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Unwanted False Faith

Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me, you don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!
The Crowd: (in unison) Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: (in unison) Yes, we are all different!
Man in Crowd: I'm not.
Another Man: Shhh!

Bob is neither a true messiah nor a scam artist wanting to make his own religion. He's just a regular good guy. And yet he is made into an object of misplaced religious faith. For added irony, this religion is likely to be one he finds repulsive — or would find repulsive, in the cases where he's not even aware of having followers. Of course, if the character is of a decent sort, he will try to clear up the misunderstanding, but that might take some persuading to do so.

If this worship keeps growing out of control, it can establish itself as a Scam Religion. This can either be used to suggest that Religion Is Wrong, or it can be an illustration of the foolishness of "worshipping false idols".

Compare and Contrast Stop Worshipping Me, where the guy not wanting to be worshiped actually is a god or messiah or similar: The faith is not truly false, but the deity doesn't want the worship anyway. See also A God I Am Not, when a powerful being rejects the label of god. Also contrast and I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Cases of misplaced hero worship (rather then religious worship) goes into that trope.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In one episode of Minami-ke Kanna dresses Chiaki up as a rain charm in order to make it stop raining so they can go to the beach. Chiaki eventually manages to negotiate the rain cloud into going away. When Chiaki's friends come over, Kanna boasts of having gotten rid of the rain cloud, at which point it angrily returns, and Chiaki ends up having to calm it down again. After this display Chiaki's friends and Kanna promptly start praying to Chiaki, over her angry (and still helplessly bound) protestations.
  • In 20th Century Boys, there is God, a crotchety old homeless guy with a preoccupation with bowling and an inexplicable talent for clairvoyance. He's pretty sure he's not actually God, and constantly tells people to stop calling him such, but that doesn't stop the other Crazy Homeless People from doing it.

    Comic Books 
  • In Fables, Boy Blue only wanted to be a regular guy. He became a war hero out of necessity, but hated the cruelty and slaughter that war entails and really preferred to simply be an office clerk. One of the main reasons he participated in the war effort was his hatred for tyranny. After his death, a cult springs up around him. His worshipers long for him to come back as a bloodsoaked tyrant slaughtering all who stand in his way and indulge in the most blatant and unfair forms of nepotism. Of course, they consider this a good thing, using rhetorics very similar to how the Adversary justified his own reign of terror.
  • This happened to Superman during the Action Comics Weekly Sunday-strip run.
  • Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen is powerful enough to be considered a Physical God, but resents being perceived this way. He says something like "I don't think there is a god, and if there is he's probably nothing like me".

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Kung Fu Panda fanfic, Memoirs Of A Master, has Master Oogway learning that the Mongols consider him a god. Of course, he makes it clear that he wants none of that.
  • A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies has this happen to Megan; after she left Ponyland, over the millennia she'd grown into a mythical figure and eventually was elevated to the status of a Messianic Archetype. She's rather upset to hear about this, especially since she's a Christian.
  • The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds, which has a similar premise to A Mighty Demon Slayer Grooms Some Ponies but significantly less Grim Dark, uses something like this as well. Megan's more embarrassed than annoyed, though it helps that most of the mighty deeds for which she is now Famed in Story are Not Hyperbole.
  • All of the Princesses get this in the Triptych Continuum. Not only do ponies swear on and by them in daily life, a significant part of the population perceives divinity in the alicorns and actively prays to them — something which makes them heartsick, as they have no means of hearing those pleas, and their ability to answer any direct requests is limited to the magic they know. Blessing shows Celestia's struggles with such beliefs, and Twilight is just beginning to recognize that consequence of her ascension. Basically, if you want to emotionally wound a Princess, ask her to bless you, and then stand by your faith when she insists she can't...

