This last Sunday (03/29/2009) Brian Griffin, the dog from the cartoon Family Guy, came out to his family that he was an atheist. (Episode Not All Dogs Go To Heaven available here on Hulu - That link no longer works, they were asked to remove that episode for some reason) The atheosphere has been chattering about this like crazy since then. Half of all the tweets I saw on Twitter that night were about it. The show did a good thing in showing how much discrimination a person can go through when they come out.

Brian is arguably the smartest and one of the most human characters on the show but he’s also a pretty poor role model. He is an alcoholic, a former drug addict, has a very oedipean relationship with Peter’s wife, Lois, and has done some rather amoral things throughout the life of the show. The reason I’m pointing this out is that we atheists are introduced to a portion of the common population through characters being portrayed on television and in movies. When I got to thinking about this I realized a lot of atheists on TV are either amoral or at the very least, assholes. Here are a few:

* Dr. Gregory House from the show House, M.D.
House is a drug addled, nihilistic, narcissistic genius who is well known for deriding anyone who displays an ounce of religious inclination. He is a tortured and bitter soul who feeds off of negativity. He does save lives, but only to solve the puzzle of what the illness is. (I love this show and House as a character, but he is still an ass.)
* Dr. Perry Cox from the show Scrubs.
Dr. Cox is, IMO, a clown version of House with his own set of problems, but none-the-less a dick.
* Dr. Gaius Baltar from the show Battlestar Galactica.
Gaius was a self serving, promiscuous, and generally amoral atheist who used people and Cylon alike to ensure his own survival and get what he wanted. He only started displaying more altruistic qualities after he became a theist, believing he was serving the will of the ambiguous Cylon god.
* Brother John Cavil from the show Battlestar Galactica.
Brother Cavil starts out as a Cylon pretending to be a human priest. Besides trying to commit xenocide of the human race he also tortures and manipulates many for his own gain. Also another atheist with an Oedipus complex.
* I’m sure there are others that I can’t remember at the moment and if I’ve left any out you think should be in here just leave it in the comments.

All of these guys are horrible spokesmen for the severely hated godless minority. These characters reinforce the stereotype that atheists are elitist, amoral, and self serving. There are a few atheistic characters that are not portrayed as monsters, Captain Jean-Luc Picard comes to mind, but with so few atheists showing up on TV it is a possibility that these prominent non-believers are damaging to our image. Overall though, I feel that the general public being exposed to atheism at all is a good thing and will help us out in the long run by familiarizing people with alternative viewpoints and reduce the dehumanization of us.

So readers, what are you thoughts on the matter? Are you of the opinion that any publicity is good publicity or should we be outraged?

[As an aside, Hugh Laurie(House) and Seth Macfarlane(Brian) are both atheists in real life.] I found this on this blog

Views: 246

Comment by Dan on April 4, 2009 at 7:44pm
the sad thing is, when a theist make fun of non-theists in the media, non-theists take it with a grain of salt. I've even chuckled at the humor I've seen directed at our expense.

The minute a non-theist makes light of any type of theist in the media, it becomes taboo. And the media outlets that broadcast it get all kinds of treats.

It's a mad mad mad mad world.....
Comment by Kat Cooper on April 4, 2009 at 7:45pm
I'm glad that atheists are finally starting to be portrayed, but I hate that the characters are all amoral as was said in that blog post.

There are some fairly positive atheists on tv though.
*The show on CBS, The Big Bang Theory, all of the nerdy science geeks are all atheists.
*Lindsey Weir from the canceled TV show Freaks and Geeks was an atheist and a really great character.
*Georgia from Dead Like Me. After she found out there was no Santa Clause, Easter Bunny, etc she just assumed there also was no god.
*Dr. Mark Greene from ER was an atheist and a great character. As well as Dr. Jon Carter, Dr. Romano, Abby Lockhart,
*Hyde from That 70's show was an atheist, but, he was also a big pot smoker. Dang. LoL
*Spock from Star Wars was the most positive atheist on tv by far. "It simply is not logical." *eyebrow raise*

That's all I can think of right now.
Comment by Kat Cooper on April 4, 2009 at 7:48pm
Spock from Star Trek, sorry, had both on my brain...LoL
Comment by noisician on April 4, 2009 at 7:57pm
Bryan, while maybe a bad role model in general, is probably a better role model than most of the other characters on that show!

