TV shows I've been watching this season - and my thoughts on the atheism/religion-related moments!

Okay some of what I discuss below is more about a lack of belief in an afterlife or in other supernatural things rather than a lack of belief in gods or religion. FYI.


So I haven't been on this site much lately. It was essential when I first accepted the fact that I was an atheist and became more sure of my lack of belief in all gods/religions, 3-and-a-half years ago. I brought my dad and younger brother into this anti-theistic, "religion actually is really horrible and frustrating" point of view too. :P I'm a 23 young woman and a college graduate (from Boston University) with a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics. My brother is currently a Philosophy major at the University of Maryland, College Park, but he's working on making it a double major with Computer Science I believe? He was gonna minor in Government... I think he gave that up. I'm a little confused as to where he stands haha but he is in contact with a lot of fellow atheist friends in his philosophy classes. He's also had some very religious roommates. Including right now, it's 4 boys - only 3 of whom are atheists. According to my brother, that is not exactly fun for the religious one. :P But I'm getting off on a tangent...

My point of this blog post was TV. I just felt compelled to write this. You don't have to read it. ;)

So... I tend to be extra obsessed with my TV shows. I'm a fangirl at heart, a fanfiction writer and a fanvideo editor too, or "vidder" as we like to call ourselves. I'm "luvtheheaven" on places like YouTube where I post my fanvideos because I've been a fangirl since I was 12 or so and became obsessed with the tv show 7th Heaven - I think a big part of why I loved the show is because I was curious about religion and religious culture and the show gave me a dose of that, at a time when I wasn't sure what to believe about God or Christianity. It didn't convince me that it was true, and now that I've gained a decade worth of life experience and am re-watching some episodes, I... um... understand so much more of what the show addresses.

But this blog post is about this current season's worth of TV. So... I'll delve into it.

Nashville. So they had a plot point where a guy who didn't want to have sex until marriage, for religious reasons of course, is dating Juliette Barnes - very troubled child who was raised by a drug-addicted single mother and is now sex-crazed (to the point of seducing a man over twice her age to sleep with her in the pilot of the show) and is really rude/bitchy to the world. Hayden Panettiere, the actress who plays her, said in an interview that when people meet her on the street now they're so surprised that she's a nice person and polite. I think that speaks volumes about the character she plays lol.

Although she goes to church with her boyfriend when he invites her, she's clearly not used to going to church. They heavily imply she's completely nonreligious. She proposes to him, they get married in Vegas or something, then she sleeps with him, stealing his virginity, then wants to annul the marriage. He's clearly the victim and a great guy and she's the horrible person. I think it's an annoying example of religion or being religious being put up on a pedestal and lack of religiosity being equated with being selfish and heartless, in addition to being tied to a character who is miserable and tortured.

Arrow. The thing I love about many TV shows and have always loved is the purely secular nature of them. When you talk about a show like Arrow... it's interesting. Despite being a show with a ton of life or death situations, you don't see people praying to survive or for their loved ones to survive, or thanking God when they do. You don't see them questioning if God exists. This is a show where the main character, Oliver Queen, is stuck on a torturous prison island for 5 years before being rescued. Where pretty much every single starring character has lost a close family member to death - a sibling or parent or child. But somehow religion doesn't have to be brought up. People don't talk about heaven even. And it's really nice as an atheist that a show like this can be popular enough to get renewed before the rest of the shows on the network. That tons of people are watching and enjoying a show that doesn't implicitly nor explicitly endorse religious or spiritual ideas. There is some discussion of morality, justice, etc but from my perspective it feels really satisfying and never frustrating. I like those secular, philosophical discussions a lot, actually. I showed every episode of this show to my dad, recently. And we tend to pause shows a lot while watching to discuss things. And we did notice 1 atheism-related thing while watching.

