atheism, Current Events, TV

“Family Guy” is no friend of atheists

creation-of-adam-detailI used to watch almost every episode of Family Guy in the first season or two. I thought it was sometimes a clever show, but as it went on it seemed to devolve into a series of flashbacks and random, drawn-out asides which broke apart the coherence of the story. I recently saw most of an episode of “Family Guy” in which it was revealed that Brian, the family’s dog (who talks and is essentially part of the family), is an atheist. The episode is called “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven.”

My first observation is that despite the apparent intent to make people more aware of the demonization which happens with atheists, the episode does not portray Brian in the best light by any means. For one, Brian’s reasons for remaining an atheist are revealed to be a bit absurd to say the least. When Meg–the daughter who is often the butt of jokes on the show–asked Brian why he doesn’t believe in God given “all the evidence,” he responded with an argument that made my jaw drop. To paraphrase him, he said that Hubble Space Telescope has been taking so many amazing pictures of the wonders of the universe but has never found some old man with a white beard “out there” somewhere. It then cut to an aside with an old man with a beard riding on something with some sweet music in the background [see my comments on the show being a bunch of asides and flashbacks].

Seriously, that is apparently one of Brian’s main reasons for rejecting theism, according to the episode. Really? I don’t know if this is really a reflection of what Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) believes about Christianity; but if it is he needs to perhaps reflect upon his own rejection of it. The notion that God should be found somewhere in the physical universe by something as simplistic as the Hubble Space Telescope (or anything, for that matter) and would be seen as an old man with a beard is… well, obscene. If that were my picture of what Christians believed, I’d be an atheist too. But Christians don’t believe this. Instead, they believe that God is spirit and one cannot artistically make anything which looks like God. The old man with a beard was popularized by some Christian art which, for the sake of depicting deity, chose that image to portray God. That doesn’t mean Christians actually believe God is an old man with a beard cruising through space somewhere.

The worst part about this scene is that it seems like Brian is supposed to get points for his response here somehow. That is, it’s like the viewer can feel a running tally going and apparently they’re supposed to check one off for the atheists. But gross misrepresentation of others’ religion does not mean that one has made a good point. Sure, people can sit around laughing at the notion that God is some old white guy–I’ll join them!–but to think that Brian said anything constructive is absurd. I realize it is a TV show, and a fairly shallow one at that, but I expected more. Mea Culpa, I suppose.

So it seems Brian’s atheism is based upon a farce. But that’s not the only reason I think this episode is actually unfriendly to atheists. In a later conversation with Meg, who has newly found a rather zealous faith, he confronts her belief directly with what is apparently some kind of knock-down argument because it destroys her faith:

Meg: “You are not gonna turn me from my faith, Brian!”
Brian: “Ok, fine. Then let me just ask you this. If there were a God would he put you here on Earth with a flat chest and a fat [butt]?”
Meg: “I’m made in his image…”
Brian: “Really? Would he give you a smoking hot mom like Lois and then have you grow up looking like Peter [her odd looking father]? …And what kind of God would put you in a house where no one respects or cares about you?”

That is essentially the extent of the comments on Brian’s reasoning for atheism. Apparently, for Brian [and perhaps MacFarlane, depending upon if he is actually sharing his view], God’s entire purpose should be to go around making everyone’s life the best possible life ever. God is some kind of cosmic vending machine, and if you don’t win the lottery, you should doubt the existence of that vending machine. What was most horrifying about this sequence, in my opinion, was the fact that the “image of God” was reduced down to having a hot body. Ridiculous! Being made in God’s image does not mean that everyone is going to be physically perfect. Such a notion completely misrepresents what is meant by the “image of God” which historic Christianity has long held refers to the intellect, soul, reason, etc.; not physical perfection or even physical form.

Brian’s last retort seems to seal the deal for Meg. After all, why would God put people in homes in which they aren’t cared for? Well, I don’t know, why would God put Joseph in a home in which his brothers sold him into slavery? Oh… right. You see, anyone who thinks that is an objection to the existence of God presumes they know better than God. That is, they know how to run things; they should be in charge. But I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that: you don’t. Moreover, why assume that we should know the reasons for this, or even that there are reasons? Again, I am stretching the philosophical muscle of the show quite a bit [understatement of the millenium], but the whole episode seems disingenuous.

