Single Precept Religion
"Make it a double!"
In Real Life
, religions tend to be built up of a vast number of different things and can take such a variety of forms that it can be very hard to pin down exactly what the word 'religion' means
. As such, when someone needs one for a story, it can be very easy for them to to throw together any old thing and call it a religion. The reasoning is that as long as it looks
the part people will fill in the details for themselves. This generally leads to a lot of works featuring religions that look an awful lot like Christianity
, or similar, with what those people believe roughly copied
, though, in some cases, the writer will chose to create their own from scratch to suit their needs. Either route can result in vast and detailed histories and belief systems that are complex enough (or at least seem to be), to draw us in and immerse us in the writer's vision.
And then there are these ones.
A Single Precept Religion
is one where the writer created the look of a religion, but none of the substance. They may be grand and religiony-looking
, but if you actually stopped one of the adherents and asked them what they actually believe
....they can't really tell you. Or, if they can, the entire totality of their beliefs can be written on the back of a matchbook. Of course, they could
be members of a Mystery Cult
, in which case initiates actually won't
know what they have gotten themselves into and the inner circle won't be keen on telling you (but that is another trope entirely
In this instance they don't know because their religion doesn't actually have any beliefs
, or, if it does, there are very few of them and they may actually sound like a secular secret society or be more akin to mysticism.
Subtrope of Artistic License – Religion
. Related to Fridge Logic
. Compare Planet of Hats
where an alien species or society is written this simply.
- This is played with in Master Of Space And Time by Rudy Rucker. One of the main characters wishes up a door to a parallel world where he can have an adventure. The world is controlled by a cult run by The Puppet Masters-like slugs. The cult has three teachings, God's Laws, which are "1. Follow Gary. 2. Be Clean. 3. Teach God's Laws". One character describes it as "A thought virus. A parasitic system that propagates itself."
- The religion Mr. Tulip professes to follow in The Truth appears to consist solely of carrying around a potato as a sort of spiritual anchor ("as long as you've got your potato, you'll be alright"), and in feeling remorse for any of your misdeeds. It's suggested, though, that Tulip is gravely misinformed about the religion, which he hasn't encountered since his childhood (not that it matters, as long as he believes in it).
- The Dark Side of the Sun, also by Terry Pratchett, features a less comedic version - the religion of Arte Sadhim has the "One Commandment", which is eventually stated to be "You Will Not Waste".
- "The Church" in the Darwath series and The Windrose Chronicles by Barbara Hambly has no visible theology other than "wizards are evil", and no connection with the real life of the people, and no discernible purpose beyond making people, and especially Our Heroes, miserable.
- The Belgariad: Surprisingly common, given that the main characters are in regular contact with the deity Aldur and are opposing another deity with the covert support of another five. The worship of Nedra, for example, seems to boil down to a few rules involving money. The Bear-Cult's core beliefs are, in most cases, tied to overt racism and the grand plan of whichever villain is manipulating them that week. Torak's religion is heavy on ritualised gestures of devotion and human sacrifice, but no real philosophical substance beyond reflecting Torak's own arrogance. Possibly justified given that the protagonists are mostly in service to Aldur, who doesn't have a culture to serve him, so they're too tied up in their duties to delve into any aspects of theology that aren't directly related to the mission.
- The Wheel of Time: The Whitecloaks. Their beliefs and rites seem to go as far as: the Light is good, Whitecloaks are good, the Dark is bad, Darkfriends are bad, Whitecloaks can't be Darkfriends, disobeying a Whitecloak makes you a Darkfriend. Their founding principles were more complex, but over time they've been somewhat... distilled.
- Doctor Who features the Silence, which is basically a vast secret that features one single solitary belief: that "Silence will fall when the question, "Doctor Who?", is asked". That's it. Why do they call it a religion? No idea.
- Later episodes showed that the Silence were actually a splinter sect of the Papal Mainframe that became obsessed with that one line.
- On Dinosaurs the Elders start looking for a belief system simple enough to be understood by the dumbest individual. The winning entry is one based on the world being created by a potato.
- The Bajoran religion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went into great detail about the customs and traditions of the Faith of the Prophets, but there was never much in the way of actual beliefs and tenets other than "Prophets Good, Pah-Wraiths Bad, Sisko Awesome."
- Arguably justified, as many previously-core tenets, such as the strict caste system, were dropped during the Cardassian Occupation and are now viewed as quaint dogma by most. It's portrayal is also rather hampered by the fact that big chunks of the religion that had been matters of faith were proven to be nothing but the literal truth in the show's pilot. The Prophets are real, they can really see and affect events across time (existing outside of it), the Orbs really are a way to communicate with them, and their "celestial temple" is a real place you can get in a ship and fly to (although they may or may not actually speak to you there).
