Two Atheist Characters Out Themselves on The Good Wife

Last weekend, there was an interesting conversation taking place on the TV show The Good Wife.

The brief setup for other non-viewers: Maddie Hayward (played by Maura Tierney) is running for Governor against Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) and she used to be friends with Florrick’s wife Alicia (Julianna Margulies).

In the scene below (beginning at the 31:47 mark), a reporter confronts Hayward about a video showing her not bowing her head during a prayer:

Alicia and Peter Florrick discuss their religious beliefs on The Good Wife

Reporter: Ms. Hayward, how do you respond to the controversy over your actions at last week’s benediction?

Maddie Hayward: My actions… you mean the video on the Web of me not bowing?

Reporter: Yes. During prayer. There’s been some chatter about your insensitivity.

Hayward: Well, I apologize if it, uh, seemed insensitive. I was just trying to avoid being hypocritical. I am an atheist.

Reporter: Really? Don’t you worry about how that’ll play in a state where only 15% call themselves non-religious?

Hayward: I worry about everything. [Nervous laughter] But I am who I am and I don’t think you should run away from that. Let’s just let the voters decide.

Reporter: And what about you, Mr. State’s Attorney?

Peter Florrick: I respect Maddie’s point of view.

Reporter: But you don’t share it.

Peter Florrick: Well, it’s different. I was in prison. Belief means a great deal there. In fact, sometimes, it was the only thing we had.

Reporter: And your wife?

Peter Florrick: Oh, well, I think my wife can speak for herself.

Alicia Florrick: I’m an atheist. [Smile.]

I don’t think Florrick’s campaign manager’s going to be happy about that admission from Alicia…

But how awesome is it to see the main character of a popular TV show out herself as an atheist? And what about her husband’s opponent also admitting that? And what about neither woman acting like it’s a horrible thing?!

We’re moving up in the world, people.

(Thanks to Peggy and Lisa for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Stev84

    I already suspected Alicia she might be an atheist. She was rather uncomfortable when her daughter seriously considered becoming a Christian.

  • Rich Wilson

    Non-viewer. On my 7th ad (of the 4 promised). Thanks for the transcript. I should have stopped there.

  • Pawel Samson

    I’ve never heard of this show, but this has got me interested. I love political-themed TV shows. Is it any good?

  • Lance Finney

    Nice. I already really liked the show, and now it’s even better.

  • Gringa123

    My mom watches that show and I’ve seen it a few times with her. It is pretty good, and now I might have a reason to actually watch it on my own!

  • Ramon Caballero

    It was a nice episode, we don’t miss the show ever; I don’t think my wife liked Alicia’s answer :)
    In the same episode she says she would believe if Jesus appeared to her and perform miracles, I did not like that answer but maybe she just wanted to stop the arguing with Elijah.
    I think the whole chapter was about when it is ok to lie. She lied about being grateful to her new partners in the office but she didn’t when it came to this; something politicians should learn about.

  • Ewan

    This is US TV – they’ll both die horribly by the end of the season.

  • S

    I havent sen it, but I like how he says that his wife can speak for herself. Ill look into the just for that!

  • Katwise

    Before we know it, it will be trendy to be an atheist! Yea!

  • Marco Conti

    That would be nice except that in the period right after the peak of the trend we’ll have to deal with a bunch of born again ex atheists that never really got it but did it to be trendy.
    I frankly would prefer a less steep curve due to proper education and especially critical thinking skills taught in schools.

  • Stev84

    Yeah, it’s pretty great. But it’s really a law show. That political stuff is more of a secondary storyline.

  • Carpinions

    Heck, not only are two characters outing themselves without reservation, but they reference the fact that most inmates have a faith. They even touched on an issue!

  • Carpinions

    Agreed. If everyone just didn’t make a big deal out of it and we left that to the exploding heads of theists (most particularly the conservative ones), I’d be happy. I’ll start gagging if media outlets start running stories about celebrities or other personalities that highlight “how their lack of faith is cool daddy-o, and how they supposedly push it in everything they do, echoing the oft-seen stories of hip Christians and how they serve as a torch for their faith.