    Film 
  • The titular Brian from Monty Python's Life of Brian has some difficulty convincing his "followers" that he's not The Messiah, given that they think every word he says has hidden meaning. See page quote.
  • In The Invention of Lying, Mark lives in on an Earth where lying didn't exist until he came up with the idea one day. When his mother is about to die, he tries to comfort her by telling her rather than just not-existing, she'll go to a happy place ruled over by "The Man in the Sky." Unfortunately, the people nearby hear, and make him tell more about it until he ends up inventing Christianity, with to the point that he has to crash his true love's wedding in a chapel devoted to The Man in the Sky.
  • This is part of The Reveal in The Man from Earth. Professor John Oldman is on the verge of suddenly moving away when he tells his friends and colleagues that he is actually a 14,000 year old immortal. Intrigued, his fellow professors try to prove his story false. Eventually they get around to asking John if he was ever anyone famous. It turns out John was once a student of The Buddha, and decided to do some preaching of his own. Through a combination of people misinterpreting his words and their shock when he didn't die, he wound up becoming Jesus. Despite John's frantic efforts to explain, the religion got started, and he's been privately mortified ever since.
  • C-3PO, in Return of the Jedi: The Ewoks mistake him for a deity, much to his embarrassment. And also because it's somehow against his programming to impersonate a deity. Presumably Anakin thought it was funny.
  • Bubble Boy has Jimmy be mistaken for the messiah (in search of "The Round One") that would take a cult to Heaven, rather than mutate and burn in Hell on planet PX-41(or planet PX-42 if there wasn't enough room).

    Literature 
  • In Linnea Sinclair's An Accidental Goddess, the heroine wakes up and discovers that (a) she's lost a few centuries somewhere and (b) she's been branded a major deity. Awwwkward....
  • In a Simon R. Green novel, Beyond The Blue Moon, many peasants assume that the Shaman must be a prophet because he's an old hermit who lives in the woods. The Shaman dissuades their attempts to win his blessing by screaming and throwing Road Apples at them until they leave him the hell alone.
  • Ciaphas Cain has a small sect that worships him as a manifestation of the Emperor, complete with holy book, founded when some very religious soldiers saw him face down a Daemon. According to the novels he never found out and probably would have been horrified.
  • Paul Atreides of the Dune series fits this well, being a supposed messiah to the Fremen (even though he knows their myth about a saviour is implanted by external influence and is only set up to look like a naturally created legend). Though this may be more of a case of Stop Worshipping Me, since Paul does have the ability to see the future.
  • The Humanx Commonwealth Novels include the book Running From The Deity, where Flinx is mistaken as a god by the aliens on a planet. Naturally, several local leaders try to exploit him to their advantage.
  • The Nagasaki Vector, by L. Neil Smith, has a timeship pilot inadvertently guide an entire alien race towards sapience through the use of some coffee and some mazes he made in the sand to pass the time while escorting a team of scientists on a research expedition to a planet that had been wiped out in a supernova. Realizing what he has done, his superiors arrange for the evacuation of the newly-discovered sapient species before their planet was destroyed, and they decide the most fitting punishment would be to force the pilot to fulfill his responsibility as their appointed god. Naturally, the little guys he has following him around through the entire book are annoying as all get-out, or else it wouldn't be a good punishment.
  • In Wise Blood, while Hazel Motes is standing on a street corner preaching against God, Hoover Shoats cashes in by starting the Holy Church of Christ without Christ, which anyone can join for 1 dollar. When Hazel fails to make people understand that he's preaching against God, he leaves in disgust. This leads to Shoats hiring a random homeless man to impersonate Hazel and be his new preacher.
  • In Warbreaker, Lightsong The Bold believes himself to be neither a god nor worthy of worship for most of the series.

