The Wall Street Journal is many things. It's one of the most respected and widely read daily newspapers in America; it's a showcase of some of the most thoughtfully argued conservative opinion to be found anywhere; it's a source of fashion advice and music criticism and business reporting and the occasional puzzling letter from 2.3 million rats. One thing Journal readers might not expect to find in its pages, though, is a lengthy defense of atheism from British funnyman Ricky Gervais.

But that's what was there this Sunday! In a column titled "A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Atheist," the comedian and creator of The Office and Extras explains why he's never found the idea of God to be especially persuasive:

Why don't I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, "Why don't you believe I can fly?" You'd say, "Why would I?" I'd reply, "Because it's a matter of faith." If I then said, "Prove I can't fly. Prove I can't fly see, see, you can't prove it can you?" You'd probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, "F—ing fly then you lunatic."

And so forth. At one point, Gervais marshals some math to suggest that he's not so different from your average churchgoing Christian:

Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities. So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I'll say "Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…" If they say "Just God. I only believe in the one God," I'll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don't believe in 2,870 gods, and they don't believe in 2,869.

None of this, however, explains why The Wall Street Journal--a paper that in the past has groused about the use of the word "ass" in an ad for blue jeans--decided to run an essay by a man who once did a stand-up bit about, well, watermelons--and other things.