Another Random Pop Culture Thought

Is the skepticism in the dialogue of True Detective the most interesting discussion of agnosticism and perhaps atheism to come out of Hollywood in as long as you can remember, or is it just me? You usually just get shit like Religulous. I don’t recall anything quite like the conversations between the characters played by Woody and Matt.

At times the dialogue is necessarily glib and maybe just a little too smooth to keep the flow of the show going, and they still treat Matt’s character like a freak, albeit obliquely through the interviews with the detectives (did you notice that on of the interviewers was Brother Mouzone from the Wire?), but they are giving fair time to a very, by American and even Hollywood standards, radical concept, that there really is no God.

Not to mention the whole fucking show is awesome and brilliantly acted. And if you doubt me, watch the “doubt” conversation from tonight’s episode to see how clever and smart (those aren’t the same things) the writing is. I also loved the “mowing my lawn” innuendo.

82 replies
  1. 1
    RandomMonster says:

    Awesome show indeed. And I really love the opening theme song.

  2. 2
    trollhattan says:

    Aaargh no spoilers! Kidding, the box hasn’t even snagged it yet.

    Confess it is one of those shows with audio mixed so weird I sometimes need to switch on subtitles, especially when Woody is chewing rocks, but generally it’s worth the effort. So far I like it but it’s no Justified, at least not yet. Have we had our fill of Ubersmart serial killers? May have reached my limit, so am hoping it’s a brain-damaged gator wrangler.

  3. 3
    Hill Dweller says:

    FWIW, I just read a second season of True Detective is almost assured, but there will be an all new cast.

    As an aside, two episodes into the season, I’ve been disappointed with Sherlock.

  4. 4
    NotMax says:


    (Too violent, didn’t watch)

  5. 5
    Betty Cracker says:

    I’ve not seen “True Detective.” Of all the TV depictions of godlessness I’ve ever seen, the one that rang truest for me was Piper’s rant to the fundamentalist nutjob in “Orange Is the New Black.” I wish the new season of that would come out already.

  6. 6
    Anoniminous says:

    There was Dr. House.

  7. 7
    Pete Mack says:

    Mowing the lawn is innuendo?

  8. 8
    Dolly Llama says:

    You’re just on fire, Mr. Cole.

  9. 9
    srv says:

    I’m just wondering where the Steve totebag is.

  10. 10
    JoyfulA says:

    My highly knowledgeable crime fiction friends say it’s the best noir out there, but I don’t watch TV.

  11. 11
    SarahT says:

    @Hill Dweller: I’m obsessessed with both shows – wwont even answer the phone. My only criticism of “True Detective”: Is every actress under age 40 contractually obligated by HBO to do full frontal (yeah, yeah – this may not annoy other viewers the way it does me, but whatever) ? My only criticism of “Sherlock”: More squabbling between Sherlock & Mycroft, please !

  12. 12
    ruemara says:

    I turned on the grammys, sat through an awful strange collection of fogeys almost singing a song and then a young lady won best country album and accepted it wearing a beaded lampshade. This beer is stronger than I thought.

  13. 13
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Hill Dweller: I was so impressed by the modern interpretations of the Doyle stories in the earlier series, but the I am rather iffy about how well the latest series is doing.

  14. 14
    Jewish Steel says:

    We talkin television? How old are you? Did you like Cosmos? I sure did. I heard this series was a predecessor to Cosmos with many of the same people in production. It’s pretty good! And quite similar in feel to both Cosmos and The Day The Universe Changed. Bonus: Some psychedelic era Pink Floyd in the soundtrack.

    The Ascent Of Man

    ETA: TRIGGER WARNING! A couple of ungulates get it but good in this episode.

  15. 15
    srv says:

    @Jewish Steel: You do know a reboot of Cosmos is coming out in March? My community college prof is the star.

    And Connections was better than DtUC.

  16. 16
    Jewish Steel says:

    @srv: I heard. Cosmos I is going to be hard to top. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson just fine (and kind of loathe Seth MacFarlane), but damn. I will try to watch with an open mind.

