Skeptic, cinephile, bookworm, gamer, history buff, armchair scientist, occasional YouTuber, habitual cringe inducer, reluctant realist.
Non-believers in Fiction
With atheism and agnosticism on the rise (and showing no signs of slowing down) it felt appropriate to celebrate the growing movement by once again compiling a list of the worlds most famous atheists — this time of the fictional variety (for famous atheist and skeptical actors, writers, musicians, and other artists, click here).
While the appearance of atheist and agnostic characters in film and TV have been rare, we've nevertheless had them show up on our TV sets and movie screens for decades. All the way back to All in the Family's Meat Head, to nearly every fidgety protagonist portrayed in a Woody Allen film.
Granted, at first glance this may not seem like a very important issue. But it must remember that atheists are a minority just like any other. A minority that has been repeatedly shunned, put down, and had their voices go practically unheard for years. Having openly atheist and agnostic characters appear in popular films and television series' is just one small step in helping non-believers in general be heard and acknowledged as the people they are. Very similar to the way in which homosexuals began to come out and become accepted after such shows as Ellen and Will and Grace began to bring awareness to how okay it is to be different from everyone else.
So here's what's going to follow: I'll list in alphabetical order (by character names) each atheist and agnostic character. I'll include a photo, a brief reference to their skepticism, and occasionally a video link (when available) of them expressing their feelings about religion, god, atheism, etc.. If you want to see more video clips of atheists and agnostic characters on film & TV, click here to go to The Gutter Monkey Youtube Channel.
If anyone has any suggestions for the list, leave them in the comments section at the end of the page. I'll then fact check them and add them accordingly if they appear to be legit. Thanks. Enjoy.
Played by Rami Malek in the USA original series Mr. Robot
In the third episode of the second season of Mr. Robot (entitled: "eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd"), our protagonist, Elliot Alderson, attends a church group where he outwardly voices his feelings on religion and god:
"Is that what God does? He helps? Tell me, why didn't God help my innocent friend who died for no reason while the guilty ran free? Okay. Fine. Forget the one offs. How about the countless wars decalred in his name? Okay. Fine. Let's skip the random, meaningless murder for a second, shall we? How about the racist, sexist, phobia soup we've all been drowning in because of him? And I'm not just talking about Jesus. I'm talking about all organized religion. Exclusive groups created to manage control. A dealer getting people hooked on the drug of hope. His followers, nothing but addicts who want their hit of bullshit to keep their dopamine of ignorance. Addicts. Afraid to believe the truth. That there's no order. There's no power. That all religions are just metastasizing mind worms, meant to divide us so it's easier to rule us by the charlatans that wanna run us. All we are to them are paying fanboys of their poorly-written sci-fi franchise. If I don't listen to my imaginary friend, why the fuck should I listen to yours? People think their worship's some key to happiness. That's just how he owns you. Even I'm not crazy enough to believe that distortion of reality. So fuck God. He's not a good enough scapegoat for me."
Count Laszlo de Almasy
Played by actor Ralph Fiennes in the 1996 film The English Patient
Dialogue from the film:
AlmÃ¡sy: There is no God... but I hope someone looks after you.
Madox: Just in case you're interested, it's called the suprasternal notch. Come and visit us in Dorset when all this nonsense is over.
[Heads away but turns back]
Madox: You'll never come to Dorset.
Played by Simon Pegg in the 2007 film, Hot Fuzz
While meeting his new neighbors at a dinner party, Nicholas Angel (played by real-life atheist Simon Pegg) is approached by a reverend who asks him to read a homily at Sunday service. To this Nicholas declines, suggesting that his involvement in such a thing would be hypocritical because he's an agnostic.
Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway
Played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 film, Contact
The character Ellie from both the 1997 film, Contact, and its novel of the same name, is an openly atheist scientist who is forced to contend with the popular opinion of the religious public when she's chosen as a candidate to be the first human to make contact with an alien race.