    Live Action TV 
  • G'Kar from Babylon 5 is treated like a prophet by the Narn during the final season due to the book he had been writing about his experiences accidentally being published without his consent and spreading like wildfire. Crowds of followers followed him everywhere he went asking for his wisdom on all sorts of deep questions. He grows increasingly disillusioned by this treatment for a few reasons: he doesn't want to hold that much power among his people (he had turned down the position of president earlier in the show), he doesn't have the answers they're looking for, and he sees that everyone is projecting their ideals of a perfect person onto him, creating this idealized person that's not actually him. Eventually he decides to leave civilized space for several years to get away from it all.
    G'kar: I worry, Ta'Lon, that my shadow may become greater than the message.
    Ta'Lon: If that happens, I give you my word that I will personally kill you.
    G'Kar: And this is supposed to put my mind at ease?
  • On Battlestar Galactica, Gaius Baltar never really asked for the cult of attractive young women who dedicated themselves to him, but his massive ego led him to accept them, until Apollo made him reject them in the end.
  • On Dead Like Me Roxy accidentally inspires a religion centered on her as a manifestation of God. She doesn't mind, but her boss is pissed and makes her go back and smash the fledgling religion.
  • The last we see of Damien in Drop the Dead Donkey is as a captive of a primitive rainforest tribe, an object of worship in a cage. The penultimate shots are filmed from his point of view, but then they destroy his camera and build effigies of it instead. For the first few scenes he is happy enough with his new-found status, but once they destroy the camera, he realises there is no likelihood that they will release him...
  • Doctor Who:
    • In early classic series, the First Doctor castigates short-lived companion Katarina for calling him a god. The First Doctor was also mistaken for Zeus by Achilles, much to his indignation.
      Achilles: It is well known that when you come amongst us you adopt many different shapes. To Europa, you appeared as a bull, to Leda, as a swan; to me, you come in the guise of an old beggar....
      The Doctor: [offended] I beg your pardon, I do nothing of the sort!
    • Subverted in the modern series where not only he is frequently referred to as a god (or rather, the "lonely god", being the last of his Sufficiently Advanced Alien species) by some oracles, psychics and others who have a rough idea of what he really is, he seems to embrace the idea, generally in the Wrath department when it comes to evildoers. He seems to regard his status as the Last of the Time Lords (not to mention the destroyer of the Time Lords) as meaning he is one of the last real authorities left in the universe, and dares anyone to test that. It's gotten to the point where he is sometimes afraid of himself.
    • That's mostly the Tenth Doctor, though. The Ninth Doctor was very much uncomfortable with being thought of as a god. And when he absorbed the power of the Bad Wolf, he let it all go without even a hint of temptation to do something with it. Unlike, say, Ten a short time later in "School Reunion", when offered the chance to solve the "God Equation".
      Margaret the Slitheen: I almost feel better about being defeated. We never stood a chance. This is the technology of the gods.
      9th Doctor: Don't worship me, I'd make a very bad god. You wouldn't get a day off, for starters.
  • In the TV version of The Martian Chronicles, a telepathic, shapeshifting Martian encounters a priest who's undergoing a crisis of faith. Since the priest longs to meet Jesus, his thoughts force the Martian to take on Jesus' appearance. The Martian begs the priest not to see him as the Messiah because he can't bear the responsibility, and fears he'll be trapped in Jesus' image forever. The priest asks the martian to go whenever he pleases and come back as Jesus only personally for him and only on Easter.
  • One episode of Red Dwarf was centered on Lister's discovery that the cat civilization had formed a religion vaguely based around Lister and his pet cat from 3 million years ago. He is rather horrified when he realizes that they fought a holy war over what color the hats for his planned doughnut stand should be. In the novels, it was over whether his name was "Clister" or "Cloister", referencing a real-life religious dispute over the Nicaean Creed, which was based on a one-letter difference in spelling — which is also, incidentally, the origin of the English meaning of "iota" as "a small or insignificant amount."
  • Smallville: Clark has to deal with this from Tess Mercer, who thinks he'll solve all the world's problems, and help her put her incredibly screwed up life back together. He manages to dissuade her of the former, largely by helping her with the latter.
  • In Stargate SG-1, the SG-1 team are frequently mistaken for gods in the first five or so seasons, as the villains who pose as gods are the primary users of the gate. Then there was the the time they were mistaken for demons. This is mostly due to the fact that the Stargates on many worlds are left unexplained, and the people there are primitive.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • In the early seasons, Sisko is uncomfortable with being the Bajorans' "emissary", although he gradually comes to accept it. Since Sisko is portrayed as a regular human and the "Prophets" as enigmatic aliens rather then deities, this is Unwanted False Faith. However, as the series progress, the "Prophets" become less and less of "aliens mistaken for deities" and more and more of actual deities, with Sisko becoming more and more of the Messiah - so the example is only true for the first few seasons.
    • In the later seasons, Odo resents being revered as a "Founder" by Weyoun and the other Dominion grunts.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Who Watches the Watchers?", Picard inadvertently becomes a deity to a group of proto-civilization Vulcanoids. He beams their tribe's leader on board the Enterprise to try to explain to her that what he has is merely a more advance form of technology, but she isn't convinced until she sees a patient die in sickbay and realizes that his people are just as mortal as hers. Picard ends up having to let himself get shot with an arrow by a more fanatical believer so the whole tribe can see him bleed. He's then able to convince them otherwise by referencing the idea of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens (minimizing the damage to their "natural development") and asking them to consider how their own ancient ancestors might view them if they were to witness some of the things they could do with even their medieval technology.
  • In one episode of Farscape Rygel finds a technologically regressed colony where one of his ancestors set up a Cargo Cult. He tries to tell them that he's not a god or savior, just their Dominar.

