"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."One way to show how "advanced" a society is in science fiction or certain kinds of fantasy works is to show that it's given up religion. A society may consider religion backward and primitive, consider it a dangerous tool for controlling the populace, or have discovered it was a Scam Religion. Such societies are often contrasted in the same work with more "primitive" societies which are still religious to some degree; these are usually portrayed as harmless fanatics, often of a Fantasy Counterpart Culture religion. This is a difficult trope to write about well, and many who use it fall into Author Tracts. Part of this is because of the demographics of science fiction writers; especially in the "Golden Age" of sci-fi, empiricists and secular humanists were particularly attracted to the genre. A common variation of this trope sees the "advanced" society show the "primitive" society the error of its ways and prove that The Presents Were Never from Santa. Since then, sci-fi has become more mainstream (and the militant atheist a more annoying character), so this trope's usage has become more nuanced. Nowadays, you might find a society that discovered it was worshipping advanced technology or Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. You might even see the inverse, where an atheistic society discovers for whatever reason that it kind of needed silly superstition to function, or even the God or gods they worshiped being proven true. It's very often paired with an Alternative Calendar, since the one we use today is strongly influenced by Christianity. Societies will then choose a new "year zero", which will often coincide with a major scientific breakthrough — the moon landing is among the most popular. Compare What We Now Know to Be True and No Such Thing as Space Jesus. Contrast Gravity Is Only a Theory, Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, and Science Is Wrong. See also Religion Rant Song. The individual-scale version of this trope is the Hollywood Atheist.
— Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right
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Anime and Manga
- In Legend of Galactic Heroes, religious beliefs are close to non-existent, which is explained as a result of people becoming disillusioned over religion after a nuclear holocaust mentioned in the backstory. The only organised religion present in the series, the Terraist Church, turns out to be a Path of Inspiration which aims to revive Earth's past glory through subversive actions such as assassinating key figures of the galaxy.
- Religion is rarely mentioned in the classic Universal Century timeline of Gundam. In fact, the UC calendar was originally established in order to invoke this trope and usher in an utopian age for mankind. There is still room from any number of fringe cults, but these mostly have political ulterior motives, such as the Zanscare Empire in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam or the myriad manifestations of Zeon ideology.
- Defied in 0096 Unicorn: The reason why spacenoids had such a fervent worship of Christianity, which transitioned to a blind obedience to Zeon philosophy, was because they had nothing else to live for or hope with in the cold, resource-scare void of space. As Marida explains, the Universal Century was anything but atheist for the poverty-stricken colonists.
- In Code Geass, Lloyd lightly teases Suzaku about how the Japanese still believes in such superstitions.
- In Warren Ellis' Supergod, faith is stated to be a biological flaw in human neurology that enables group behavior without the enlightened self-interest that should preclude it — a "narcotic response" to the concept of a higher power. This means most people will follow leaders based on their ability to evoke that response rather than their ability to encourage survival. It also means that most people would be quite willing to surrender their free will to powerful forces that don't even see them as bacteria. You can guess how that turns out.
- Zig-zagged in Jannah Station, where Earthlings are the only large group of remaining atheists. Almost everyone off-planet is religious to some extent or other.
- Eugenesis: The people of Cybertron have taken on this attitude after the first time Unicron showed up to eat everyone, with "theo-scientists" pouring out of the woodwork to calmly disseminate every aspect of Cybertron's religious texts. Of course, even they haven't figured out how the Matrix functions. And they become oddly quiet when the subject of the built-in kill-switch every Cybertronian has comes up.
- Bait and Switch (STO):
- Downplayed with the primary protagonist of The Verse. Kanril Eleya is Bajoran and is a member of their religion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but mentions she's been compared by one of her senior staff to a "Christmas-and-Easter Christian" (she thinks he's exaggerating).
- In Solaere ssiun Hnaifv'daenn, this is turned on its head from Star Trek norms, with an irreligious Romulan pulling this on the human protagonist, a practicing Muslim who cites religious law as a reason for not taking a vaccine orally (the fic is said to be taking place during Ramadan, when an oral vaccine would break Khoroushi's fast). The author has mentioned in forum posts that the trope annoys him.
- In Star Wars: A New Hope, the Force is considered mythology in many circles. Han outright states that he doesn't believe in it (before he sees it for himself), and even an Imperial officer challenges Darth Vader directly on the Force's existence. It ends badly for him:
Darth Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
Admiral Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fort—
Darth Vader: (Force-chokes Motti) I find your lack of faith disturbing.
- In Halo: Nightfall, ONI agent Horrigan cites the fact that the Sedrans still believe in Valhalla as a reason to look down on them. Granted, he's a Jerkass, there's an Interservice Rivalry going on, and his CO Jameson Locke doesn't seem to share Horrigan's disdain.
- Stanisław Lem was known to address this trope; he played with it impressively considering that he was writing in and for Communist countries. In Fiasco, the expedition's crew includes a priest, who's portrayed positively. Solaris was his weirdest usage; the protagonist broods about how humanity hasn't improved in any way, but at the same time he broods about how great it is that humanity has outgrown foolish notions of God. He spent much of that book exploring how such a person might view a very unfamiliar alien being.
- Arthur C. Clarke has done this several times:
- In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the Earth of the titular year has long since abandoned religion. It's said that everyone is either a theist or a deist, as defined: the theists say there's at least one god, and the deists say there's at most one god.
- The Light of Other Days, co-written with Stephen Baxter, had a device that could see into the past. It proves, among other things, that Moses didn't exist, but was rather a merger of several different historical personages. Jesus did, but he was just a good person who inspired people, rather than a miracle-maker.
- Childhood's End has a similar device, which winds up discrediting every religion save Buddhism. The visitors' resemblance to stereotypical devils is because they are heralds of a change so monumental it echoes back through human history, causing the "devil" image in the first place.
- The Fountains of Paradise, about the building of a Space Elevator and humanity's First Contact with an alien AI, had the AI disprove the works of Thomas Aquinas, and possibly Christianity itself. And that was all in the exposition. There is one religion left practicing (a Buddhist-type), but it leaves its monastery when the yellow butterflies reach the top of the hill it's on, simply because they were prophesied to do it. It is mentioned that Vatican still exists as a center of Catholicism, but it suffers from severe financial troubles, implying that the number of practicing Catholics is minuscule.
