Created By: CaptainCrowbar on March 14, 2008
Nuked

Refusenik Atheist

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"I don't hold with paddlin' with the occult," said Granny firmly. "Once you start paddlin' with the occult you start believing in spirits, and when you start believing in spirits you start believing in demons, and then before you know where you are you're believing in gods. And then you're in trouble."

"But all them things exist," said Nanny Ogg.

"That's no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages 'em."

-- Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

This is a trope related to the Flat-Earth Atheist, but not quite the same. The Refusenik Atheist is well aware of the existence of the gods (or God), and freely admits it; he just refuses to worship them, or to "believe" in them in any strong spiritual sense beyond merely acknowledging the fact of their existence. Perhaps he has some personal grudge against the gods for something they did; perhaps he refuses to accept the gods' judgement because they don't measure up to his moral standards; perhaps he's just the independent type by nature.

He may go through the motions of worship, but if so, it's only to avoid getting struck by lightning or stoned by angry mob, not out of any sincere religious feelings.

Note that this isn't the same as the character who refuses to worship the gods because he knows that they're not gods but aliens, computers, time travellers, or whatever. The Refusenik Atheist (like the Flat-Earth Atheist) is a trope that only applies to worlds where there really are genuine gods, or beings who could reasonably be called gods, and who are actively worshipped as such by most people.

Examples:

  • Xena: Warrior Princess is a perfect example. She knows only too well that the gods exist, but she despises them for their arrogance toward humanity. Far from worshipping them, her approach to them varies from deliberately ignoring them to actively working towards their destruction.
  • Both the witches (see quote above) and wizards of the Discworld take this attitude to the gods. In their case, it's simply because they would feel silly worshipping beings that they meet and converse with on a regular basis. "Contrary to popular opinion, seeing is not believing; it's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more."
  • Jame, the heroine of P. C. Hodgell's Kencyrath books, is unable to deny the reality of the Three-Faced God, because she can feel his power inside her, but she hates him for what he has done to her people (basically enslaved them in a doomed attempt to save the multiverse), and gives him only the bare minimum of worship necessary to avoid his wrath.
  • This trope is the central theme of Harry Turtledove's novel Between the Rivers: humanity has been serving the gods since time immemorial, until the people of one city start to explore the advantages of self-reliance.
  • Video game example: the Charr in Guild Wars. After some nasty experiences with false gods set up by their shaman caste, they repudiate all gods, real or fake, and declare themselves masters of their own fate. They know that the Five Gods followed by humans are real, but they consider worshipping such untrustworthy beings to be just another example of human weakness. "Do not waste time praying. Your gods are not listening, and we have none."

Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • March 15, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    I'm sure you know this, but a character like that would not be an atheist.
  • March 15, 2008
    Narvi
    Flat Earth Atheist has a few examples of this type. Why not lump it?
  • March 15, 2008
    CaptainCrowbar
    I know there are some examples there, but I think they should be counted as different tropes. I see a big difference between a character who pigheadedly refuses to believe in the gods that are obviously real, and one who doesn't deny the evidence of his eyes, but just refuses to worship them. Completely different kinds of character, so I think they should be separate tropes.

    As for the word "atheist", I agree it may not be very accurate. I'm open to suggestions for a better name. I considered Refusenik Theist instead, but that's arguably equally bad, so I picked Refusenik Atheist for the similarity to the existing Flat Earth Atheist trope.
  • March 15, 2008
    Danel
  • March 15, 2008
    {{Meta4}}
    We need to split this just so we can use Nay Theist as the title. That is Made Of Win.
  • March 15, 2008
    silver2195
    From Tamora Pierce, Duke Roger, the Big Bad of the Alanna quartet, says that he believes in the gods because "only a fool does not" but doesn't like them because they don't like him.
  • March 15, 2008
    JustinCognito
    Harry Dresden. One of his best friends carries around a sword containing a nail of the True Cross that cuts through all manners of demonic baddies, he dallies with the supernatural daily, and he had a fallen angel rattling around in his skull -- but he doesn't hold much truck with gods, and believes that the faith that powers them is just another example of emotion fueling magic. Probably taken to extremes with Sanya, one of the Knights of the Cross (aforementioned bearers of True Cross swords) who got his sword from the Archangel Michael himself, and still claims to be an agnostic.
  • March 15, 2008
    Narvi
    I thought Sanya was a secular humanist.
  • March 15, 2008
    Nirual
    The Wizards in Heroes Of Might And Magic 5 probably apply. Like Xena, they know that the gods exist, but they don't put much effort in worshipping them. They more consider them mighty beings.

