CBS will premiere its new show God Friended Me at the end of the month, but they’ve already posted the first episode online (on CBS All Access) to give viewers an idea of what it’s about.
The gist of the show is that an atheist gets a Facebook friend request from “God,” experiences all sorts of weird coincidences, and starts questioning (barely) his non-belief. At least that’s what we get from the pilot. Who knows where the writers will go with the plot the rest of the season.
It’s not a bad show. It’s better than the trailer suggested. It’s sappy and sweet in all the ways audiences tend to like. Religion may be the vehicle that propels the show forward, but it’s not actually the point of it. It’s always open for interpretation whether the coincidences everyone experiences are just that… or part of some devious Master Plan by the same God who’s trying to befriend the main character on Facebook. They don’t resolve everything in one episode (obviously), though it’s unclear where they go with the concept in future ones.
So let’s ignore the whole conceit of “God” friending people on Facebook (as if that account wouldn’t have been reported as spam), and the way another character “hacks” God’s profile back to a specific home in New Jersey (like it’s just that easy), and how the main character’s atheist podcast is on the verge of getting picked up by SiriusXM radio (I’m still waiting for my call), and how the main character’s father just happens to be a priest who’s ashamed of his atheist son (isn’t that convenient), and how another character is a blogger who hasn’t written an article in several weeks but still works in a fancy building with a boss who still demands “a thousand words, tomorrow” (that’s not how any of this works)… and focus on the one part of the show that just made me cringe.
At one point, Miles Finer (played by Brandon Micheal Hall) is asked why he’s an atheist.
His response is straight out of Christian Apologetics 101.
When I was eight, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And the doctor said she had six months to live. And so I prayed for a miracle, and then it happened! She went [into] full remission. The doctors couldn’t even explain it… [But] on the way home from the hospital, she died in a car accident… I tried to make sense of it, and the only way I could was that there was no God. Because if there was, that means that He is cruel, and I don’t want to live in a world governed by someone like that.
It’s such a common misconception of why people are atheists, there are entire books by religious writers responding to that idea, explaining why bad things happen to good people.
It makes for a great dramatic monologue in the show… but it bears no resemblance to why so many atheists today don’t believe in God. Even though Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are name-checked in the show (by another character), there’s nothing in Miles’ speech about how he studied the Bible and realized religion was a con, or listened to his father’s sermons and noticed all the contradictions, or searched for evidence on his own only to find nothing.
His response is purely reactive. There’s no thinking involved in it. It suggests that atheists are lazy and that if we listened to the right pastor, or visited the right church, or read the right books, we might discover God once again. Most atheists will tell you that’s not the case. Our disbelief isn’t so fragile that we can be emotioned into irrational thinking. It just feeds into a stereotype about atheists that makes it sound like we would change our minds as soon as we understand that God works in mysterious ways.
If you’re looking for an accurate depiction of atheists in the media, this one isn’t horrible — Miles is a likable guy — but it’s far from accurate. He’s the character you’d put together if you went to an evangelical church and asked the congregation what a “good atheist” looks like. He evangelizes atheism with a smile! He’ll change his mind as soon as he confronts something he doesn’t understand! He’s surrounded by only the finest religious people!
I’ve seen worse. (Hello, God’s Not Dead.) I’ve also seen much, much better.