Woody Allen’s religion: Any difference between religious faith and fortune cookies?

Woody Allen, was a bit uncomfortable when wished a happy Jewish New Year by his interviewer, Dave Itzkoff, responding “That’s … Continued

Woody Allen, was a bit uncomfortable when wished a happy Jewish New Year by his interviewer, Dave Itzkoff, responding “That’s for your people.” However, he went to say some very interesting things about faith and religion.

“To me,” Mr. Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

Is he wrong or is he right? Of course, the answer is yes. In many ways there are no differences between any of the faiths and practices which help us in our lives, especially in the most significant sense – that they help us. But in other ways, there are profound differences.

Fortune cookies and fortune tellers help only the individual who avails themselves of their respective insights, or is that “insights”? – you decide. The organized religions to which Mr. Allen compares them should also connect us to things beyond ourselves and our own immediate needs.

It may be God, it may be other people, but when they do their job properly, that too is the work of genuine religion and religious experience. If they are not accomplishing that, if they are not helping us to reach beyond ourselves, then I am with Woody – there is no difference between fortune cookies and faith.

Speaking about his about-to-be-released film, “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” Allen commented:

“I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t.”

But are those who believe really deluded? If the faith they have keeps them going and makes them happier, why is not real? Must something be scientifically true to be real? Is love real? Is compassion real?

On this point, I think that it is Mr. Allen who is deluding himself, or at least using pejorative language to soften the blow to his materialist self about the reality of religion. Of course, that’s a motif with which Woody Allen has wrestled for decades.

At the end of Annie Hall, Allen’s character shares the story of a man who tell a psychiatrist about his disturbed brother, an man who thinks he’s a chicken. Asked by the psychiatrist why they don’t get the brother some help, Allen responds that they would, except they need the eggs.

In the end, whether religion is a grand illusion or an image of a far greater reality, if it helps us and helps us to help others, it’s pretty wonderful – in whatever packages it comes.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • fvthinker

    Must something be scientifically true to be real?In my world, I find it important that the things I believe in be factually true…or at least true to the level we can determine it to be. Once one stops caring whether something is true or not (particularly in matters of import like ethics and morality), then one is vulnerable to believing anything. There may be personal comforts that come from God-belief and the disparate narratives, how much personal comfort makes up for one child being raped by clergy, or one suicide bomb in a cafe. I task believers with demonstrating any unique truths to their religious myth. So far, none have.

  • Carstonio

    It sounds like Woody Allen has changed his religious views radically in the past two decades. Crimes and Misdemeanors was very heavily anti-atheist, promoting the hateful idea that only belief in a god keeps people from turning into murderous, lecherous beasts.the organized religions to which Mr. Allen compares them should also connect us to things beyond ourselves and our own immediate needs. Since “things beyond ourselves” doesn’t necessarily have to mean gods, I see no reason why religion should have an exclusive title to that type of connection, which is what Hirschfield seems to be implying. That phrase is too vague, and Hirschfield needs to be more specific.

  • loudubin


  • Secular

    Must something be scientifically true to be real?ANSWER IS YES, YES, YES. If not it is unreal and most likely a lie.

  • cornbread_r2

    “But are those who believe really deluded? If the faith they have keeps them going and makes them happier, why is [it] not real? Must something be scientifically true to be real? Is love real? Is compassion real?” BH Of course feelings of love, compassion and happiness are real. The pertinent question is: Are these real feelings based on truth ? If they aren’t, then they’re based on delusion. What’s the harm in delusions if they make us happy? Could believing I’ve won the lottery cause problems if my endorphins start writing checks that my creditors can’t cash?

  • mbeck1

    But are those who believe really deluded? Yes, especially yourself, Mr. Hirschfield.Woody, where are you when we need you?

  • edbyronadams

    “Must something be scientifically true to be real?”The scientific truism when I was in primary and secondary school was that all life depended on the sun. That was a lie.

  • Rongoklunk

    Woody’s right; religion is a delusion. It’s a feelgood delusion that is afraid of reality. and pretends we never die, and after death we go to the holy father in the sky.As time goes by – more and more of us realize that there is no god, and no heaven. Show us some evidence and we might change our minds.

  • Rongoklunk

    cornbread;Drunks might feel better than sober people. But it doesn’t mean that being drunk IS THE WAY TO GO. And feeling warm and snuggly with irrational beliefs doesn’t mean the beliefs are in any way true. But you’ve hit on the reason why religion still exists despite being totally irrational; it feels so good.

  • ThomasBaum

    Brad Hirschfield You asked, “But are those who believe really deluded?”Seems as if there are some that believe nothing unless it is “scientifically proven”, believe that those, who believe that God Is, are deluded even those this has not been “scientifically disproved”.You then asked, “If the faith they have keeps them going and makes them happier, why is not real?”Why do so many people seem to think that having faith necessarily makes one happier?Having “faith in God” or “knowledge of God” may not make one “happier” but could make one “more hopeful”.Having faith/knowledge does not mean that one “puts on a pair of rose-colored glasses” but can mean that one takes a honest look at the “world” beyond one’s back yard.Having faith/knowledge may also have one look beyond “one’s personal salvation” to “humanity’s salvation”.Having faith/knowledge may mean looking beyond being God’s child to ALL OF US being God’s children.I would think that there have been times that God has rewarded, so to speak, someone’s faith with knowledge, I do know that this has happened at least once.Sometimes it can be rather “eye-opening” to take a leap of blind faith with your eyes wide opened.You then asked, “Must something be scientifically true to be real?”Do you mean “scientifically provable”?You then asked, “Is love real?”Actually, LOVE Is a Being and This Being of LOVE created everything except for God because God Is LOVE and even became a member of creation and the only member of creation that was both created and non-created, He was a Jew named Jesus.One could say that LOVE is the “Image” that we are created in and when Love shines thru us then God’s Image is shining thru us.You also asked, “Is compassion real?”There are plenty of things that are not quite “quantifiable” that are “real”.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • jpanzal

    A fortune cookie gives you something to believe in, and it nourishes the body. Kind of like Holy Communion, but tastier. I’ll take the cookie.

Read More Articles

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.