Tag Archive: Atheism

Bob’s Burger” is a sleeper hit animated adult show that started in the shadow of gigantic hits such as “South Park”, “The Simpsons” and Seth MacFarlene’s multiple shows; however as time went on, the show gained attention due to the confluence of its notably likeable characters, well-written humour, and for focusing on a functioning though financially precarious family. Nowadays “Bob’s Burger” is regarded as one the best currently-running animated shows on the Television landscape and it’s not hard to see why. Woven throughout the myriad of individual tales of the week “Bob’s Burgers” tells a simple yet enduring story of a family who, despite communally running a struggling restaurant love and support each other. The show also has a very accurate, non- stereotypical neurodiverse teenage girl in the character of Tina, providing great representation. Along with visualizing characters often not seen in the tv- scape the interplay of the cast often showcases actions which subvert and often avert common gendered stereotypes and tackles the struggle with ordinary but always stressful, economic issues in subtle and complex ways. “Bob’s Burger” has been discussed on this blog before, back when the show had only one season out, and per this writing they are engaged with season eight of their still strong run.


Tina and the real ghost”, is the second episode from Season five and that seasons Halloween special. The episode starts in an appropriately spooky manner with a repair man refusing to go into the restaurant’s basement, with the adamant rebuttal that there lingers an unnatural spirit in the dark abodes of the basement. Bob is annoyed by the unprofessional behaviour, but his wife Linda and the kids get excited at the idea of a haunted storage room laying beneath the restaurant and their home. The family decides on the rational action of spending the fateful hours of the night using a Ouija board in an attempt to contact the alleged wandering spirit. While using the board, the family is informed that the ghost’s name is Jeff, and after some clever manipulation and outlandish commotion they decide that they have to lure the ghost into a shoebox where it remains captured. The children are thrilled with the idea of having a ghost in a box, seeing it as an odd form of friend or pet.


While Gene and Louise use the box to get attention from the other kids at school and Bob uses the image of a “haunted restaurant” for free publicity, Tina develops the beginnings of a relationship with Jeff the (supposed) Ghost. Taking the box on a date to a butterfly conservatory (Butterfly houses are enclosures for the breeding and display of butterfly populations) and after a butterfly lands on her mouth, Tina sees this as a sign of communication with Jeff of the most intimate display. Tina, now enamoured of the subtle moves of Jeff takes the box to school, where having a ghost boyfriend leads to Tina becoming quite popular.


The undeniable attention Jeff and his shoebox gives to the once wallflower Tina creates a seething jealousy in the main bully Tammy. With Tammy agreeing to the obviousness of Jeff’s reality only to set the stage for a break up between Tina and Jeff, and acquiring the shoebox, and Jeff’s affection, for herself. Once again Tammy ascends to the top of the Popularity summit and Tina finds herself forlorn at school and in love. Whilst Tina mourns her loss, Louise, in her guilt at Tina’s breakdown, admits to the parents, Bob and Linda, that she played a prank on the family during the Ouija board event and move the planchette (the moveable pointer on the spirit board) to emulate a spectre and give this young ghostly presence the name Jeff. Louise tormented by her sisters pain desires to admit her deceit to Tina, but the Bob and Linda argue against this course of action to spare Tina from further sorrow. This plot twist, where the parents suggest further deception, sets up the episodes climax.


Left to right: Jimmy, Zeke, Tammy and Jocelyn

Now All Hallows eve has come around and the Belchers (the family name) children go trick-or-treating. Tina, putting on a brave face, joins her peers, including Tammy with the shoebox, and her siblings for the night. Deciding to promote the evening of Halloween eve by entering a graveyard, Things take a further creepy and unsettling turn when the group decides to enter a mausoleum.


As per the usual, the door to the crypt slams shut and after all attempts fail to reopen the mausoleums’ door, the already fearful group discover a message written on the wall: “You are all trapped in here forever, signed Jeff”. Naturally panic ensues and Tammy repents of her actions in absconding with both box and Jeff. Hearkened by this situation, we as the audience are relieved as we feel the protagonist Tina will not be further bullied, but the shock comes when Tina, herself, notes that Jeff isn’t real. Tina confesses her doubts about the reality of the spectral plane and her only half playful acceptance of Jeff as existing. Noting her suspension of doubt bout ghosts was finally cut short when her suspicion of the fantasy of the ghostly world was confirmed when she overheard Louise’s confession to her parents.


