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Hiding Behind Religion

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Lucideus: Have you been hurting your fellow mortals?
Priest: Oh, certainly not. All that we do is for their own good.
Lucideus: Let me ask this way: Are you setting people on fire?
Priest: On fire for God!
Lucideus: I think we need to talk about this.

Religion is often associated with virtue, for various reasons including the incentives the former is often perceived to have for the latter, that religion plays a role in defining morality for societies or the belief that virtuous minds accept religion in the first place.

In turn, this also creates an incentive, in a character who wants to be seen as more virtuous than they really are, for hiding behind religion.

Not to be confused with The Fundamentalist, who really does believe in said religious ideas, though to a fanatical degree; hiding behind religion implies some level of insincerity.

Also, not to be confused with the Sinister Minister either, as one can hide behind religion without being a minister at all, and one can be a Sinister Minister without it being because they are hiding behind religion, such as if said Sinister Minister is a genuine fundamentalist, for instance.

Lastly, not to be confused with Apocalypse Cult or Religion of Evil. In those circumstances, one would be trying to hide the fact that they're an advocate/follower of such an organisation.

The leader of a Scam Religion is a good example, although in that case, the entire religion is a fake designed to con his followers or outsiders.

A Sub-Trope of Hypocrite, and likely to be Holier Than Thou. A religion where this mindset is the norm rather than the exception for many of the clergy is most likely a Corrupt Church. See also Light Is Not Good, which can be this on a more fantastical level. Closely related to Churchgoing Villain, but that kind of person usually considers themselves genuinely religious despite their actions, rather than using it as a cover.

Sincere members of the religion (or those simply educated in the tenets of other faiths) may invoke the No True Scotsman trope when people like this are mentioned (i.e.: "No true Christian would torture nonbelievers, no true follower of Islam would kill fellow Muslims, etc.). Then again, this may be justified since by definition a faker is not a true follower of the religion.

Note: To correctly identify who may be doing this fallacy in Real Life relies on an understanding of the religion in question and irrefutable proof of personal motives. A lack of either results in heated arguments. As such, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Father Cornello of Fullmetal Alchemist. He poses as the priest of a sun god and works "miracles" that are really the result of a Philosopher's Stone, winning over the people so he can use them as fanatical devotees in a coup. After the Elric brothers expose him and Lust kills him, Envy poses as him to carry on his work. This results in a bloody civil conflict between believers and non-believers, which is just what Father wanted.
  • In season 2 of A Certain Magical Index, Vento of the Front uses the Catholic Church's warlike policies as an excuse for her vendetta against science due to her brother's death.
  • Caribou from One Piece is often seen praying to God, then having his crew bury people alive.
  • In Berserk, Farnese di Vandimion starts out as a Church Militant who is desperately trying to be The Fundamentalist and convince herself that burning heretics alive for the Holy See is a regrettable but necessary duty. The truth is that she discovered when she was a young child that taking part in burnings gave her relief from the violent outbursts and hopelessness she felt due to her upbringing in a lonely and controlled aristocratic family, and as it was mistaken for religious devotion, she was encouraged to take part in more and given a position within the church that let her indulge her desire, so that by the time she's an adult, she gets sadistically aroused by burning, screaming, and torture. Notably, she is still a sympathetic character, as even before her Heel–Face Turn, she was shown to be deeply disturbed by her own nature, and in one memorable scene, she finishes pleasuring herself while thinking about burning people and then breaks down crying and trying to tell herself "I am not wrong".
  • Archbishop De Villiers of the Terraist Church in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Even though the Church was a Path of Inspiration, most of its clergy genuinely believed in their tenets of Earth being sacred and were well-known for their asceticism. De Villiers, however, believed nothing of that and saw the Church as simply a tool to seize power. During one episode, he was shown secretly indulging in hard liquors.
  • Hugo from Innocents Shounen Juujigun may very well be this. While we don't actually know much about his motivations, harems of young men and women, fabricating supposedly Godly miracles, sleeping with four of the main cast (who are all male), and arranging demon-worshipping death matches are all far from what 13th Century Catholicism preaches, especially considering that his status as one of the well-respected Knights Templar allows him to get away with most of it.
  • High School D×D: Freed Sellzen is an Ax-Crazy Blood Knight who works as an exorcist in the church. As it turns out, he never believed in God to begin with; he only joined the Church and became an exorcist so he could kill and satisfy his bloodlust without consequence.