  • eric

    Alicia Florrick is the show’s main character, so probably not. But to indulge in a bit of meta-analysis, Tierny is a new add to the cast while the husband’s character has been on the show since the beginning. So, yeah, I’d say its a decent bet that Tierny’s character was added for one season and the writers intend to have her character lose the race to the husband (and subsequently disappear).

  • M. Elaine

    Not a viewer here. I admit I’m thrilled that the one coming out as an atheist is not a fringe or guest character, but the lead. Also thrilled that both Maddie and Alicia used “the A word.” However there is a tiny voice in my head that says I shouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them “find redemption” or “see the light” in a future episode. Damn you, cynicism!

    Also, I kept wondering if Nathan Lane was wearing pink socks in that scene by the elevator.

  • pansies4me

    I watch the show pretty regularly, but I missed the show with her daughter that you reference. I’m the “Lisa” that alerted Hemant about this. When Eli got all excited about possibly using Maddie’s so-called insensitivity against her I was actually getting mad because I assumed they were going to portray that as a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I was psyched when she told Eli she was an atheist, and elated when she outed herself to the reporter. It was quite the evening!

  • Trickster Goddess

    I’ve being noticing atheist characters occasionally appearing on various tv shows lately. One was on the ABC Family show “Switched at Birth” (which I particularly enjoy it for its extensive use of sign language dialogue). Early in the series, soon after the two families meet, they sit down to share a meal and one invites the other mother to say grace, to which she replies, “We don’t pray, we’re atheists.” Her daughter adds, “Actually I’m agnostic.”

    There’s been no other mention of it since in the series, but then there hasn’t been any other mention of religion either. But given that it’s a teen show on a “Family” network, I thought it was cool that they casually established that a couple of the main characters where godless. (And the setting of the show is in Kansas City.)

  • mo

    Coming from Ireland, it’s bizarre to see how big a deal this is. Both in terms of how dramatic a point the show made of it, and how much people on this forum are celebrating it. Back home it would be like someone saying they eat corn flakes for breakfast.

  • Houndentenor

    This is a great show. What’s interesting is that Alicia is the one adult character on the show who has a strong moral compass. She always does the right thing (perhaps after some struggle or searching, but she gets to the right thing eventually). I can’t remember such a character ever emphatically stating they were a non-believer. Characters on other shows (Hawaii 5-0, Big Bang Theory) have expressed skepticism or alluded to a lack of belief int he supernatural but the A word is usually avoided. (Except for Kurt on Glee)

  • Houndentenor

    It’s always interesting, well written and the acting is first rate. It’s filmed in NYC so lots of theater actors show up regularly. They don’t take easy shortcuts out of serious moral dilemmas. It’s well worth watching in an era when not much network tv is.

  • Chris

    That’s it! I’m moving to Ireland!

  • Rich Wilson

    It would be interesting to have a discussion on what legal protections for secularism Americans would be willing to give up if it meant a more secular reality. Or vice versa, what what protections Europeans would like so much that they would give up a more secular reality.

    It’s strange that while legally more secular, the US in fact seems to be in general a lot more religious.

  • roberthughmclean

    Belief systems have been successful in integrating themselves into our culture. Much of this is through the mass media, like the untold Xmas movies, Cecil B DeMille extravaganzas, Da Vinci Code book etc. To have atheism pop up in popular TV without the sh*t hitting the fan is great news.

  • abb3w

    Playing (heh) Devil’s advocate, roughly two-in-five of people raised irreligious convert. The problem is that it’s that it’s the vast majority of depicted fictional media characters who “find redenmption”, disproportionate to the real world in a (religious) attitude bolstering way.

  • abb3w

    After the peak? That’s already detectable — probably something close even in the sociological data.