Tina starts to wonder about her own suspension of disbelief. Why did she embrace the nothingness of the myth of the ghost? She concludes to her group of friends and siblings that Jeff or his world of the spectral realm isn’t real, but the things that are desired from him still are. Jeff embodies cravings, wants and desires unfulfilled and nebulous. Tina wanted a boy to pay attention to her. Zeke, one of the kids in the gang, admits that he believed in Jeff because he desperately wanted to believe in an afterlife. Gene wanted someone to watch TV with. After the group has their epiphany, Tina states: But we don’t need Jeff to get these things from ourselves”. The conversation is continued with: “It’s ok (that there is no afterlife) it just means we have to take advantage of the here and now”. Tina calls on herself, without a Jeff, to embrace herself. Tina shows Gene that one can watch Tv by himself (it is no reflection of being unwanted) and (as rule of funny) the group tells Tammy to stop being mean and horrible. The Group makes peace and Tina gets complimented on her prankster skills as it is revealed that she had planned and executed the entire evening.

This scene introduces in a simple, yet a very authentic depiction of arguments about the meaning of existence in a transcendental world and of sceptic response that no underlying (transcendental) world is needed to give meaning to human existence. Commonly this argument goes that without the meaning given by another (outside, higher world) there would be no meaning to this world. In this episode of ”Bob’s Burger” Tina gives a response to this rhetoric of transcendental meaning, while also understanding why some have the need for beliefs in the supernatural. The Graveyard scene is stage as a discussion of how people, for various reasons, attempt to seek comfort, hope and affirmation through their beliefs. As Tina understandably wants attention from the opposite sex, Gene desires acceptance and company, and Zeke finds the idea of life being short and eventually final terrifying. The episode operates as an honest, yet sympathetic portrayal of the many reasons for the superstitious or the belief in afterlife, but at the end of the narrative story, Tina herself, stands for the truth in the world we live in. Life and the world we live in give meanings as bounty, but often unseen in our doubts and insecurities. At last, tells Tina, life – being short and inevitably temporary – is therefore precious and should be treasured. To say yes to things, like doing things by yourself. Find meaning, especially in what makes you happy. And, as in Tina’s case, meaning is empowering oneself instead of looking for validation elsewhere.


Bob’s Burger” is interesting not only in showing a working class family with subversive gender presentation, but also provides interesting and subtle secular depictions as well. Unlike most family centric television narratives in the west, where the main leads mention or go to church seemingly regularly, Bob’s Burger” obviously avoids the embedding of religion both in its depiction of the family and the community. Jimmy’s, a character close to the family and a love interest to Tina, causally cements this gentle abandonment with the line and philosophy ”there is nothing after death, but that’s OK”.

As more of the western world turns towards a secular, world centred meaning system, presentation is important, as well as giving vital understanding of where people of the current contemporary moment exist as life and philosophy. The scene with the kids in the mausoleum gives a pitch-perfect depiction of such. It is honest and a sweet, optimistic alternative way of viewing life: we can give to yourselves meaning and importance, despite there being no supernatural forces.

Hi everyone. Yesterday I published through Creative Commons a petite, small book that combines art with short fables. The book is free and as long as you give credit where it is due, it is ok to share it. If you like slice-of-life stories that discuss gender, atheism, growing up and the chaos of existence, you´ll enjoy my book 🙂

Download either here: https://archive.org/details/vignettes_201707

or here: https://www.scribd.com/document/355190523/A-Book-Vignettes


Take care! Maaretta

Yiyun Li is a Chinese-American writer who has made a name for herself with short story collections and novels. She won an award for her short story collection “A Thousand years of Good prayer” and made her Scandinavian breakthrough with the novel “The Vacurents”. Moving to the US when she was 18 years old, with the intent to continue her studies in science fields, Yiyun Li discovered her love of literature there instead. Ms. Li has stated that a good practice for aspiring writers is to read at least one classic novel per year. And even if this story has no real importance to this blog post, I can´t help but mention this endearing story: when Ms. Li was visiting Stockholm´s International writer’s scene in 2013, she mentioned that while growing up her mother was a complete tiger mum. After explaining to the Swedish audience what this meant, the interviewer asked if she was a tiger mum to her children. Ms. Li replied: “Oh no, I´m too easy going. I´m more of a chicken mum; I let my kids run free and make their own path”.


In “A Thousand years of Good prayers” Yiyun Li casts Chinese people as the majority of her protagonists (and one Mongolian person), a modus operandi in her fiction writing. This ethnicity though is greatly varied, as it is with the lived experience of any group. Some of them are people that live in the more rural sides of China, some have immigrated to the United States (one story features a gay man who has sought out asylum in the US) and some live in the large cities of China. The stories touch on many different issues such as disability, estrange families, the stigma of supposedly having lost ones virginity before marriage, and being disillusioned by corrupt politics. The running theme is Chinese culture, society, the personal and family dynamics. While I enjoyed many of the stories, one stood out to me due to a particularly interesting subject matter. The story “Son” is about a mother-son relationship where the son is an atheist and his mother has just converted to Christianity, and is a bit too enthusiastic about her new found beliefs.