    Comic Books 
  • Cardinal Trebaldi from The Scorpion. He doesn't even believe in God but plots to become Pope because the Vatican's position will give him a stranglehold on power in Europe.
  • Marvin in Dungeon Twilight suspects that this was the true reason why male draconists can't see their offspring. The elders who made the rules didn't want to take care of children. He asks his friend who is the highest shaman alive to make a reform. His friend is reluctant, since he does believe in the rules, but Marvin convinces him by saying thousands of women would worship him for that.
  • Some Italian satirical comics represent most, if not all, the higher-ups of the Catholic Church as this:

    Fan Works 
  • Glee Reprise has Our Lady of Perpetual Meekness, a private school with Catholic values that seems to exist purely to spout the homophobic and misogynistic teachings of the religious right. Needless to say, Mary and Michael are happy to join Rachel's new glee club and get away from the place for a little while.
  • Rakshas Nori and his daughter Mina from DOOM Waves Of Armageddon use their so-called "faith" in Stiltvelt's Shield God to justify their many, many atrocities, with Rakshas the viler of the two thanks to his blatant cruelty and hypocrisy under his supposed piousness.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Few Good Men, Lieutenant Kendrick claims to be Christian in his testimony but simultaneously exposes his absolute absence of compassion.
  • Capitalism: A Love Story: In its critical observation of capitalism, the documentary argues that many crooked businessmen do this, claiming their ill-gotten gains as a gift from God, while many priests argue that capitalism is incompatible with the teachings of Christianity. To drive the point further, clips from Jesus of Nazareth with edited dialogue appear to show what Jesus would be like as a capitalist:
    Rich Man: Master! What must I do to have eternal life?
    Jesus: Go forth and maximize profits.

    Israelite: You say the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. But when exactly will it be?
    Jesus: When you deregulate the banking industry.

    Man with palsy: Please help me. I've been this way for over 20 years.
    Jesus: I'm sorry. I cannot heal your preexisting condition. He'll have to pay out of pocket.
  • After being knighted by the Church In The Godfather Part III, Don Michael gets accused by Kay of being a Villain with Good Publicity who has invoked this trope.
  • In the Swedish movie Hajen som visste för mycket (The Shark Who Knew Too Much), Joakim Plottner hides one of his Fake triplet brothers as a monk in a deeply religious sect. Everyone else in the sect is there to get an alibi, ignore the world's issues, and hide their heads in the sand.
  • Matix from In the Line of Duty: The FBI Murders.
  • Most of the characters from the film Saved!.
  • Prison warden Samuel Norton from The Shawshank Redemption uses religion as a means to appear virtuous. He turns out to operate various money scams, he gets prisoners to work for him by threatening to "cast them down with the sodomites" otherwise, and he has people murdered merely for wanting to testify on behalf of innocent inmates who Norton wants to keep working at the prison.
  • In The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Tomás de Torquemada runs a horrific regime in Spain where countless people are tortured and executed in show trials, all to keep up a weak show of false piety to mask his sadism.

