Man bites dog: Greek prime minister, an avowed atheist, refuses religious swearing-in ceremony

You could have knocked me over with a feather. The new Greek prime minister is an out atheist, and has refused any religious accoutrements at his swearing-in ceremony. Having lived in Greece as a child and visited several times since, I know what a religious country it is. Nevertheless, as The Economist reports:

GREECE’S new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, made history within hours of his victory by informing the Archbishop of Athens, very politely, that clerical services would not be required for his swearing-in ceremony. An avowed atheist who has nonetheless made a point of dealing courteously with senior clergy, Mr Tsipras lost no time in making known that his oath of office would be a secular procedure. It was also explained that when the whole cabinet was sworn in, a more junior cleric (but not the archbishop) would be invited to assist those who wished to take a religious oath.

Here’s Tsipras, who reminds me of a young Al Franken. He’s a leftie, too, and has a partner and kids but isn’t even married. You go, Greece!


h/t: Melissa


  1. GBJames
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Hey hey!

  2. Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink


    …and, if he can get Greece’s economy on solid ground, that’d be even more fantastic!


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Which is the one area I’m not too sure about Tsipras – his ideas for fixing the economy. There’s some good stuff there, but some worrying stuff too. Still, it’s great to see the Greek fascists and religies defeated.

      • Dave
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        If he can get Greece’s economy on solid ground, then maybe he can follow it up by training pigs to fly?

        Yes, he’s a good-looking charismatic bloke, and his unashamed atheism is refreshing, but his party’s policies are going to lead the country to utter ruin. I feel very sorry for the Greeks that didn’t vote for this clown, because they’re going to suffer the consequences along with all their deluded compatriots who think that they can continue living high on the hog on borrowed money without the inconvenience of ever having to pay it back. Unfortunately they’re going to find out the hard way that the rest of Europe doesn’t owe them a living.

        • Bruce Gorton
          Posted January 27, 2015 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          Greece is already in utter economic ruin, it has an unemployment rate of 28% as a result of listening to ‘sensible’ people and adopting austerity, AKA “utter horse-shit that wouldn’t fly in Economics 101 but still ends up as policy because rich people like it.”

          Taking a set of policies that at least acknowledge reality rather than repeatedly doing the same things over and over again might actually produce better results.

          • Bruce Gorton
            Posted January 27, 2015 at 6:03 am | Permalink

            corr: unemployment is at 25.8%

            • Dave
              Posted January 27, 2015 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              So instead of “adopting austerity”, what should they do? Go on spending even more money they don’t have to prop up their bloated public bureaucracy, paying themselves higher wages and awarding themselves ever more generous pensions, while doing absolutely nothing to remedy their systemic corruption, archaic working practices and aversion to paying taxes?

              I agree that the Greek people have been badly served by their politicians and business leaders, but they can’t escape their share of the blame. They’ve gone on voting for governments who tell them that they can have their cake and eat it, that they can go on enjoying First World public services on the back of a Third World economy, all financed by the EU magic money tree. Well,it seems they’ve just voted to commit national economic suicide. They think things can’t get any worse for them. I think they’ll find they’re wrong.

              • Bruce Gorton
                Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                Greece had cut spending, quite dramatically, and it has screwed then quite dramatically.

                If you look at it in comparison to Germany, Germans work less hours for more pay and yet Greece is the one in trouble.

                Germany for all it demands everybody else practice austerity hasn’t exactly tightened its own belt.

                As Krugman points out Germany did austerity least out of the Eurozone.


                I will also add that the Greeks work longer hours for less pay than their German counterparts, and yet this has not translated into a competitive edge and thus lower unemployment.

                So much for the myths of supply side economics.

                The correct solution isn’t to “continue spending” it is to “start spending” building up demand and in turn encouraging the development of local business.

