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Religious Russian Roulette

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Guidance Counsellor: Dwicky, you really believe in aliens?!
Dwicky: Ha ha, not anymore! All the childlike wonder was ripped from my heart the day my foot got stuck in an escalator, and aliens didn't come rescue me.

Bob is in a crisis, so he turns to God, gods, Crystal Dragon Jesus, aliens, or Trope-tan for aid but laces it with an ultimatum. Bob will be the bestest follower and prophet of his/her/its/their greatness if they'll just come through with this one teeny-tiny miracle. If they don't? Well, then he'll have empirical proof of the absence, sociopathy or jerkassness of God, and will convert to another religion or become a Hollywood Atheist or Nay-Theist.

This gets very thorny very quickly as Bob's miracle will probably fail to manifest. Did he not pray hard enough? Was he ignored? Is God even there? In his game of Religious Russian Roulette, Bob just pulled the trigger on the loaded chamber of gnostic note  a/theism. He may even claim "Evil Stole My Faith."

If the Powers That Be didn't come through for him, why would they do so for anyone else? This nice little angry depression will last right up until a left-field miracle kicks in. It is Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, but Bob now has something spiritual to chew on. Typically, any non-answer from the Powers That Be is chalked up to Bob asking for the wrong thing or for the wrong reason, such as selfish or hurtful wishes or expecting God to out and out prove His existence on demand.

If it's anything like a Chick Tract, the appearance of a true miracle (on demand, no less!) will instantly convert Bob to whatever religion the author wants. In works where the existence of God and the Devil are established facts, this situation is often caused because either God Is Evil, a Jerkass, inept, or simply flawed. At the very least, as in World of Jerkass, it's a case for God and Satan Are Both Jerks.

See also: Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter, Crisis of Faith, In Mysterious Ways, Emergency Multifaith Prayer, and Egocentrically Religious. Compare Pascal's Wager.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Takopi's Original Sin: Shizuka confesses to Takopi that she wished on a star for her parents to stay together. When the divorce happened anyway, she lost faith in both magic and God.

  • In Major League, Pedro Cerrano is a practitioner of voodoo, worshiping the spirit Jabu. In his last at bat, Pedro tells Jabu that if he can't hit this curve, he won't believe in him anymore. After two strikes, he decides to abandon him anyway. "I say 'Fuck you.' I do it myself." He hits it, it's a homer, and by the sequel, he's converted to Buddhism. It's also implied that this is how he came to worship Jabu in the first place; when a teammate talks to him about Christianity, Pedro remarks that he likes Jesus very much — but he never helped him hit breaking balls.
  • Conan the Barbarian (1982): Conan, rather than giving Crom an ultimatum, essentially says, "Help me win this battle, and if you don't then fuck you, I'll do it myself." And it pays off; when Conan is about to be struck down, a vision of Valeria appears so he can finish the battle. It's probably the most book-faithful part of the movie: Crom, being the war-god of a Proud Warrior Race, has no time to aid weaklings who cannot overcome their challenges alone.
  • The Grey has a scene in which the main character (lost in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash, with the likelihood of starving / freezing to death very close, and with his fellow survivors having already been killed by the wolf pack that's still stalking him) has a Rage Against the Heavens moment where he tells God "Fuck faith, earn it!" and that he needs help now. Nothing happens. However, the ending scene has him surrounded by the wolf pack, but the alpha chooses to fight him in a one-on-one dominance fight, rather than having them all attack at once, giving him a fighting chance of survival (he's a seasoned soldier armed with a knife and improvised claw-knuckledusters). The ending is ambiguous about whether he survived the fight or not.

  • A man is on the roof of his house as floodwaters rise. A raft of people come by and offer to take him to safety. He declines, saying he has faith that God will rescue him. Next, a rescue helicopter offers him a ladder, but he again declines. The waters continue to rise, and he drowns. At God's throne, the man asks why God didn't save him. God replies, "Seriously? I sent you a raft, I sent you a helicopter..."
  • "Take prayer out of public schools? There will always be prayer in public schools as long as you have midterms!"note 

