Rick and Morty has quickly become one of my favorite geeky TV shows. Considering some of the more nihilistic inspirations and the atheist beliefs of most (if not all) of the characters, you would think that there wouldn’t be much to talk about in the way of religion. Actually, though, there are several episodes that very clearly address the idea of religion. Obviously all of them are extremely critical of religion and of religious people, but never in a way that comes off to me (as a religious person) as offensive. Furthermore, the show deals with the very real question that I think a lot of people eventually ask themselves: does God exist? Rick does use science and reason to often disprove what people believe to be God or some other form of mystical power, but Rick himself also actively knows that things like the devil and curses exist, and while he doesn’t seem open to God necessarily, he does seem to be open to learning about things beyond his original understanding.
Spoilers for Rick and Morty through the end of Season 2 below.
In the very first episode of Rick and Morty, Rick’s granddaughter Summer uses the phrase “Oh my God”, not in prayer but merely in a sarcastic teenager sort of way. Rick responds by telling her that there is no God and that he’ll thank her for the revelation later. Rick often makes this assertion to friends and relatives when the subject of God is brought up, and there are certainly enough episodes that critique religion and show that religious people are basing their faith off something that is not God to prove Rick correct. In the Season 2 episode “Get Schwifty”, a giant alien head appears in the sky above Earth demanding that Earth “show me what you got”. Rick takes Morty and travels to the Pentagon to inform the President that the giant head is actually an alien called a Cromulon, who wants them to perform a catchy original song for their reality TV show, in which the loser’s planet will be blown up.
During all of this, Summer, Beth, and Jerry are left at home, where people are understandably freaking out about the giant head. The town congregates at the local church, because everyone is scared. The priest tries to capitalize on this but fails miserably by comparing faith in God to gambling and immediately trying to get the people there to donate money for a new church roof. The school principal, Principal Vagina (yes, that is his name), declares that the giant head must be God and goes outside to pray to it. His prayers seem to work, which convinces all of the people in the town. However, in truth, it was Rick and Morty’s hit song that made the head happy, and not the principal’s prayers. When more giant heads appear, the town assumes it was because Beth doubted their prayers and the giant head’s power, but actually it was just Earth being taken before a live audience to compete in the Cromulon’s reality show. During this time Principal Vagina becomes the leader of a new religion deemed Headism. He has clearly been corrupted by his power, now pretending that he can talk to the heads and making up rules that the heads supposedly told him but have nothing to do with anything. This includes tying “undesirables” such as goths and thieves to balloons and sending them up to the giant heads, where the people believe the heads will cleanse them and they’ll be reborn as babies. Eventually, it’s revealed that heads were just the audience of a reality TV show and the cult disbands.
In another episode, “The Ricks Must Be Crazy”, Rick’s space car breaks down, because the battery isn’t working. It’s revealed that Rick’s battery is actually a micro-universe where he introduced the people there to a simple tool that produces energy—except Rick is actually stealing most of that energy to power his car. When the micro-verse scientist Zeep (played by Stephen Colbert) discovers this, it inevitably leads to a fight between him and Rick. The people in the micro-verse believe that Rick is an alien, but also seem to at least kind of worship him, as they have an entire holiday called Ricksgiving. Zeep, while fighting Rick, tells him, “I hope your God is as big of a dick as you.” Rick responds by saying, “My God is the biggest dick that never existed,” again emphasizing the atheistic themes of the show as well as criticizing belief.
In both episodes, characters wrongly assume that something is God when it is not. Rick often acts as the one disproving people’s wrongful thinking by using science and reason to reveal what is actually going on. The religious people are shown jumping to conclusions about things that they don’t understand; they are afraid, but lack the knowledge Rick has to truly figure out what is going on. Characters like Zeep eventually figure out what is going on like Rick, but only because he is as smart as Rick is. Even characters like Beth, who is also a strict atheist, are unable to disprove anything about the giant heads and Beth eventually just rolls with it because her daughter is thriving in the cult that has been created. When she and her husband Jerry finally rebel against the cult because they realize it is actually harming Summer, they end up being the next people tied to balloons. They are only accidentally saved by Rick, who performs in the reality show in such a way that the people in the town think the heads are displeased by Beth and Jerry’s almost-execution. Rick is already someone who doesn’t believe in God and goes out of his way to prove what is correct or not.