        • Kev
          Posted January 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          Nobody owes the banks a living either: maybe some of the smaller and weaker (Mediterranean) economies should just default and let the German, French and British sort out the financial mess that follows (that is if they want to hold the European Union together). The Anglo Saxon banks were the main cause of the Ponsi (mortgage) scheme that caused the crash that put the Greek economy in crisis.
          I was in Greece and Ireland when the wonderful Western Capitalist Economy (WHICH OWES NOBODY A LIVING) fell over like an expiring dog with its paws in the air and just lay there for two years twitching. I remember too the banks (WHICH OWE NOBODY A LIVING) like RBS got bailed out (you have to save the banks you see otherwise the ATM machines stop spitting cash). I had two years on unwanted unemployment after 30 years of uninterrupted professional work: that is the condition that the Greek economy is in after 6 years. Just try paying off your debts when your country’s economy can’t supply you with work and you have a loan shark scr**ing you. This unequal situation in the EU economies is caused by inbuilt failings in the European Union, which, if it can’t deal with it, isn’t worth p**s. I support the EU in principle, but its a mess.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s going to prove to be very difficult as the EU will be trying to push austerity on them with great force.

      • ascanius
        Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        But the EU will have to make accommodations. They don’t want Greece to abandon the euro, which is already fated for further collapse.

        • Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          That right there is the kind of insight I can’t seem to find in the press. In fact, that I know anything at all about the economic situation in Greece is 100% because of BBC News & Reuters.
          Criticizing the foreign news coverage of the US press is a lot like criticizing a unicorn. The hardest part is providing evidence that the thing actually exists in the first place.
          Thanks for the reportage.

  3. Aelfric
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Despite my confirmed atheism, I would have given him extra points if he had had a bull sacrificed to Zeus upon his accession.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Maybe they’ll be serving gyros at the inaugural reception? That’d be an acceptable sacrifice as far as I’d be concerned….


    • Kevin
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Or saw off a horn of goat and produce a cornucopia for the people of the earth.

    • bacopa
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Sacrifice a bull to Zeus? Not nearly enough. Only a full hecatomb in honor of the pantheon of Olympic and Cthonic gods complete with athletic games and dramatic performances can restore Hellas to its former glory.

  4. johnmatthews
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Having their stance on the church and state they very much want to rid greece of blaspheme laws and remove state support for priests such as wages. How much of it he will do we shall see.

  5. Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    That is a bright spot.

    I worry for Greece (and maybe the EU) if they pull the ripcord on the austerity measures.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Tina Fey (who is half Greek) did a hilarious SNL news report bit for their “Really?” segment. It was called, ἀλήθεια Greece? 😀 She talked about how Greek women in the US never retire and die at the till of a dinner while Greeks in Greece want to retire at 50 (or whatever age it was). Funny if you can find it.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      The austerity has destroyed them and it hasn’t been good for the rest of Europe, either.

      • Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        I’m not seeing how proving that they are not credit worthy is going to help them.

        • Bruce Gorton
          Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          Austerity does not lead to credit-worthiness, if anything it leads to the reverse.

          The first major areas where spending cuts happen are on maintenance projects – which means worse roads, less reliable electricity and the water? Well…

          In Witbank I know of a factory that gives its workers free filtered water to take home with them. Since they started doing that, people stopped taking as much sick leave because they stopped getting diarrhoea.

          Public works matters a lot more to maintaining a good market than many people realise.

          The contraction effect of spending cuts isn’t just reflected in lower demand, but can also raise costs on the supply side, effectively creating a lose-lose situation.

          Further you lose out on the ability to gamble.

          Because you aren’t spending, you also aren’t taking risks on new ventures, which means you end up in a situation where you have no real avenues of growth to get you out of the debt trap.

          I mean sure, you’re losing less money. Great, but, how do you expect to pay off that debt?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 28, 2015 at 12:10 am | Permalink

            “Public works matters a lot more to maintaining a good market than many people realise.”

            Absolutely true. What makes it worse is there’s a huge inertia or hysteresis effect – by which I mean, a system in good condition will run on more or less adequately for several years with no maintenance at all – then when it finally does start to break down, everything’s stuffed and the bill to revive it is horrendous and may be prohibitive.

  6. Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    By Jove, I think he’s got it!

    • Charles Phillips
      Posted January 27, 2015 at 3:13 am | Permalink


  7. bonetired
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I think that we will have a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object when Tsipras (who has the popular mandate) meets the EU ( who hold the purse strings). Even someone like myself who profoundly disagrees with the policies of Syriza has got a sneaking admiration for the new PM. I actually think the most likely outcome is a Greek exit from the Euro …..

