Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Rick and Morty and the “No Atheists in Foxholes” Trope


Rick and Morty is definitely a show with some strong atheist themes in it. Rick very openly professes that there is no God, and many of the episodes that deal with religious themes are set up specifically to disprove religious beliefs. Even in the episode where Rick faces the literal devil, the whole point is about how humans are more powerful than these religious figures by showing that Rick is able to humiliate and even beat up the devil. However, there is one moment where Rick’s staunch atheism falls apart, albeit briefly. In the episode “A Rickle in Time”, there is a moment when Rick thinks he is about to die and prays to God, but after he survives, he goes back on his prayers, declaring once again that there is no God. This plays into a rather offensive trope that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, which is the idea that under pressure, everyone believes in God. But is this really the message that Rick and Morty is trying to send?

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Rick, Morty, God, and the Devil

gif via reddit

gif via reddit

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.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Knows Two Gods, Still a Christian

After The Avengers came out, many people discussed Captain America’s famous line about God and Thor.

CapSome people were surprised that Joss Whedon, an atheist, included the line in the movie. Others were either pleasently surprised or dismayed at the inclusion of religion in the Marvel Movie Universe, but the most interesting response, and the one I’m going to address here, is: How can Captain America still be a monotheist when he knows two gods personally? People also pointed out that characters like Iron Man, who is typically written as atheist, would also have issues coming to terms meeting two gods.

In the comics in general, a variety of religions are often included or referenced. In the Marvel universe there are mentions of Christianity, Norse Mythology, Greek mythology, Judaism, Islam, and other forms of Paganism and Wicca. However, despite all these religions being referenced, it is usually the pagan religions that are “proven” when characters actually meet the gods they learned about. For today I will just address religion in the Marvel Universe since each comic book universe deals with religion a little differently.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Pinkie Sense: Science versus Faith in My Little Pony

s1_e15_008-700x393My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s Season 1 episode, “Feeling Pinkie Keen”, introduces an interesting conflict into the world of Ponyville. Twilight Sparkle, a scientist and evidence-driven thinker, is thrown into a world of confusion when confronted with Pinkie Pie’s Pinkie Sense, a precognitive Spidey-sense-like ability to sense danger before it happens. Pinkie doesn’t know why she sees these things; she just does, and Applejack and Fluttershy (and, I assume, the rest of the Mane Six, who aren’t in this episode) have seen her twitchy premonitions come true without fail so many times that they consider a Pinkie Sense warning as good as a promise.

Throughout the episode, Twilight becomes more and more frustrated with Pinkie. She refuses to accept that there’s not a logical explanation for Pinkie’s precognition, going so far as to hook her up to a machine to test her, and to stalk her for the day, hoping to learn something or to catch the Pinkie Sense failing. At one point she gets up on an actual soapbox to explain to Pinkie how something that’s unexplainable in that way can’t possibly exist.

A box. With soap. This episode is excruciatingly literal.

A box. With soap. This episode is excruciatingly literal.

Eventually, the evidence that the Pinkie Sense exists and is right 100% of the time becomes so obvious that Twilight can’t ignore it. She has to put aside the scientific method and accept it on faith, even if she can’t quantify it. As the episode wraps up, she sends off this Friendship Letter to Princess Celestia with the lesson she’s learned:

I am happy to report that I now realize there are wonderful things in this world you just can’t explain, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less true. It just means you have to choose to believe in them. And sometimes it takes a friend to show you the way.

The message of this episode is a little ham-fisted and confused, and what the casual viewer comes away with is the story of, essentially, a non-religious person coming to believe in a religion because they’ve witnessed a miracle. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Myth that Atheism Will Fix the World

I love being a theologian. Studying theology is just awesome, but some hazards come from working for God. I don’t get paid much, people assume I’m a prude, and drunk people in bars like to tell me why I shouldn’t believe in God. Telling someone in a bar that you are religious, let alone a religious scholar, is a very dangerous thing to do. The two biggest questions I get are “why do you believe in God?” and “are you okay with pre-marital sex?”

We… aren’t going to talk about that second one.

The “do you believe in God?” question is often followed some kind of accusation that if there was no more religion then there would be no war, no violence, and all would be right with the world.

While most atheists I know are extremely wonderful and reasonable people, I have encountered a few that are rather militant, whether they are drunk or not. And this idea that without religion everything would be better really pisses me off.

I’m not denying that religion has its problems, but many times in history religion has been used as a smoke-screen for less noble motives like taking money, land, power, etc. But still this implication that our world would be better without religion comes up a lot in our society.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Mr. Deity

Sometimes I worry that people don’t find humor in religion, and that is sad. I truly believe that as Voltaire said:

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

So it’s time to laugh, you guys. It’s time to look at the funny side of religion, because there is one and one of the best shows I have ever seen that accomplishes that is the web series Mr. Deity.

Mr. Deity is actually satirical look at religion and is in many ways critical of it (the show is written by atheists, after all) but that doesn’t mean that people with faith can’t enjoy it.

The show starts with God, aka Mr. Deity, and his very stressed assistant Larry, trying to figure what types of evil to allow in the universe. The next episode introduces Jesus in an episode called, “The Really Big Favor” where God asks Jesus to allow himself to be crucified, but assures him that if he does this he’ll be a full partner. The show also introduces Lucifer or Lucy, who used to be God’s girlfriend. Lucy is one of my favorites as she is often the only voice for women when Mr. Deity makes his plans, not that he listens.

So head over to their Youtube page and make sure you watch Mr. Deity this Sunday to get your weekly dose of religion.

Hope you enjoy, and don’t forget to check out more!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus!

This may surprise you, dear reader, but Jesus, he’s in your house! Wait, don’t freak out. I meant, he’s on your TV and not just on EWTN or the 700 Club—I don’t think Jesus would participate in the 700 Club anyway.

Religion is everywhere. Oh, we might like to fool ourselves into thinking we have our entertainment in a separate sphere from our religion, but any author, director, or actor will tell you that they bring something of themselves and their own beliefs to the story.

Even TV shows, movies, and books that seem like they have no religion in them usually have some sort of philosophy they are trying to impart, and those philosophies often have their roots in some kind of religious tradition. Even books like the Golden Compass which supports atheistic values still says something about religion.

I think it’s time that we sat down and really take a look at what our pop culture is trying to say about religion, because they say a lot more than you probably realize.

First, let me say something about my own social location. I have a Bachelor’s in theology, particularly Catholic theology, though I also have some background in Protestantism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. I know some things about Islam, Shintoism, and Taoism but have never been formally educated in them. I tend to be a more progressive Catholic and even have certain views that I would not say are very Catholic at all, so I guess I’m still finding my path, but on the way I have learned quite a bit.

Why am I telling you this? Well, to make completely clear as to what I’m most knowledgeable about and where my own notions of spirituality and religion derive.

That being said, a large portion of this series will be focused on the Christian religion, not just because that’s the religion I know the most about, but because it’s the religion that the large majority of Americans follow, so that is the one that shows up the most in pop-culture. However, special consideration is going to be taken to write about other religions as well. No fair leaving anyone out, is there?

So tune in next week and find some religion!