I am not a fan of Ricky Gervais. I just don't find him funny. Clips I've seen from Extras have proved that, for me, celebrity self-mockery with a wink to the camera is not half as funny as Brass Eye-style send-up of celebrities who don't know they're being mocked; last year, my plan to watch all of The Office UK collapsed with the first episode, of which, judging by its profound tediousness, I accidentally watched the eight-hour director's cut.
So my attempts to engage with his work have failed, and I don't much care for his persona either. When he guests on The Daily Show, I am mystified by his ability to charm Jon Stewart and the audience into fits of giggles with every sentence that emerges from his mouth; when he promoted his film Cemetery Junction on Mark Kermode's show, I got very irritated by him; when he caused a stir by making some cheeky remarks as host of this year's Golden Globes, he seemed altogether too pleased with himself.
That, I think, is the heart of my dislike of Ricky Gervais (or rather of the Ricky Gervais persona he projects; obviously, I don't know the man personally): he always comes across as incredibly smug. I have no problem with lampooning the Hollywood elite, many of my favorite sitcoms were influenced by The Office's comic sensibilities, and I am happy for people to publicly profess their atheism, but it's nice if they can do it without being so damn smug.
In April, the Wall Street Journal blog ran a piece by Gervais entitled “An (Atheist) Easter Message From Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Excellent Christian”. I'm not sure I've ever seen an article that took more cheap shots at tired targets, misrepresented Christianity more wilfully, or was smugger in tone than this one.
For a start, Gervais refers to Christians' belief “that Jesus was half man, half God”. It takes about eight seconds of engagement with Christianity to know that this is not remotely the Christian view of Jesus. In John 1:1 and 14, in Philippians 2:6-7, in Colossians 2:9, in the Nicene Creed – the core of Christianity is that Jesus is both fully God and fully human (it's called hypostatic union, y'all!). Confusing? You bet – ink and blood have both been spilled in vast quantities in attempts to make sense of this doctrine for most of the past two millennia. Glibly dismissing the complexity of the issue for the sake of a cheap soundbite is intellectually dishonest and doctrinally naïve. It's like saying, “If God would kill his own son, he must be eeeevil!” Well, gosh, thank you for that innovative theological insight – it has never occurred to any Christian before, and it certainly hasn't been under debate for 1600-some years. It happens in feminism, too (“Someone should really call the third wave and tell them about these important revelations”). I hereby dub this practice – of thinking you've trumped your ideological opponents by bringing up a question that has long been discussed within their movement – “half-man-half-biscuitism”.
Half-man-half-biscuitism strikes again when Gervais takes lazy (and, in the context of the article, irrelevant) aim at the issue of gay people and the Bible. “So remember. If you are gay you are “Bumming for Satan” basically. (That would make quite a good T-shirt.)” Again, the way he talks about it you'd think nobody had ever debated this issue before. It's a very cheap shot, included only to further ridicule Christians, who apparently all share exactly the same narrow view on religious exclusivism, sola fide, and homosexuality. Also, can we call a moratorium on the word “bumming” in British comedy? Please?
The main substance of Gervais' article, though, is taken up with his point-by-point declaration that he keeps all of the Ten Commandments. Now, I know he's trying to be funny, but he's also trying to make a serious – and, undeniably, valid – point about religious hypocrisy, and I can't quite figure out how it's intended. Is he satirizing Christian self-righteousness by demonstrating that anyone who claims to keep all of the Ten Commandments is obviously lying (Romans 3, yo)? Or is he highlighting Christian moral hypocrisy by seriously claiming that he keeps all of the Ten Commandments while Christians don't? (Spoiler: he doesn't. I don't think he understands what the first two commandments mean, and I just don't believe he's never coveted something that belonged to somebody else.)
Either point is valid. It's true that professing your own moral righteousness, either publicly or just to yourself, is an immoral act for a Christian; it's also true that non-Christians often act more morally than Christians do. If you're going to make either one of those points, though, it helps if you can do it in a manner that's coherent, honest, and fair. Or – at the very least – funny.