The other thing - at least the token atheist is also usually the smartest character. That's saying something.

How about Lisa Simpson - one of the smartest and most moral character from The Simpsons? Not sure if she's actually an atheist or not. Certainly a skeptic.

How about all the nerds on Big Bang Theory? Smart, basically moral and good guys. Just nerdy.
Comment by Kat Cooper on April 4, 2009 at 8:20pm
Lisa Simpson is more Buddhist. She started out as atheist/agnostic, but then her beliefs started becoming more of the Buddhist philosophy.

I mentioned the Big Bang nerds in my post above.
Comment by Dave G on April 4, 2009 at 10:41pm
Another one is Dr. Temperance Brennan on the TV series Bones. She is an atheist and several times during the show points our the irrationality of religion, which upsets her solidly religious Catholic partner, Special Agent Seeley Booth.
Comment by CJoe on April 5, 2009 at 12:58am
Dan, I'll have to disagree a little. If you watch Comedy Central, SNL, or MadTV, they constantly make religious people a joke. There are also late-night talk shows that do the same. South Park and the Simpsons are notorious for it.

Honestly, I think this is a step in the right direction. Remember when Ellen came out? It caused such a buzz and it's not like her character was the most outstanding citizen, either. The fact that it's becoming an issue in the media is GREAT news. Of course it's going to be seen as negative for a while, but then they'll strike the same chord of empathy that they did for homosexuals.

Good times, from my perspective.
Comment by Frank on April 5, 2009 at 10:26am
Sophie I disagree that Dr. Cox from "Scrubs" is a dick. If you look at the cast of characters on the show he is mainly cruel to Dr. Dorian, Dr. Reid, and Dr. Kelso. Now Dorian is an idiot who creates most of his own problem and for some reason always looks to Dr. Cox to bail him out. He approaches Dr. Cox knowing that he annoys him and gets upset when he is answered back every time with sarcasm. With Dr. Reid she is a drama queen who also over dramatizes every event. The real proof he isn't a dick is her constant war with Dr. Kelso. Honestly it is like good vs evil since time and time again Dr. Cox has risked his career to do the morally correct thing. Things like getting life saving operations for patients without health insurance by sliding them through under the name of a recently deceased patient. How can you say he's a dick. He just is there to work and doesn't put up with Dr. Dorian and Dr Reid's crap.
Comment by Johnny on April 5, 2009 at 12:09pm
@Dan & @Cara - Just chiming in on the 'making fun' perspectives... I think the difference is 'who is poking fun at religion/theists?'

When a believer pokes fun at fellow believers, or even believers of another faith, most people see it as funny, and no one gets offended. Even some skeptics can get away with it, as long as they are not openly professed non-believers.

But when a (known) non-believer pokes fun at believers of the mainstream religious groups, it seems more likely for someone to cry foul. Or more likely for fundamentalists to show up with torches and pitchforks.

Granted, not every scenario will fall exactly into these two. As mentioned, some of the comedy shows to manage to push the issue quite often. I do think at the basic level though, these are the two perspectives that people's reactions come from.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 6, 2009 at 6:11am
Alright.. as I always bitch about 'coming out atheist' vs 'coming out gay' the parallel is the same on television portraying either an atheist or homosexual. Sure, it might be more mainstream to include gays and atheists, but both usually have to stick to a common stereotype to be socially acceptable.

Lesbians need to be slim and either pretty or waif-like androgynous. You don't see a lot of fully developed butch dyke characters.

Gay boys need to be fabulous. If they aren't feminine then they might be seen as threatening. After all, there is nothing scarier to a man than another man that knows what he wants and is aggressive (or even confident) about getting it. ..or at least that is what producers believe. All gay men MUST be non threatening to get on t.v.

Likewise, atheists follow the same general rules.
Male non believers need to by cynical, damaged bastards that are either miserable or confrontational. Females must be coldly calculating and heartless or emotionally void.

To think that a functioning, happy, compassionate person with a cheery outlook could disbelieve in something as divine as a creator would make them too normal and easy to relate to.

If you can relate to someone, you can see yourself in their shoes.
If you can see yourself in their shoes, you might find yourself there one day.


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