Acceptable Religious Targets

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"People who don't like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs."
Brad Reddekopp
"Dear ABC, I wish to complain about you always making fun of Christians. Why don't you have a go at Jews for a change? No-one's ever persecuted them. What a waste of taxpayers' money!" - Phillip Harley, Adelaide.

A subset of Acceptable Targets. This section refers to people whose beliefs are, well, apparently corny. Ultimately, there is absolutely no form or collection of beliefs that is not parodied somewhere. The lack of spiritual beliefs is equally exposed to ridicule. Specific examples follow, but we could probably just go with "everybody" and stop right here.

Examples of Acceptable Religious Targets include:


The ultra-religious

There are rarely quietly devout religious believers on American television. Every person openly acknowledged as religious bears some psychological resemblance to the worst, most fundamentalist, most vicious examples of that religion. Every Muslim, to some extent, secretly admires Osama Bin Laden; every Christian is a closet Jerry Falwell or Jack Chick... and let's not even talk about the moronic stereotyping that Jews and Hindus have been forced to endure. In short, characters who treat their religion as something other than stamp-collecting or sport fandom tend to behave as if they got rabies. Of course, the occasional Very Special Episode will go against the grain of this acceptable target, punishing characters within the show who jump to similar conclusions.

Comic Books

  • Intentionally subverted in the Norwegian comic strip Kollektivet with the acknowledged Muslim Mounir, whose non-fundamentalism (and his clashes with the racist ignoramuses he bumps into all the time) is the source of much humor. Not so much with his extended family, who are all ultra-religious Osama-supporting crazies, though.
  • Played straight in the Infinity Crusade crossover. Heroes who were devout religious believers were recruited by the Goddess, an Enemy Without of Warlock, for a crusade to conquer the universe. Interestingly, it didn't matter what that belief was in; Roman Catholic characters, Thor's friend who had his powers, and Hercules himself all fell under the Goddess's control. People with mildly theistic beliefs were unaffected.



  • Paul has two characters who are Christians. They are depicted as crazy, dumb, and violent. One of them deconverts due the title alien's abilities as if only something completely in the realm of science fiction could ever make these people rational.


  • Averted with Grayson's in Honor Harrington. Most of them tend to be very devout and very badass but they have a decent society and are tolerant of others.
  • Subverted in The Chosen. Rebbe Saunders is the head of a congregation of ultra-orthodox Jews. He is a bit of a control freak and even has traces of fanaticism but it is that same drive that helped him protect his people before they immigrated to America. And in the end he turns out to be something of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

Live-Action TV

  • The Canadian series Little Mosque on the Prairie takes a much more nuanced view of religion, with the Muslim and Christian characters ranging from the quietly devout to the cynical. The lead character is a successful lawyer who decided to give up the career and become an imam, for instance, who has often has to deal with the obnoxiously intolerant Babar who is essentially an Islamic Archie Bunker. The imam also goes to see movies with the Anglican reverend. "I don't want to miss one minute of Halle Berry."
  • Averted to some degree in Firefly by Shepherd Book, one of the few characters in a Joss Whedon series to be (apparently) Christian and not gratuitously evil. Joss also made a point of avoiding this trope with Riley from Buffy, whose religious belief was mentioned exactly once, and in passing at that.
    • Also in Firefly, the first scene with Mal in the episode "Serenity" shows him kissing a cross necklace. While he lost his faith at that point, it is a representation of (arguably) the main hero of the series as having been religious at some point.
      • Mal's loss of faith in his religion is even portrayed as a negative thing, part of his apparent emotional trauma from the war, and a major theme of the movie is the importance of faith in some sort of ideal.

Shepherd Book: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?

  • The Chaser's War on Everything, after doing a segment on Australian fundamentalist group Catch The Fire Ministries, had a skit featuring an irate viewer complaining about them making fun of Christians, providing the quote at the top of the page. They then did a segment satirizing the Israeli army. This was followed by the same irate viewer saying "I bet you're too gutless to go the Muslims". Cue a segment on Middle Eastern TV. "What about the Hindus?" they "outsourced the show to India". At the end of the episode, they had the same irate viewer complaining that they hadn't made fun of Jedi.
  • This tends to show through in how people will focus on a few certain episodes of Touched By an Angel, singling out those that come closest to being ultraconservative to try and make them representative of the show as a whole. This ignores the many episodes that fly in the face of this perception, including one where the angels very clearly, and in no uncertain terms, informed a gay man dying of AIDS that God loved him unreservedly, was not in any way punishing him, and that he had led a wonderful life with many things to be proud of, without a single whiff of "love the sinner but not the sin".
  • Angela on the American version of The Office is described as a very religious person who is serious about her convictions. She is also very judgmental, condescending, and cheated on her fiance, Andy, with co-worker Dwight. So add "Hypocrite" to that list.
    • Also fits with the Everybody Has Lots of Sex trope in that the person who disapproves of others' promiscuity (or in Angela's case, even mild flirting and use of "whorish" colors) will turn out to be a hypocrite.
  • Deconstructed in the British comedy Four Lions, which pokes fun at a group of five Muslim suicide bombers who can't quite decide what to blow up. However, most of the Lions aren't actually that religious. Omar, for example, is shown to have a pretty liberal relationship with his wife, who doesn't even wear hijab except at work. One is so out of touch with his own religion that he learns about it from a children's book called "Camel Goes To The Mosque". It's heavily implied the Lions are glory-seekers rather than actual believers. The only true fundamentalist amongst their numbers is Barry, the white, working-class Muslim convert. Because of this, the person eventually blamed for the terrorist incident is Omar's brother, who is highly fundamentalist (he has a harem and refuses to enter the same room as a woman) but peace-loving, nonviolent, and completely harmless.
  • Guess what folks? We have an entire show coming out devoted to making fun of Christians!


