Oh My Glee! Atheism on TV!

First off, I’ve been working on a couple of longer blog posts, including responses to some email feedback I’ve gotten lately, but life has been crazy and I haven’t had a chance to finish anything yet. But I just finished watching the most recent episode of Glee and I can’t help but write about it.

Spoilers Ahead! So STOP READING NOW if you’re planning on seeing the episode called “Grilled Cheesus”!

I was a little bit worried when at the beginning of the episode, football player Finn makes a “Grilled Cheesus” and suddenly believes in Jesus. He suggests to the glee club that they dedicate their songs to God. Normally when this kind of thing happens in TV land everyone goes along with it and has a fun time sharing their faiths, and my atheism isn’t represented. But there were so many moments in this show that I have to quote because I was so excited to see a popular character in a popular TV show say what I feel when it comes to religion.

In response to Finn’s suggestion to pay tribute to Jesus, Kurt says:

Sorry, but if I wanted to pay tribute to Jesus I would go to church. And the reason I don’t go to church is because most churches don’t think very much of gay people…or women…or science.

Yes! Oh yes…

When Kurt’s dad has a heart attack I was worried that this would become a story about Kurt being converted by his classmates, and about their prayers reviving his dad. It was soo not, yay!

Mercedes, in response to hearing the news, sings a song to Kurt about turning to God in hard times. He responds…

Kurt: Thank you Mercedes, your voice is stunning but I don’t believe in God.

Tina: Wait, what?

Kurt: You’ve all professed your beliefs I’m just stating mine. I think God is kinda like Santa Claus for adults. Otherwise God’s kind of a jerk, isn’t he? Well he makes me gay and then has his followers going around telling me it’s something that I chose.  As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life. And right now I don’t want a heavenly father. I want my real one back.

Mercedes: But how do you know for sure? I mean you can’t prove that there’s no god.

Kurt: You can’t prove that there isn’t a magic teapot floating around on the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs but it seems pretty unlikely doesn’t it?

Brittany: Is god an evil dwarf?

Oh yes folks, Russel’s teapot made it onto a primetime show about show choir! Kurt’s exiting line in this scene was nice too: “You all can believe whatever you want to, but I can’t believe something I don’t.” Go Kurt! “I appreciate your thoughts, but I don’t want your prayers.”

Next, everybody’s favourite cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester finds out about the breach in the wall of separation between church and state happening in the choir room. She gives a nice little lesson on the establishment clause, and then later she gives some nice responses to guidance counsellor Emma’s poor arguments in favour of letting the glee club keep pushing their religion on the unwilling Kurt:

Emma: What is wrong with you? … There is a boy in that glee club that might lose his father. How could you get in the way when the only thing anybody is trying to do is give that poor child just a little bit of comfort?

Sue: … Asking someone to believe in a fantasy, however comforting, isn’t a moral thing to do. It’s cruel.

Emma: Don’t you think that’s just a little bit arrogant?

Sue: It’s as arrogant as telling someone how to believe in God and if they don’t accept it, no matter how open-hearted or honest their dissent, they’re going to hell. That doesn’t sound very Christian does it?

Emma: Well if that’s what you believe that’s fine. But please keep it to yourself.

Sue: So long as you do the same. That kid could lose his father at any moment and you should start preparing him for that.

I was mad when the other students refused to listen to Kurt’s wishes and prayed over his dad, but I was pleased that he wasn’t pressured into belief. In the end, even after going to a lively church service with Mercedes, he states that he doesn’t believe in God, he believes in his relationship with his Dad. It’s a very touching moment.

A shining moment also comes when Finn, who started the whole religion theme with his Grilled Cheesus, realizes that he was making things happen for himself, rather than getting help from God. He sings R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and then says “I used to thing God was up there looking over me, and now I’m not so sure.” Simple, honest, thank you Finn!

After this episode I feel justified in my deep love for Glee. I can’t wait to see if they continue to explore these themes in the future!

23 Responses to “Oh My Glee! Atheism on TV!”

  1. 1 Jen October 6, 2010 at 7:27 am

    They also made reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster too!

    I wasn’t completely thrilled at this week’s episode, but I’m glad they did represent us nonbelievers. Maybe it’s because we live in a predominately Christian nation that only two “sides” were represented, those who beleive in God and those who don’t.