The episode did do some good things, however, in showing the absurdity of mistreating and abusing atheists due to their lack of shared belief. I agree with this. We should not say atheists are automatically terrible people or that we wouldn’t want to live next to them. Anyone who does endorse mistreatment of atheists is acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner and should repent. Period. My point in this post is simply that this episode of Family Guy doesn’t do atheists any favors. It misrepresents Christianity in order to abuse it, but it also presents atheism in an extremely shallow way. Rather than spurring discussion, the episode merely seems bent upon mutual ridicule. I hope my atheist friends would choose, instead, to engage in dialogue rather than resorting to this kind of nonsense–and the same goes for my Christian friends as well.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


10 thoughts on ““Family Guy” is no friend of atheists

  1. I think it was Michelangelo that set the tone for the “old man with a white beard in the sky” with his Sistene Chapel painting. Medievals knew that God is incorporeal and that it was wrong to try to depict God pictorially. That had always been clear from Scripture.

    Posted by williamfrancisbrown | July 30, 2014, 7:02 AM
  2. Brian is supposed to get laughs, as this comment was obviously just a set-up for the “busy god” joke. God in this show is also as depicted of being a newly wed father and many other things. It’s comedy. I doubt that it was meant to be a serious work about religion or atheism… The jokes may not be actually good, but I personally can laugh about it without feeling offended…

    Oh, and Peter is the father. The brother is Chris (and Stewie).

    Posted by Atomic Mutant | July 30, 2014, 7:26 AM
  3. Something else you may want to watch is the episode of the Cleveland Show (also made by Seth MacFarland, as a spin-off of Family Guy), entitled “The Hurricane.”!

    In that episode, Junior reveals that he doesn’t believe in God. Yet, he also rips on Brian!

    Posted by jamesbradfordpate | July 30, 2014, 10:40 AM
  4. Interesting!

    Posted by SLIMJIM | July 31, 2014, 4:15 AM
  5. Yeah, it’s just supposed to be funny. On the other hand, Brian’s second argument boils down to the argument from evil. Meg being ugly or lacking respect is an example of evil, let’s say. This could be a serious argument.

    Posted by John Moore | August 1, 2014, 2:51 AM
  6. Actually that argument is rather ironic when you realize that Meg’s creator (and you might say God) is Seth McFarlane. It is he and his designers who made Meg the way she is. Did they make her that way because they don’t exist, because they’re evil, or for purposes which she cannot understand from her perspective? When I understand that McFarlane is using his own creation which he describes as ugly and unloved to criticize God because there are unattractive and unloved people in the world, the hypocrisy is clear.
    Further, for another family member to question God’s goodness because she is unattractive is despicable. The correct response would be to love her with all her faults. Thus demonstrating that the burden of proof for the question of evil is on the skeptic: If you object to evil in the world, the blame goes to human beings. And the solution is to love and do good.
    For the record, Family Guy is lazy and reprehensible.

    Posted by madblog | August 2, 2014, 3:24 PM
  7. i really support brians reason for being an atheist

    Posted by Melody | August 5, 2016, 1:13 AM
  8. family guy is funny many americans like this show because it has laughter it makes jokes that you would never be able to make in public and there is technically no proof of someone in the sky I am also an atheist and I do not wish to have a huge argument about beliefs because then everyone gets angry that I dont believe in some man that is almighty anyways I support family guy it is an all American tv show

    Posted by imaweirdo | August 5, 2016, 1:20 AM
  9. Aside form the lack of evidence for any deities’ existence, even if you could prove good was real, I would not worship it. The god of the Old testament killed thousands [along with innocent children & livestock] with impunity for simply choosing not to worship him, though he bestowed upon his creation free will. If one child in the history of mankind is allowed to be kidnapped and raped, that is one too many and we know that is not the case. If god is real, it is an impotent god, an uncaring god, a cruel and destructive beast. I don’t believe in god, not only because I believe it does not exist, but because a petty thing like that should be shown no respect and should forever be vilified as a monster.

    Posted by elabryth | November 9, 2018, 9:26 AM

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