- The Ferengi belief system seems to be founded on the idea that the gods offer a beneficent afterlife to the rich; the Rules of Acquisition, while sometimes treated as religious doctrine, are more like The 285 Habits of Highly-Effective Ferengi than anything else.
- The one-off religions held by the alien-of-the-week in many, many episodes would look at the elaboration given to the Bajoran religion and develop extreme jealousy. The religion in Star Trek: Enterprise which managed to send its native planet into a nuclear winter due to a schism over whether creation took nine days or ten was a memorable, if stupid, example.
- Kings: The show is maddeningly vague on what sort of church "Reverend Samuels" heads, and why a population of no visible ethnicity thinks that "God gave this land to us." Since it's pretty clearly based on Saul and David from the Bible, we can surmise it's similar to Judaism though.
- Warhammer: The religion of the thunder god Tor has but one commandment: Don't stand under a tree in a thunderstorm.
- The Church of the Holy Light in World of Warcraft. People follow it like a deity and it's set up rather like Catholicism, but the actual beliefs of the religion are never really elaborated upon in the game.
- The pen and paper rpgs do a good job of establishing its tenets.
- The Chantry in Dragon Age is an unusual example. It has immense detail in its history, hierarchy, style and so on, but its actual teachings are pretty much limited to "Magic exists to serve man, not to rule over him." This seems rather odd in a role playing game which often asks the player to express either devotion or disdain for the chantry, despite knowing virtually nothing about it beyond it being the religion of the land.
- The Chantry's main reason for existing is spread the teaching of its prophet Andraste to the entire world in the hopes that their creator-god will return to humanity after leaving when Andraste was betrayed and executed.
- Part of this is a mix of All There in the Manual (the codex and supplemental materials explain at great length) and part is the in-game background being overwhelmingly from Chantry affiliated sources. Lots of things that are really just Chantry points of faith are presented as simply how the world is, and they have a de facto monopoly on academia. The third game especially gets into how these ideas are wrong, or at least incomplete.
- Neither the Path of Light nor the Path of Dark of (old verse) Might and Magic had any real detail given to them. They both had priests, the Path of Light was vaguely good (and has a thing against undead) and the Path of Dark was vaguely evil (and has a thing for undead), and they had predecessor religions involving (respectively) the Sun and the Moon in some way, but beyond that...
- There was a short story released that mentioned that religion in the region were the Paths of Light and Dark were most common centred on orthopraxic and ritualistic elementsnote ... except the way it phrased it suggested that phase of religious evolution gave way to wizardry a millennium or more before the Paths emerged.
- The reformed pagan faiths in Crusader Kings 2 arguably fall under this category. Though they take their inspiration from real-world religions, none of them (with the possible exceptions of Hellenismnote and Aztec Paganism) ever achieved the level of organization and theological sophistication implied by the in-game reformation events. The game doesn't provide the player with many details about the reformed faith, beyond a few lines suggesting that a church hierarchy and holy book have been established (some of the reformed pagan faiths do give a little more detail on the church hierarchy by introducing a title denoting the leader of the faith). The game does have a function that lets religions put in the relevant scripture name, randomly chosen god or evil god (as appropriate) names or leader god name in events, but all the reformed pagan faiths have the same for all of those as their unreformed predecessor.
- SF Debris: The Bajoran religion is occasionally mocked for showing signs of this, but particularly in the review of "Children of Time" (DS9).
Kira: I miss [First Minister Shakaar], but the last time we were on Bajor we went to the Kenda shrine, and we asked the prophets if we were meant to walk the same path.
Kira: We're not.
Chuck: Well... that's certainly a quick, neat, and ridiculous explanation. I'm surprised it wasn't revealed that he was a Leo and she was a Sagittarius, and their signs clashed. If they do, I don't know, I don't respect astrology enough to even look it up to accurately mock it. But they're really keeping it vague for such a life-changing decision, I mean, do they make use of one of the orbs to get some vision of the future? Is that how they found out? Or is this just asking some Vedec who was trying to take a nap?
Vedec: *sleepy* Huh? What? No, you're not compatible, now go away, prophets be with you.
Random Bajoran: Uh... Vedec? My father just died...
Vedec: He's rotting in hell. Prophets be with you. Go away.
- This turns into a small Brick Joke when later in the episode we find out that Kira was killed when the Defiant accidentally jumped 200 years back into the past and crashed on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant.
Chuck: Ah. Well, I have to credit them this much: I suppose dying 200 years in the past is a definite sign that you're not destined to be with somebody.
Vedec: Ha! Told you! Prophets be with you. Fuck off.
- When Bender is being worshiped by tiny aliens in the Futurama episode "Godfellas", he issues only one Commandment: God Needs Booze.
- Unitarian Universalism. Its proponents would say that it eschews the dogmatic cruft that plagues most flavors of Christianity and focuses on the positive message that is common to them all. Its detractors would call it this trope.