Mark Zuckerberg is a believer.
When the Facebook founder and CEO issued Christmas and Hanukah wishes to his followers, he got a reply asking him if he was still an atheist. To which Zuckerberg replied with a “no,” saying that after years of soul-searching, he now believes that “religion is very important.”
He didn’t elaborate, but his announcement made headlines and garnered tens of thousands of comments on Facebook.
He’s not the only Mark to openly tout the importance of faith. As I wrote here, Mark Wahlberg has been an increasingly vocal advocate of his particular faith, Catholicism, and the positive role it has played in his life. “My Catholic faith,” he recently told an audience of priests in his native Boston, “is the anchor that supports everything I do in life. In my daily prayers, I ask for guidance, strength in my vocation as a husband and as a father.”
Like Mark, actress Leah Remini has recently spoken candidly about her return to her Catholic roots, posting Instagram shots of her daughter’s baptism, speaking affectionately about rediscovering prayer and the Rosary, and telling People magazine that faith is a “beautiful thing.” These stars join others like Jim Gaffigan, Stephen Colbert, and Mindy Kaling in proudly vocalizing their positive views about faith.
As more and more celebrities speak openly and positively of the role of religion in their lives, America is reflecting on the role of religion more broadly in our society.
Zuckerberg certainly bucks a trend among millennials and young people moving away from faith, with study after study finding that young adults and kids sharply diverge from older generations in their level of religious affiliation. And it’s not just young people; religious practice has been in a general state of decline in America for decades. Concurrent with that decline has been a rising animosity towards faith in America. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing an increasing number of religious liberty cases, and one of the significant scandals of the recent presidential election involved leaked emails that revealed top Democratic Party officials mocking Christians for basic religious practices like parochial education and baptism.
Former White House staffer Michael Wear is out with a book about the Democratic Party’s “religion problem” and its track record of antagonizing faith voters who very well may have swung the election towards Republicans. The Atlantic reports one telling anecdote from the book:
He once drafted a faith-outreach fact sheet describing Obama’s views on poverty, titling it “Economic Fairness and the Least of These,” a reference to a famous teaching from Jesus in the Bible. Another staffer repeatedly deleted “the least of these,” commenting, “Is this a typo? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Who/what are ‘these’?”
Animosity directed at people of faith apparently affects Hollywood too; Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik told the press, “Hollywood is not friendly to people of faith.”
And yet, studies consistently find that religious practice correlates with happier and healthier marriages, greater family cohesion, and better overall individual happiness and emotional and physical health. This is likely why many couples rediscover their faith in a more meaningful way once they marry and have children.
Such couples apparently now include Zuckerberg, raised Jewish, and his wife, a practicing Buddhist. They may be billionaires, but the Zuckerbergs are tapping into something that brings meaning to the masses. Zuckerberg’s voice is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of celebrities who appreciate the essential role of faith in the human experience—and aren’t afraid to talk about it.