  • In Stephen King's Carrie, the titular character's mother Margaret is The Fundamentalist, and part of the reason for Carrie's snap is the abuse she is put through by Margaret in the name of faith. King makes it clear, however, that not all people of faith are batshit insane, and that Margaret's beliefs and behavior actually have more to do with her abusive husband.

Web Comics

  • Played straight and averted in Something*Positive, of all places. The main character's father (Fred) is a quiet man with deep, earnest religious beliefs, but otherwise acts like a normal (if senile) old man. The straight run of the trope came in during a later segment centered around Fred going to a haunted house, which turned out to be run by a bunch of radical Christians showing the horrors of sin and refusing to let people go who wouldn't accept Christ, among other things. When the police became involved and broke the whole thing up, several people who had sat down to protest the haunted house commented negatively about Christians, causing Fred to protest. When the people expressed surprise that Fred wasn't talking down to them for not being Christian themselves, his response was to... go home quietly and pray with a tear rolling down his eye.

Web Original

  • Religious extremists of all faiths are seen as a bad thing in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. Even when they are supposedly good-guys, they tend to be Knights Templar more than they are straight white-hatted heroes.
  • The Reverend Darren England, in the Whateley Universe. He's a fire-and-brimstone preacher, and a hard-line Christian. He's actively trying to get a couple of the protagonists (up to hiring an assassin) because he sees them as threats to all humanity. Okay, he could be right on one of those calls. On the other hand, he also has a long history of working with superhero groups.
    • But averted elsewhere, as at least two of the main protagonists (Loophole and Phase) are devout Christians, with Phase struggling with his beliefs because of the Break the Haughty he has gone through. They even had a talk about their religious beliefs in the middle of one of the stories.
  • On Honorable Hogwarts, there's Reverend Noah Howerton, who is not actually a reverend, but a wizard himself and bent on world domination by killing all other wizards, uses the religious fervor of the Muggle populace in the US to his advantage, and turns pretty much every Christian in Texas into his own personal army. This allows not just the guy in charge of the Christians in-universe—who views them as morons / tools to be disposed of after they're no longer useful—but also the guy writing that character to disparage religious fundamentalists.
  • The less topic-specific and well-moderated a particular subsection of Internet is, the more likely you are to get a response in the lines of: "Oh yeah? But at least I do not believe in centuries years old fairy tales like a dumbass, dumbass."

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons's Ned Flanders may actually be one of the most positive examples here, as while he is shown to be intermittently dull and closed-minded, he is generally shown to be genuinely nice to a fault.
    • Flanders isn't always portrayed positively. Obviously, Ned Flanders is the Trope Namer for Flanderization and, as a result, now seems to have a lot of negative or controversial aspects of religion hoisted onto his character if The Simpsons writers ever want to take a few shots at religious beliefs. For example, supporting creationism, opposing same-sex marriage, and being intolerant of others' beliefs have all been topics involving poor Ned at some point, all of which are touchy subjects to say the least. It's fair to say that Christians in real life might not be comfortable with having the most religious character in The Simpsons air the views that he's aired.
  • Princess Clara of Drawn Together is an extremely devout Christian, and arguably gets the least sympathetic portrayal of anyone on the show. She is typically portrayed as closed-minded and intolerant, which often crosses the line into "unnecessarily spiteful and hateful". She is generally cast as the villain whenever the show needs one.
    • In the first season, she was portrayed as simply ignorant and merely parroting beliefs that her racist father had taught her. It wasn't until the second season that Flanderization set in and she became a true fundamentalist bigot.

Real Life

  • Let's not forget the Westboro Baptist Church. Even Baptists don't accept them as Baptist.
    • This has at least as much to do with their methods as their views. Lots of fundamentalist Christians view homosexuality as an evil, but the vast majority agree that picketing the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims is taking things way too far. What's more, the WBC severely Flanderizes Christianity from a religion that just happens not to approve of homosexuality to one that is built around militant hatred of it and generally ignoring everything else in the Bible.

Fred Phelps' biblical expertise began and ended with Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two, which concerned Men, the laying down with, and why you shouldn't. He had once glanced at verse twenty-three, which was about laying down with beasts, but he had felt that this was rather outside his jurisdiction. ---with apologies to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

    • There was a lot of discussion on this issue, which can now be found on the Discussion page if you really want to read it. While there are a lot of opposing views within the various Christian faiths on homosexuality, the fact remains that while a lot of people disapprove of it, few seem to have the sort of rage that the WBC does. Or inspire it, for that matter.


In varying degrees in varying cultures. Open anti-Semitism is obviously no longer acceptable in much of the Western world, although it is still prevalent in much of the Middle East and in other places.

