Glee: The Grilled Cheesus Episode October 6, 2010

Glee: The Grilled Cheesus Episode

I missed last night’s episode of Glee.

Actually, I’ve missed just about every episode of Glee… but I know enough about it to download the soundtracks and realize that last night’s episode was all about faith.

Reader Kate, who writes the very-well-written-and-why-wasn’t-I-reading-this-before Suburban Sweetheart blog, was nice enough to explain the episode to me. And now, to you.

There are a couple spoilers in case you plan to watch the episode later. You’ve been warned.

After seeing last Tuesday’s preview, I was excited for the new episode of Glee for two reasons.

1) Puck singing Billy Joel.
2) GOSPEL MUSIC. Does anyone NOT love gospel music?

But a mere three minutes into last night’s show, I was already uncomfortable. It wasn’t just that Finn claimed to see Jesus in his grilled cheese (“Grilled Cheesus”), which was funny, or that he asked Mr. Shue if the Glee Club could perform songs praising Christ, which was unfortunately a bit too reminiscent of my own high school choir experience. No, it wasn’t just those pieces of the plot: It was Kurt‘s story that made me squirm.

Kurt is the gay kid who angrily shuns religion because, he says, if there were a God, S/he wouldn’t have given him a life of being gay, a life of bullying and belittling. Within the first 10 minutes of the episode, Glee‘s portrayal of Kurt as an atheist sets up two unfortunate and all-too-prevalent stereotypes: that of the angsty homosexual & that of the militant atheist.

Across the board, the other Glee Club members, Christians & Jews alike, are shocked by Kurt’s admission that he doesn’t believe in God. Throughout the show, they try to talk him out of atheism and into religion, never once acknowledging that he’s entitled to his own beliefs — or lack thereof — or showing any respect for his views. In fact, the only character to defend Kurt’s atheism as a legitimate world view is Sue Sylvester, the show’s antagonist, who goes on to use his atheism as a tool of manipulation to help sink her arch nemesis, Mr. Shue, for permitting religious music in Glee Club. This is where I should note that, in writing this, I’m also ignoring the show’s inaccurate portrayals of church/state separation and what is and isn’t permitted in public schools; last night’s episode toed across the line there, too.

(Hemant adds: Sylvester said the following in the episode:

“Asking someone to believe in a fantasy, however comforting, is an immoral thing to do. It’s cruel. 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?”

Interesting… Now, back to Kate.)

The most unfortunate part of the episode is that the story line was valid: Kurt, terrified of losing his father to a heart problem, is genuinely struggling to deal with his pain; his friends want to help, but they’re not sure what they can do for an atheist who doesn’t want their prayers — because prayer is the most common way they know of for dealing with such situations. Yes, it was a believable plotline — but if Glee wanted to teach an important lesson, as it has so often done, there was ample opportunity to do so in a way that didn’t offend. The writers could’ve focused on Kurt pushing his friends away as a result of his dad’s condition, a natural but unhealthy reaction to dealing with fear. They could’ve lessened the strain, the anger, the push-&-pull between the religious members of Glee Club and the one atheist member. “I appreciate your thoughts,” Kurt tells them, “but I don’t want your prayers.” And not one of them will accept that: They show up at his father’s bedside to pray. They dedicate church services to him. They try to sing songs about God’s grace. And never once does anyone but Sue Sylvester stop to recognize how offensive it is to push your beliefs, no matter how well-intentioned, upon someone else — especially when that person is already enveloped in hurt and grief.

While I typically appreciate “Glee’s” depictions of diversity — in many cases, its sense of humor and refusal to be politically correct in order to make important observations about society — I was undoubtedly disappointed in the way the writers opted to depict Kurt’s atheism. But you know what? It didn’t do much for religion, either. Why do the other Glee Clubbers have to be so forceful in insisting that they pray for Kurt’s father, both in front of and to Kurt? Couldn’t they have kept it to themselves? And out of school? Their insistence that Kurt recognize the power of prayer is just as dangerous in its characterization of all people of faith as pushy, well-intentioned zealots as was the show’s portrayal of Kurt as a defensive, angry atheist. (Not to mention that I was frustrated that the episode described religion, in blanket terms, as being intolerant of homosexuality — NOT the case for all of us!)

At the end of the show, though, I suppose the atheist wins. After all, Kurt is the only character to recognize his friends’ good intentions and overlook their hurtful actions because of them. His friends and educators, for their part, never really recognize that they’ve hurt him or apologize for doing so. And though Mercedes concedes to understanding that he doesn’t believe in “the power of prayer,” she continues to passively urge him to find God, indicating that she cannot conceive of the wrongness of her actions toward her friend.

On this point, the only credit I give the writers of Glee for last night’s episode is that (spoiler alert!) the episode did NOT end with Kurt’s becoming a believer, which would’ve been an even bigger letdown, and it did address the things that he, as an atheist, turned to instead of religion to get him through a difficult time. The memory montage of his childhood — including his mother’s funeral — was set to his emotional performance of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the one song of the night that (purposefully) didn’t reference God or religion as a means of highlighting his faith in family and love as a source of personal strength. He did, however, allow Mercedes take him to her church, where she performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for him, and where he ultimately accepted his friends’ prayers for his father as an act of friendship, not of proselytization. Unfortunately, the grief it took to make these few progressive points wasn’t worth all the other reprehensible depictions both of atheism and of religion. I wish the writers had explored other creative ways to incorporate religious tunes (which is, really, a fun concept!) into an episode and to address faith (and the lack thereof) without turning the entire cast into an offensive — and largely incorrect — parade of stereotypes.

Your thoughts on last night’s episode?

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  • Katie

    I am just SO happy that Kurt didn’t turn to god by the end.
    The whole episode seemed to be leading to that conclusion, and it was a big relief when it didn’t happen.

  • NewEnglandBob

    I watched the episode. I usually listen to the music of Glee from another room as my wife watches it. I usually like the music but the story lines are usually childish and stupid.

    Last night’s episode, as told above, was especially bad. My wife and I both finished watching and said “what was that???”

    The music was not even its usual quality. The song selection was good but the arrangements of several of the songs were not good in my opinion. I would rate this a 2 out of 10.

  • Nicky

    To be honest, I’m pretty bad at forming opinions of how good something is, at any rate, I found the following things interesting:
    – The depiction of the characters was odd, from the point of view of the people who would have been writing the script. They clearly weren’t all atheists, I’m prepared to argue they would have been a bit less blankety if they were. I don’t understand why the religious characters were just so flat in their defence, Kurt would put forward an eloquent argument and they would just be like “but God! And spirituality!” Surely the writers could see that they were writing the characters like that, but they really don’t address it, if they had I think the episode as a whole would have been much stronger.

    – Acupuncture. Really? I also found it odd that none of the other characters called him out for his inconsistency, but given the above, the writers are unlikely to have even thought that hard.

    – Rachel continues to be annoying. Actually, I lie, that’s not interesting.

  • Cherilyn

    I completely agree with everything you said, you summed it up so nicely! I felt so uncomfortable watching it, I was really disappointed how they depicted the two atheists in the episode as angry. Also, both of them had tragic things happen to them, and as we all know, not all atheists are atheists because they had one horrible thing happen in their life to make them lose their faith in god. Nobody would accuse a religious person of being religious just because they have a really good life (or a really horrible life, which makes them need something to hold onto). Also, they used every clique atheist argument in the book! I mean, they used the celestial teapot for christ-sakes, lol. I also thought it was so offensive how nobody respected his beliefs. If they would of showed even the least little bit of respect for his beliefs I would of enjoyed the episode so much more… Kurt respected all their beliefs, he didnt push his atheism on anyone. Yet, they couldnt leave well enough alone. They couldnt show the other characters as just being good friends and helping him instead of having some agenda, which is what a good person, religious or not, would do.

  • Sarah

    I am a Gleek. Yes, i claim the title. That said, when I saw the episode coming up I was annoyed, but after watching, I was pleasantly surprised.

    Yes, the angry atheist stereotype is annoying, but as I’ve said on many occasions, stereotypes exist for a reason. I would say most of us have felt like Kurt or Sue at some point in our lives, if we were raised religious.

    While many outspoken atheists may have come into non-belief by rational paths, many of us started the trip by questioning the idea of a loving god who allows suffering. Thats all Kurt was saying.

    As for the portrayal of the tension, I wanted Kurt to flip out on his friends, who hijacked his pain. I saw a gentle reminder to people of faith that those of us without it do find comfort without a god. And a reminder to us that we cannot escape the misguided intentions of the faithful, and we should remember that this is the only way they know how to help.

    I threw up my hands at the acupuncture bit. But then, I realized it was brilliant. Kurt is a KID. He’s an atheist but not a rationalist (and yep, those exist!)…yet.

    I think the better storyline was Sue’s obvious struggle with belief and with her own feelings about atheism. I thought it subtly showed the self-loathing some of us go through. When the world tells you that being an atheist is a terrible thing, and you realize you ARE one…well that can suck.

    I see how people disliked the episode. But for me, what made it work…and what always makes it work…is that despite the heightened reality of the songs, the way the topic was handled reflected real life.

    Just my thoughts…

  • Angela

    The cast of Glee is ALWAYS a parade of offensive stereotypes, in every episode… They are all caricatures of themselves — that’s pretty much the only way they can make the show work. So I don’t see why it’s an issue that they are this way about religion, too. Those ARE the mainstream stereotypes of atheists and Christians. At least they’re consistent about it.

  • Angel

    When the show ended I turned to my husband and said pointed out that when I start agreeing completely with Sue Sylvester, something is very wrong.

    The previews for this episode had me concerned that I was going to be watching a network-notes show, and that is what I was left with. I had hoped that it was ultimately going to be a lesson in respect. Just not one for the atheist who asks people to respect his wishes and the religious folks who continue to ignore him so they can continue to say trite things about not knowing how to help outside prayer. Yeah, those pesky atheists sure need to learn to respect the rights of people who want to bring religion to the schools.

    Perhaps I have just been pretty lucky in terms of the respect I’ve been given by my friends through the years, but when my parents passed away (I was around the age of Kurt), none of my pals or their parents forced their religious beliefs on me at that time. And many of them were JW!

    The scene where Mercedes gives her little speech from the pulpit (that isn’t even a figurative description – very subtle, writers, very subtle) actually had me crawling in my seat and talking back at the screen. Dragging someone to a house of worship only to single said person out and lecture them in front of complete strangers? Do friends actually do that? Can you actually call someone who does that a friend?

    Had Kurt wound up a believer (and I was fully expecting it, what with the direction the storyline was taking up to that point), that would have put the final nail in the coffin for me. And no amount of Sue Sylvester could have saved it.

