Ian McKellen on Life and Death

Sir Ian McKellen speaks to Men's Journal on a variety of topics, including religion:

Ian_mckellenI don't understand religion. I don't get it at all. I understand why people need it, but I think they're wrong. They don't. I do see that on a crude-ish level, when someone dies, it's nice and comforting to think that they're going to heaven and that they're going to be wrapped up warm for eternity. But they're not. Heaven doesn't exist. If you just think about it for a minute, the person is dead, they're gone, they're not coming back, and you'll never see them again. And when you go, you'll never see anybody again. Just face it. I feel stronger because of it. Knowing that I can't lean on religion to get through life. If you are leaning on it, you won't be living your life to the fullest.


  1. Mr. M says

    I feel the same as him. And quite frankly I just tolerate others who feel they need religion. If thats what makes them feel better,then so be it. But I will not be sitting in another god damn sermon again. Makes me sleepy more than anything.

  2. JonnyNYNY2FLFL says

    I’ve always thought it weird when people think they’ll be reunited with departed loved ones after they die.

    Won’t all the baggage they created on earth follow them to heaven? Won’t it be awkward when the Menendez brothers meet Mom & Dad at the pearly gates?

  3. the other Ken says

    Yeah, the whole concept of religion I think initially was to make us better people, you know, laws to abide by before there were nations to codify good and bad. Separate us from the animals because we could do good.

    But now, I think it’s a way to feel at peace while alive, knowing that death is coming some day. Separates us from the animals again, as the only species who (we suspect) knows death is inevitable.

    I pity people who believe in god because the entire planet has progressed since the middle ages. But religion hasn’t. And people still believe now what people in the middle ages believed about religion.

  4. terry says

    Heaven yes, unicorns no; angels yes, santa no; virgin births yes, zombies no; magic water yes; polyjuice potion no; pray yes; wishing wells no; walking on water yes; flying on brooms no; gays bad, BJs from your BF good-really good. I just have so much trouble keeping it all straight. I agree with Sir Ian, I just don’t get religion.

  5. says

    Most religious people know heaven is make believe- otherwise why do they try so hard to avoid death and pray to be healed or to survive some disaster? If they truly believed in a heaven they would welcome death and the ability to see their dead relatives/friend/Jesus.

  6. JackFknTwist says

    Quite right Sir Ian McKellen;

    the notion of a heaven that would contain me, Frothy , that anorexic birch Anne Coulter , Palin the Dumb, Green Ball$ and Spam Cruzie, or any Republican whatever is clearly nonsense.

    As for the other side, hell, that’s even more medieval…..all those little red devils with forks !

    No, I guess we have to grow up and admit the inexorable logic of mortality……it is mortality not a half-way house…….
    PS : and dear Islamics, no 73 virgins or dear Hindus no reincarnations in to exotic rebirths.
    Mortality…..the end……over…..nothingness.

  7. j.martindale says

    I am certainly skeptical of organized religion. McKellen”s certainty of the nature of death, on the other hand, strikes me as a little arrogant. A bit of humility in recognizing man’s ability to fathom the complexities of the universe might be wise.

  8. Mike Ryan says

    His words could be my words. His statements on religion are the same as mine have always been. Even as a little boy I never believed in religion of any kind. I’ve never believed you are going to ‘meet up’ with people you knew when you die or that there was a heaven to go to. You die you are dead. It is that simple. That’s what life is all about.

  9. datlaw214 says

    Well, even physics states that energy never dies, it only changes form. As an agnostic, I find his certainty a bit intellectually lazy. Plenty of people living “full” lives who believe in God. My atheist friends also seem to live a life of fulfillment. Does religion seem silly at times? Sure. But it seems equally silly to assume that all religious people are unfulfilled.

  10. JackFknTwist says

    @ DATLAW214 :

    Science also requires evidence to verify any hypothesis.
    That’s why the study of “Theology” has always struck me as about as useful as studying alchemy !………it just seems to be the study of an invented mythology.
    I mean religion comes up with concepts like “original sin” or “Limbo”…entirely invented…..later abolished !
    And then there’s “infallibility”…….no that’s really scientific.

  11. David From Canada says

    It’s unfortunate that so many gays have become atheists and religion haters.
    Yes religion has done some bad stuff – but so has politics and just about everything else.
    Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  12. ascanius1 says

    with religion there is no baby. there is only dirty bathwater. whatever good things religious folks do is in spite of their religion, not because of it.

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    Steven Weinberg

  13. oncemorewithfeeling says

    All organized religion is evil because all of it is based on lies. It began as a way to explain and protect yourself from the incomprehensible universe, but, especially as we continued to comprehend the universe, it became what it is today: a way to control the masses. No more, no less.

    And this is what puts the lie to the meme the idiotic right wingers started a few years ago: we are tolerant of them. Every damn day. We don’t have any choice because they won’t shut the hell up about their fairy tales. I just want them to keep their fairy tales out of my life.

