Reddit Q&A he said both “I’m not an atheist” and “I don’t ‘Believe in god,’” and suggested that he does not consider himself an atheist because he doesn’t know for sure that there is no God.

It seems that a lot of this confusion boils down to differing definitions of atheism. If atheism means knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no gods, then C.K. is right. But that definition of atheism doesn’t fit most of the atheists I know. In fact, it runs up against something many atheists value: Doubt.

As an atheist, I never want to be too certain about what I believe. I strive to continually test and retest my assumptions, comparing them against new information and data as I encounter it. My atheism is curious, reflecting both a willingness to be wrong and a constant desire to learn.

So let’s clear the air: Being an atheist does not require absolute certainty. It doesn’t mean you rule out the possibility of divine or supernatural entities existing. Instead, it is the position that such a possibility is unlikely, and that the case for God hasn’t been adequately made yet.