  17. 17
    Jewish Steel says:


    And Connections was better than DtUC

    You think so? I’ll give it another go, but I didn’t like it as much. I might have been biased against its dowdy 70s appearance, but I’m over that kind of thing.

  18. 18
    Betty Cracker says:

    I’m watching a French TV series on Amazon called “The Returned.” Tres creepy!

    I need to go to sleep because I have to get up in five hours. But my heart is so heavy. My in-laws visited today and broke the news that my hubby’s dad is seriously — most likely terminally — ill. And then two hours ago, my stepfather called and told me my mother was being admitted to the hospital with a grave heart condition. I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning to be with her.

  19. 19
    srv says:

    @Jewish Steel: Some recent from James Burke.

  20. 20
    SarahT says:

    @Jewish Steel: love love love love Professor DGT – the new “Cosmos” should be awesome.

  21. 21
    Violet says:

    @Betty Cracker: So sorry to hear that. Get some sleep and take care of yourself so you can be there for those you love.

    I think ABC is doing an American version of “The Returned”. I saw an ad for it.

  22. 22
    Jewish Steel says:

    @srv: Hey excellent! You’ve given me something to listen to thru my first hour at work tomorrow. Thanks!

  23. 23
    max says:

    @Hill Dweller: As an aside, two episodes into the season, I’ve been disappointed with Sherlock.

    The first series was good, and I was thinking, given the note on which it ended, it would be better the next series. I wasn’t as enamored with the second series because they compressed the bits and pieces of two many stories into three episodes and they cheaped out on the cliffhanger recovery from the end of series one. The cutesy hacks & the ‘oh, I’m so clever’ bits started to wear. (I’m talking about the writers here, not the actors & characters.) Series three really chickened out on the cliffhanger, and it’s starting to seem more like a parody (but not a good parody) of Doyle.

    Cumberbatch and Martin are great, and I suspect that if they had taken the Grenada TV scripts from the Jeremy Brett series and recycled them as is, I’m sure they would play the roles with aplomb.

    [‘Too much of that modern quick cut ‘throw things at the audience and hope they don’t notice the gaping holes and ridiculous leaps’ thing.’]

  24. 24
    Jewish Steel says:

    @Betty Cracker: Christ! When it rains it pours. Take care, Ms C!

  25. 25
    Jewish Steel says:

    @SarahT: I do hope so. It wasn’t until years later, watching it on vhs in the 90s that I realized what a formative experience Cosmos was for me. I was, like, 13 or so. So it was pitched absolutely perfectly for where I was at developmentally.

    ETA: My expectations may be irrationally high.

  26. 26
    ruemara says:

    @Betty Cracker: I’m so sorry. Sending good vibes your way and safe journey, safe returns to you.

  27. 27
    SarahT says:

    @Betty Cracker: I’m so sorry – sending good thoughts your way.

  28. 28
    lamh36 says:

    Man, the Grammys was brutal tonight.

    Fairly boring all the way around. IMHO, most interesting this is Macklemor and Lewis sweeping ALL the RAP categories over heavyweights like Drake, Jay Z, and Kanye West. Also beating out Kendrick Lamar who was IMHO completely robbed in all those categories Kendrick Lamar’s performance, the best of the night I think, was proof positive that loss or not, he was def robbed, but hey, it’s the Grammy history so I”m not much surprised by their hip hop winners much. Shoot, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Notorious B.I.G. have never won Grammys and they are considered the G.O.A.T (google is folks). So at the very least Kendrick Lamar is in good company and at the very least he can be congratulated for NOT letting his sole time on the Grammy stage be un-memorable.

    Damn Grammys are always too damn long anyway…Good night BJ.

  29. 29
    John Cole says:

    @Betty Cracker: I will be thinking of you and your loved ones, Betty, as well as your sad couch denting slobberhounds, who will know something is wrong with mommy and then see her disappear with “THE ROLLING BOX OF CLOTHES THAT MEANS WE WILL BE ALONE FOR A FEW DAYS.” But they will be there for you when you get back, for better or for worse, so there is that.

    Best wishes to your mum.

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    Very sorry to hear. Hug a boxer or two and please accept my best wishes.