    As for the Discworld example, it should be noted that in the Discworld, gods exist because someone believes in them. And their power is directly proportional to the number of people that believe in them.
  • March 15, 2008
    Scooter007
    Blair from Facts Of Life was a Nay Theist, in a Compressed Vice sorta way.
  • March 15, 2008
    Iphigenia
    Else God-Hater in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (already mentioned under Flat Earth Atheist.
  • March 15, 2008
    JRandomUser
    Valygar's attitude towards the gods in Baldurs Gate II. After all, when the pantheon includes evil madmen like Cyric and gods who were once fallible humans, why exactly do the gods deserve worship?
  • March 15, 2008
    Octal
    Oh, we have to call this Nay Theist.
  • March 15, 2008
    CaptainCrowbar
    OP here: I hereby acknowledge that Nay Theist definitely contains much greater quantities of win than any of the titles I managed to come up with.
  • March 15, 2008
    joey jojo
    from what I’ve heard the real world religion of Buddhism has elements of this too.
  • March 15, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    Another vote for Nay Theist. Plus, a literary/real-life example: In his bestselling memoir Foreskin's Lament, Shalom Auslander reflects on his continuing hatred of God, and concurrent fear of divine punishment, despite having rejected his Orthodox Jewish upbringing for a secular lifestyle.
  • March 15, 2008
    The Adversary
    In Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, Rika has something of a Nay Theist attitude towards Hanyuu despite being her priestess. Shutting a god up by force-feeding her spicy food (by proxy, it's a bit complicated) is not the most reverent act ever.

    My understanding of Buddhism (caution: not a Buddhist) is that in many versions gods are acknowledged to exist, but that they're part of the same cycle of reincarnation as humans and animals, and they're a distinctly secondary concern to the enlightenment taught by Buddha. In some versions, even attachment to Buddha is cautioned against, perhaps most famously in the Zen saying "Meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha".

    Originally from Unknown Troper 77.98.120.239, edited due to spoilers.

  • March 16, 2008
    JustinCognito
    This troper remembers a book by a prominent atheist called In God We Trust: But Which One?, basically arguing that if God exists, then God is a total bastard for everything he's put the earth through.
  • March 17, 2008
    Stinkoman87
    Cleric in {{8-Bit Theater}} doesn't worship a god because "It's a competitive market and I can't afford to play favorites."
  • March 18, 2008
    Lull The Conqueror
    Throwing my hat in the ring for Nay Theist.

    Does suspecting that the gods are lying about being gods count? The Arkhanites in Tales Of MU worship a god who encourages them to doubt the reality of all gods, including itself, stressing that they could simply be very powerful magic-users of some variety. The Athar in the Dungeons And Dragons Planescape setting view the D&D gods in much the same way.

    Stretching it a little bit more, this is more or less Satan's perspective in Paradise Lost, making this, well, you know - he acknowledges that God exists, but refuses to serve him. His Dark Materials also comes to mind, though both of those are more strictly Rage Against The Heavens type scenarios, whereas this seems like more of a "neutral" position.
  • March 18, 2008
    lyonie17
    Bahzell Bahnakson of David Weber's Oath of Swords trilogy fits this trope to a B, until a spoiler happens.

    Also voting Nay Theist.
  • March 18, 2008
    Sir Psycho Sexy
  • March 18, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    Nay Theist is perfect! :)
  • March 18, 2008
    ShayGuy
    I am reminded of a certain Stephen Colbert quote: "I believe in America. I believe it exists."
  • September 3, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Meta Four here: Bump.

    Mel Gibson's character in Signs initially seems to be an atheist, but then in the scene where his son's having an asthma attack, he prays to God, "I hate you."
  • September 3, 2008
    Known Unknown
    I don't think the Signs example is what this trope is talking about.

    In Eight Bit Theatre, Thief is like this with dragons, even when he's presented with concrete evidence, since that would prove that there are being superior to elves. His insistence on this led to one of the few glorious times where he gets his ass kicked. After he recovers from the beating, he revises his theory to that Dragons don't exists as a whole, except for instances where they do... which, since it's Thief, makes sense even when it doesn't...
  • September 3, 2008
    RossN
    Mel Gibson's character in Signs is a Misotheist - he literally hates God (or at least is utterly is incredibly angry and alienated from Him).
  • September 3, 2008
    MrInsecure
    John Constantine, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves in Constantine (though some of this is present in the character from Hellblazer), is a Nay Theist. This is why he won't go to heaven, despite his good works.
  • September 3, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Nay Theist FTW.

