Atheist Character on ‘Cougar Town’ Pretends to Pray to Show Girlfriend He Cares

On the most recent episode of “Cougar Town” (TBS), the character Grayson Ellis (who’s dating Courteney Cox‘s character Jules Cobb) comes out as an atheist. You can see it around the 3:20 mark below (if the video doesn’t work, click on that previous link):

Jules Cobb: … You know the drill! Family prayer before family food! Hands? Okay, Dear Lord, thank you so much for our friends and our family. Thank you for this wonderful food and…

Grayson Ellis: *Deep sigh*

Jules Cobb: What was that?

Grayson Ellis: Hm? Nothing.

Jules Cobb: Do you have a problem with the family prayer?

Grayson Ellis: No, I mean… I don’t love holding hands with Mr. Sweaty Palms or Lady Lizard Skin… I don’t know, I guess I just find it a little — what word won’t offend you — silly?

Jules Cobb: Alright… dinner’s over.

Later on, they discuss their differences:

Jules Cobb: I can’t believe you’d mock my prayer! My cooking? Sure. The way I use my finger to get food out of the back of my teeth and then use that same finger to stir the gravy? Mock away.

Grayson Ellis: I’m really sorry.

Jules Cobb: Do you even listen to what I’m saying when I do the prayer?

Grayson Ellis: I hear you start… and then I snap back when you say, “Amen.”

Jules Cobb: What about the middle?

Grayson Ellis: Well… that’s my time.

Jules Cobb: I thought we had the same ideas about faith. What do you believe in?

Grayson Ellis: I would say… I don’t believe in anything.

Not a bad start. A likable atheist character. A conflict of faith. An interesting storyline… unfortunately, the conflict doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It just devolves into pointless drivel.

At one point, the cast is practicing for a dodgeball match and they all throw balls at the heathen:

And later, the issue gets “resolved”:

Grayson Ellis: Why are you mad at me? Don’t tell me you’re still on this faith thing. Look, I’m sorry I can’t just magically start believing whatever you do.

Jules Cobb: … I don’t expect you to just suddenly believe what I do. But… if we’re really partners, if something’s important to me, shouldn’t you at least be open to it?

No! No he shouldn’t! Just because it’s emotionally compelling for you to believe in God doesn’t mean he has to put his brain aside, respect your irrational thinking, or admit he’s wrong.

And why does he have to conform to you? By your own logic, shouldn’t you give his atheism a chance?

They don’t offer any closure in that scene, though. It just ends on that line.

Later, during the dodgeball match, when Jules needs confidence more than anything, Grayson actually leads his team in prayer:

That leads to the final scene with the couple in bed:

Jules Cobb: When your eyes were closed and you were praying, what was in your head?

Grayson Ellis: I was thinking good thoughts for you. I figured that could be my version of prayer, you know?

Jules Cobb: I like that.

Laaaaaaaaaame.

I suppose we should be glad they didn’t break up because Grayson was deemed “undateable” like the atheist on that other show.

But what a cop out, to have him cave in and pretend to pray just to show Jules he cares for her. I know it’s scripted TV, but it never would’ve happened the other way around.

(Thanks to Joshua for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • tubi

    Ack, I’m Grayson! My wife comes from a strong Lutheran background, although I’m not sure how strong her faith truly is at this point. Certainly not as strong as her siblings or her Mom and Dad. They all know about me, but they also know I’m a good husband and father and it really doesn’t come up much.

    We’ve never had a conversation like that, in part because she knew before we got married (Grayson and Jules are married, by the way, not just dating). So it’s no surprise any more. When we have prayers before a meal I just sit quietly with my head up. She’s never tried to convince me to believe*, and I’ve never really tried to convert her. We don’t go to church every week, but when we do, I take copious notes, hoping there’ll be a time when we can talk about what was said, but with two jobs and two young kids, it just never seems to happen.

    Our oldest is 8, and I anticipate the biggest conflict is going to come when she wants him to go to confirmation class. I have some time to work on it, but I’m struggling with how I’m going to be able to accommodate that on her behalf, but also present him with an alternative. The only alternative to going to confirmation class just seems to be NOT going to confirmation class. We’ll see how it goes-we seem to be in stasis for right now.

