Atheist stereotypes: the one group it's still okay to discriminate against.

Somethings has been bothering me lately. How come it's considered okay to propagate the atheist stereotype in books, movies and tv shows? No one would ever dream of making a movie where the token black character is lazy, stupid and a criminal. Or a book where the lead female is dumb, helpless and pregnant in the kitchen. So why when there is an Atheist character, if there is one at all, it is an old, bitter, intolerant, immoral, self-serving, man? Who is usually a doctor or some well paying position of high status.

You can't tell it from where you are, but I'm none of those things. I actually think that my morals are better than some of my christian friends and I am way more tolerant than a few of them (baptists). I am young and very up beat and volunteer every week. I'm middle class and not a doctor (though if all goes well I soon will be). Oh, and I'm a woman. And I bet most of you reading this could say a lot of the same things.

Where have I seen this atheist stereotype? Well, the most well known example would be everyone favorite psychopathic, institutionalized, doctor and tv atheist House! I have nothing against the idea of having an Atheist be the star of a popular tv show but House fits the above Hollywood atheist stereotype like a glove.

Why are atheists never depicted as the bright, cultured, diverse and moral people most of us actually are? Not enough people are telling them to stop. I know we are a precious few but if you don't want people, when they hear the word atheist, to think old, self righteous, curmudgeon, then right to a movie producer or an author and tell them they offended you. It's no fun being discriminated against but you don't have to sit there and take it.

If you agree with what I'm saying, comment. If you don't agree, comment. If you don't really have an opinion, comment anyway.

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Sorry all, I meant to connect my point and had to leave before I did it. I was going in this direction, as one group gains ground and is less demonized, some other group will have to take it's place as the one to hate. That is just the way of it.
Hey Dodge,
Thanks for the heartfelt reply to my post. I, too, wish there was an AAAD and people would be better about standing up against stereotypes. That being said, I think there is something to say for being polite. I find that the best counter to a stereotype is being the opposite of that stereotype. But then again I'm a polite kind of person. You are right, there are some people that need to be challenged and made fun of. But I don't think one needs to go out of one's way to be offensive. Ridicule and satire can be good to some extent but do it to much and your just enforcing the negative stereotype. If that's the kind of person you are you shouldn't try to hide it or change yourself, just don't knock us who are fighting the good fight by being the polite atheist.

By the way, that's interesting how Satanists don't worship Satan. You would think they would, you know, just because Satanist has Satan built right in. Thanks for the info.
In the afterword for Lolita, Nabokov listed a happy atheist who lives a long and fulfilled life as one of the three taboos of the time when he wrote Lolita.

I don't watch a great deal of television, but Family Guy's Brian has about as positive a portrayal as the show can give to any of its characters.

I don't know if Ulysses from O' Brother Where Art Thou is worth categorizing under the negative depictions of atheists, but he was actually the first character that came to mind from the topic.
I beg to differ on the other stereotypes never being used. Twilight embodies way too many of them. >.X Bella, the co-dependent hapless woman who needs a man to protect her, for example. >.X

I don't know how often I see portrayals of atheism in media, honestly. I adore House for his cynical misanthropic behaviors. But I think the only reason we know he's an atheist is for that reason, he's outspoken about his views on everything. Perhaps most portrayed atheists are not so open about it, kind of like how no one knew Dumbledore was gay until J.K. Rowling announced it so. We're just so used to everyone being straight or religious that we assume that about them until told otherwise.


I don't see the media depicting us as "evil" unless you count stupid ass fox news. But bitter, angry, depressed? Yes, i do see that. Gregory House from House and Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs represent this trope, but they are at least consistent and manage to save lives.

In X-Men (the animated series), Wolverine was depicted as an "angry atheist" who thought God had abandoned mutant-kind and then Night Crawler talked him into an overnight conversion so Wolverine could be at peace. Gambit, however, did not cave in and remained skeptic.

In the craptastic movie Signs, Mel Gibson is an angry atheist just because his wife dies and at the end, some convoluted nonsense convinces him that "everything happens for a reason" and suddenly he's a Christian again.

In both X-Men and Signs, atheism is presented as a phase that people go through after a personal tragedy and this is patronizing to me. They act as if theism is a default state of mind and only a person in pain could go through this. I'm an atheist because the evidence for God is insufficient and that is how I would like to see atheists depicted in media.