    Music 
  • Elvis Presley hated his nickname of "The King" because he felt being exalted that way was unchristian.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Played with in a Brewster Rockit strip in which Agent X explains an ancient drawing as the story of an alien visitor who was worshipped as a god, tried to explain to the primitive humans that he was not a god, and found himself pelted with stones for espousing this heresy.
  • One Gahan Wilson cartoon has a psychiatrist down on his knees kissing his patient's hand, as the patient growls "This is not going to help my Messianic complex, doctor!"

     Religion & Mythology 
  • In The Bible: Acts 14, Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas are witnessing in one Greek city and performing some miracles while they were at it. The citizens of the city were convinced that they were the Gods, Hermes and Zeus respectively and set up a whole procession to sacrificing to them as such. The apostles had to go to considerable lengths trying to make them to stop. This, in turn, made it easier for troublemakers to convince the very same citizens to attempt stoning Paul and Barnabas to death.
  • Muslims accept most of the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels as essentially true: the Virgin Birth, his status as the Biblical Messiah, his ministry and miracles, his status as a great prophet, moral teacher, healer, and one of the top-five greatest, purest human beings ever, etc., etc. Muslims even accept a variant of the Crucifixion story (in this version, he never died; God took him up to Heaven bodily while still alive and fooled the Romans into executing a criminal lookalike in his place) and many believe in the Second Coming (where Jesus will either be the Mahdi or assist him... or perhaps the Mahdi will assist Jesus...it's all hazy, as eschatology usually is). However, Muslims do not accept that Jesus is God Himself; a prophet of God, yes, and a messenger of God, yes, and even a great prophet and messenger of God... but not God. This causes a conflict with Christianity: how can a true prophet of God claim to be God himself, when (according to Muslim theology) God would never do such a thing? The Islamic answer is that he did not want to be worshiped, note  clearly stated that he was just a prophet and should not be worshiped, but people worshiped him anyway, especially after the crucifixion. Thus, according to Islam, Christianity is an Unwanted False Faith—which has caused some friction between the religions.
  • It is widely believed that Haile Selassie I had this attitude toward the Rastafari movement, which views him as God incarnate, as this belief contradicts the doctrine of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that he was affiliated with. However, he never specifically denied his divinity, saying "Who am I to disturb their belief?" Whether this faith is false or not is best discussed elsewhere.
  • Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti was born a Hindu, adopted at 14 and groomed (using that word advisedly) by C.W. Leadbeater to become Theosophy's predicted World-Teacher, and twenty years later repudiated the whole thing and denounced religion, saying "Truth is a pathless land." He gave lectures on self-understanding and caring for others, and in doing so he had a serious Unwanted False Faith problem. In film after film he can be heard exhorting his starry-eyed listeners "Please, don't accept this!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech has pulled this one a couple of times.
    • Most notably, we have Jerome Blake. A man who simply just to save as much as he could from the inevitable wars between the Great Houses, he set up Earth (and the interstellar phone company based there) to be completely neutral and untouchable, the (secular) guardians of advanced technology, so that civilisation in the Inner Sphere could be rebuilt once the fires of war burned themselves out. One set of 'deathbed revelations' to his 'chosen disciple' later, we have the foundations of the pseudo-church known as ComStar, and after a couple of centuries of piled-on dogma and trappings? The Word of Blake and their Jihad.
    • Aleksandr Kerensky would probably classify his post-mortem treatment this way, too. A military man who simply wanted to limit the damage the Inner Sphere could do to itself by denying them large amounts of weapons and soldiers, he would not have wanted to be remembered as "The Great Father" by the warrior society his son founded. Especially once the Clans tried to invade the Inner Sphere, starting yet another war.
  • Most of the Exalted respond to developing a cult of their own with something along the lines of "awesome, free motes," but Alchemicals are tasked with suppressing any unauthorised cults that spring up - including ones worshipping them, many of which end up taken down by the very being they revere. (The exception is Nurad, a nation which is so screwed that Alchemical worship is actually mandatory so that the nation's remaining Champions can keep it safe from the oncoming blight zone, but most of them are not comfortable with the situation.)
  • In Transhuman Space, Adam Stein, the unofficial leader of a group of transhumanists who believed in The Singularity, despite the growing evidence it wasn't going to happen, responded to 2070s criticism that "singularitanism" was a cult by sarcastically applying to register it as a religion. He was very surprised when his application was accepted, and even more surprised when he started getting new followers who seemed to take the religious aspects seriously. As of 2100, half of the Singularitists are true believers, and Stein is still trying to explain to them that it was a joke.
  • An unusual example from Warhammer 40,000: The Emperor insisted that the Imperium be devoutly atheistic and banned his followers from worshipping him despite knowing full well that gods exist; his intention was to starve them by removing worship. Indeed, the entire reason the Word Bearers fell to Chaos was because they were hurt when the Emperor rebuked Lorgar for worshiping him. Since the Horus Heresy, however, the Emperor has been powerless to prevent the people of the Imperium from venerating him, and with 500 trillion worshippers all in a universe operating on Clap Your Hands If You Believe he's almost certainly a god now if he wasn't before. And unfortunately for the Emperor, the Chaos Gods were not powered by worship. They are powered by emotion, and existence itself.

