Thursday, September 23, 2010

God the Idiot: Part 1

A few months ago I had to write a paper using a "cultural" text to talk about our understanding of God.  For my paper I chose the portrayal of God in Family Guy.  What follows is some of my thoughts about both the portrayal of God and ways that we should respond.

Recently I was watching the highly popular cartoon “Family Guy.”  The son, Chris, is talking about how he is afraid to try and do homework because there is an evil monkey living in his closet and says that he has proof that it exists there.  Peter responds, “You’ll have to do better than you did on your science exam, or than God did when he left the iron on too long on Ellen Barkins face.”  The scene cuts to a clip of God, distracted, ironing a lady on an ironing board.  He looks down and the conversation goes as follows:
God; “ Oh *$%#.”
Ellen; “How is it?”
God: “Get in the van we’ll put you in the 80s where you’ll pass for hot” (Family Guy Hannah Banana season 8 Episode 4 Two minutes in).

“Family Guy” is no stranger to insulting God.  In season 3, there is a scene where God is trying to pick up a girl at a bar.  He uses his finger to light her cigarette and a second later he makes the same motion and sets the girl on fire.  Then he proceeds to run away, leaving the girl and bar to burn down.  Most of the time I was just offended by these clips.  However, when I started to put them together, I noticed something about the way that God is portrayed in these clips.  Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy,” portrays God as old, male, pudgy, balding, and completely inept.  In fact, one could call MacFarlane’s god a bumbling idiot.

    What leads a person to picture God this way?  How do I as a Christian respond to MacFarlane’s portrayal of the God I love?  As I reflect on these clips, three things seem to me to be a driving force behind the “Family Guy god.” 

First is the idea in western Christianity that God is male.  For the non-believer, is it understandable that the logical path leads to gods being womanizers?  This was certainly the case for the Greeks, Romans, Ancient Mesopotamians etc.  In those cultures the gods were always sneaking around having sex with women.  As the culture in North America has shifted, it is little wonder that our predominant language of talking about God as male has led to a view of God being more like Baal or Zeus than like the God of the Bible. 

Secondly, I wonder how much of the Christians’ belief in God’s omnipotence plays into MacFarelane’s view.  If MacFarlane grew up within any proximity to Christianity, he would have heard about how God has all the power in the world; that God is able to do all things.  Yet, when one looks at the world, it is clear that things are not all good.  If God is all-powerful, why is it that some people are born with physical defects that will go on to limit them in life?  Children are born all over the world with abnormalities and diseases.  If God is the creator of all these lives, why would he not do a better job?
Finally, there is the idea that God is absent and disengaged from the world.  In the clip, “god’s” flippant remark to Ellen about getting into the van indicates that God can’t be bothered to fix his mistake.  Or perhaps an even better example is the scene of “god” setting the woman on fire with his finger.  His reaction is to run out of the bar after setting her on fire.  Our very language sometimes seems to indicate that this is the case.  When a hurricane or flood hits we call it an “act of God” and are then left asking “where was God in this?”  Did God just set the world in motion and then leave?  The world spirals into disaster and God can be seemingly absent.  In brief, the “Family Guy god” is a jumble of distorted images that come from the language we use to talk about God the Father.


Tucker Russell said...

Hey Nate. I appreciate your thoughts here. It would be easy for us to pass over something like Family Guy as juvenile and unworthy of our attention. But this is a narrative that is shaping many people's ideas about God at a subconscious level. Here are some thoughts I had.

First, it strikes me how profoundly we Western Christians continue to confuse Yahweh with Zeus. Even in the image you post here. A man with a white beard, seducing a woman, and hurling a lightning bolt. That is a perfect rendition of Zeus. It seems we are still struggling through the Hebrew and Hellenistic implications of how we do theology.

Second, I wonder if our society's perception of God is shaped by its perception of the church. Family Guy portrays God as not only inept and distant, but also petty and self-interested. Polls tend to show that people tend to view the church in pretty much that light. It is unsurprising then that they would draw the same cocnlusion about the god that we worship.

officehourthoughts said...

Hey Tucker. Thanks for your thoughts. I think you are exactly right with your first thought. I hadn't thought much about the second one, but it is certainly possible. I will think more about it.