Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Cannes film festival in 2007.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Cannes film festival in 2007. Photo by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons.

Unless you’ve somehow avoided today’s celebrity news flood, you’ve probably heard that Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married in France last weekend.

(Never mind that Pitt said in 2006 that the couple would “consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able.”)

For many, this announcement is an opportunity to peer into the private lives of two famous people. And I won’t deny that I too indulge in celebrity news on occasion.

But the news of their wedding actually got me wondering about the ceremony itself: Who officiated it? What rituals did they use? Was there music?

Why do I care about the details of their ceremony? Because Jolie and Pitt are among the most famous nontheists in the world—and, to many people, the idea of a nontheistic wedding is still entirely alien.

Asked whether or not there is a God in 2000, Jolie said: “There doesn’t need to be a God for me.”

In 2009, Pitt was asked if he considers himself to be spiritual or if he believes in a higher power. His response: “No, no, no! I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic.”

And in 2011 he said: “Many people find religion to be very inspiring… Myself, I found it very stifling. I grew up with Christianity and I remember questioning it greatly.”

Now, you may not care about Pitt and Jolie specifically, but the wedding between two very high profile atheists raises an interesting question for some: What exactly happens during a wedding ceremony for two atheists, agnostics, or otherwise nontheistic people?

As a Humanist chaplain and celebrant, I officiate nontheistic weddings—in fact, I’m working with several couples to plan their own nonreligious weddings right now.

Without referencing God or a universal spirit, the focus of the ceremony will be on the people getting married and those in attendance. Without needing to incorporate certain traditional rituals or work off of an established blueprint, we have the freedom to shape the ceremony around the couple as unique individuals who have their own story and aspirations, their own hopes and fears, their own views on love and commitment, and their own reasons for making such an important decision.

This isn’t to suggest that religious weddings can’t be unique or meaningful; I’ve attended quite a few and have been moved and inspired by many of them. But anyone who thinks that an atheistic wedding can’t also be rich in meaning probably hasn’t been to one.

Whatever their ceremony was like, I hope that Pitt and Jolie felt that it was a sincere representation of their love for one another and the other people in their lives.

But beyond that, I hope their wedding will be an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the many ways in which people celebrate love—atheists included.

28 Comments

    • Who cares about what? What celebrities are doing, or what kind of celebration it was? I’m thinking religious people who are paranoid about atheists are curious about what such a ceremony is like, so they probably care. I care because they give a public face to atheism and what they do gets noticed, therefore it’s good for the world to see that their family is happy, kind, generous, and as normal as possible given their fame.

  1. Stephen Hauskins

    I think if I got married it would be presided over by Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Reverend Lovejoy… because it is all made up just like religion.

    It is in fact, irrelevant to religion if god exist or not.

  2. Many, many people, theists and nontheists alike, get married every day in secular weddings. They get married at courthouses and by justices of the peace without music or ritual. Non-religious weddings are not a big deal — even for theists.

      • I’m an Atheist married to another Atheist
        for 30 years.
        We raised two children who became Atheist
        as soon as they could think for themselves.

        We all dumped religion years ago – it has really freed up our weekends.

        Leaving religion dramatically improved our family communication
        and the quality of our time together.
        Nobody is ‘lording’ over the household
        with holy books anymore.

        We celebrate the seasons for our own fun – not to continue the unsupportable myths behind them. We hope every Priest, Rabbi and Imam ‘in the know’ finally comes to their senses and abandons this dangerous stuff.

        I wish Atheism on anyone who feels fed up, confined or twisted in knots
        by the double-talk and self-deception of religion.

        If God is real and a ‘merciful’ afterlife awaits it would be a scientific fact.
        Like gravity, it would be there for everyone; whether you believe or not.

        Enjoy!

  3. janetspillows

    To be honest, I could care less if they got married, but I do admit that it bothered me that Pitt left Jennifer for Angelina while he was still married. I know things happen,but it was wrong. And Angelina is no better because she knew he was married too. So they are both guilty and they are adulterers. I think it’s sad that they are both Atheists because I do believe in God. And no I am not a hater or unhappy. I have been married for 24 yrs and I am very happy. I bet their marriage won’t last. Why? Because they don’t have God in their life. I promise you it won’t last.

