Glee’s Grilled Cheesus: A Milestone in Atheist Visibility

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[This post was linked to in a Feb. 9, 2011 USA Today article about atheist high school clubs—check it out!]

In stark opposition to the substanceless Britney episode last week, this week’s Glee offered us some incredibly serious discussion about religion, and more importantly, atheism. There was plenty to like and plenty to be frustrated about. In this post, I’m going to dissect the episode in quite a lot of detail, moreso than many will even think necessary. If you haven’t seen the episode, don’t read this post!

Much thanks to AfterElton for screencaps!

Many will disagree with me about the nuances of this episode, and that’s fine. I’m only speaking on my own behalf in this post. And yes, I can’t expect the episode to be perfect or only favor atheism, so to those of you who think that accusing me of being too picky or whiny is a good reason to disregard my thoughts, well, get over yourself and hear me out. 🙂

Regardless of any of the details I describe below, “Grilled Cheesus” accomplishes a few very important things for network TV: Multiple characters come out as atheists and the story does not end with their conversion. Aside from South Park, serious discussions about atheism and critiques of religion are seldom heard on television, and so while I have numerous critiques (including the fact that the a-word was never actually said), I am quite proud of the show for this important step and the discussion it offers.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that came up related to faith in this episode.

Pareidolia and Finn

We’re introduced to this episode with Finn discovering Grilled Cheesus, which he continues to pray to throughout the episode. This, obviously, is a classic example of pareidolia, making meaning of things we see when such meaning isn’t really there. You see two circles and a line, you see a face, and suddenly you attribute a significance that wasn’t there before.

Religious pareidolia is all too common and gets way more attention than it deserves, as Finn’s story shows us. Finn is a little dimwitted, and out of fairness to believers, I think it was a little unfair how quickly he went from worshiping Cheesus to “losing his religion.” If anything, I think this lesson of the episode is an important one for believers. Emma’s lines challenge those who do have faith to be more thoughtful about how they interpret it:

God works in all kinds of mysterious ways, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to speak to us through sandwiches.

What Finn’s story does show is how it only takes poking one hole in faith for the whole balloon to deflate. Faith is a pedestal we imagine for ourselves to stand on, and when we realize it isn’t there like we thought it was, we fall pretty quickly from our perch, not unlike Wile E. Coyote. Finn may be dimwitted, but his words actually speak to the challenges of arriving at nonbelief and reconciling the messages society sends us about the importance of faith:

It was sort of a cool feeling like I had this direct line to God. Now I just feel like everybody else, you know, like we’re all just floating around in space. I don’t like that.

We are just floating in space, but that’s a good thing. We have each other and that’s all we need and that’s all we’ve ever needed. It’s alarming to realize that after society has convinced you for your entire life that there is something greater and that it’s the something greater that is really what makes life worth living. No, life makes life worth living, and once Finn realizes that, he’ll probably be quite happily nonreligious.

Things Sacred

Burt, Kurt’s dad, introduces us to the concept of things “sacred,” like the tradition of Friday night dinners Kurt’s mom started. Sacred is obviously a word with interpretations both religious and secular. Burt’s strikes me as incredibly secular:

The whole point of having something sacred is that it takes precedence over anything else you got going on. … If you start giving up things like Friday night dinners, then you got nothing to hold onto.

This is a sentiment I think we can all relate to. It speaks to tradition, relationships, and social comforts—making sure we have support we need in our lives. Some will argue that god plays the same role, but he doesn’t have to.

While I have plenty of misgivings about how Mercedes treats Kurt in this episode, I do think it’s interesting the parallels drawn between her comments to him in church and what Burt said.

But you’ve got to believe in something. Something more than you can touch, taste, or see. ‘Cause life is too hard to go through it alone, without something to hold onto and without something that’s sacred.

Now, this is very pushy about religious belief, and I expect most religious believers feel vindicated by it. She told him! He has to believe SOMETHING. The truth is, I think this vindicates Kurt’s atheism more than anything. Kurt doesn’t necessarily have beliefs, but he does relate. What he holds sacred isn’t beyond this world, but his relationships and traditions are no less sacred. He remembers the first Friday night dinner after his mom passed away, and how important his family is.