  • The Canterbury Tales reveals this to be Older Than Print, as there are a lot of religious individuals involved in the journey (it is, after all, a pilgrimage), and just about every single one is a hypocrite to some degree. Most of them dress richly and appear quite well-off, several are all but stated to have visited brothels or had affairs, and a couple are even described as extorting people or using their positions to get money. (The only real exception is the Clerk, who does seem to take his position seriously.) Most obviously, there's the Friar and the Summoner, who both hate each other and call each other out for not living up to their stations (the Friar thinks the Summoner is a greedy conman, the Summoner thinks the Friar is a corrupt lecher), but aren't really able to defend themselves aside from claiming the other guy is way worse.
  • Discussed in A Christmas Carol, where the Ghost Of Christmas Present outright calls out those who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in God's name, saying they are as strange to all his kith and kin, as if they had never lived.
  • Discworld:
    • Vorbis from Small Gods is an interesting example: he legitimately thinks that he's doing the will of the Great God Om... but Om knows there's only one person left who even believes he exists, and it's not Vorbis. It takes dying for Vorbis to figure out that he'd been listening to his own distorted thoughts the entire time, and the realization breaks him.
    • Similarly, Dios in Pyramids isn't exactly hiding behind religion, seeing as he came up with most of those gods himself to teach people the right way to do things over seven thousand years, and has become too stuck in his ways to do otherwise. When Djelibeybi gets kicked into another dimension and the gods start manifesting, it causes no end of trouble for the priests, since belief requires their absence.
    • The secondary antagonist of Making Money is a Con Artist who intends to blackmail Moist von Lipwig, and assumes the persona of a priest of Om while he's in town. The gods don't take kindly to this and said blackmailer has a pair of springloaded false teeth that don't fit. And the goddess of things-stuck-in-drawers owes Moist from Going Postal...
  • Alec D'Urbervilles is hinted to be this from Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
  • Mr. Brocklehurst from Jane Eyre. He tries to teach his school humility by starving them and providing them with low-quality clothing as his daughters and wife stand by wearing silk finery.
  • Machiavelli recommends this in The Prince.
    "Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
  • Isaac of Edenborn is annoyingly pious to his siblings and children. It's all concealing the fact that he's been a burnt atheist since The Reveal of the previous book. In reality, he has converted his apparent religion to a Path of Inspiration and intended to use his children as a form of Human Sacrifice. Whether he would have gone through with it or not is left unanswered.
  • Big Jim from Under the Dome appears to do this. While Pastor Lester Coggins appears to be a sincere example of The Fundamentalist, Renny wears his religious tendencies like a suit of political armor that he can take off or put on depending on the circumstances, going so far as to kill Pastor Coggins when he decides that God probably isn't okay with their helping to run one of New England's largest meth labs, in fact probably the largest in the world.
  • David Weber's Safehold series uses this trope heavily, as well as subverting it just as much.
    • The trope gets played straight with about half of the Church of God Awaiting. The entire Inquisition, especially its leader, use blackmail, espionage, assassination, murder, and coercion for its little problems, like declaring an (unofficial) jihad/crusade to destroy the main character's kingdom. Once the war gets started, though, they really kick it into high gear. Doing little things like build Nazi-style concentration camps for "discovering heretics" and launch a "partisan revolution" in an allied country (unsurprisingly, those parts of it which the rebels don't take quickly cease to be allies).
    • Zhaspahr Clyntahn could be considered a case of this combined with The Fundamentalist. Since he's highly prone to believing his own lies, his hiding behind religion often takes the form of deciding on a response to some threat to his personal power, using whatever logic he needs to use in order to make it appear he's acting in the name of God's Church and proceeding to genuinely believe whatever logic he's come up with.
  • Used in The Dinosaur Lords when count Montañasul starts lambasting religious sect Garden of Beauty and Truth, spiritually opposed to his own Life-To-Come. He gives heresy, hedonism, and straying from accepted Church doctrine as his reasons, but when Melodía questions him, it quickly becomes apparent that the real problem is that Garden endorses fair treatment of serfs and greater equality of social classes, while Montañasul is infamous for the way he treats his peasants.
  • The Swampling King: Quite a few of the priests find ways to use the holy Word for whatever purpose they feel like at the moment, which is generally some variant of "we all need to unite and slaughter the swamplings." Most of them don't even care when they find out that their prophesied savior is a swampling.
  • R.A. Salvatore featured a number of such characters as villains in his later Forgotten Realms novels, all of whom were high-ranking clerics of various good-aligned deities who extorted money out of the poor for fake healing, raped children (a blatant reference to the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal that was big in the news at the time), and otherwise were despicably evil. At the end of The Sellswords Artemis Entreri goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against such clerics of Selune.

