There Are No Atheists in the Foxhole of Television

bodyofproof303If there is a TV show with a lead character whose life is devoted to science and discovery, eventually that show is going to air an episode of ‘Bait the Atheist‘. The formula is basic: Atheist with poor people skills and a hard-on for reason has encounter with the apparently unexplainable. Atheist then spends 30-40 minutes insisting to every person in his or her life that there is a scientific explanation. This character is never wrong, so there will be a medical/environmental/paleontological/ reason for the miracle.


The last minute of the show delivers a wink and a nod to the audience. Perhaps there was divine intervention after all! How else could Guest Star have possibly known something Atheist had never told anyone?

It happened multiple times on House. It was a central struggle of Lost. A few weeks ago Bones spent an hour in a tastefully decorated purgatory. I will at least credit the writers of Tuesday’s Body of Proof for putting a twist on the cliche by swapping angels for demons, though mistaking drug use/seizure disorder/brain disease for demonic possession is not new. (Most people don’t actually believe in exorcisms outside of the movie theatre, which makes it less consecrated ground to tread on.)

The wider world dances around every conversation so as not to accidentally imply that there is no higher power, but no one ever worries about offending those of us who live our lives according to personal codes rather than commandments. Religious folk assume that non-theists are loud, obnoxious heathens who wake up every morning with the goal of eliminating faith. That’s because the only atheists they know shout to be heard. They purposely incur the wrath, just to get noticed.

And the characters on TV who put their faith in science are noisy about it. They have huge egos, and they look down on the faithful, often with scorn. No matter what God they worship, the religious are being persecuted in the workplace, so the atheist is subjected to a moment where they are forced to question what they believe.

Apparently, there exists a hope that confronting a ‘non-believer’ with something that can’t be qualified or quantified will cause instant conversion. I don’t understand this philosophy. No one’s going to stop believing in God because I point out a bunch of inconsistencies in the Bible. ‘Just because it doesn’t make sense, doesn’t mean it isn’t true,’ they say. So if your faith won’t be shaken by a logical argument, why would mine be shaken by something inexplicable?

The problem isn’t in science versus religion, logic versus faith. The two can coexist quite peacefully, and do in a multitude of people looking for answers. The problem is in not viewing atheists as people who have as much right to their view of the world as anyone who visits a church, mosque, synagogue, temple or what have you. A religious character isn’t wrong about everything in life just because the case du jour ends up being medical instead of biblical. Likewise, if there are questions left over at the end of the day, the atheist probably doesn’t spend time wondering if God had a finger in it after all.

There are plenty of mysteries in the world, and that’s fine by me. I’m just a small human being on a giant rock revolving through space. What do I know?

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