Thea Queen, Oliver/"Green Arrow"'s 17-18 year old younger sister, is sort of a "wild teenager" on the show. You know, she's doing drugs, being rude and bitchy too often, idk. She's sort of not a very happy person either. She lost both her dad and her brother in the boating accident, and thought they were both dead for 5 years. In the episode when she celebrates her 18th birthday (1x11 "Trust But Verify"), she wishes her dad was alive still. She openly makes multiple comments about how he's not there. She doesn't think he's watching from heaven or anything. When someone tells her that her father would not be proud of the way she's acting, she says something that made it clear to me she didn't believe in any kind of afterlife, but rather that he was just gone. No one contradicts her, but she's the only character out of ALL of the ones with dead relatives on the show, to explicitly make it clear that she lacks a belief in heaven. It's the closest to a true "atheist" on the show that I have seem. And well, why does it have to be her? Why does it have to be the unhappy, illegal-drug abusing, overly sexual, bitchy/rude girl that no one would want to be like. I mean she's a character I actually like, I like when she's sweet and when you see her humanity and soft side. I tend to like the "bad boys" and the "bitchy girls" on TV shows, since a lot of times their "badness" is just a facade for inner pain and whatnot. But... it frustrated me and my dad that this was yet another example of the atheist character being more flawed than the others. If you're gonna be an atheist on a TV show, you can't be the sweet, liked-by-all person. No you have to be anti-social or miserable or something. Maybe we were reading too much into it. But it really seemed like that to us when we were watching.

Bones. 8x15 "The Shot in the Dark", skeptic and atheist throughout the whole show, Brennan, has a lot of time to converse with her dead mother while she's clinging to her life after a gunshot wound, and at the end of the episode tells her father that her mother told her something very specific about something he did. And he remarks "no one knew that", implying that it was a miracle and Brennan truly did talk to her dead mother, and not simply imagine her. It was kind of an annoying end to the episode, I think. :P

Castle. Recently my brother came home from college for spring break. We decided as a family (me, my dad, and my brother) to watch the new Castle episode as it aired. My brother doesn't regularly watch the show, but we wanted to show him an ep. We thought he'd enjoy it. So the episode that happened to be airing that night was 5x17 "Scared to Death". An episode where out of the 4 main stars, 3 of them believed in the idea of "malevolent spirits" being able to kill you and only 1 of them being "the skeptic". And "the skeptic" (Beckett) was being an idiot, because she didn't accept that the fact that this "malevolent spirit" type of stuff surrounded their murder investigation and was completely relevant to solving the murder, despite however not-real the spirits themselves were. The skeptic being an idiot and the believers outnumbering her bothered me and it felt like an awful example episode of a show I generally really enjoy when it came to showing my brother. He too agreed it felt so stupid. I maybe could have enjoyed it more if I wasn't watching it hoping to get my brother to enjoy the show. But really, idk. I feel like those types of episodes where supernatural elements "might" be the cause until the end when "oh, it was a human all along" are probably a lot more fun for people who kind of believe supernatural stuff might exist. :P

Switched at Birth. This show has been interesting and surprised me with the religious character and storyline they introduced. So this is an ABC Family series about two teenage girls who were switched at birth, in the hospital where they were both born on the same day. The show likes to address lots of types of "differences" and how people can manage to get along anyway... or how sometimes people can't and can be not very tolerant lol. There is rich vs. poor and these economic/social classes that are being crossed. Deaf culture vs. hearing culture. A little bit of racism. They compare single parenting to divorced parenting to married parenting. They have a little bit of implied political differences. They like to tell these kinds of stories.

In the first 25 episodes of the show, religion is not once brought up. :P Which again, is kind of funny. These shows act like we live in a secular world. In reality, it would be likely that one or both families would be religious and the idea that your biological child who you never wanted to give up (for adoption or anything like that) was raised into the "wrong" religion, or from an atheist point of view was indoctrinated into any religion at all, would be a valid thing to explore. It's oddly convenient that this doesn't come up.