    *Her family keeps trying. One year for Christmas, the cousin who pulled my name gave me a copy of “The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.” I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve skimmed it. I don’t think it’s going to work, though.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Richard Wade got sent a question much like your problem by a religious mother whose husband has become an atheist last september. I think his response was well thought through and could certainly be applicable to your situation. The link is http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/04/ask-richard-religious-wife-asks-how-to-raise-kids-with-her-atheist-husband/

      • tubi

        That was very insightful. Thanks.

    • Gus Snarp

      Is the book any good? What’s its angle? There was a play put on here recently based on imagined conversations between Freud and Lewis, and I wanted to see it out of curiosity, I’m interested to know what biases show up in it. It seems to me any reasonable intellect would have destroyed Lewis in a debate, but then again, Freud was also a rank pseudoscienctist so….

      • tubi

        I really haven’t looked at it in a while. I’ve never been swayed at all by any of Lewis’s theology, so I haven’t been all that interested in reading about him again.

        • Gus Snarp

          I checked Amazon reviews. Sounds like it probably leans theist if you’re looking for it, but seems even handed if you read it from a religious perspective. I don’t think I’ll spend my time on it. I’ve got a lot of novels and science based books to catch up on before I bother with anything like that.

    • C Peterson

      Have you got a local freethought organization? I’d say a fair balance could come from attending both confirmation classes as well as freethought meetings.

      • tubi

        There is a group in the Twin Cities that’s pretty active. That is actually part of my plan. If the family is going to participate in church activities, then I think it’s only fair to do something that’s meaningful to me as well. And I am perfectly happy letting the kids be exposed to everything that comes up, as long as they are allowed and encouraged to ask questions and to think critically. As long as that’s part of it, I don’t worry that they’ll come out right in the end.

    • baal

      “*Her family keeps trying.” <–

      This is so freaking rude. I expect and under stand a conversation or two once it hits someone that I'm an atheist but after that I expect them to cut ties or stop trying to proselytize. For years my father in law sent a box of presents for my son for xmas. It always included bible stories books or 'how to raise your kid evangelical'. We then had to keep a careful eye out to filter that out. We've made it clear to him that we'll teach our son about religions (yes plural) and don't want his 'help'.

      • tubi

        It’s not really that bad. It seems to have tapered off since her grandmother died 18 months ago. They will still give the kids Bible stories books and the like, but since it’s her family and she’s OK with it, I just let it go. But when my daughter says something like, “Great grandma’s with God now,” I don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what some people think, but no one really knows for sure.”

        They’re also all Republicans who think liberals are ruining America. I have a hard life, I tell ya’.

        Also, thanks for everyone’s suggestions. I appreciate it.

      • ecolt

        Ugh, that sounds like my family! I’m actually not sure if my extended family knows I’m a non-believer or if they’re just that preachy all the time, but it seems like every time I speak to them lately something comes up about how wonderful their sky-buddy is. If anything goes wrong in my life, they’re sure to tell me that you need to have faith in god to make things right.

        My grandmother’s even worse because she does that whole religious gifts thing, too. My mother actually is a believer, but she doesn’t talk about it much and never goes to church or anything, so my grandmother has made it a project to stick as much religion in my mom’s home as possible. The one tasteful cross my mom had on the wall wasn’t enough, grandma wants the house full of Jesus. Her xmas gifts the last few years have all been religious-themed. We thought the little light-up model church was bad, but then was the Holy Family. Yes, my grandma gave my mother a three-foot tall tacky as all hell discount store statue of the Holy Family (note that my family isn’t even Catholic, so Mary and the Holy Family aren’t as big of a deal). It was hideous. Even if it weren’t religious, nothing about it matched the tasteful classic decor of my mom’s house or even of just her xmas decorations. Luckily my mom’s boyfriend “accidentally” dropped a mallet on it when he was cleaning the garage. My grandmother just said the other day that she has a box to send down to me and I’m almost afraid of the day it shows up.

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      I don’t know how Confirmation for Lutherans, but my Catholic husband and I have a deal that the kids can make up their own mind about getting confirmed. It’s up to them, not us.

    • ecolt

      (Edit – this turned out very long. Sorry for the essay, but I had a lot to say and I’m bad at being concise!)

      As far as the confirmation class goes, I actually have a bit of experience in that arena. My partner has three kids and while our house is a religion-free zone, his ex-wife and her new husband are hardcore Catholics. Since she has the kids the majority of the time she’s making sure that they’re raised 100% in the church, including Sunday school (which for Catholics is required for confirmation).