Orthodox, Liberal, Reform and Non-practicing Jews

Real Life

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons Artie Ziff comes close to this, and there's lots of fun with Krusty's religion.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews

The ones about Jews are sort of true by a bizarre self-reinforcement effect. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews spend a lot of time and money telling all the other Jews that the only proper expression of Jewish culture, history, or heritage is an Orthodox lifestyle. So devout Jews tend to stay quiet around Gentiles and then turn annoyingly preachy around other members of their own faith.


Followers of the Kabbalah

Blame Madonna. 'Nough said.


Possibly has something to do with it resembling pagan polytheism that was utterly displaced by Christianity in the West in Europe, Africa (along with Islam), and much of America. The fact that many polytheistic societies, such as India, were conquered by empires in Christendom gives SOME Christians a cultural compulsion to look down on Hinduism as something silly and bizarre that 'went out of date' thousands of years ago like Europe's pre-Christian traditions. It certainly doesn't help that their pantheon is populated by countless avatars (that's physical manifestations of gods, not blue-striped monkey aliens!) that resemble unusual animals and various grotesque multi-armed beings. The close association with the 1960s counterculture (thank you, George Harrison) is also a liability. And then there's sati. Hoo boy.

Video Games

Live Action TV

  • In Outsourced, many members of the main cast are Hindu and it's never depicted in a negative light outside of a few prudish ideals.

Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons, Apu constantly references (and jokes about) his Hindu faith, but is also a fully fleshed-out character, with various beliefs and habits outside his religion.

"Please do not offer my god a peanut."

  • An episode of South Park has a gentle (at least for South Park) parody of various religious figures as superheroes, and Krishna (a Hindu deity) steals the show as a nearly nude guy with periwinkle-blue skin who can change himself into various animals.
    • Indians actually have recent times started to produce comic books and such in which the traditional gods and heroes are good-looking, muscular guys who fight evil with cool supernatural powers. This is consistent with the ancient texts and appeals to the younger demographic.


An example, in The Dresden Files, one skeptic, meeting the main (Wizard) character for the first time, asks him if he's "One of those Zen nutjobs". May be Truth in Television—Buddhism has different values on discussing religion with other people, which would preclude a lot of the superficial evidence of being overly devout.


  • Otto, from A Fish Called Wanda, also claims to be Buddhist... although he's probably a sect of one within the religion proper...
    • He's also at least partially just an idiot putting on airs, since it's revealed in a confrontation with his girlfriend that he doesn't actually appear to really understand or even know a lot of the philosophy he claims to practice.

Live-Action TV

  • Don't forget Inara in Firefly... Or do space Buddhist hookers not count?
    • Then again, her Buddhism is informed at best and gets mocked on the one occasion it's brought up ("Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony, and a plastic rocket, and...").
  • Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, although what is being sent up is not Buddhism itself, but the self-absorbed, content-free version of Buddhism often associated in the media with Buddhists in the West.
  • Pierce Hawthorne on Community believes himself to be a "Born-Again Buddhist". He's actually in a vague, Church of Happyology cult.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Sometimes, Buddhism is portrayed as very peaceful and more like a philosophy, when, in fact, it can (and has) been fanatical when it wants to be - look at Japanese and Chinese warrior monks in history, for example, and Japanese Buddhism's coercion and involvement in the massacre of Japanese Christians in the 1600s. There's also this whole worldwide cult of respect for the Dalai Lama, despite the fact that the feudal theocracy he briefly ruled included legal slavery and the mutilation/blinding of serfs who abandoned their lords' lands; how much more desirable this would be than Communist China is an open question.
    • To be fair to the Dalai Lama, he reigned more than ruled over Tibet. Most actual power was held by the monastic bureaucracy and the secular feudal nobility, and they could get fatally annoyed with Dalai Lamas who actually tried ruling in their own name.
  • Westerners who adopt Buddhism are often portrayed as trendy, shallow, credulous yuppies who swill $7 coffee drinks and call their therapist to reschedule while they drive their Volvos to yoga class.
    • Additionally, Westerners only convert to Zen or maybe Tibetan Buddhism; Souka Gakkai International does not, apparently, exist.
    • It doesn't help that many such people take up yoga (which is actually Hindu, not Buddhist) only for the physical benefits it bestows, rather than the spiritual ones.
      • On the other hand, just because you take up boxing doesn't mean you intend to get into fights or become a ranked professional, it just might be the way you most enjoy working out.
        • From well-know Hindus who object (e.g., Aseem Shukla), the criticisms usually deal with appropriation of religious activities to serve secular (or even New Age) purposes, and is probably more comparable to certain well-known Christians' criticism of the secularization of Christmas. Ironically, Shukla claimed that yoga is divorced enough from Hinduism in the western culture that many yoga enthusiasts don't even know it is Hindu.


