Fox’s hit TV show Glee waded into the fraught waters of belief and disbelief last night, with mixed results. Three separate storylines focused on the faith or lack thereof of the characters.
Story #1: Most prominent was the story of Kurt, the gay son of an auto mechanic. Kurt’s dad has a heart attack and goes into a coma, and we subsequently learn that Kurt is an atheist when his friends begin to offer religious assertions as comfort.
The Good: Kurt is unapologetic and consistent in his disbelief. When challenged that he “can’t disprove God,” he gets in a zinger involving Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot (although Kurt jazzes it up a bit by putting a dwarf that shoots lasers from its boobs inside the teapot). The show closes with a great human moment when Kurt tells his dad that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in their family. I thought it was refreshing to have a character so openly profess his disbelief, and NOT be converted by the end (and I was nervous at a few points it might go that way).
The Bad: Kurt violates the Phil Plait rule, and sometimes comes off as a dick. He calls the class “mental patients” for believing in God, and tosses several of them from his dad’s hospital room when they show up to pray. (I defend him on this point, though. If you make your views known and people shove their religion in anyway, I think you’re entitled to be pissed.)
Story #2: Finn, the dim but earnest football player, makes a grilled cheese and, due to a fluke of the George Forman Grill, ends up with Grilled Cheesus. After carefully excising the half of the sandwich without the lord’s countenance (because Finn was, after all, really hungry), Finn begins praying for various selfish things: to win a football game, to get to second base with Rachael, to become quarterback again. Every wish comes true, and every time Finn expressly gives credit to Grilled Cheesus. It all unravels, however, when Finn realizes all that happened was for completely explainable reasons, and his newfound faith dissolves with a rendition of “Losing My Religion.” And the consumption of Grilled Cheesus.
The Good: First, it’s just funny as hell to watch Finn pray to a grilled cheese. Best line: “I never went to Sunday School, so I don’t know if you’re like a genie and I get three wishes.” Also interesting to show a shallow but common form of Christianity, what Kurt called “Santa Clause for adults.” Nice scene when Finn gives credit to god for his romantic success with Rachael, and is reminded that Rachael let him touch her, because she cares about him.
The Bad: Not much to complain about here. Finn’s a nominal believer, then an earnest but selfish believer, then decides it’s all crap. Works for me.
Story #3: Cheer coach and villain extraordinaire Sue Sylvester gets wind that the Glee Club is singing religious songs and takes Will to the principal’s office for violating the separation of church and state. We also learn that Sue prayed as a child for her sister, who has Down’s Syndrome, to “get better,” and when her prayers weren’t answered and people treated her sister cruelly, concluded that “it wasn’t that I wasn’t praying hard enough. It was that no one was listening.”
The Good: Sue is also unabashed about her disbelief. And it’s one of the “sincere Sue” moments.
The Bad: She comes off as a “bitter atheist.” Her disbelief seems more of an angry reaction to her sister’s situation than a considered position. Toward the end, she appears to soften toward belief for no other reason than her sister offering to pray for her, which again makes her disbelief seem shallow.
All in all, I think the show offered a mostly fair portrayal of atheism and atheists. Despite his snippish moments, Kurt is sympathetic and grateful for his friends’ concern, even if he doesn’t share their beliefs. Sue provides a genuine emotional critique of religion, if it is isn’t all that philosophically sophisticated.
And Finn? Grilled Cheesus. Hee hee.