  • Neth Dugan

    I think I’m mostly glad we got an atheist who isn’t depressed about it but accepts that not everyone agrees and that’s okay.

    I don’t think he was actually militant in it, the only times he got that way was when people barged in on his life with religion even when he’d told them that wasn’t what he wanted and asked them not to do so. And I’m okay with that. I think by the end he was just so worn down by it all he decided just to accept that prayers were the only way his friends felt they could express their concern and well wishes. It isn’t like they were listening in the first place, and with everything going on I imagine it was probably easier to jut go with it.

    And I am so, so glad that he didn’t turn face and find faith in the supernatural. He even mentioned the FSM!

    As for Sue… she’s Sue. She’s going to manipulate and try anything any time, no matter what. Except her sister. I think she was being more honest and genuine here than we’ve seen her before. And I’m not sure if going after Will on the religion front was entirely about manipulation for the sake of manipulation, I think it was her doing her best shot of looking out for a student that nobody else would because he’s an atheist. Only, he’s Sue so it came out in a certain way.

    And though their portrayal of the religious people isn’t the most complementary it isn’t like it’s not accurate. I mean, I’ve had my uncle pray for a safe journey for me and my family when he knows full well we’re atheists and still sends prayers in cards on holidays despite the fact he knows we don’t believe in it and would much rather he just leave his god out of it. Take that up to the situation that was in this episode? Yeah, it isn’t great but it’s not accurate.

    And I’ll point out, Kurt’s reasons aren’t just about him being gay and bullied, that was just the most personal to him example. He mentioned science and women too.

    ETA: I agree with the person who was expecting this to be a lesson on respect, just not the way it turned out. On that it failed. If there’s one big thing I’d change, it’s that the religious people would come to accept Kurt’s atheism even if they don’t share it. And stop sticking him in religious situations. That entire ‘If God Were One Of Us’ thing did piss me off, I have to say. That was too far, and they should have gone the other way.

  • prospera

    but if Glee wanted to teach an important lesson, as it has so often done, there was ample opportunity to do so in a way that didn’t offend.

    Is that really the purpose of the show? And even if it were, I tend to think that illustrating the issue in a way that is closer to what happens in the real world would be a better lesson than an unrealistic and idealistic portrayal of how it “should” be.

    Seeing and thinking for ourselves is always better than being preached to.

  • Sarah:

    Yes, the angry atheist stereotype is annoying, but as I’ve said on many occasions, stereotypes exist for a reason.

    The stereotypes exist because religious people made them up. Extrapolating from your one data point to a general trend isn’t really warranted. After all… remember that whole “Jews use the blood of Christian children in their Satanic rituals” thing?

  • Jude

    I watched. Some of the music was so bad (what I characterize as Christian schlock, not, for the most part good music) that I muted the sound during those numbers. But the *WORST* part was that they totally misrepresented the real way you can use religious music in school music programs. It was wrong. While it was interesting that they tried to address religion, overall, the episode was disgusting.

  • Jen

    Did any of you notice during Kurt’s song how they made his dad out to be God-like? Every time young Kurt looked UP to his FATHER, the SUN was either shining around HIS HEAD or the SUN blocked HIS FACE (all we saw was sunlight). This is a very Christian reference. I felt a little disgusted that they did this, but I’m glad that they even brought up the idea of atheism.

  • I missed the show (the kids had too much homework they needed help with). But I have to admit that when I have seen the show, I kind-of liked the Sue character. 🙂

  • nnaatra

    I was extremely uncomfortable during the episode. I’m glad others were.

  • I am “fighting” with all of my friends on facebook this morning because I supported the Atheist viewpoint on Glee last night. I was angry about the way Kurt’s friends completely disrespected his beliefs and NOBODY call them on it, but the fact that the gay atheist kid is the one who has to compromise to keep peace is no surprise…i used to be that kid. Well, still gay and atheist, just don’t acquiesce to keep peace any more. I think Kate is right on the money about this whole episode but I also agree that this is, after all, GLEE, which is solely a parody of itself and will never be a strong venue for teaching lessons. although it may open some eyes.

  • C.Book

    So I agree with pretty much all criticisms, plus one.

    Nobody’s really addresses the both Sue and Kurt, in the end, while not “finding religion” in any sense, decide that they should just let the Christians specifically have their way and do what they want to make them happy, no matter who it might hurt, including themselves.

    Pardon my language but… fuck that.

    Atheists who, in times of trouble, let their friends drag them to church to proselytize and come to the conclusion that the best response to that is “That’s for the prayers,” essentially, are pretty shitty atheists.

  • Tiffany

    I actually loved the episode. Not really for the music (although the Beatles song was pretty good).

    I think what surprised me was that someone who started out as an atheist didn’t get converted to a believer by the end of the show, which happens WAY too often. And I was expecting it to happen, especially after the church scene, which was indeed cringe-worthy.

    I was watching the episode while I was working in my university dorm lobby (I attend a Christian university by the way). So, one of my favorite parts of the episode was watching the reactions of the Christians watching the show. This one girl kept saying how “blasphemous” the grilled cheesus was. I thought it was hilarious.

    And, as someone has stated before, not everyone comes to atheism in the same way. Sure, they could have come up with a better reason for Kurt to be an atheist, but he is still in high school. And I have to say, I can see where he’s coming from.

    My initial reason non-belief comes from a rational perspective: it doesn’t make sense for God to exist. However, secondarily, I believe that if he did exist, he must be a real jerk.

  • Sara

    I can’t say I’m a big Glee fan, I don’t really get the popularity. However, nothing else remotely interesting to me is on at that time, so I watch it, I only caught the last half, starting with Sue Sylvester telling off that annoying doe eyed red head, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

    I found all the characters that were pushing their religion on Kurt very off-putting, especially Mercedes (I think that’s her name) who pretty much said she couldn’t be his friend if he didn’t accept the wonderfulness of spirituality.

    Yes both atheists and religious people were a little stereotypical, but not unrealistic. What kind of story would it have been if the atheists were all accepting of the religious people’s attempts to force religion on them, or if the religious people were all fine and dandy with the atheists wishes of no prayers? Pretty boring.

    So in conclusion, yes stereotypical, but the show is for entertainment, and it wouldn’t have been very entertaining if everyone just got along.

  • SecularLez

    I was wondering if this episode was going to be talked about.
    I didn’t watch the full episode but when I did tune in, I did see Sue Sylvester’s line and I did see Kurt tell his friends that he didn’t believe in god.

    I agree with the first poster in that the song quality was not the show’s best.

    I was happy to see SOME portrayal of atheists on tv and I wasn’t expecting Glee to do it in THE best way BUT my motto is, “Hey, it could have been worse.”

    I was glad Kurt stood up for himself and didn’t cave to his friend’s religious pressure.

    Angel, I can actually see an associate of mind calling me out in her church if I ever did attend church with her. ::sigh::

  • closeted

    I think that this was actually enlightening, and maybe even an example of popular American culture trying to wrestle with the “coverage” that the atheist community has garnered of late. Yes, there were missed points and opportunities to further explain the atheist positions, but what we may be seeing here is American culture learning to deal with and even accept and possibly assimilate an idea that has not really been all that common to those that have not searched it out. There is room for improvement, but that is up to the atheist community to publicize the valid and possibly more important issues that were either not addressed at all or glossed over or dismissed. I suspect that what we saw there was the interpretation of the writers of what they have seen atheism to be. It should be taken as a measure of how the message is being disseminated and a guide to where additional work needs to be done.

  • Steve

    As said, Glee is very stereotypical. Always has been. But they somehow make it work. So don’t look for really complex characterization and subtlety. There are some great messages there, but they aren’t found by taking everything literally.

    That said, the depiction of the religion vs. atheism conflict could have been done better even considering that. Nothing much to add to what was said in the original blog entry.

  • Doug

    Do you think a prime time show should have a teenage boy praying to Jesus to get to 2nd base and then have it happens sends the right message? I believe that there are too many tweens who watch the show for the great music shouldn’t be seeing that.

  • Ubi Dubium

    It wasn’t perfect, but there were a lot of things they could have gotten horribly wrong, but didn’t. They could have one of the atheist characters “see the light”. (I was rather cringing about that possiblity, but it didn’t happen.) They could have had the “angry at god” stereotype, but they didn’t. Both atheist characters were quite clear that they did not think god existed. Kurt had never mentioned being an atheist until somebody else started pushing religion at him, and wasn’t angry until they didn’t back off. I think Kurt’s mention of Russell’s teapot was appropriate, he used the “Santa Claus for grownups” line, and we even got a brief Flying Spaghetti Monster (pbuH) should out.

    The xians love to taunt us with “just wait until something bad happens, then you’ll turn to god” But Kurt didn’t. He reached out to other people. The song in the church at the end was about people supporting one another, not about any god.

    And they touched on a lot of things that we often discuss among ourselves: pareidolia, confirmation bias, marriage between members of different faiths, separation of church and state. I think that this episode may be a launch point for a lot of conversations among people who had never thought about these issues before, and that’s a good thing in the end.

  • Ashlyn

    I actually quite liked the episode. The parts that bothered me the most were the acupuncture and the misrepresentation of what you can and can’t sing in a school choir. Kurt defended himself well, didn’t convert, and got some great lines out of it. “Most churches don’t think much of gay people. Or women. Or science.”

  • Mark

    Kurt made reference to Russell’s Teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  • Cheryl

    For the record, I HATE GOSPEL MUSIC. It’s a lot of bad vocal histrionics set to un-inspired music.

    Of the few episodes of Glee I have watched, I found them completely lame and boring. I’m not surprised by the description of this episode. It’s an Fox show after all. Of course the Atheist had to see how wonderful all his religious classmates were in the end. There’s no way they could ever be wrong cause they have gawd.

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    The depiction of the angry atheist stereotype was unfortunate, but other than that, I think that the show had some good points and I was happy to see atheist characters instead of sweeping us heathens under the rug. It did a good job of showing how people are able to find meaning in life without god (Kurt finds meaning through his relationship with his father.)

    It also dealt some good blows to religion: the guidance counselor explains to Finn (the owner of the Grilled Cheesus) how he had most likely not experienced miracles from God and took to a more rational explanation of each. Finn ends up deconverting at the end of the episode (at least partially: he states that he does not know what he believes.)

    I was also happy to hear some of the arguments against religion from Kurt and Sue: Russell’s teapot, unanswered prayers, and the problem of evil were touched upon. Even though these are old to us, I’m guessing that most of the Glee audience has not heard all of these viewpoints.

    All in all, the depiction of atheists could have been better and the pushy religionists could have apologized in some way, but I was happy to see some mainstream atheist exposure. I think the atheist movement is still in the “we are here” phase, and this helped with that. Kurt is a likable character (and there are Sue fans as well) and him being an outed atheist is a good thing.