The narration follows the Son´s perspective. It is his thoughts that the reader gets to know intimately, and his loving, but frustrated, feelings towards his elderly, widowed mother.  The son is, on top of their different relations to religious belief, gay and has never come out to his mother. He has always wanted to be more of a dutiful son and not disappoint her. His closeted state related to his sexuality makes sense in the context of growing up in the 1980´s China, as homosexuality was illegal in the country until 1997 and considered a mental illness until 2001. His mother, enmeshed in the societal beliefs of the culture, has grown up with this conservative view on sexuality, and the son deems that his mother would especially condemn him now with added incentive of her new found religion.


While the son hasn’t come out as gay to his mother, he has always been open about being an atheist. When the story begins, Li gives you the sense that this repudiation of religion is accepted by the mother until the advent of her recent conversion. Due to her new found faith, the mother is now quite insistent on converting her son as well, to which he responds more and more angrily as time goes on. While on the surface the son would come off as a stereotypical angry atheist, the story takes a deeper look behind what is fueling his angry reaction towards his mother. While he is trying to be dutiful and kind son, his mother is testing his patience by continually pushing her beliefs on him. On top of this, his mother´s behavior seems more than false to him, since he still holds resentment for her burning his bible when he was twelve years old – something the mother claims the father had forced her into.


By balancing the son’s cynicism with the mothers naivety, the story asks hard moral questions. It is left to the reader to decide whether the mother was at fault for her behavior in her sons tween years, are if she is telling the truth. This antagonism between son and mother, hypocrisy and honesty, is for grounded in a scene where it is revealed that the mother pays two street children that (it is heavily implied) are clearly being exploited by an adult ringleader. The son sees them as cheating his mother, the mother sees possible conversion candidates, and the reader is questioned to regard the moral direction of two adults and their reply to child exploitation. Li shows us both characters motives and asks the reader if this was the right response or not. The reader is placed in a morally grey zone, motivating a consideration of our own beliefs and consequent actions.

hu yongkai

“Mother and son” by Hu Yongkai

Through the son´s point of view the reader also gets to see the story of his first crush at twelve, where he fell for a fellow schoolmate who it seemed returned his affections, but due to the intolerant environment neither one of them really wanted to admit the situation. Through just a few sentences Ms. Li paints a bittersweet tale of childhood wonder and first love, that was trapped in not being able to be confirmed but still cherished.


The son´s atheism and cynicism however are the real star of this story. Usually writers would have these points of views be a straw argument, but the sons skeptical approach is often proven to have legitimacy. He points out that the so-called “catholic” church his mother attends is run by the government, which means that it is more than likely a place where sermon is full of propaganda. He wonders how his mother can easily defend herself for being previously strongly opposed to Christianity, and now strongly for it. He believes that people are feeble about their beliefs, that people are mostly fair weather believers, fickle in what they preach, and hypocritical in their actions, whether it be motivated by religion, culture, or politics. This narration is enjoyable not only because it embodies strong character building, but also because here we have a fair depiction of skepticism which yields a moral grappling with consistent ethical actions. What the son stands for gestates an indeterminate validity, whether we agree or not.


What many atheist feel

“Son” shows us an atheist protagonist who is more than just an atheist, and not one without reason in an irrational world. Plus, his non-belief has only become an issue due to his mothers’ persistence in bringing it up.


Traditional word for “Son” in Mandarin


A fine tale of family and lack of belief. “Son” by Yiyun Li is superb.

(Trigger warning for discussions of torture and death)

This post is a part of my series “Torture Awareness Month”

Mitra H. Lager is an Iranian Women´s Rights and secular activist. She lives in Gothenburg, is a member of the political group “Feminist Iniativ” and the Swedish “Humanist” (an organization dedicated to decreasing religious influence on society and to promote reason), and writes for “Avaye-Zan” (which translates as “womans voice”). Ms. Lager is a well-known debater, but mostly famous for the memoir of her life in Iran, titled “Gud vill att du ska dö” (“God wants you to die”). The title comes from a threat Ms. Lager and her fellow prisoners were told to by guards while in prison. It hasn´t been translated into English to my knowledge, which is a real shame, since it´s one of those few memoirs that are not only a recollection of one person’s memories, but actually an insight to a country´s modern history and a perceptive description of how lives are deformed and inflicted through social injustice. It´s not only a journey where Mitra H. Lager follows the path of her life which ends in a residency in Sweden, but also lays bare the trajectory of modern day Iran and how it came to be the theocracy it is today. “God wants you to die” also describes some of the most honestly brutal descriptions of torture.