I don’t believe in God, Dad. But I believe in you. I believe in us. You and me—that’s what’s sacred to me. And I am… I’m so sorry that I never got to tell you that.

I found this notion to be incredibly redeeming of nonbelievers.

Coming Out Atheist

For as absurdist as Glee can be, I thought Kurt’s coming out as atheist was an extremely real portrayal of how challenging it can be. (We discuss this on this week’s Queer and Queerer as well.) Think back to the beginning of the series when Kurt first came out as gay. It really wasn’t a big deal to New Directions; they loved him just the same. In this case, Kurt is already faced with trauma in his life, and yet the response is anything but welcoming.

In fact, the defenses go up almost immediately. Here’s the whole dialogue of that scene:

Kurt: Thank you, Mercedes. Your voice is stunning, but… I don’t believe in God.

Tina: Wait, what?

Kurt: You’ve all professed your beliefs. I’m just stating mine. I think God is kind of like Santa Clause for adults. Otherwise, God’s kind of a jerk, isn’t he? I mean, he makes me gay and then has his followers going around telling me it’s something that I chose. As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life. And right now I don’t want a heavenly father. I want my real one back.

Let me interrupt the scene here for a second. Kurt delivers this incredibly calmly. He’s not aggressive, but he’s in tremendous pain about his father and he’s in tremendous pain for how he’s been treated for being gay and he is simply explaining himself. The kid is clearly in pain, but where do things go from here?

Mercedes: But Kurt, how do you know for sure? I mean, you can’t prove that there’s no God.

Suddenly it’s all about Mercedes’ beliefs being challenged. Forget that Kurt’s dad might soon die or all the hurt he’s experienced from religiously-provoked anti-gay sentiment… isn’t it important he still consider god? Talk about provoking somebody when they’re down!

Kurt: You can’t prove that there isn’t a magic teapot floating around on the dark side of the moon with a dwarf inside of it that reads romance novels and shoots lightning out of its boobs, but it seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it?

Brittany: Is God an evil dwarf?

Quinn: We shouldn’t be talking like this. It’s not right.

Notice Quinn says “we” when she really means “you.” Rather than hear poor Kurt out, she’s telling him what he can and can’t say. This is not acceptance and it’s not open-mindedness, and it is all too often the response people get to disclosing their nonbelief.

Kurt: I’m sorry, Quinn, but you all can believe whatever you want to. But I can’t believe something I don’t. I appreciate your thoughts… but I don’t want your prayers.

Kurt makes a smart decision, I think. He leaves the room. He removes himself from a situation in which he does not feel comfortable. He doesn’t raise his voice; he doesn’t get angry. He even shows gratitude for their thoughts. Do any of them show any concern or appreciation for his point of view? No.

Atheists are still one of the most stigmatized groups in the country, and this episode resonated that fact clearly and profoundly. Simply by revealing himself, Kurt made others feel attacked. Did he attack them? No. And yet the idea that someone might not share their beliefs became more important than that person’s grief. It’s pretty sad that the fragility of faith so often inspires people to think selfishly rather than see past their own insecurities to care for a fellow human being.

Religion in Schools

This matter was not really addressed in detail, and thus it is hard to comment on. It’s unclear what exactly “the lesson” was that Mr. Schue was “teaching” in glee that week. Students are, of course, allowed to express their own spirituality in schools. Also, sacred texts may be studied. (Obviously, many—if not most—of the masterworks of choral music use sacred texts and they simply can’t all be ignored.)

Schue suggests doing “songs about spirituality.” That’s all the context we have, and it does strike me as a fine line. If Kurt is an atheist (which could very well mean “not spiritual” to him) and is being forced to do something that is spiritual, that could very well be an imposition of religion against his 1st amendment rights. For the sake of the show, we have to entertain the benefit of the doubt that Schue’s lesson crossed the line.

