Atheists in the Media November 15, 2007

Atheists in the Media

Teen Atheist over at Diary of a Teenage Atheist was writing about reactions people have when the word “atheist” comes up in conversation.

Like this one with a friend currently working on a novel:

Teen Atheist: “Your protagonist is an atheist, right?”

Alice: “The girl is. The boy isn’t. He’s nice.”


It got TA to start thinking about atheists in pop culture and how the portrayal of atheism isn’t actually all that bad. She even created categories:

  • The Brilliant, Snarky Misanthrope: Dr. Perry Cox (Scrubs), Dr. Gregory House (House), Dr. Cristina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy), Matt Albie (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)
  • The Heartless, Dysfunctional Whore: Andrew Van De Kamp (Desperate Housewives), Dr. Christian Troy (Nip/Tuck), Brian Kinney (Queer as Folk)
  • The Slutty, Angsty Rebel: Jen Lindley (Dawson’s Creek)
  • The Lab Geek: Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones), Dr. Mohinder Suresh (Heroes)

There’s one exception: Dr. Allison Cameron on House, who is acknowledged as being a “naive atheist” on the show.

But despite the categories, look at who we are:

Notice that out of the 10 examples I’ve provided, 6 are doctors (7 out of 11 if you include Cameron). Of the remaining four, one is a successful advertising executive (Brian Kinney) and one is a talented head writer for a popular sketch show (Matt Albie), while the last two (Jen and Andrew) are the cool, rebellious teenagers. And all ten are smokin’ hot.

Yeah, we are!

Teen Atheist adds that these characters are also among the most critically acclaimed.

If the atheist stereotype was true, you would think writers would create “true-to-life” atheist characters that were rapists, thiefs, drug-addicts, etc. That’s not the case at all.

It’s quite impressive, really. And the more atheists you see on popular shows, the more acceptable it will be to be openly atheist in real life.

(Via Diary of a Teenage Atheist)

[tags]atheist, atheism, pop culture[/tags]

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  • Julie

    Maybe there are good atheist TV characters because a lot of successful TV writers are atheists. Dunno, but I’d bet on it.

  • Siamang

    Also that’s why there are a lot of smokin hot babes on tv too.

    *Siamang looks out his office window at the picket line*

    Maybe not.

  • And let’s not forget Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica. I guess he’d be a Lab Geek. He’s the one who betrayed the entire human race into near obliteration. Yet he’s a fascinating character, and I can identify with his ethical dilemmas because the character is so multi-dimensional. In BG the Cylons believe in God and yet are also cookie cutter replicas. It’s an interesting show.

  • Nick

    What about Malcolm Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s (sadly) short-lived series Firefly?

    He was the “man of honor in a den of thieves” who always tried to do what he saw as the ‘right thing.’ Of course, his atheism is more of a “I went through a horrible war and lost my faith” than a rational skepticism, but then the show only touched on it occasionally.

  • To “brilliant, snarky misanthrope” I would also add “cynical.”

    And I’d add another trope (or maybe just modify “lab geek”): “Overly-intellectual, emotionally out-of-touch social misfit who can’t take a leap of faith.”

    Myself, I’d probably put Mal from Firefly in the “brilliant, snarky, cynical misanthrope” category. But it’s far from a perfect fit. Maybe because Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, is a self-described “hard-line, angry atheist.”

  • I happen to love Brilliant, Snarky Misanthropes. I’d like to think I am one. And I’m happy to be in the fictional company of the characters listed.

  • I dislike the negativity that most atheist characters are portrayed as having.

  • The coolest atheist character on TV is definitely Charlie Eppes on Numb3rs. This doesn’t come up often, but during the episode “Thirteen” (which you can watch on the CBS website), he makes some comments that definitely identify him as an atheist.

    For those who don’t watch the show, Charlie is brilliant. And a nice guy. And hot. 🙂

  • Loren Petrich

    I wonder how agnostics fare; has anyone checked on that.

    I mention agnosticism because a lot of atheists call themselves agnostics because (1) they do not consider themselves absolutely certain that there are no gods or (2) they do not want to seem belligerent about their beliefs.

  • Karen

    Hmmm… I can’t think of any definitely identified agnostic characters. Seems a bit nuanced for TV.

    I nominate Mal Reynolds as best TV atheist. He was brilliant and snarky but also a bona fide “good guy” and hero. And, needless to say, smokin’ hot! 🙂

  • Jen

    It’s true, atheists are just better looking.

    Of course, I also can’t think of a single actor who isn’t conventionally attractive in some way, so maybe that’s why they are all hot.

    There have to be other TV atheists… hmmm, I am not proud to admit this, but a few weeks ago I watched The Big Bang Theory, which may or may not already be canceled. The sister from Rosanne was on, playing a super religious mom, to her son (the… taller roommate on the show) who was a scientist, and took none of her rantings seriously. I think he was supposed to be an atheist, but I was flipping channels.

    Oh! And Miranda from Sex and the City, who allowed her baby to be baptized as long as the preist cut out all religious mentions from the event.

    And I think maybe Buffy was, but then she died and went to heaven or something.

  • Ben

    My wife wants to make sure you add Dean Winchester from Supernatural, the (hot) snarky (hot) misanthrope hottie. True, there are demons and such in the series, but Dean doesn’t believe in any supreme beings or Gods. He has some ‘slutty’ in him also but he isn’t ‘angsty.’

  • stogoe

    Of course, I also can’t think of a single actor who isn’t conventionally attractive in some way, so maybe that’s why they are all hot.

    “We wanted TV Ugly, not Ugly Ugly.”

    Even Ugly Betty is apparently just an attractive female with dowdy clothes and a pair of glasses.

  • Scotty B

    Its a movie, not a TV show, but Bridge to Terabithia has a nice portrayal of atheists. The main girl in the movie points out at one point that her parents are atheists when the main boy asks her to go to church with him and she says she’s never been to church. She goes with him and the boy is complaining about church when she says “You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.”

    I don’t know what category they would fit in, but the girls parents are writers and are portrayed as being really fun people who enjoy their family time.

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