    I was also a little disheartened about the reasons Sue and Kurt gave for not believing in God. I wish at least one of them had given an intellectual reason, but beggars can’t be choosers 🙂

    One other refrence that I did notice was that during Kurt’s song, they made subtle reference to his dad being God-like. Almost everytime young Kurt looked up at his dad, his dad’s face was either hidden by the sunlight or the sun was shining around his head. That just seemed a little Christian to me.

  2. 2 PrettyAmiable October 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

    You didn’t think there was a ridiculous pro-religion message in that Kurt’s dad only started to recover after Kurt accepted his friends’ religions? I was pretty disgusted by the episode. It actually made me hate a number of characters enough that I just don’t want to watch the show anymore.

  3. 3 Owen October 6, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Don’t worry about how certain characters behaved in this episode. They will be right back to their normal selves next week. Glee repeatedly bends their characters to the will of the theme of each of each week’s episode. I doubt Finn’s doubts or Kurt’s atheism will ever be mentioned again in any future episodes.

    I doubt that Kurt was even considered an atheist by the writers until they started work on this episode and say “hey we need one of the kids to be a dissenter. Let’s pick Kurt, he’s already gay, it makes sense.” Mercedes, Rachel and Puck however seem to have their faith/heritages etched into their characters, but I’m sure they will be the only ones who mention faith again.

  4. 4 Uberdawks October 6, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    This post totally misses the point. Last night’s episode of Glee was completely pro-religion/pro-sky daddy. Both the atheists were your stereotyped “angry” atheists. Sue because God didn’t make her sister normal and Kurt because he felt shunned due to his sexuality and the loss of his mom. While it’s interesting that crappy arguments like Russell’s teapot and snarky parodies like the spaghetti monster were mentioned, no GOOD atheist arguments were brought forth, and ultimately while Kurt didn’t have a “come to Jeebus” moment, Sue sure did when she asked her sister to pray for her and dropped her complaint against the club. Ultimately the atheists were admonished for their behavior while the believers were not. Total cop-out pro sky daddy crap.

    Let’s not forget that Glee’s creator Ryan Murphy was raised Catholic and is still an avid churchgoer IN SPITE of his homosexuality. How he can maintain this ridiculous worldview is beyond me, and last night’s episode of Glee only enforces the hoisting of a dangerous worldview onto young kids, even if a couple of pitiful counterpoints were given in the course of doing it.

  5. 5 Tom Ryberg October 6, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Heh. As a progressive, pluralist Christian, my take-away from the show was that it had a good message about how to relate to one another even amidst a plurality of beliefs. Along with Jen and Uberdawks, I felt that the faith perspectives presented were pretty shallow, on both sides.

    And I’m so, so, so appreciative that they let Kurt keep his atheism, recovery or no. I can’t think of the last time I saw a prime time show about spirituality that showed atheists and believers getting along without one of the sides ultimately bending toward the other. It felt more true to my personal experience as a result.

  6. 6 PrettyAmiable October 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    “I can’t think of the last time I saw a prime time show about spirituality that showed atheists and believers getting along without one of the sides ultimately bending toward the other.”

    But Kurt did bend towards the religious folk, and they did not bend -at all- to him or Sue.

    People who are atheists don’t need gods and can live ridiculously full lives. Why can’t we see someone who won’t bitch out last second?

  7. 7 Dian October 7, 2010 at 10:07 am

    No intellectual arguments? What about this one:

    Sue: It’s as arrogant as telling someone how to believe in God and if they don’t accept it, no matter how open-hearted or honest their dissent, they’re going to hell. That doesn’t sound very Christian does it?

    It makes so much sense. As an atheist I love outwardly non-believing!Kurt and Sue.

  8. 8 tv-showbiz October 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    ok, I must think again to decide. anyway good posting.

  9. 9 Brianne October 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t think that, just because Kurt and Sue had emotional reasons why they turned away from a god, there weren’t also logical and cerebral reasons as well. I don’t see them as “angry atheists.” I see them as people and, in this episode, they were broken people. Religion and the lack thereof is often an emotional discussion, so it’s not surprising that this episode was filled with emotion.

