Atheism On Television
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.]