Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” Embraces Secular Humanism

March 30, 2009

I’ll confess.  I   love Seth McFarlane’s   Family Guy.  Granted, the show is rude, crude, and makes a frequent practice of trotting on or over the line.  (But hey, what’s wrong with that?) Although syndicated on other stations, new episodes air on FOX, the show’s home network.  Fortunately, FOX’s cartoon comedy is far superior to its news reporting.  The rapid-fire banter and offbeat pop culture references arguably make the   Family Guy the funniest show on television today.  The most recent episode gave me one more reason to adore the show: last night, the   Family Guy came awfully close to embracing the philosophy of secular humanism.

The episode, titled "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven," is   available for free viewing on hulu.com .  Meg, the cartoon family’s daughter/human punching bag, becomes a born again Christian after viewing an evangelical television spot by actor/fundamentalist activist Kirk Cameron.  (For those who missed Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort’s infamous Banana proof of God’s existence, a visit to   YouTube is a must.)  In response to Meg’s annoying evangelizing, the one sane and rational member of the family finally speaks out: Brian, the family dog, announces that he is an atheist.  Peter, the family father and Brian’s owner, gives an hilarious, Biblical response: "Shut up, beast.  I have dominion over you and I command you to believe in God."  But the citizens of Quahog, Rhode Island respond with violence and intolerance.  The Quahog news team even runs a story featuring an unflattering photo of Brian carrying the caption: "Worse than Hitler."

Brian is hardly a saint of secular humanism.  An unrestrained womanizer, he makes frequent and ill-fated romantic attempts on Lois, his owner’s wife.  He is an unapologetic alcoholic; in this episode Brian feigns Christian conversion to finagle free booze from Meg.  But when Meg and her right wing evangelical friends start burning copies of freethought classics (Darwin’s   Origin of Species ; Stephen Hawking’s   A Brief History of Time ; and an anonymous volume titled   First Grade Logic ), Brian waxes poetic with a monologue that encapsulates the heart of the secular humanist philosophy.  Her faith shaken and wavering, Meg asks Brian: "But what is there to believe in without God?  Where do the answers come from?"  Brian’s response could have come straight from Carl Sagan’s   Cosmos : "Well, that’s all part of the human experience.  That’s what we’re here to find out.  And I bet you that the real answer to the nature of our existence is going to be more unimaginably amazing than we can possibly conceive."  The cartoon "camera" pans out from Quahog, the frame expanding to encompass New England, Earth, the moon, the outer planets, the Milky Way, and clusters of galaxies, in a scene that evokes the   opening sequence of the 1997 film version of Sagan’s     Contact  

This leads me to wonder: could Carl Sagan have been reincarnated in the form of an alcoholic cartoon dog?