I would take this line with a grain of salt, though:

Guys, you can still sing whatever songs you like that sum up your feelings about God, about spirit. You just can’t do it on school time.

They probably could. It probably just can’t be an assignment in a class.

Sue’s Motives and Atheism

Believe it or not, I actually thought Sue was perfectly in the right in this episode. Some (including my mother, oy) feel that she was using Kurt to get at Schue like she always does. This time, though, I thought her motives were sincere, not manipulative, and spoke to principle, not sabotage.

Here’s the scene where she talks to Kurt:

Sue: How’s your father?

Kurt: They say his condition is critical but stable. Good news, I guess.

Sue: I’m sorry for what you’re going through, Lady. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And I guess I don’t have to—I think Mary Lou Retton’s, like, an orphan or something. I don’t like what Schuester’s doing in that classroom even more than usual. But I can’t go to the school board without an official complaint from a student.

Kurt: So you want me to be your scapegoat?

Sue: No. You don’t understand. I know at times I mess around with you guys for fun. I admit it—it aids digestion. But I’m not joking here. I want to be your champion.

In case the audience feels that Kurt simply caved (why wouldn’t he? he was so bullied in class he had to remove himself), Emma becomes our next stand-in to assess Sue’s motives.

Emma: There is a boy in that Glee Club that might lose his father. How could you get in the way when the only thing anybody is trying to do is give that poor child just a little bit of comfort? What happened to you, Sue? Please tell me what horrible, horrible thing happened to you that made you such a miserable tyrant.

Sue: Have a seat. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had exactly one hero: my big sister. You know how much I worshiped her? She was the sun and the moon to me. And while I was still very young, I noticed that other people didn’t feel the way I did. People were rude to her. They were cruel. They laughed at her. And so I began to pray. I prayed every night for her to get better. And nothing changed. So I prayed harder. And after a while I realized it wasn’t that I wasn’t praying hard enough… it’s that no one was listening. Asking someone to believe in a fantasy, however comforting, isn’t a moral thing to do. It’s cruel.

Emma: Don’t you think that’s just a little bit arrogant?

Sue: 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?

Emma: Well, if that’s what you believe, that’s fine. But please keep it to yourself.

Sue: So long as you do the same. That kid could lose his father at any moment. You should start preparing him for that.

Here again we see an atheist coming out quite calmly, and yet provoking a defensive reaction. While Sue may normally be the villain, her words here speak truth to a lot of people’s experiences. No one should have to be forced to “play along” with the religious belief of others, not out of guilt and not out of peer pressure.

If Sue really is just out to destroy glee this week, she has a funny way of showing it. Personally, I think she should be commended for being the one person who validates Kurt’s feelings and experiences. Seriously, no one else does.

Pushy Prayer

The members of New Directions seem nonplussed—if not indignant—about Kurt’s nonbelief. It’s as if there is nothing they can offer the poor guy if he doesn’t want prayer. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to just be there as a friend to him. They’re too consumed with their own intent to pray to actually see where he’s coming from. The episode suggests he is pushing them away, but honestly, are they giving him anything to hold onto?

The scene where Rachel, Quinn, and Mercedes are all praying for Burt really irritated me. It didn’t bother me that they were there at the hospital; it bothered me they were only there to pray, even though Kurt had already specifically said he didn’t want their prayers. And they’re pretty arrogant about it:

Mercedes: Rachel, Quinn, and I are taking turns. We’re from different denominations and religions, so we figured one of us is bound to be right.

Unfortunately, many people feel this way. Again, Kurt really isn’t all that confrontational (certainly not “aggressive”), saying simply, “I didn’t ask you to do this.”  Finn’s Mom, Carole (who took way too long to appear in this episode), again speaks to defensiveness.

Carole: Honey, I know you’re upset about what’s happening. I get it, but friends help out, even when you don’t ask.

Kurt asks them politely to leave, and as they leave, Rachel insists, “We just wanted to do something.”

