The Real Reason These Celebs Abandoned Their Church

Just how religious are celebrities? It may be that public perception doesn't actually match reality. When people think about Oscar speeches, for example, they often envision people thanking God, but he doesn't get all that much love. According to Vocativ, God is only the sixth-most thanked individual, coming in after Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein, James Cameron, George Lucas, and Peter Jackson.

Across the country, Protestants and Catholics numbers have significantly decreased since 2009, as per the Pew Research Center. Most of the other religions are shrinking as well, so it would make sense that celebrities are becoming less religious, too. But when you're dealing with the stars, the stakes are higher. When they buy a house, we hear about it. So, what about when they leave a religion?

Though it's not always advertised, many celebs have clearly defined reasons for turning their backs on their doctrine. Some left out of loyalty, some were conflicted with the teachings or beliefs, and some may have been forced out. The people on this list weren't just dabbling either, as many were well-established members of their churches. We decided to explore some specific cases in greater detail. The following list looks at the real reason these celebs abandoned their church.

Leah Remini was way too curious

Leah Remini's relationship with Scientology is well documented. For three seasons, she was the host and co-creator of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a show that examined the questionable practices of Scientology. Since leaving the church, the actress has gone on record numerous times to criticize the system and even wrote a tell-all book.

According to People, Remini found herself in hot water for questioning the group's leader, David Miscavige. She was then put through "intense personal questioning" called "security checks." For Remini, this was the final straw. Per Page Six, she had been butting heads with leadership for years leading up to her exit, allegedly questioning the process of excommunicating members. Former Scientologist chief spokesperson Mike Rinder suggested that Remini also got scolded for asking about Shelly Miscavige, who has not been seen in public since 2007, at the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

After more than 30 years of service, Remini left Scientology. "I believe that people should be able to question things," she told People. "I believe that people should value family, and value friendships, and hold those things sacrosanct. That for me, that's what I'm about. It wouldn't matter what it was, simply because no one is going to tell me how I need to think, no one is going to tell me who I can, and cannot, talk to."

Not too thrilled with Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was a devout Jehovah's Witness and committed to the system since he was five years old. He performed "door-to-door witnessing" into the early 1980s, as revealed by the Los Angeles Times, often wearing a costume to hide his identity as one of the world's biggest stars. But Jackson's fame and faith clashed in 1983 with the release of his album, Thriller. For Jehovah's Witnesses, much of the album's content was questionable, but the video for the title song, "Thriller," was the most damaging. In the ground-breaking music video, Jackson turns into a werewolf and dances with zombies.

As a result, Jackson was threatened with disfellowship, so he rejected the video's content. ”I realize now it was not a good idea,” he said in the sect's magazine, Awake! (via The New York Times). "I'll never do a video like that again. ... I don't want to do anything on 'Thriller.”" Jackson even added a video disclaimer, stating, "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult."

Despite his efforts, the situation got worse. According to The New York Times, an "MJ Cult" developed among Witnesses. Leaders condemned celebrity worship and called on the destruction of damaging materials. The rift was never mended. In 1987, Jackson told his congregation that he "no longer wants to be known as a Jehovah's Witness," as per The Los Angeles Times.

Anne Hathaway is 'a work in progress'

Anne Hathaway had a devout Catholic upbringing. Speaking to The Independent, she described that her faith even leaked into her career aspirations. "When I was younger I thought about becoming a nun for a while," The Last Thing He Wanted actress mused. "You know how it is when you're growing up and you're going to be a lot of different things, but I actually wanted to be an actress before I wanted to be a nun. The nun was more of a side-bar thing."

It's only when her older brother, Michael, came out as gay when she was a teenager, that the church's antiquated views on same-sex relationships stood out awkwardly. When asked about her current religious status in an interview with the British GQ, Hathaway appeared conflicted. "Well, the whole family converted to episcopalian after my elder brother came out," she said. "Why should I support an organization that has a limited view of my beloved brother?" She then added," So I'm... nothing. F**k it, I'm forming. I'm a work in progress."

Going Greek

Though Christopher Reeves never became an official member of the Church of Scientology, he was interested in joining their ranks for a time. According to his book, Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life, the actor was first drawn to Scientology in 1975 when he came across an advertisement for a free personality test. He took the test and began the training, becoming attracted to the basic principles of the church and the movement.

