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.


    • 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. 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.

  2. 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.

      • Whom to believe?

        Ed Stetzer:
        Research found in “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”, shows that couples who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce. Catholic couples were 31% less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35% less likely; and Jewish couples 97% less likely, which in itself is quite impressive, I must say.
        But, many news outlets breathlessly reported that being a conservative Protestant increases your chances of divorce– even being near those conservative Protestants does so.
        In a recent article on Canon and Culture that I featured in my Morning Roundup yesterday, Andrew Walker interviews Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project, and asks him the question, “Are religious conservatives really divorcing more than religious liberals, or more than people who have no religious affiliation at all?” Dr. Wilcox answers,
        Up to a point, yes. The article finds that conservative Protestants, and counties with higher shares of conservative Protestants, are indeed more likely to divorce—compared to Americans in other mainstream traditions, from mainline Protestantism to Mormonism to Catholicism. But I’ll mention two caveats that have gone unrecognized by popular media treatments, such as Michelle Goldberg’s article in The Nation:
        1. This study also finds that religiously unaffiliated Americans, and counties with higher shares of unaffiliated Americans, are the most likely to divorce. So, religion per se is not the problem and, indeed, secularism seems to be more conducive towards divorce than conservative Protestantism.
        2. A new article by sociologist Charles Stokes in suggests that the problem here is mainly with nominal conservative Protestants—those who attend rarely or never. It’s these nominal conservative Protestants—e.g., the Southern Baptist couple in Texas who rarely darken the door of a church—who are much more likely to divorce.
        And, while we are addressing stats, let me add that no reputable study has found that 50% of marriages end in divorce—ever—though that does not stop it from spreading because people love bad stats. (The New York Times explains a bit on that stat here.)
        Keep in mind that when you hear a stat that does not make sense—like going to church makes you more likely to divorce, contrary to many other studies—don’t rush to assume it’s true. It is often more complicated that the initial news reports.

        Then there is Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher:
        In her newest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shanti compiles some stats and conducts some research of her own on marriage, and specifically, what makes for a happy marriage.
        Her statistical findings, and the implications of these findings, are fascinating.
        Here are a couple of stats that I found to be particularly interesting as it relates to faith and marriage:
        53% of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage” (compared to 7% of Struggling Couples).
        30% of Struggling Couples disagree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage.”
        She writes, “Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness” (pg. 178, Highly Happy Marriages).

    • “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…

      • Bạn cho rằng chỉ có Chúa mới quyết định hôn nhân sao ? vậy thì những người không theo Chúa , những người theo đạo Phật ở Châu á sống với nhau suốt đời thì bạn nghĩ sao ?

    • 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.

    • Actually you can’t promise that their marriage won’t last. It may fail for any number of reasons, by not having God in their lives is not a guarantee. In a week my husband and I will be celebrating our 34th anniversary, we do not have God in our life’s masters is nothing wrong with our marriage or relationship. With your thinking, our marriage won’t last either,but you have no clue.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

      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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. God created marriage, and everything else that exists, the ultimate eternal marriage, will be between God and all of mankind, just as God is the eternal Father of all of us, and the eternal King and LORD of us all. The creation is not wiser than the Creator, read His Word, the Bible. And by the way, He loves you so much that He created you, just to prove it to you, provides for you every day to prove it to you, and died for you to prove it to you. He more than deserves our gratitude. He does all this, even while we don’t believe.

  1. […] Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie : Did they have an atheist wedding? Religion News Service 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 … …Source […]

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