Created By: crazysamaritan on February 2, 2014 Last Edited By: Pichu-kun on March 13, 2017
Troped

Ambiguous Religions

Characters demonstrate the behaviour of a specific Theist philosophy.

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This is the "vaguely religious" part of White Male Lead, but it can occur with non-white, non-male, and non-leads.

Using vague references to religion resolves a conflict writers face while developing characters in their stories. The conflict is between two rules, "Make your characters relatable" and "don't alienate your audience".

Characters who are expressly one religion, with Show, Don't Tell actions included, can alienate audience members who don't share the same beliefs. Sometimes they can even alienate those who do, but aren't exactly as religious as the fictional character. Even a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant can alienate American viewers who are of a different denomination, or simply not Christian. Outside of America, non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestant audiences are the norm, making the character a minority figure.

Choosing a minority religion is an even worse offense, according to the common wisdom. So it is better play it safe, and not make any mention of specific faith.

But characters must still be relatable, which means they have to do the things you do. The audience has beliefs, whether they be a belief in one God, or many gods. Those beliefs shape behaviour. Fictional characters have to follow the behaviour that Real Life religious people have, because the Theists outnumber the Non-Theists.
Subtropes:
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     Ambiguously Islam 
Literature
  • In The Privateer by S.M. Stirling and James Doohan, General Scaragoglu makes an offhand reference to "God and His Prophet", with the implication that he's a Muslim. This is the only hint we get to the religion of anyone besides the Mollies.

Film — Animation
  • The characters in Aladdin manage to be Ambiguously Muslim. The Sultan does shout "Praise Allah!" at one point - but it should be noted that "Allah" had previously been one of the Arabs' pagan gods, and is also used by Arab Christians and Jews to refer to God. The marriage ceremony in the sequel also appears to be Christian in nature, which would be strange given the supposed time period. Also, the Cave of Wonders is guarded by a supernatural being that the script refers to as a "tiger-god." And the magic-carpet ride around the world during the "A Whole New World" sequence implies that the action is taking place anywhere from a few centuries to over a millennium before the birth of Christ, never mind the rise of Islam. Ultimately, most of the ambiguity can be chalked up to a giant case of Anachronism Stew.

     Ambiguously Zoroastrian 
Video Game
  • In Eternal Darkness, Karim is transported to the "Forbidden City" from Persia, 565 A.D. When he interacts with one of the shrines, the text box description calls it "blasphemous", which suggests he considers the shrine an insult to his religion, which is most likely a form of Zoroastrianism.

     Deliberately Ambiguous 

Anime & Manga
  • Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in a universe where Christanity doesn't exist, or in reality it became a dead religion centuries ago. It's unknown what most characters worship (besides Ishvalans worshipping their God) or who is an atheist. Roy is explicitly an atheist while Edward is an agnostic who has no interest in worshipping God. Ed's brother Alphonse seems to have heavier religious beliefs than him but even with him it's ambiguous if he might be agnostic or not.

Newspaper Comics
  • Get Fuzzy. Any indication of Rob's religion seem to be left up to the imagination. He seems to be familiar enough with The Bible, as he is able to quote Scripture (particularly to try and set examples of how Bucky should behave), though on one specific occasion, where he's asked if he minds stating his religion, he responds, "Yeah, I kinda do mind." At the same time, Rob also expresses having doubt that there is an Afterlife, and even finds the idea of it to be weird and far-fetched, though admits that if there is one, he hopes to be there.