It was during the training process, however, that Reeves lost faith in Scientology, its methods, and its staff. In his book, he details an audit in which he was told to describe a past life, all the while connected to an E-Meter, a truth detector of sorts. During the audit, Reeves described the story of his past life as a Greek warrior returning from war. He had promised his father that his ship would don the white sails of victory upon his return, but the situation and forgetfulness caused him to leave the black sails up mistakenly. In seeing the black sails, his father jumped to his death in the water below.

The inspiring memory allowed Reeves' auditor to make connections between his past life and his current life, specifically in the context of his relationship with his father. The trouble was, the story was not a memory from Reeves' past life. It was a retelling of the story of Theseus and Aegeus from Greek mythology. He opted not to join.

Brad Pitt's upbringing was filled with 'Christian guilt'

Brad Pitt has had several religious changes of heart over the years. In 2007, he told Parade (via People) he felt drawn to contrasting ideologies. "I'd go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit, and I'd go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor," he said. "I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience." Four years later, he appeared more resentful. "I got brought up being told things were God's way, and when things didn't work out it was called God's plan," he told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 (via Extra). "I've got my issues with it ... I found it very stifling." 

In 2015, identifying as atheist, Pitt revealed to The Telegraph that his upbringing was filled with "Christian guilt about what you can and cannot [do]." By 2019, however, his views had softened. "I cling to religion," he declared to GQ. "I grew up with Christianity. Always questioned it, but it worked at times." He then explained, "Tried a few spiritual things but didn't feel right. Then I called myself an atheist for a while, just kind of being rebellious. I wasn't really ... It felt punk rock enough. And then I found myself coming back around to just belief in—I hate to use the word spirituality, but just a belief in that we're all connected."

Ja Rule is a loyal son

Ja Rule's family were devout Jehovah's Witnesses, but then his mother was disfellowed from the organization. "When you get disfellowshipped, it's like, they banish you," he said in a VladTV interview. "Nobody's allowed to talk to you." Speaking on The Breakfast Club, the rapper explained that the strict disfellowship rules bothered him as a young man. "I found that rather odd," he said. "I was living with my grandmother at the time. My mom would get me on the weekends and stuff like that. And then they were like, 'You're not gonna be able to go with your mom on the weekends anymore.'"

According to Ja Rule, he wasn't about to abandon his mother. "I didn't understand it like that. And I was like, 'Well that's not gonna fly, and I'm leaving here and gonna live with my mother,'" he said. "We were kinda like the black sheep now ... Nobody was dealing with my mother, and that was crazy." So, the rapper and his mother left the sect, and a wedge was driven between them and the family.

It wasn't until the 90s when his career took off that they reunited. "Ironically, when I blew up and started making money and became Ja Rule, everybody could come and speak to my mother," he said, adding that the circumstances didn't matter. "I was just happy to see my moms [sic] happy again to have her family ... back in her life."

Gabriel Byrne thinks the 'Catholic Church is a force for evil'

When Gabriel Byrne was 11-years old, he joined seminary training, aiming for a life of priesthood. Approximately five years later, however, the actor went to London on a break and discovered that his love for the opposite sex was too strong to ignore. "We got on the bus and I walked up the stairs behind two girls in miniskirts," he described to The Guardian. "That was the end of it for me." Yet, while this monumental moment may have inspired him to leave the seminary training, it was a traumatic experience that left deeper scars.

"Unfortunately, I experienced some sexual abuse," the Hereditary star revealed. "It took many years to come to terms with it and to forgive those incidents that I felt had deeply hurt me." Byrne looks back at this and wonders how much it affected him as a man. "I didn't think it severely impacted me at the time," he began." But when I think about my later life, and how I had difficulties with certain issues, there is the real possibility they could have been attributable to that."

Now, as a father, Byrne isn't in a hurry to introduce his children to the church. "I never discussed religion with them. As far as I'm concerned, it didn't do me any good," he said in an interview with The Irish Times. "I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is a force for evil."

Hate for Prop 8

In 2008, the controversial ballot proposition known as Proposition 8 was passed in the California state elections. The success of the proposition, which sought to ban same-sex marriages, was largely led by the support of churches in the state. Of those who supported the proposition was a staff member of the Church of Scientology San Diego chapter. This caused Academy Award winner and Scientologist Paul Haggis to write to the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International, Tommy Davis.

According to The New YorkerHaggis wrote to Davis for ten months, finally sending one last letter on August 19, 2009. "I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego." Adding that "public sponsorship of Proposition 8, which succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California — rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state — is a stain on the integrity of our organization and a stain on us personally. Our public association with that hate-filled legislation shames us."