  31. 31
    lamh36 says:

    @Betty Cracker: damn. Good vibes to you Betty

  32. 32
    Ruckus says:

    @Betty Cracker:
    Be well for yourself and best wishes for mom and FIL.

  33. 33
    Yatsuno says:

    @Betty Cracker: :: hug :: You go take care of your kinfolk. We’ll be here as snarky as ever when everything is calmer. But do please give us updates as you feel up to giving them.

  34. 34
    Little Boots says:

    oh lord, I don’t know.

    but it is an interesting question.

  35. 35
    Little Boots says:

    could johnny be getting deep? it is possible. and why not?

  36. 36
    Little Boots says:

    atheism is literally a-theism. the lack of belief in a god or gods. that’s it. that’s all it is. it is not the belief that there are no gods. it is the lack of belief there are gods. a lack of belief. no particular certainty.

    is that where you are, john? that is the only question.

  37. 37
    YellowJournalism says:

    @Betty Cracker: One-two punch on your nerves. These things always seem to happen at the same time. Our thoughts are with you.

  38. 38
    Little Boots says:

    oh, johnny, come on. I’m not your favorite commenter, but we can have a whole thing here.

  39. 39

    I haven’t seen tonight’s episode yet (time-shifting). But I noticed last week that when the McConaughey character was being interviewed by the two cops years later, that there was a faint duplication of his voice distorted and dropped down an octave or two. Very faint but effective in giving McConaughey an almost evil, creepy vibe. If you didn’t catch it you might have thought that there was distortion on his mike.

    If I recall correctly, Jimi Hendrix had a distortion pedal that added another octave below the note he played.

  40. 40
    John Cole says:

    @Little Boots: You know the thing I hate most about blogging? That no matter how carefully you phrase something, even though 45k people may read it, there is going to be one pedant on your ass about something that just doesn’t reflect precisely what they think they want to read in order to understand what I am trying to communicate.

    This blog is a living thing. People read it for a while and know what I am trying to say even if I don’t say it perfectly. In meatspace, we call this a CONVERFUCKINGSATION. But for some reason, you put things in prints, and people like you go to town.

    Go away until next week when you spam another thread. Or are you also Cervantes?

  41. 41
    Little Boots says:

    @John Cole:

    oh, stop being angry. I like you. and I like your blog. you do not need to be careful how you phrase things. it’s okay.

  42. 42
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Betty Cracker: Oh, dear. You and your kin will be in my thoughts (and not just mine, I’m sure).

  43. 43
    Little Boots says:

    like you. like your blog. always have.

    not sure why you’ve decided I don’t.

  44. 44
    Angela says:

    @Betty Cracker: ouch. That’s a lot of bad news in a short time period. I’m sorry and wish I could bring you a drink and a hug.

  45. 45
    Jewish Steel says:

    doesn’t reflect precisely what they think they want to read in order to understand what I am trying to communicate.

    I like the bold part. That’s good.

  46. 46
    Little Boots says:

    the thing about atheism. a lot of times it is confused with a positive belief that there are no gods. it is a negative. a nonbelief that there are gods, based on a lack of evidence. that is all.

    that is what I was saying. that is not meant to negate your whole post. it is simply a definitional thing. that is all.

    and for the record, as I think I’ve said here and other places, I think you are pretty awesome.

  47. 47
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Betty Cracker:
    You’ll be bringing a lot of good thoughts and prayers with you when you go in the morning. Including from me in Malaysia.

  48. 48
    JordanRules says:

    Hoping for the best Betty.

  49. 49
    Yoda058 says:

    What’s wrong with Religulous?

  50. 50
    Little Boots says:


    nothing, I think.

  51. 51
    Little Boots says:

    and, johnny, stop hating me. it’s uncalled for.

  52. 52
    max says:

    @Betty Cracker: I need to go to sleep because I have to get up in five hours. But my heart is so heavy. My in-laws visited today and broke the news that my hubby’s dad is seriously — most likely terminally — ill. And then two hours ago, my stepfather called and told me my mother was being admitted to the hospital with a grave heart condition. I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning to be with her.


    [‘Hoping for miraculous recoveries.’]