    Unfortunately for Salvatore, due to the rules of the gods in the realms (as mandated by Top God Ao) such behavior ought to quickly draw the attention of the deities the clerics followed, resulting in removal of their magic and quite likely a Bolt of Divine Retribution. (It is possible for an opposing deity to masquerade as the purported deity and grant spells in their stead, though.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Horror Story: Asylum: The reverend mother turned to Christianity after she got drunk as a teenager and ran someone over. Fifty years later, she still thinks of herself as that teenage sinner who couldn't own up to murder.
  • In The A-Team episode "Children of Jamestown", Martin James is always spouting off vaguely religious statements. However, Hannibal declares early on that his real motive isn't religion; it's power.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): The Number Ones (aka "John Cavil") make a habit of infiltrating the Colonial Fleet posing as priests for the polytheistic Lords of Kobol. However, whereas the rest of the Cylon race is composed of religious monotheists, the Number Ones openly express disdainful atheism - though one model tells Adama and Roslin that the Ones are actually agnostic - and often mock their brethren's religious displays as interfering with their machine nature. Evidently they view the Colonial religion with just as much contempt.
  • The Boys (2019): Homelander is a minister and makes a big deal of saying he's doing God's work. It's pretty clear though he just finds this a useful belief to invoke.
  • In the Community episode "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism", Jeff lays this accusation on Shirley after he learns that she was his childhood bully. While the accusation isn't entirely fair — Jeff's clearly overwrought at the time (not entirely without reason) and Shirley is a genuinely religious person — it's also not entirely unjustified either; Shirley does have a tendency to use her religious beliefs as a way of feeling superior to other people, manipulating them to do what she wants through guilt and self-righteousness, and avoiding having to self-examine her own faults and less savoury aspects.
  • The Dead Zone: The series' Big Bad is a corrupt, manipulative, womanizing sociopath with an encyclopedic memory of scripture who represents himself in public as deeply religious. In contrast, Reverend Gene Purdy is a genuinely religious character who at first seems sinister but over the course of the series proves to be compassionate and well-intentioned, albeit prone to a lot of internal conflict over the ethically questionable decisions he makes from time to time.
  • House of the Dragon: By the time Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen come back to King's Landing in Episode 8 of the first season, they find out the Hightowers have replaced pretty much all of the Targaryen regalia of the Red Keep with symbols of the faith of the Seven. That move is more about the Hightower-Targaryen side wanting to upset Rhaenyra's side of King Viserys' family than anything else.
  • Rake: Cal McGregor makes a show of having "got religion" while in prison, wearing a crucifix and carrying a Bible at all times, from which he quotes liberally. This was only to better his chances of parole, however. The moment he gets out, he's back to his old ways, bedding two prostitutes and doing cocaine.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017): In "Hopeless Sinner" Chris and Deacon are both disgusted by Bishop Miller exploiting his church to get money (or, in the end, a bride) by taking advantage of desperate homeless youth.
  • Uncle Ezra from the Tales from the Crypt episode "A Fitting Punishment" is a cruel and greedy funeral director who hides behind a veneer of piousness for his clients. Most of his biblical quotes don't even come from The Bible, which gives away that he's a phony, but what really defines his character is crippling and later murdering his orphaned nephew, simply because he didn't want the extra burden.

  • The song "Jesus He Knows Me" by Genesis is a Take That! to people like this. Specifically, those who use religion for self-enrichment, such as televangelists (as Phil Collins dresses like a well-known one from the time, with a wig matching the guy's hair).

  • One character in Gospels of the Flood does this. It's not obvious at first... then the narrator spells it out.

  • In The Bible, Jesus frequently calls the Pharisees out on this.
  • In Islamic culture, this is considered one of the worst sins and one of the aspects of the munafiq. That term refers to "false Muslims" who, among other things, feign piety for the sake of personal gain.