Western Animation
  • As Told by Ginger:
    • Lois has a Jewish father but she doesn't seem religious herself. The Christmas Episode shows that the Foutley's celebrate Christmas, though whether it's secular Christmas or Christian Christmas is unknown. Ginger learned about her Jewish heritage and became interested in it but it's never stated if she converted or not.
    • Lois believes Carl is an atheist however lines imply he believes in a god. It's unknown if he is agonistic, atheistic, Jewish, Christian, or whatever other religion.
Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • February 4, 2014
    TheMuse
    To be honest, I can't really think of any other examples of a character being implied as being any religion other than Christian, Jewish or something Abrahamic. I may be wrong, but I feel like anything other than Jewish or Christian might be Too Rare To Trope
  • February 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Probably too rare to earn their own pages, but this page will still be needed as an index for the other two.
  • February 4, 2014
    DAN004
    Try ambiguously Buddhist or Confusian. :P
  • February 4, 2014
    TheHandle
    Or Muslim or Hindu.
  • February 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^ & ^^ any examples?
  • February 4, 2014
    TheHandle
    ^The south-asian guy from The Simpsons, who wears a turbant, Raj from The Big Bang Theory, Hadji from Jhonny Quest, Abdul from Jojos Bizarre Adventure part 3...

    How about ambiguous ideology? For instance, Breaking Bad's Walter White shows plenty of signs of being some kind of Objectivist.
  • February 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    OK, those aren't examples, they're names. Out of those four works, I'm only familiar with The Big Bang Theory, where Koothrapalli IS Hindi. The characters poke fun at him breaking the commandments of his faith roughly as regularly as they mock Wolowitz for doing the same to his Judaism.

    Philosophical (or Political) Ideology doesn't create the cultures and behaviours of Religious Ideology. That is, people who are Objectivist don't have meetings, don't share rituals, and don't have dietary habits for the purpose of Objectivism. People of religious faiths do.
  • February 4, 2014
    valbinooo
    I kind of second the Too Rare To Trope vote
  • February 28, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Remember this is primarily for indexing the two faith-specific pages we have. Any issues with this supertrope?
  • February 28, 2014
    StarSword
    ^I don't have an issue with it.
  • March 4, 2014
    TheHandle
    Issue 6 of Animal Man had an Abiguously Christian, Ambiguously Gay hunter on a crusade against evil. Or so he thinks.
  • March 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
  • Karim in Eternal Darkness finds a shrine for the eponymous book "blasphemous" but never says or shows what religion he follows. Given the time and place though, he is most likely a magi.

    I say just mine ambiguously Christian of all its examples for this trope, and then work on merging this with ambiguously Jewish after it is launched.
  • March 4, 2014
    StarSword
    Fixed tags in draft. The accepted method of ordering work examples is by medium.
  • March 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^^ I did already. The majority are Ambg. Christian, so there wasn't many misuse for non-Christian. I split this index off to prevent additional mistakes. To expand Ambiguously Jewish would require a TRS thread.

    ^That's not true when pages are soft-split. Works are ordered by the split first, then by medium. This is split by religion first.
  • March 4, 2014
    woddor
    You don't ask for hats when your article has barely any examples.
  • March 4, 2014
    valbinooo
    You need at least three examples before you can hat
  • March 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Considering it collected two more tropers suggesting examples, I'm satisfied. Remember this is an index first, what I really want is three sub-tropes, not three examples. Three Rules Of Three and YKTTW Guidelines.
  • Ambiguous Christians need no separate pages. Jewishness is highly family related (Jew is an archaic term for Judah, one of the Twelve Tribes descended from Jacob). Christian has no such connotations, by design. Zoraostrian, Hindu and other Aryan derived religions tend to lack the connotation because they never had them in the first place. They don't need subpages.

    Personally I don't think there should be an ambigiously Jewish page anymore, once this one launches (There are plenty of ethnic Jews who continue to worship the gods denounced in the Bible. These groups are repeatedly mentioned in the Bible). However there is a(somewhat weak) argument for it being distinct from general examples.
  • March 5, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    From what I'm reading, you think this is about religion being family-based, or at least primarily ethnic. It is true that a statistical majority of adults stay attached to the religion their parents taught them. That is important if a character's parents are explicitly one religion, but otherwise not a factor in this trope.

    This trope is about people that display cultural attributes of a religion, despite the work not actually telling the audience the character's actual beliefs. The reader's inference determines the religion, not the work.