Ms. Lager begins her memoir by stating that she wanted to write this memoir for those of her friends and family members who died due to Era of Ayatollah Khomeini. The memoir then dives into describing the forceful demonstrations that take place in Iran during the 1980s. Ms. Lager also describes her family and home life, which was partly conservative and partly liberal, differing from each individual in the family. Throughout the book, Lager makes a perfect blend of personal and political, and also demonstrates how those two things often blend in together. At the tender age of 17, Ms. Lager got arrested for her protest against Ayatollah Khomeini; she was deemed as an enemy of Islam and sent to Evin, the most infamous prison in Iran.


Torture is shown as the go-to “method” used against the prisoners in “God wants you to die”. One of the most heart-breaking examples is, before Ms. Lager is imprisoned, when her cousin´s dead corpse is sent to the family after the cousin has spent time in prison. Lager admits that at the time she was in love with her cousin, and had he not died she might have married him. She then proceeds to describe what his body looks like, holding back no macabre details, like that his eyes were gored out (leaving the family to stare at empty eyesockets) and he is covered in blood. The family wants to give him a decent funeral, but first the body has to be washed. As his body is bathed, Ms. Lager and her family breakdown into tears, crying violently the entire time the young man’s body is washed. The most tragic thing Lager says about the situation is: “He was a good person, a kind person, and he was grotesquely tortured to death. Why?”

"Typical Iranian Funeral", by Rokny Haerizadeh

“Typical Iranian Funeral”, by Rokny Haerizadeh (2008)

Later in prison Lager witnesses more torture and executions. She details that a common tactic to scare other prisoners is to torture one prisoner and then give the victim of the abuse to the other prisoners to nurse their wounds, both physical and mental. While they clean and tend to the prisoners wounds, they see what can be done to themselves at the whim of their captors. This threat continuously lingers above all of the inmates haunting both their sleeping and waking hours. One horror, and dreaded endgame which lingered over the prisoners was to be marked with a wound during the torture sessions (or anytime during the incarceration, actually). Once a scar was made, the prisoner was often shortly killed afterwards.

"Masters of Persia", by Reza Derakshani

“Masters of Persia”, by Reza Derakshani (2013)

Lager states that when she was younger, she was a devoted Muslim. It was one of the main driving forces to her political activism. But while in prison, this changes. Lager is taken to “interrogation” about her incorrect beliefs and she is subjected to her feet being hit with blocks. In the extreme pain she faces, Lager begins a trail of wondering why, despite always having faith and navigating her belief faithfully and strongly, she finds herself randomly imprisoned and witnessing terrible injustices by those professing to true belief . In the midst of being tortured, Lager states that she experiences a sundering of her belief, an “epiphany”, where she concludes that no kind god would be able to bear witness to the sufferings of those who imprisoned with her, since she, and many of those with her, had always been a believer in this God of Might and Justice.

Work by Shirin Neshat

“Rapture” by Shirin Neshat (1999)

The memoir illustrates the victims of torture as ordinary people who are crushed by authoritarian rule. Ms. Lager and her fellow prisoners are helpless under the power of others, with no escape. ”God wants you to die” details also that while the torturers were not merely trying to get information, that the act of torturing also strengthen the hatred the torturers had for their victims. Lager mentions once hearing two torturers screaming at their victim: “You think this is bad? This is only the beginning, we´re sending you straight to hell!”. It is a form of intimidation, but also the ultimate expression of hate for the ones who don´t conform. They hurt their victim not only out of order, but also out of anger that the person disobeyed. Torture here is used (as always) as the purest form of power and abuse. While many of the guards in the prison show clear sadistic trends, Lager also shows that some of the prison guards are decent people caught up in an insanity which they see no help to escape. One night a guard states to Lager: “I never could imagine my life would be this, guarding the youth of Iran. Oh lord, What a horrible destiny I have gotten!”.

"Made in Iran", from the series "Comtemporary Iranian Art"

“Make-up”, by Simin Kiramati (2007)

Ms. Lager only references her atheistic awakening in one sentence, which dawns upon her in the devastating sinkhole of torture. This understanding is sadly achieved in the morass of suffering and humiliation and we agonize with her in the emptiness of horrific experiences which come to sharpen and shape her beliefs. In a like manner, where horrors shape a persons beliefs, the documentary, “Deliver us From Evil” ( directed by Amy Berg in 2006), about sexual abuse by a church, a man is shown losing his faith and becoming an atheist after discovering that his daughter was molested by a preacher and the church is evasive and unresponsive to the “sin” perpetuated by it. Lager´s atheism, likewise, steams from a frustration with corrupt religious extremism, which many atheist share. Similar frustrations with faith are shown in Bertrand Russell´s essay “Why I am Not Christian” (1927) and Ibq Warraq´s book “Why I am not Muslim” (1995), both of which explore the myriad justifications and prevarications which enable a slew of hideous things done within the internally vindicated acts of religion. Lager´s entire memoir is a thoughtful piece of literature not only on tyranny, but also on the questions regarding the power religion has over the individual and how the totalitarianism of true and pure belief becomes a weapon of malice and hate.