Following the revelation that parts of the Church hierarchy were complicit in covering up child abuse by their own priests, a growing trend has been to depict most or all catholic priests as being child abusers and pedophiles. There is some spillover in this regard into other Christian denominations too, due to Christianity Is Catholic. Catholicism is also commonly portrayed as the ultimate in fundamentalism and hypocrisy, as a group of people who judge others despite being evil and cruel. Catholic girls are portrayed as easy and slutty but judgemental. Catholics have been portrayed as enemies of science ever since they put Galileo under house arrest (The church didn't officially apologize for the Galileo affair until 1990.) Catholics aren't supposed to use birth control, and stereotypical Catholics have enormous families, presumably because they're too dumb to simply stop having sex when they already have more children than they can feed. Catholics are portrayed as shifty and distrustful of secular authorities, as demonstrated by their preferred method of punishing offending clergy: packing them up and moving them to a new diocese where they can commit the same crimes all over again. Catholics were once portrayed as unpatriotic traitors whose only loyalties were to the Pope, but this has become a Dead Horse Trope. John Paul II helped soften the Pope's image, and even non-Catholics tend to think of modern Popes as basically nice guys, though Benedict's resemblance to a certain Dark Lord of the Sith didn't help.


(From a different special): I'm actually one of six kids, Catholic. You ever notice people from big Catholic families, they always throw in that "Catholic" after the number? "Six kids, Catholic. Six kids, Catholic." Like if you didn't hear the "Catholic" part, you'd think, "Six kids? His mother really liked sex! ...Oh, she was Catholic? Okay."

Comic Books

  • Chick Tracts portray Catholics and, in fact, most people, negatively.


  • Cardinal Glick from Dogma is shown to be rude, shallow, and pretty cynical. Appropriately enough, he was played by the late George Carlin. Bethany spends the beginning of the movie feeling rather PO'd towards Catholicism in general (since she thinks that God's a bit of a jerk for letting her life get so screwy) and the actual divine beings are all shown to be foulmouthed and a bit nutty, but the ultimate point made is that the religion itself isn't bad, just that some people interpret it badly.
  • Bishop Lilliman from V for Vendetta. Though technically Anglican, he still falls under the pedophilia of the Catholic priests. Every Sunday, he hires an underage girl, has her brought to the cathedral, and does... things.
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a whole showstopping musical number criticizing the Catholic prohibition on birth control. A Catholic father explains to his huge crowd of children why Catholics are so excessively fruitful and, consequently, why he has to sell them all as medical experiments. A Greek Chorus Protestant couple looks on and takes pride in their right to buy French ticklers.

Live-Action TV

  • There was a period a few years ago when seemingly every crime show on television had a pedophile priest, in response to the real-life scandals. It still often comes up today, though it's usually averted in some fashion. i.e., Detective Mike Logan from Law and Order was molested by a Catholic priest as a child, and the case in which this was revealed has said priest as the culprit.
  • In The X-Files, Scully seems to have got through okay, though this may be because A) she's a main character and B) she wasn't particularly devout until much later in the series.
  • Bones's Seeley Booth is Catholic, though the most that has been made of his faith is his and Brennan's frequent arguments about the validity of faith and belief vs. science and rationality.

Web Original


Need a joke about polygamy (of the polygyny form, of course)? Then they're your target, see also "Religious practitioners of polygamy" below). Of course, any jokes or criticism of Mormons before the year 1900 is likely to be Truth in Television. Other stereotypes are that the women are all Stepford Wives, they all have 15 kids, 100% of the population of Utah is Mormon, and they are unusually happy all the time. They also are known for not drinking tea, coffee, or alcohol, something that is unthinkable in most countries and cultures outside of the US. Like African-Americans, many Mormons give their children absurd made-up names (It's a common practice for parents who can't agree on a name to combine their two choices into a new composite name.) They have what might charitably be called a colorful history of race relations, though they're trying to fix this. Most damningly, they put vegetables in Jell-O.

  • Then there are the stories about Mormons that range from missionaries scouring the globe for women to kidnap and imprison as sex slaves in their temples to being mistaken for the Amish.
    • They also get the similar eye-rolling as Jehovah's Witnesses get, for knocking on your door every weekend and trying to sell you their beliefs.
  • The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints still openly practice polygamy. Mainstream LDS doesn't like to talk about them.


  • And any joke about Mormons lets you make one about their belief that Indians are Jews.


  • Though Stephenie Meyer may not have helped matters much.
    • Still not an excuse for rabid and screaming Twihaters to bash Mormonism as a whole and judge everyo Mormon as a Meyer clone. It reaches truly disturbing extremes sometimes.
  • The entire second half of A Study In Scarlet is a completely different story explaining why the culprit murdered his two victims. It's basically a hundred, hundred-fifty pages or so of a group of Mormons during the Utah migration being massive dicks to a man named John Ferrier and his daughter Lucy, whom they saved from dying of thirst in the desert (one of them who's actually none other than Brigham Young himself even says the the face of the old man "It would be better for you to die a slow, agonizing death and have the sun bleach your bones, than for us to save your lives and let you go on your merry way without converting and joining our party"). Eventually, when Lucy grows up but refuses to marry one of two rich Mormon men (Enoch Drebber and Joe Stangerson) and instead chooses a non-Mormon outsider, she and her dad try running away but are re-captured: John is shot to death and Lucy is forced to marry one of the dudes, succumbing soon to Death by Despair. The victims of the properly Sherlock-Holmes part of the story were Drebber and Stangerson and the murderer was said non-Mormon, the Magnificent Bastard Jefferson Hope..