- The closing stories in the Rama books, on which Clarke either collaborated or wrote himself, subvert this. The setting has humanity already in religious decline by default, but the very end of the series presents not only possible evidence for the existence of a divine being such as God, but an explanation for his laissez-faire attitude to dealing with his creation.
- From the works of Isaac Asimov:
- In the advanced cultures of the Foundation trilogy, most of the main characters are supposedly atheists, and the leaders of Terminus certainly are. However, outside Terminus religion itself survives, even if it's used as a tool of control at times. Over time, though, Hari Seldon assumed an almost religious significance to the people of Foundation, to the point where many of them had a decidedly irrational belief in the infallibility of his predictions.
- The Second Foundation trilogy (written by modern authors) portray the different aspects of Robot philosophy (Asimov linked his Robots and Foundation series in later books) as being akin to religions, including "Calvinists" and several other sects who have their own interpretations of the body of doctrine that is the Laws of Robotics.
- Nightfall is even more interesting. The scientists had worked out the cause of the periodic devastation and the things called "stars", and the religious fanatics were deeply offended — and also had a much better idea than the scientists how serious the matter was.
- Asimov also played with religion in some of his robot stories, including one where a robot that was activated on a space station believed the station's machinery was a god, called it "the Master," and believed Earth was a religious fiction designed for the small-minded humans.
- Iain M. Banks:
- In the Culture novels, the Culture looks at religion as a delusion which deserving of sympathy. This viewpoint runs into trouble in Look to Windward, where the "enlightened" races are irritated and nonplussed that whether or not the Chelgrian heaven existed before, it demonstrably exists now. Surface Detail features sophisticated virtual reality environments, many of which are based on each religion's hell, which proves to be a contentious issue in galactic politics.
- The Algebraist features a future religion that actually fits in a science fiction setting. The dogma is that the universe is a simulation, and the goal is to end the simulation by getting enough of the participants in the simulation to realize that they are in one. The main character of The Algebraist seems skeptical of this religion, though. The simulation hypothesis is also brought up in the Culture novel Matter, without a religion surrounding it. See Simulation hypothesis for the real-life example.
- Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination didn't explicitly say that all religion was outmoded in its society, but Christianity was illegal, and pictures of nuns praying was considered equivalent to pornography.
- A Case Of Conscience toys with this. It features a totally agnostic — if not atheistic — alien race that also live in a perfect world and society, facing a bombed-out, nuclear-fried, and heavily Catholic human race. The priest included in the first contact mission considered that society a danger to humanity precisely because it was a rationalistic atheistic utopia; unfortunately, he'd already befriended one of those people before he made the decision. The humans wind up blowing up the alien world thanks to what may have been an exorcism.
- Giants Star by James P. Hogan has a particularly fierce instance: the protagonists deduce the existence of an alien Ancient Conspiracy to suppress human progress as a reasonably parsimonious explanation for the continued existence of religion in modern times. The truth, as revealed in Entoverse, turns out to be that human religion, along with pretty much all mysticism and spirituality, is a result of Body Surfing Starfish Aliens from a Stable Time Loop-establishing planet-sized supercomputer humans built.
- Anne McCaffrey's Pern is a world without religion. The expressions "Jays" and "by all that's holy" are still in use, but only as swears.
- Caffrey's Talents series plays this mostly straight. Those few protagonists who espouse a belief in a higher power are, at most, vaguely Deist. Those who are openly devout are almost always portrayed as mentally unstable troublemakers. Organized religious populations are shunted to backwater worlds where "the harm they can do is minimized."
- The elves of the Inheritance Cycle have outgrown religion; however, Eragon is slightly distrustful of the elves' atheism.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, the rival powers in the Confederation are the staunchly atheist Edenists and the staunchly Christian Kulu Kingdom. The Edenists' philosophy and way of life lead to the closest thing to paradise as one can get, and they're also the only humans who can fully resist the possessed.
- Neal Stephenson's Anathem features a world in which a group of secular monks wall themselves away from society and study pure logic, science, philosophy and art. Although they are not officially atheistic, few members hold onto any religious beliefs. In the outside world, religions rise and fall unnoticed. While venturing in the outside world, monks can quickly reduce any religion they encounter into one of a number of basic categories so that they can avoid causing offense. Religious non-monks are mostly presented as morons, while the brightest are good enough that they aren't completely humiliated when they try to debate with a monk.
- The Humanx Commonwealth novels uses a variation; although humans and several other species seek guidance from the United Church, which has a Unitarian-style philosophy where people only look for ethical guidance and don't buy into the ritualistic aspects of religion that fall under this trope's "superstition" label.
- In the Uglies series, the people of the future sarcastically refer to gods as "invisible superheroes in the sky". There are some groups trying to bring religion back, but it isn't catching on.
- Roger Zelazny enjoyed making far-far-far-future societies where humans had become Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and taken on the roles and power of ancient gods. In Creatures of Light and Darkness, they had taken on the personae of Ancient Egyptian gods, including managing afterlives. But one of the most prominent characters was Madrak the Mighty, a warrior-priest "of the non-theistic, non-sectarian sort", whose personal religion was based on an agnostic's deity — another character referred to him as a "holy ambulance-chaser". When Set the Destroyer pointed out to him that Madrak had just aided in the destruction of the Nameless, an Eldritch Abomination from beyond the universe, which perfectly fit the definition of Madrak's agnostic God, the idea that his god existed — and that he profited by its death — made him suffer a crisis of faith.
- John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene never says anything one way or the other about religion, but it's somewhat odd that in a setting where characters are defined heavily by their philosophical beliefs, the only person who engages in any form of worship or mysticism is a bit character whose philosophy is never explained.