    Harry Dresden definately belongs under this trope, he believes in the existence of a god of some kind, he just doesn't really care to worship said god.

    the Athar of Planescape may or may not qualify, they BELIEVE the beings that others worship exist (cause you'd have to be a total blockhead not to believe in them), but they don't believe they are "true" gods. They aren't Flat Earth Atheists, which is where they are now, but they may not belong under this either.
  • September 3, 2008
    ROBRAM89
    I vote for Antitheist (pronounced an-TIH-thee-ist).
  • September 3, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    no, anti-theist implies that they actually HATE the god(s) in question and want to blow them up or something, that may be true of these characters but doesn't have to be, they could just be indifferent.
  • September 3, 2008
    Dcoetzee
    Truth In Television. See Misotheism and dystheism at Wikipedia. Quote: "Hrafnkell, protagonist of the eponymous Icelandic saga set in the 10th century, as his temple to Freyr is burnt and he is enslaved states that I think it is folly to have faith in gods, never performing another sacrifice, a position described in the sagas as goðlauss "godless"." Which makes this you know what.
  • September 3, 2008
    SomeSortOfTroper
    Firstly- Nay Theist -Awesome. Second- Definately splittable- The Flat Earth Atheist is stubborn or stupid and comes to harm for ignoring the obvious truth around him- there are Gods. The Nay Theist is almost an inversion- because they need to recognise the gods' existance but because it is a necessity they do not any wonder or need to worship.. Thirdly- Pascal's Wager, you could say that one of the reasons it breaks down is that such an approach only makes you a Nay Theist who thinks he can logic around a god and God may not be so fond of that and may want proper Theists.
  • September 3, 2008
    Juice Box Hero
    Nay Theist is an awesome title.

    "I absolutely believe in God. And I absolutely hate the fucker."
    Riddick, Pitch Black
  • September 3, 2008
    Schlitzrssler
    I vote against Nay Theist. Don't like it. Perhaps because I'm not a native speaker, so any potential wordplay is lost on me (nay-sayer?), but I usually do not like puns that depend on pronunciation.

    Seriously, do we need to split Flat Earth Atheist into two tropes, one of which then has a name that no-one will ever be able to find again? The trope description alread allows for the options: "Character denies the existance of deities even though they obviously do exist" and "Character knows gods exist but for personal or philosophical reasons denies them his belief". Do we really need to split tropes further and further for every possible variation?

    Wizards and witches on Discworld have already been mentioned. I recently added stuff about the Athar of Planescape (although most of it was cut by Filby) and the Sceptics of World of Greyhawk, and a character example, Downer the drow rogue. All these and several more entries would have to be moved to Nay Theist, leaving Flat Earth Atheist nearly empty.
  • September 3, 2008
    Schlitzrssler
    Just wondering.
  • September 3, 2008
    pawsplay
    Real life: Buddhism.
  • September 4, 2008
    Idler
    I don't think Buddhism has any gods.
  • September 4, 2008
    CoyoticEvil
    Ikki in Saint Seiya says "I don't believe in gods" right before kicking some divine arse.
  • September 4, 2008
    MrInsecure
    Zoro of One Piece says he's an atheist and then proceeds to kick the ass of a being that is essentially God.
  • September 4, 2008
    MrInsecure
    @Schlitzrussler: We'd probably feel bad about the Puntastic name of Nay Theist except we'd have to throw out the entire Just For Pun entry and all related tropes if we wanted to make it accessible to non-native speakers.
  • September 4, 2008
    robert
    Split. A Naytheist and a Flat Earth Atheist will have very different characters.
  • September 4, 2008
    Unknown Troper
    Buddhism accepts that the gods of, say, Hinduism exist, and some sects even have rites associated with controlling and revering protector spirits, but Buddhism is not, per se, about worship. Gods are considered to not truly liberated from the chains of karma.
  • September 4, 2008
    Iphigenia
    I'm generally a Lumper but for once I agree: this ought to be split. There's a major difference between a character who refuses to believe in gods despite mountains of evidence, and one who does believe in them but just doesn't care.

    Agreeing with Nay Theist as a title, by the way.
  • September 4, 2008
    EponymousKid
    The DCU's Terrence Thirteen is probably an example. While he is an atheist, and literally believes the Earth is flat, that's not all. He's in deep, deep denial of things that happen right in front of his own eyes. When he met a yeti, he assumed it was "some junkie, gooped up on gop" or "one of those X-gamers". When it turned out to be a vampire in a coat, he refused to believe he was a vampire because he wasn't biting or killing him.

    Eventually, when on a flying ghost pirate ship, he has a nervous breakdown and starts saying "this isn't happening, this isn't happening" while reassuring himself that, because he hasn't actually seen a yeti, yeti don't exist, and since yeti don't exist, none of the other things he doesn't believe in exist, either. He's really, really pathetic in that way.
  • September 4, 2008
    RossN
    So... we have decided we won't count Misotheists under this trope then - because there does seem a difference between indifference/contempt and active dislike.
  • September 4, 2008
    MetaFour
    Terrence Thirteen sounds more like a Flat Earth Atheist. FEA's are defined by denial of evidence that's right in front of their eyes.

    A Nay Theist is defined by accepting that God or gods exist while refusing to worship them or acknowledge them as authority figures.
  • September 4, 2008
    Wyvernil
    May be a more passive version of Rage Against The Heavens. In that case, though, the character doesn't so much ignore the gods as kick their divine asses.

    That's usually because they're jerks, though.
  • October 14, 2008
    Unknown Troper

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=cccbcbjo&trope=FlatEarthAtheistDiscussion