Created By: philippos42September 26, 2011 Last Edited By: philippos42November 25, 2014

Don't Mention Religion

Characters often have no specified religion.

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Trope
In many works, the religion of the characters is simply never mentioned. They might have the same religion as a plurality of the audience. They might have no religion at all. It just doesn't come up.

Used as a way to appeal to a broader audience.

Examples

  • Word Of God from Stan Lee is that he consciously never put religion into his work. Is Peter Parker Jewish? Christian? Atheist? He could be whatever you are, dear reader.

  • Played with in The Good Wife. The lawyers at Alicia's firm seem to be playing the trope straight, but in some cases (such as Alicia herself) the script goes so far as to imply they're actually irreligious. Peter and Grace both get Born Again (separately), whereas Jackie's mainline Christianity and Eli's Judaism may be more cultural than spiritual.
Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • September 26, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    Truth In Television for some people. In most social circles the topic of religion doesn't come up that often as others because it is a potentially divisive subject matter.

    I haven't seen The Good Wife, but that example is so all-over-the-place I'm not sure if it's applicable as an example.

    I think we may have this though. And if we don't, this may be fraught with flame and peril. I should like to hope not,
  • September 27, 2011
    surgoshan
    Invoked trope for some celebrities, particularly musicians. Identifying as a member of a particular religion might limit your potential audience. Any musician/band that identifies as christian risks being labeled as Christian Rock, which has a much smaller audience than mainstream music. Thus people who deliberately identify as Christian Rock artists tend to be less capable, and therefor people who are capable are reluctant to be associated with Christian Rock. A vicious spiral. The same is less true, but still somewhat true, of celebrities at large.
  • September 27, 2011
    Damr1990
    see also Secular Hero
  • September 27, 2011
    FastEddie
    Religionless would be more concise.
  • September 27, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Agree with Damr1900. Some of the points mentioned in Secular Hero also apply to other characters generally, like Law Of Conservation Of Detail.
  • September 27, 2011
    TrustBen
    Star Trek in general avoids religion as a topic. The Bajorans of DS9 worship the Prophets and Chakotay on Voyager observes a very non-specific form of Native American mysticism, but no one is identified as Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.
  • September 27, 2011
    philippos42
    I was looking for something like Secular Hero and not finding it. That's why I wrote this. Looking at Secular Hero, it appears that the examples are largely Non-Religious Heroes, rather than Undefined-Religion Heroes as described in the text. Now I see where the page is, I may try sorting that out.
  • September 27, 2011
    philippos42
    And I mentioned The Good Wife because it subverts a trope that is common as dirt. Hence, "Played with."
  • September 27, 2011
    philippos42
    OK, I think I may rename the trope description at Secular Hero as Secular Characterization with redirects from any/all Religion Undefined / Undefined Religion / Don'tMentionReligion to increase the likelihood of users finding it.

    And the examples at the present Secular Hero can be moved to Irreligious Hero / Non-Religious Hero, which can be a supertrope of the various X Atheists? Not sure about that part.
  • September 27, 2011
    AP
    • I'm not sure if Spider Man counts since later writers have more or less identified him as protestant.
  • September 27, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Ben Grimm has relatively recently (within the past 5-10 years) been designated as Jewish.
  • September 27, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    CommanderPanda said, "I think we may have this though. And if we don't, this may be fraught with flame and peril."

    This happened to Secular Hero. The discussion degenerated into a flame war over whether agnosticism or atheism was superior, among other things. I had a hand in rewriting it after things died down. I tried to convey the various ways this happens with protagonists: they lack religion altogether, they have a religion but aren't seen to be devout (either they don't attend rituals/services much or they do it by rote), or the subject never comes up.

    Some of the issues are specific to protagonists; when we see a hero in action, we don't often expect to see him on his knees in church, but actively doing something in the (secular/outside) world to solve the problem(s) he faces. Other matters are more general, like the Law Of Conservation Of Detail; we don't see people going to church, but then we don't see them use a toilet either unless there's a significant plot event involved--not to say they never go, we just don't see it because it's not immediately relevant. The creator's desire to appeal to a broad audience is also a general reason for this.

    I think the general topics definitely apply to settings and minor characters as well as protagonists, and that could be this trope. Perhaps this could be a supertrope of Secular Hero.
  • September 27, 2011
    Fanra
    "Don't Mention Religion" is not a good name for this. That implies that something bad will happen if you mention religion. "Unmentioned Religion" makes more sense.
  • September 30, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Good point.
  • October 1, 2011
    BooleanEarth
    I don't know that this can really be a trope, or at least if it is it needs to have examples restricted to Word Of God mentions that it was intentional. Most works avoid mentioning the religion of their characters for whatever reason, and in fact this is Truth In Television (as someone already mentioned): most people avoid discussion of their religion.
  • October 2, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    ^This point also came up in the discussion of SecularHero, and it was offered that it could be an Omnipresent Trope. It was also suggested that it could be narrowed down:
    • ChocolateChip was worried about setting limits and defined Secular Hero as: "1. a hero who is not religious 2. one or more belief systems present in the story universe 3. at least a small amount of evidence that said belief systems are at least partially correct We need 2 so we don't end up adding everything ever written, and 3 so we don't add every historical fiction and realistic fiction book in the world."
    • I responded with this alternative: "1. a hero who is not religious 2. in a story universe with one or more belief systems 3. that are widely held to be true in that universe (evidence optional, and no doubt subject to debate), and 4. this contrast between the character and his world is pointed out for purposes of plot and/or characterization."