One of Shirin Neshat´s most famous works

“Untitled” by Shirin Neshat (1996)

While political prisoners are not killed as often in Iran as they were back in religious and political hysteria of the 80´s, prisoners in Iran still face the all too common use of torture. Therefore it´s safe to say that Lagers outspoken book is still an insight which culls insight about the era and about the use of torture generally.

“God wants you to die” is not only a book about torture and death, but also about hope. Lager is later released from prison, and after battling crippling depression and survivor’s guilt she finds love and marries. When she is once again suspected of political activism, she even finds a way to escape. The book also has a heartbreaking scene where Lager critiques the refugee politics of the time, which unfortunately still remains an issue with us till this day.

The themes are heavy, so be warned you will cry while reading this memoir, but the language is quite fresh and Lager captivates you in her story of survival and of power abuse. “God wants you to die” is one of those rare gems of non-fiction which even fiction lovers will care for and learn from.


For more Iranian memoirs, check out Parsua Bashi´s “Nylon Road” or Marjane Satrapi´s “Persepolis”. Both are graphic novels!

Feel good music is great. Who can argue with that? So, here´s a few good empowerment songs for those who feel a little moody, or need some inspiraion to keep fighting the good fight.

“Shove” by the all-female rock band L7 is a classic. The lyrics deal with issues such as sexual harashment och objectification as well as having to put up with horrible landlords. But thankfully Donita Sparks, the lead singer of this band, is able to deliver a powerful come-back to those trying to hold women (and men who at times face these similar problems) back!

Aretha Franklin´s cover of Otis Reddings “Respect” is perhaps one of the greatest covers of all time. Ms. Franklin voice is full of pure energy, confidence and Warmth. In this song Franklin asks for some respect from her partner, bringing the political to the personal (and making it sexy to boot!). Just a perfect performance. Watch below the 1967 version below:

Despite some unfortunate recent events, there is no denying that James Browns song “Say it outload (I´m black and I´m proud)” is extremely powerful in it´s use of audience participation and just straight forward, honest, true and greatly empowering message.

Greydon Square is a rapper who specilizes in atheist themes in his music. His verses are sharp, engaging and at times funny. His songs also deal with being a proud atheist. Many songs are in ways empowering for atheist, but one of my favorites is “Judge Me”. But by all means, check out more of his stuff!. Listen to the song below, but unfortunately the music video is a little outdated (just concentrate on the lyrics!):

And finally, Joan Baez´s cover of Bob Dylans song “It ain´t me, babe”. Because sometimes in order to be strong one must just tell another off.

The Web is filled with list of attractive people, both men and women. These lists can be based on any variety of people, ranging from factual humans to fictional ones: celebrities, animated and ideal. However what seems to be lacking is a list on the most attractive non-believer men. There are a few lists about attractive non-theist, but most of them contain exclusively women. So, in this post I present to you the top 4 hottest atheist guys!

Before starting, I would like to add that attractiveness is highly subjective. Who I find handsome most likely won’t be universally agreed on (and I will confess, my taste even sometimes puzzles myself…). However I still hope this post will be generally entertaining!

4. Javier Barden – This Spanish man not only is an exceedingly talented actor, he’s also devilishly fine-looking. Mr. Bardem has done some fairly daring roles in his life, like the family man who’s swept up in underground crime in “Biutiful” (2010) and a man fighting for his right for euthanasia in “The Sea Inside” (2004). On atheism he has had this to say:  “I always say, ´I don’t believe in god, I believe in Al Pacino´”. When specifically expressing his feelings about religion, Mr. Bardem stated: “I do respect people’s faith, but I don’t respect their manipulation of that faith to create fear and control”, to which I must say he really hits the nail on the head when it comes to depicting the dark side of religion. Javier Bardem glows with charisma through his rough look and a smooth, sexy voice. Mr. Bardem – may our film carrier never end!

3. Daniel Radcliffe – The youngest man who will appear on this list, Mr. Radcliffe is world-widely known for his role as Harry Potter. He started out his carrier at the tender age of eleven, when he was an adorable little boy in 2001. Cue ten years later, Daniel Radcliffe has grown up into a breathtakingly pretty man. Bizarre thing to think about, but Mr. Radcliffe is sporting soft-looking hair and skin. He’s smile, when it appears, is not bad either. Mr. Radcliffe has stated being very proud of his Jewish heritage, he has also said that: “I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation”. Wise words!

2. Bill Maher – Let me just first comment that I can actually hear myself losing all of my feminist points while adding Mr. Maher to this list – seriously. Mr. Maher has made great political and social commentary, but he can be quite problematic when it comes to his views on women. However, he is still a very smart and sexy jerk. Mr. Maher has done wildly funny stand up routines such as “I’m Swiss” as well as a superb documentary on religion titled “Religious” (2008). His documentary is a well executed take down of religion, a firm defense for atheism or agnosticism (a running line used in the film is “I don’t know”). Mr. Maher sports, as well, a thoroughly appealing coiffure, and has mischievously beautiful eyes. But honestly, his splendid head of hair is probably his most winning feature. Mr. Maher also carries a certainty about himself and his political ideas which some interpret as snobbish, but personally, it makes me a bit weak in the knees. What can I say – Confidence is sexy!

1. Cillian Murphy – This Irish actor is not only fantastic in every film he appears in, but his blue eyes and cheek bones are soul piercing. When sporting an indie rock hair cut, his hair curls up a tiny bit, which just makes me swoon (unfortunately, at the moment he has a short hair cut). Mr. Murphy became an atheist after the filming of his to date best film, the science fiction drama “Sunshine” (2010). In an interview he stated that the film “…got me thinking about life and religion, science vs religion and all that. I was verging on being an agnostic and this film confirmed any of the atheistic beliefs I had. Not just because I spent time with these guys–they just confirmed what I’d always suspected. For me, the film ultimately is a battle between science and religion, or science instead of fundamentalism”.

Those were my picks! How about you readers: which famous atheist do you consider attractive?

For a similar list, visit “Atheistconnect”.

“Saying Atheism is a religion is like claiming that being bald is a hair color” – Anonymous

Bill Maher (b. 1956) is an American comedian, who has become mostly known for his commentary on religion. Mr. Maher started his career in comedy with Stand-Up routines and acting. He then moved on to become the host of the late-night political talk show “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” (1993-1997). Currently, He’s the host of the show “Real Time with Bill Maher”, which has been running since 2003. The newest season which just recently began in February, presented an episode where Mr. Maher gave a monologue explaining, once and for all, why Atheism isn’t a religion.

I applaud you, sir! Words can’t express how frustrating it has been for me, as well as to many other atheists, constantly to hear non-atheist make the claim that non-believers are in fact “believers”. As soon as this brilliant speech was over, all I could think was: “Finally!”.

Happy Birthday, “Catch-22”!

Today is Joseph Heller’s great and most famous novels birthday. Published in 1961, “Catch 22” tells the equally tragic as hilarious story of Yossarian, an American captain during the Second World War, and his friends. The novel is mostly known and appreciated for its anti-war themes, but Heller explores in his novel many other themes.

In “Catch-22”, corruption and capitalism at its most extreme is portrayed and explored, especially trough the character of Milo, one of the most unlikeable characters. Milo is desperate to make profit, doing all sorts of irrational schemes to make money. As the book nears its end, Milo springs – as often during extreme capitalism – out of control, caring more and more about profit instead of people. The results are horrendous, as Heller masterfully describes in this passage: “This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him. … Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made” (chapter 24, page 269).

The novel also centers one of the most iconic atheists. Yossarian, a young man full of idealism, sees the horrors of war and comes to the conclusion that no god can exist in such a world. He’s reasoning is touching and relatable, one of the more truly honest depictions of a person’s lost of faith. I myself can identify with Yossarian on this point, since I became an atheist after hearing my teacher give the numbers of dead men (as well as women and children) during the second world war.

There is also a chapter (no spoilers!) depicting violence towards a woman, and there Heller raises the problem of how societies used to not care at all about such problems – and makes one think if more could still be done.

“Catch- 22” is rich with lively and complex characters. They are wacky characters, sympathetic characters, tragic characters and bizarre and evil characters. I could go on and on about all of the themes and characters explored in “Catch- 22”. There was a film adaption from 1970, which in no way is as good as the book, but has its moments. To end this post, here’s a clip of one of the most funny scenes from the film (you might want to make it full screen):

“Family Guy” is a pretty unique animated show that awakes many different emotions in me– some very good, some very bad. The show is a true, surrealistic rollercoaster. I enjoyed the shows first couple of seasons, but honestly have hated the last couple of seasons, due to repetitive nasty hits at overweight women and badly written characters. I digress though.

The series centers on the Family Griffith, who is contain of Peter, the usually dimwitted, politically incorrect, child-like, and spiteful main star, his phenomenally beautiful wife Lois, and their three children. The oldest is the outcast, brutally bullied teenage daughter Meg, the early teen Chris who like his father is a bit slow, and the evil genius infant Stewie. The family also has, of course, a pet: the talking, wise human-like dog Brian, who this post will be about.