Toby is a main character - he is the brother of, um... well, both of the girls who were switched at birth (he's biologically the brother of one of them, but was raised in the same house as the other haha). He's in a band and is really into his music. He finds out his girlfriend cheated on him with one of his band members. So Toby's band breaks up and he also leaves his girlfriend around 1x22 or 1x23 of the show. In season 1 episode 26, "Tree of Forgiveness", which aired around the beginning of the typical "fall 2012" TV show season, the show does, for the first time, go to church. Toby's mother notices him being all sad and not having fun anymore, and according to her exposition she remembers when he had so much fun in a church band when he was 12 years old. She'd ran into the pastor at the grocery store or something, despite trying to ignore him because their family hadn't been to church in years (more exposition explaining stuff to viewers). The mom basically gets Toby forced into playing music at the church, even though Toby's not thrilled by it. She promised the pastor he'd do it. So next thing you know, they're at the church, and Toby is infatuated with this beautiful blond born-again Christian singer/guitar player in the church band. Yeah. Her name's Nikki. And she invites him to come to the church again next week for another musical get-together, and bring his electric guitar that time.

Nikki: "Well, you should come! Let's rock."

Toby: (skeptically) "Christian Rock?"

Nikki: "Issues with the big man?" (playfully, a little accusatory but genuinely asking and not being harsh or anything about it)

Toby: "No. Just... questions."

Nikki: "That's why they call it faith."

Toby: "Well, what if I told you I was the best songwriter in the world, but refused to play for you to prove it. Would you take it on faith?" (they're smiling a lot, flirting-like, as he says this.)

Nikki: "No." (she laughs) "Probably not."

(they smile and shrug at each other.)

That's the end of the atheism vs. theism discussion, as Nikki then proceeds to basically just tell him "well you're welcome to join us if you want to, we'd love to have you" and they part ways. Naturally, I was intrigued. The main character that you're more attached to... is an atheist, even if they don't use the word. Even if his mom seems to probably still believe in God, here's Toby, annoyed at being dragged to church and explicitly telling this guest star girl that he doesn't "just have faith" that God exists. Or well... he doesn't just have faith about something relating to the religion I suppose. It's hard to say how deistic he is or isn't. But for a TV show, this is bold. Here we have a character who is NOT doing drugs or other "immoral" things and hating the world, he doesn't have dead relatives, no abusive or neglectful parents. He's not cheating on his girlfriend - no he was the one who was cheated on in the past. This is a generally very likable guy who, *gasp* is an atheist. Not only that, but they didn't give some "good" or "reasonable" explanation for why having faith in God was different. At the end of that dialogue I just transcribed, Nikki could've made an argument. And not been refuted. But the show ended it with Toby essentially winning the argument! I mean? Am I wrong to interpret it this way? I think it's kind of huge. It's done in a way that worked for me.

But then... Nikki proceeds to be in the some of the next episodes. Toby showed up for her. Asks her out... to a coffee shop to play backgammon? And she loves this proposal because she's awesome at backgammon? What kind of high schoolers are these lmao? This show... has its quirks... lol. But um... they do more of the thing I hate where religious people are portrayed as extra perfect. The more religious the person is, usually the more flawless, and here we have Nikki, beautiful and a talented guitar player and singer, smiling in a super likable way all the time, and now we find out in her 3rd episode that her dad was shot and killed. Her dad was just sitting in a mall parking lot when some guy walked up to him and shot him, and the police figured the shooter must have mistaken her dad for someone else. The police also never found the guy. But it's been a couple years, and Nikki explains that she wrote a lot of angry songs first, and started doing a lot of drugs, and stopped eating. Finally she decided to let it go... and not let it win. She forgave the shooter and wrote a beautiful (not angry) song about it. And inspired Toby to forgive the guy in his band who slept with his girlfriend. Right. I'm not saying I 100% hate this storyline. There is something somewhat realistic about the whole extreme born again Christian story. It happens to some people, I guess. You hit rock bottom... then find religion. But still... it sort of frustrates me that this storyline is being portrayed on the show haha. It's reinforcing the idea that religion conquers all. Etc.