  • TychaBrahe

    I don’t get your objections.

    Kurt admits he’s an atheist and it shocks the religious members of his social circle. They urge him to reconsider. Despite his objections, they pray for his ailing father. They are intolerant of his lack-of-belief and show disrespect for his choices in this matter. The people who run the school or the music program are confused about what they can or cannot permit in terms of religious music in school.

    And your argument about this storyline is ….?

    Your blog documents this kind of stuff every day. The Ask Richard column seems to me to be about 50% “I want to come out as an atheist but I’m afraid of the consequences in my friends/family,” or “I was discovered to be an atheist, and it’s causing problems with my friends/family.”

    People do try to convert atheists. I wrote you recently about someone I met online who tried to convince me that factual statements (like “The Earth is round,”) found in the Koran are proof that God exists, because how else could anyone have known this 1400 years ago (and 800 years after Eratosthanes proved it). People do pray for those who don’t want to be prayed over. I refer you to the interview with Pat Tillman’s brother you linked to recently. And people really are confused about what aspects of religion are permitted in public schools.

    I understand that you would prefer to have Kurt’s revelation pass unnoticed, with a generalized “that’s nice” sort of response as everyone else goes about their business utterly unaffected by things that have nothing to do with them. It would be nice if everyone gathered to console and comfort Kurt rather than to antagonize him with prayer during his father’s last days. But the fact is, although that’s how the world should be, it’s not how it *is.* And complaining that art too adequately reflects life is a strange complaint indeed.

  • LabRatter

    I agree with other comments that the show is, almost above all else, about stereotypes – over-the-top stereotypes that are played for fun. So, I enjoyed the show, Sue Sylvester and all.

    BUT – the best part were the references! Bertrand Russell’s cosmic teapot?! Flying Spaghetti Monster?! PRICELESS.

    I suspect a thoughtful atheist or two are on the writing staff…

  • Joelle Lesiter

    I just couldn’t wait to go to school today to see the looks on the theists faces. I’m guessing all my Christian friends will now totally have seen the light and can put their faith in science like me. I thought it was so cool that they were able to handle such a complicated issue so thoroughly in such a brief amount of time. Kurt is my new hero. his life seems amazing, i feel so sorry for his friends. i just wish they didnt have to label everyone by their sexuality. it’s sad that kurt is ‘the gay character’. we’re all gay. we’re all straight. there is no such thing as sexual orientation. we have free will afterall, right? love is just a chemical imbalance in our heads. i’ve had numerous gay and straight partners, why choose one 😉 i;m so glad that people are starting to realize that religion, marriage, relationships, are all just crutches for weak people.

  • Jack Treiger

    Thank science (natch) for glee. I remember the thrill of telling of religious peoplein high school. It’s just so easy. Richard Dawkins is all you need. A little Bertrand Russel maybe. They are clearly so much dumber than we are. Being gay myself I find it equally exciting that Kurt was the atheist on the show. The days of religion telling me who I sleep with are long gone. Life is one short trip and then you die. Might as well get as much pleasure as you can throughout the ride. When you have a crisis in your life, the last thing you need is your imperfect friends to try to console you. Like I would want their prayers? Seriously? Kurt’s grandfather was obviously weak and dying, uhhh that’s what happens lol. That’s just the way the world works.

    I’m just upset that there is only one gay character and only one real atheist. When is there going to be a show of all gay atheist characters? Now that would be a realistic show.

  • Steve

    The allegations against FOX are unfair in this case. Glee is by far the gayest show on network television (in fact only “True Blood” is more gay). Both in front of and behind the cameras. If there were some right-wing undercurrent in the production, that would hardly be the case.

  • muggle

    GOSPEL MUSIC. Does anyone NOT love gospel music?

    Um, it’s awful even musically and lyrics just add insult to injury. Why does anyone like it would be my question? I can see why believers do — it’s their gawd praise music, after all — but I really, really, really don’t get Atheists that do.

    Likewise, Glee. Disclaimer: I haven’t watched a single episode. This is due to the damned trailers being so horrific that I cannot imagine why anyone would sit through it or endure that train wreck of a faculty adviser. She seems as if she should be in a mental ward somewhere, not influencing teenagers.

    That said, I watch Judge Joe Brown, People’s Court and Judge Judy every weekday afternoon on Fox so I am subject to the trailers for whatever they’re showing in prime time that night.

    Gotta say I laughed for the first time instead of cringing at the trailer yesterday as they said grilled cheesus (what an excellent term to usurp for all these Jebus sightings so I may owe them that) and zoomed in on his grilled cheese sandwich with the usual burned blob passing as a holy icon but then they went on to show gospel singing and I decided against tuning in.

    Reading all the comments on it, I’m glad I passed. Sounds as bad as the trailers always give me the impression of it being. And definitely doesn’t sound like it was at all deep. Sounds as if it would have only succeeded in raising my blood pressure which I’m betting retirement has lowered.

    However, it looks as if it may have got people talking and that may or may not be a good thing. I’ll have to see how the conversation runs — if it’s actual constructive give and take between both sides, I’ll give them props for it but if it deterioates into the usual Atheist bashing, not so much. Shrug. (Which should tell you which I expect.)

  • Beth

    I think it is unfortunate that Kurt was the only nonbeliever in the episode, and I was upset that at then end they sang that stupid What if God was One of Us song, and ended up kind of stifling Kurt. Everyone was totally disrespectful, and Shue was totally out of line. That being said, when Fin found out the grilled cheezus wasn’t really jesus, he started to question his beliefs. So at least this particular episode had one redeeming quality.

  • Andrew Morgan

    People actually watch that show?

    All I needed was to hear Don’t Stop Believin’ utterly and completely butchered to know that I’d never waste my time.

  • Yes, they played to some sterotypes, and yes, Sue butchered First Amendment law, but I don’t think the show was a complete loss for atheism. Kurt started and ended the show an unapologetic atheist, and showed the humanist side of disbelief in his concern for his dad (and eventually his friends). Sue was problematic, because her atheism was angry and unexamined, but she still made some very valid points. And Grilled Cheesus was just hilarious.

    For what it’s worth, my two cents on the good and bad of the episode are here.

  • akimboh

    Personally, I loved it. Glee is broad-brush strokes, generalizations, stereotypes brought to a musical stage. It addresses difficult topics in a way that is designed to provoke a conversation. A gay student who doesn’t push his agenda on his friends, but is angry at the idea of god? Confusion over what is appropriate concerning religion whether in school or grieving in a hospital? Pretty typical scenarios, I say. Moreover, the religious look silly in the end. Kurt doesn’t push his beliefs, merely asks them to be respected, unlike his friends. They pray over his father, and actually say to him there were three different dogmas represented and one of them must be right?! Lol – so none of them actually know if their prayers and appeal to a higher power have any substance!

    The grilled cheesus was the funniest to me. Finn asked for specific, selfish things from a personal cheesus, and in the end rejected his personal savior. He nonchalantly eats the delicious sammich in a twisted non-communion. Awesome!

  • Rob

    I liked the show.

    The main point we should all consider is this: This was on a prime time TV show watched by millions! And it has high ratings to key demographics.

    I think that Sue and Kurt’s comments hit home with lots of kids/people that have had the same questions, but were afraid to ask. We all have these arguments and conversations daily on the internet, in our reading, in our discussions with friends. But think of the people that aren’t exposed to this all the time. Agree or disagree with the stereotypes, I think this helped open some eyes in the world.

    Any publicity is good publicity right?

    (oh… and the music was bad tonight except for the beatles)

  • I think, one has to take the show, within the context of which it is written. Part of it’s charm has always been the blatant abuse of over-the-top stereotypes. In my opinion, some of the best shows, do this…but then again I like “dark” comedy etc. Maybe I’m angry?

    Sadly, it’s portrayal is quite accurate if you live in smaller areas. The type of Christian stereotyping is true to life in my area…which has in turn, made those being open atheists to be more defensive as opposed to offensive.

    I can’t tell you how many relatives consistently “pray”for me etc. My son experiences very complicated friendships at highschool much like Kurt. His friends consistently try to get him to change his beliefs, to pray, etc. One can’t always just stop being friends because of this. In his situation, if he did, he’d have no social life.

    Overall, I don’t think Glee should have handled it in any other way. The use of these extreme stereotypes works…because lets face it, plenty of Atheists out there…DO view religious people as such and vice versa. To portray each in more positive, lower-keyed light, would not have stirred up the pot to start the conversation…

  • Jack Treiger

    Kurt wasn’t a non-believer, he believed that there is no God.

  • Ben Zalisko

    I’m as easily offended by atheist depictions as anyone, but I loved this episode. I kept looking for it to go bad, but was continuously impressed. It depicted my life as a young atheist more accurately than any film has come close to doing. I was very impressed at the realism.

    Only two things irked me:
    First, the episode was deceivingly advertised (on FOX) as pro-faith. This is why I was so apprehensive at first.
    Second, they never used the word “atheist” in the entire episode. Kurt and Sue simply said that they didn’t believe in God.

    I think Kate is upset because she doesn’t follow Glee much. Sue is not a one-dimentional antagonist, and in this episode, she is clearly depicted as the caring voice of reason. As an atheist that hates the stereotypes of militant atheism, I loved her character in this episode.

  • Ken

    My wife is a big Glee fan and I’m usually reading in bed while she watches, so I’ve caught a few episodes. When Grilled Cheesus showed up last night, I set my book down and watched. My initial feelings were similar to the rest of the commenters and Kate. Why did they have to be so stereotypical, one-sided, disrespectful, angry, etc. etc.

    However, it later occurred to me that the characters involved in the story last night were high schoolers. How many of you had your faith figured out by 16? How many of you were able to argue your beliefs in an in depth manner at that age?

    I think the writers wrote realistic characters. Kurt probably is still just finding his way. His character may have only heard of Russell’s teapot in the last 6 months. I know when I first settled on atheism, I went through a militant phase. As for the believers in the episode, they would likely not have much to offer in debate because like many teenagers, twenty-somethings, and even thirty-somethings, they haven’t rationally investigated their own religious beliefs. Similarly, this may be the very first time they’ve ever encountered a nonbeliever or even considered the thought. So, their immature and disrespectful behavior should be expected.

    After some thought, I cut the writers some serious slack since I think the students in the story behaved the way real teenagers probably would have behaved.

    Finally, I enjoyed the story line of the quarterback (sorry, don’t know his name) and his divine connection to his gooey master, Grilled Cheesus the most. That was a funny and stealthy poke at the religious.

  • Steve

    The characters were stereotypical because the entire show is stereotypical. Not because the writers suck, but because it’s meant to be. That’s just the way Glee is – not just this episode. There is realism underneath it all, but it’s deliberately over the top. In usually prefer realism, but in this case it works.