Brian, despite being the pet of the family, functioned as the voice of reason for the earlier years of the show. He was portrayed as a liberal, reasonable and unhappily in love with Lois as well as a bit of a drinker, though intermittently. Brian was shown on several occasions as being critical of religion, but it wasn’t until the seventh season, in the episode “Not all dogs go to heaven”, when the series finally “outed” Brian as an atheist. In the Episode, Brian, due to Meg’s sudden conversion to Christianity and attempt push to bring Brian into the “flock” of her church (and their form of Christianity), gently laughs and states: “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Meg. I’m an atheist”. When watching this episode, I was at first blush overjoyed at first at this radical act (seeing how being non-religious is still taboo on TV), but then began to reconsider what this act would mean and my first hesitations seem born out after the show’s recent episodes featuring Brian as the main protagonist which show character flaws wildly out of synch even for this genre. I cannot but wonder: is Brian really a positive portrayal of atheism? Or does his character just re-enforce negative stereotypes or images of us non-believers?

***Spoilers may be below!***

Let’s first look at how the writers of “Family Guy” talk about the experience of being an atheist in the States. “Not all dogs go to heaven” was a brilliant episode in this case, showing all the prejudice Brian meets after Meg gossips to the whole town about his atheism. Brian is not allowed to go to from such divergent venues as liquor stores to libraries, and is ridiculed on TV for being “worse than Hitler”. Admittedly, some of the discrimination may seem exaggerated; however there is something unsettlingly true in the depiction as well. To some religious folks, not believing in god is the worst possible sin, making us even worse than serial killers or mass murderers (especially if the criminals happen to believe in god). This is a pretty extreme belief and actively held by some, and which is portrayed comically in “Family Guy” when the intensely religious News-People announce Brian to be by far worse than Hitler.

Brian also gets brutally (yet only verbally) attacked by Lois and Peter after his confession. Lois states: “We believe in god in this family!” which showed how sometimes even people close to non-believers can be unsympathetic and dismissive to a theoretical structure struggled to be achieved. Brian gives even in to this pressure to “believe” temporarily, pretending to have “found god”, since he can’t take the peer pressure. But after witnessing Meg burning books about science (since she feels they are contrary to the “statements of God”) Brian gives a harsh talk to Meg, crushing her belief. The speech is devastating to Meg, since Brian points out some painful things to Meg about her life and how that is really what has spawned her beliefs. To this Brian then gives a more hopeful, comforting speech. The whole episode, in my opinion, is a perfect way of telling not only what it can sometimes feel like to be an atheist, as one can in a cartoon, but also is good in showing that Brian is a caring person, crushing the stereotype of the heartless cold atheist.

Meg trying to convert Brian

Brian was portrayed in a positive light during most of the output of the show. He had his flaws, but always came through with reason, compassion, and self-reflection underlying his thoughts and actions. It was in Season Eight where Brian started to become decidedly more odd and began a run of doing questionable things with little intellectual nuance or moral underpinnings. Take as an example of this the Episode “Brian writes a bestseller”, from Season Nine. In this episode Brian is depressed over his published novel doing so poorly, stating to Stewie that only trash literature and phony self-help books make it big. To prove his point he writes one himself and publishes it. It becomes a bestseller, making Brian famous and rich, sweaping him away to the hinterlands of fame, recognition and media adulation, and making him along the way into an arrogant, megalomaniac and mean spirited person. He comes to treat those around him as mere props to his existence (including Stewie who has facilitated his empty rise) and who seem to be considered by him now mere objects to satisfy his random and arbitrary desires. In particular harsh scenes, Brian is shown yelling at Stewie and verbally abusing him for anything that annoys him. This, in a number of painful scenes brings Stewie to tears and self doubt over his supposed lack of abilities to gratify the chance cravings of Brian.

The episode’s climax comes when Brian is invited onto “Real Time with Bill Maher”, a real show hosted by one of Americas most famous non-believers. Maher trashes the book heavily, making Brian confess that he wrote the best seller in a day, and that he doesn’t really believe in anything written in the book. Maher then tells Brian that he is the lowest of the low, since if one is going to bullshit; they should have the “honesty to stand by their bullshit”. Brian, coming somewhat back to his normal self after the harsh critique returns home where he talks a little to Stewie saying that he knows the book was dumb and his behavior inappropriate in extreme.
However, even at this point of the narrative – where a reasonable lesson has been learn and self-reflection is re-imposed by the awareness of the emptiness of his fame – Brian openly admits he will not apologize to Stewie for mistreating him. Here Brian is made into a truly horrible person, who not only doesn’t apologize after treating someone so poorly, but also a person who is actually so arrogant he refuses to learn from mistakes.