    Word Of God evidence might also come into play for this more general trope. The point given above about the Christian musicians fearing some career taint and/or audience reduction from identifying their religion suggests there's something to the idea that people downplay or don't mention religion to appeal to a broad audience. I'm also sure Conservation Of Detail comes into it, as well as Truth In Television.

    Ultimately, does removing the items specific to protagonists (desire/expectation to see active solutions to problems, for example) leave us with a trope?
  • October 2, 2011
    SKJAM
    Hmm, I wonder if there's specific examples of religion not coming up when the audience might expect it would? (Weddings, funerals, stories explicitly set on religious holiday dates....
  • October 2, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    Really only applies in societies where religion plays an active part. For example, this trope wouldn't apply to most modern UK shows as most of the population isn't really religious in any way and most religious holidays are played secularly in Real Life.

    I think if this gets launched it should be limited to strictly fictional settings, works set in real societies with real religions should be excluded. So a fantasy/science fiction trope only.

    But I don't think this is a tropeable concept to start with.
  • October 3, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    @ SKJAM Maybe. It could get very generalized that way as well. Do we count outdoor weddings (avoiding any church building)? Stories that skip past the prayers and/or ignore them for other events (i.e. going directly to the wedding reception/wake/chat outside the church door)?
  • November 23, 2014
    Pichu-kun
    I was thinking of making a trope like this but only posting aversions. Media, especially children's and family media, heavily avoids any references to religion besides the odd Jewish character
  • November 23, 2014
    JonnyB
    Needs a better name; the current name makes it sound like mentioning religion is a hot button to the character.
  • November 23, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    Don't we already have this as a YKTTW? I'm almost positive I added a Get Fuzzy example, because in one strip, Rob is asked if he would mind stating his religion, to which he replies, "Yes, I kind of would."
  • November 23, 2014
    StarSword
    The Good Wife isn't an example. Alicia is explicitly an atheist by her own admission. For most of the other named characters it just never comes up.

    And how the hell did this get a hat? That means "This is ready to launch", not "This is cool".
  • November 23, 2014
    DAN004
    I believe this should be Religionless Work.
  • November 24, 2014
    Patachou
    It's true that this trope is often used in works where the makers don't want to divide, offend or alienate their audiences. It will be mostly at play in cartoons or comic strips. For instance, you never see Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck go to any church, synagogue or mosque. It's never addressed or a topic. In cartoon series from the 1990s on it starts to become more a topic. I remember in Hey Arnold one of the children being identified as Jewish, for instance, but always in a respectful manner. As it should be.

    The same goes for holiday themed specials. If an episode is centered around Halloween, Christmas or Easter the focus will not be on ceremonies but more on characters like Jack Pumpkin, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny rather than throw in very specific religious themes. This is especially true in family oriented series not made by a Christian company.

    It's true that in Europe, where religion is mellowed down to either secularism or people being Christian without going to church anymore, this trope is a bit more in play. In the US several sitcoms still have their characters attend Church at one point, but to be fair, it's usually not made a huge theme, unless with A Very Special Episode or a Christmas episode where everybody goes to sing in Church, or something.

    The main problem with this trope, however, is that it's naming instances where it doesn't happen. And this may lead to People Sitting On Chairs, because: where do you draw the line? Also, some religious people may even want to avoid addressing religious themes in their own work because they feel they are touching something they don't want to touch. I remember several very devout Christian writers who don't downright address Jesus or God in their work, because it feels to them as if they are fantasizing about stuff that to them is very real. In The Divine Comedy, for instance, Dante visits Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, but the part about Heaven is very bleak. He keeps talking about eternal light and nothing else, almost as if to him it would be blasphemous to talk about more specific things. I still find it interesting enough to make a trope, but it may need to become a bit more specific. Secular Work may be a better and more concise title.
  • November 24, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ You have a point...

    Dunno though. Not mentioning religion at all and only superficially touching religious issues are two different things. The former is chairs, the latter... I doubt it is notable. Is there an inherent necessity to fully explore religious issues? (well, aside from some blatantly religious works or works that have prominent religious theme...)
  • November 24, 2014
    Illemar
    If this covers people who are vaguely the same religion as a big fraction of the audience, perhaps it can cover in-universe examples. It's also probably easier to define.

    In The Posterchildren, the Commander, a Superman/Captain America expy of good and righteous justice, is deliberately presented by his media team as an unspecified denomination of Christianity.
  • November 24, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Lowest Cosmic Denominator? If not, then certainly related.
  • November 25, 2014
    AgProv
    Strongly averted by Alice Cooper, who places a very emphatic dividing wall between Alice Cooper the outrageous stage performer and Vincent Fournier, the non-proselytising professed Christian. Amen to that!

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable