Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Famous Atheist: George R. R. Martin

George R.R. Martin

image courtesy of Yerpo

“Give me priests who are fat and corrupt and cynical,” he told Haldon, “the sort who like to sit on soft satin cushions, nibble sweetmeats, and diddle little boys. It’s the ones who believe in gods that make the trouble.”Tyrion Lannister in A Dance with Dragons

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge nerd. I love science fiction, fantasy and superheroes — which I tend to wad together into one big genre I’ve heard referred to as “weird stuff.” And one of my favorite authors of weird stuff is George R. R. Martin.

Martin’s massive fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, is getting a lot of attention these days, even from people who don’t normally read fantasy. His books have just been adapted in a popular and critically acclaimed HBO series, Game of Thrones, and the newest, long-awaited book in the series, “A Dance with Dragons,” is topping bestseller lists and getting loads of very positive press.

And it’s totally deserved. Martin’s characters are among the best written, not just in genre fiction, but literary fiction as a whole. His plots are complex and well-crafted, his ear for dialogue is excellent, and he’s notoriously willing to change the status quo by killing a beloved character or changing their fortunes for good or ill, giving the books a genuine sense of danger that fantasy often lacks. With the HBO series’ popularity, his first four novels are gaining new readers that have never stepped into a Sci-Fi section of a book store before and the world of Westeros is transcending the genre’s niche audience. The bottom line is that these aren’t just great fantasy novels. They’re great books, period.

So why am I talking about this guy on the blog for an atheist radio show? Well, it turns out that Martin is a non-believer, too.  Here are some exerpts from an interview he did about his new book with Entertainment Weekly:

There’s a line in book 5 where character says, “The gods are good.” Jaime thinks, “You go on believing that.” You talk about religion a lot in the stories, but what are your views?

I suppose I’m a lapsed Catholic. You would consider me an atheist or agnostic. I find religion and spirituality fascinating. I would like to believe this isn’t the end and there’s something more, but I can’t convince the rational part of me that that makes any sense whatsoever. That’s what Tolkien left out — there’s no priesthood, there’s no temples; nobody is worshiping anything in Rings.

There’s few acts of kindness in your novels. If somebody is on their own, or weakened, they can pretty much expect everybody to take advantage of them or treat them terribly. Obviously Aslan is not going to save the day, but are your books cynical about human nature?
I think the books are realistic. I’ve always liked gray characters. And as for the gods, I’ve never been satisfied by any of the answers that are given. If there really is a benevolent loving god, why is the world full of rape and torture? Why do we even have pain? I was taught pain is to let us know when our body is breaking down. Well, why couldn’t we have a light? Like a dashboard light? If Chevrolet could come up with that, why couldn’t God? Why is agony a good way to handle things?

Seriously, folks. These are awesome books, with genuinely surprising twists and turns, compelling characters that break the genre fiction mold, and a dense and gritty world that feels like it could be real.  A couple of us at Ask an Atheist are big  fans of Martin’s books. Libbie and myself in particular, are giant Martin addicts.

Run to the book store right now and pick up George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones,” even if you don’t like fantasy. Especially if you don’t like fantasy.

Trust me.

About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

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I really dislike fantasy as a genre and I LOVED this series. Top notch.


Ahh…Martin, you never disappoint. I stopped caring about the fantasy genre back at the end of high school, when everything in it became too predictable — and also when I started discovering that other genres and categories of writing were full of greater craft and artistry. I now dislike nearly all fantasy and have only a small fondness for certain sci-fi, although I think sci-fi is a culturally important art form. The big, huge exception to that is George R. R. Martin. I am absolutely bonkers about him, and I think ASOIAF is the best of all his works (although… Read more »


I’m currently listening to the audiobook A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series. It really is quite fascinating and enjoyable. When I’m done with the books I’ll take a look at the HBO telly version. Hope it’ll live up to it’s reputation.

John-Henry Beck

I hadn’t thought that Tolkien was admired for his great writing, so much as the creativeness of coming up with the new world and all those fantasy critters that became a basis for a genre. Even when I was loving the stories as a kid I never thought he was that great as a writer…

I’m currently working on A Feast for Crows. I’m no literary critic, but I’m certainly enjoying it. Though it does seem the story is getting away from him, winding all over the place.


I love that Tyrion quote from Dance. I just read that chapter last night.

[…] point of view), I can’t pass up talking about some of the religious aspects of the book.  Though Mr. Martin is a non-believer, he is foremost a storyteller and if there are messages embedded in his excellent prose, they are […]

Friedrich Schueler

I’m a Christian and love Game of Thrones. As a fellow writer, I think I’d enjoy sitting down and discussing the world he created with him, maybe even moving into the subject of his atheism/agnosticism. He’s an interesting guy who has made a fortune doing what he loves most: inventing unique characters and plucking our heartstrings by killing them.

[…] High Sparrow forteller at Cerseis kjærlighet for sønnen er en gave rett fra gudene, og det er gudenes vilje at Cersei står til ansvar for sine utallige synder. If we are to be just and good, then we accept it. All of us, even kings. A true leader avails himself of the wisest council he can. And no one is wiser than the gods. Samtidig gir høyspurven oss et fint innføringskurs hvordan overhoder for primitive trosretninger så mesterlig manipulerer massene, og benytter blomstrende retorikk for å parfymere stanken av avskyelige overgrep. There is so much good in all of us.… Read more »


I would call him apatheist, or an “spiritual atheist”, if I could call, an atheist that likes religions.


a “spiritual atheist”*

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