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands 2, Original Vault Hunter, Lilith, is disturbed (and flattered) when she finds out a cult is worshipping her as a fire goddess. She sends the new Vault Hunters on a mission to see if the cultists are too dangerous to let live. For a while, it seems that they just want to be burned to death, and seem happy enough to limit their attention to each other, but when it turns out they have kidnapped "heretics" from Sanctuary to be burned as sacrifice, she steps in to rescue the would-be sacrifices while the Vault Hunters finish off the cult. This, in turn, creates a new cult that worships the Vault Hunters. Player reactions may vary.
  • Michael Altman from Dead Space supposedly founded the Church of Unitology. However, he was actually simply a geophysicist who found the Black Marker, and people started worshiping it and called him their Messiah. In an interesting twist at the end of Dead Space: Martyr, he was killed by government agents to make him appear as a Martyr, fueling the flames and allowing them to get rich off donations. They succeeded.
  • In Fallout 3, Harold is being worshipped by a cult, much to his annoyance.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the courier Ulysses relays a tale of how he taught a tribe, named the White Legs, to use modern weaponry. In gratitude, they started tying their hair up in dreadlocks to imitate and honor Ulysses' hairstyle. But Ulysses didn't feel honored by this gesture; in fact it outright angered him. Partly because his dreadlocks was a symbol of his own tribe, the Twisted Hairs, and to him the White Legs' appropriation of it was a childish, ignorant and, above all, empty gesture as they didn't knew the story and meaning of it. And partly because it reminded him of the sad fate the Twisted Hairs had suffered. Ulysses never told them this though, he just quietly walked out on the tribe.
  • Jolee Bindo of Knights of the Old Republic has this happen to him during his long stay on Kashyyyk. His tendency to help young Wookiees in trouble led them to believe he was a benevolent forest spirit and leave him offerings; allowing their leader to clobber him dispelled these notions.
  • Javik in Mass Effect 3. After being released from stasis, not only does he have to deal with being the last member of the Prothean race, he's also now 50,000 years out of the loop, got an archaeologist and fellow team-mate, Liara, desperate to learn everything about him... and also learnt that the entire Hanar race revere him as a God.
  • Father Sakura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable was a priest, but due to some use of brain-washing magic (whose existence he was not aware of), he did not realize that the worshipers attending his church are not putting their faith on God he is preaching, but rather on him. Which he really did not want, as shown by his breaking-down after he found out the existence of the magic. This was originally a bit of backstory from the anime on which the game was based, but was expanded on in the game.
  • The history of the Boron in the X-Universe series features an amusing incident on the Wenendra homeworld. During First Contact the Wenendra thought the Boron were at least affiliated with their creator deity, due largely to the Boron being sufficiently advanced compared to the primitive Wenendra. The Boron had some trouble convincing them this wasn't the case.

