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Was last night's Family Guy the first-ever endorsement of atheism on mainstream TV?

by Jay Black, posted Mar 30th 2009 2:26PM
Star Trek The Next Generation on Family GuyTV Squad man-at-arms Brad Trechak already filed his disappointment at last night's Family Guy episode, but I had a question of my own after I watched the it:

Was that the first time a network show actually endorsed atheism?

I mean, I've seen Bill Maher throw his anti-religion grenades, but that's HBO and that's Bill Maher. To my knowledge no network -- even a network like Fox, which once had a line-up made up entirely of World's Scariest Alien Autoposies -- had ever come down this hard on the beliefs of its viewers...

Up until now, the most daring exploration of this theme that I can remember was the season nine episode of The Simpsons, "Lisa the Skeptic." And even there, the well-worn theory that there are no atheists in fox-holes (or during particularly scary mall promotions) was in full effect. Lisa winds up open to the possibility that there are things she doesn't understand.

This is what I call the Santa Claus method of dealing with particularly troublesome concepts in a sitcom. As anyone who watched TV in the '80s knows, there were about forty-seven million Christmas episodes plotted around one character not believing there was a Santa Claus. At some point, this character meets a mysterious old man who somehow knows a lot about the character's past Christmas wishes. By the end of the episode, as we're hearing sleigh bells, the character, though still a skeptic, at least grants that there are things in this universe that are beyond his understanding.

The Santa Claus method is widely employed by the networks because it's the best way to mute a strong voice and keep the majority of your viewership happy. Any kind of principled stand is bound to turn some people off and, as any 1940's radio man will tell you, "We're in the business of selling soap, kid."

I fully expected The Family Guy to go Santa Claus method last night by having Brian and Meg find some middle ground on which atheists and religious people can both agree (perhaps on a shared hatred of televangelists or some other easy cop out).

But... wow. It didn't. It stayed the course and endorsed atheism.

My questions to you are these:

1. Is the atheism endorsement as groundbreaking as I think it is?

2. Are you surprised that Fox allowed this to air (especially considering that its other cash cow is Fox News, a channel on which atheists are often described only a little more gently than Brian was last night when it was discovered he was an atheist)?

3. Regardless of your own religious affiliation, are you happy that a network show is actually taking a stand, one way or the other, instead of employing the Santa Claus method?

Your comments, as always, the wind beneath my (fake angel) wings.

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One of the best comments on religion I've encountered is in Eric Idle's novel, The Road to Mars. In it, a character states, "I stopped believing in God when I found out they had lied to me about Santa Claus, The Easter Bunnny, and The Tooth Fairy."

The only reason anyone believes in a god is because they are brainwashed into it, frequently at the end of stick (metaphorical or otherwise), when they are too young to think for themselves.

I second the comments that getting upset over Family Guy's content is stupid. If you just wait a minute, they will also insult a belief that is the opposite of yours (just like South Park does).

April 06 2009 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Last time I looked organized religion was still causing wars all over the world!religion is not the same at faith and I think the episode was pointing out that religion gets carried away with itself. That being said its a TV show, an animated one at that we should all just relax!

April 02 2009 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about Matthew Perry's character on Studio 60? He was an atheist? I know the show was cancelled after only one season but that character absolutely did not believe in god and was on a major network.

March 31 2009 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Actor n LA

correction: christmas is referred to as Happy Holidays

March 31 2009 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Actor n LA

I like this episode. Family Guy is hilarious.

Christian are offended because they have notice such achange in power. Christmas is not referred to as Happy Holidays.

Christians like to put down Jews, Muslim and Atheist cause clearly they think they are right.

Christians have lost power in this country.

Religion is just a crutch for weak people who don't know how to function in the real world so they live in a fantasy structure by a core of fear to make you submit to thinking you're not in control of your own life but by another force.

March 31 2009 at 4:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Actor n LA's comment

Ok folks,
Obviously what we've learned here today is that every religious group feels that they're the most persecuted, whether it be on television or otherwise.

Egocentrism at it's finest.

March 31 2009 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joseph's comment

No, I think what we learned is that all of you people are fucking imbeciles. You're taking religious cues from Seth MacFarlane, the Emperor of the Lowest Common Denominator. Maybe, instead of getting all worked up over a talking dog and a teenager debating the merits of organized religion, you could actually FUCKING READ. There are religious texts, as well as a wealth of brilliant philosophers with ideas to peruse, so read whatever you want. Just don't act like a complete fucktard, like bruce or...well, any of the other fucking assholes mocking people for their beliefs, whatever they choose to believe in.

(NOTE: I do not hold any belief in any organized religion, nor am I agnostic or an atheist. I am simply apathetic.)

March 31 2009 at 2:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nr davis

Of course it's an endorsement. McFarlane is an atheist and admits it openly. And good! It's about time all views can be represented. FG isn't as clever or smart as it believes, but yesterday's ep was a Good Thing, to be sure. I am not an atheist, but I'll defend 'em. This Judeo-Christian - treat us as superiors or else BS has got to stop!

March 30 2009 at 11:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd long suspected an atheistic underpinning to Family Guy. Last night's episode completely confirmed it.

It wasn't so much the fact that the show took a stance for atheism - It was the fact that, in the process, it portrayed devout Christians as having the emotional and mental simplicity of a Teletubby, that offended me.

Last night made it easy to leave this show.

March 30 2009 at 8:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to trenton9's comment

Devout Christians do have the emotional and mental simplicity of a Teletubby. What's wrong with pointing that out on a television show?

March 30 2009 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bryan's big point at the end of the show was there can't be a God because there is human suffering. And he revealed this during a book burning. Yeah, clearly the Family Guy writers know a lot about Christianity.

Instead of being preachy about a subject matter he doesn't know about, Seth should focus on making Family Guy funny again. Just like atheists don't want people harassing them for not believing, I'm tired of people making fun of Christians because we do believe.

Here's Family Guy's way of writing jokes about religion: Christians believe in a God they can't see! That means all believers are uneducated hicks who don't understand basic scientific theory. And they're constantly treating non-believers like the scum of the earth.

Kudos, Family Guy. I hope you do more original, witty jokes next week like how men don't understand women.

March 30 2009 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MG's comment

I think that's an excellent way of defining religion. It certainly matches the Republican party's public use of it.

April 06 2009 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@bruce: Your comment made sense until the last paragraph. Seriously, that's either snide sarcasm or complete idiocy. If it's the former, congrats, it made me chuckle :)

March 30 2009 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Nathanael's comment

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