    • Greg Esres
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      “Greek exit from the Euro”


    • peter
      Posted January 27, 2015 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      More likely is that the EU will compromise. Many economists are saying the austerity policy is hurting the EU economy anyway.

      • bonetired
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Problem with that argument is that if they compromise on Greece the Italy and Spain ( amongst others) will want exactly the same.

        Sadly, I have to say that the Euro with its one size fits all, is a disaster.

  8. Kevin
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Greece: You have many reasons to be a proud member of human civilization, not that you did not basically start the business of civilization long ago.

    Now, if only our philistine politicians (i.e., GOP) in America could get out of the middle ages.

  9. Sastra
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    … clerical services would not be required for his swearing-in ceremony. An avowed atheist …

    Where and when and how do I take my atheist vows? Then I, too, will be an avowed atheist.

    It’s a good story, yes. But I would love to see the phrase “avowed atheist” join “admitted atheist,” “self-proclaimed atheist,” “confessed atheist,” “sworn atheist,” “declared atheist,” “self-designated atheist,” and of course the lovely “so-called ‘atheist'” in the trash-heap of insulting anachronisms.

    • davidintoronto
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      There’s also “confirmed atheist.” (It’s a new sacrament the Catholics are trying out. ;))

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Where and when and how do I take my atheist vows?

      Just send a check for $19.95 + $7.95 S/H along with a SASE to 1022 West Apollo Avenue, Tempe, AZ 85283 and, in 3 – 5 weeks, you’ll have your answer! Certain terms and conditions may apply. Offer not valid everywhere. Prohibited where void.


      • Sastra
        Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        This is tempting. If that really IS your address it would be interesting to see what the heck you’d come up with if anyone was crazy or curious enough to try. It might involve food, or photos, or a box with airholes and “Caution” on it in red.

        Though requesting the combination of money for Shipping and Handling along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope will probably limit responses drastically.

        • Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

          I know. I’m almost curious enough to send something to myself if nobody else does….

          (And, yes, that really is my real address.)


          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 27, 2015 at 3:16 am | Permalink

            You live in a street named for a Greek god? Well, well, well…

            • Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

              But wait! There’s more!

              I live in the Valley of the Sun, in the Vale^WCity of Tempe, on Apollo Avenue, in an home whose roof is covered with solar panels.


              • Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                How heliorific!

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 28, 2015 at 3:49 am | Permalink

                … and Apollo was a sun god (among other things). How – consistent. 🙂

      • merilee
        Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        What does the shipping and handling involve, Ben? Kinda like spindling and mutilating )and maybe even some mangling?)

      • Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Certain terms and conditions may apply

        These are the details in which the proverbial devil is said to be …

        • Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

          Shhhh…you’ll scare away the marks!


      • GBJames
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        You have a very dry lawn. And nice solar panels.

        • Mike McCants
          Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          That Google picture seems to be 1024 W Apollo Ave. 1022 is either the really nice camper or the house with the black truck half-way out of the driveway?

          • Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            I’m the one with the solar panels and the ’68 VW Westfalia.


        • Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          Yes, that’s the one. Google has recently updated its Street View, I see; that picture is relatively recent.

          The “lawn” was, at the time, gravelly weeds. I plowed those under a couple months ago; in their place is a “green manure” cover crop of lots of different kinds of legumes and some oats. In the next few weeks or so, I’ll be plowing those under and putting in the hardscape for the real garden to come….


        • Diane G.
          Posted January 27, 2015 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Why doesn’t google go down the alley so we can see the back, too? 😉

          • Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

            That would be one very boring “street” view…an uninterrupted cinderblock fence runs along both sides of the alley. And, besides…all I’ve got in the back are a couple citrus trees, a shed, and an awful lot of weeds….


  10. Chris P
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    As a fellow Greek atheist, his godlessness warms my heart, even though I mostly disagree with his politics. I hope he puts an end to the government paying the clergy’s salaries, among other things.

  11. Ionescu
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    It is an even stronger statement that it seems from over the ocean. He is openly refusing to cooperate with the priests or the extreme right. So maybe Greece can rise from the ashes instead of breaking down under the perceived conspiracy like the Middle East.

    Bravo Greece! Maybe other primitive democracies on that side of the Earth will follow.