  • An unusual example in Mistborn: After Sazed crosses the Despair Event Horizon, he loses his sense of generalized faith and starts going through the 200+ religions he knows about looking for one that he feels can offer a suitable explanation for everything wrong with the world. He winds up throwing out all of them for having logical flaws before eventually realizing it doesn't really work like that. He eventually finds a solution that is unavailable to most: He becomes a god himself and starts his own religion.
  • Monte Cassino by Sven Hassel mentions those who "prayed to God and pledged their souls to Satan" during the constant artillery bombardment as the Allies try to smash the monastery.
  • Gone with the Wind. Scarlett bluntly explains her lack of faith in that God failed to answer her prayers regarding her mother's illness and the family's poverty after the war. He didn't keep his half of the bargain, ergo, she sees no reason to keep hers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Facts of Life, Blair describes how this applies to her: she once prayed to God to stop her parents' divorce. He didn't, and she stopped believing in Him.
  • Sergeant Major Williams does this in an episode of It Ain't Half Hot, Mum where he tried praying to Hare Krishna.
  • Happens in an episode of The West Wing. There is a murderer due to be executed in a matter of hours and it is within President Bartlett's power to commute his sentence to life in prison. Bartlett is a devout Roman Catholic and does not believe in the death penalty, but commuting a sentence when the criminal's guilt is beyond question would be very impolitic. Over the course of the episode, Toby talks with the President about the matter after speaking himself with his rabbi, Joey Lucas, a deaf Quaker, tells the President she is very much against it when she meets with him on an unrelated matter, and the President has a phone conversation with the Pope. None of these tilt the scales. Then he receives a visit from his longtime priest and friend who lays out that Jed knows in his heart that the death penalty is wrong and that God had sent him the message across as wide a religious spectrum as possible. But by then, the convict is dead and Jed sits down, dejected, to give his friend his confession.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Calvin as he unsuccessfully begs the mighty and awful snow demons for it to snow:
    Calvin: Do you want me to become an atheist?!
    • Played with in another strip where Calvin, just before beaning Susie with a water balloon, prays for a sign that this would be wrong. No sign; he beans her and she beats him up. "How come the universe always gives you the sign after you do it?" In this case, he's hoping for a negative result, and the object of the experiment is objective morality rather than God, but otherwise the structure is the same.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • This can sometimes be the impetus for real-life turns to atheism. Something doesn't happen the way someone's religious belief suggests it would, and they start to doubt. However, rather than leave the person a bitter, god-hating shell, it's more likely to make the person more perceptive to atheists' reasons for disbelief. Sometimes it sticks. Other times, the religious person will end up renewing their faith. Either way the common end of this trope, being angry at God, is at most a temporary state if it happens at all. The person either returns to their faith, or stops believing, and why be angry at a non-existent deity? However, they may greatly dislike various gods as fictional entities.
  • One common belief in Christianity is that this sort of thing — demanding an action from God in order to justify faith or prove himself real — is a sin, sometimes called "Tempting God". A Real Life example is Abusive Parents refusing medical treatment for their child because they expect God to heal them. The most common but extreme example to explain this to children would be jumping off a cliff and expecting God to catch you.
  • In The Four Gospels, Satan tries to tempt Jesus to throw Himself off the temple to prove His divinity, reasoning that if He was really the Son of God, God would send angels to protect Him from falling. Jesus rebuts this by quoting the Scripture which says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." (Deuteronomy 6:16, specifically calling the Israelites out for having done it before.)
    • At Jesus' crucifixion, He is taunted by the thieves crucified to the right and left of Him. The Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes and elders who challenge Him to come down from the cross and then they would believe He is the Son of God and king of the Jews; one of the thieves urges Jesus to save Himself, only to be rebuked by the other thief who admits they deserve their due punishments while Jesus has done nothing wrong.
  • The Book of Judges has the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6:36-40) where Gideon puts God to the test twice. He was trying to divinenote  God's will rather than test His reliability, but the test still seems rather... direct. Perhaps a Flip-Flop of God?note 
  • The Book of Malachi has God directly telling people to "prove me now"note  by testing whether they benefited from being tithed.
  • For a specific in-Scripture example, look at the Book of Job. God allowed a lot of crap to happen to Job even though the book explicitly states that Job didn't do anything to earn it — Satan was just trying to goad him into blaspheming by making him suffer. Job spends most of the book lamenting that he didn't deserve his suffering (without blaspheming God and blaming Him like Satan desired) — especially since his friends, on the grounds that suffering is the consequence of sin, argue that he did somehow deserve it — and working his way up to demanding answers as to why it happened. God eventually does intervene, but only to say "I'm God, you're not, who are you to make Me explain Myself?" Job then understands what he was doing and stops.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • One of the many reasons people fall to Chaos. Despite the massive religious bureaucracy set up after his quasi-death, the God-Emperor of Man is still just a man, so when prayer to Him doesn't work, people tend to go with one of the other Physical Gods of the setting. note  That being said, if he wasn't a god when he was placed in life support, he almost certainly is after 10,000 years of worship.
    • Khorne (one of the Chaos gods) does not take well to people who demand things of him without something to show for it, or even pray to him. Time spent praying is time not spent butchering enemies (or allies), spilling their blood so he may drink it.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Sokka spends an entire episode stuck in a shallow hole, bargaining with "Karma person or thing or whoever's in charge of this stuff!" If they agree to let him out, he'll agree to give up meat and sarcasm...
  • The Simpsons: In "How the Test Was Won", when Lisa's class is about to make a very important test that clearly none of them are ready for, superintendent Chalmers advises the students to try this approach:
    Chalmers: Alright NOBODY GUESS! Just be right! Get down on your knees, pray to your God, and ask him, no, DEMAND he tell you the answer and if he won't, he is no God of yours!

    Real Life 
  • The last act of the Viking King Rollo the Walker (who founded Normandy and who had converted to Christianity for political reasons) before he died was to donate 100.000 silver coins to the Church and to sacrifice 100 prisoners to Odin. Apparently he wanted to keep his bases covered.