Well, they picked the one thing Kurt already asked them not to do. And apparently if he won’t accept that, they have nothing else to offer. Faith comes first, then friendship?

Later, Mercedes persists in forcing faith upon Kurt.

Mercedes: Kurt, can I talk to you for a second? I know you’re going through a really scary time right now, but I feel like I don’t know how to be around you anymore, and I know you’re not really spiritual or whatever, but I feel like you’re closing yourself to a world of experiences that might surprise you.

Okay, so, it’s Kurt’s fault that Mercedes doesn’t know how to deal with his unbelief, it’s Kurt’s fault that the believers don’t know how to be around him, and it’s Kurt’s fault that he’s struggling to cope because he wouldn’t have the same problems if he opened himself to “surprises.”

Mercedes could have said the exact same thing when Kurt came out to her as gay. If she had, it would have been really hurtful and they probably wouldn’t have become best friends like they did. Why is it any less hurtful for this identity?

Hint: It’s not. But you know what people do sometimes when they can’t resist the bullying anymore? They just take it. They acquiesce. People only have so much fight in them. Kurt realizes that, apparently, the only way he can maintain his friendship with Mercedes is if he caves to her pushiness, so he does.

Kurt: You’re right. I’m sorry. I should be pushing my friends away, especially friends as fabulous as you.

What is he sorry for? I don’t know. They were the ones who belittled him and ostracized him. Is his apology enough for Mercedes? Of course not. The proselytism must continue:

Mercedes: Do me a favor—one thing. Come to church with his Sunday…

She just won’t be satisfied until she wins him over. This is the epitome of insecurity in faith. Until Kurt signs on to her faith, she just doesn’t know how to be around him. How sad.

Now let’s revisit that church scene. It’s pretty sweet for Mercedes to go out of her way to get her church to dedicate their service to Kurt’s dad, but take a look at the situation she brings him into.

He’s almost the only white person in the church. He’s certainly the only man wearing a hat, which some would consider very disrespectful. And who knows how that congregation feels about gay people? Then, he’s left in the pew by himself. And if that weren’t enough, Mercedes then calls him out and calls out his nonbelief in a church full of strangers. Let’s see that full quote:

Mercedes: Hi church! I have a favor to ask you guys. My friend Kurt Hummel’s dad is in the hospital. And it’s pretty bad. And I know we have all of our own worries and troubles, but if we could just put them aside and focus all of our prayers and give them to Burt Hummel, and to my friend Kurt. I know you don’t believe in God, and you don’t believe in the power of prayer, and that’s okay, to each his own. But you’ve got to believe in something. Something more than you can touch, taste, or see. ‘Cause life is too hard to go through it alone, without something to hold onto and without something that’s sacred.

Oh, that’s okay. We’re going to pray for you anyway. Just take it. Just endure this most uncomfortable situation, because we believe it’s good for you.

Nothing silences atheism quite like boisterous gospel music (though atheists are quite capable of appreciating it). The song was beautiful, and was a wonderful tribute to a friend, but if you watch Kurt, he doesn’t ever really feel comfortable. Why would he? All of that is being imposed upon him against his wishes and without respect for his own point of view. Even the most heartfelt bullying is still bullying.

At no point does anyone suggest to the other students they ought to better appreciate Kurt’s point of view. Their pushy prayer and proselytism go unchallenged. While I found this incredibly frustrating, I have to give the show credit for how realistic it was. As I wrote about before, the act of prayer can be an incredibly selfish one, and this episode certainly showed an example of what that can look like. When we help people, I think it’s so much more important to consider what they need from us than what we want for them.

Resolving Sue and Kurt’s Stories

This is the part where I was most frustrated. While I was glad to see that neither Sue nor Kurt converted, I was disappointed to see them both acquiesce. It was as if the moral of the episode was that the way to get along is to contribute to Christianism and religious privilege. Sue tolerates songs about God and welcomes prayers from her sister. Kurt apologizes for not accepting people’s prayers.

