Refusenik Atheist


(permanent link) added: 2008-03-14 22:23:56 sponsor: CaptainCrowbar (last reply: 2008-10-14 09:17:18)

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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."

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