However, there are some episodes that seem to contradict this. In the episode “Something Ricked This Way Comes”, Rick discovers that Summer is working at an antique shop that is literally run by the Devil. There the Devil gives away magical objects which seem like they would help people for free, always telling people “one never pays here.” The patrons of the shop usually return to complain about how the objects have hurt them in some ironic way, but the Devil usually just laughs and tells them there is “a price for everything.” Rick immediately recognizes the man as the Devil and is annoyed with Summer for not caring that she is working for him. Rick gets even more upset after receiving a microscope from the Devil which would have made him stupid. Rick invents a machine which detects the curses on all the objects and sets out to ruin the Devil’s business, first by simply telling his customers about the curse and later by opening up his own store across the street that can remove the curses from the objects but leave all the benefits. Summer, by this point, has grown to really like the Devil because he treats her nicely, so she decides to help him restructure his business. The new business becomes wildly successful, but the Devil has no intention of sharing the profits with Summer and has her hauled off by security. When Rick hears about this, he and Summer put on a ton of muscle mass and then go beat the shit out of the Devil. They are also shown beating up a Neo-Nazi, a bully, a Westboro Baptist Church member, and an abusive dog owner—basically anyone who is an awful person.
In some ways this episode also carries over many of the same atheist themes, by showing the Devil as not being very powerful. He is easily outwitted by Rick and later beaten up by Rick and Summer. Between this and the other two episodes I mentioned, it’s clear the show often portrays religious belief as being based on wrong correlations and bolstered by fear and power-hungry people, but the minute science or rational thought is brought in, these powers and groups are almost easily defeated. In the episode with the Devil, however, Rick is literally fighting the Devil. Not an alien or robot pretending to be the Devil, but actually the Devil. Furthermore, Rick doesn’t explain away the cursed objects as actually being something scientific, but regards them as actual curses. This is the only instance where religion or magic seems to exist in any real way, and begs certain questions about faith. If the antique shop owner is really the Devil and the objects really are cursed by some magical force and Rick knows and believes this, could it mean a larger supernatural world?
I have always disliked the idea that the Devil can exist without God, probably because it just greatly goes against my worldview. This idea often comes from people who view the world as more bad than good, making belief in a devil seem easily plausible, but making belief in God seem unlikely at the very least. This attitude would seem to fit Rick and Morty pretty well, because Rick’s general attitude seems to be that the world is a pretty shitty and awful place. So it makes sense that he wouldn’t be surprised by the Devil. However, can we really believe that the Devil would exist on his own without any other supernatural figure, without God, or at least some other deity? The presence of the Devil at least shows the possibility of such things existing, however, the show still makes the point of showing that the Devil is still a force easily defeated by science. This could also be shown as very humanist, perhaps in this one episode acknowledging that other forces exist, but claiming that they still would be no match for human strength and intelligence. It’s not necessarily a religious or spiritual interpretation of faith, but it is an interesting one.
So Rick definitely comes off as an atheistic secular humanist, but still has room in his worldview for things he might not understand. He never questions the fact that the Devil or curses exist, and does learn how to remove the curses, but the appearance of such things doesn’t shake or disrupts his worldview. He simply deals with it using science and moves on. Rick also has a morality that is shown in the show. Far too often people who are atheists are accused of not having any sense of morality, but Rick clearly does. Despite the fact that Rick is something of a hedonist and often says rude or offensive things, he is not without morals. There are simply certain things that he doesn’t care about that religious people would. He doesn’t see the point in denying himself something he would enjoy, whether it’s sex, drugs, or alcohol, and he doesn’t suffer fools or beat around the bush, which often makes him seem unkind. Part of this is probably his issues with allowing himself to get close to people, but again, having human flaws doesn’t negate his morality.
In the final episode in Season 2, we discover that Rick is a wanted terrorist of the Galactic Empire. When asked why Rick just responds, “They think they control the galaxy, I disagree. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, son.” Rick despises bureaucracy and hates being told what he can and cannot do, whether it’s by the government or religion. While it hasn’t become entirely clear yet, Rick’s best friend, Bird Person, reveals that they fought many battles in the name of justice and he, Rick, and some of their other friends are all wanted criminals. While Rick tends to act like he only cares about the things that directly affect him that is clearly not the case. This is also seen in the episode “Look Who’s Purging Now” which directly makes fun of the movie The Purge. Rick helps a young girl by giving her a suit of power armor so that she can kill the rich assholes that started the purge but are never affected by it. Rick already had everything he needed to leave the planet and didn’t need to help, but chose to anyway because it’s clear that Rick does not like people thinking they are above others or telling others what to do. Despite being a show with atheistic themes, Rick and Morty gives us, the viewer, a lot to chew on in regards to the question of God and issues with morality. It’s a really interesting and fascinating show for anyone to watch, whether they’re religious or not.