Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Emily Browning as Laura Moon, Shadow's deceased zombie wife, on "American Gods".
This past Sunday, we were formally introduced Laura Moon, Shadow's deceased wife turned super zombie in Episode 4 of STARZ' "American Gods". We were already given an inkling that Laura wasn't the best person in the world, due to her carrying on an affair with her best friend's husband while her own husband was serving time in prison. And, if nothing else, this episode SOLIDIFIED why Laura is a pretty...unlikable person. While there are NUMEROUS reasons for this, there's a specific part of her character & the way in which it was handled that stood out for me, personally: Laura's status as a nonbeliever.
Aka an atheist.
As we saw in the first 20 minutes or so, Laura is an atheist, a person who doesn't believe in the existence of a god or gods. She grew up with parents who were either Christian or agnostic, and she herself admits to trying every religion, seeing if any of them would ring true for her, but the more she searched and learned world history, she concluded that no gods exist, and that there's no afterlife once humans die. As such, she goes about her life in a repetitive, nihilistic cycle of working at the local casino, going home, and huffing bug spray while in her outdoor makeshift hot tub....with the lid down. Laura goes about life unfulfilled and apathetic to everything because she finds life, as a whole, uninteresting, until she meets Shadow.
Yet even after they become a couple, get married, and Shadow stops being a con man, Laura is unsatisfied with her life as a plain girl from a plain small town. She is unhappy with the prospect of living a "boring" life with a good Shadow versus the stereotypical Black "bad boy" criminal she met while working at the casino, which says PLENTY about how White women view Black men in contemporary society.
But back to Laura being an atheist.
What struck me in this episode is that Laura's character is a stereotypical atheist trope, a know-it-all asshole whom since she doesn't have a belief in any god or gods, she goes about her life as if there's no meaning or purpose.
One of many strawman arguments about atheism that are perpetuated in media.
I'm not sure if this was Neil Gaiman's intent for her character, or the intent of the showrunners, but as an atheist myself, I found myself a bit concerned and annoyed because as there are different shades of theists and believers of religion, there are different shades of atheists, as well. And while I accept that more likely than not that once we die, our bodies do decompose and "rot", like Laura says in the episode, I'm in no position to say without a shadow of a doubt (no pun intended) that there is nothing afterwards, because I don't know (and neither does ANYONE, whether they believe in a god, gods, or not). However, I can't pretend that there IS some sort of afterlife, as described by certain religions, because as of now, there's no evidence such a thing exists.
And holding this position doesn't mean life becomes less interesting or "magical", or doesn't have meaning or purpose, because WE give our lives meaning and purpose, through our actions. Laura is the ex-theist who's bitter about there not being any "magic" in the world, no matter how hard she searched, and having not found any, thinks life is uninteresting and flirts with the idea of dying via huffing bug spray underwater and other risk-taking behaviors.
Until she actually dies and finds out that there IS something else after we die....which she holy HATES and tries to rebel against, until she's brought back to life, thanks to Mad Sweeney's lucky gold coin.
All this, because I gave Dane Cook a blowjob while he was driving. Worth....it?
In lot of ways, this episode gives a hypothetical "yes" to the eternal question of "Pascal's Wager", especially given that Anubis has made it clear that once Laura is "done", he'll finish his task and make sure she goes "into darkness", the final destination for her since she believed in nothing. This was another thing that made me groan, since again, "believing in nothing"---the assumption that becoming an atheist automatically makes one a nihilist---is another strawman thrown in atheists' faces, but I realize that for Laura, this is a correct summation of her as a character. Not only does she not believe in any sort of religion, she doesn't believe in herself, her bond of friendship with Audrey, or even her relationship with Shadow. She didn't believe in it enough to treat him as a partner and a person, not her "puppy"; she didn't believe in it enough to not suggest that he try to rob the casino, nor to remain faithful to him while he did his prison time. She didn't believe in Shadow as a person or a husband, until after she died and came back to life; this point is made via her being able to tell where Shadow is because of a VERY bright shiny yellow light that glows around him when she sees him (though she saw the same light in a less intensity when she saw Audrey pass by her old house, hinting that the dead who rise can only see things in shades of grey, since they're...well, DEAD).
As someone who hasn't read the original books for "American Gods", I can only wonder what the fate would be for a more agnostic atheist or just plain ole agnostics when they die and are taken by Anubis. Or all the gods that reside in America in the series fundamental by nature, and would cast all nonbelievers, no matter what degree, into darkness...curious question. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Laura deals with knowing that there IS something after death (in the story), and if that has an effect on her point of view. I can only hope that someday, I'll see atheists depicted as more than just nihilistic jerks, especially with a show that depicts the various nuances and levels of belief.