- The Doctor Who book Night of the Humans is essentially one long rant about how awful and evil every single religion is. The Doctor responds to a crash-landed alien race on a massive pile of space-junk that is threatening a nearby planet. This interesting premise is quickly and completely overshadowed by the book's message. The chosen "god" of the crashed humans turns out to be a creepy, creepy, clown called Gobo.
- In Divergent, it is implied that the Abnegation faction, which lives much like the Amish, is the only section of society that still believes in God. However, Insurgent shows that the Amity Faction practices some sort of naturalistic religion.
- Downplayed in the Star Carrier series. Due to Islamic terrorism having been largely responsible for World War III in the backstory, all faiths have to abide by a pledge called the White Covenant that makes many religious practices (chiefly proselytizing and conversion by threat or force) violations of basic human rights. It's mentioned in book four that being religious and having it listed in your military jacket can seriously hamper your career. Most nations have signed the White Covenant, except for the Islamic Theocracy, which has been barred from the Confederation because of this.
- In Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Nicholas Gilmore's Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, which takes place about 20,000 years in the future, humanity has settled thousands of worlds. Some of the worlds view religion in this manner, especially on the planet Tranai, which is ruled by "humane communism". Some other worlds are ruled by theocracies, such as the Holy Archonate on Murphy, which is recovering from a comet strike. The eponymous captain believes theocracy is part of an ever-changing cycle of "democratic" governments; only an enlightened monarchy can avoid it.
- Jean Delumeau narrates in his Sin and Fear: The Emergence of the Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries that this trope was one of the objectives of the Inquisition. There were several regulations against practices that were considered superstitious, like usage of amulets and anything magic-related, so much that, in trope terms, they were enforcing that Religion Is NOT Magic.
- In Theta, religions still exist, but "theist" is used in contexts that imply it's as uncommon then as atheism is now. Knowing that most sapient peoples in the galaxy were created by the perfectly mortal and probably extinct "Ancients" likely helped.
- In George R.R. Martin's short story "The Way of Cross and Dragon", a thousand years in the future humanity has spread to countless planets. However, at least a sixth of them are still Christian, the biggest church has brought back the Inquisition (although more as a PR mechanism than a torture campaign), and the protagonist Inquisitor discovers a group that has figured out that there's no God, but still sets up sham religions because most people can't handle the truth.
- The Sartan and Patryns from The Death Gate Cycle are races so powerful that most people consider them demigods, including themselves. Both will vigorously deny that any being or force more powerful than themselves could exist or have an impact on the world (the first book's appendix indicates that the Sartan are essentially Deist, believing a creator god exists but has no impact on the present world; the Patryns have no gods whatsoever, though they revere their leader Lord Xar as a sort of messiah) and consider active belief in such to be a "silly superstition" at best and heresy at worst. However, as the series progresses it becomes apparent that actual divine powers do exist, culminating in the appearance of the Serpents, a timeless race of semi-divine and deeply malevolent beings, as well as their benevolent counterparts. The last book essentially confirms that some sort of "higher power" is very real; exactly what the higher power is, though, is left ambiguous.
- An interesting subversion in the Yggdrasil trilogy, where the political thinkers behind the colonies made all religion contraband, so religious people had to stay on Earth. Fast forward several hundreds of years, and the colonists have several religions of their own (one deifying Helen Bjorg, who may or may not have been a Mad Scientist), while those who stayed behind remain Christians or Muslims (possibly others, but we don't see them). The Earth-colony trade is largely handled by the Christian Anhelos (Culture Chop Suey of sarmatian Poland and colonial Spain and/or Portugal who like coffee a lot). So no, despite what they thought, humanity has not outgrown silly superstitions.
- Codex Alera has an interesting example. The Alerans treat several of the practices of their Roman ancestors with scorn, to the point that some people think the Romans couldn't have done them to begin with because they are just so self-evidently ludicrous. These customs include worshipping gods, attempting to predict the future by studying animal entrails, shaping stone and metal without magic, and building complex machines. Of course, the setting also has a number of Genius Loci who are easily as powerful as the Olympian gods (and a lot more visible in everyday life), so it's not that surprising that religion fell out of fashion.
- Played with in The Dinosaur Lords. The recent trend in Nuevaropa is to be agnostic, with young nobility openly proclaiming that they highly doubt the existence of the Creators. On the other hand, their parents, who are still the ones with power, are often devout, and the prologue shows that there's some truth to their faith.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: A large faction of the Maesters have actually been trying to enforce this trope by attempting to discredit magic wherever they can. Unfortunately for them, magic is no mere superstition: dragons are coming back, prophecies are coming true, wargs and seers do exist, sorceresses can assassinate at long distances, and that fabled Zombie Apocalypse and The Fair Folk who kicked it off are in fact very real and aiming for a repeat performance. And all because of their efforts, the Maesters have just left the entire continent woefully unprepared for their invasion by making everybody believe that the undead snow fairies are just a myth. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
Live Action TV
- This appears to some extent in Star Trek. Star Trek: The Original Series was the most into it, with Gene Roddenberry being a proponent of the idea; after he died, it waned. However, religion still gets scant mention among the humans in the Trek Verse, and nine out of ten alien religions turn out to be actually worshipping Sufficiently Advanced Alien cabals anyway. There are some significant subversions of the trope as well.
- Star Trek: The Original Series aired in the 1960s, when viewer sensibilities (and NBC's Broadcast Standards department) tended to be more hostile to this trope. Sometimes they would lead to references to religion sneaking in, even though the crew was nominally atheist. Even so, viewers rarely had a problem with this; although Kirk would regularly run around the universe toppling gods, they were transparently false gods.
- In one episode, Kirk tells Apollo (or at least a being who claims to be Apollo) the following: "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate." Robert Justman confirmed that the line was mandated by NBC's Broadcast Standards. Kirk also reveals a more spiritual side at the end of the episode when he tells Bones, "They gave us so much...would it have hurt us to burn just a few laurel leaves?"
- Kirk's Enterprise has an interfaith chapel. It appears in the wedding ceremony (which Kirk, unlike a 20th Century naval captain, gets to officiate) in "Balance of Terror," and is mentioned on the list of sets in the Original Series's 1960's writer's guide. The wedding ceremony includes the phrase, "in accordance with our laws and many beliefs."