    As for Burt only coming around after Kurt accepted prayers from his friends, I think that that may have been the subliminal message but it doesn’t change the fact that once Kurt accepted help, accepted that things are not in his hands when it comes to science and the human body, religion or not, a certain calm came over him.

    I’m an atheist but I know as well as anyone that thought and prayer and well-meaning gets you a whole lot of nothing but time passing. But can’t you understand that people are inherently social creatures? We want to feel as if we’re not alone. In some people, that manifests as religion. In others, like myself, community service and rockin’ family reunions.

    At the very least, this episode got people talking and having discussions like this one and that’s the most important thing. The more we shy away from it and hide ourselves away, all of us, the less we communicate and the less we see that we are all, in fact, merely human.

  10. 10 Matt October 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Sure, it’s nice to see atheists being represented in a primetime tv show and it’s nice that they didn’t go for the old tired cliche of converting them in the end. However, the whole subtext of this episode was totally pro-religion.

    First, consider the characters who turn out to be atheists. We have Kurt the homosexual “sinner” and Sue Sylvester the big villain of the show. Although they do spew some atheist arguments that the show’s researchers found on Wikipedia, their main reason for being non-believers is because “god screwed them over and they won’t believe just for spite”. This makes their arguments against believing in god just rationalizations instead of being well thought out.

    But Sue and Kurt are not contempt with just not believing. No, they have to ruin it for everybody else and they conspire together to cancel “spirituality week” on some legal grounds. Just the sort of thing evil atheists will do.

    Finally, in the end, only when Kurt goes to church and allows other people to pray for him his dad gets his salvation. Sue discovers that her sister believes in god in spite of everything she’s been through and suddenly it’s ok to sing about god again because she’s not so angry with him anymore.

    Bottom line, the message this episode tried to deliver is let those stupid atheist say what they want, god is there and as long as you don’t mess with the believers he will take care of them too.

  11. 11 JustJack October 10, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Personally I was happy with the episode. People are spending too much time focusing on the religion.. This is a THEMED episode.. the show is NOT becoming bible central so people need to cool there jets. Another note on the “angry atheists” thing.. Kurt and Sue are typically a little introverted.. I would have been disappointed if Sue had been kissing the all mighty butt of god while singing kumbuya.. (A note to the Atheists.. I wouldn’t have enjoyed a 10 minute segment on the big bang or evolution and neither would anyone else.. this episode was about spirituality and feelings, not the facts of religion.) ALSO, Sue did not convert to Christianity.. she was following the wishes of her down syndrome sister who she loves over anything.. So people need to stop being so conceded and get over all this religious banter.. I honestly loved the episode,(Especially the flashbacks of kurt and his dad with the tea party and bike rides),and I’m sick of the negative responses.. Cheer up ❤

  12. 12 Peter October 10, 2010 at 2:29 am

    I think one’s reaction to this episode depends on what expectations you have going in: A thoughtful and understanding take on atheism it was not, but it’s still better than almost any other depiction of atheists you’re going to see on broadcast tv. I don’t know who wrote the episode, but it felt very much like a theist’s idea of a pro-atheism-tolerant story: good intentions, but a lot of little things that betray a lack of understanding. To me, Glee gets points for trying to be inclusive, but marks off for execution.

    Most of my criticisms have been mentioned (Kurt and Sue seem to be atheists out of spite, they angrily rebuff the well-intentioned theists “just trying to help,” Kurt ends up apologizing while nobody else does, Sue wants to be prayed for, a rather shallow take on religious beliefs in general, etc).

    However, my main critique is that the show got a lot of things right, but didn’t dig down just a little bit deeper to explore them. For example, when Kurt first says that he doesn’t believe in God, the universal reaction from his classmates is an alienating “Why NOT?” – as if this lack of belief is an aberration that must immediately be justified. So far, this is probably an accurate depiction of what it would be like to “come out” as an atheist – in many places being an atheist suddenly creates a gulf between friends that being ANY other faith does not. Afterward, Kurt sits alone in the back corner of the class, physically as well as socially isolated from his friends. Which, considering his Mom is dead and his Dad is in a coma, probably makes him feel excruciatingly alone. I kept waiting for the episode to reference this – but when they did, instead of touching on how this ostracization is cruel and all too common, they had KURT apologize!