  53. 53
    Little Boots says:

    oh everyone is too sleepy.

  54. 54
    rb says:

    I am finding the dialogue interesting. But I don’t know that it is really giving equal time to an atheist view exactly; the Cohle character is voicing an extremely bleak perspective that, while explicitly claiming god does not exist, paradoxically seems to accept the theistic notion that without a guiding being, life is without meaning. In prior episodes he stated that all behavior is simply the product of biological ‘programming’, and tonight (spoiler) conceptualized human consciousness as essentially a simulation, a ‘dream’ one has in denial of the fact that one’s mind is actually ‘a locked room.’

    That is not to say the character is not atheist – he is – but the essential feature of his outlook is its total hopelessness and fatalism, none of which is intrinsic to atheism. He could as easily be a believer who was of the opinion that god created man as a sick joke, and the character could do and say essentially the same things and the show would be unchanged.

    What is being shown is a pop theist’s idea of what atheism must be like. That is reasonably cool as far as it goes, but what would be groundbreaking would be a character that was a well adjusted, ‘normal’ atheist, and was as intelligent as Cohle besides.

  55. 55
    Little Boots says:


    what I might have said, a little more nicely.

  56. 56
    Betty Cracker says:

    Thanks so much for the well wishes, you guys. It really means a lot. I gave up on trying to sleep — screw it. I’ll get through the day on caffeine and the belief that if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’ll get through this somehow.

  57. 57
    Betty Cracker says:

    PS: Here’s the quote about religion that I liked from “Orange Is the New Black:”

    I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Christopher Hitchens. Although I do admit he could be a kind of an asshole. I cannot get behind some 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 think we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don’t believe that people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bullshit, and on some level, I think we all know that, I mean, don’t you?… Look I understand that religion makes it easier to deal with all of the random shitty things that happen to us. And I wish I could get on that ride, I’m sure I would be happier. But I can’t . Feeling aren’t enough. I need it to be real.

  58. 58
    wasabi gasp says:

    @John Cole: In meatspace, when you call it a CONVERFUCKINGSATION, does the essential oil burner ever blow out?

    That was pretty ugly. Little Boots didn’t deserve that.

  59. 59
    wasabi gasp says:

    @Betty Cracker: I’m the last person who should be telling anybody to get some sleep, but, maybe, get some.

  60. 60
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Yoda058: Smug with a capital Smug, is what I remember, but that’s Bill Maher for you. I think there were some other specific things that bothered me, but it’s been too long since I’ve seen it and I can’t recall.

    Betty, good luck and healing to you and yours.

  61. 61
    Chris says:


    One of the better quotes I remember reading re atheism (maybe even nihilism) was from Angel;

    Kate: I feel like such an idiot.
    Angel: A lot of that going around.
    Kate: I just couldn’t … My whole life has been about being a cop. If I’m not a part of the force, it’s like nothing I do means anything.
    Angel: It doesn’t.
    Kate: Doesn’t what?
    Angel: Mean anything. In the greater scheme, in the big picture, nothing we do matters. There’s no grand plan, no big win.
    Kate: You seem kind of chipper about that.
    Angel: Well … I guess I kind of worked it out. If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. I fought for so long for redemption, for a reward, finally, just to beat the other guy. But I never got it.
    Kate: Now you do?
    Angel: Not all of it. All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
    Kate: Yikes. Sounds like you’ve had an epiphany.
    Angel: That’s what I keep saying, but nobody’s listening.

    Takes the notion that “without a guiding being, life is without purpose” and gloriously asserts that that’s getting things exactly backwards.

  62. 62
    wasabi gasp says:

    I just read that Black Sabbath got a granny for their “God Is Dead?” song. I wonder if they would have won without the question mark.

  63. 63
  64. 64
    Peregrinus says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    My thoughts and prayers go also with you. I’m sure you don’t need to be told this, and I know it’s the most cliché thing ever, but treasure whatever time you can have with your people. I’m flying back to Puerto Rico for my grandfather’s funeral, so I’ll direct some vibes your home’s way when I’m parallel to FL.