These examples only make me a little angry, however. If something is incredibly bigoted and biased, it usually doesn't make it into mainstream media (USUALLY). If something sounds too fucked up and offensive, it will likely just be on youtube, chick tracts, fox "news," or a crappy blog and no one will see it except for idiot rednecks who are too busy watching nascar to be a threat to my way of life.

There are many examples of atheist stereotypes on tvtropes which you can read here:

You know, I hadn't really given it much thought until this thread. I actually find House very entertaining. That's just my sense of humor. But I'd never really thought of him as a Hollywood poster child for atheism. In fact, I can't even name any other characters that are blatantly atheist in recent entertainment history. The only other example that comes to mind was when I was a child, our family used to get together to watch Star Trek the Next Generation whenever it was on. And that whole society was non-theist. One episode is devoted to the idea of religion being a primitive stage of civil development when a few natives on a backwater planet catch sight of some of their very advanced technology and mistake it for the divine. Then they spend the rest of the episode trying to undo the damage. Those are the only two examples that come to mind, but truthfully I've always been oblivious to reinforcement stereotypes in the media. I always just assumed that's how that one person behaved and tended not to generalize it to the rest of the public.

Thank you for mentioning Star Trek. It really angers my inner geek that Babylon 5 was brought up first on this thread.


Star Trek is about the most atheistic show you could get. It is set in a future where the human race abandoned the concept of religion entirely and our entire civilization is depicted as more peaceful, fair, and just than we see in the modern world.

Yeah. Really.

W the exception of Bajor, almost every planet where the inhabitants worshiped anything it was almost entirely to show how backward and primitive they were.

And while it turned out that Bajors "gods" were real, they weren't really gods, but aliens existing in another dimension who experienced time differently than we do in our universe.

Yeah, when I had long hair, my parent said to cut it - because they wanted me to fit their social norm, I responded, 'do you tell black people to bleach their skin white a la Michale Jackson,' or something like that. 


It is a no no to dis so many people (with perceived 'minority' qualities) for so many reasons, yet it seems like atheism remains the one target people of all colors and creeds can attack... us atheists are to them a unifying scapegoat/lightning-rod, one of the few things the unites all the disparate sects of insanity.


That said, we all have preferences, and to philosophically deny in abstract, these preferences is delusional, but so is trying to 'eliminate' those who don't fit your ideal i.e like Hitler. For example, in any of the scenarios I run through my head I almost always prefer the company of the beautiful blond woman over the ugly black gangbanger... does this make me a bad person? I'm sorry but I think not... you can't really chose what attracts you.


I am of the opinion that we all naturally discriminate, but institutionalizing even harsher discrimination seems to not be the answer, and the blanket statement 'we are all equal, we are all the same' is plain false no matter how it appeals to our longing for unnatural 'fairness'



Social engineering: we all do it, just some are conscious of it and better at it. TV shows are the second strongest form of media, behind interactive design (computer games). Media culture influences culture, and culture influences media... but there are still many more media consumers than there are quality media producers and distributors. So consider what it takes to make a popular TV show or multiplayer computer game - the single greatest power concentrator is money, so those who have more money can more easily shape your beliefs.    


Sadly, yes there is a notable link between atheism and nihilism furthered by Hollywood culture that doesn't help how atheism is popularly viewed.



I always liked Capt. Malcom ("Mal") Reynolds of the good ship Serenity...even though he was kind of an atheist stereotype, i.e. the "mad at God" type (which aren't really atheists, just disillusioned theists, but I digress)...


He had some great one-liners, though....I want to get a brown t-shirt with this quote:

"God's a long wait for a train don't never come...."


I admit, though, I did like Book, despite his being a "man of the cloth"...


Zoe: "Preacher, doesn't the good book have some pretty specific prohibitions on killing?"

Book: "It does; The lord was less specific on the subject of knee caps, however..."


I can't stand House partly for the reason you stated (negative portrayal of an intelligent, free thinking non-theist) as well as the crazy, unrealistic medical stories.  I'm a doctor and have little patience for medical TV.  Scrubs is the best in that category because it acknowledges it's surreal intent.


I find many non-theists are terrified of "coming out" and discussing their true beliefs about religion.  I have well-educated friends who are actually afraid of losing their jobs if they admit they aren't Christian so much as not believing in any deity whatsoever.  It is a prejudice that is deeper even than xenophobia and sectarianism.  I hope we can continue working hard to face this, in part by coming out with our beliefs as honestly as we can, and facing the fear of judgement and social rejection.




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