The story of Contact was based on the novel of the same name by the well-known skeptical scientist, Carl Sagan. In film, the character of Ellie is portrayed by real-life atheist and actress Jodie Foster. The story itself attempts to find an equal ground for both science and religion to get along and acts as a positive portrayal of how a real, atheistic person can still have hope, humility and passion in life and how they can remain strong without the need of a deity.
Played by Woody Allen in 1980s Stardust Memories
As with most Woody Allen films, in this 8 1/2 inspired film Allen doesn't focus too much on the atheism of his character, yet nevertheless is sure to let his non-believe be known through at least one or two lines. In Stardust Memories, Allen delivers one of his most memorable of these pieces of dialogue when he replies to someone: "To you, I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition."
Played by actor Chris North in Sex and the City
On the episode, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, the ever-enigmatic Mr. Big is seen exiting a church by his off and on girlfriend, Carrie. Shocked that he may be religious, she confronts Big about it. He then reassures her that he is an atheist, but don't tell the pastor.
Dr. Paul Blaylock
Played by Ed Harris in the 2011 film, Salvation Boulevard
In Salvation Boulevard Ed Harris plays a Christopher Hitchens-esque atheist debater. He's later shot in the head by a fundamentalist preacher.
Played by writer, director, and actor Woody Allen in the film Deconstructing Harry
There are many instances in this fantastic movie where the character Harry Block (played by real life atheist Woody Allen) expresses his lack of belief, The greatest and most humorous of which is during a fight with his psychologist wife (played by Kristie Alley) after she finds out that he's been having an affair with one of her patients.
While Harry's wife angrily confronts him about the affair, she asks him if this was the only one. Harry responds in the affirmative, emphasizing the point with: "May god strike me down if I'm lying." When his wife furiously screams back, "You're an atheist, Harry!" Harry quips that "Hey, we're alone in the universe. You going to blame that on me too?"
Temperance "Bones" Brennan
Played by Emily Deschanel in the TV series Bones
The character of "Bones" is a brilliant board-certified forensic anthropologist who works in the Medico-Legal lab at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington D.C. Like many film and TV scientists, she's portrayed as being extremely rational and logical to the point where it makes her have trouble fitting in with the outside world. Unsurprisingly it's this rationality which also leads her to be a doubter of religion and superstition. Throughout the series she can be seen repeatedly mocking and criticizing those less-than-rational beliefs of others.
Played by Kristen Wiig in the 2011 film Paul
In the 2011 comedy film, Paul, Kristen Wiig plays an extreme Christian fundamentalist who, after arguing with Paul and his cohorts (atheists Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) about evolution, has her faith shattered after Paul shares with her his vast knowledge of the universe which excludes all possibility of her Christian teachings.
After discovering that she is no longer bound by the strict rules of her religion, Ruth becomes elated at the idea of being allowed to swear, have sex, and live her life without worry of being damned to Hell.
Allison Cameron, M.D
Played by actress Jennifer Morrison in the TV show House
While more respecting of others beliefs than her colleague and fellow atheist, Gregory House, Allison Cameron is also open in her atheistic views, as mentioned on several episodes of the TV show House.
Played by Viggo Mortenson in the 2016 film, Captain Fantastic
Living out in the wilderness, away from society and its rules, Ben Cash and his family live life in their own unique way. One of those ways involves shedding away all of the silly holidays most people celebrate, such as Christmas; opting, instead, to celebrate Noam Chomsky Day. In one scene, found here, Ben's son questions his father about why they can't celebrate Christmas like everyone else. Ben's response is to refer to Christmas as the celebration of a "magical, fictitious elf".
REFERENCE: The scene occurs approximately 45 minutes into the 2016 film, Captain Fantastic.
