Single Precept Religion
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, Buddhism, 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.
Examples:Computer and Video Games
- 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 tenants.
- 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.
- 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...
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure The (future) Church of Bill and Ted has but one single commandment "Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes."
- 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 Church" in The Darwath Trilogy and The Windrose Chronicles by Barbara Hambly has no visible theology other than "wizards are evil", and no discernible purpose other than to make 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Warhammer: The religion of the thunder god Tor has but one commandment: Don't stand under a tree in a thunderstorm.
- 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.