    Web Comics 
  • Quain'tana of Drowtales hates how her followers and the common folk of Chel'el'Sussoloth have begun to idolize her as some kind of mythical warrior queen for fighting against the current ruling class.
  • Feral animals worship Zach from Housepets! as the Opener of Ways, much to his annoyance. They even steal his diary to copy into a sacred text.
  • Suras from Wayward Sons tries to get the ancient Greeks to stop calling him and his crew gods, but causes a brief lightning storm in his frustration (which was counterproductive to his efforts).

    Web Original 
  • Sara Waite (Carmilla) of the Whateley Universe, who is worshipped by about The Church Of The Kellith, roughly a hundred thousand people worldwide. Only problem? This is exactly what she doesn't want to be. The Kellith is an Eldritch Abomination foretold to wipe humankind off the planet with her spawn.
  • In Twitch Plays Pokémon Red, Pidgey (later Pidgeot) became so powerful he was referred to in canon as "Bird Jesus" and attracted his share of worship. Cue the mob catching a different Pidgey in Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal. Many latched onto it as the reincarnation of Bird Jesus, others... had a different opinion. This has actually become a theme of the second one: Brian (yes, the second Pidgey, for exactly those reasons) is now held as not wanting to be seen as Bird Jesus 2.0 but himself, while Lasergator is in Rage Against the Heavens mode (the previous game's Helix Fossil and later Omastar is considered a god).

    Western Animation 
  • On Invader Zim, Zim is "captured" by a group of UFO nuts who believe that aliens want to bring peace and prosperity to mankind. Somehow, despite being an insane Narcissist on a mission to Take Over the World, he fails to see the possibilities of this and instead gets GIR to help him escape.
  • In Justice League Unlimited backstory, the previous incarnations of Hawkgirl and Hawkman were Thanagarian police officers stranded on Earth before human civilization arose. They founded the first human state (in Ancient Egypt) and, despite their sincerest efforts to avoid it, were worshiped as gods in return.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot — In one episode, Jenny is mistaken for the Comet Goddess by a group of Adorkable aliens, and while the worship is nice at first, she eventually gets sick of it.
  • In the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet", Stan is mistaken by the Church of Scientology for the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, the church's founder. Though it turns out that L. Ron Hubbard was a fraud, and the Church's current president is simply using Stan as a way to bilk more money out of their followers.
  • The The Transformers episode "The God Gambit" a few Autobots and Decepticons stumble across a primitive humanoid race living on Titan. The primitives (understandably) mistake the enormously powerful metal giants from the sky for gods. The Autobots try to clear up the misunderstanding, while the Decepticons play it up for all it's worth. Jazz spent most of the episode protesting that no, they weren't gods and never were.


Utopia Justifies the MeansAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Uriah Gambit
Turbulent PriestReligion TropesVirtue/Vice Codification
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alternative title(s): Stop Worshipping Me I Am Just A Regular Guy
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