    Similarly, the whole multi-faith prayers over Kurt’s Dad incident. The telling line here is that since it was “multi-faith” they thought it was ok. Later, Kurt says that the prayers weren’t about him, which is true, but they weren’t about his Dad, either. Prayers console the people praying, they were about making the classmates feel better. The show entirely failed to explain WHY Kurt was so prickly about what to the theists was a gesture of support and helping. While the good intentions are likely appreciated, the people praying are choosing a way of consoling themselves that further alienates and excludes Kurt. To make Kurt feel excluded from the bedside of his comatose father is not kind, regardless of their intentions. But again, the show didn’t go into any of that – instead Kurt just got “unreasonably” upset at their earnest gesture and then had to apologize for it later.

    Finally, the show seemed just fine with Mercedes’ little sermon on “Just believe in something, more than what you can see and hear” – an all too common theme in movies and television. Again, to publicly criticize the beliefs of a grieving teenager who already feels like an atheist in a church (because he WAS) without any opportunity to respond is just mean. But the show lets it by without a peep. I have yet to see it fully explained in mass media why a belief in ANYTHING supernatural, no matter how crazy, is still somehow inherently better than reasonable inferences from available evidence. If Glee was really trying to explore the difference between atheism and religion, and why well-intentioned remonstrances to “JUST BELIEVE!” are irritating, I think they missed an opportunity.

    I would, however, differ in my interpretation of the ending from some previous posters. I didn’t see the connection between Kurt’s Dad waking up and having people pray over him, or Kurt going to church, or any of that. Instead, it was after Kurt tells his Dad that their relationship is sacred that he begins to wake up, resolving the conflict from the opening scene. Schmaltzy and cliched, sure, but it’s a musical-melodramedy – I’m not going to criticize it for following tired television conventions. They couldn’t let Kurt’s Dad die – an orphaned Kurt whose last conversation with his father ended in “I’m disappointed with you” would add some really interesting, but not necessarily pop-music friendly, dimensions to the show.

    I’m not sure how much it came across to the general public, but I think that Kurt’s version of what is sacred rings true for many atheists (or at least myself). What I find sacred and transcendent are the people I love and my relationships with them. Which is why all of the isolation/exclusion/criticism I complained about above is more poignant than usual: Atheists reach out to the real people in their lives, which makes it hard when those people prioritize their invisible friends over their real ones.

  13. 13 Peter October 10, 2010 at 2:39 am

    I didn’t see your comment before I posted, but I hope that my rambling may have illuminated the atheist perspective on this. I don’t think anybody was calling for a science lesson – it’s more about the portrayal of atheists on television and the implicit social norms that the show might convey. Forgive us for fixating, but we don’t get a lot of opportunities to discuss such portrayals on nationally televised hit shows that aren’t openly hostile.

  14. 14 PrettyAmiable October 10, 2010 at 5:15 am

    LOVE JustJack’s comment. Way to argue against negative responses by contributing your own incredibly negative response ABOUT negative responses.

    And way to miss the point!

    No one said it was becoming “bible central” (PS, Jews don’t follow the Bible).

    Sue is introverted? Right.

    ALSO, no one said Sue converted. Nice straw man.

    Atheists typically have their own spirituality without having to make up a completely ridiculous fiction to support it – then don’t use that spirituality to do fucked up things. Like deny gays the right to marry. Or incite the Crusades. Whatevs. But this aspect of spirituality was completely ignored (unless it was in Kurt and Sue borrowing from the Christians and Jews – which isn’t terribly representative).

    I suppose you’re right though – the OP “conceded” to the traditional mainstream view that this was a quality depiction of atheists. However, if you’re suggesting those of us who are dissenting are “conceited,” I’d like to point out that you came into a minority community that you’re clearly not a member of and told us why we’re wrong. Someone here is pretty fucking conceited, but it’s not anyone trying to explain why this was offensive.

  15. 15 Katherine March 7, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I never noticed any of this until I watched the episode the second time. I was offended the first time a bit, mostly by Mercedes and of course Quinn -because I hate her character and the actress’ inability to portray a crying person correctly- but all the little nuances didn’t register at first for me. I agree with Pete, the ending was not at all about the other people’s prayers or any of that, but Kurt’s realization that he and his father will love each other forever, and nothing can get in the way of that.