  14. JackFknTwist says

    ” Religion has done some bad stuff…..”

    Seriously ?
    The very basis of ‘faith’ instead of ‘reason’ to advance and develop human civilization has been the greatest impediment to humankind through all the ages.
    Imagine the advances civilization would have made in science alone if Christianity had encouraged it instead of seeing science as a threat to ‘belief’.
    BTW I do not mention the Crusades, the Witchcraft Craze, the Inquisition, Catholicism and Franco……..and anti-gay propaganda current in the Catholic Church.

  15. Jenny 0 says

    David From Canada?


    More likely a Trolling Lincoln Lounger Goper from a texas blog boilerroom. You know ‘David’… Judas took his pieces of silver too.

    From Canada?

    Liar, Liar, Right-wing Fright-wig on Fire!

  16. says

    I always get annoyed at the “energy never dies” argument… it’s doesn’t apply. the chemical and electrical energy stays with the dead body until it it consumed in the decomposition process. “Energy” isn’t some cloud or mysterious force. It is simple the physical ability to do work. Our minds are not composed of “energy”. He has a good reason to feel certain, there are zero reason and zero evidence to suggest any part of us survives death, except in the memories of others.

  17. Distingue Traces says

    I’ll defer to Simone Weil on this, who wrote:

    “Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification.

    “I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God.

    “Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.”

  18. Mike says

    If you understand why people need it, then don’t be a jerk about it. These are awfully condescending statements he’s making. Also, “just think about it for a minute”? I’ll need a little more time.

  19. ascanius1 says

    lol. when there’s evidence of a supernatural part which can be awakened, get back to us. that does not include wish-fulfillment fantasies and feelings of immortality.

  20. David From Canada says

    @MIKE: “These are awfully condescending statements he’s making”. Correct. He’s sounds pessimistic and down – I wonder if he suffers from depression?
    Many atheists are intellectual, know-it-all airheads who are full of hot air, and it sounds like Sir Ian has joined that dark rank.

  21. ascanius1 says

    there’s nothing pessimistic in his statement.

    it sounds like the religious folks are the ones who are pessimistic and down and use their childish fantasies as a way of not dealing with their emotions and the reality of their existential condition. they’re the ones who are too immature to accept limitations and they have instead an infantile greed for immortality and omnipotence. that’s a sad way to live.

  22. graphicjack says

    I beleive he has the wisdom of Gandalf for saying this, but religious folks will see him as evil as Magneto. We call dead religions myths and emerging religions as cults. Please explain the difference? Because people believe in so-called real religions. But who’s to say that Scientology, for example, couldn’t be believed by the majority some day (shudder) and that Christianity will become a myth. What does this tell us? That ALL religions, past, present and future, are bunk.

  23. trivoli says

    I don’t like it when one person makes a strong statement on either side of this issue because there is no way for anyone living to know .I’m not a firm believer in religion but I think it provides some good basic guidelines for people on how to live a life that is respectful of others.

  24. RexT says

    My sentiments exactly.

    I see we have a visitor from Canada, supposedly. Simplicity evades many. We’re born, we live, we die. It’s the we live – so many toss aside for the ‘pie in the sky’ bit.

    Ah well.

  25. ascanius1 says

    so at what point in evolution did human beings get this special privilege to have souls that live for ever while all other living creatures do not? did australo-pithecus, homo erectus, homo habilis, neanderthals have immortal souls? or were they like chimpanzees, who don’t?

    we can excuse earlier generations for their religiosity because their scientific understanding was so primitive.

    today people have no such excuse for clinging to the absurd, childish beliefs which the religions are based on.

  26. Chaz says

    One thing you often hear: the weirdest thing I think, is ‘where do you thing we go after we die?’

    The very simple answer is that we go to the same place we were before we were born. People all believe that the year 1900 existed, yes? And that life was going on back then? And that you weren’t there and nobody even thought of you.

    Well, that’s death. Death is being where you were in 1900.

    how is that possibly scary?

    What scares people isn’t death: it’s the fear that they are wasting the life they have.

  27. Rex says

    This is one of the most worthwhile discussions I have ever followed on Towleroad. It is so refreshing not to have to listen to drivel about Miley Cyrus or Madonna. Good to know that LGBT/&Straight people can think and articulate intelligently about something other than decadence.

  28. johnjaxon says

    Look folks… it’s a comically simply solution, insanely simple, and these folks simply chose to “NOT” get it…
    Baby BORN: outie for reproduction: MALE
    Baby BORN: innie for reproduction: FEMALE!!!

    Religion hasn’t one thing to do with this particular FACT… Hormonal imbalance: GET HELP FROM THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY… POOF, PROBLEM fixed, if not seek mental PROFESSIONAL!!!

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