  65. 65
    Aimai says:

    @Betty Cracker: betty, all my love. This is just the worst for anyone. Ive got nothing useful to say except I’m pulling for your mom. Hope she will be ok, and I’m sending all my good thoughts to your husband and daughter about your father in law. Take care.

  66. 66
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    @Little Boots:

    No, actually. You are describing weak atheism. Strong atheism is a belief that there is no god.

  67. 67
    Luci says:

    @Betty Cracker..This is late, and perhaps you have gone, but I want to add my well wishes and hopes for something good happening with your families. Good luck on your trip and safe returns! I do know how you feel. :(

  68. 68
    pat says:

    @Hill Dweller:

    I couldn’t watch either episode past the first 10 minutes. I just don’t get it any more.
    Too bad.

  69. 69
    evodevo says:

    @rb: Yes. This. I, my husband, and virtually all of my relatives are atheists, and have been since some time in the dim past. All of us were subjected to varying degrees of religiousity, and rejected it. It would be groundbreaking to portray a psychologically normal main character as an atheist. Looking forward to it sometime in the next 50 years. (Hopefully this country will not descend into fundie totalitarianism by then.)

  70. 70
    DFH no.6 says:

    @GHayduke (formerly lojasmo):

    No, actually. You are describing weak atheism. Strong atheism is a belief that there is no god.

    That’s pretty much the way I see it, too.

    I myself fall into “strong atheist” territory. I do not believe there are any gods, nor do I believe there is anything “supernatural”. Seems highly, highly unlikely to me, though it would be pretty to think so (I’d take the “rainbow bridge” if nothing else, that’s for sure).

    Went around a couple “religion/no religion” circuits in my almost 6 decades so far. Raised (ethnic) Catholic, moved away from that as an adolescent/young man, then took a journey while raising my kids into a “christianist” bible sect (I was the token liberal in my congregation, which pretty much marginalized me there, like for instance how I never disbelieved evolution) then 20+ years ago had to acknowledge I was kidding myself and didn’t actually believe any of the “pretty to think so” God/salvation/eternal life stuff.

    So, my atheism isn’t just a “lack of belief”. It’s a dead certainty (as certain as I am about anything) that there is no god, no supernatural, no afterlife, much as I wish it were otherwise.

  71. 71
    DFH no.6 says:

    @Chris: Never saw that before (don’t know “Angel”).

    But damn, that’s exactly how I see it, and I’ve expressed very similar thoughts in a few conversations (my wife, my son, a few close friends).

    Atheism, yes. But not nihilism.

  72. 72
    rb says:

    @Chris: That’s interesting. That basically describes my take. In fairness, I did not note that in last night’s episode of TD, the Cohle character says something along the lines of “if you need divine motivation not to abuse others, you’re a piece of shit,” so at least the younger version of him does have some sentiment along the lines of ‘doing good’ being objectively better than ‘doing bad.’ But his older self also makes extremely dark fun of religious people for their narcissism, for believing that something out there actually cares about our fate and how we behave.

    The nice thing about the approach in the dialogue you highlight is that you come out on the other side of that argument to realizing that well, actually, I am the center of a little universe that I create, and I have substantial control over the kind of universe that will be. The object of good is good, Orwell might have written.

    I can empathize with people’s faith in the notion that there is an external reason that things happen, particularly when those things are awful. However, in the face of tragedy it gives me much greater comfort to believe that it is just a part of life, that tragedy is just tragedy and there is nothing redeemed by it. I know that seems bleak to some (many) people, but to me it’s the much more comfortable option. I feel blessed (heh) in my lack of belief; I don’t think I could stomach the idea of a mind devising and enacting the cruelty and unfairness all around us, for some reason it was equally cruel in not sharing.

  73. 73
    Nate Dawg says:

    @rb: Yes, he’s a nihlistic atheist, for sure, but this is a form of atheism no doubt. I find it much more interesting to watch than were he an absurdist atheist or humanist atheist. That would get old real quick: “God doesn’t exist, so what?” basically.

  74. 74
  75. 75
    Ted and Hellen says:

    John, you watch way too much television trash.

    I say this as a friend.

