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Ingmar Bergman

(July 14, 1918 – July 30, 2007)

Film and Theater Director

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Ingmar Bergman's struggle with the faith of his upbringing and his gradual shift from belief to nonbelief has been a central theme of his films, especially the cycle of films from The Seventh Seal (1957) to Winter Light (1963).


In his autobiography The Magic Lantern (N.Y.: Penguin: 1988) Bergman gave the following account of his religious beliefs:

   I have struggled all my life with a tormented and joyless
   relationship with God.  Faith and lack of faith, punishment,
   grace and rejection, all were real to me, all were
   imperative.  My prayers stank of anguish, entreaty,
   trust, loathing and despair.  God spoke, God said nothing.
   Do not turn from Thy face.
   The lost hours of that operation provided me with a
   calming message.  You were born without purpose,
   you live without meaning, living is its own meaning.
   When you die, you are extinguished.  From being
   you will be transformed to non-being.  A god does not
   necessarily dwell among our capricious atoms.
   This insight has brought with it a certain security
   that has resolutely eliminated anguish and tumult,
   though on the other hand I have never denied my
   second (or first) life, that of the spirit.

Ingmar Bergman's book Images: My Life in Film (N.Y.: Arcade Publishing, 1994) also includes statements by Bergman concerning his religious beliefs as they evolved over time. On pages 240-241 he recounts the effects that his experience of anesthesia for minor surgery had on his world-view. This is the same incident that he recounted in his autobiography The Magic Lantern. He wrote:

   My fear of death was to a great degree linked to my
   religious concepts.  Later on, I underwent minor surgery.
   By mistake I was given too much anesthesia.  I felt as if
   I had disappeared out of reality. Where did the hours go?
   They flashed in a microsecond.

   Suddenly I realized, that is how it is.  That one could be
   transformed from being to not-being -- it was hard to grasp.
   But for a person with a constant anxiety about death, now
   liberating.  Yet at the same time it seems a bit sad.  You say
   to yourself that it would have been fun to encounter new
   experiences once your soul had had a little rest and grown
   accustomed to being separated from your body.  But I don't
   think that is what happens to you.  First you are, then you
   are not.  This I find deeply satisfying.
   That which had been formerly been so enigmatic and
   frightening, namely, what might exist beyond this world,
   does not exist.  Everything is of this world.  Everything
   exists and happens inside us, and we flow into and out of
   one another.  It's perfectly fine like that.


A reader (LeG) reports in May 2000 that "Bergman recently claimed in an interview by Swedish media that he believes in supernatural worlds and communicates (!) with his dead wife who he's looking forward to meet in the next world. Bergman doesn't believe in the GOD-concept but he does have ideas" the reader believes "which doesn't qualify him on a list with persons who have no place for the supernatural."

Editor's comment: while it's clear that Bergman is no materialist, he nevertheless does meet the minimal requirement -- i.e., having stated he doesn't believe in god(s). Until he makes a statement otherwise, he will remain in the atheist section.

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