once said that most Science Fiction
is written by atheists. There are a number of notable exceptions
, and it might not be literally true, but Sci-Fi
probably has more atheist authors than other genres do. A lot of these writers insert this personal outlook
into the story. Sometimes they just portray atheists as good and rationally thinking people. Sometimes they go further.
For instance, say we have a Crystal Dragon Jesus
cult which has something material as the object of worship. Let it be the Church of the Moon Goddess. Then we invent spaceships, fly to the moon and see that it's just a piece of lifeless rock and the goddess is absent. Or we have a Goddess of Harvest living in the mountain and then find out that it's just a semi-sentient weather control machine
That's the trope: Setting up a proof that atheism is right. May lead to Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions
, No Such Thing as Space Jesus
, etc. Religious characters will
react to it either negatively ("My entire faith is a liiie!
" perhaps, or "I Reject Your Reality
and substitute my own,") or unnaturally positively ("Oh, God's not real?
Welp, that's thirty years of time wasted. Do atheists have cookouts?"), leading us to Belief Makes You Stupid
and even, confusingly, some instances of Hollywood Atheist
Notice that most examples come up with some kind of masquerade around a fictional religion, rather than talking about a real-world religion. That's because of the complicated, baroque cease fire negotiated between atheists and religious scholars called Non-overlapping magisteria.
Briefly, this means that modern religions are non-falsifiable:
They can't be proven wrong, but, in turn, they can't make
any claims that can be proven wrong.
Compare Scam Religion
, Unwanted False Faith
, and The Presents Were Never from Santa
. Contrast Religion Is Right
. For a musical version, this trope is also a goldmine of Religion Rant Song
material. For an emotional, rather than scientifical, denounce, see Evil Stole My Faith
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Anime And Manga
- This seems to be the case in the Death Note universe. At the beginning of the series, the shinigami Ryuk tells Light Yagami that anyone who uses the titular notebook can "neither go to heaven or hell", but at the very end, just as he's about to die from Ryuk writing his name in his own notebook after having been finally defeated we see a flashback were Light deduces that this simply means that there is no afterlife at all. Also, Word of God has apparently stated at least once that there are no gods in the manga's universe, aside from the shinigami. This is at least the case in the manga; the anime series is much more ambiguous on the question of God and the afterlife.
- In His Dark Materials, God exists (and is killed), but Magisterium is wrong and corrupt, they must die, their churches must be destroyed and characters will team up with anything, be it good or evil, to fulfill it. Priests are depicted as being nothing but Card Carrying Villains. Word of God was that The Dust is god, the Magisterium's god just stole credit for it in an attempt to grab power.
- H.P. Lovecraft was an atheist, and this made its way into his stories. He imagined a universe where humanity and religion are essentially just annoyances to gigantic monsters from outer space who we foolishly perceive as gods. Interestingly, he mixes it with a heavy dose of Science Is Bad and/or Science Is Wrong at the same time, so it's more like Any Human Attempt To Understand The Universe Is Wrong. And liable to get you eaten.
- Bob Shaw's The Ragged Astronauts features twin planets and the cult claiming that all people reincarnate cycle between these two planets eternally. Then the characters make an expedition to the second planet. You can guess whether they find people there or not. Then the cult is reborn in The Wooden Spaceships, but with a distant planet of the same solar system. What happens then? You got the idea.
- This literally happens in Clive Barker's play The History of the Devil.
- In The Light Of Other Days, the technology is invented to open windows to any point in space and time and watch events as they happened. Amongst other things, Moses never existed, being a composite of various historical figures, and Jesus did exist but never performed any miracles. Although the darkening of the sun at his crucifixion was explained as being the result of too many people opening windows to see what happened.
- In the Space Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke, the idea of God apparently comes from the Monolith, specifically the version that uplifted hominids into humanity. In 3001, humanity has finally discovered this Monolith (dubbed TMA-0), and traditional religion comes to an end. Curiously, though, many people are still either Deists (believing in not less than one god) or Theists (believing in not more than one).
- Philip K. Dick loved to explore this topic, too. Religion is either mocked, played with or downright condemned in many of his novels.
- In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? this is partially subverted. When an expose says that the central miracle of "Mercerism" was staged, the "chickenhead" character suggests that this will not make any real difference. Not to mention the other "appearances" of Mercer to characters, leaving it uncertain just how much of a "fake" he is.
- James Branch Cabell also played with this, asking whether it makes any difference whether the events in religious stories "really" happened. He also repeatedly opines that "a freethinker is bound to eventually question the central article of his own creed: that because something has satisfied generations of men, it must be untrue"; and raises the question of whether Christian theology is actually more implausible than other things we never question.