    If you want a highschool series that transcends stereotypes and that’s almost hyper-realistic at times, watch Friday Night Lights

  • L. Foster

    I don’t think that Kurt’s behavior was remotely reprehensible. He gave a very cogent explanation about his lack of beliefs, a hell of a lot better worded than I could come up with when I was a teenager. And on top of being an atheist teenager, Kurt is a teenager in a terrifying situation to boot. How well could you explain Russell’s Teapot when you were sixteen? And were you gay and in fear of losing your remaining parent at the time?

    I’m curious to know, Kate and others, just what *would* have been the perfect way for his character to behave?

  • Cheryl

    I wasn’t referring to any conservative leanings of Fox. I was referring to over-the-top camp of the majority of their shows. Most of it plays to the lowest common denominator. There have been some of their shows in the past that I enjoyed for maybe the first season or so, then things would go down hill as the newness wore off and writers got lazy.

    I’ve never seen True Blood as the whole vampire genre is an undead horse in dire need of a stake through it’s heart.

  • Muzak

    When we have so few depictions of atheism on television so much weight has to be put on the few that we get. I preferred Sue’s characterization of atheism to Kurt’s. But neither of their experiences or reasoning represented mine. Or many of us here. Or around the world. But by depicting atheism at all, as well as Kurt and Sue’s continued atheism, it’s a normalizing image. It’s an admission of existence which has been pretty sparse. Yeah, some things were definitely wrong. I found the whole acupuncture thing odd. And Sue’s use of issue of the separation of church and state was a real misrepresentation of what is and is not allowed. However, it was an attempt to take liked characters and show non belief through them. I like the show stylistically and I enjoy it as an hour long music video. However, its generalized and compressed style is flawed when it deals with a lot of different issues.

  • Aguz

    Oh dear, I have a painful flashback too my high school experience. When my mother die, I ask my friends for a “free-prayer” consolation, since my mother was agnostic. And they all agree, but when I got back to the school one of the teacher actually did it, damm… In her defense, it was a Catholic school, and my friends call it out on her. But I totally see how believer can’t find an other way to deal with this kind of situation, sooooo true.

  • Emily the non-Catholic

    I had a lot of the same thoughts as Kate after watching the episode, but I didn’t think Kurt’s storyline was that bad. Like some others have said, it seemed pretty realistic for an atheist teenager in high school. I was waiting for someone to call him out on the acupuncture thing, but maybe the writers just wanted to let that irony stand because it was way too subtle for their general audience to catch. And I was sooo glad that Kurt didn’t “convert” in the end because I was expecting him to. His performance of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” almost made me cry. Then Mercedes’ line about how everyone has to believe in something because the world is too hard almost made me gag. Her need to use Kurt’s difficult circumstances to drag him to church didn’t portray Christians well either…but we do see that all the time. I do wish they had acurately described what’s allowed under the establishment clause, because people already get that wrong way too often.

    I thought grilled cheezus totally true to Finn’s character, and hilarious.

  • Siamang

    I haven’t seen the episode yet, and I didn’t read the spoilers.

    But here’s my main reactions:
    1. Everyone’s an idiot on Glee, at some point or another. It’s the style of the show, it’s SATIRICAL.
    2. Everyone ALSO can be the voice of reason, even Sue Sylvester. It’s a strength of the show: nobody EVER is a total butt.
    3. Sue Sylvester is one of the great comic characters on TV today. Jane Lynch is fantastic. If you can’t enjoy her delivering these lines with relish, STFU! lol!
    4. I think it’s amazing that it’s no big whoop that there’s a main character who’s a gay, pre-sexual teen, but the shocking twist is that he’s an atheist! LOL! We’ve got a long way to go, babies!
    5. This one is just to pad my list.
    6. Sue Sylvester being an atheist is correct for her character. Not because she’s evil, but because she’s the particular type of evil that an atheist would be. A religious evil person would blend their piety with their evil, and she doesn’t do that. She’s COMPLETELY impious. That’s her character.
    7.Glee has no contractual obligation to portray reality.
    8. Glee better the hell not decide to not offend people. What kind of satire that has any use at all doesn’t offend?
    9. I may take all this back after seeing the episode, but I doubt it.
    10. Chill, it’s just a tv show. We ain’t baptists around here.
    11. Don’t like it? Watch House. Another bastard angry atheist, and I’d totally gay-marry him if I wasn’t straight-married.
    12. This entry intentionally left blank.

  • Eilonnwy

    A TV show depicts Hollywood atheism? Shocker.

    A couple months ago my cousin was shot in the head with a pellet gun and upon reviewing the damage they found a brain tumor.

    I relayed this to someone who a few days later, after I said he was going to be fine, told me she asked her church to pray for him. And it was as if she was saying she helped. Meanwhile another lady claimed “It’s a miracle.”

    I was really offended and just said, “Thanks for the sentiment, but I am an atheist and I don’t believe in that” and walked away.

    I get that they think they’re doing a helpful thing, but I wish people would stop and recognize that their worldview is not everyone’s and they shouldn’t impose it on someone. I would never impose my atheism on a theist dealing with a hard time, why is it okay the other way around? Why can’t they see it’s presumptuous and really offensive? I don’t know.

  • Silent Service


    Yes, the angry atheist stereotype is annoying, but as I’ve said on many occasions, stereotypes exist for a reason. I would say most of us have felt like Kurt or Sue at some point in our lives, if we were raised religious.

    Ummm? No. Definitely not. I was raised religious, but figured out that it was all bullshit long before even beginning to figure out my sexuality (I was a late bloomer). My natural curiosity for all things science over-road any chance that I would become religious. There’s no anger at some horrible point in my past. My parents didn’t beat me, nobody molested me, no tragic death or divorce (parents both alive and still happily married). I was an atheist long before I became interested in girls or guys so no horrible break up that shook my faith.

    The angry atheist is a straw man of the worst kind normally put forth by religious people that need to believe that we really do believe in their god, but are just angry at him for not making our lives all peaches and cream. They want to believe that if we could just let go of the anger that they believe we must feel that we would embrace their all loving imaginary friend, and suddenly be happy just like they are.

    They are taught from day one that the only way for anybody to be happy is to accept their god. The logical next step in that belief is that all atheists, not accepting god into their life, must be unhappy. Since they believe that nobody would simply choose to be unhappy, they believe that we must be angry at god and unwilling to accept his gift of happiness. It challenges their belief in their god to admit that anybody that doesn’t believe like they do can be happy. That’s why they are offended by the statement, “Are you good without God? Millions are.” They equate good and happiness and according to their belief, it’s not possible to be happy without their god so we must be lying. It never occurs to them that their beliefs are logically flawed and distorting their world-view.

    So no, I don’t by it. I’ve never felt like how they portrayed Kurt or Sue and I don’t think I’m in the minority here.

  • I think the show did an excellent job of depicting some very real situations considering the medium and the show’s format. I didn’t find Kurt to be an angst-ridden homosexual atheist as the Suburban Sweetheart claims. His depiction was facile — as were the other characters’ depictions — but straight-forward. “I cannot believe in a God who would create me gay and then let me be ridiculed for it.” YES! Exactly! How could anyone believe in a god that creates people imperfect and then punishes them throughout their lives and throughout eternity for being imperfect? What sense does that make? It makes about as much sense as believing there’s a troll in teacup on the far side of the mood who shoots milk out of his breasts. (Another thing Kurt said last night.)

    One problem I did have with last night’s episode was that it included no debate whatsoever. In the real world, the religious become incredibly incensed when faced with an opposing view — especially a view that says there is no god. Instead the religious in the show from the occasional church/temple goer to the devout to the jesus-is-on-my-side-but-I-don’t-go-to-church-or-anything-like-that varieties simply ignore Kurt’s lack of belief and plod on with their prayers and praise. No anger. No shouting. Just gentle prayers and a few musical numbers offered up genteelly.

    Sue Sylvester’s small speech was brilliant and states exactly how I feel much of the time.

    In the end, it was the atheist who was the better person — who admitted that he was not giving their views respect or a fair shake. None of the religious did the same.

    My teen daughter was INCENSED that the religious in the group completely ignored Kurt and Kurt’s wishes. That is a real reaction. A teen would get loud. A teen would rail against the injustice, unfairness, and the slight given to another teen who is struggling through the trauma of possibly losing his one remaining parent.

    Other issues were touched on, too — The quarterback who believes grilled cheesus is granting his every prayer (and who let go of that belief rather easily) when each request seems to be granted.

    Near the end, Mercedes approaches Kurt and tells him she feels unwelcome due to their contrasting beliefs. THIS was real. I have had many a Christian tell me they feel unwelcome around me because I do not believe in their god.

    My only problem with this episode is that it lacked passion. Teens are passionate about their beliefs, no matter how ill-informed those beliefs are. They are passionate and they are loud. Teens would never quietly sit by while someone voiced beliefs that are in direct contrast to their own. Christians in particular feel the need to convert non believers and while the Christians in the group continued with their praying, praising, and singing, they did not attempt to convert.

    I give the writers props for showing that atheists do believe in things we cannot see and we do lean on things bigger than ourselves: friendship, love, family, shared experiences, hope. We just happen to have evidence of those things.

  • I too was put off by the episode last night. However, thinking about it again this morning, I actually liked several aspects of it.

    The early portrayal of Kurt as the angry atheist who won’t accept the offer of prayer from others kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But I think, eventually, he came around to my basic feeling on the subject – to appreciate that they are offering to pray because it is the only way they know to help and show their support. So, I liked how Kurt came across in the end – although acupuncture? really?

    Also, I recall saying to my girlfriend halfway through the episode that I was willing to let them get away with having an angry atheist as long as Kurt didn’t end up turning to God at the end of the episode. Throw in Teapot and Spaghetti Monster references and I am pretty happy.

    As for Sue, my favourite Glee character BTW, I completely agree with what she said in the quote that Hemant added. And I don’t really think that she was using Kurt as a tool to get at Mr. Shue. I got the impression that she legitimately felt that having overtly religious songs in school was inappropriate and was reaching out to help support a fellow non-believer.

    As for the religious characters being so upset and shocked that Kurt was an atheist and that they constantly tried to force God on him….. I think that is fairly accurate about many religious people. Not all, obviously, but many. I actually found it kind of refreshing to see religion portrayed as pushy on such a mainstream show.

    As for the music – I generally was disappointed. Although I really did like Kurt’s song and father/son montage moment. And his piece at the end about their relationship being what he has faith in. But then again, I am always a sucker for father-and-son, cats-in-the-cradle type moments.

    Oh, and Grilled Cheesus = hilarious.