    Also, one little thing that I noticed, was that the boy in the wheelchair (whose name I can never remember for the life of me), never said a word; for or against religion. There were about two shots when Kurt was explaining himself, and it panned over the the boy, and he just nodded, and didn’t say anything. I don’t know if that made him atheist, but it certainly was interesting.

  16. 16 Nikki June 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    This episode made me stop watching Glee as a whole… A lot of its messages werent handled well before either… That was my opinion. But this is the last straw.

    This really was a sneaky way of saying “We let both sides speak”, but to any person with a half.brain, it is clearly obvious that it was in favor of religion…

    I mean… make the demonic Sue the pro-atheist speaker? Great move. Even more reason to not actually listen to the little arguments they presented.

  17. 17 Emily K. N. August 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    As an athiest, I agree with Kurt. I don’t mind if people have religion as long they dont hate me or judge me or try to get me to have faith or whatever. I dont change who I am or what I believe, especially if it comes to sexuality and my being an athiest, just because people dont like what I believe or who I am. I loved this episode 🙂 it made me cry, though.

  18. 19 i8pancakes96 June 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    I’m an Atheist, and I loved this episode. It made me cry. I can get along with others who are not Atheist; plenty of my friends, and even family, are in some way religious, whether they go to church or not. I loved Kurt; he is one of my favorite characters, because his character, and Chris Colfer in reality, are very inspirational. I love Sue as well, even though she’s questionably rude a lot of the time. I don’t see this episode as pro-religion. I see it as a sort of “you can believe what you want to believe and it’s okay, you’re still a person” kind of deal. Kurt did not say “Okay, you’re right, God is real.” He said that he didn’t believe in God because there is no real proof and because of how most religious people act towards gay people. He is not just not believing just because he thinks he’s been screwed over; he has his reasons. Everyone does. People can believe what they want. In the end of the episode, he had basically ACCEPTED that they can believe what they like, and he did not change his views. That’s my take on the episode.

  19. 20 Tianna November 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I happen to be a strong Christian. I know it doesn’t make much sense for a Catholic to support gays (I’m obsessed with Klaine) but I do. So be it. lol. Okay, so I’m writing an essay (in my own time) about…well…I’m not entirely sure, but it has to do with homosexuality…it could be about rights, I guess? I’m better at writing about feelings than facts, though (I seem to be overly empathetic), so it’s a good thing I’ll have a teacher to edit my essay. (I’m using it for Forensics.)
    This quote really spoke to me, and it’s the reason I first started really THINKING about homosexuality instead of just looking passed it and not paying much attention–I knew it was there, knew it existed, but I didn’t think about it much more than that. “God’s kind of a jerk, isn’t he? Well he makes me gay and then has his followers going around telling me it’s something that I chose. As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life.”
    I absolutely love Kurt, and this quote helped me understand everything a little better. As a 12-year-old, straight, Christian girl, I can honestly say I support the gay community; I have ever since I started watching Glee, especially after I watched this episode. Is that wrong? I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t really care. I can just say I’ll be there for anyone I meet who is struggling to get through every day, no matter who the person is or why his/her life is so hard.

  20. 21 Tianna November 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    …I’m not really sure there was a point to my last comment…so please don’t say I’m missing the point. I’m sorry; I know I wasn’t continuing the discussion. Hm. I wonder if anyone will actually read this…considering it’s been a while since anyone commented…

    😀 So I’m not trying to argue with anyone or be cruel by saying any of your opinions are wrong. Please don’t think I am–I’m not that mean! I’m merely stating my opinion on a matter that…I’m not really sure belongs in this area…sorry about that… so…yeah. …Be nice to people, guys!…

  21. 22 http://tinyurl.com/cycldiana41045 January 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Precisely how much time did it take you to post “Oh My Glee!
    Atheism on TV! Struck by Enlightning”? It contains quite a lot of really good information.
    Appreciate it ,Sherman

  1. 1 Atheism in the Mainstream « The Agnostic Pastor Trackback on October 12, 2011 at 8:52 am

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