Live-Action TV

  • The TLC show The Sister Wives is a notable aversion, being about a polygamist family of fundamentalist Mormons (Apostolic United Brethren Church, specifically) and portraying them as a relatively normal family that happens to have multiple moms and a lot of kids. However, the trope is arguably being played straight in that since the show's airing one wife has lost her job, the husband is having difficulties in his, and they are under investigation for polygamy (only the first marriage is legal, the rest are symbolic, but could still be considered common-law marriages), a third-degree felony that could send the husband to prison for 20 years and each wife for 5.
  • The Cold Case episode "Creatures of the Night" features a Mormon Serial Killer who hears voices and strangles people to death after seeing "God's light" shining on them. We also see his aunt, who first tells him to listen to the voices (thinking he's a prophet), then concludes that he's actually hearing Satan.

Western Animation

  • A Zig-Zagging Trope on South Park. One episode has a Mormon family move in town, and while the majority of the episode is spent portraying them as ridiculously nice and pointing out Plot Holes in the story of Joseph Smith, it does a 180 at the end by pointing out that the Mormon family is actually happy and functional, traits that most of the other South Park families lack.

Real Life

  • Some of us Mormons also have a little chuckle at our own expense. Our supposed dullness and green Jello with carrots in it. If you can't have a little laugh at yourself, then you're far too serious.
  • It's also perfectly acceptable to verbally abuse Mormon missionaries knocking on your door or walking in the street; after all, they're bugging you, and they can't retaliate.
  • All that financial support for California's Proposition 8 pretty much cemented the LDS as Acceptable Political Targets.
  • Every once in a while, you will hear someone poking fun at them because "their religion's name is longer than their dogma." This is mostly done in an affectionate way, though.


Even though it's not a religion, there are many atheists who assert their belief "There is no God" in the same manner a religious person does and feel just as offended if stated otherwise. It's hard to find a happy, well-adjusted, or optimistic individual on (American) television who is an openly avowed atheist. Not appearing to practice or even mention religion at all is fine for everyone, but it's generally only characters with a fair degree of cynicism and bitterness who can state outright that they don't believe there is a God, or even that they severely doubt God exists. They also get stereotyped as being communists, particularly Marxists (Marxism being an atheistic ideology). Reasons for this include the fact that Marxist regimes (such as those of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong) were responsible for regimes that tried to violently purge religious belief and enforce atheism (being responsible for many of the same atrocities that the anti-religious criticize religion for). Also one of the most prominent real-life atheists, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, was also known for her abrasive personality, founding the American Atheist Association and trying to defect to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In fact, it is notable that very few TV atheists are portrayed as having come to this conclusion by dispassionate consideration of the evidence but, much more likely, they have some tragedy in their past, such as a Dead Little Sister. As a corollary, such characters often reverse or at least re-examine these views after something good happens to them (often in a Very Special Episode or a Do They Know It's Christmas Time?), even if nothing in the episode suggested a supernatural influence. See, for example, House on House, Mal on Firefly, or the film Signs. Less prevalent in Europe, where non-religious people make up for a sizable portion of the population. See also Hollywood Atheist.

It doesn't help that the Vocal Minority are antitheists, anti-religious or both. A large reason for this is the New Atheist Movement's morally myopic or logically fallacious arguments from some of it's founders, such as Richard Dawkins (who has said atheists were victims of unfair persecution while calling for the mockery and persecution of religious people) and Christopher Hitchens (whose anti-religious book is a Hitler Ate Sugar-style list of terrible things some religious people have done, and has also been criticized for cherry-picking information and the Strawman Fallacy).

Anime and Manga

  • Possible aversion in Karin, in that vampires are immune to crosses because "{They're} pretty much atheists".


  • Sanya in the The Dresden Files places a spin on this trope. He's charismatic and well-adjusted, unlike the majority of fictional atheists. However, in an epic feat of rationalization, he manages to be both an agnostic atheist and a Holy Knight, standing against the forces of evil with a sword given to him by the archangel Michael that contains one of the nails that fixed Jesus to the Cross. He explains to Harry, "I have met many strange and mighty things since I took up the sword. If one called them 'aliens' instead of 'angels,' it would only mean that I was working in concert with powerful beings, not necessarily the literal forces of Heaven, or a literal Creator. A philosophical fine point, true, but I am not prepared to abandon it. What we do is worthy, without ever bringing questions of faith, religion, or God into the discussion."

