Gregory House and Patrick Jane are two outspokenly atheist TV characters notable for being the lead guys in their respective, very popular shows, House and The Mentalist.
Of the two, House, often a mere crank and a chronic curmudgeon, is both less personally likeable and less morally interesting.
Several factors contribute to Jane’s superiority in this latter regard.
To begin with, there is his past as an unscrupulous con artist preying on grief, pretending to be a psychic able to put people in touch with their dead loved ones.
Then we have his entirely frank exploitation of the California Bureau of Investigation in his effort to find and kill Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter in retaliation for public mockery.
And there is his unconcealed and unapologetic disbelief in morality that is of a piece with his overt and politely contemptuous disbelief in God, in Providence, in a human afterlife, in the reality of the powers claimed by psychics and mediums, and in the whole catalogue of human superstition.
And yet Jane is most certainly a white hat, as a moment’s thought about how he stacks up against the killers he exposes weekly and against the show’s ultimate black hat, Red John, makes clear.
And that despite the fact that he has personally shot and killed a follower of Red John in the mistaken belief he was the man, himself, that he provoked a woman to shoot her husband dead with the shocking realization that he had spent years molesting and then killed their daughter, and that he regularly seeks – sometimes successfully – to seduce his police cohorts to ignore or break the law in favor of what he and usually they and the TV audience see as a more desirable outcome.
All the same, and though generally more likeable than House, Jane is not a nice man.
Update, 11022012, 1225 hrs EDT.
It is interesting to compare Patrick Jane with Leroy Jethro Gibbs, leader of the pack on what is now TV's most popular show, NCIS.
Compared to Jane, Gibbs is an equally willing law-breaker and an equally murderous revenge-seeker, but whether he even has any particular religious or moral outlook is a question answerable, if at all, only by noting that he is a jingoist, a miles gloriosus, and a totally uncritical soldier-boy patriot.
The whole show is like that, in fact.
The most popular show on TV.