    • A marriage can be automatically assumed to fail because it doesn’t involve god or religion? What an incredibly awful statement. What an incredibly prejudicial statement.

      And, it doesn’t hold up to actual demographic evidence:

      Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:

      -11% of the adult population is currently divorced.

      -25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.

      -Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience. (www. religioustolerance. org/ chr_dira. htm)

      A more recent study discovered that divorce rates tended to be higher in “red states” than in “blue states”:

      It was previously thought that socioeconomic hardships in the South were largely to blame for high divorce rates, however Glass and her fellow researchers concluded that the conservative religious culture is in fact a major contributing factor thanks to “the social institutions they create” that “decrease marital stability.”

      Specifically, putting pressure on young people to marry sooner, frowning upon cohabitation before marriage, teaching abstinence-only sex education and making access to resources like emergency contraception more difficult all result in earlier childbearing ages and less-solid marriages from the get-go, Glass writes in the paper.

      “It’s surprising,” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told The Los Angeles Times. “In some contexts in America today, religion is a buffer against divorce. But in the conservative Protestant context, this paper is showing us that it’s not.”

      Glass and her colleagues also concluded that the religious culture of the area permeated into the divorce rates of even the non-religious people who lived there. In other words, simply by living in counties that were dominated by conservative Protestantism, people were at a higher risk for getting divorced.

      (www. huffingtonpost. com/ 2014/01/21/ divorce-study_n_4639430. html)

      (Remember to remove all spaces from the URLs I provided. This blog tends to filter out comments with working URLs.)

      So, don’t be so quick to condemn the love others share with each other just because they don’t share your religious beliefs. There are no guarantees in life, and quite often, a smug air of superiority is only a ruse that serves to hide shaky ground.

    • “I bet their marriage won’t last. Why? Because they don’t have God in their life.”

      I am curious as to whether this is a good example of the “respectful dialogue” Chris says he so often has with religious people. Is this what “bridge building” usually looks like? I feel like I’m not missing out on much…

    • anthony carrion

      HTYour ignorant and hateful I can tell just by what you said its sad your too blinded by that book written by ignorant men who thought the world was flat, that you can’t see…..there is over 200,000 registered religons on this planet and you seem to think that your right. And that’s yuo on an ego trip…you are a sad pathetic individual just like every christianic religon out there….and you also ignore the fact that there are multiple marriages that fail even when god is in their lives…your ignorant and that’s that

    • I’m an atheist, married to an atheist, with two atheist kids in their late twenties.
      Been married for 27 years, and I don’t have any “gods” on my life at all.

  4. Janetspillows you are sadly ignorant. Please look up some statistics on religion and marriage. Brad and Angelina have ALREADY been together longer most Christian marriages. In the USA, most weddings take place in a “House of God” where a priest or pastor warns the bride and groom that, “What God joins together…let no man… blah, blah, blah” . So the Christian marriage should last forever. Right? Wrong! Many, if not most, Godly marriages end in divorce within a few years. Oh, by the way, I don’t believe in any gods and I’ve been married longer than you.

  5. The ONLY way to be legally married in France is to be married in the city hall. If it is a small town or you are as famous as these two are, the mayor will witness the signing of the marriage contract. Those who chose to have a church wedding typically do so the day after the civil wedding. The government recognizes the civil marriage contract and the church recognizes its own ceremony and contract. True separation of Church and state.

    • Chaplain Martin

      Michael,
      I’m a Christian and I agree that civil ceremonies, like and France and Germany, would actually free me, as an ordained minister, from having to act as a agent of the state. This is a hold over from the Church State of Britain. Only Anglican minister could perform marriages legally.
      My mother and father were married forty-three years when my father died. They were married by a judge. My mother was a Christian and my father became one years later.

  6. Chaplain Martin

    It would be nice if Chris Stedman actually had given an example of wedding vows he uses in atheist weddings.

    How about it Chris will you do that for your readers?

    • If you want non-religious wedding vows you can go online.

      You can ask any number of Secular Humanist officiates.

      Go to any Justice of the Peace in any given community

      Go to any wedding chapel not associated with a religious institution.

      Go to Las Vegas.

  7. Michael Glass

    In Australia in 2012, 71.9% of marriages were conducted by civil celebrants. In England the figure is about 70%. It appears that in these two countries marriage is now a largely secular celebration.

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