Interviewed in Detroit Free Press (early 1995?).
From his album River Of Dreams:
I'm not sure about a life after this God knows I've never been a spiritual man.
Joel was profiled by Timothy White in Billboard Magazine, December 4, 1994. An excerpt:"I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspects of things," Joel says. "But there are spiritual planes that I'm aware of that I don't know anything about and that I can't explain. That's why I think musicians are so revered and so important to our culture: We're the wizards, we sort of reveal a little bit of this extra-powerful communicative force. I recently rediscovered that I was enchanted with music and the creative arts as a little child because I thought there was an element of alchemy in them."
Here's an excerpt from an interview/biography published in the 1982 book Rock Stars...
Q: You're an atheist, I know. When did you settle on that philosophical position?
A: Well, I wasn't raised Catholic, but I used to go to Mass with my friends, and I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus-pocus. There's a guy hanging upon the wall in the church, nailed to a cross and dripping blood, and everybody's blaming themselves for that man's torment, but I said to myself, "Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin Theres no blood of any sacred martyr an my hands. I pass on all of this."
I had some Jewish guilt in me already - which must have been genetically ingrained since I wasn't raised in a Hebraic religious setting - so I knew I definitely had no room for Catholic guilt too.
"Then my mother took my sister and me to an Evangelical church, the Church of Jesus Christ. I was baptised there at the age of twelve, and it was strictly hallelujah time. But one day the preacher is up in the pulpit unfolding a dollar bill saying, "This is the flag of the Jews." Whoa, fella! We left that flock.
Now my grandfather, whose name was Phillip Hyman, had always been a staunch atheist, and my sister, Judy, and I were very frightened for him, always saying, "Grandpa, believe in God! Don't die this way and end up in Hell!"
But I was very, very close to him. He was the most inspiring presence in my life. He was a very proper, very well-mannered, and well-read Englishman, although none of his breeding had brought him wealth or position. He was a jeweller for a little while; his family in England were tinsmiths. But he didn't have a dime because all of his energies were funnelled into the pursuit of knowledge. He used to sit in bed at night and read books on trigonometry and palaeontology. He didn't respect anything but knowledge, and you'd better know what you were talking about or he would devastate you. He could be a pain in the neck, but he was a happy, man, the only self-fulfilled soul I've ever known.. He made a science out of doing only what he wanted to do.
As a result, I was motivated to become a voracious reader, which I am. And I gradually, decided that just because I didn't have or couldn't find the ultimate answer didn't mean I was going to buy the religious fairytale. As an atheist you have to rationalise things. You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy - meaning God in all of his imagined forms - for a helping hand when you're in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can't, you have no choice but to be good and scared - but that's okay! When animals are afraid, they don't pray, and we're just a higher order of primate. Mark Twain, a great atheist, said it best in The Mysterious Stranger, when he stated in not so many words, "Who are we to create a heaven and hell for ourselves, excluding animals and plants in the bargain, just because we have the power to rationalise?"
Death is death, and the ego can't handle the consequences. We should all struggle to the last to hold on to life, and religion encourages people to give up on making this life work because the supposed next life will be fairer. Religion is the source of too many of the world's worst problems.
I once wrote a love song that contained, as it turned out, some insights into Catholic guilt. But the point of "Only the Good Die Young" was not religion but lust. "Come out, Virginia!" - and I'll tell you anything you want to hear so I can get in your pants!
As a kid, I actually did go into a confessional booth in a local Catholic church, and I made up all these terrible things. I said, "Father I felt my sister, I robbed from my mother, I hit my grandmother." The priest on the other side of the screen just said, "Well then, you will say seventeen Hail Marys and fourteen Our Fathers," and I said, "You mean that's it? I can go out and do it all again and come back next week?" He said, "Who is this?! Are you a member of the parish?!" I said, "I'm not even Catholic!" And I took off in a hurry. But I was curious about this confession thing. Jewish guilt is very popular; there're books and movies about it. But Catholic guilt seemed Gothic and shadowy.
I believe that all important matters have to be settled here, not in the clouds somewhere after we kick off.
Ed. Word has it that Joel has been wishing others 'God Bless You' which may suggest he is having a change of heart. Please send in any new info. I'll remove him from future editions if no recent clear quote emerges establishing that he still is godless.
On Nov. 16, 2010, he was on Howard Stern and said he's an atheist.
Q: Are you the type of guy that believes in Karma and things like that?
Q: Like, "Whoa, that's gonna come back at me. Someone's gonna do something terrible to me. I'm gonna get hurt by some-"
A: Well, not in the religious or spiritual sense. I just, that's how things seem to work out.
Q: Are you religious? Do you believe in a God?
A: No. I'm an atheist.
Q: So you think people who believe in God are dimwitted?
Q: Like, are they scared?
A: I don't know. They're different from me. That's all I know.
21 Nov 01 - reader Jason Roth writes "On an A&E special, singers and song writers, someone in the audience asked something to the effect-what do you tell your daughter about death? Billy Joel replied something to the affect "I told her when you die you go into peoples hearts that you were close to". I think he meant that people live on in other peoples memories. I think this would make a good argument that he's an atheist, but that's just my take on it."
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