- Religion and Philosophy
The Top 15 Atheist Friendly TV Shows
Who says TV hasn't evolved?
Hello again, heathens! Welcome to our new devilish list of sinister things. As you may remember on previous installments, we've covered such godless topics as Atheist Friendly Movies, Atheist Film and TV Characters and The Celebrity Atheist and Skeptics List. And while those were all fun and fascinating examples of atheism in media, something just didn't feel right about leaving out the greatest of all pop-cultural sacrilege: Television!
Ordered by a delicate balance of how "atheist friendly" they are and how entertaining this sorta-humble writer finds them to be, some of you may become a tad bent out of shape over what ranks where. But try not to. What's important are the shows themselves and how they help in spreading the "good word" about our blasphemous ways. Because while things may be getting better, skepticism and atheism still have a long ways to go before becoming fully accepted in today's god-lovin' world.
So here they are; from the thought-provoking and educational to the downright wicked, our favorite series that bring skepticism, critical thinking and good ol' irreverence to the masses: The Top 15 Atheist Friendly TV Shows.
15.) MythBusters (2003-)
Contrary to what many think, atheism isn't a belief system. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It's simply the act of remaining skeptical of what rumors, hearsay and myths you hear, and believing nothing until it's been tried, tested, and proven to have at least a modicum of plausibility.
Although they never tackle anything quite as taboo as gods or bibles on their show, it's this thought process that we see take place in each and every episode of Mythbusters; where real life atheists, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, take popular rumors, legends, tall tails, news stories and other myths, and use the good ol' scientific method to test just how valid they really are. Hopefully they'll eventually take on religion more directly, but until then, any skepticism is good skepticism. Right?
14.) Futurama (1999-2003/2008-2013)
Just like other of the cartoons of its type, Futurama's atheistic appeal relies heavily on its satirizing of religion, parodying of religion, and witty one-liners that poke fun at religion. Aside from making light of already established faiths, though, Futurama also goes the extra mile by actually inventing it's own futuristic religions to ridicule; including Robotology, Robot Judaism, the Church of Trek (where devotees of Star Trek worship the characters and attend services dressed as officers and aliens from the show), and even one episode in which Bender is accidentally cast adrift in space and unwittingly becomes a god figure to a race of tiny people living on an asteroid that impacts his body.
It should be noted, though, that near the end of the latter episode, Bender actually does come in contact with a strange galactic figure that may or may not be god. But as Leela later succinctly comments (after the entity tosses Bender back to earth), "this is by a wide margin the least likely thing that has ever happened."
13.) Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
One of the best and most intelligent TV dramas to ever hit the small screen, this HBO series created by American Beauty writer, Alan Ball, about a family who run a funeral home, delves into the deepest territories when it comes to life, death, and the human condition. Everything from monogamy, spirituality, art, pretentiousness, depression, homosexuality, life after death and coping with loss of all sorts is superbly dealt with and addressed within the shows five season run.
Being a series that revolves around a funeral home and people who deal with death and the bereaved on a regular basis, religion and ideas of an afterlife are brought up more than a bit. And from atheists, to Christians, to Catholics, Wiccans, and even Quakers, each is discussed, debated and thought upon with a kind of insight and realism that will leave both theists and non-theists alike with something to chew on.
12.) The Big Bang Theory (2007-)
One of the most popular sitcoms in nearly 14 billion years, CBS's hit series about a group of nerdy scientists managed to do the unheard of: it placed real world science in a television sitcom while making it fun and funny for both the layman and scientifically literate alike. In fact, with actual scientists acting as consultants for the series, some of The Big Bang Theory's jokes require such an esoteric knowledge of the sciences that only experts in the fields are likely to even understand the friggin' things! Boring for most of us dummies, sure, but it's still a pretty cool addition for an already awesome mainstream series.
Other than the eye for detail the show puts on science itself, we also get some pretty nifty references to atheism and skepticism through the shows characters; most notably, the brilliant and painstakingly awkward character, Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon, a child prodigy who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, is continuously seen doing such things as battling it out with his creationist mother (whose views clash with Sheldon's deep knowledge of evolution), criticizing the irrationality of astrology, cursing a deity "whose existence I [Sheldon] doubt!", and giving a detailed explanation of how Sir Isaac Newton is more "Christmasy" than Jesus Christ.
11.) Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
Aside from being televisions home of the first interracial make-out session, being the beginning of one of the most successful and long-running franchises ever created, and being an all-around fun show about space, aliens, and a charismatic captain with an overactive libido, the original 1960s Star Trek also happened to be a surprisingly insightful and progressive (albeit sometimes hokey) program, that often took on many real world issues under the guise of "it's only make-believe". One of the most prevalent of said issues being (you guessed it) religion.
