As once stated on his Facebook page the Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg was an atheist. This was a position he adopted when he was just 13 years old (1). That decision had put him in the company of other billionaires of the likes of Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Elon Musk (SpaceX).
As pictured above in his response, however, there was a good deal of excitement and surprise generated this past Christmas day for Zuckerberg’s followers when, via Facebook, he wished them a “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.” The first comment in the 27 000 long comment thread by a man named José asked, “But Aren’t You atheist?” Zuckerberg replied saying that he wasn’t, “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
But why isn’t Zuckerberg an atheist anymore and why does he view religion as “very important?” Some have speculated an answer to this question (2). For example, last August Zuckerberg alongside his wife Priscilla Chan met with Pope Francis in the Vatican. According to the Vatican press office they dialogued over the ways in which one could bring communications technology to people living in poverty. This seemed to impress Zuckerberg and he subsequently expressed his admiration of the Pope saying that “It was a meeting we’ll never forget. You can feel his warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people” (3). Zuckerberg went on to tell him “how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world” (4).
Could it be the kindness from Pope Francis that lies behind Zuckerberg’s change? After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that kindness expressed by some believer somewhere has had a massive impact on an unbeliever. It would also seem that Zuckerberg is impressed with Buddhism, “Buddhism is an amazing religion and philosophy, and I have been learning more about it over time. I hope to continue understanding the faith more deeply.” Perhaps it is Buddhism that has urged Zuckerberg to view religion as important and especially so as a way of life. In fact, during his visit to China back in 2015 Zuckerberg visited the Wild Goose Pagoda where he “offered a prayer for peace and health for the world and for my family.” He also included a photo of himself kneeling in front of the Buddhist landmark (5).
Some atheists aren’t too chuffed about this as one might expect. For example, atheist writer Hemant Mehta finds that Zuckerberg’s change will take some of the wind out of atheism’s sails (6). Zuckerberg’s “atheism,” explains Metha, “was a point of pride for many of us. When Zuckerberg and his wife promised last year to give away the bulk of his fortune, that story went around my circles as an example of how an atheist could do good in this world without God — just like fellow billionaires (and alleged atheists) Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.”
However, the story doesn’t stop there. After Zuckerberg claimed that he was no longer an atheist he very recently met up with some church leaders in Texas in the hope to learn more about their ministries and how they build community (7). In fact, to the surprise of the church leaders Zuckerberg spoke very little as he seemed to listen far more than he would speak. When he did speak, however, Zuckerberg specifically asked questions about how the clergy and churches have come to the aid of the community after events such as the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion, how churches balance internal and external ministries, and how churches form community (8). These are important questions for Zuckerberg and are probably the little clues behind his elevated view of religion. Zuckerberg, for now at least, hasn’t revealed much more than this as he did not answer any further questions so I think we can probably expect that to come out some time in the future (9).
1. Alef, D. 2010. Mark Zuckerberg: The Face Behind Facebook and Social Networking.
2. Christian Evidence. 2017. Mark Zuckerberg loses his non-religion. Available.
3. Blair, L. 2017. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Is No Longer an Atheist, Says ‘I believe Religion Is Very Important.’ Available.
4. Papenfuss, M. 2017. Former Atheist Mark Zuckerberg Gets Religion. Available.
5. Papenfuss, M. 2017. Ibid.
6. Mehta, H. 2016. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Says He Is Not an Atheist. Available.
7. Hallowell, B. 2017. After Abandoning Atheism, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Met With Pastors. Here’s Why. Available.
8. Hallowell, B. 2017. Ibid.
9. CBN News. 2017. Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Drops Atheism and Doubts For…? Available.