- The Doctor Who book Night of the Humans plays out this trope in a truly bizarre fashion. 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 overshadowed by an incredibly unsubtle Straw Man Political message that turns the entire book into one long and extremely dubious Aesop about how all religion is completely eeeeeevil. The chosen 'god' of the crashed humans turns out to be a creepy, creepy, clown called Gobo used as a (very) heavy-handed metaphor for all religion.
- A specific example includes the fact that all followers of Gobo are forbidden from learning to read and write with the exception of one person who is only taught to write by his predecessor. Basically, knowledge is bad, Gobo is good.
- The character Beneditx in KnowledgeofAngels THINKS that 'Religion Is Wrong' is proved, but only because someone had offered counterarguments to Aquinas's 5 Arguments, which he thought proved the Religion Is Right. To him, this trope is invoked.
- The main character of Julian feels that Christians are stupid quibblers, ignoring the fact that his Hellenistic religion is Not So Different.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- An episode concerned a planet that was filled with corpses. The crew found one person who was not quite dead and revived him. It turned out that on his planet, people who are about to die are sent through a portal to the afterlife, and he was understandably distraught to find that it was actually sending them to another planet where they stayed dead. However, the episode had an ambiguous ending, where it's hinted that their afterlife does exist in the planet's rings, and the planet filled with corpses is probably just some kind of temporary holding space.
- Voyager also had an episode about Neelix questioning his faith after dying and being resuscitated, which showed him that there is nothing after death, instead of the Talaxian afterlife he expected. This, and the visions he saw of his sister telling him that what he believed was all a lie, prompts him into committing suicide until Chakotay, the Native American believer in spirits in the afterlife, persuades Neelix that he still has things to live for despite what he saw when he was dead, and that he needs to have a stronger faith.
- Inverted in the episode where B'Elanna Torres encounters the Klingon afterlife. From an outsider's perspective it is only a near-death experience, but from B'Elanna's point of view and the nature of events imply she really went to Gre'thor, the Klingon hell .
- Many times in Star Trek: The Original Series:
- In "Return of the Archons," the people of Beta III are all zombies under the control of the omnipotent Landru. Landru is a telepathic artificial intelligence that Kirk talks to death.
- In "For The World is Hollow and I have Touched The Sky," the people of the spaceship Yonada have forgotten they're in a spaceship and are ruled by an unforgiving Oracle that can deal out instant, painful death should anyone disobey. The Oracle is also a computer, this time defeated when its head Priestess turns against it after McCoy convinces her she's wrong through The Power of Love and common sense.
- In "The Apple," Kirk once again destroys a civilization's computer god.
- The most egregious example in the whole of Trek has to be the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Who Watches the Watchers". In it, the Enterprise crew accidentally injure a member of a primitive society and take him back to the ship for treatment. When he recovers consciousness and sees Picard, he decides the captain is God and manages to convince the rest of his people to worship him. Cue Picard and co sitting in the observation lounge going "Religion is bad. Don't follow a religion. 'Cos religion is bad." Gene Roddenberry expected the episode to be controversial but it had so little relevance to real world religion that no one cared.
- Red Dwarf:
- A news report reveals that archaeologists have discovered the long lost first page of The Bible - "For my darling Candy. The characters and events depicted in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." Apparently the page "has been universally condemned by church leaders."
- Not only did the Cat people worship Lister (or "Lord Cloister"), they turned his dream of moving to Fuji and opening a donut and sausage stand into an afterlife, fought a holy war over what color the employee hats would be (both sides got it wrong), and interpreted his laundry list as directions to "Fuchsia".
- Cat is so self-centered that if he even considers the idea of God worth bothering with, he's convinced that he is God. Lister both dislikes the idea that he was deified, is perfectly aware of the fact he is not even remotely divine, and has personal habits that would make any faithful religious person disown the very thought he could actually be their god.
- Subverted in Stargate SG-1. Our heroes constantly prove to societies that they are serving false gods and that their religious artifacts are actually advanced technology, but various members of the SGC retain a belief in God that no one ever tries to dispute.
- In fact, Daniel Jackson half accepts that The Ori are God-esque, but he measures them as unworthy. Believing that any 'God' that would request genocide SHOULD NOT be worshipped. This actually seems to reflect the way he judged himself and The Others when he was ascended. As far as he is concerned The Ori are, higher plane or not, evil. Therefore the moral concept put forth seems to be, whether they are real or not doesn't matter, don't let 'Gods' force you away from healthy human morals.
- Doctor Who has often gone here. One notable example is "The Face of Evil", where the Doctor knows first hand that the religion the people of the planet he's visiting is wrong because he's the one who's inadvertantly responsible for it; a spaceship AI he thought he'd fixed has gone a bit mad and set itself up as a God and presented the Doctor as 'the Evil One' in response.
- Zigzagged other times in both the tv series and expanded universe. The Eternals completely immortal,, warp reality, travel through space and time at will, and have masqueraded as gods on different worlds. A few are said to represent cosmic principles such as Time or Pain. The Olympian gods have been portrayed as real and godlike in the Expanded Universe. The episode "The Satan Pit" featured a creature who claimed to have existed before the universe and been the inspiration for many of the demonic figures in religions across the universe including Satan. The Doctor at one point referred to it as "The Devil."
- Babylon 5 provides an interesting subversion, especially since its creator, J. Michael Straczynski is an outspoken atheist himself. Religions and religious persons of various faiths, both human and alien, real life and fictitious, play important and positive roles. While no actual answer is provided as to whether religions are themselves right or wrong, religious faiths of various characters are certainly very real and sincere and provide important plot elements.
- A few episodes imply certain religious are correct or at least not all superstitions. The episode "Day of the Dead" had an alien religious festival where the dead could communicate with the living. Many of the characters received visitations from the departed and the station personal were unable to cross into zones designated for the festival. Attempts were made to rationalize it at the end, but none made much sense or were dismissed. A direct dvd release episode featured a being claiming to be the demon Asmodeus claiming God had trapped his kind on Earth. In the end, the only known was to remove him was a spiritual exorcism while on Earth to trap him again. The priest sent to study the case commented on how the lack of finding God among the stars and scientific advancements had made religion almost irrelevant.
- The central aspect of the Assassin's Creed I metaplot concerns advanced technology that was used to perform the miracles in various religions. The ending of the sequel reveals that all world religions are based on misinterpreted accounts of a technologically advanced race of Precursors who created humans in their image. If you're willing believe Ancient Conspiracy - which is exactly what they want you to think.
- Deus Ex: Invisible War makes this one of its major themes in a glaring change from its predecessor, Deus Ex. In Deus Ex, religion and spirituality were themes that ran parallel to the setting and plot, but never outright stated to be either "right" or "wrong." In Invisible War, however, all religion is subsumed into The Order, and The Order is merely a system of control for the Illuminati. The player is given the chance to break the news to an Order member, with predictable results.
This change can be seen easiest with The Knights Templar in both games. In Deus Ex, they were the surviving descendants of the original Knights, who had remained as religious bankersnote . In Invisible War, they're one of the only truly "black" factions who will plunge the world into an extremist, theocratic dark age if they win.
- As an example on how religion is treated in the first game, Morpheus (an A.I. prototype of a global surveillance system developed by a surviving Knights Templar) claims that God is not only man-made but made out of a desire to be observed. Morpheus believes humans feel pleasure when they're watched, so he concludes religion was invented to give this pleasure. JC Denton, however, disagrees and argues with Morpheus on the matter ("Electronic surveillance hardly inspires reverence. Perhaps fear and obedience, but not reverence").
While Morpheus is never proven "right" or "wrong" about religion, he does foreshadow plot details with the conversation. Later on, JC Denton is given the option to reject Helios' desire to play God.
- Dragon Age: Origins is either an aversion or a subversion. Chantry says that the Maker is just lazy, prayers are not answered, religion is not magic (Religion is Magic in all other BioWare games which have magic), templars are dumb, killers and drug-users, and clergy even refuses to bless an army at some point, making you think that trope is played completery straight... and then the game starts quoting The Lord of the Rings without Deconstruction. In case you didn't know, The Lord of the Rings is about Ilúvatar's guidance. The religious outlook of the game is probably something like "God Is Good" but religious organisations can do some pretty stupid things.
- Religion in Dragon Age is a lot more complicated than that. Supposedly, prayers aren't answered because of mankind's hubris. The priest refused to bless the knights because what they were asking for wasn't a simple blessing, but a guarantee of divine protection, something she couldn't provide. The Templars are a lot more morally grey than their name implies, and overall, the game leaves the existence or nonexistence of The Maker ambiguous. Word Of God is that they intend for it to stay that way.
- Invoked in Fallout 3:
- The cult formed around Harold, a ghoul who has turned into a large tree. The cult in the Oasis worship him as a god and blithely ignore and over-interpret his protests to the contrary. If the player character finishes the relevant quest by killing Harold (which is what he wants) the cult more-or-less thank you for freeing them from their religion, and are suddenly able to see that Harold wasn't a god after all.
- However if you choose to spare Harold the cult keeps their religion and Harold finds reason to want to live again.
- This trope is also in play with the church of Atom in the town of Megaton, who worship an atomic bomb as a potential creator of billions of universes. Confessor Cromwell, who is effectively a preacher for the religion, stands all day in a pool of irradiated water and it's implied that this has driven him mad, or at least less sane.
- Which is based on an idea that scientists have thought about in that in every atom is a universe. So there is some theoretical credit to it.