Live-Action TV

  • Averted in the TBS show Saving Grace, where for being a show about an occasionally bitter atheist in the slow process of being "saved" by an actual angel with Special Powers, and as of season two is dating another atheist. They get treated awfully well by the TV show. The main character may be bitter, but the boyfriend is openly avowed and rather happy and well-adjusted without being bitter or having a dark past to drive him to it.
    • Is it really an aversion if the path to her happiness needs to include "salvation"? That's more playing it straight.
  • Science Fiction series are often exceptions, since many were written by atheists, and may go so far as to posit a future where mankind "no longer needs gods".
    • A slightly subtler version of this is Garibaldi on Babylon 5, whom we only learn is an agnostic at the end of the first season, when someone else mentions it. His character, an Italian teetotaling semi-Boisterous Bruiser, is more stereotypically Catholic.
  • Averted in Firefly, where the most optimistic person in the cast is an atheist (or admittedly an apostate in denial).
    • In Firefly, Malcolm Reynolds hints at being an atheist, especially around Shepherd Book, and his past indicates that this is because of the war.
      • Serenity seems to imply that Mal is more of a nihilist - after the war, he didn't just lose faith in his religion, but also in the idea of fighting for a moral cause. One theme of the movie is his regaining a bit of idealism and deciding to risk his life for what's right.
    • See also No Such Thing as Space Jesus.
    • And even the Christian writers tend not to interject God himself into the equation, not just because the sci-fi demographic is composed of godless heathen bastards, but because it just gets in the way of multicolored shooty things and wondering what's on the other side of a wormhole...and going in anyway. (Also, it would be kind of awkward if they stumbled across Heaven.) If a character is religious, he will instead spout relevant Biblical verse, or a quote by a medieval Catholic priest of some notoriety (which also serves as a "we haven't changed so much since then" kind of reminder to both the remainder of the cast and possibly the reader as well.)
  • As is Klinger from M* A* S* H, where many of the cast had subverted "There are no atheists in foxholes" for the sake of war-weary cynicism. (Though, in one of the places where it's specifically mentioned, it's because it's noted Klinger is bowing his head in prayer after a touching event, and he claims he's given his agnosticism up for Lent.)
    • It's worth noting that agnosticism is not the same as atheism.
  • Bones's Dr. Temperance Brennan is probably one of the most well-treated atheists on television. She frequently states her rationale for why she doesn't believe in a God in a calm manner - unsurprising, considering she's an anthropologist above all else - and nothing has ever been made of her being "wrong". She and her Catholic FBI partner get into frequent arguments over her atheism, but over the seasons, he's come to tease her affectionately over it.
    • The arguments usually aren't "over Brennan's atheism", though... they're usually started because she'll occasionally come close to picking a fight with him over some aspect of his belief. This stands in contrast to how she's shown to not only be knowledgeable but openly respectful of pretty much every religion but all forms of Christianity. She tones it down later as she seems to realize she's antagonizing Booth for no particular reason, and it's entirely possible that there's a Freudian Excuse for why she has issues with Catholicism.
  • Austin James, the Insufferable Genius hero of the 1988 series Probe, was an avowed atheist who came to his belief (or lack thereof) through reason and deliberation. Or, as he put it:

Austin James: "I read the Bible from cover to cover. Several different versions, in fact. And after some careful thought, I came to the conclusion that I simply couldn't put stock in an all-powerful deity who was that self-inconsistent."

    • It is important to note that Probe was created by science fiction legend Isaac Asimov, who once gave the very same reason for his own views on religion.
  • Maddie Hayes of Moonlighting is an atheist who is one of the main characters of the show and is generally treated as an excellent human being, with no negative background regarding religion, making her an aversion of this.
  • Glee has some strange variations of the Hollywood Atheist, playing it straight and subverting it at the same time. On one hand, it's sort of played straight with Sue Sylvester, the bitter Jerkass villian, who apparently doesn't believe in God because her mentally ill sister was mocked and treated unfairly as a kid. On the other hand, Kurt, a more positive character, seems to be atheist because of the way Christians have demonized gays, yet he uses logical arguments for his atheism.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy (after it got renewed) is an incredibly easy target on this very website. A specific example would be the episode "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven", which in no uncertain terms claimed that discrimination against atheists is bad but discrimination against anybody who believes in God(s) is good. Also, apparently your moral compass is completely determined by whether or not you're an atheist. So remember: you can steal, lie, and cheat on your wife, but as long as you're an atheist, it's okay!
    • This is a direct analogue of the brownie points many Christians feel their Christianity alone entitles them to. "I may be cheating on my wife, but at least I love the Lord, so that makes it ok."
  • One episode of Metalocalypse included the Church of Atheism being picketed by Agnostics. Toki and Skwisgar's nihilism is occasionally poked at through the series as well.
    • ...Church of Atheism?!?
      • It should be noted that atheism and nihilism are 2 different things.
  • South Park, as you'd expect, take this to the logical extreme with a future where everyone is an atheist that treats science like a god ("Science damn you!"), and war with each other over "The most logical answer to the great question" What should we call our atheist organization?. And otters. Richard Dawkins also features, where while he was treated better than other parodies he still took his accent.


Scientology has gained a reputation for being a litigious Path of Inspiration. Factors in this perception include advancement in Scientology being dependent half on how much money an adherent gives and the fact that the founder, L Ron Hubbard, has stated that he did so as a joke, and has also joked that he did it to make money. The reputation for being litigious also has some basis; for awhile they had a tendency to call on lawyers anytime they were referenced in the media in a non-positive way. Lots and lots of lawyers; this is also the reason the Church of Happyology trope exists.

Comparatively recently, there are Scientologists who hold the religion's beliefs, but are opposed to the church and its founder's actions. These people are called Freezoners.

Live-Action TV

  • The TV show "Dinosaurs" had a subtle jab at this as well, with "L. Mother Hubbard" advertising his book "Dino-Netics: The Science of Selling Books". Nice little two-fer for comparing L. Ron to a fairy-tale teller, and the idea that he only wrote the book to SELL the book.
  • In the second episode of Californication, Hank is talking to a woman whose husband just left her for another man. Hank sympathetically says, "Well, it could be worse. He could have left you for a Scientologist." The woman then says, "I'm a Scientologist."