Played by Trin Miller in the 2016 film, Captain Fantastic
While Leslie Cash herself is only briefly seen in the film, Captain Fantastic, and doesn't mention her beliefs in those scenes, her husband Ben briefly explains her beliefs later on in the film during a funeral scene. He says that she practiced Buddhism, which to her was a philosophy and "not an organized religion." He goes on to say:
"In fact, Leslie abhorred all organized religions. To her, they were the most dangerous fairy tales ever invented. Designed to illicit blind obedience and strike fear into the hearts of the innocent and the uninformed."
To find the full clip, check out my YouTube page here.
REFERENCE: The funeral scene in the 2016 film, Captain Fantastic
Played by Taylor Schilling on the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black
A line from the show:
"I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver, and Neil Degrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens -- although I do admit he could be kind of an asshole. I cannot get behind some kind of supreme being who weighs in on the Tony Awards while a million people get whacked with machetes. I don't believe a billion Indians are going to hell, I don't believe we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don't believe people die young because god needs another angel. I think it's just bullshit and I think on some level we all know that. Don't you?"
Played by actress Rachel Griffiths in the TV series Six Feet Under
The groundbreaking HBO TV series, Six Feet Under, tackled many issues having to do with religion and human nature. The character Brenda Chenowith (played by real life atheist Rachel Griffiths) who was raised by two smarmy and condescending intellectuals, was a fascinating multidimensional character who was dangerously smart while at the same time severely flawed. She remained an open, outspoken atheist throughout the entirety of the series.
Played by actor Jim Parsons in the TV show The Big Bang Theory
Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the hit CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, is a brilliant theoretical physicist who has no patience for the illogical ideas or delusional thinking of those around him. While never explicitly classifying himself as an atheist in the show, he's been seen multiple times speaking of his doubts and denial of gods existence.
Evidence for this is seen in the following clip of Sheldon cursing the "deity whose existence I doubt!", among other clips.
Detective Rustin Cohle
Played by Matthew McConaughey in the 2014 HBO series, True Detective
Rust is a complicated man with a very complicated past. With a brilliant mind and his true detective skills though, one thing that he's crystal clear about is that this is the only life we have. So we better live it.
"If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of sh*t. And I'd like to get as many of them out in the open as possible. You gotta get together and tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day? What's that say about your reality?" -- Rustin Cohle
Dr. Perry Cox
Played by John C. McGinley on the TV series Scrubs
The atheist Dr. Cox from the spectacular TV series Scrubs is a brilliant, quick witted doctor who just can't help but press everyone's buttons. In the following scenes from Scrubs, we watch as Dr. Cox repeatedly battles with a colleague over whether or not there is a reason why things happen.
Played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2001 film Donnie Darko
When Donnie Darko tells his psychiatrist that he can't bring himself to believe in such a thing as a god, his psychiatrist explains to him: "Donnie, an atheist is someone who denies altogether the existence of God. You're an agnostic. An agnostic is someone who believes that there can be no proof of the existence of God, but does not deny the possibility that God exists."
Played by Woody Allen in the 2003 film Anything Else
Once again Woody Allen plays a character who is quite similar to himself, both in philosophy and in theocracy. He's states that he's an atheist in the following dialogue with his friend Jerry Faulk:
David Dobel: ...and the next thing I knew they made some crack about my religion which I found in poor taste.
Jerry Falk: Religion? You're an atheist!
David Dobel: Yes, I'm an atheist, but I resented the fact however obliquely that they implied that Auschwitz was basically just a theme park.
Played by Antonio Banderas in the 1999 film Play It To The Bone
In response to the way his friend and boxing partner, Vince, is acting toward religion, Cesar says: "I am an atheist, thank God!"
Played by Spencer Tracy in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind
Referred to both as an atheist and an agnostic throughout the film, Spencer Tracy's character, Henry Drummond, from Inherit the Wind is based on real life agnostic, Clarence Darrow.