- One of the many Planet of Hats that Kirk et. al. visited was a rather Roman Empire-based one, where a former Starfleet captain acts as the First Citizen. They also met a small group of people that were a mix of La Résistance and worshipers of "the Sun". After the fact, Uhura ponders if they were talking not of the Sun in the sky, but the Son of God.
- The Klingons are stated to have once had gods, but their distant ancestors killed them all for being more trouble than they were worth. In spite of this, they still have an underworld ruled by "Fekh'lar." One episode of The Next Generation deals with Kahless, a divine, Christ-like ancestor figure in Klingon history. There is a shrine of Klingon priests who await the return of Kahless, and Worf has had spiritual visions of Kahless speaking to him in the past. Generally, their faith in Kahless is treated in a positive light.
- In "Day of the Dove", Kirk tells Kang, "Go to the Devil!" Kang replies, "We [Klingons] have no Devil... but we are very familiar with the habits of yours." Cue use of torture.
- The most Anviliciously atheistic Star Trek ever got was in the third season TNG episode "Who Watches the Watchers". A group of Federation scientists are using holographic technology to watch a primitive Vulcanoid culture that has apparently abandoned religion. The Federation equipment breaks down, revealing their existence and "magical powers" to the locals, one of whom declares they must be gods and tries to restart the Old Time Religions. Picard takes another local up and explains that the Federation are merely Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, not gods. The episode then goes into Author Filibuster mode, referring to humanity's religious era as "the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear." Afterwards, an away team goes down to the planet to explain how irrational it is to believe in gods, saying that they never show up or tell believers what they want, and that believers are left putting their faith in what other mortals tell them.
- In "Where Silence Has Lease", Data asks Picard about death. Picard gives a philosophical answer which hints that although he's not personally religious, he seems to have equal problems with a purely atheistic view.
- In "Déjà Q", Q has been turned into a human and sarcastically contemplates becoming a missionary. Data states that such a line of work would be admirable, implying that there are still humans who view religion positively.
- Deep Space Nine is a seven-year mix of affirmations and denials of this trope. The station's commander was declared an alien Jesus in the first episode, later found alien gods to confirm it, then started having visions and became a god himself. Overall the series takes a balanced view: while several episodes (mostly dealing with recurring character Winn Adami) decry the abuse of religion as a political tool or an excuse to discriminate against others, the show as a whole doesn't condemn the practice of religion itself.
- In "Dagger of the Mind", and in Star Trek: Generations, it is shown that they still celebrate Christmas and actually call it that, instead of the current contemporary habit of "Holiday Season". They don't, however, celebrate it with our modern commercial strain.
- Star Trek: The Original Series aired in the 1960s, when viewer sensibilities (and NBC's Broadcast Standards department) tended to be more hostile to this trope. Sometimes they would lead to references to religion sneaking in, even though the crew was nominally atheist. Even so, viewers rarely had a problem with this; although Kirk would regularly run around the universe toppling gods, they were transparently false gods.
- Some could see Stargate SG-1 as one big Take That against organized religion. The eponymous team spends at least half of the plot convincing primitive groups that their gods are fake and should forget about them, even the ones with the characteristics of actual gods: they are, after all, merely sufficiently advanced aliens posing as gods, either snaky parasites out to exploit humans or well-meaning Little Gray Guys trying to help.
- With the Ori, things are more blurry: they actually qualify as gods according to one Real Life religion and would do so in most fantasy series, but writer intent evidently considers them false gods as well. After a few episodes of dealing with ridiculously headstrong groups, the team basically settles on "Just because they're powerful enough to claim godhood, doesn't mean you should actually worship them!"
- Many other episodes reference religion directly in subtle or not so subtle ways, like "The Sentinel", where the Latonans refuse to evacuate in the face of an alien invasion, constantly referencing their "highest law".
- Things were handled a little differently in "Red Sky". A planet is doomed and the people refuse to leave as they think their death is the will of the gods (specifically the Asgard, although they don't know who they are specifically). While Jack is more than willing to destabilize their belief system, Daniel tells him that while the possible existence of their gods is not important, the belief is. At the end of the episode, the resolution is deliberately left unclear. It may be that the Asgard fixed the problem, but Daniel wonders if it's possible that a higher power did intervene.
- "Icon" featured an incident similar to the aforementioned TNG "Who Watches the Watchers". The arrival of SG-1 on the planet Tegalus causes a Goa'uld-worshiping extremist faction to gain in popularity, eventually starting a civil war that aggravates a cold war. Difference is, the SGC views it as a purely military/political problem that's keeping them from rescuing Daniel, who was trapped on Tegalus by the war.
- Slightly different from the norm, the episode "Demons" features a planet of Christian-ish people where the Goa'uld in question is pretending to be Satan rather than God, with Unas as his demons, but despite Teal'c mentioning that he does not believe any Goa'uld is capable of the "kindness expressed in your Bible", the plot goes largely as standard. The villagers are firmly in The Dung Ages and still practice trepanning, the priest is a pompous jackass who exploits their fear to keep his power, and they refuse to accept SG-1's help, imprisoning them and putting Teal'c through deadly "witch trials" (though they went for the more historically accurate Drown The Witch instead of Burn the Witch!). A villager in the end even stands up to the Unas with only his faith to protect him, declaring that "My God is with me, always." In the end, the one villager who believed SG-1 killed the Unas, and they no longer believe it's a demon.
- Stargate Atlantis has plenty of Take That moments against religion:
- In "Poisoning the Well", the scientific search for a Wraith immunity drug has become a religion, with libraries of knowledge as a church analogue and a famous scientist's lab notes are a sort of holy text. The real clincher is the population's eagerness to take the unsafe product, even when they know exactly how unsafe it is.
- In "Sanctuary", they find an incredibly primitive world untouched by the Wraith, whose inhabitants lead idyllic lives, all of which they attribute to their goddess, Athar. Said goddess, it turns out, is actually an ascended being that takes mortal form to serve as Athar's high priestess.