But um, eventually Nikki & Toby really start dating. Then, in the Valentine's Day episode this year, 2x06 "Human/Need/Desire", a lot happens in their relationship. Apparently it's their 3 month anniversary, and Nikki's gift to him is a bracelet she got on a mission trip to Guatemala. He puts it on. They go to a party together. At the party, his sister notices the bracelet, and also notices a Christian cross image on it. She asks, critically, "Did you get born again in the last twelve hours?" He looks more closely at his bracelet, noticing the obvious Christian imagery for the first time. "Oh. Didn't notice that," he says, as he pulls down his shirt sleeve to cover up his bracelet. "Nikki gave it to me." Later at the same party, Toby is still making sure to cover up his weirdly super-Christian bracelet and hide it from whoever is around, and Nikki notices him doing it. She also makes a comment about how she'll be praying that a pregnant woman who's around chaperoning the party has a safe birth and that she knows God will have his hands on it. The show is clearly trying to stress "Hey she's super religious", but I know it's not unrealistic for someone to be that religious. Some people do act like this Nikki character and say what she says and kind of subtly force religion on others the way she's doing with the bracelet. I found it kind of interesting to see the show portray that.

At the end of the episode, she breaks up with Toby.

Nikki: (tearfully, for this whole conversation, she says) "I believe, with my whole self, that there is a god. And that he has his hands on my life."

Toby: "I know."

Nikki: "And I would never want to force you to be someone you're not! Or to believe in something you don't."

Toby: "Nikki, I love that you believe that."

Nikki: "But you don't share it with me."

Toby: "No, but I... I respect it."

Nikki: "I just don't know if that's enough."

Toby: "What are you saying?"

Nikki: "It's just gonna hurt us even more if we don't end it now."

Toby: "Are you serious?"

She kisses him.

Nikki: "I'm sorry." She runs away crying.

I think it's an interesting idea that they addressed a romantic relationship not working out because of too different worldviews. I don't like that Toby was all "I love that you believe that." though. I don't quite 100% like the way they handled it. Especially considering only 2 episodes later...

Toby texts her, wants to meet up, tells her a little speech, including that he loves her, she's the only girl he's ever said "I love you" to before, and:

"You make me want to be a better person. Someone that you deserve to be with. And you were the one that said having faith isn't easy. It's believing in something even when reason tells you not to, right? Well, I have faith in us. I think you should too."

And they get back together. So... as an atheist... I'm thoroughly disappointed in this show. Lol. The religious girl is successful "saving" the atheist into having faith and wanting to be a better person. Also, I can tell the overall theme of this show is like... tolerance and the idea that relationships CAN work even between vastly different people and the religion/non-religion is just one of those things. They're acting like belief and worldview is equivalent to deaf vs. hearing or rich vs. poor and I just don't think it is. They didn't bring up the main deal-breaker, which should be there - the idea that Nikki thinks Toby is going to hell and will always constantly be trying to convert him. That she can't be intellectually honest and believe everything that she claims to believe while also respecting HIS worldview. If you look back at their break-up conversation, she's all "I can't handle you not believing" but doesn't really explain why. Only he is in the position of "respecting her beliefs" - another thing the show's promoting. The sweet, likable guy respects a religious person's beliefs 100% and doesn't criticize them. Barely is an atheist and manages to buy into the idea of faith being an ideal thing to have. Only characters that are jerks to the world are allowed to be "non-respectful" of religion. Why can't we have a character who is a nice person but doesn't respect the belief, yet respects the person? That's who I try to be and the type of atheist I wish was represented on TV. Ever.

So... those are just a few thoughts on shows I've been watching this season that actually brought my atheism to mind. ;) If you read this, or have any thoughts of your own, other TV shows you watch where you want to explain what they did... anything... please comment! I'd love to see some replies posted on this. I'm very curious about what fellow atheists' POV on these things are.

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