Tuesday Semi-Sermon: Don’t start, believers

OK, so I’m watching “Glee” and the storyline is that Kurt (the fierce gay one) is in crisis because his dad’s in a coma after a heart attack, and it turns out Kurt’s an atheist, and not wavering from his views, even being disdainful of well-meaning efforts by his theist friends to pray for his dad, etc.

And then there’s a touching scene where Mercedes (the sassy black one) says to him, “I know you’re going through a really scary time right now, and I know you’re not really religious or spiritual, but I want you to know that I’m still behind you and I care about you even though you don’t share my beliefs.

Oh, except that’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT SHE SAID! Instead she said, “but I think you’re missing out on a lot” or words to that effect, and then invited him to attend church with her. Since when is it appropriate to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability to proselytize for your religion? Sure, that might not be her intention, but that’s what she’s doing. At the very least, it’s horribly insensitive.

“Glee” had a really great opportunity to make a statement about atheism being, at the very least, a valid part of the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity. Instead they treated atheism as a problem to be dealt with, or a phase to be outgrown or moved on from.

Postscript: I’m now watching the end of the episode, and Kurt still doesn’t believe in God, and he still gets to make a touching and sympathetic speech. So I guess there’s still some hope.

(pic via Homorazzi)

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kim on October 5, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    I’m not very happy with the episode. I had to skip forward to not listen to the christian songs and you’re right, they are treating it like a problem. The only reasons for not liking god is because they had a difficult life. The beginning Kurt said some good things, but soon after it was all about “turning away from god” rather than not believing in him.


  2. I’ve been a big Glee supporter, but this episode did not sit right with me. Right there with you.


  3. Posted by Leilane on October 6, 2010 at 2:22 am

    While the episode did make some effort, it definitely fell short. Kurt’s final, humanistic speech was good, as was one of Sue’s lines about religious arrogance, but like many portrayals of atheists in the media, Glee went with the depiction of atheists as being broken and embittered, turning to atheism as a result of anger and pain. Just once I’d like to see a happy atheist character…

    Plus, the episode managed to subtly demonize the secularization of schools, which was just plain frustrating. In the end, religion and spirituality ‘win’ and the atheist characters second-guess themselves or concede to religious pressures – an uplifting conclusion to many religious viewers, but a bit of an insult to nonbelievers.


  4. Thanks for writing this. I had the same struggles. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just be there for him and respect HIS beliefs (or lack thereof). It was very frustrating. But I loved what Kurt said, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in us.”


  5. Posted by J watson on October 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I couldn’t agree with you more. My family and I found this episode very frustrating.


  6. Two days after my young son died, my religious mother’s minister dropped by to “comfort us” by telling us that Mike’s death might be part of God’s plan to bring us to the church. We showed him to the door.

    Another church member told my mother that it must be so much worse for us, because we don’t believe in life after death. She told my mother to “work on us” while our grief was still fresh.

    I think a lot of people assume that the imminent death of a family member “turns” many atheists into believers, so that they can believe that there’s a future for them that includes seeing their family member again. Kind of like the deathbed conversions we hear so much about, but don’t see any proof of.

    I have no idea what happens after we die or where – or if – my son is. The only difference between me and religious folk is that I know that I don’t know, and they don’t know that they don’t know. Or won’t admit it.

    Shine On,


  7. Posted by Anthony C on December 3, 2010 at 2:45 am

    If God really wanted to convince us to attend church, She could bring our dead loved ones back to life instead of killing them off.

    I don’t ever watch Glee, but somehow I caught just enough of this episode to be aware that there was an atheist character on the show. At that point I didn’t feel the need to watch anymore because I just had a sick feeling it would end that way. I was very happy to read about the “touching scene” prompted by Mercedes–“finally a show worth watching. Maybe my friends aren’t completely crazy after all,” I thought to myself.

    Then I laughed hysterically. Good stuff.


  8. I’ve never seen the show before, I admit. However, since when has a “Glee” been charged with the responsibility of making atheism look like a rich part of a diverse culture? Many people do in fact believe that atheism is something to be grown out of, so what’s wrong with reflecting that real world view in the show? I think that when people criticize art for not reflecting their world view, it shows narrow-mindedness.


    • Posted by brachinus on November 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Who are these folks who think atheism is something to be grown out of? And I wasn’t criticizing the show for not reflecting my world view, but for promoting the exploitation of vulnerable people’s moments of weakness for the purpose of proselytization. That’s not a world view thing, that’s just a human decency thing.


      • Thanks for your reply.

        brachinus: “Who are these folks who think atheism is something to be grown out of?”

        I was referring to how many people do in fact believe that atheism is just a “phase to be outgrown or moved on from”, as you put it in your original post. Art often reflects culture as it is, not always how the artist views a particular aspect of the culture. It could be possible that the makers of “Glee” were simply reflecting the fact that people do believe that atheism is a problem to be dealt with, not necessarily that they agree.

        brachinus: “And I wasn’t criticizing the show for not reflecting my world view, but for promoting the exploitation of vulnerable people’s moments of weakness for the purpose of proselytization”

        According to your original post, you’re criticizing “Glee” (I don’t know if you meant the makers, the producers, writers, ect…) while the focus of your objections seem to be on how some of the characters in show don’t hold your beliefs. This is liken to someone who believes murder is wrong watching a horror movie about a mass murderer and objecting to the movie because they don’t agree with the mass murderer’s beliefs. Someone has to be the bad guy…

        Brachinus: “That’s not a world view thing, that’s just a human decency thing.”

        You believe people shouldn’t exploit people’s moments of weakness for the purpose of proselytizing them. This is your world-view. Whether the makers of the show were actively trying promote a different type of view or not is arguable. However, since when did “Glee” get charged with the responsibility of promoting anyone’s world view? I personally don’t watch television shows in order to agree with everything the makers may be trying to promote.

        PS. I really enjoy this blog site. Thanks and keep it up!

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