God Before Dogma

This trope happens often in series where the main villain is The Fundamentalist, but the author doesn't want to imply that Religion Is Wrong or Belief Makes You Stupid. Instead, a sympathetic character is shown as being religious, but as rejecting the flaws of the religious villains, such as corruption or intolerance. The hero may call out the villain's restrictive or intolerant doctrines, and say that God/the gods/Cthulhu would be ashamed at what is being done in their names. Often done by The Heretic and accompanied by phrases like "Jesus wants us to love everyone."

Done well, it's an aesop about how people are people and there is a fundamental core of reasonable humanity in every institution. Done poorly (usually because the sympathetic character is blatantly incorrect in his knowledge of relevant scripture, making him more offensive than The Fundamentalist to true believers) it can read as a weak attempt to not lose a substantial number of readers who may be religious.

Compare The Heretic, Turbulent Priest.


  • In A Brother's Price, Princess Ren is religious, and argues in favour of the traditional system of sororal polygyny but points out that "nowhere in the holy book does it say we should treat boys like property". The heroic characters are also critical of the religious taboo on adoption, and it is unclear whether that taboo has any proof in scripture, or whether it is just a tradition.
  • Nickie rejects the absurd restrictions set by Mrs. Beeson on behalf of The Prophet of Yonwood, but she still believes God is good and would honor people's differences instead of marginalizing them.
  • This happens in Madeleine L'Engle's books a lot. For example, in A Swiftly Tilting Planet the Llawcae family is devout but hates the witch-hunting Puritans like Pastor Mortmain, and Ritchie Llawcae refuses to build a scaffold to hang the 'witch' because he says Jesus would never have done so either.
  • Dorry Stevens in Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who rejects her old creepy Christian cult but still believes in God and values religion, as opposed to fellow escapee Zachary, who literally says that religion is evil.
  • Another Margaret Peterson Haddix example: Jed Reston, the son of Lord Reston, priest to the king, says state religion is all "smoke and mirrors" and has nothing to do with true faith.
  • In Chris Crutcher's novel Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, the liberal Rev. Ellerby is contrasted with the uptight and hypocritical Christian Mark Brittain.
  • Friar Tuck in the Robin Hood mythos is a 'good' religious foil for the villainous Bishop Hereford.
  • Aramis's devotion to God is contrasted in The Three Musketeers with the conniving Cardinal Richelieu.
  • This is a recurring theme in Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels, because members of the Christian hierarchy claim that Deryni are evil by nature (hence justifying persecuting them), but a schism eventually occurs within the Church when some clerics, led by Cardiel and Arilan, dispute this assertion. Things get complicated when some few Deryni discover they have Healing abilities and as everyone knows Christ healed. A rebel leader who has been attacking mages' estates and tenants (particularly those of a certain Deryni duke) is forced to confront this when he gets a demonstration of Healing; Cardiel [a human bishop] is there to emphasize the contrast between the religion and some of its self-styled followers. Later, a guilt-stricken and self-hating Deryni [King Kelson's mother, Queen Jehana] has her anti-Deryni religious indoctrination overcome by Deryni clerics Arilan and Father Nivard. It's important to note that the Deryni are true believers, at least in part because of the evidence of experience. They sometimes perform rituals for powerful workings that summon beings taken to be angels (and specifically named: Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and Uriel). They mostly see coloured light and fleeting impressions of wings, and of course they could be mistaken or rationalizing their experiences, but they do believe. It also helps that their powers are triggered by an altered state of consciousness akin to meditation or prayer. Human Queen Richeldis suggests that Deryni may be above ordinary humans and just below angels on the Great Chain of Being.
  • Small Gods has Om discovering that his "followers" believe in the organization, hierarchs, high exquisitors, prophetic texts, rituals... anything but Om himself. Since Gods Need Prayer Badly, this means he ended up starved into near-oblivion by his own church and doesn't even have enough juice to perform the only miracle he wants now — which is, obviously, braining the guy currently responsible for this state of affairs.
  • The Bible:
    • In Old Testament times, the main problem was that people were making new (often more lenient) rules that violated the old dogma (for example, allowing idolatry), and the true prophets were standing up for the old order. In the case of idolatry, the people were not putting God before Dogma, so the true prophets had to straighten them out.
    • In the New Testament, Jesus accusses the scribes and Pharisees of being Rules Lawyers and missing the Law of Love.

Fan Works
  • A major theme of the second part of Angel Of The Bat is whether one can love God and love a system of worship that they openly acknowledge feels contradictory. Considering the writer is an idealistic Roman Catholic, the answer is yes.

  • The plot of Saved!
  • Dogma: The whole point is that following the dogma gets you into trouble, but faith is what gets you out of it. Rufus's comment that Jesus is kinda ticked off about being used to justify "Wars, slavery, televangelists", and Serendpity's comment that faith is more important than belief. Add to that the fact that even the fallen angels lampshade the fact that the rules change over time and that it's the rules set down by mankind, not God, that creates the potentially world-destroying loophole.
  • In the original version of The Wicker Man, when the protagonist, a dogmatic, virginal conservative policeman, and a young cop see graffiti spelling out "Jesus Saves," the young cop comments approvingly of it while the protagonist demands it be wiped clean.