As the celeb received no communication back from Davis or the Church, he signed off his final letter with, "Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent. I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology."

Turning away from conversion therapy

While Miley Cyrus' views on religion and spirituality may be far from defined, the singer isn't a member of the church anymore — something that changed when she was young. "I was raised going to church as a believer, and that was a really important part of my life," Cyrus said on her live stream show, Bright Minded. "And I kind of fell off that path a little bit because I think I had a hard time finding a relationship with God that worked for me as an adult."

She then went on to explain why exactly she backed away from the church in the first place. "I was also brought up in the church in Tennessee at a time in the '90s, so it was a less accepting time with all that," Cyrus said to her guest, Hailey Bieber. "I had some gay friends in school, that is the reason why I kind of left my church. They weren't being accepted. They were being sent to conversion therapies. And I had a really hard time with that and I had a hard time with me finding my sexuality too." Cyrus did go on to explain that if she could successfully find her own relationship with God as an adult, she would be far less turned off from the idea of religion.

Michelle Rodriguez is scared of the mysterious

Growing up in a very religious family, Michelle Rodriguez found that her relationship with religion caused her to become an outsider. "I was a Jehovah's Witness from the age of seven and my family was very strict," she said in an interview with The Daily Mail. "I went to church every day, and I'd go knocking on people's doors with my grandma trying to save their souls."

But her religion also shaped her unique world view. Speaking to Interview, she said that the conflicting teachings of church and school led her to mistrust the school system. "I was 10 or 11, going to church, hearing the adults standing on the podium talking about world affairs, about history, about war, and how America was founded," she said. "Then I go to school, and they're teaching me the complete opposite. I already knew, from church, that this place was raped and pillaged by Spaniards and the Pilgrims."

But her trust in the church was eventually rattled when she learned that the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, had alleged ties to the Freemasons. "That kind of turned me off, because when something's mysterious, all you can do is be scared of it," Rodriguez explained. "He's a Mason? Ugh. It must be evil!" I didn't know much about it, so I was scared. Now I actually admire those guys—they're pretty talented. They founded a lot of the world that we look at today."

George Clooney 'learned discipline' thanks to his past

Whenever George Clooney is asked about his religious past, he seems to recall it mostly with pride. "I was brought up with the whole bit, Catholic school, confession every week, everything," Clooney said in an interview with The Catholic Herald. "You certainly learned discipline, and I grew up with a great sense of structure and respect," he explained, adding that he even remembers being paddled fondly. But his beliefs and his commitment to the Catholic church diminished as he got older. "I don't believe in heaven and hell. I don't know if I believe in God," Clooney told The Washington Post. "All I know is that as an individual, I won't allow this life — the only thing I know to exist — to be wasted." 

In 2006, during an interview on Larry King Live, Clooney spoke about his changing faith, while remaining diplomatic on the matter. "I'll tell you what's tricky about this. In talking about religion, if you're well known, anything you say sort of ticks off a bunch of other people and sort of attacks their belief," he said cautiously. "So I always try to say that I, first and foremost, I think that whatever anybody believes, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's fair enough and works. And I think it's real and matters. I don't happen to have those beliefs as much. I don't believe in those things."

Katy Perry has 'conditioned layers' from her upbringing

At one point, Katy Perry appeared destined for a gospel singing career. She traveled to Nashville as a young teen to record an album, following in the footsteps of her musical hero, Amy Grant. "Amy Grant was our Madonna," she said in a Vogue interview discussing her childhood. "We knew about Madonna and Marilyn Manson in my family because we picketed their concerts." Perry's childhood was dedicated to church. "My house was church on Sunday morning, church on Sunday night, church on Wednesday evening; you don't celebrate Halloween; Jesus gives you your Christmas presents; we watch Bill O'Reilly on TV. That was my whole childhood and youth and early teens. I still have conditioned layers dropping off of me by the day."

As Perry grew up, she grew apart from her upbringing. In a 2013 interview with Marie Claire, the singer clarified her beliefs. "I don't believe in a heaven or a hell or an old man sitting on a throne," she explained, adding, "but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God." Perry's mother, on the other hand, wasn't as sure. "My mom has prayed for me my entire life, hoping I'd come back to God," the crooner said to Vogue Australia. "I never left Him, I was just a little bit secular, I was more materialistic and more career-driven. But now that I'm in my 30s, it's more about spirituality and heart wholeness."