  • Karen

    A pretty amazing phenomenon, I think, to have an extremely popular show – especially among young people – even tackle this subject.

    That they did so in a thoughtful, complex way is great. And they resisted the awful cliche of the atheists realizing they were wrong when some “miracle” happens at the end (ugh)!

    Yes, there were flaws and things that were unfortunate (mostly the inaccurate depiction of church/state rules that Hemant mentioned just recently).

    But to have two prime-time characters come out as atheists!? And have good, rational arguments for their non-belief? That’s pretty cool.

    Sue Sylvester is the “enemy” on the show, but she had a terrific argument about how indefensible the doctrine of hell is. And Kurt is a very sympathetic character who’s now likely to become a real hero to atheist kids (as I’m sure he already is for gay teens).

    I give kudos to the writing staff which I’m sure includes some well-educated atheists. Now we have more TV atheists than just House.

  • Siamang

    So no, I don’t by it. I’ve never felt like how they portrayed Kurt or Sue and I don’t think I’m in the minority here.

    I get what you’re saying. But imo it’s not the job of a tv show to portray *your* life and attitudes. It’s not their job to portray atheism accurately, or even respectfully.

    We don’t need to act like the Catholic League here.

  • Brice Gilbert

    There were factual, flaws and some stupid setereotypes, and tonights songs were among the worst the show had done, but I was entertained. I enjoyed the end quite a bit. Kurt not converting and the song with the flashbacks with his father was nice.

    That being said the problems with the episode extend beyond this episode. Right when we realized it was about religion me and my roommate predicted exactly what was going to happen, and how each character would react. React stupidly as well.

  • Ian

    I think there’s a couple points to note (especially in regards to the angry atheist comments):
    1. Kurt was frustrated and angry because his only parent was dying and there was little he could do. I think he lashed out exactly as most of us would, even if we’re usually the “Friendly Atheists” 😉
    2. Kurt is also alone in his school in rural USA as the only gay kid and likely also the only atheist. He’s a member of Glee (the loser club), so he needs the few friends he has.
    3. The Grilled Cheesus really pissed a lot of fundamentalist Christians off and that’s worth something.

    I posted more at Canadian Atheist, but those are my main reactions. Overall it was good (imo).

  • Meg

    Doesn’t Kurt have a right to be mad at them? They were acting like asses. He only got upset when they were being rude to him. I think we should be able to get reasonably upset and respond to religious people who attack us for not believing in their hokum. None of his friends seemed to be trying to help him, just themselves. I find it really upsetting to be at a funeral, grieving for someone I loved, and having to listen to some religious leader keep telling me that that person is with Jesus now so I shouldn’t mind his death. That doesn’t help me at all. It doesn’t even seem to help the rest of my mostly-Christian family who even believes that it is true. Praying is possibly the least amount of action anyone can do to help someone. Why wasn’t anyone offering Kurt a place to stay or a few home cooked meals while his only parent is in the hospital? Finn’s mom wasn’t even offering him support except for being there when Rachel went all Yentl.

    I had never heard the “magic teapot floating around the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning bolts out of its boobs” thing before. I usually go for leprechauns and the Easter bunny.

    I thought that Finn’s totally misguided religious ideas where kinda accurate for a teenager. I’m not saying religious people are all so absurd, but he’s a teenager. All he wants is to get to second base – so he prays to a sandwich. I am still kind of confused why the two Jewish kids (and the possible other non-Christians) were okay with Finn’s tribute to Jesus.

    Not everyone has a developed, well thought out view on religion, especially not in high school. So these kids getting a lot of it muddled, getting hostile about it, taking it too far . . .that reminds me a great deal of high school. Even Kurt’s acupuncturist seemed almost logical. He wanted to do something and at the very least, poking his dad with needles was something practical (as in pratice-able) that was physically changing something.

    I did wish that Kurt didn’t apologize at the end but some people are better people than I am and I guess Kurt is one of them.

    I really love Kurt’s dad. He is so supportive of his son and all of his son’s interests. I was pretty close to tears during that flash-back tea party. The Beatles song made the show for me.

  • NeuroLover

    Last night was my favorite Glee episode thus far. I thought it was brilliant.

    And for those interesed, the actor who plays Kurt put in a submission for the awesome “it gets better” project at

  • En Passant

    Ughhhh, the acupuncture!! When I watched the episode I took it as a jab at atheists. The writers’ way of subtly criticizing those of us who claim to value reason and critical thinking, yet embrace other ridiculous superstitions. I got the impression it was yet another blanket stereotype in an episode filled with them.

    But yeah, great music! I sobbed during “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

    – EP

  • Dee

    I didn’t watch it, nor do I ever, but I read this summary out of interest.

    Kate seems to disagree with me, but I found the description of the religious students to be quite accurate. I’m familiar with those who push prayer onto others, quote god scripture left and right like it’ll change something, and those who refuse to respect atheists because apparently they are immoral. Not to mention the constant bashing of the non-straight…
    Sounds like it was a pretty good interpretation to me, minus the superstitious bullshit (acupuncture).

  • blueridgelady

    As cheesy as it can be, I really do like Glee. Yes, I am an adult 😉

    I have to echo what’s been said here and add my own input.

    I am glad that atheists were portrayed in a nationally-viewed show as something other than monsters. Yes, there was the angry atheist stereotype, but the portrayals of the religious were anything but saintly.
    Emma (the love interest of the Glee director and the school guidance counselor) was pretty inappropriate to Sue Sylvester, and told her to keep her opinions to herself after Sue had the dialogue (above). Sue let her know it was inappropriate to have one belief championed and not the other. And come on, Sue’s next sentence was amazing:
    “Now get the hell out of my office. I know you’re only half orangutan but I can’t stand the sight of your lustrous, ginger mane”. Everyone secretly loves Sue.

    Also, Emma let Finn know the logical reasons why his wishes/prayers to “Cheesus” were “answered”. (He asked to touch his girlfriend’s boob and be the QB again, after all). The show’s writers left her lesson ambiguous- she said “you are not alone”, then followed with the statement that the big questions in life are big for a reason. Religious people would probably interpret this as saying there is a god, but it could also be interpreted as “we all wonder about this sort of thing” and that we AREN’T alone- we have friends and loved ones.

    I was especially happy with Kurt’s opening statement before he sang his song- he said he STILL didn’t believe in god, and that at his mother’s funeral, his father’s holding his hand was enough to get him through it when he thought his life was over.

    Although it’s not 100% how I would have wanted atheists portrayed, it’s great that we are recognized as human beings with capability to love. I am also SO glad that neither atheist “found god”, as I half expected.

  • A.T.

    Despite all of the parts of the show that were stereotypical, there were a few subtleties that I found interesting. When Finn started talking about Jesus, Artie (guy in the wheelchair) rolled his eyes–you’ll notice he wasn’t very vocal in the debate. I peg him as a silent dissenter. A subtle acknowledgement that silence doesn’t equal agreement.

    Also, I tend to think that the writers were conscious of the fact that they had the counselor, Emma rant about the freedom of religious expression and then end the conversation by telling Sue to keep her beliefs to herself. I like that they let moments like that just be, if you know what I mean. That happened a few times.

    by the way, I loved Brittany in this one: “Is God an evil dwarf?”

    –a few overlaps with post above–sorry. It took me a while because I went back and watched part of the show.

  • tish

    I was happy to see the topic covered in prime-time. I just wish Finn made a grilled cheese Mohammed to really stir things up.

  • Anna

    I am just SO happy that Kurt didn’t turn to god by the end.
    The whole episode seemed to be leading to that conclusion, and it was a big relief when it didn’t happen.

    Yet. He didn’t turn to God yet. I’m afraid I’m not very hopeful that Glee is going to allow Kurt to remain a (misguided) atheist. Ryan Murphy is the same person who gave us Nip/Tuck, and that show featured a storyline with the main character (ironically named Christian) who professes his atheism only to end up “seeing the light” by the end of the episode. It was very insulting, and I don’t think this bodes well for Kurt’s future, either.

  • Hemant, thanks for posting this! I think a lot of commenters may not have read my words carefully – in fact, it wasn’t so much Kurt’s atheism that was depicted poorly as it was everyone else’s reaction to it. Though to some extent, it was spot-on, I felt the show went overboard with the other characters’ refusal to accept or understand Kurt’s views on religion. While the religious characters did a great job of appreciating religious diversity – at one point, for example, someone notes that because Mercedes, Finn & Rachel are all different faiths, one of them ought to be able to get the right message to God! They’re able to band together through different faiths – but not one of them, save Sue, recognizes or respects Kurt’s right to have no faith. Perhaps this was to be expected from a character or two – from an evangelical, or a devout person of faith. But NOT ONE of them, even those from more liberal/progressive faiths, was understanding of Kurt’s lack of belief? I find THAT a tough cookie to swallow, & simply unrepresentative of reality. And I know, I know – no one ever called a show where the cast breaks out into spontaneous song “realistic” to begin with. But Glee typically does a good job of teasing out elements of reality by overblowing the storylines – in this case, however, I think they missed the boat and unfortunately pitted the characters against one other: religion vs. no religion, period, with little black or white, and no tolerance at all. There was an opportunity to teach a lesson here, & in my opinion, it didn’t come through.

  • Addi

    Wow, I couldn’t disagree more. I thought the episode was perfect. I thought they did a great job of showing how the atheist tends to be the odd man out, and I was thrilled that by the end, he had maintained his atheism and that what ultimately brought his dad back was saying that he didn’t believe in god, but he believe in his dad. Beautiful. I cried my way through the whole episode!

  • Michelle

    What about Puck? I did my best to read all of the responses so please forgive me if someone else did point out this one.
    Puck stated what he thought, (“He’s my number one Hebe” was pretty funny) but he did stand up for sanity and didn’t push his religion. My only complaint was that he insisted on wearing a shirt while singing one of my favorite Billy Joel songs.
    He only told Finn (not in-front of Kurt) that he went to temple and prayed for Mr. Hummel. He did what he thought was right without having to tell the world about it. I did like that the ‘irresponsible’ character and the ‘mean’ character were given another opportunity to show their good sides.

  • Fundie Troll

    The Grilled Cheesus?? Seriously??? You know, I really felt like going “No Atheists in Foxholes” apesh*t over this ridiculous, mocking, lazy stereotype…and then I realized oh wait, Glee is just a stupid television show chock full of ridiculous stereotypes, and there’s no use having a “serious” conversation about Glee because Glee doesn’t even take itself that seriously.

  • blueridgelady

    Fundie, Troll-
    Did you see the episode? It kind of made fun of the fact that people see Jesus or Mary in the everyday (like the telephone pole post we had here a while back, haha).

    I think you are not giving Glee the full credit for the tongue-in-cheek humor it provides.