  76. 76
    Ted and Hellen says:

    John, you watch way too much television trash.

    I say this as a friend.

  77. 77
    maurinsky says:

    Freaks & Geeks main character Lindsay had a loss of faith – her grandmother reported from her deathbed that she saw nothing.

  78. 78
    Chris says:

    @DFH no.6:

    Atheism, yes. But not nihilism.

    The funny thing is that the “if there is no God then why does life matter?” approach basically is nihilism. They question the value of every simple moral from “don’t kill people” to “do unto others,” saying “if we’re all just a clump of random cells then what does it matter what we do to each other?” Worse, they take the same approach when it comes to empirical data, arguing again and again that basic science is just a point of view (“teach the controversy,” and all that bullshit)… And then, they pull the “God” rabbit out of a hat to say “but actually, there ARE certainties, there ARE absolutes – why? Oh, because he said so.” Call me a skeptic, but “because Higher Power That May Or May Not Be Real said so” doesn’t actually strike me as any more plausible than the strawman atheist position of “nothing means anything” that they were just attacking.

    Either way, there’s nothing of intrinsic value in the universe. Is human life inherently worthwhile? Is it wrong to just snuff one out? Yes. Why? Because God says so. If God changes his mind and says that actually, you should go and snuff out that one or those ones, does it suddenly become okay? Why yes, yes it does (and the Bible contains multiple examples of that exact principle). So how, in the end, is that not nihilism? They live in a universe with no rules, no constants, no principles, everything subject to the arbitrary whims of one being.

    Not to speak for every religious outlook out there – but in my experience, that’s pretty much how all of our fundamentalists here think. (No wonder there’s such a wonderful overlap with membership in the GOP).

  79. 79
    EthylEster says:

    @Hill Dweller: Nobody could have predicted that! It was gimmicky from the start but folks failed to notice. Then it was acclaimed fabulous…rather prematurely. So what else is new?

  80. 80
    DFH no.6 says:

    @Chris: Well, “nihilism” means different things to different people (and right here, I suppose, cue in the expected Walter Sobchak, “Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude…”).

    Formal philosophical nihilism (of various sorts) is one thing, but mostly in ordinary conversation “nihilism” is meant pejoratively, as shorthand for an outlook wherein “nothing matters, who cares? get away with whatever shit you feel like doing” or a hopeless despair about how pointless everything is.

    Philosophical nihilism, I think, flows springs naturally from atheism (if there is no god, then yes, there is no meaning or purpose that has any reality from “outside” us).

    A “nihilism” of “do whatever the fuck you want/hopeless despair” does not.

    That’s the distinction I make, anyway.

    And I don’t find religious people to be nihilists, either. Just given – in my view – to believing things on the thinnest of evidence (I would say closer to “none”) that I see as “yes, it would be pretty to think so, wouldn’t it?”.

  81. 81
    BonCH says:

    I think the differences between strong and weak atheism and maybe even agnosticism are overblown. All three viewpoints are based on the utter lack of a reason to believe in God. Substitute “gorilla in my living room when I’m not at home” for “God” and picture the responses. I suppose a strong atheist would say, “That’s impossible! Not true.” I suppose I’m a weak atheist, because I’d say, “Possible, I suppose, but until you show me otherwise I’m going to say that’s not true.” I suppose a true agnostic would have to say, “I have no idea whether there’s a gorilla in my living room, because I’m not home, and I’d rather not speculate one way or the other.”

    Yes, I think the agnostic is being ridiculous. And perhaps my analogy is unfair to the strong atheist. Make it a gorilla with naturally green fur who is capable of lifting my house with one hand. Something that doesn’t exist and couldn’t possibly exist is most assuredly not in my living room.

    And see what I mean? Put it that way and the strong atheist and the weak atheist are the same. I guess the agnostic still has to be agnostic, but the difference is less one of belief and more one of an oddly noncommittal mind-set.

  82. 82
    BonCH says:

    And the strongest strong atheist still wouldn’t deny the existence a God or a superstrong green gorilla-in-living-room if presented with the selfsame being. That’s why atheism is not a “faith.”

Comments are closed.