  • Reverend Noah Howerton from the Honorable Hogwarts forum roleplaying game — an Omnicidal Maniac who is using religion to make his followers help him eliminate all other magic-users so that he's the only wizard left and no others can challenge him. He doesn't really believe in God.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • For the most part, averted: horrible things done in the name of religion are done in the belief that such things are right (and given the setting, they are). If anyone is committing atrocities hiding behind religion, they're usually secretly dedicated to a Chaos God, and when the Inquisition finds out...
    • There is the case of the genestealers, however, who infest and subvert as large a part of the population as they can to their cause in preparation for the main Tyranid attack, and are often disguised as splinter Imperial cults.


    Video Games 
  • Grand Maestro Mohs in Tales of the Abyss uses his position in the Order of Lorelei in order to win the influence required to start a war Because Destiny Says So. It's very telling that the setting's equivalent of the Pope is willing to travel around the world to stop him. Furthermore, the founders of the religion (the God and Jesus parallels Lorelei and Yulia) are revealed to have never wanted anyone to do something just because it was foretold. Rather, they left a record of the future that they foresaw for people to avert. They wanted humanity to Screw Destiny and save the world. Given this, it's quite telling just how far Mohs has fallen from the teachings of his faith.
  • Subverted in Tales of Destiny. It's made to look like this is the case, since the man who steals the Eye of God/Atamoni is High Priest Lydon, but religion has nothing to do with his motivations. He just got greedy, left the faith altogether, and decided to conquer the world with the artefact.
  • The church in Breath of Fire II. They were affiliated with the Big Bad, and led your hometown to make everyone think the prologue never happened and get you thrown out.
  • "His Holiness" Sanctus from Devil May Cry 4, who is anything but a devout worshipper of Sparda, and mainly wants his power. It's noted that his goal, unleashing a plague of demons upon the world so that his forces can kill them and be seen as the bringers of a new utopia, is something Sparda would very much have opposed were he still alive.
  • Rodrigo Borgia (aka Pope Alexander VI) from Assassin's Creed II is an atheist who only became Pope so he would have access to the Staff of Eden and the Vatican Vault.
  • Done literally in Mass Effect 3; the Asari have secretly been concealing the only intact, undamaged Prothean Beacon in the galaxy on their homeworld at the heart of their oldest religious site and distributing the data from it as "messages from the goddess" at convenient times for their advancement, all the while condemning anyone who hides Prothean technology for personal use.
  • This is done by practically every antagonist in Final Fantasy X. Nearly all the high-ranking members of Yevon's church are well-aware that Yevon is not a god, but the man who created and controls Sin, and that the chances of ever permanently destroying Sin are basically nil. Religion is merely a way to keep the populace pliable.
  • Friar Remus in Aviary Attorney. While he's quite fond of the bloody parts of the Bible and uses them to wave away objections that he's unChristian, he's actually an atheist out for power.
  • Father Vincent Smith in Silent Hill 3 reorganized "the order" and built a new chapel with himself as the priest, mostly as a scheme to spend the tithings on personal luxuries. Granted, he does "believe in [the cult's main deity] [his] own way," and is fascinated by the cult's ability to harness the town's psychic power. However, he is definitely playing with fire, considering the Scary Amoral Religion he chooses to manipulate.
  • Pope Zera Innocentus of Grandia II, and possibly the entire hierarchy of the Church of Granas, is this. He knows for a fact that God Is Dead and so plans to resurrect, and then bond with, Valmar during the Day of Judgement. His last line is particularly telling:
    Pope Zera: In the end... was I the only one... I was afraid would be judged... wanting?
  • Joseph Bertrand III of Infamous 2 boasts that everything he does, up to and including attempting a genocide of Conduits, is all part of God's plan, reasoning that Conduits don't fit into the divine plan as "creations of science." In reality, he himself is a Conduit, and was more than happy to be one until it turned out that the only power he'd gained was a hideous and uncontrollable transformation into a monster; in his reasoning, if he had become a monster by activating his powers, then all Conduits, active or otherwise, were monsters.