    I think we still have a while before the backflow from the popular trend bubble popping is near enough to the generational shift in magnitude to have a noticeable impact on the demographics, however.

  • abb3w

    So, what happened to “But is it a CATHOLIC or a PROTESTANT God that you don’t believe in?”

  • Jane R. LeBlanc

    It was one thing to read about it here on the blog, but it was really…shocking to see it in video. I’m still pretty shocked. Never thought it would be this mainstream.

    For the record, I’m glad it is. :)

  • mo

    I think Reagan said the separation of church and state wasn’t there to protect the state from the church, but the other way around. he might be right :)

    I feel like Irish society tends to be more religious than the US (our constitution does actually refer to a Christian nation, most schools are run, at least nominally, by the clergy, etc.), but Irish individuals are much more secular than Americans.

  • gitmygote

    Never watched the show, might be worth checking out after hearing this.

  • Greisha

    So, Peter won. We tape the show and watch later, so we have not seen it yet, but looks like race is over. :(

  • Brice Gilbert

    One of the best shows on TV easily. The first season starts slow, but once you realize what they are doing you’ll love it. It’s also the most relevant show on TV by a mile. The actual court cases, political issues etc are usually really current. Sometimes they latch onto something before the public does. Really impressive show. Surprising for CBS law procedural.

  • Greisha

    Don’t hold you hope high. We’re bound to be deep minority for substantial period of time, unfortunately.

  • bernardaB

    As I have mentioned before, don’t forget two popular series where the main character is openly and outspokenly atheist: Dr. House, and Bones. They even question critically their colleagues who are believers. Dr. House is even sarcastic with his theist patients.

  • Stev84

    One thing I really like is the judges. There is is a recurrent set of judges and they all have unique quirks and mannerisms.

  • Houndentenor

    I keep saying this to Evangelical relatives. If you turn the US into a country with a state religion, you’ll wind up with churches no one goes to like in Europe and Australia. In fact maybe we should push for a state religion and lose the battle but win the war?

  • LutherW

    As a long time viewer, I was greatly pleased with the episode. I really doubt Alicia will change, she spent half a season worried about here daughter being involved with evangelicals. In my judgement, Maddie’s character is wacky. Good to have Alicia there so we have a range of atheist characters. Maybe they will interview several of the actors and find many are atheist…or that being honest as a real person is harder than being honest as a character.

    Maybe some will picket or boycott the show…but would that be working on Sunday?

  • Karen

    Woo-hoo! One of my favorite shows and Alicia is a fantastic character. I have this episode in my queue – I’m going to go watch it today.
    Silly as it may sound to non-Americans, I think this is another breakthrough. It’s one thing for an angry weirdo like Dr. House to be an atheist, it’s completely different when it’s a smart, sympathetic, WOMAN lead character like Alicia.
    Bravo to the writers, both for making this courageous (and I think it is courageous) move and for setting up this revelation very nicely over the years.

  • imokyrok

    And we don’t freak out about someone being an Atheist and we don’t evangelicals asking have we found jesus. People are basically relaxed about their religion or lack of it.

  • niemzo

    The difference I see is that Alicia is someone who you can relate to. She isn’t a remarkable genius like the other two, and doesn’t suffer from anti-social tendencies like House or has problems interacting with people like Bones.

  • Mad Scientist Andrew

    The sad thing is that this might explain my mother’s sudden tolerance of my being an atheist, well I guess it is a good thing

  • Johnny

    It was an interesting episode! Here’s more about that scene:

  • Joolz

    I have the same reaction, being from England. (Cornflakes though – they are just wrong :))

  • Stephen Sears

    I don’t see how any intelligent person who is aware of the wonders of this world can believe that all these things just happened without any direction. All I need to believe in God is just to pet my dog or my cat. Such wonderful creatures just don’t happen without any direction. I realize that most writers are atheist (and about 70% are gay). They make Christians look like idiots. Thank God for shows like Blue Bloods.