    As Ambiguously Jewish explains, most of Big Applesauce can be considered Jewish culture, because of the impact the 12% population has had. So even if someone acts Jewish, that doesn't mean the character is Jewish.

    This is the supertrope to that idea: "Even if someone acts [Religion], that doesn't mean the character is [Religion]."
  • March 5, 2014
    Dalillama
    Another possible subset might be Freemasons; it's not exactly a religion, but it is something that I see occasional subtle references implying a character might be one. I had two examples in mind earlier, but can't quote either now. One was from a Detective Joe Sandilands story, where Sandilands reassures another character of his intentions with significant references to the Widow and being on the Square.
  • April 28, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    Newspaper Comics
    • Get Fuzzy. Any indication of Rob's religion seem to be left up to the imagination. He seems to be familiar enough with The Bible, as he is able to quote Scripture (particularly to try and set examples of how Bucky should behave), though on one specific occasion, where he's asked if he minds stating his religion, he responds, "Yeah, I kinda do mind." At the same time, Rob also expresses having doubt that there is an Afterlife, and even finds the idea of it to be weird and far-fetched, though admits that if there is one, he hopes to be there.
  • April 28, 2014
    IndirectActiveTransport
    Yeah, but I don't see the point of having a page for every ambiguous religion, or even why it has to be limited to theist religion. I don't even think this page should be soft split, just list the examples as they come. I don't want ambiguously Jewish to persist, I could just see people arguing against a merge because Jew has many more nonreligious connotations than Hindu, Christian or even Atheist, Agnostic, ect, ect.

    • The Dude Lewbosky's outlook seems to basically be taoism, without the more metaphysical parts.
  • April 29, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    That is a TRS issue, to convince the wiki that Ambig J needs to be expanded.

    Atheist and Agnostic are not religions.

    Your suggestion is a ZCE.
  • April 4, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    I think this has tropeworthy potential. We do have Ambiguously Jewish and Ambiguously Christian after all, but nothing for other religions.
  • April 10, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    • Ginger's mother from As Told By Ginger has a Jewish father but she doesn't seem religious herself. Carl is ambiguously agnostic, as his mother thought he was atheistic however he seems to not be. The Christmas Episode shows that the Foutley's celebrate Christmas though whether it's secular Christmas or Christian Christmas is unknown. Ginger learned about her Jewish heritage and became interested in it but it's never stated if she converted or not.
  • April 15, 2016
    Aubren
    Either I'm going crazy, or YKTTW has another one of this going around.
  • April 15, 2016
    Aubren
    Either I'm going crazy, or YKTTW has another one of this going around.
  • April 15, 2016
    Aubren
    Either I'm going crazy, or YKTTW has another one of this going around.
  • April 15, 2016
    Aubren
    Thanks, phone. I appreciate you registering my impatience with the submit button.
  • April 15, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ I have the same issue sometimes with my phone, lol.
  • April 23, 2016
    Aubren
    Bump.
  • December 11, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    Added an example from Ambiguously Christian.

    Also, shouldn't it be "Ambiguously Muslim"?
  • December 11, 2016
    crazysamaritan
    Muslim is the person, Islam is the faith.
  • December 11, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    ^ But we're referring to the person. The tropes aren't "Ambiguously Judaism" and "Ambiguously Christianity".
  • December 11, 2016
    crazysamaritan
    It is the Jewish faith, not the Judaism faith. Judaism corresponds to Islamic; what's confusing is that Jewish is used for both the person and the faith. The Muslim-Islam dichotomy probably makes more sense in Farsi or Arabic than it does in our language.

    That said, I'm not particularly attached to using the name of the religion instead of the name for the person. Precisely because the majority of religions we are familiar with use the terms interchangeably. If Ambiguously Islam ever got large enough to need their own page, I'd put Ambiguously Muslim as a redirect anyway. Or the other way around if we decided that.
  • March 13, 2017
    crazysamaritan
    Bump for hats.
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