      Our (imperfect but so far workable) system is that we let her take them, even on weekends that they’re at our house. It would start a major battle if we tried to keep them out of Sunday school, which would only be hurtful for the kids ultimately. The oldest two, twins, had their confirmations last year so they’re free of any obligation outside of their mom dragging them to mass on Sundays they’re at her house, but the little guy gets picked up by him mom every Sunday he’s here. He goes to his confirmation class and when he comes back we continue our Sunday as normal. But, especially when they’re directly confronted by religion, we encourage age-appropriate discussion of what they’re being taught.

      The littlest one is only seven, so we’re not too heavy-handed with what we say about religion. At his age there’s a lot he can’t understand yet, and receiving two completely conflicting sets of information from his parents would be confusing. But his dad and I make no secret that we don’t share his mom’s religious views and we talk to all the kids about things in the Bible that aren’t true and don’t make sense. Their mom’s church is pretty fundamentalist in a lot of ways, but in our house science in strongly encouraged and we have a lot of talks about (and watch a lot of documentaries about) evolution and cosmology. We’re a bit less direct with the youngest just because of his age, but he still hears when we have more serious and critical conversations with the older kids. If any of the kids has any questions we answer as directly and factually as we can, and if their dad and I don’t know (which, with my partner’s interests in science and debunking religion is rare) we look it up together.

      We have to accept that the kids will be indoctrinated into religion by their mother. However, kids are actually very good at picking up on B.S. and when given all the relevant information are pretty insightful. They know that they can freely come to their dad or I with their questions, while their mom’s religion discourages a lot of them from even being asked. We’ve told them that they are free to choose their own beliefs (something their mom would never say), but that we expect them to be able to justify and defend whatever they believe instead of just accepting what they’re told as fact. The best way to counter their religious indoctrination, for us at least, hasn’t been to avoid the topic altogether but to expose them to both sides and encourage them to think critically. So far the oldest are asking a lot of questions about religion and seem to be moving further and further away from acceptance of their mother’s religion. The youngest still likes the stories in the Bible and isn’t really at an age where he can critically process the information he’s given or understand more abstract concepts, but he’s also become a big fan of science and has started questioning things a bit more. So, we’re making good progress.

      The funny thing is that the kids, the girl in particular, have become much less accepting of their mom’s religion as it’s been pushed on them more. My partner’s ex has become much more fervently religious over the last few years and the older kids have noticed the difference. They’re reaching the age at which they want to rebel anyway, and the stricter their mom gets with religion the less they like it. Once they started going to mass every Sunday they were with their mom, and confirmation classes every week, and praying before every meal, etc etc religion started to seem more like a chore and they started to like it less. The more she tries to force them to accept her beliefs (and the more she bad-mouths their dad’s atheism) the less willing they are to do so.

  • Gus Snarp

    The ” shouldn’t you at least be open to it?” bit is so common among Christians, or anyone who just doesn’t know anything about atheists and atheism. It’s the assumption that atheists just don’t know about religion, that we aren’t open to ideas, that if we just tried it we might come around. But atheists tend to be people who’ve thought far more often and deeply about what they believe, we’ve looked into the teachings of Christianity and other religions, as well as into science and evidence, and we’ve put some effort into learning how to think, how to evaluate claims, and we’ve often tried religion and prayer. Many of us were raised in Christian (or other religious) homes, even considered ourselves to be religious. We’ve tried, probably a lot more than most religious people. Christianity isn’t something new that atheists have no experience with, it’s thinking rationally and seriously about beliefs and actually weighing the evidence that most Christians have no experience with. We’re the ones who need people to be open and give our ideas a chance. There’s no reason for us to be “open” to something we’ve already experienced, learned about, weighed, and found wanting.

    But the bit about praying with the team and finding thinking good thoughts as his own version of prayer – might not be the worst thing. It’s not an approach I’d ever be comfortable with, that’s why religion was actually a dating litmus test for me, but it could work for some people in some relationships.