- Stargate Universe features a religious character whose faith was a plot point and treated positively. Many fans on the official forum cried They Changed It, Now It Sucks.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Obsolete Man" was set in a future society where religion had been outlawed. Only one man still believed in God, and he was sentenced to death for being obsolete. He was allowed to choose how he died; he chose to be bombed on live television. The high official who sentenced him to death came to his cell to speak with him, only for the door to lock behind him. He panicked and shouted, "In the name of God, let me out!" The condemned man did — in the name of God. In the final scene, the official is sentenced to death for being obsolete.
- Doctor Who has a big case of Depending on the Writer in regards to this trope. The setting as a whole is inconsistent; sometimes religion is prominent even in "advanced" societies, other times it's absent, obsolete, or discredited. The Doctor himself, one of the oldest, most intelligent, and best-traveled beings in the universe, has never been portrayed as religious himself; he's just as inconsistent, sometimes being respectful of religions and their leaders and other times dismissing them. Many plots from the original series involved the Doctor saving people from worshipping a dangerous "god" who turns out to be advanced technology, a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, or an Eldritch Abomination.
- The Doctor shows particular respect to Buddhism in "The Abominable Snowman"; he bows to the wisdom of a Buddhist priest, returns to them a sacred item, and uses Buddhist prayer to help Victoria resist the Great Intelligence. The Expanded Universe book Eye of Heaven has the Fourth Doctor recount the unshown adventure leading up to "The Abominable Snowman", claiming that his life had been saved by Buddhist faith healing performed on him by the priest, and using "Buddhist wisdom" to put himself into a "healing coma" that allowed him to recover from being shot through the heart.
- In "Planet of the Spiders", the eponymous villains worship the Great One as a sort of God Empress and use their religion to exploit and brutalize the enslaved humans on their planet. By contrast, the Third Doctor engages in Buddhist philosophy again, and a fellow Time Lord is a Buddhist priest.
- The Fourth Doctor period is the most visible user of the trope; he frequently mocked mysticism and magic of all sorts, and his tenure featured the highest proportion of "the Doctor fights religion" plots. His companion Leela was even designed to contrast her savagery and superstition against the Doctor's pacifism and scientific knowledge, with their first scene in "The Robots of Death" having the Doctor explicitly tell Leela that magic doesn't exist.
- Implied in "The Ark in Space", where Vira, a far future human with quite an alien mindset, immediately explains to the Doctor and his companions that the Ark leader's nickname Noah was taken from "mythology", as if expecting them not to know.
- This was enforced in first four seasons of the reboot series, which had little to no mention of magic or religion. Showrunner Russell T Davies was a staunch atheist, found it utterly implausible for the Doctor or any of his advanced alien cohorts to be religious, and declared, That's what I believe, so that's what you're going to get. Tough, really. To get rid of those so-called agendas, you've got to get rid of me."
- Davies was followed by Steven Moffat, who threw both sides of religion back into the mix. The Big Bads of series 5 and 6 were an intergalactic religious order who manipulate people through post-hypnotic commands, and religion and the military became practically the same thing in the future. Series 7 reveals that the previous Big Bads, though, were a splinter faction from what's essentially Space Catholicism; the Doctor gets along quite well with the "chief Priestess of the Galactic Papal Mainframe".
- The Tenth Doctor more or less says in "The Satan Pit" that he doesn't believe in God or any sort of higher power, or at least he's never run across anything to convince him that such a power exists. Given that he's run into various super-powerful "god"-like beings, such as Sutekh, Fenric, and the White and Black Guardians, that's quite a statement.
- The Twelfth Doctor is actually open to the idea of an afterlife (and mentions he always meant to take a look), but he finds the version presented in "Dark Water" to be absolutely ludicrous. He's right; it's a ploy by Missy to freak out the world's rich and powerful for the purposes of creating an army of the dead. She did end up creating a virtual afterlife in the process, though.
- Farscape takes an interesting perspective on religion for a sci-fi show. Although it doesn't discuss religion extraordinarily often, several crew members practice various alien religions, and some of them are quite devout. The show also demonstrates that gods and magic really do exist in their universe, some more than others. The Peacekeepers, on the other hand, play this trope straight, with an entire episode, "Prayer", devoted to Aeryn recounting the ancient legend of a Sebacean goddess (implying that they no longer believe in gods in the present day) and praying to her for rescue; for added desperation points, Aeryn notes that the reason this particular goddess doesn't have any followers anymore is because she killed them all on a whim.
- A sketch on The Kids in the Hall featured a futuristic society that celebrated Bellini Day, in which the characters referred to a time period where mankind was so stupid they actually believed in someone named God.
- Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, an atheist himself, deliberately avoided this trope in the series (in contrast with Star Trek), with all the major species having beliefs of various kinds and strengths, and a mix of believers and non-believers. The straightest example is probably Lorien, who says his people have lived so long they simply had no more use for such things. In "The Lost Tales", mention is made of how religion has been declining since humanity went to space and made contact with other races, but it still has a considerable presence in Earth-influenced space and among the alien races. The Catholic Church is alive and well, with monks visiting the station to learn about alien religions. In a Bad Future they also preserve humans' knowledge after nuclear war wipes out civilization, much like monasteries did during the Dark Ages. Humanity's main distinction is just how many extant religions there are; in an event where all the ambassadors were displaying their cultures' dominant faiths, the Human exhibition was just a long line of people who all had different beliefs.
- In Cthulhu Tech, Christianity and Islam are gone; it's not really expounded upon, they're just gone. Presumably, the very real and somewhat provable existence of the old ones made everyone less interested in religions that have a very specific world view that excludes them.
- Warhammer 40,000 mostly averts this, with Church Militants and Religions Of Evil popping up everywhere, but it still has a few examples:
- The Tau seem to exhibit divine worship of their Ethereals, but that is more obeisance to their leaders than religion; they otherwise have no belief in anything "magical" or "supernatural", including the very real daemons and other things that inhabit the warp. They are by far the most socially and technologically progressive faction in the setting, which admittedly isn't saying much.
