Everyone wonders life's meaning, our place in the universe, and just what or who started it all. Sometimes, in fictiondom, a character is introduced that simply MUST know. There's no way to create this character without their knowing the "correct" religion as well as the origin of all things. Answering this question creates a different problem: Alienating the fan base. Alternatively, the creators may just want to tease the audience with a Riddle for the Ages
, and that sort of riddle doesn't last long if all the answers are spelled out.
So what do you do? You do the Godly Sidestep, an in-universe Shrug of God
, where the Powers That Be
refuse to answer The Big Questions, whether it's because You Are Not Ready
, The World Is Not Ready
, or because they're Things Man Was Not Meant to Know
. The meta-reason, however, is often that a specific answer is inconvenient to the creators as it strongly colours the work's worldview and closes off ambiguities that would have allowed for extra potential.
How is this dance done? Evade the question. Get cut off mid-sentence. Lie. Something. The Godly Sidestep is the moment when the story acknowledges that yes, this character does know the
answer but no, they won't be telling you.
Subtrope of The Unreveal
. See also Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane
for one tactic for performing this dance round the truth. Compare Death Amnesia
, in which a character who's come Back from the Dead
conveniently remembers nothing about the afterlife.
Anime and Manga
Film — Animated
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Kyon asks Nagato, after treating with beings that are effectively ghosts of alien lifeforms, what happens after humans die. Her answer? Information classified.
- When the crew of One Piece meet an old man who was on the one ship in recorded history to make it to the end of the Grand Line. Usopp asks him about One Piece, the treasure allegedly stashed there (and, incidentally, the thing everyone's trying to get, and the title of the series). However, his captain very angrily calls Spoilers on him, saying he wouldn't like an adventure where he knew the outcome.
- In the 3rd OVA to Fushigi Yuugi, Taka Tamahome asks Taiitsukun if the misfortune befalling the universe is Mayo's fault. She replies "Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not." It's actually not entirely her fault, but a huuuge Xanatos Gambit makes it look that way. Additionally, she tells him what the Shinzaho is using a riddle. It's the twelve-week-old fetus that was transferred out of his wife Miaka and into the aforementioned Mayo.
Film — Live Action
- At the very end of the Finding Nemo visual commentary, during the Pixar Vanity Plate, the director can be heard saying, "Here's the secret of life. The secret of life is—" (Luxo Jr. shuts off his light.)
- Averted in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.
Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life...Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
- In Dogma, God herself does this. After the heroes save God, the day, and the universe, the main character asks to be told the meaning of life. God, played by Alanis Morissette, simply smiles.
Bethany Sloane: Why are we here?
God: [pokes Bethany's nose] Nweep.
- Granted, if She had actually said anything, Bethany's head would have exploded, so....
- In Time Bandits, when Kevin actually asks what is the reason for evil, God steps behind a wall for a moment, then comes back and says "something to do with free will and all that."
- In The Wrath of Khan, Spock dies. In The Search for Spock, he comes back. In The Voyage Home, Bones asks him about what he experienced, prompting this response.
McCoy: You really have gone where no man's gone before. Can't you tell me what it felt like?
Spock: It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame-of-reference.
McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death?
- Considering that the circumstances of his death and resurrection involved some Vulcan telepathic Applied Phlebotinum not generally available to humans, it's unclear whether he made it to anything resembling the afterlife that humans experience (if there is one) in any case.
- In Sherlock Holmes, Holmes claims that experimenting with one of the Hermetic rituals used by the Temple of the Four Orders has allowed him to reconcile nearly 2000 years of theological disparity... unfortunately, there's a madman currently trying to destroy parliament and have himself declared supreme ruler of the British Empire, so it's a story for another time.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Deep Thought is a computer programmed to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It reveals that the answer is "42", and when its operators complain, points out that obviously the answer isn't going to make sense unless you know the precise wording of the Question. Then an even more advanced computer (The Earth) was built to formulate the Ultimate Question, so that the Ultimate Answer could be understood. That computer was then destroyed five minutes before it would have completed its task. That's some grand sidestepping.
- Subverted at the end of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. The protagonists travel to the planet where God's final message to his creation is written in 30-feet-high letters of fire. The entire message is revealed to the reader, and it goes like this: We apologise for the inconvenience. The message's divine origin is accepted without question by the characters, although to the reader it comes off as slightly suspect given that it's in English note and uses the etymologically incorrect British spelling to boot.
- In The Quest For Saint Camber, Kelson converses via Mind Speech with a being who appeared and helped him vanquish his treasonous cousin Conall:
"Are you who I think you are? [Kelson] dared to ask.
And who do you think that I am? the being replied.
I believe you are Saint Camber of Culdi, whom I sought on my quest. You—came to my aid.
Did I? the being answered. Or am I but a convenient image for the stronger and better part that is within you and, indeed, within all folk who seek the Light, and which can be called up when darkness threatens?
Kelson blinked. It had to be Saint Camber. Only the irascible Deryni saint would be so evasive and yet speak so primal a truth."
- If he won't even cop to his identity, forget about asking him about God/Heaven/Hell/the Meaning of Life/Whatever.
