Stephen Massicotte doesn’t believe in God. Not like in that apologetic half shrug you give to avoid debates at parties, or discovering that God is dead at the end of a Slayer album. Massicotte is a hard line atheist, and he’s not afraid to say so while chatting at a local Starbucks.
“The ideas are stupid, and I don’t think we should respect stupid ideas. I’m tolerant of people,” he says when the discussion about his new play, The Clockmaker, turns to religion. “Every time I invite Jehovah’s Witnesses into my house, I always want to stick it to them, but I end up having a conversation with them about people and the nature of good. I really do think most of their ideas are reprehensible. I’m not picking on Jehovah’s Witnesses; I think that about all religions.”
Yes. That kind of atheist. The kind that quotes Richard Dawkins, believes all people should question their beliefs and is ready to bludgeon any and all religions with a sack of facts. Not expecting blasphemy with her afternoon chai latte, the woman sitting behind Massicotte scrunches her face as he describes the Catholic practice of transubstantiation as an act of zombie-ism. In the past, Massicotte probably wouldn’t have made such an incendiary judgment. He would have done what he now recognizes as the usual liberal thing to do and just tolerated it all, keeping those feelings behind a tight-lipped smile.
Before becoming an internationally acclaimed playwright, before a career as a screenwriter, before his brief stint in the advertising world, Massicotte was a Roman Catholic. He left that behind in his youth and spent much of his adult life as an agnostic. During that time, even just before he became an atheist, he still saw God as many people do: a disapproving old white guy with an unkempt white beard. It was the death of his stepfather that pushed Massicotte into questioning his own spiritual beliefs, especially those concerning the hereafter.
“When my stepdad died, my brother and sister were explaining where grandpa was to my niece,” says Massicotte. “I overheard the talk, and I just sat there thinking ‘that can’t be true.’ I didn’t say anything, because she’s not my daughter, but I just had all these questions about heaven. I love the little book the Jehovah’s Witnesses give out. It has this elaborate painting of heaven where people are in their Sunday best and surrounded by all these animals. It looks like a petting zoo. Some religious experts would say I’m being too literal [in my critique] about what heaven is, but I don’t know how else to see it.”
The Clockmaker, without spoiling any plot details, is a metaphysical love story. Considering Massicotte’s feelings about religion, you’d expect his new play to be a condemnation of all things religion. In actuality, it’s more of a gentle ribbing; nothing too controversial, or at least not enough to get parishioners to picket the Martha Cohen Theatre.
“There’s no sense writing a play that scolds the audience and tells them they’re all wrong,” he says. “If you come at people and start saying ‘there is no God,’ and they paid a ticket for it, then they’re steamed. I wanted to write a play that gently got people to stop and think about something they haven’t given much thought to before. I have a play I’m thinking of writing next that will be the condemnation.”
Throughout Massicotte’s work, even in his dark comedy Pervert, you can find at least a sliver of romanticism. Atheism didn’t transform him into a cynical bastard with a monotone wardrobe. On the contrary, for Massicotte, the opposite is true (well, OK, the Mathew Good T-shirt he’s wearing is kind of monotone). For the first time in a long time, Massicotte feels he’s appreciating and experiencing all that the world has to offer. All he had to do was stop believing in God.
“I thought the world would be colder when I became an atheist, but afterwards, I felt more wonder about everything, because all this was made without God,” says Massicotte. “Love is just a biological function of our evolution. It sounds cold, but at the same time, it’s important to remember how wonderful that is. So, I guess I’m still a romantic.”