  • hamiltongirl

    Listen, Kurt was way more respectful of his Gleemates religions than they were of his atheism, which I find to be *generally* true in my day to day experience. And Sue and Kurt came to atheism in different ways…also representative. And the gleemates were spiritual in different ways ( I don’t mean their chosen faiths): Finn shallow, Rachel self-centered, etc., in keeping with their character development.

    I also liked a couple of the arrangements, particularly Kurt and “I wanna hold your Hand” and Finn with…what’s the name of that wonderful song? Finn’s voice the strongest, edgiest and best I’ve ever heard it. REM, I think?

    I’m from Canada, so I don’t know what the rules are in the ‘States’ for performance of religious songs in an artistic context. In public schools, I mean.

  • Joy

    I believe that they did show Kurt as a militant atheist, and that is unfortunate. In all fairness though, you have to admit that media is not going to always get it right, and that atheists are generally portrayed better than Kurt was portrayed last night. Christians, on the other hand, are almost always portrayed poorly. I was glad that they did not portray Christians as judgmental prudes, which is what often happens on TV. They showed them as being, I will admit, somewhat pushy, but that was because of a genuine concern for their friend. I thought that by the end, Mercedes was portraying her worldview with gentleness and respect. And instead of beating Kurt over the head with religion, she defended her religion in a way that was respectful and caring towards her friend. And even if in the end, he kept his current beliefs, which is completely acceptable, he viewed church differently than he did going in to the episode, because of the conversation with his friend. I believe that the world would be a much better place if people from all religions could openly and honestly discuss the reasons for their beliefs without people becoming so offended.

  • Joy

    I also loved the scene where Kurt was discussing the fact that you could not prove that there is a God. That is completely true. Faith cannot prove anything. But at some point, we need to trust authority. We have to decide whose word we are going to take; who we are going to trust for our belief system. There are so many things that we believe, because people that we have trusted have lived through it, and told us that it was so. Do you think that religion can be decided the same way? Do you think that there is a logical and reasonable way to make a faith commitment? Or do all faith commitments have to occur irrationally and based on the emotions and experiences of an individual? I would love to hear any thoughts on this subject.

  • Allie

    I have to say, what bothers me most in this discussion is the fact that many commenters seem to think that the acupuncture storyline was ridiculous. I have a close family member who is a licensed acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, and I hate to see misinformation about these medical practices circulating.

    In fact, acupuncture is an accepted and effective treatment/therapy for many things, including coma. Here is one example:

  • Via Twitter:

    Atheism’s Watershed Moments in U.S. (chronologically) – Salem Witch Trials, End of Slavery, Prohibition, 9/11, Gay Rights.

  • JulietEcho

    I’m skipping the comments, because it’s late, and there are a LOT, but here’s my take:

    The episode was pretty perfect when it came to portraying the subject matter at hand. Why? Because it was realistic.

    Was Kurt angry at first when his friends (not knowing another way to respond) got all faithy on him during such a hard time? Of course! He had a right to be. Anger isn’t a feeling that atheists aren’t allowed to have simply because of some negative stereotypes. It was realistic and absolutely understandable for Kurt to be angry.

    Was it insensitive for Kurt’s friends to keep involving their faith in every attempt to help? Yes! But again, that’s realistic. So many religious people see emotional support and religious gestures as intrinsically entwined that they honestly can’t think of another way to “help.” Kurt was, ultimately, the “bigger person” by realizing this and accepting their support for the reason behind it – the fact that they cared about him and his dad – and looked past the religious trappings.

    Were there inaccuracies in the portrayal of what church/state separation means in schools? Absolutely. This is also realistic – tons and tons of school administrators and teachers (and students) are misinformed and ignorant about what is and isn’t appropriate in public schools. Students are free to express their religious faith – which would include choosing songs about it in a class where they’re usually allowed to choose their own songs – so long as they aren’t forcing it on someone else or being joined by a teacher (Will, their Glee coach, was only focused on letting the kids express their personal feelings in the episode, which included letting several students sing songs that other Glee members would find sacrilegious).

    On another note, the abbreviated case of atheism vs. theism was touched on in a way that didn’t set up straw men or water them down. From Russell’s teapot to the Problem of Evil, the objections to religious belief were well represented. And apatheists (Puck, Brittany, Mercedes, Finn to an extent) were everywhere. They weren’t very outspoken (except at the beginning, when several expressed the opinion that doing spiritual songs would be lame), but that’s what being apathetic about religion looks like, and it’s pretty prevalent. So again: realistic.

    The Glee writers/producers kind of leave conclusions up to the audience. I didn’t see this episode as preachy in any particular direction. I guess it reiterated the central theme of the show: that the Glee students go through some pretty rough stuff in High School, and they benefit by sticking together despite some big differences. They don’t always treat each other (or themselves) very well, but when they support one another, they draw strength from the unity during a time of life when many people feel most isolated.

  • I am a huge gleek and I actually loved this episode! I even wrote a quick review of it on my blog. I guess just seeing a show geared at high schoolers (but enjoyed by people of all ages) that gave a bite-sized glimpse of people of different religious beliefs and to different extents was refreshing.

    The reactions of Kurt’s fellow glee club members were realistic. There were the people we never hear anything about religion from, who suddenly, when Kurt admitted he was an atheist, felt the need to defend that which they honestly didn’t consider much before. The quick rise and fall of Finn’s faith was hilarious, but ended with a line about how upset he was that he no longer had a direct line of communication with God, something I think many post-Christians can relate to when they realize that their god is as phony as a Jesus imprint in a grilled cheese sandwich.

    And you don’t have much to say about Mercedes, but I was impressed by her. She was offering condolences in the only way she knew how to. She made sure that Kurt knew she loved him and would be there for him. She prayed for him, whether he believed in it or not, I’m sure he was at least touched by it. And inviting him to her church (he was the one who accepted- he didn’t have to) definitely seemed to be not for evangelical purposes, but rather so that he would see how many people there were thinking of him and hoping his dad would get better. I found her faith to be open and loving, not fixed on trying to convert and change Kurt.

    I don’t know. There were pro’s and con’s, but this is just a musical comedy show! It surpassed my expectations by presenting several religious perspectives pretty fairly in such a short amount of time, and (hopefully) getting viewers to think about those big questions, their answers to them, and the logic behind their answers.

  • Charlotte

    I haven’t had the chance to read all of the comments, but I do agree with Sarah.
    I also like Glee very much, and I really enjoyed the episode. No, I didn’t like Kurt agreeing to visit Mercedes’ church at the end, and I absolutely detest gospel music, and the acupuncture thing was silly.
    But I also agree with whoever said that Glee is all about the stereotypes. But neither Kurt nor Sue were what I would call militant or angry in their atheism. Yeah, Kurt got frustrated when his friends ignored what he said, but don’t we all, no matter what it’s in regards to?

  • I just hulu’ed the show.

    I don’t think they made Kurt to be militant at all. He expressed thanks for his friends thoughts and then stated that he didn’t want their prayers. It was well stated and thoughtful. He was definitely not being a dick.

    There were 2 avowed atheists at the beginning of the show, and 3 at the end. Or at least 2.5, Finn turned agnostic.

    I really liked the show, and actually wished they had sang real gospel songs, not that pop music stuff with god mentioned. The final song: What if God was one of Us…she’s a dyke, and I’ve always thought of the song as ironic and not something Christians would really pay attention to. Sometimes I spin things my way, though.

    The only thing I didn’t like about this was Rachel–she’s got two dads, and she’s being as virginal as Quinn? That’s silly. And she should be atheist, too, but whatev.

  • My boyfriend and I are both atheists and loved this episode of Glee! Especially the last speech by Kurt to his dad at the end! So touching, how he said he doesn’t believe in God but believes in “us”. We also loved the tea pot and FSM references because we knew their origin. I don’t think he was being an angry atheist at all. I think he was acting as an atheist kid would act if their dad was in the hospital. Yeah, he lashed out at first but that is to be expected out of anger of the situation. And yes, it is annoying that the others kept forcing prayer but this is how it would happen to me like people insisting to pray for my brother when he was in the hospital. It annoyed me at first but eventually didn’t mind since they are just doing what they think is best. I love Kurt even more than I did before. And it is true about the gay viewpoint of religions. Yeah, they may say that’s not true but even my dad says he loves the sinner, but not the sin which is an illogical argument. Yes, Sue is the main antagonist but she isn’t always an antagonist, when she is especially seen with her sister. This episode greatly increased my respect for Sue. I believed in every word she said and felt sad for the story she told about losing her faith when she prayed for her sister to be “normal” but did not work. Yeah Sue is angry, but at least she sticks with her convictions and is nice to her sister and lets her sister pray for her. Other than the atheists, I enjoyed the comedic agnosticism of Finn. So funny and how at the end, he eats the sandwich, which seemed to me to represent this indecision/lack of any convicted belief. Glee is an understandably cliche and happy show. But that’s why I like it. It is inconclusive and everybody gets along and touches on topics like being gay in high school and being an atheist. I don’t think people should be so critical about this episode; I loved it, I loved every part with Kurt and how he finally accepted how his friends were trying to to help and liked the agnostic, Finn, and the overdominating Christians of the group, like in a typical high school like I went to. This is my favorite episode I have seen so far and felt the need to rant about it. An above comment mentioned Rachel being Jewish and two dads. That is odd to me as well, but also whatev!

  • Ninja_Mouse

    The episode failed because they didn’t do any Creed songs.

  • CatBallou

    “…no matter how open-hearted or honest their descent, they’re going to hell.”

    I’d call going to hell quite a descent!

  • AxeGrrl

    for all those who’ve expressed detesting gospel music……

    have you never heard Etta James’ “something’s got a hold on me“? 🙂

    it’s a completely secular song lyrically, but musically, it’s pure gospel and it kicks 🙂 it has that effable ‘it’ people are referring to when they use the word ‘soul’ in relation to music 🙂

  • TheaterGeek510

    “I wish the writers had explored other creative ways… without turning the entire cast into an offensive — and largely incorrect — parade of stereotypes.”

    That’s what Glee is all about though. that is the one thing I dislike the most about Glee. The songs are amazing, but the portrayal of “real life” and “high school” is so off it sickens me!

  • Carlie

    I believe that they did show Kurt as a militant atheist, and that is unfortunate.

    No, they really didn’t. He went to church with Mercedes, for cheesy christ’s sake. How much more accommodating would you have wanted him to be?

  • C

    While the depiction of Kurt’s atheism was poor, I found Kurt more sympathetic (going through a time of crisis and loss yet ending with forgiveness for his friends) than those who were religious who seemed flat and unintelligent. I think both “sides” were poorly portrayed.

  • I am not familiar with this show, but you reviewed it well.