  • Gus Snarp

    BTW, you have to be a cable subscriber and log on with a username and password to view the video, as far as I can tell. So I don’t know if the sigh referenced in the transcript is what it sounds like, but it does sound a bit disrespectful to me, and not like something I as an atheist would do. I can at least keep my mouth shut through a prayer (though I probably wouldn’t take part in the hand holding, man that’s an annoying prayer traditions, seems like it’s an intentional in-group marker, find out who’s uncomfortable with this and we know who doesn’t belong…).

  • aurorahigh303

    I was wondering when someone would pick this up. I had mixed reactions when watching. I feel like Jules’s reaction was pretty normal, but I also feel like Grayson should have pushed a little more for her to just accept him as he is, lack of belief and everything.

    I also agree with you about whether he should be open NO, no he should not have to be open to superstition and fairy tales. And I feel like this missed a crutial point: if he’s expected to be open about her beliefs, than it’s only fair for her to be open about his lack of belief. I feel like they hit the nail on the head with the hypocracy of believers in that segment

  • Conspirator

    Actually the characters are married. And all the characters on the show tend to drag others into their various things. The show is a bit like Seinfeld in a way, it’s pretty much about nothing and rarely tries to make a point, and this episode really didn’t push the religion angle too much. Also, Grayson prayed because Jules was their last player in the game and he wanted to win, and they subsequently won when all the other players from the opposing team kept hitting Jules in the head which was against the rules and they were all knocked out of the game. So ultimately Grayson’s praying resulted in the Christian being beaned multiple times. Is that really so bad?

  • Not MASH

    The bigger issue here is….

    You watch “Cougar Town”?

    WTF man…..

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      A reader alerted me to it :)

    • Sarah

      You say that like it’s a bad thing. Despite the really stupid name (which the show’s creator has admitted to regretting), it’s comparable to Scrubs for humour.

      • Not MASH

        Sarah said:

        ” it’s comparable to Scrubs for humour”

        That’s not exactly a selling point.

        I thought I liked Scrubs and watched it routinely until the last season. But, where some sit-coms seem to stand the test of time (WKRP, Cheers, MASH, The Bob Newhart Show), “Scrubs” has not. I think the problem for me rests with Zach Braff. I’d like to slap him in his douchey face.

        • Sarah

          Well in that case you shouldn’t have a problem since he’s not on Cougartown.

    • The Other Weirdo

      With what’s generally on TV these days, the sort of garbage being peddled as entertainment, Cougar Town isn’t even on the radar of shows I wouldn’t watch if it came down to it. That’s why I got rid of my TV service Feb’2012 and haven’t missed it since.

  • compl3x

    “the conflict doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It just devolves into pointless drivel.”

    What!? Pointless drivel on Cougar Town!? Say it ain’t so, Hemant! :-p

  • Rene Horn

    It just devolves into pointless drivel.

    To be fair, that’s most of what happens in Cougar Town.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RevDeath Joshua Holmes

    I was so shocked when I saw this episodes then I just had for forward the story to Hemant. Normally I love Cougar Town. I mean how can you go wrong. It’s got Courtney Cox (Monica from Friends) in it and it’s directed by Bill Lawrence (Director of Scrubs).

  • Rain

    “But… if we’re really partners, if something’s important to me, shouldn’t you at least be open to it?”

    7-Eleven used to be open from 7 to 11. Hence the name. Now they are open around the clock. That’s about the best I can do without your being more specific, because I don’t know what the hell it means.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/83/Seven_eleven_logo.svg/200px-Seven_eleven_logo.svg.png

  • rg57

    “I don’t believe in anything” is not really a good start. It’s affirming the bigotry that believers have against us. While we don’t have to have any competing theory, when theirs are such nonsense, the truth is that we do have better explanations for most things.

    “I believe in what’s real” might have been a better five-word answer.

    • Laura D

      I really hate that phrase. I believe in many things, God just isn’t one of them. I understand how it someone who is very religious could think that atheists “don’t believe in anything”, simply because their entire worldview is based around their belief in God, but I don’t think most atheists would frame their belief that way.

  • Mario Strada

    I had never heard of this show. Now that I have, I wish I hadn’t.
    Do people really watch this crap?

    • LesterBallard

      Do you live in the US?

  • fsm

    I couldn’t see the video, it requires me to have tbs on my cable system. My cable company just took it off of the basic package and to upgrade it for about 3 other channels that I would want would cost about $40/ month. This is why I watch so little tv now. I am almost 49 years old and can’t believe how expensive ‘free’ tv has become.


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