Played by John Cusack in the 2007 film, 1408
In the 2007 horror film, 1408, Mike Enslin is a skeptic who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences. If his career choice wasn't enough to hammer the point home, throughout the film Mike makes his non-believe in god and the supernatural abundantly clear. One such instance occurs when he tries to convince a hotel manager to give him the key to the hotels so-called "haunted room":
"Just give me the key! Listen, I stayed... at the Bixby House. I brushed my goddamn teeth right next to the tub where Sir David Smith drowned his whole family, and I stopped being afraid of vampires when I was 12. Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room, Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties... don't exist. And even if they did, there's no God to protect us from them, now is there?"
Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth
Played by voice actor Billy West in the television series Futurama
Strangely enough, Futurama's the best reference proving Professor Farnsworth's atheism is in a 2014 episode of The Simpsons where the two shows crossed over (not in the spiritual sense). In it, Farnsworth informs the gang to all pray to their respective deities. Farnsworth, however, informs them that he is an atheist. To emphasize this, he then drops to his knees and begins to pray to nothing.
REFERENCE: Season 26, Episode 06 of The Simpsons, "Simpsorama" (2014)
Played by actor Nick Frost in the 2011 film Paul
In the 2011 film, Paul most all of the protagonists are atheists. When Clive, played by real life atheist Nick Frost, is asked if he's a man of god, he answers that no, he's a man of science.
Dr. Norman Goodman
Played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1998 film Sphere
During a particularly harrowing moment, the character Harry asks Norman if he's a religious man. Norman immediately responds with "Atheist," then quickly follows it with "but I'm flexible."
TV Show - Family Guy
The smart, cultured, cynical, and often times drunk family dog, Brian, repeatedly acts as the voice of reason on the mega-hit Fox cartoon sitcom, Family Guy. Created and designed by self-proclaimed atheist and Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane (and voiced by MacFarlane in his own natural speaking voice) many take Brian to be the embodiment of the show creator himself.
Like MacFarlane, Brian is unashamed about his atheism and has many times expressed his atheistic views openly and frankly. One example can be seen in the following Family Guy clip where Brian explains how people got along for thousands of years without religion:
Played by Woody Allen in the 1975 film, Love and Death
Love and Death is a comedy written, directed, and staring Woody Allen in 1975. In it, he plays Boris. As usual with many of Woody Allen's character creations, Boris seems to be in an almost constant state of existential panic and questions god on several occasions within the film. One of the most memorable of those occasions is during a discussion with his friend Sonja (Diane Keaton) at about 7 minutes into the movie. During this scene, they have a somewhat heavy debate over whether or not god is real — Boris, of course, being the skeptic.
REFERENCE: Approximately 7 minutes into the 1975 film, "Love and Death"
Played by Joan Allen in the 2000 film The Contender
[closing remarks at Congressional confirmation hearing]
" ... And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of Church and State, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism. Now, I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves, that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very Chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church."
Played by actress Cybill Shepherd in the TV series Moonlighting
In the unforgettable 1980's comedy-drama, Moonlighting, a lot of innovative ideas in television came into play. One of my personal favorites was the openly atheist, chic, smart character Maddie Hayes who voiced her views of reason and science over superstition, myth, and the irrational in the episode In God We Strongly Suspect. A clip of the scene can be found below.
REFERENCE: SEASON 02, EPISODE 13 OF MOONLIGHTING, "IN GOD WE STRONGLY SUSPECT"
E. K. Hornbeck
Played by Gene Kelly in the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind
Gene Kelly's Hornbeck character, from the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind, was never explicitly referred to as an atheist. However, it's strongly implied throughout the film that he would at least go by the label of agnostic. This is shown by his support of the agnostic attorney Henry Drummond and his regular mockery of the religious citizens of town.
Max Jerry Horovitz
Voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the 2009 film Mary and Max
In the 2009 claymation film, Mary and Max, Max mentions his atheism twice. He explains that he quit believing in god after reading many books that have "proven god is just a figment of my imagination." Max does, however, continue to wear his yamaka; as it keeps his brain warm.