Gene Roddenberry, the series creator and an avowed atheist himself, was the primary influence on the shows veiled stance against theism. It was Roddenberry's belief that in this futuristic world he'd imagined, the human race would have long since let go of such beliefs and ideas as religion, superstition and mystical thinking, and he let it be known to all of his writers that that's how it was. Since the show originally ran in the 1960s, though, it was hard to get away with too much anti-religious stuff. But with such episodes as "Return of the Archons", "A Taste of Armageddon", "Catspaw", "The Apple", "Who Mourns for Adonais", "And the Children Shall Lead", "Plato's Stepchildren", and "The Squire of Gothos", they manage to squeeze in a fair share of shots.
10.) All in the Family (1971-1979)
One of the ballsiest TV sitcoms (if not the ballsiest) to ever grace the airwaves, All in the Family was as smart and controversial as it was funny. Tackling such issues as racism, homosexuality, women's lib, abortion, impotence, and even rape, it's safe to say that Everybody Loves Raymond this was not. Or as Archie himself might say, it had real spunk.
For this show, no topic was off the table and everything was up for discussion. For religion, the most interesting conversations seemed to occur between the staunch, god fearing conservative, Archie Bunker, and his liberal, atheist son-in-law, Michael Stivic (aka Meathead). One of the best of which was in this episode, entitled 'The Little Atheist'.
9.) The Simpsons (1989-)
"He [God] is my favorite fictional character." -- Homer Simpson
The longest-running American sitcom, animated program and primetime, scripted television series, The Simpsons has obviously been a big part of our popular culture for a very, very long time. And while there's no denying its appeal to a wide array of audiences (religious and non-religious alike) and it's handful of seemingly pro-god episodes, it just didn't seem right to leave it off the list. Because regardless of the Simpson families regular church attendance and the shows occasional "spiritual moments", they've taken enough hard jabs at god, the bible, creationism, and faith over the years to more than earn a place in our godless hearts. Also, gifting non-believers with more memorable, atheist friendly one-liners than you can shake a crucifix at doesn't hurt much either.
"I've done everything the Bible says... Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff." -- Ned Flanders
8.) Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Alright, before anyone says anything, yes, I understand that I'll probably get flack for adding this to the list (and maybe rightfully so) but at least hear me out, guys. Because while Battlestar Galactica does rely heavily on religion -- with "angels", premonitions, oracles, and so on and so forth -- I contend that the end message of series actually could be viewed as a more science fictiony, athiest-friendly alternative to god.
In Battlestar Galactica man created the humanoid cylons so that they're nearly identical to people (with real bones, flesh and blood, and even the same emotions and feelings of self-awareness). In many ways, the only difference between the two species, at least by the end of the series, is merely a nominal classification (by now, it's even shown that cylons can procreate). So the question becomes, what really is the definition of life? Sure, the cylons are manmade creations, but since they have all the necessary criteria for living as intelligent, biological creatures, doesn't that make them something more than just robots? And does it make their human creators gods?
By the end of the series we find out that the "angels" (Inner Six and Inner Baltar) helping to guide our heroes are actually real entities who are working for an even higher creator than the humans who created cylons. This creator is said to not like to be called "God", just as the humans who created the original humanoid cylons didn't like to be referred to as either. This, friends, is where the possibility of an atheist-friendly outcome comes from in BSG. Sure, there is a creator of the people we've been watching, but perhaps that creator is nothing more than another alien being with a civilization and creator of his own (just as the humans were for their cylon creations; continuing the cycle of "All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again").
What may appear as mystical, magical and supernatural on the show, perhaps has a rational, technological explanation behind it that we've not yet understood. After all, in the words of the late, great sci-fi writer, Arthur C Clarke, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Sure, these ideas may seem like the product of an atheist reading too deeply into a show to get the outcome he wants (it's certainly a viable possibility), but who the heck cares? The point is that this dark and gritty sci-fi show handled religion, science, and skepticism in such a serious and thought-provoking manner that it was possible to come up with these ideas in the first place. If that ain't atheist friendly, I don't know what is.
7.) Family Guy (1999-2003/2005 -)
With a militantly atheist dog, repeated, blasphemy-filled cameos by Jesus Christ and God himself, and a series creator, star and showrunner (Seth MacFarlane) who is one of the most vocal atheist celebrities in showbiz, the atheist leanings of the wildly popular cartoon series, Family Guy, are about as subtle as a kick in the teeth. And the examples of skepticism in the show are abounding and hilarious as they goof on such things as the belief in creationism, what Jesus Christs true tiny height would be, and the many inconsistent and erroneous aspects of all religious beliefs.
The series, of course, doesn't go easy on any race, creed, sex, or aspect of popular culture, though, so it's not just about bashing religion. To Family Guy, the topic is just as much comedy fodder as anything else and not exempt of ridicule. With that being said, though, it is a taboo topic -- so much so, in fact, that MacFarlane has even noted that the most difficult jokes to get past the censors aren't to do with making fun of race, tragedy or politics, but with god. So, suffice it to say, it takes some pretty big cojones to continue goofing on the topic. And that's something we can all thank the lord for.