- The Eldar believe in the existence of their gods and invoke the power of one (Khaine) on a semi-regular basis, but they don't worship them; they mostly just use them for Oh My Gods!. This is because all but three of their gods were eaten by a Chaos god, and there is no real point to much of their religion anymore (except for Cegorach the Laughing God, but only the Harlequins worship him).
- The Immortal God Emperor of Mankind tried to invoke this, creating a society of Flat Earth Atheists because he thought it would starve the Chaos gods (which was not only unlikely to work, as the Chaos Gods don't need worship, but backfird because while people were channeling their emotions to those religions, they were denying them to the Chaos Gods). Being 40K, it failed miserably and made everything worse. Ironically, he himself ended up being worshiped by the humans of the Imperium.
- In Eclipse Phase, many religions didn't survive the Fall and the exodus via Brain Uploading from earth, but new faiths arose to fill in the gaps. The most common is Neo-Buddhism, Buddhism combined with Transhumanism, where uploading is seen as a form of reincarnation and the emphasis is on lessening suffering rather than escaping it. Oddly, Islam was able to adapt to uploading, but the other Abrahamic faiths largely couldn't. The Catholic church is also still influential in the Jovian Junta, with its large population that managed to escape Earth in their original bodies.
- Zig-zagged in New World of Darkness, where becoming one of the supernatural races may or may not result in a weakening of old religious beliefs.
- Baten Kaitos Origins twists this trope. It starts off with a fairly simple Science Is Bad message, but then it turns out that in the distant past people became practically addicted to the supernatural, and so a bunch of siblings in the past decided to try and stop them from being turned into pure magical essence by making a Deal with the Devil to gain even more supernatural powers, but then they all get sealed into the End Magnus from the first game. Then it turns out that the process that gave Sagi the supernatural power of one of the siblings was a scientific one, but he then uses that power to save the world. While getting a boost from the spirits of the dead siblings, no less. In short, rejecting the supernatural and focusing on science — or vice versa — is a Very Bad Thing, and the best way to live is with both in tandem with each other.
- Deus Ex: Invisible War is a subversion. According to its backstory, the aftermath of Deus Ex led to The Collapse, in which most people had their faith shaken to the point this trope almost did abandon religion. Then The Order popped up, uniting all of the old faiths into one syncretic philosophy. Later, however, it's revealed that The Order is just a front for The Illuminati, and it's part of their method of controlling polar opposites of society.
- In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Samus visits the planet Bryyo, which is covered in the ruins of a golden age, the history of which wavers between And Man Grew Proud and this trope. The Reptilicus people there originally had magical powers, then some of them learned how to use technology, and they decided that this was cooler than "primitive" magic. The Chozo warned the Reptilicus not to abandon their religious traditions, instead suggesting that they should embrace them along with their technological progress, as the Chozo themselves had done. Instead, the Lords of Science honked off the magic-using mystics, and there was a big magic-vs-technology war that tore the planet apart. Literally. The Lords of Science won (at first) because by salvaging the planet (more or less), they could prove that their side was better, but this led to the mystics finding their secret location and wiping them out. Without the Lords of Science, the remaining Reptilicus devolved into magical barbarism.
- Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri:
- The Lord's Believers faction averts this trope very, very strongly.
- The University of Planet faction is the ideological antithesis of the Lord's Believers game mechanic-wise, but the faction leader Prokhor Zakharov is especially into this trope, as a number of quotes from him for technological advances reveal. According to the prequel short stories, he and Miriam Godwinson (the Lord's Believers faction leader) do not get along well, even back on the UNS Unity.
- The Human Hive faction explicitly seeks to invoke this trope. It's faction leader Shen-ji Yang's social experiment, among other things, as he seeks to eradicate belief in higher powers and replace it with an atheistic police state. This is his explicit agenda in-game.
- The Peacekeepers and Data Angels see religion as a relic of the brutal old days of Earth, and they encourage people to put it aside in the name of freedom and social progress.
- Aside from the Lord's Believers, Gaia's Stepdaughters are noted to be a religious society focused on coexisting with nature, the Cult of Planet is obvious, and both of the Progenitor factions smack of taking their dogma to the point of religion.
- Largely averted in Alpha Centauri's Spiritual Successor, Civilization: Beyond Earth:
- The Indian-flavoured Kavithan Protectorate was formed when Raj Thakur managed to keep the various ethnic and religious minorities of the Subcontinent together through the Great Mistake, and his daughter Kavitha has kept them together for 200 years after, or so they claim.
- Russian Orthodox priests are seen blessing the Slavic Federation colony ship in the intro movie. Also, apparently, there's a New Vatican, and Nikola Tesla has been sainted.
- Islam is also apparently alive and well, if the new Al Falah faction in Rising Tide is any indication. Probably reinforced by their faction arriving on a Generation Ship.
- Discovery quotes show that many religions, mythologies and folk tales got updated for a colony on an alien world. The Uncle Nevercloned myths are colonial Oral Traditions in a similar manner to the American stories of Paul Bunyan and John Henry.
- Many of the Affinities adopt a religious flavour. Supremacy colonies develop a religious reverence for machines and cybernetics, with a strong Catholic flavour. Harmony colonies develop a sort of alien-centred animism in a similar fashion to Shintoism or traditional African and Native American beliefs. One Purity-focused wonder has your culture creating a New Terran Myth.
- Pandora First Contact, the other Spiritual Successor to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri:
- The Divine Ascension is a social media-based religion, founded by Lady Lilith Vermillion (formerly a hooker named Lily Maroon) as a scam to collect blackmail material on her followers. She is eventually shot in the head but survives, although it's implied there's been some brain damage, resulting in her buying into her own religion. Naturally, by the time the Noxium Corporation starts openly selling Alcubierre Drive-powered colony ships, Divine Ascension is one of the few powers who can afford one.
- To a lesser extent, Terra Salvum, a faction arising from an Animal Wrongs Group. Unlike all other factions, they steal ship plans and build their own, foregoing cryogenics in favor of a Generation Ship. By the time they arrive to Pandora, the kids who have grown up aboard have been firmly indoctrinated into the belief that the other factions mean the planet harm. They also rely on Oral Tradition to tell their stories.