- The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series features Greek gods and demigods. Soon after Percy learns about the gods, he asks the obvious question and is informed that the gods are "the lower-case 'g' kind" and they "don't deal in metaphysics."
- Knucker the Knower, who knows everything when he's drunk, tells Etjole Ehomba the meaning of life in the second book of Alan Dean Foster's Journeys of the Catechist. Ehomba is pleased with the answer, but since Knucker whispered the answer, the reader never finds out.
- Doctor Who
- In "Planet of the Dead", the Doctor knows the true story of Easter. Right after he says "What REALLY happened was—", he gets cut off and forgets what he was talking about.
- In "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" two-parter, the Doctor battles against the Devil himself. When the Doctor asks him "from which religion?", the Devil answers "All of them" and further states that he existed before time. They have other things to worry about than where exactly it came from and what this means for the universe, so they don't inquire too closely.
- In the Red Dwarf episode White Hole, Holly gains an IQ of over 12,000 and professes to know the meaning of the universe. The only being present to ask her is a toast-obsessed kitchen appliance, and any questions it puts forward end up being about bread. Before anyone else can ask, she realises she has three minutes to live and refuses to communicate with anyone.
- Star Trek: Voyager has an episode where Sufficiently Advanced Alien Q Jr. is told to write an essay about the origins and aspirations of his species. Kathryn Janeway treats the result as if it was an ordinary, though well done, student work. The audience, naturally, doesn't get to hear any of the juicy bits.
- Averted in a classic Saturday Night Live skit, where an angel (Dana Carvey) happily rattles off answers to the quickfire questions of a just-deceased fellow (guest host John Larroquette).
- "So, who's actually still alive: Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, JFK, or Adolf Hitler?" "Umm ... Morrison and Hitler."
- "Are Bent-knee sit-ups or straight-leg sit-ups better?" "Straight-leg."
- "What's God's favorite religion, anyway?" "Lutheran." "Huh."
- The creators of Joan of Arcadia made this the rule, actually listing things God couldn't say with regards to unversal truths and religion. God conversed with Joan on a regular basis and always refused to answer any major questions.
- The Buddha refused to answer several basic questions about the nature of life and the universe, essentially saying that they were the wrong questions.
- Dungeons & Dragons: The 4th Edition sidestep the question of 'what happens to a person after they die' by stating that the deceased goes to the unknowable afterlife, beyond the reach of gods or devils. Not even the goddess of death know, as she only runs the Afterlife Antechamber. Exceptions to this rule are souls who have done great deeds for the gods (or Hell), in which case they become immortal souls who accompany their patron in the patron's domain.
- In Life And Death, when Death asked which religion was right, God whispered in his ear. Death was surprised, meaning it was something unusual.
- In It's Walky!, The Cheese claims to know which religion is the correct one, but refuses to tell anyone, claiming that if you don't figure it out for yourself, you won't understand the answer (and adds that even if he did tell anyone, chances are he wouldn't be taken seriously).
- Not a divine example, but Jones from Gunnerkrigg Court has been around as long as the Earth itself and perfectly remembers every moment of her existence. As such, she has in fact born witness to the origins of life on Earth, the evolution/extinction of species (including humans and dinosaurs) and countless other bits of priceless moments in history. When this is revealed, she explains that she decided long ago to just observe and interfere as little as possible with human society (hence her nickname, Wandering Eye). Over the years, she has sometimes taken on the role of a teacher, but only of knowledge which humanity has already discovered for itself.
- Parodied on Atop the Fourth Wall—while reviewing a comic about Wonder Woman talking to some school children, Linkara imitates a child and asks if the existence of Greek gods in her origin disproves all other religions.
- The Simpsons - God is about to tell Homer the meaning of life when the episode ends.
Homer: What's the meaning of life?
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: But I wanna know now!
God: You can't wait six months?
Homer: No. Tell me now.
God: All right, Homer. The meaning of life is- [closing credits]
Leela: So the meaning of existence...?
Leela: So every religion is wrong!
- In "Overclockwise", Bender temporarily achieves omniscience, and obtains printouts with the answers to life's great questions. He casually throws away "the reason we exist", but does show Fry and Leela an account of their future together.
- Duckman - Finding himself in Heaven, Duckman gets an Etch-A-Sketch from God. He asks why and God tells him that it has the Meaning of Life written on it, but by then it has been erased from Duckman moving it around.
- An episode of Disney's Hercules has Zeus about to give the meaning of life on a chat show, however they run out of airtime just before he states it.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Subverted Trope - The Secret of the Universe turns out to be "I was only kidding."
- And the meaning of life is nothing. There is no meaning of life.
- In God, the Devil and Bob, Bob asks God why he allows evil to exist. God takes a deep breath and explains to Bob, just as a train passes between them and the audience. Bob is impressed and accepting of God's answer, but we never get to hear it.
- Subverted on South Park—a bunch of dead people show up in Hell, and many complain that they're not supposed to be there, because they were devout followers of (insert religion here) all their lives! Hell's orientation leader explains that sorry, that was wrong, and that the correct religion is actually Mormonism. Later we see Heaven and yeah, those seem to be the only ones up there (other than God, Who's Buddhist).