Live-Action Television
  • In the CSI episode "Alter Boys", Grissom tells a Roman Catholic priest who suggests that he should start attending Mass again that whilst he [Grissom] believes in God, he doesn't accept the doctrine of the Church, and that too many people have died for particular interpretations of religion. Word of God confirms that this was intended as a comment on 9/11, which had recently taken place at the time the episode was made.
  • On Mad Men, when the priest tells Peggy that she should repent before nuclear war breaks out (during the Cuban Missile Crisis), Peggy answers that she can't believe God would be so cruel as to condemn her to hell just because she had an affair with a married man.
  • The nuns of Call the Midwife care far more about helping their poverty-stricken patients than about passing judgment on them. This also combines with Saintly Church.

Tabletop Games
  • Called out several times in In Nomine, where religions are mostly seen as a "human thing," given to mankind as a way to approach the God that the angels already know to worship. Even the few Archangels that explicitly prefer a particular religion (Catholicism for Laurence and Dominic, Islam for Khalid and Zadkiel) still acknowledge that worthy contributions can be made by those of other faiths. By contrast, the Demon Prince of Factions, Malphas, *loves* fine points of dogma ...
    Novalis, Archangel of Flowers: Every human religion since the first boils down to just two principles: Behave and don't hurt each other.

  • Breath of Fire II (funnily enough, given the general tone of the series) sends out this message. The institutionalised religion of St. Eva is an Obviously Evil Corrupt Church. The faith of the Dragon God Ladon, however, is much looser, much less-organised and full of much nicer people. The follow-up game even reveals that Ladon is something of a Chaotic Good god who isn't too fussed about how his people worship him - just so long as they do unto others, stand up for freedom and equality and protect the world from giant evil demons posing as gods.
  • In Dragon Age II, Good Shepherd and Badass Preacher Sebastian will take this view if he's convinced to side with the Mages: stating that Andraste and the Maker don't want their Chantry to be used to imprison and torture the magic-users of the world.
    • Leliana is this in the first game. Chantry dogma holds the Maker to be remote and uncaring about human suffering. Leliana believes the Maker can be found in the beauty of the world, and takes an active role in bringing an end to the Blight.
  • It's ambiguous but still implied in Final Fantasy Tactics. While the main villains are members of a Corrupt Church, there are a few hints of benevolent divine intervention scattered around the game.
  • This happens quite a lot in the Tales Series and often gets paired with God Is Good.
    • In Tales of Eternia, the Church of Seyfert is inept at best; although this is less a result of the actual church's failings and more to do with the fact that the country's political system is run by an assholishy judgemental king. Seyfert himself, however, is such a cool dude that not only does he give you the Infinity Plus One Skills to defeat the Big Bad - he even congratulates you in the ending and casually breaks the laws of physics to save the heroes from certain death just because he likes them.
    • In Tales of Symphonia, the Church of Martel is quickly revealed as a Corrupt Church / Path of Inspiration. However, Martel herself after she becomes the Spirit of the World Tree is a kind and benevolent force who only wants to protect the world.
    • In Tales of Legendia, the Ferines want to use the power of their god Nerifes to wipe out the Orerines as vengeance for years of persecution. The Quiet Nerifes, however, doesn't want this to happen - being appalled by the idea of so much slaughter - and guides the heroes into making sure it doesn't.
    • In Tales of the Abyss, the Order of Lorelei started out as a Saintly Church founded by Yulia Jue, who is basically a gender-swapped Jesus. Fast-forward to the present day and it's become very corrupt - with its leaders perfectly happy to let the world fall into ruin Because Destiny Says So. As it happens, this is not what Yulia or the Sentience she worshipped - Lorelei - wanted. Their use of recording the Score, the prophecy that dictates fate, was not to control humanity but to show the world that the planet was going to end if it followed the Score to the letter. As such, the heroes and the villains end up working together (in different ways) to create a world of free will. The heroes do this so well that, in the ending, Lorelei praises the protagonist.
  • In Xenoblade, Lady Meyneth is a kind and benevolent deity who only wants the best for Mechonis and Bionis. Her disciple Egil, however, thinks that she's not going far enough to defend their world and becomes the Well-Intentioned Extremist Knight Templar Big Bad of the game.
  • In Dead Space, there is one, single Unitologist in the franchise who is devout in his beliefs yet a calm and reasonable person: Engineer Samuel Irons. He makes an appearance in Dead Space: Downfall helping to calm down a group of Unitologist crew members shirking their work and demanding to be allowed to worship the Marker, basically by saying "Guys, Stop Being Stereotypical, calm down, and do the work you promised in your contracts you would do. Are you civilized people or are you savages?" He does ask to be allowed to worship the Marker himself, but when told no he just smiles and walks away without complaint. He later helps fight the Necromorphs, not believing for a moment that they are the salvation that his religion has promised.

  • In Rice Boy, The One Electronic rejects the "perfect, solid God" that he was taught about as a child, and believes that the being who sent him on his quest to find The Chosen One is not God but an imposter. But T-O-E still believes in God.
    T-O-E: There is some powerful mystery between all of these perfect, solid things... and that is my God. My God is what I don't know.
  • Timothy/Camellia in But I'm a Cat Person spent several of his teenage years in a cult focused on one of the series' resident Mons, and as an adult considers himself a Catholic with a strong aversion to any imposition of one person's dogma beliefs on another.

Web Original
  • Mr Deity is appalled by the contents of the Bible.