I’ll admit this off the bat, I watch Glee, every week, and with my fiancée own all the DVDs and CDs they have produced. So my discussion about last night’s episode of Glee that dealt with religion comes with full knowledge of these characters storylines and pasts.
For those who really don’t know, Glee is a comedy TV series set in a rural American high school where a group of losers (plus some football players and cheerleaders who joined for different reasons) formed a glee show-tunes club. The cast of characters includes a cheerleader who was head of the celibacy club but got pregnant when she cheated on her boyfriend (but she lied and told him it was because he ejaculated in a hot tub with her), a flamboyantly gay kid, a kid in a wheelchair, a Jewish bully and a cheerleader coach who tries to end their club at every chance (because it’s diverting funding from her award winning Cheerios).
While not the first time Glee has dealt with religion, last night’s episode, Grilled Cheesus, was an episode based extensively around religion. Now I’m going to break my analysis up by plotline and let you know that spoilers will be scattered throughout, so go find the show and watch it first if you care.
Finn and Grilled Cheesus
Finn, the quarterback, discovered the face of Jesus one day when he was making a grilled cheese. Not the brightest of characters, he saw it as a sign from God that he should be more religious.
Unsure of how prayers work (in one prayer he wonders if it’s like genies and he only gets three wishes), he asks for (in order):
- For his team to win their first game,
- To feel his girlfriend’s (Rachel) boobs, and
- To be made quarterback again.
All his wishes are granted, but he feels guilty because his position as quarterback is reinstated after the new QB is injured. The guidance councillor gives him a dose of rationalism however, and suggests that while “big questions” exist (and everyone has them), the things he wished for were probably just coincidences and he should throw out his sandwich (he ate the week-old grilled cheese instead).
This plotline was definitely the most blasphemous, and helps add some humour to an episode that also featured a single parent almost passing away. In the end Finn ends as a sort-of agnostic who lost his religion (yes he sang the song), which consisted solely of pareidolia.
Sue the atheist
We learn that antagonist Sue Sylvester is an atheist because while she though of her sister (who has Down’s Syndrome I think) as perfect, everyone else made fun of her disability. After praying for her sister to be normal fails, Sue stopped believing in god as a kid.
Sue uses half the episode to try to bring down the Glee club for signing religious songs in a public school and probably is meant to be the stereotypical ACLU/FFRF lawyers pouncing on innocent teachers who just want to explore spirituality with their students.
At the end of the episode, Sue’s sister asks to pray for her and Sue lets the club sing a religious song (Joan Osborne/Sheryl Crow’s One of Us) that the students asked to sing.
Sue has a great scene with the councillor (Emma), where Sue calls the religious students out as arrogant for throwing their faith in other people’s faces and claiming they’ll go to hell if they don’t convert. While it comes off a bit as the angry/aggressive atheist, her lines are succinct and poignant.
Kurt almost loses his dad
The main reason for all the faithiness in the show was Kurt’s father who had a heart attack and fell into a coma.
As a gay high school student, Kurt has little room for religions that ostracize and insult him. He also mentions the subjugation of women and science as reasons not to believe in religion.
A couple lines from Kurt referencing Russell’s Teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster show that either an atheist is among the writing team or they really did their homework.
Kurt is subjected to continual pressure from his high school peers to pray or let them pray for him, to which he asks them not to but eventually gives in. His best friend Mercedes’ even takes him to her black church where she preaches from the pulpit for him and then sings a gospel song for her father. He submits mainly because he can tell its the only way his friends know how to reach out to him.
To demonstrate to his friends how he would rather cope, he sings the Beatle’s I want to hold your hand to a montage of scenes as a child with his father (of course he’s having tea and cupcakes in a collared shirt at 6).
The most disappointing bit about Kurt’s line was that he decided to try acupuncture to cure his dad from a coma. However, this can be partially forgiven when you remember that he’s a helpless high school kid who’s losing the only parent he has and even a faint credulous hope might be worth the effort over doing absolutely nothing. And besides, not all atheists are skeptics (although his references to science and FSM somewhat betray his this hypothesis).
I’ve heard a bit of frustration among atheists that atheists were portrayed as bitter or that they had to be traumatized to leave religion, but I strongly disagree.
Kurt is the most fabulous character on the show, and his bitterness and snide comments last night had everything to do with his father dying. Similarly, he’s not a wussy atheist for not yelling and screaming at the few friends he has when they try to help him in their own way.
He’s a gay high school student in the rural USA who’s a member of the loser club. He’s going to be careful not to alienate the few friends he has. It’s easy to hide behind anonymity in online blogs and forums, but in the real world you sometimes need allies.
As for Sue, she seems a bit like the atheist who wants to believe but can’t. It’s a stereotype, but as most people recognize, so is the entire show. I think her arguments were cogent and she’s somewhat of an anti-hero on the show.
Overall the show was as good as most. If you like the show, you probably will like this one (unless your offended by Jesus in grilled cheese or atheists who have religious friends). I wouldn’t say it’s a must watch for atheists, but it’s still a positive step to have more atheists in the media (especially gay and strong female ones).