  • El Goonish Shive: "Not-Tengu" apparently feigns offense at the notion that it's not OK to brainwash people into being his devoted followers. As it turns out, he's not some supernatural creature like most of the comic's antagonists — he's human, and used to be an average jerk before gaining superpowers. He knows full well it's wrong, and operates on the belief that he deserves everything he wants.
    "Not-Tengu": A "cult"? Honestly, such intolerance of other people's beliefs.
    Ellen: You enslave minds!
    "Not-Tengu": And I believe that's okay.
  • True Magic: The god Lucideus gives some mortals magic powers as his priests, which after he leaves they abuse just for the hell of it, providing the page quote.
  • Unsounded: While some of the murderers running around using religion as their excuse really believe what they're saying, even if their acts go against their religious doctrine, not all of them are strong believers in their religion.
    Sette: Stay away from 'im! I didn't like him! Not in the khert! Nor in your dead man's tale! He's like the paladins at home, like you: says he does as the gods say, but the gods tell him ever t'do as he were plannin' anyways.

    Western Animation 
  • Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons. When the Movementarians gain popular momentum, Lovejoy is so quick to give up on trying to promote Christianity that when Marge shows up at his church, he is soaking it in gasoline, presumably to cash in on insurance fraud. He also seems not to be that good at preaching moral decency to his own family, if his gossipy wife and manipulative daughter are anything to go by, and when the latter reminds him of past misdeeds of her own, he just plugs his ears and pretends not to hear anything. He blames it on years of having to put up with Ned Flanders, which put him off his job more than his faith and made him, in his own words, "stop caring. Fortunately, it was The '80s, so no one noticed." His name is also doubly ironic since he's not particularly loving or joyful.
    • A recurring theme about him is that he seems to be Only in It for the Money. In "The Monkey Suit", he doesn't care about pushing creationism into school teachings like Ned wants until his wife tells him they might be able to profit from it. He also displays little knowledge of the Bible most of the time or doesn't care about it.
    • Every once in a while, Lisa falls under this. Anything and everything that allows her to stand on her soapbox, she will take in an instant. She instantly changed religion to denounce Burns turning Lovejoy's church (temporarily) into a for-profit venture rather than, say, search for a church that wasn't like that (and she instantly had thoughts about switching back when it looked like she wouldn't get any more Christmas presents). [The Simpsons S31 E9 "Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?" Another episode]] has her trying to exploit Todd having a Crisis of Faith to convert him to Buddhism (Todd quite understandably calls her out on it).
  • Father Donovan from American Dad! is this in trumps, as in one episode he even complains he still has to work for the church as he can't retire to a full pension yet. Additionally, he openly dislikes religion and God, and is so inappropriate for the job he doesn't ascend to heaven with the people in his church when the rapture happens:
    Francine: What's happening?!
    Donovan: The Rapture. Turns out there is a God.
  • Princess Clara from Drawn Together. While not a member of the clergy, she is a religious fundamentalist who uses her beliefs as an excuse to be rotten to everyone. However, the series does prove that she doesn't always follow her beliefs...
  • Just about the entire cast of Moral Orel, who all put up the front of being perfect Christians to hide what horrible and/or broken people they all are. Of course, the only two people who actually seem to truly care about their faith are Orel and Reverend Putty, two of the very few genuinely good people in the show (although Putty is still sincerely trying to rid himself of old prejudice and bigotry).
  • Castlevania: The Bishop's supposed goals of helping the people are nothing but hollow lies for him to get away with murder and heartlessness, and he actually takes advantage of Dracula's rampage to increase his own power and standing within the Church. In the end, God Himself is so disgusted with the Bishop's actions that He withdraws His protection and allows Dracula's demons to kill him inside of a church, the light cast in such a way that the stained glass window of Jesus and the saints appear to be looking away from the carnage.
    Bishop: Gresit will be the last great city in Wallachia. For all intents and purposes, I will be the Church.