- Star Ocean has Ronixis, who claims that humanity has moved beyond religion. However, finding himself in the backwards world of Roak, and confronted with the existence of magic, which he'd hitherto never believed existed, he finds himself re-examining his views. The sequels make clear that magic is nothing more than advanced science, however. The third game even simultaneously proves that God exists and provides a scientific explanation for the big jerk.
- In StarCraft, background material mentions that upon taking control of Earth, the United Powers League (later the United Earth Directorate) promoted state atheism, banning or co-opting all religions and exiling or killing those who didn't adhere (alongside political prisoners, cyber-deviants and other undesirables) in an effort to stamp out the things that have divided the human society. As a result, the territories of the UPL/UED are non-religious, while the Koprulu Sector is teeming with religious groups, ranging from mainstream Christianity to Crystal Dragon Jesus and to even stranger Cults and movements.
- In BioShock, Andrew Ryan considers religion an obsolete and harmful superstition "people of tomorrow" should have no need for. He strives to eradicate religion in his Objectivist utopia and declares that smuggling religious texts to Rapture is a crime punishable by death. The experiment goes terribly awry.
- The X-Universe's religious leanings are described in the X-Encyclopedia. About half the Argon consider themselves "spiritual" but don't believe in any particular deity, while most of the rest are atheists. But since they believe in tolerance, the Argon place no stigma on being religious. The Boron have no organized religion and no omnipotent or creator deities, but some believe that after death they will live on in the presence cloud of the Ancients. Averted with the theocratic Paranids, whose religion permeates every aspect of their lives. The Split are the straightest example, viewing their old religions as primitive superstition. No word on the Teladi or Terrans.
- In backstory of Homeworld, the Kharakians near-entirely abandoned religion after generations of religious wars devastated their already small population, part of a unification of the planet's disparate tribes that placed reason and scientific understanding above all else. Religions still existed to some extent, but their few serious adherents were considered delusional at best and dangerous fanatics at worst. That is, until Kharak was bombed into oblivion; afterwards the survivors experienced a slight resurgence of religious belief, such as the members of Kiith Somtaaw in Cataclysm.
- The prequel Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak reveals why they have this reputation; the descendants of one of the two main religious factions secretly built their forces for centuries and made a nearly successful attempt to conquer the world and destroy what little temperate land still existed on the planet. Then the descendants of the other side snapped during the war and tried to form a third faction.
- Mass Effect has Loads and Loads of Races, which naturally all have different opinions on the subject:
Shepard: Everyone has the right to believe what they want. Says so on the Alliance charter... only in fancier words.
- Humans as a whole still follow lots of religions, but space-faring humans to a lesser degree. Ashley implies that she's seen as eccentric for having a religious belief.
- The hanar worship the very real (though long-extinct) Protheans.
- The Drell are deeply religious. Thane Krios mentions several Drell gods, including Amonkira, Lord of Hunters, and Arashu, Goddess of Motherhood and Protection. If his son is saved in the second game, he undergoes a Heel–Faith Turn in the third game to become a priest.
- The most popular asari religion is revealed to be entirely based upon contact with Protheans by their primitive ancestors, heavily implying that ancient religions may be the direct result of alien contact, misconstrued or misremembered by the populations they affected.
- The turians believe in a form of pantheistic animism, but they're open to experimentation; some turians have been shown adopting Earth religions that mesh well with their worldview, including Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.
- The quarians are generally atheist, but they hold their ancestors in a reverence which sometimes enters into ancestor worship (or was implied to have happened in the past).
- Like the quarians, the krogan also have a form of ancestor worship. They also belief in a place they call the void where the souls of dead krogan go.
- The salarian religion is said to be similar to Hinduism. It has a "wheel of life" perspective, where the dead are reincarnated to fix the flaws of their previous lives and become better people.
- Javik implies that the Protheans themselves practiced this trope, though he also mentions that this view was reconsidered after encountering the Reapers. It must be noted that he's an Unreliable Narrator; he grew up in the Prothean Empire after the Reapers had invaded, and he's also, well, Javik.
- Shepard him/herself can either confirm or deny any religious leanings, or simply note:
- Inverted in the FreeSpace game mod Blue Planet. A major part of the story is that mysticism and spirituality are creeping back into society, and there exists at least one Sufficiently Advanced Alien race that is heavily spiritual (or at least, expresses themselves in a spiritual manner). The title of the campaign's first release, "Age of Aquarius", references this: it refers to an age in which, realizing that neither religion alone or science alone has all the answers, people turn to a fusion of the two to reach true understanding.
- Used but mostly averted in Startopia. An entire race, the Zedem monks, have converted to the same religion, and only two of the game's nine races don't pop into a temple occasionally. The only exceptions are the hedonistic sirens and the scientific Turakken.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, this is what Walhart wants the world to be like; he advocates the idea of a militaristic and atheistic new world order under his rule to bring an end to war and strife. During their Support conversations, the Player Character admits that while Walhart might be onto something, his world would be no better than a tyranny populated by forcibly-indoctrinated servants who've all been bulled into submission. In response, Walhart agrees — reasoning that, because he lost to the Avatar, he must clearly be in the right. The Hero Chrom also acknowledges Walhart's vision but rejects it on similar grounds, resolving to unite all peoples of all faiths (or lack thereof) by touching their hearts rather than forcing them to bend the knee.
- This is how Actraiser ends. By defeating the local God of Evil, the Master has ensured that humanity can stand on its own without his help. The last scene depicts a statue of the Master crumbling to dust.
- Played with in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt:
- The Nilfgaardian Empire believes gods aren't real. They use this as a license to rape, pillage, and loot temples. Given the supernatural weirdness that goes on in The Witcher world, it probably makes them Hollywood Atheists. They're also hypocrites, because they have their own religion based around God Emperor worship; suggesting that the Northern pantheon is primitive and backwards is more Cultural Posturing.