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Type "chanology" on Google, and you'll see how and why the entire Internet 4chan Anonymous is currently at war against the Church of Scientology!
  • Not to mention the Anonymous protests at L. Ron Hubbard's birthday, almost single-handedly bringing anon into the public eye, although they tend to be taken too seriously by newsgroups.
  • This hilarious Animutation, although obviously played "for the lulz", was taken seriously by none other than Tom Cruise himself. So the animutation now has a legal disclaimer.

Western Animation

  • South Park might have had the best laugh possible about Scientology—they simply animated what the Scientologist beliefs are—that is, that the evil intergalactic space overlord Xenu placed a bunch of space rebels into spaceships that looked like McDonell-Douglas DC-8 jetliners, dumped them in volcanoes on Earth in the prehistoric past, killed them all with nuclear weapons, and that the ghosts of these dead space rebels are the cause of everything bad that ever happens to us. Oh, and humans are really space-gods, but these ghosts infesting us are causing us to be mortal. They even had a huge sign flash on screen during this segment -- This is what Scientologists actually believe.
    • However, the story of Xenu (also known as the "Wall of Fire" or "Incident II"), while no doubt a part of the Scientology belief system, does not make up the entire crux of Scientology. It's like saying one of the Bible stories is the entire bases of Christian belief, despite other numerous sources. Still, there's quite a lot of solid evidence that the foundation seeks just to milk potential believers for their money, rather than genuine belief.
      • It does form the entire basis for the auditing process, which is one of Scientology's most sacred and most common rituals, and explains where "evil thoughts" come from. It may not be the "entire crux" of Scientology, but it is a major part of it, much like, say, Exodus (and the 10 Commandments contained therein) is a major part of Judaism and Christianity. The really screwed up part of it, though, is that, despite it being such a large part of Scientology's belief system, the average Scientologist doesn't find out about it until they've already invested years upon years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the religion.
  • Futurama: in the year 3000 Trekkies became an organized religion, described in one gag as "The sci-fi religion that doesn't take away all your money". I wonder what they were referring to...


Although really, Anton Szandor LaVey kinda selected the trappings of his religion specifically to piss off the Muggles, so you get what you ask for.

  • It should, however, be mentioned that actual Satanism, and Satanism the way it is portrayed in popular media, are wildly different things.
    • In an extension of the above, Satanists who aren't LaVeyans. There are three main denominations of Satanism. LaVeyan as mentioned above, the Temple of Set, and Luciferianism (either theistic or atheistic). None of us act like the fictional Satanists, and almost all of us loathe the very few fake ones who do, for obvious reasons.
  • The word Satan was Hebrew for 'the enemy', and is not to be confused with Devil Worship; so Satanism is the following of a non-Abrahamic religion in God.
    • Correction: HaShatan means "The Adversary," and it is not clear whether this refers to an Adversary of God or an Adversary of Mankind who works for God. If the latter, he's sort of like Heaven's Prosecuting Attorney.
  • The garden varieties of Satanists - especially Black Metal and pseudo-rebellious "I'm so-o cynical and cool!" sorts - occasionally gets mocked mercilessly by those who as much as met any of these on the 'nets.


  • "Tenebraectum" ("The Arse of the Darkness"), a little "tubby-metal" project originated in Kibology-like community, made fun of Satanists after attention seeking net activity of some. As such, instead of the usual flattering Demonization they alternately describe either misadventures of the Black Metal poser who enjoys delusions of grandeur (while kissing a black goat's butt and drinking for courage before a chicken sacrifice) or the hilariously over-the-top illiterate Slasher Movie Maniac who Eats Babies and Burns Churches, supposed to be the ideal short of which such posers fall.


  • 101 Rules of Black Metal mock this part of the genre's trends too.

50. Publicly state that your band is "non-religious", then use the word "Satan" over 400 times on your one-song thirty-minute album.
81. Profess publicly that you are a Satanist and add that you are in touch with Norway's ancient Pagan past. Pretend that somehow those two facts make sense in conjunction.
85. Satanus. Huh huh huhuhuhuh.

Religious Practitioners of Polygamy

If a religion in the United States practices or advocates polygamy (or rather, polygyny), expect everyone in the media to immediately assume that they are perverts. Recently, due to some Real Life convictions of one leader of a polygamist religion, it is also assumed that any religion that advocates polygamy also forces young girls to "marry" old men.

  • There's a little bit of Truth in Television about it: in a lot of places where polygamy is or was practiced, you pretty much have to be rich in order to be able to feed, clothe, and house more than one set of wife + kid(s), and considering how long it can take to make enough money, you're likely going to be notably older than your second/third wife.
    • It is a bitter fact that polygamy tends to turn women into valuable commodities and collectables. It's also hard on young men trying to start a family since said commodity is monopolized by older and more powerful men.

Followers of New Age beliefs

Portrayed as the most unsympathetic of Cloudcuckoolanders, with a huge side order of Granola Girl, unable to finish a sentence without mentioning crystals, auras, star signs, vibrations, past lives, and/or spirit guides. Also note that the media lumps Neopagans, such as Wiccans, in with "New Agers." (When it doesn't portray them as having made a pact with Satan, that is.)