  • JSug

    I enjoyed the episode. Yes, the characters are all a bit stereotyped. That’s kind of a central theme of the show, though. What I liked was that they actually represented a bunch of different viewpoints on the whole issue of faith:

    * Finn is the nominal Christian who never really cared about faith until he thought it could do something for him. I mean, the guy prayed for boobs.

    * Quinn believes strongly but has never really questioned her own reasons, and does not like it when others point out the inconsistencies.

    * Mercedes sincerely wants to show her support, but doesn’t see that her attempts to push Kurt towards religion are condescending and hurtful.

    * Kurt has actually put some (maybe not a lot) of thought into questions of faith, and come to the conclusion that there’s no good reason to believe in a god. I don’t feel like they portrayed him as atheist because he’s gay, or because his mother died. He simply pointed out that most religions have no love for gays, and therefore he felt no need to show love in return.

    * Puck is pretty indifferent to the whole thing, as usual. He’d just like everyone to get along.

    * In this case, Sue is the stereotypical angry atheist. She stopped believing for emotional reasons, and now she wants revenge on all the happy Christians.

    * Rachel… is Rachel. She uses the whole thing as an excuse to perform a song from Yentl.

  • The group singing by his father’s bedside was a missed opportunity to allow for some scientific reality to overlap with the spiritual stuff. I mean, who isn’t moved by a song every now and then?

    There is a scientific basis for the benefits of song and its ability to help with brain injuries. But it depends on the song, I guess. Kurt’s dad would probably want to hear “Jump” from Van Halen rather than a song from “Yentl.”

  • Nicole Maron

    As an atheist, it’s interesting to read all the reactions from folks whose first and foremost reaction was discomfort. Sure I rolled my eyes at the kids jumping on the religion bandwagon, but I felt that was pretty accurate. Kids think what they are taught until they learn to think for themselves, and that only happens through uncomfortable experiences. So discomfort is a good thing, I believe.

    I’m surprised however, that so many folks here seem to take offense. I felt the episode was very balanced.

    Will sees himself as basically maintaining neutrality, because he sees it more as a cultural and personal investigation, not the promotion of any religion. He responds to the kids’ desire to think about and share their faith.

    Quinn’s recent return to religious is classic lip-speak, because in a previous episode she cynically offers herself as a spokesperson for the bad-girl-repents dog-n-pony show to encourage conservative donors to get Sue her smoke machine.

    As someone else said, Rachel makes everything about Rachel.

    Puck is very much the lackadaisical non-practicing semi-cultural Jew that, well, I am. He doesn’t preach, or let others’ preaching bother him.

    Mercedes plays the community-oriented churchgoer who turns to her church for specific support. Which would be awesome except that in my experience black churches don’t really welcome cultural outsiders of any kind, and there would be a lot of raised eyebrows and pursed lips if such a dandified white boy showed up on Sunday. Though I suppose that is true for white churches, too. But she sincerely does what she can to connect with Kurt, even though she is utterly oblivious to her own narrow-minded condescension — that is spot-on for the kind Christians I know!

    Sue Sylvester is not a one-dimensional character, and her ethos towards church and state are totally in keeping with her general attitude. She squares off with, and incinerates, Emma over what should happen in the classroom, nailing her for her hypocrisy. (BEST SPEECH EVER!) With her sister, on the other hand, she displays a quiet, totally non-judgmental disagreement. This was so beautifully done, showing the complexity of the faithless that is really never addressed in pop culture.

    Finn who exemplifies those who think of their god as “Santa Claus for adults”, is concerned for Kurt’s dad, but chooses to use his supposed connection with god to ask for boobs and popularity, and feels only the most momentary pang of conscience when he sees that even Puck is praying for the dad. His faith is raised by something minor and ridiculous, then falls by…

    Emma, who feels obligated to help Finn, but ends up unknowingly destroying his cheese-based faith. With Sue, she was just reacting with the compassionate yet puritanical emotion which is her go-to, wanting to allow the God-talk/singing for what she thinks will help Kurt. She doesn’t think in larger terms and doesn’t see how she overstepped until Sue smacks her down.

    Kurt, to his and the show’s credit, tries to let the others know what he does and doesn’t need, and in the end acquiesces only enough to receive his classmates friendship, not their faith. Which for me, was the moment that most rang true in the entire episode. He maneuvers the way most atheists have to with people of faith, maintaining his personal integrity while appreciating what he can from them, and having to again be the bigger person by not committing the same harmful, if well-intentioned, evangelism or telling everyone he knows to go to hell. Kurt is the hero, not the victim, of the story.

    The whole show is a cartoon, so I’m not generally offended by their use of stereotypes. However would it really be that hard to have either of the Asian characters have an opinion?

    In the end, though, three main characters, Sue, Kurt, and Finn, walk away as atheists. Which rocks!

  • Nicole Maron

    Though I must say, why the acupuncture hate? It’s not a religion. It’s not faith healing. You don’t have to believe in it to work. It is a physical treatment thas real, discernible effects.

  • Icelander

    I think it was a good example of give and take. Kurt’s wishes eventually are accepted: They limit spiritual songs in glee club, and people don’t pray over his dad. But Kurt also accepts singing “What if God was One of Us” (which could be considered blasphemy in some circles) and goes to the service as a way to say thanks for their kindness.

    We need to compromise if we’re going to share the world, and if I were in that situation I’d be comfortable with that compromise.

  • “descent” should be “dissent” in your quote-within-a-quote, Hemant!

    (Hemant says: Fixed. Thanks!)

  • Alissa

    The people posting here who didn’t have a problem with the episode, didn’t understand the character roles in the show.

    The biggest problem I had with the episode was something Hemant mentioned in this original post. The ANTAGONIST OF THE SHOW was the one in support of atheism. It was like Fox was trying to say that atheism is for the “bad guys”. It really left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Amarie

    Okay. so i just watched the episode. I’ve been itching to watch it since I read this post.
    First and foremost, I am an devoted atheist (yes, pun intended).
    I am, actually, in Kurt’s position. I am the only (assumed) atheist in my group of friends, and some of my friends are very religious. Their first reaction when I told them I didn’t believe, was to try and convert me.

    Now, to the episode. I believe you are over reacting. First, the all “bad guys are atheists” thing is crap. In my opinion, Glee’s character are much more complex than “good” or “bad”. Sue is the antagonist but a) she is not a bad person… she’s just mean, b) in this episode, her demeanor is obviously diferent and c)everybody loves sue, even if she’s the antagonist.
    Personally, I find Emma’s behavior dreadful and I thinks it says more of religious people than of atheists.
    Actually, I feel the way that Kurt explains that all he needs to feel safe and comforted is his father was beautiful. That is exactly how I feel.
    The fact they devoted a episode to this is actually pretty awesome.
    And you completely overlooked that (spoiler alert) instead of Kurt “turning” to god, we see Finn loosing his faith. How about that?

  • Jo Jerome

    Another thumbs-up for one of the best and bravest statements about Atheism in television.

    Yes most of the religious in the show were portrayed as proselytizing jerks. But isn’t it about time that they are? Usually the story goes that the Theists are pure as the driven snow and the militant Atheist is way militant, then gets uber-apologetic about it or worse, finds God.

    Here, it’s made clear that the Theists indeed are simply intending to comfort Kurt the way they’ve been taught how to comfort someone. Including just assuming he’s a Theist. The fact that this comes off to the Atheist as irritating proselytizing was heavily underscored throughout the ep. In the end of it all, Kurt does make nice, acknowledge that his Theist friends are just trying to comfort him, Mercedes acknowledges this too, and he accepts her invite to church clearly not out of any chance he’ll convert, but recognition that this is her way of saying “I want to be here for you, and I’ve got this whole other group of people who’ve never even met you but are wanting to be there for you.”

    That, and the promise that he gets to wear a fabulous hat.

    And as an aside, Kurt gets to deliver the single, most awesome take on Russell’s Teapot ever.

    Rarely does the Atheist get to explain clearly and succulently solid reasons why they are Atheist. I didn’t feel that Kurt’s being gay was his reason why (a usual shark-jumper as the Atheist is only a non-believer because they have anger issues). But rather that was just an element of Theism he dislikes. His dwarf in a teapot was his ultimate reason (as is ours).

    P.S.; I too believe that it’s a shame Puck keeps his shirt on so much of the time. But that’s another issue altogether.

  • David

    I was pleased by the fact that the show depicted atheism as a reasonable alternative to faith. though the other characters did try to sway Kurt, they respected his beliefs more than most people do when confronted with atheism. They did not automatically assume that he was amoral, immoral, or evil for not believing in god. And the fact that he was angry had nothing to do with his atheism, but more to do with the fact that his dad was critically ill. So, I don’t think he was depicted as an angry atheist, but rather an angry kid who was also an atheist.

  • Ashley & Tizzle: I’m not sure I understand your point about Rachel. Does havign two dads mean she can’t also have faith? There are plenty of gay & lesbian individuals – & their families – who practice religion. Am I missing something in your argument…?

  • Anna

    Ashley & Tizzle: I’m not sure I understand your point about Rachel. Does havign two dads mean she can’t also have faith? There are plenty of gay & lesbian individuals – & their families – who practice religion. Am I missing something in your argument…?

    I agree, Suburban Sweetheart. I have lesbian parents, and although I grew up with no exposure to religion, I don’t think LGBT parents are any less likely to raise their children outside of a faith than heterosexual parents. They’re probably significantly less likely to adhere to conservative religions, but there are tons of LGBT-friendly churches and synagogues out there. I know people who were raised various forms of Protestant, UU, UCC, Jewish, and even Catholic and Mormon(ish), as unlikely as that sounds. It doesn’t strike me as unusual that Rachel would be a practicing Jew or that her parents would have encouraged that.

    As for Rachel being a virgin, that’s not unusual, either. Just because she has gay parents doesn’t mean she’s more likely to be sexually active. She’s still in high school, after all. Now if she’s a member of the abstinence-until-marriage club or something, I would think that was unrealistic, but simply being a virgin shouldn’t be considered unusual or a sign of sexual repression. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why a teenage girl (or boy) might not feel ready to embark on a sexual relationship yet.

  • Kelly W.

    Well. I don’t think this episode, or any episode of Glee for that matter, will make every single person satisfied with what was written, said or portrayed. I think it is refreshing that they are just writing an episode based on personal experiences and whipping some musical tunes into the mix, especially in our overly-saturated political correctness these days. There are token stereotypes throughout the series so why all the sudden should it be hyper-sensitive to not do that, because of lack of faith or belief in something? It’s interesting how provocative Christianity can be in our otherwise secular world. Any time you infuse tv or something that doesn’t normally discuss (not just faith or religion) but Christ it leaves people completely up in arms. Just food for thought.