    • Posted January 27, 2015 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      Except that he’s forming a coalition with the extreme right. Let’s be careful about who we jump into bed with.

  12. merilee
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:08 pm | Permalink


  13. Randy Schenck
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    This is outstanding. They are light years ahead of us.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      +1 – I’ve been aware of “out” non-believers in the U.S. house of Representatives, but only three “confirmed” atheists (according to Wikipedia) have served in statewide office in the 20th Century. And the only one still living is Jesse Ventura. So yes, we’re a bit behind Greece – though I’m sure there are lots and LOTS of closeted atheists at every level of government. Which, who could blame them? They want to be elected, and almost certainly will not be if they do not feign believiness.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Jesse Ventura is an atheist?! Bloody hell.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Yay! A for realz Greek atheist! I’ve never met one of those!

    • Evan T
      Posted January 26, 2015 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Well, in that case, nice to make your acquaintance, Diana. 🙂

      On the subject at hand, though, extra cautious optimism would be the way to go. SYRIZA’s past year and election campaign is a mixed bag as far as secularism is concerned.

      Also, please note that there is considerably less stigma in Greece about being out as an Atheist, since it’s often just assumed that you’re just a Communist (and in Europe there’s not much of a stigma associated with Communism, unlike the States). Granted, not in all venues and professions (good luck if you’re in the Police, Fire Department or the Military), but there you have it.

      In Tsipras’ case it might just be true that his atheism is just an outgrowth of a marxist background. Can’t be entirely sure, though (he’s a politician, after all).

      Pardon the self-promotion, but being Greek myself I’ve expanded on the issues on secularism and the new Government here.

      • merilee
        Posted January 26, 2015 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        I’ve got two good Greek friends (married to each other and living in NJ) who are total atheists.

      • John Taylor
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        My son’s name is Evan. He has two classmates named Evan so at school everyone calls him Evan T.

        Evan seems to be a popular name lately. Evan Taylor is the new John Taylor.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I know. I thought everybody knew that the Greeks are real. Why, I’ve even met a few….


  15. Posted January 26, 2015 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Am embroiled in coordinating a technically challenging multi-site epi network study with one site being Athens. I just sent this post to my (brilliant) colleague there, saying: “news travels quickly.”

    The response: “indeed… a new era”.

    • Posted January 26, 2015 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      A follow-up, to paraphrase, is that it is too early to tell what this means – the revolutionary stance may just be posturing – we’ll know the substance of the resistance once the new government meets their creditors. Will keep me posted.

  16. Posted January 26, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations and good wishes to the new Greek government. Well done!

  17. Democrat
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    With Syriza in government Greece is doomed for collapse. Too bad financial crisis resulted in rise of radical scum both on the left and right.

    • W.Benson
      Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      That’s what CNN called him, “radical left” (= scum). Tsipras must be competent. The EU seems terrified of him.

    • Kev
      Posted January 27, 2015 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Suppose “radical scum” is what you get when “centerist scum” screw up. Greece is not doomed for collapse. It has collapsed already

  18. lizwinfreyventura
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Awesome! Now, let’s hope he does a great job for the country, or else people will start talking about how atheists are bad or stupid when they screw up things. :-X

  19. PS
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    It is interesting that in India (which is a country as religious as any other) a politician not taking oath of office in the name of a god is much more commonplace (the communists do it all the time, and it is not that uncommon with other parties either). As this Indian atheist found out, judges in Indian courts also do not seem to have much time for lawyers and clerks who try to make a big deal out of atheists not taking an oath in the name of god.

    But, then, one of the chief architects of the Indian constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, was an atheist Buddhist.

  20. Posted January 27, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    i’m reminded of what some folks were saying when obama was first elected — that only an economic collapse could make americans vote for the black guy.

  21. Posted January 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I hope this kick-starts Greece in a number of new directions!

  22. Posted January 28, 2015 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    And we in the UK still put up with all the rot around Royal Family and West Minster Abbey as the “soul of the nation”. This puts some of the more patronising comments you have here in perspective, doesn’t it? We don’t stop being laughable because we have an economy that is more efficiently screwing people over with ladles full of superstition on top.

  23. Posted January 29, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    How did you happen to live in Greece as a child, Jerry?

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