Given the conversations we’ve been having lately about bullying, I’m just so disappointed that the message is giving in. The conflict of pushing beliefs on others goes unaddressed. Perhaps the episode Glee has committed to doing about gay teens will have a better message about bullying.

Still, we all go on… as friends and as family. While neither Kurt nor Finn seemed enthused about singing “What If God Was One of Us,” they were still very much members of the glee club family, and that kind of harmony is a message no one can disagree with. And while we may not be sure what direction Glee is taking us this season, we cannot deny that it still has the power to speak powerful truth to the challenges of the world we live in (and that even in the most serious episodes, Brittany can still be hilarious!).

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There are 11 Comments to "Glee’s Grilled Cheesus: A Milestone in Atheist Visibility"

  • Stephanie says:

    Hi, I really liked your review. It was honest, and you made a lot of good points–especially with how other people were trying to push religion onto Kurt. However, in that scene where Mercedes convinces Kurt to go to church, I didn’t see it as her trying to be pushy–believe it or not. She wasn’t asking him to convert, or to accept God. In fact, she didn’t mention God or christianity at all. She was simply asking him to open up, and come to church with her. Now, I’m not a Christian. I’m an atheist, but I’ve been to church before. To me, church represents a place where people can go to be at peace with their emotions, to feel safe and be with others who may not know you, but have a big heart and are unafraid to accept you. And in the scene where Kurt is at church, no one tries to convert him or argue with him. They simply let him know that even though he is in a dark place right now, there is still life in the world. There is still beauty, and light, and singing. Even after Mercedes told everyone at church, plain and simple, that Kurt doesn’t believe in God–they didn’t kick him out, or do what previous Glee Clubbers selfishly were doing. They were trying to show him support in the only way they know how: prayer and song. So through this episode, I came to see religion as that pushy, over-protective mom who can seem too much at times, but you accept her all the same because you know she only does it from love.

  • ZackFord says:

    Stephanie, I understand a lot of what you are saying, but I fear you are only seeing it from Mercedes’ point of view and not considering what it would make Kurt feel.

    You said “she was simply asking him to open up.” This infers that he is closed, that there is something wrong with his disinterest in church. Can you imagine the reverse? “Hey, I’d really like you to sleep in on Sunday, because I just feel like you’re too open.” Even though I’m sure many atheists have felt that way, we know it wouldn’t fly. Churchgoers would hear such a message as extremely condescending and “disrespectful” of their beliefs. Well, I think Mercedes was being disrespectful of Kurt’s nonbelief, insisting that he’d get something out of church.

    I find your comment a bit conciliatory, as if religion can do no harm. If religion is an over-protective mom, then when do people grow up?

  • Ben01 says:

    Wow… I wanted to write a review on this episode, but I guess that won’t be needed anymore 🙂 this is incredibly detailed and has given me a lot to think about. When I watched the episode I was rather uncomfortable about a couple of things, and mostly it’s about Kurt and Sue both giving in. The moral indeed seems to be to live together without conflict and that it was okay to punish Kurt for what he said, but that the religious folk were completely in line. There are a couple of other things in the episode though that I think you missed.

    One is that when Kurt says he doesn’t go to church, it’s accepted quite easily. Likewise, it’s accepted easily that Jewish glee members don’t believe in Jesus. The only one excluded from respect is the atheist.

    Also, when the glee club finds out that they are not allowed to sing religious songs, Kurt does say some things that cross the line. “Now I don’t have to sit around listening to all you mental patients about how there’s a god when I know there isn’t one.” After all the pushing, it’s perfectly understandable that he backlashes like that, but it is something that warrants an apology. I think that’s what Mercedes means when she says ‘I don’t know how to be around you any more’ and I think that’s what Kurt is apologising for.

    However, you do clearly see him admitting defeat by going to that church and joining in on the song at the end. Even Sue questions her own atheism. She expresses her position, as if she is doing it for the first time, and immediately feels bad for doing so. She goes to her sister to ask what she thinks and does concede as well. I really wonder if they continue this theme or go on to pretend nothing ever happened.

