Britney Spears said in an Instagram audio story yesterday that she now considers herself an atheist. Her explanation, however, feeds right into flawed stereotypes Christians often have about why people stop believing in God.
Most atheists have a story about why they stopped believing in God. Perhaps something caused them to begin questioning their faith, but they only took that final leap after a lot of critical thinking. Yet when they tell people they no longer believe in God, the assumption is that something bad happened to them. That’s it. A logical thought process always takes a back seat to blaming God for some kind of tragedy. Hell, there are entire books written by Christian apologists about theodicy, offering explanations for why God lets bad things happen to good people… as if that’s the only reason people have for becoming nonreligious.
That’s why the Britney Spears revelation could be a double-edged sword.
Last week, her estranged younger son Jayden (15), whom she had with ex-husband Kevin Federline, said in an interview that the conservatorship Spears was under until this past November may have gone on too long but that his grandparents were not “bad people.” He added that he hoped she got better and that he was praying for her.
Federline said in a separate interview that Spears’ father “saved her” with the conservatorship.
Spears responded yesterday with a now-deleted audio-only clip on Instagram. (Below is a version uploaded to YouTube.)
Without getting into all the drama, here’s the portion that’s relevant for our purposes:
So Jayden, as you undermine my behavior, just like my whole family always has, with “hope she gets better,” “I will pray for her”… Pray for what? [That] I keep working so I can pay off mom’s legal fees and her house?
Do you guys want me to get better so I can continue to give your dad $40 grand a month? Or is the reasoning behind you guys deciding to be hateful is because it’s actually over in two years and you don’t get anything?
It saddens me not one of you have valued me as a person. You’ve witnessed me, how my family has been to me, and that’s all you know. Like I said, I feel you all secretly like to say something’s wrong with me.
Honestly, my dad needs to be in jail for the rest of his life.
But like I said, God would not allow that to happen to me if a god existed. I don’t believe in God anymore because of the way my children and my family have treated me. There is nothing to believe anymore.
I’m an atheist y’all.
Those last lines will have Christian apologists salivating.
Spears actually made similar statements about her loss of faith over a week ago, though they got far less attention because she didn’t use the “A”-word.
Spears is, by all measures, a decent person who has gone through hell and back over the years. But for her to say she’s no longer a believer because of what she’s gone through—and not because she gave religion serious thought and concluded that God must not exist—plays right into those archaic stereotypes that atheists are born from tragedies, not thought. It reeks of intellectual laziness. You can bet we’ll hear plenty of sermons in the near future all about how God has a plan for everyone, even Britney Spears, no matter how bad things may seem!
That’s not to say her theology is superficial. I have no clue what her journey out of religion has been like. Spears was raised as a Southern Baptist. There was a brief stint with Kabbalah. She flirted with Hinduism. More recently, she claimed to be Catholic (“I just got back from mass … I’m Catholic now.”) But last year, before she got married to model Sam Asghari, Spears posted a picture of a Catholic church on Instagram, saying she wanted to get married inside one, but couldn’t because “they said I had to be catholic.” She then added, “Isn’t church supposed to be open to all????”
That’s hardly a mark of ignorance; a lot of people don’t know the Catholic Church’s rules about marriage. But Spears’ overarching belief seemed to be that faith was a virtue, that religion (as a broad category) was supposed to be a force for good, and that we should believe in belief. The label didn’t matter so much as the idea itself.
At some point between last year and now, she went from this nebulous faith to declaring herself an atheist.
As much as I’d love to fill in those blanks, I also believe her personal life is no one else’s business outside of what she chooses to share publicly.