- One sidequest has you running around the swamps of Velen, fixing wayshrines to an ancient crone goddess which have been toppled over. The culprits? A bunch of students from the local university, led by a rather unhinged philosopher who decries religion as a tool of fear and control, even giving Karl Marx's infamous "opium for the masses" line as he explains his actions. Given the witch-hunting craze currently sweeping Novigrad with the help of the Church of the Eternal Fire, he may be right.
- In Stellaris it generally depends on an empire's chosen ethos on the Materialist-Spiritualist axis.
- Inverted by Caligula of The Law of Purple; instead of an advanced culture that once had religion but derides it as worthless now, there was almost never any organized religion to speak of and parts of the population are only now discovering it. However, most Caligulians view religious groups as nothing more than cults and consider them highly abnormal.
- In an editor's note for Schlock Mercenary (which averts the trope) in his first appearance, comic author Howard Tayler stated that it's not religion that's "foolishly optimistic" — it's this trope.
- In Quantum Vibe, all the characters we see swear by famous scientists and blaspheme by bureaucracy; at first, religion seems not even to have survived as an eccentricity or a memory. It turns out there's a reason for that, and also that the Jews, Christians, and Muslims at least the ones who have survived banded together to form a new order known as The Children of Armageddon.
- Inverted in Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger. Christian churches make the occasional background appearances, and then in the "Probability Bomb" arc, it's revealed (with the author's characteristic subtlety) that atheism is the silly superstition that's been all but universally outgrown.
- Subverted in Babe Ruth: Man-Tank Gladiator. The priest writing the story mentions regards old religions (from what we'd call The Present Day) as outdated superstitions, but he believes his religion is absolute truth.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, the Magicracy of Alent believes only in the power of man, having forsaken the gods who they see as cruel, enslaving beings.
Berandas: Don't you understand? We are the gods' unwanted children. We are the castoffs, the forgotten. And instead of following some doomsday cult, believing ourselves lost and hopeless like the Grey Cult, or clinging to some decayed bloodline like the Crimson Coalition, we will stand and fight for humanity! The gods don't like our choice of allies, our rising technology? They can burn for all I care, they have never helped us.
- Parodied rather savagely in the South Park episodes "Go, God, Go" and "Go, God, Go Part XII". Cartman awakens in a Hollywood Atheist future where atheism has replaced religion. Religious factionalism and conflict have been replaced with various equally fanatical atheist factionalism and conflict. People shout things like "Hail science!", "science dammit", and "Science H. Logic!" instead of their religious equivalents. Ultimately, the episode is about how atheists are just as susceptible to stupidity as the followers of any religion.
- Shows by Seth MacFarlane have used this trope as a Take That toward religion note . In an episode of Family Guy, a lack of Christianity allows the U.S. to progress technologically by a thousand years, though the arts had stagnated for a similar amount of time. Similarly, one episode of American Dad! is set in 2045, with the present referred to as "when people still believed in The Bible."
- In Justice League, Hawkgirl comes from an advanced alien civilization which gave up religion eons ago (because their god was an Eldritch Abomination who demanded their souls in sacrifice), but after a certain episode she comes to believe that there is… something good… out there.
- It was first attempted in revolutionary France.
- Since the Catholic Church was widely corrupt before the Revolution and the largest landowner in France, a clash between them and Revolutionary forces was inevitable, beginning with the Civic Constitution of Clergynote and persisting with Dechristianization, which sought to replace and convert Catholic iconography with non-religious ideas which ultimately resulted in vandalism of churches, monasteries and graveyards. Cemeteries were defaced with "Death is an Eternal Sleep", priests and nuns were targeted and censured and often guillotined, and popular Republican movements such as the Cult of Reason revived pagan goddesses and replaced busts of Jesus with busts of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, while the statue of Roman Goddess Liberty was installed in the Notre Dame. Maximilien Robespierre opposed Dechristianization but since the Catholic Church was involved in the counter-revolution, he compromised by replacing the Cult of Reason with the Cult of the Supreme Being hoping to win over religious sentiments by transmuting it to Deist Republicanism. His Festival of the Supreme Being was a huge popular success but a political suicide and with his downfall, it ended and several years later, Napoleon Bonaparte brought back the Church via his concordat.
- Karl Marx himself disagreed with this trope. He castigated atheist activists of Germany, such as Young Hegelians for focusing exclusively on religion as the main problem of contemporary society and the key stumbling block of progress. Marx regarded income inequality as the key reason why religion had appeal, and he noted that it continued in many capitalist and developed nations such as the United States. The pagequote above neglects the sentence which follows: The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. i.e. as poverty and income inequality reduces, religious belief will likewise decline and religion is just one part of the general ideology of state capitalism. A fine print that communist nations neglected.
- Of course communist nations tried to invoke this in a very repressive manner. In practice, Communist nations often found themselves having to appeal to some form of traditional symbolism and usually compromised by creating a Cult of Personality revolved around leaders elevated to Saints and Prophets.
- The Soviet Union tried multiple times to invoke this trope through anti-religious campaigns which included propaganda, secular education, and mass executions. By 1982 only 20% of Russians actively practiced religion, with a third declaring themselves atheist or non-religious. A few decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, a 2012 survey found that only 13% of Russians identify as atheists or non-religious. A well-known example of how they did this was when they falsely quoted Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space (and devout Russian Orthodox Christian), as saying, "The Earth was blue, but there was no God."
- Vladimir Lenin for his part promoted atheism in education and private but he struck a balance by mostly targeting the Orthodox Church which was seen, not without cause, as oppressive to minority religions in the Russian Empire and highly reactionary. Lenin put laws helping or respecting Jews, Muslims and Old Believers while he proscribed the Orthodox Church. This reversed under Stalin who initially targeted all religions, including minority beliefs, and during World War II he halted the persecution of the Orthodox Church and allowed it to revive in a big way after the war, until Khruschev mounted a fresh anti-religious campaign.
- The current status of this trope varies around the world. In many Western countries, the religiosity of younger generations is declining (the reasons why are multi-layered and contentious; irreligion of some kind is now the second largest "religious" affiliation in the United States. But that's not happening in poorer countries; given population growth in these countries, the Pew Research Center predicts that atheism will actually decline worldwide by the year 2050.