Brian at this juncture of the show (and others which are embed in these later seasons, and which can be recounted, but will merely “add” to the direction being taken in this case episode presented here) is made into such a terrible person that it is quiet imperative to reconsidered whether it is good his character is one of the few out-ted atheist characters on TV or not. Since there are so few atheist protagonists around, it is important that at least some of the more famous ones would not strengthen the stereotype that we’re morally-vacuous, empty-elitists, and intellectually-devious self-gratifies which no genuine concern for others beyond the narrowest of evil self-interest who wish to contaminate and spoil. Brian, in this episode, in bodied the stereotype to a max.

Brian was also shown to perhaps not truly stand for any of the opinions he’s expressed in the show, since he abandoned them all in the episode “Excellence in Broadcasting”. Brian, in the episode, becomes a republican and so conservative, he actually tries to go and waterboard – torture – a Democrat (the” supposedly” more left-leaning, worker-supporting party in the United States). Lois pinpoints in the episode that Brian has a need to go against the stream, to always have the more “unpopular” opinion. If that is the case, and Brian really gets all his opinions that way, does that mean he is only an atheist since they are a minority? Not only does this make Brian seem childish, but makes everything he said in previous episodes unimportant. So it is impossible to take his atheism seriously.

There was also the misfortune of Brian actually trying to force Lois to kiss him (maybe even more) in “Play it again, Brian”, a episode from season six. This act of creepiness and slight (though significant) violence towards a woman was before he was outed as an atheist (in a later season), which in a way makes him a lost case as a “model” for an acceptable and representative non-believer from the start.

I want to like Brian’s character. Aside from Dr. House from “House” (who is a total stereotype of the mean, miserable atheist) and Dr. Temperance Brennan from “Bones”, Brian is one of the most mainstream portrayals of atheist in popular culture. Yet his character was made so completely unlikeable and unreliable in the later seasons of the show, it feels like a disfavor for non-religious people that Brian was ever made a openly atheist character.
Seth Macfarlane, the creator of “Family Guy” and voice talent of Brian, also made his other characters, Haylee Smith and Roger the alien from “American Dad!”, atheist. But even these characters don’t really do much for the atheist community. Haylee is bland and hardly does anything memorable, and Roger is a sociopath who seems able to be anything which can temporary satisfaction.

What is lacking from popular culture is an atheist character that is portrayed as likeable. Few Medias have done this.
Daria Morgendorffer, from the animated series “Daria”, was done well, and somewhat outed as an atheist in the last season. Also Mal from “Firefly” was a good atheist character: anti-hero who despite some flaws was a good person. However, these shows have been cancelled or are off the air now. I was hopeful Brian would be the next Daria or Mal, but no such luck. Seems like we atheists have to wait a little longer for a more positive depiction.

Stand-up comedy is a old, beloved tradition which has given us some of the finest comedians in the world. In this post, I will feature four notorious clips of famous atheist comedians talking about their experiences and opinions on religion, it’s history and it’s impact on society.

Dave Allen (1936-2005) was a Irish born comedian that identified himself as a “practicing atheist” and was known for the joke: “I’m an atheist, thank god!”. He was well known for his relaxed, intimate way of performing his stand up and was widely popular in Canada, Australia and Great Britain. Even if Allen often joked about religion, he didn’t feel that he was mocking belief, but rather rituals and church customs. He explained this ideology in 1998, when he stated:  “The hierarchy of everything in my life has always bothered me. I’m bothered by power. People, whoever they might be, whether it’s the government, or the policeman in the uniform, or the man on the door – they still irk me a bit. From school, from the first nun that belted me”.

In this clip Allen talks about his first experience with Religion:

Eddie Izzard
is a English comedian who has become widely famous for dressing up in drag while performing his Stand-Up comedy. His humor is often partly social commentary, partly popular cultural spoof and parody and surreal telling of historical as well as biblical stories. Izzard has also acted in films, his latest being “Mystery Men” where he played a villain. Izzard has been openly atheistic for many years. In this clip he talks about how church of England was born:

Bill Hicks was a Texas born left-leaning comedian that’s Stand-Up was unusually political. Hicks spoke of legalizing drugs, allowing gays to serve openly in the military and criticized extreme and blind faith. Hicks was never shy from speaking his mind; he was one of the most bold and intelligent comedians the U.S has offered, and was token from us way to early in 1994. In the clip I’ll show Bill Hicks talks about his encounter with some religious fanatics.

And of course, lastly I will show the legendary George Carlins clip where he completely rejects all ideas of religion and belief. This bit is very strong, so be warned. Carlin is also one of the first political comedians from the U.S. He became infamous for his Stand-Up routines on religion and censorship. He died in 2008.