- They also made sure that a less moral (or simply more nosy) character can find out he's a hypocrite. Despite his insistence that Children of the Atom be sober pacifists, in his desk are a bottle of whiskey and a gun. This is never directly stated in dialogue or holotapes, but the physical evidence is telling.
- Averted with the other Fallout games, namely the Followers of the Apocalypse and the Mormons, now called New Caananites.
- In The Last Resurrection Jesus is the final boss, and is portrayed as a genocidal lunatic personally responsible for Nazism.
- In Halo, activating the Halo Array will not ascend the Covenant to godhood but wipe out all life in the Galaxy.
- The Tales Series tends to play around with this one.
- Tales of Eternia features the Seyfert religion suppressing information about the appearance of Dark Matter leading to The End of the World as We Know It, claiming it to be a sign of their god's second coming instead. While they're not given the most sympathetic representation in the game, this is somewhat true From a Certain Point of View because Seyfert himself is real and, because of the threat the Dark Matter heralds the arrival of, he has his messengers provide The Hero Reid with the divine Fibrill powers that he needs to save the word. Seyfert himself never actually physically manifests but the game ends on the message that he's watching over the two worlds of Inferia and Celestia.
- Tales of Symphonia appears to play this straight, given the Corrupt Church / Path of Inspiration that is the Church of Martel... but then Martel's spirit actually manifests as a powerful entity within the world, becoming something akin to an actual goddess after pulling a Fusion Dance with countless other souls.
- Tales of the Abyss is probably the most science-fiction-y game in the series and zigzags on this one. The Big Bad and his Five-Bad Band are a Church Militants working to subvert the order they're meant to protect because the church is being manipulated by an Obviously Evil douchebag who doesn't realise that blindly following the path laid out for him by the world's deity, Lorelei, will lead humanity extinction... Oh, and the higher-up members of the church partially knew this but kept it secret to avoid a mass panic. However, this turns out to be only half-correct. Lorelei did indeed foresee the world's destruction, as part of its Combo Platter Powers relating to the future and destiny, but it actually left the Fonstones (that record the future) behind so that humanity could overthrow this terrible future and create their own destinies. Sadly, the church didn't quite realise this as they were all blinded by the promise of a prosperous future at the end of one of the seven Fonstones. Thus, the game's ultimate stance on religion is something like, "Deities are good but religions are ultimately made up of people and, sometimes, people can get it horribly wrong.
- Tales of Xillia doesn't have much in the way of religion but the people who worship Milla Maxwell are eventually revealed to be lying to her, telling her that she's a goddess when she's actually just a normal person. As it happens, this was all done on the orders of the actual god Maxwell, a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wanted Milla to be his agent within the world of Liese Maxia to investigate the sinister technology that's corrupting the world.
- In Mass Effect 3 the players find themselves at the temple of the Asari goddess, Athame. Although most Asari are atheists anyway, most probably think it was simple superstition. However if the player brings the teammember of the Prothean race along with them, he deconstructs all their myths: it was them every time. Goddess protected you when "the heavens grew angry?" Prothean-deflected meteor strike. Drove away "jealous gods?" Invasive species. Abundance from on-high? Averted famine, and so on.
- Generally speaking, TheSimpsons tends to parody the concept of organised religion. For example, in one episode, Homer proves that God does not exist mathematically. Flanders destroys the evidence. However, it's much vaguer in most cases as Homer actually gets to meet the Big Man Upstairs on a few occasions, though it's usually in a Dream Sequence.
- Futurama parodies this trope when Leela finally finds out the truth about the origins of the universe and the meaning of life (which we the audience do not get to hear), the only thing she says is, "so every religion is wrong!" However, this could alternatively mean that every EXISTING religion is wrong, not the actual concept of religion.
- Contrast the example on Religion Is Right where Bender meets God. Or what could be part of God after being hit by a satellite. Or a satellite that collided with God. Said God also makes a point of noting that if a God's doing the job properly, no one will even be aware it's being done at all.
- The South Park two-part episode "Go God Go" appears to invert this at the end. At first, we are shown a hyper-advanced society 500 years from now that has long ago abandoned religion in favor of atheism and science (they replace "God" with "science" in their swears; e.g. "Science, damn it!"). Then it's revealed that there are three atheist factions in the world (one of them are super-intelligent otters) who are engaged in a Mêlée à Trois over what to name the atheist society. It turns out that this started when Richard Dawkins began a sexual relationship with Mr(s). Garrison and convinced him/her of the fallacy of religion. Garrison immediately went into overdrive and convinced Dawkins to browbeat the rest of humanity into atheism. Apparently, it worked. Cartman ends up accidentally changing the past by letting Dawkins know that Garrison is a man. The future immediately turns into a religious utopia with only nationalism still a big issue (the otter mentions a war with the French-Chinese over Hawaii).