6.) Real Time with Bill Maher (2003-)
Along with Comedy Centrals The Daily Show and Colbert Report, and FOX News's Red Eye, HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher is one of the few political programs on television today to actually be informative while at the same time remaining fun and entertaining for those who are not necessarily news junkies. The big difference that makes Real Time stick out above the bunch, though, is that it has the luxury of being aired on a premium movie channel where censorship and normal restrictions don't apply.
The series is essentially a weekly comedy talk show, yeah, but with thorough, no holds barred interviews and discussions with political and religious giants, it's not all just fun and games; and the serious issues are just as much prevalent as the jokes. With outspoken atheist Bill Maher (writer and star of that atheist friendly documentary Religulous) being the series host, and guests such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and other well known proponents of atheism repeatedly coming onto the show, expect a lot of god talk a lot of the time.
5.) South Park (1997-)
Working with the motto that no topic or group of people will be spared their mockery and satire, creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, consider themselves as "equal opportunity offenders" when it comes to what they put on the air. And with brutal jabs at all beliefs, they stand true to that statement. Certain episodes have been so blasphemous, in fact, that The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights have tried to ban them, The Council of Christians and Muslims have tried to ban them, The Russian Pentecostalist Church has attempted to ban them, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made open statements against the series, Scientologist Isaac Hayes (voice of the character Cheff) has quit the series (after their treatment of Scientology on the episode "Trapped in the Closet"), and The Christian Family Network has even prepared an educational guide on how to "protect our youth from vile trash like South Park".
In case you haven't gotten the picture yet, as far as pure, unadulterated blasphemous programming goes, South Park may very well be the reigning king.
4.) Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003-2010)
Similar to the previously mentioned Mythbusters, Showtimes original series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! had the same basic aim of using scientific and critical inquiry to get to the real truth behind many widely (and blindly) accepted claims and ideas that exist in our society. The big difference with Bullshit! (aside from it's use of saucy language and aggressive attitude) is that there's no chance that the myths that Penn and Teller give to us are going to be anywhere near plausible or confirmed -- they'll always be BS.
Some of the most atheist friendly subjects that the skeptical magicians hit on include when they call out Mother Teresa, the authenticity of the bible, creationism, and Heaven.
3.) Scooby-Doo (1969-)
A beloved childrens cartoon that promotes the ideals of atheists? ZOINKS! It couldn't be! Could it???
Whether it was intentional or not, the ideals of skepticism and naturalism were oozing out of every single episode of every incarnation of Scooby-Doo. While the message was never said aloud, Scoob and his pals repeatedly showed us that behind every apparent ghost, ghoulie, bump in the night and paranormal activity, there always turned out to be a more plausible and logical explanation behind things in the end.
The great Carl Sagan (whose TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, we may talk about later) was even vocal about being a fan of the shows open skepticism when dealing with the supernatural and paranormal; rightfully proposing that an adult analogue of the series would be of a great public service to us all.
2.) Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
While Star Trek's mastermind, Gene Roddenberry, wasn't around for the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation's run, before his death he made certain that the writers of this next incarnation of his beloved show held true to the original views on religion and the supernatural that he had always intended for the Star Trek universe adhere to. And since it was free to be more controversial than the original 1960s show, Next Gen not only remained true to its predecessor, but it surpassed it in many ways. Especially in regards to religion.
The original Trek mostly tiptoed around the taboo topic by showing allegorical scenarios where supposed gods and supernatural events ended up having perfectly "logical", non-paranormal explanations behind them (a la, Scoob-style). Next Gen, on the other hand, took things further by addressing and criticizing blind faith and religion in more direct fashions. The most blatant and enjoyable example of which took place during the episode "Who Watches The Watchers", where Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," comes to life after the Enterprise makes contact with a more primitive culture who mistakes their technologies and medicines as god-like, and Captain Picard as God himself.
1.) Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980)
In the thirteen part documentary series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, we watch as one of the 20th centuries most beloved scientists, Carl Sagan, gives us a personal tour of the universe, science, history and all the wonder that the pale blue dot we live on has to offer.
Through his brilliant mind and poetic, easy-to-understand way of communicating, Sagan continuously uses science, skepticism and rationality to help show his viewers that, even without a creator, the majesty of our life, world, and universe is awe-inspiring all on its own; and that being unafraid to embrace science and ask questions (as oppose to accepting answers on faith alone) may help us gain a closer, more realistic truth as to who we are, where we're from, where we live and what our future holds. Or as Sagan himself put it in one episode:
"In many cultures, the customary answer is that a god, or gods, created the universe out of nothing. But if we wish to pursue this question courageously, we must, of course, ask the next question: Where did god come from? If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or, if we say that god always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe always existed? That there's no need for a creation? That it was always here? These are not easy questions. Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries... the questions that were once treated only in religion and myth." -- Carl Sagan
With Sagan acting as our guide, Cosmos became more than mere educational programming. It was an inspiration.
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