  • Mr. C says:

    I’d like to say first off, I’m a Christian and I’ve been a long time supporter of gays in church. I have a friends who are gay and christian. While I don’t support homosexuality, I do support people.

    That being said, when I saw Grilled Cheezuz I think it showed a lot of immaturity that I see in Christians, and in myself. When I was in jr. High I was very much like the Christians on the show. From a Christian’s point of view, I don’t think that Mercedez is insecure about her faith, or the kids pushing Christianity on Kurt are doing it out of their own pride or “group dynamic.” I think they are doing it out of love, and they are genuinely worried about Kurt. From a Christian’s point of view pushing conversion on someone is something you do when you care about someone and you are scared about what will happen to them. It’s import to try and help people and meet their needs first before giving them Christianity. In the Bible Jesus almost always reached out to help people before he told them about what they should do.

    Likewise I can see Kurt’s point of view. He’s been pushed his entire life to be a different person that he believes he is naturally. Now his friends are pushing Christianity on him. From his point of view I wouldn’t feel good about it either.

    • Deb says:

      Your gay friends can feel that you will never accept who they really are. Of course, that’s assuming that they see you as a friend in the first place – maybe within your heterosexual religious privilege it feels that way, but they’re in a very different place. They might find your condemnation of their sexual identity impossible to reconcile with true friendship.

      Sorry, I support people, but I can’t support Christianity.

  • Grace says:

    When i first saw this episode i had no idea whether i liked it or not. I still don’t know. I do not believe in god or any thing to do with christianity or such.
    I was annoyed greatly that there was no one else to back Kurt and Sue or to help kurt through this time without having to resort to religion. i dont know how it is with the rest of the world but here in australia, in my high school anyways, there was respect for everyones religion even if you didnt agree with it. Thats not to say there were never ‘debates’ about religion, and questions about each others beliefs and sometimes it got heated but never personally attacking someone for their belief. Maybe it was just my co-hort i don’t know.

    In this episode i believe thats what they were doing, the rest of the glee club where choosing to ignore kurt and his wishes like they were better than him and they get to decide what to do. How come none of these religious aspects came out when Quinn was pregnant? isnt that a big no-no for about 80% of religions?

    I wish they had written in a character even just for that one episode to let kurt know it is okay to believe that god doesnt exist. Thats not being a non-believer in religion, thats just choosing not to believe the same religion.

    I felt proud of Kurt by finally snapping back and not taking their insistence in ‘you must believe.’

    how is it that they can readily accept other religions such as christianity and the jewish faith but cant accept atheism.

    I know i am probably just rambling now, but i truely believe this episode would have been better if Kurt and Sue werent shown to, in a way, reconsider their faiths.

    Dont even get me started on Finn….he annoyed me to great lengths in this episode, Quinn as well. Mercedes i actually understood where she was coming from, yes i dont agree what she was doing but i understand her view point. They all should have tried to see it from Kurts standpoint, to see his pain and help him through it with respect to his ideologies.

  • Cimmerians says:

    Just found this–it is bloody perfect in every respect. Thank you so, so much for writing this!

  • Jay says:

    I found this episode incredibly painful to watch, because of the amount of realism I saw in it. I have actually had the same experience as Kurt and Sue. When I was a kid, I prayed for my mother to get better from cancer, prayed with all the hope I could. Nothing happened. She died. I never believed from that moment, nothing could reconcile the existence of some higher power for me. And yet people still try to push their religion on to me. I went to a Christian school, in which I listened in chapel and stayed silent. That was fine, everyone else was welcome to their belief. But on the anniversary of her death, it was the morning we had chapel, and I couldn’t take it. I asked, politely, the counselor if I could skip chapel that morning. I was told “No, you really have to be there. Oh, and by the way, let’s talk about God, and how you can learn to accept him.” There was no thought to how I was feeling, just to how I wasn’t religious. It was sickening.