Gregory House, M.D.
Played by actor Hugh Laurie in the TV series House
Scarily smart, quick, logical, evidence based, and always right (even when he's wrong), Gregory House (played by real life atheist, Hugh Laurie) is everyone's favorite curmudgeon misanthrope. And, just as most other educated men of science, he also happens to be a proud atheist.
While not always tactful, and rarely a delight to be around, he does get his point through. In the clip below we have a fine example of a frustrated House trying to explain why if religious people were rational there would be no religious people:
Played by Chris Colfer in the TV series Glee
Kurt Hummel, the breakthrough character of the mega-hit TV show, Glee, was an openly gay, openly atheist character. In the episode entitled "Grilled Cheesus," Kurt tells his father, "I don't believe in God, but I believe in you, dad." (paraphrasing) when his father is laying in a hospital bed after a heart attack. In the same episode, Kurt also explains Bertrand Russell's classic teapot analogy when conveying to his friends why he can't make the same leap of faith as they have.
REFERENCE: Season 02, Episode 03 of Glee, "Grilled Cheesus"
Played by actor Simon Baker in the TV show The Mentalist
The former fraudulent psychic medium, Patrick Jane, from the CBS crime drama The Mentalist, is yet another brilliant fictional character who scoffs at the ideas of religion and the supernatural. In the scene below, Jane has a conversation expressing how there is no afterlife nor is there any such thing as a real psychic.
REFERENCE: Season 01, Episode 01 of The Mentalist, "Pilot"
Played by Woody Allen in the 2012 film, To Rome with Love
Here we've got yet another instance of Woody Allen explicitly stating that one of his characters is an atheist. This view of god bears no relevance to anything else within the story of To Rome with Love other than acting as a quick moment of comedy when Woody Allen's character, Jerry, is on an airplane experiencing turbulence. The scene occurs early in the film (at around the 5 minute mark) and his religious beliefs aren't mentioned again.
REFERENCE: 5 minutes (approx.) into the 2012 film, "To Rome with Love"
Played by Mary Kay Place in the 1983 film, The Big Chill
"Maybe it's a sign from God that I should reconsider. Too bad I'm an atheist."
Played by Michelle Williams in the TV series Dawson's Creek
The character of Jen Lindley (played by Michelle Williams) classified herself as an atheist on the very first episode of Dawson's Creek. She reemphasized her disbelief in a deity during the series finale of the show, when writing a letter to her daughter.
REFERENCE: Season 01, Episode 01 of Dawson's Creek, "Pilot" and season 06, episode 24, "... Must come to an end"
Played by Omar Epps in the 2000 film, Dracula 2000
In this cringe-inducing film from the year 2000, we see a newly made vampire named Marcus (played by Omar Epps) attacking a man. The man thrusts a crucifix toward the bloodsucker, giving Marcus ample opportunity to squeeze out the quick line "Sorry, sport. I'm an atheist."
Played by actor Oscar Nunez in the TV show The Office
In the American version of the Ricky Gervais (atheist) created television show The Office, the character of Oscar Martinez is found to be an atheist when during the Pledge of Allegiance he omits the words "one nation under god." To see the scene, click below.
REFERENCE: Season 07, Episode 23 of The Office, "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager" (2011)
Played by actor Michael Pitt in the 2003 film, The Dreamers
"I don't believe in God, but if I did, he would be a black, left-handed guitarist."
Played by Ricky Gervais in the TV series Extras
Ricky Gervais is rapidly becoming a powerful force in the movement against religion. From his thanking god for being an atheist statement at the Emmy's to his film and television roles where he playfully mocks the ridiculousness of religious myths on a regular basis. One of Gervais's greatest creations (along with the wildly famous series The Office) was the series Extras.
In the following scene from Extras we watch as Gervais's character, Andy, discusses why he is an atheist.