I 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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