    This episode was well done, and hit me hard. The scene in the church – it reminded me of being in Chapel in school, of being so brutally uncomfortable having other people’s belief pushed on me. For some viewers, maybe it was heartwarming and genorous, but I hated it, as it seemed that Kurt did. I was quite disappointed in the message it gave that he and Sue both took the path of least resistence in the end, but it still rang true – so many non believers end up taking this attitude as opposed to being ostracized.

    One last point. Some think that it’s okay for Mercedes and her church and the other Glee members to do what they are doing, because they’re doing it out of love. Love makes everything alright. No. That’s not love. Love is caring more about another person than yourself, caring more about helping them than what -you- believe. if one of my Christian friend’s parents were in that situation, I wouldn’t try to tell them their beliefs weren’t valid. I wouldn’t take the opportunity to make them feel uncomfortable by stating what I think they should believe. I would support them. And if they needed to believe that there was a Heaven waiting… I wouldn;t take that away from them, no matter how little I believe myself. Speaking of sacred things? I believe in love, in family. That’s enough for me.

  • Emily says:

    Oh, wow. I know I’m coming across this approximately 3 full years too late – this was season 2, episode 3 of the show and season 5 just started airing. (Ironically, 5×03, which will be exactly 3 seasons later – to the episode number – , will likely also bring up some kind of religious thoughts or at least “heaven” due to the nature of it being the Cory Monteith tribute/Finn’s death episode.)

    But anyway… late as I might be, coming here… I have a lot of thoughts.

    First off… I’m a major Glee fangirl. And fangirl in general about a lot of fandoms. And when it comes to religion on television shows, and atheism, I have always found it fascinating to really look at critically.

    When I first watched this episode, I remember one of the main things that stuck out to me was that the only atheists in the episode were Kurt & Sue:

    Kurt, whose mother died when he was quite young, and who suffered quite intense bullying as a result of being gay, and who used his homosexuality to justify his lack of belief

    – and Sue, a typical “emotionless, unlikable” character who of course is the one who has to be the atheist.

    There are likable atheists maybe sometimes on TV shows, like Kurt, but in this case his lack of faith is made out to be because bad things happened to him. Brennan on Bones is pretty likable but emotionally stunted in such a way that people speculate on her having Asperger’s or something similar. She wouldn’t be an atheist if she could appreciate anything non-scientific, is what Bones tends to imply – she even is skeptical of human love as a thing. I have barely seen Dawson’s Creek, but from what I can tell, Jen was an atheist and had an awful childhood as well.

    Then there are characters like Greg House on House M.D., or Brenda on Six Feet Under, or Thea on Arrow this past year, who are jerks/bitches to everyone they come across. The super pessimistic cynics. On Glee, of course Sue had to be the only other atheist, the teacher who’s essentially pure evil in 90% of the show. Now, she ends up being more like the first type of atheist where “you’re only an atheist because something bad happened to you in your life” and in this episode she is basically not even a trace of evil.

    BUT the same goes for House being a harsh jerk if you watch a random scene from a random episode, and at the same time a kind, very human, soul you love dearly if you watch the entire show lol. They explore some reasons for him to be so jaded and everything else, and part of it is him always being in pain from his major leg injury.

    Back to Glee… idk. While I think the reasons Kurt and Sue gave ARE legitimate bad experiences as catalysts to start questioning, I think it’s a bad way to get atheists exposed to theists, because it makes them think they’re just mad at God, or that the only reason they are atheists is their bad experiences.

    Idk… it just…

    You did make some really good points in here, though.

    • Zack Ford says:

      Thanks for your comment, belated as it may be! I think you make a ton of great points. It’s a Catch-22… we want to show that there are a number of reasons people can (and should) question their faith, but we don’t want every character to be dependent on that. I think until atheism is a little bit more visible and mainstream, these narratives will kind of be necessary to help people relate to what it means to be an atheist. (It’s not so unlike the early portrayals as gay men who all fit a certain stereotype.) Still, even three years later, I think the visibility — and more importantly, the open discussion — of atheism in this episode was super valuable to television audiences. 🙂

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