  • emily

    I think glee last week was very good, I thought it showed many great aspects of faith and showed how some people believe while others don’t. I also am glad glee finally decided to show something that is a huge issue in our society and I am glad the show is trying to show real aspects of our lives.

  • toth

    Kurt was definitely a Hollywood Atheist, and that kind of aggravated me. Sue was also one, which annoyed me even more. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a pretty good episode, and probably better than any other depiction of atheism you’ll see on TV. But all the same…cliche. Of course “cliche” pretty much describes Glee, so…

  • awesomesauce

    This probably won’t be read, but I can’t be the only one who noticed that Mercedes chose a secular song to sing in church for Kurt. To me it was a subtle way of making up for singing a religious song to him earlier on in the episode.

    I mean, Bridge Over Troubled Water is one of the most supportive, secular songs I can think of to sing for a friend in his/her time of need. I teared up a bit during this song because it was like her way of saying “I’m sorry about earlier and I really want to be there for you regardless of our differences.”

  • I found the episode extremely offensive. I suspect the writers probably thought they were being quite enlightened (“ooh, look, we’re so broad-minded for acknowledging that atheists exist!”), but the episode seems to have been conceived of and executed by a group whose quorum believes in a Magic Man in the Sky. I almost would have preferred that Kurt convert in the end, because that would have made the hypocrisy more obvious.

    I’m surprised that so many commenters think that Sue “walked away an atheist.” She got very quiet after that ridiculous scene with her sister, so I think that we’re meant to think that she’s questioning her own beliefs — especially since she then listens with a big sappy face to the Glee Club singing that stupid “What if God Was One of Us” song.

    I also thought Mercedes butchered “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

    My full diatribe is here.

  • Philosodad

    I’m amazed that people think that “One of Us” is somehow a pro-god/pro-religious song. Here’s some lyrics for you:

    “If god had a face, what would it look like
    And would you want to see it
    If seeing meant that you would have to believe
    in things like Heaven and in Jesus, and the Saints, and all the prophets”

    “One of Us” is, at most, agnostic, it’s certainly ironic, and it’s hard to see how calling god a “holy rolling stone” is some form of praise.

    Maybe Kurt agreed to sing the song because he realized that portraying god as a lonely drifter waiting for the pope to call is a good long way from gospel.

  • Philosodad, did you see the episode?

    To my eye, the episode set up that particular scene (featuring “One of Us”) in a way that suggests the song was being sung as an outlet for the students to explore spiritual ideas. That’s why Mr. Shue gets defensive when he sees Sue, and that’s why he’s relieved when Sue says she is not going to object to the session. As far as I recall, Kurt isn’t even in that scene, though I could be mistaken.

    Even if it’s not a pro-God song, it’s a song acknowledging that there may be a God, and which is devoted to mulling over that particular question (in a rather dreary way, in my view). If the Glee Club were looking at the song for its artistic merits, that would be acceptable, but using it as a jumping off point to explore spirituality is much more questionable, for reasons that I would think are obvious.

  • OK, I have learned from the Glee wiki that Kurt did indeed sing “One of Us” with the rest of the group — I guess I had just blocked that out. That actually makes the whole scene much worse in my mind. Just because the song is “a good long way from gospel” doesn’t mean it’s something an atheist is likely to have much interest in singing, unless he’s being pressured to fit in, or his views are evolving.

  • Philosodad

    Yes, Sasha, I saw the episode. And yes, I understand that the idea was that the song was SUPPOSED to be about some sort of search for God. But it isn’t. “One of Us” doesn’t mull over the question of God’s existence at all. The second verse puzzles over the question of whether seeing the face of God would be worth being forced to believe in Jesus, which could be the most anti-christian message ever slipped into a top forty song.

    I disagree with your assessment of the final scene, partly because of the choice of song and partly because the jumping off point of a theme is rarely, if ever, placed at the end of an episode. In this particular episode of Glee, the kids had already been exploring spirituality and the existence of god. And in the end, all they could agree on is a song that questions whether god is even worth believing in, much less worshipping.

    The subtext, to me, is pretty clear. The tolerant, forgiving person in the episode is the atheist. The woman with the clearest, most selfless love in the episode is an atheist. The people with principles are the two atheists. The Christians are pushy, selfish, conniving, and cruel.

    When pushed to answer whether god affects the world, the guidance counselor rolls off a bunch of rational reasons for the events around Grilled Cheesus. The Christian is clearly painted as delusional.

    Yeah, Sue is willing to have her sister pray for her… because it makes her sister happy. And Kurt recognizes that his friends–misguided as they were–were trying to be nice in their own intolerant, bigoted way. Unlike the other kids, who keep forcing the god issue, the atheists are reasonable about their position.

    This is a total win for the atheists side.

    And finally… you know, maybe Kurt actually read the lyrics and thought it was a huge joke that the other kids wanted to sing such an anti-god song. Maybe he liked the arrangement. We don’t know, because it wasn’t in the script, so we’re just making motives up. The idea that Kurt is becoming more spiritual is a story that you’re tacking onto the ending, not part of the show itself.

  • Philosodad, I like a lot of things about your reading of the show, even though it’s different from mine. I hope that other viewers out there saw the characters the same way you did, and that that’s the main thing they took away.

    I think the episode made me uncomfortable because — have you ever seen a movie or read a book where you thought “Well, I think it’s quite clear from this story that Character X was wrong and Character Y was right, but I don’t think that the person who wrote this/filmed this realizes that”? That’s how I felt about this episode.

    Generally, in Glee episodes, the protagonists tend to learn their lessons. For example, in one previous show, Finn is chastised for making a homophobic comment and then becomes fully supportive of Kurt without any hint of further problematic views or feelings. In another, Rachel is uncomfortable around a paraplegic, but then she realizes she was wrong and decides to give him weekly singing lessons. By contrast, in this episode, I saw a lot of people doing a lot of very wrong things, and not only do they not acknowledge their wrongness, it’s actually rewarded. For example, not only does Kurt concede to go to church, he seems to enjoy it and become reflective during it, and shortly afterward makes the declaration that his relationship with his father is sacred (or something along those lines). The message I got from this is that it’s OK for religious people to preach to people who have already said “no,” and that atheists are supposed to listen attentively to their friends’ spiritual musings and perhaps even learn from them. I could be wrong, but that’s what I think the show was trying to say.

    As for “One of Us,” I never thought it was a pro-Christian song. But unless I am missing something, the subject matter is God. An exploration of its subject matter isn’t appropriate for a public school. You mention that “in the end, all they could agree on is a song that questions whether god is even worth believing in, much less worshipping.” My main point about this scene is that students in a public school should not be asked to discuss and come to agreement on ANY matters related to God. The specifics of the agreement (or disagreement) don’t make it OK. The discussion itself is inappropriate.

    As for my “jumping off” comment, I didn’t mean to say that the song was a jumping off point for something that was going to be explored in the epidode. Basically, I thought the scene implied that the club was probably going to be talking about spirituality in conjunction with the song (or perhaps they already had). Maybe I am again guilty of “tacking on” to the episode, but I think that that’s part of what you do with fiction — try to see the characters as real and speculate on their motives, on what may have happened to them before, and what’s likely to happen after, based on the facts the author gives you. In this case, I think the facts suggest that the song was chosen more for its subject matter than for its interesting tempo, and that it was probably either preceded or followed by a conversation about that particular topic (again, inappropriate in a school). Of course, that’s just my interpretation.

  • Philosodad

    Sasha, I agree that students in a public school should not be led by an authority figure in prayer, that they should not be officially presented with a “right” or “wrong” way of thinking about religion, and so forth. However, if students in an extracurricular club decide, on their own, that they want to have these conversations that’s a slightly different situation… although in this situation Mr. Shue should have shut down the discussion when it became clear that the theists in the club were bullying the atheist.

    But “One of Us” is just an old top-forty song. It’s totally appropriate for a public school Glee Club that sings old top-forty songs. It just isn’t a song of praise or worship. It could be banned, but then you’d have to ban “Imagine”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Heaven is a Place on Earth”, “Angel in the Centerfold” and so forth.

    When I was in choir, we sang the Hallelujah Chorus in a public school. Not because we wanted to praise the lord, but because it is an awesome piece of music and it is incredibly fun to sing. I would hate to see music like that forbidden because of the subject matter.

  • When I was a reporter way back in the ’90s, I once looked into a dispute that arose regarding religion and an extracurricular club. It was different from the “Glee” scenario, but I do remember learning that clubs are not exempt from church-state separation (at least they weren’t back then — that was before our country had such things as a “White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,” so I may be behind the times). Anyway, at that time, the key deciding factors were whether or not the club meets on school grounds, whether it receives funding from the school district, and whether it has a faculty sponsor (as is true in “Glee,” on all counts).

    On a personal note, when I hear a suggestion like “shouldn’t students in a club be able to decide on their own to have these conversations” one of the questions that comes to mind is, what if the decision to have the discussion is not unanimous? And how do you judge whether it’s unanimous?

    Say you have a group of 10 students in a publicly funded club. Suppose that nine are quite vocal about wanting to discuss and compare their spiritual beliefs, and one student is completely uncomfortable but doesn’t want to stand up to the other nine. So that one student sits silently through the God conversation, squirming and waiting for the group to go back to music or art or chess or whatever the purported purpose of the club is. Is that right? There’s no *obvious* bullying going on, but are the rights of one student being infringed upon?

    Another scenario: say that the 10 students are truly unanimous about wanting to discuss God in their extracurricular club. Suppose a new student enrolls in school and is interested in this club, but the new student hears that the club members often spend time comparing their spiritual views, and perhaps a lot of members just happen to believe that Jesus is really great. Now the new student isn’t comfortable joining, even though he wants to play chess or sing songs or whatever. Again, there’s no bullying per se, but is this right?

    I guess some might say that the kids in the minority need to man up and tell the others to put a sock in it. But to me, these sorts of sticky situations are why we try to keep religion out of publicly funded school programs. Or it should be.

  • Terry

    I really enjoyed this episode as well. It’s all about baby steps. Sure the first awkward insertions into media about the Atheistic mindset are bound to be less than perfect, but the fact that we are seeing this more and more often is uplifting to me. Ask our elder Atheists and they will relate story after story of being discriminated against because of their lack of belief. I for one am VERY glad Glee took a shot at showing true diversity. Hopefully soon we’ll start seeing more and more Atheist charecters in the media. I’m confident that if we do the stories will become more realistic as time goes on.

  • Surfgeorge

    Nicole, you need to do some more thorough and up to date research. All the higher quality blinded placebo controlled studies show that acupuncture has no more effect than placebo. It doesn’t work. Anecdotes are not evidence of anything but post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious reasoning.

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