Live-Action TV

  • One time on Buffy, a group of religious (as against spellcasting) group of Neopagans Willow meets in college are portrayed as idiots who have no idea what they're talking about. Willow and Tara, who simply alter the fabric of reality with no religious connotations at all, are portrayed as far wiser.
    • Truth in Television. Trust me, the scene was not far wrong. That type is known as the College Pagan, the Fluffy Bunny, or the Shirley MacLeaner among the pagan community I hung out in. Also, Willow did invoke various gods and goddesses, so there were definitely religious connotations with her spellcasting.
    • This becomes a Brick Joke when, in the last season, Willow visits them again, and it turns out that they actually have become a real spell casting group; oddly enough, they still do the weekly bake sale.
  • An episode of Burke's Law had a bunch of self-proclaimed witches dressed up as Glinda the Good and holding the cheesiest ritual ever. The hippie/pagan household I was living in at the time cracked up because we all knew people like that.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons in "Rednecks and Boomsticks" didn't even seem to know how to parody the Wiccan coven of teenage girls Lisa stumbles across. One minute they're the epitome of stereotypical airhead teenybopper fluffy bunnies, the next they're portrayed as mysterious and ethereal beings of intimidating power (instead of, y'know, just acting like NORMAL teenagers who just happen to be pagan) - until, of course the angry mob of townsfolk who thought they had the power to make everyone go temporarily blind found out it was just moonshine in the water supply.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Bobby makes friends with a group of Neo-Pagans. The leader turns out to be a Basement Dweller in his 20s.

The Amish

As well as other Anabaptists (Mennonites, Hutterites, Baptist Brethren, Plain Quakers, and others), not because they are often considered worthy of scorn but simply because, as they isolate themselves from popular culture and modern technology, including television and the internet, and so are not in a position to become aware of any slights made against them. Because of said isolation and their old-fashioned lifestyles, many mock them as being backward and simple, though only, of course, in forms of media they do not read.

  • Amish have a lot of other problems that are more or less ignored: the practice of shunning or genetic difficulties (such as six fingered dwarves) because of the founder effect; markedly higher levels of child sexual abuse, and excessive inbreeding due to failures to use exogamy, even with Amish of other villages. It's also notable that Amish are not entirely Luddites, only that new technology has to be approved first to make sure it does not interfere with religion.
    • Due to the way that the church hierarchy functions, where the actual line between "interference" is drawn varies from community to community. For example, in some areas, an Amish home may utilize an electric generator, batteries, propane, kerosene-powered refrigerators, or thermal solar collectors. It should be kept in mind that pretty much no Amish sect views technology as inherently evil.
    • The Amish are more or less only against technology that does not have primarily work-related purposes. Hence, a truck to bring the harvest to your local wholesaler might be alright, but a nice comfy Volvo station wagon just to ferry your family to church is not so alright. Which is not so bad, after all...
    • Craig Ferguson often says that the only group you can make fun of on TV is the Amish. The reason he gives is that they don't watch late night TV.
    • Some Mennonite groups believe in the core tenet that people shouldn't "yoke themselves to unbelievers" and therefore are okay with solar panels and other modern things, as long as they needn't buy them from factories and can stay "off the grid" while using them.


  • The movie Kingpin is built around this trope, too.

Live Action TV

  • One of the victims in One Hundred Ways To Die is a young man named Jebediah, a Naive Newcomer going through the Rumspringa coming of age rites. The dude happens to go out for it in Halloween for it and is roped into going to a Halloween party, since people think he's only disguised as an Amish. Poor Jebediah then gets piss drunk... and dies of alcohol poisoning, since he was born without the enzyme that allows the liver to process alcohol
  • An episode of Cold Case is centered on an Amish family whose eldest daughter was killed.
  • Judging Amy has a case in which an Amish girl gets pregnant by an outsider, then the dad sues for sole custody.


  • Iain Banks's book Whit fits the trope.


  • Weird Al Yankovic's song and music video "Amish Paradise," a parody of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise". The facts presented in the song are in fact technically correct, though naturally presented in humorous fashion.
    • Further Lampshaded on a segment of ALtv, where Al, after the video played, declared: "If I offended any Amish people out there, I just want to say... you're not supposed to be watching TV! What are you doing?... Get back to work!"


  • The Bob and Tom Show featured a band called The Electric Amish, who sing Amish-themed parodies of classic rock songs (such as Barn to be Wild, Give Me Three Pigs, Proud Gretta, and Black Bonnet Girls). They also tell terrible Amish jokes in between verses and take frequent shots at Mennonites. The incompatibility of a batch of Amish guys forming a rock group is frequently Lampshaded by them not knowing that they're on air or telling each other to hide from the local parson. The general idea is that they're basically everyman type characters who happen to be Amish, but there are definitely jokes at the culture's expense.

Western Animation

  • An episode of Dexter's Laboratory sent Dexter to what he thought was a summer camp at a high-tech farm, but turned out to be an Amish farm run by a very morose and boring family. Sent into withdrawal by the lack of science, Dexter built a potato-powered lamp, and the family tried to burn him as a witch.


Suffer tons of this. Because of September 11 (before 9/11, too, but less frequent), a common portrayal of a Muslim male is that of a religious fanatic and sexist who wants nothing more than to spit on the American flag, cover up his wife (or wives), and chant threats in some Middle Eastern language (that is, if he's not making himself and everything around him go boom). Also, they're all brown-skinned Arabs (or, occasionally, black Africans). So, if you're a white Muslim (Albanian or Bosnian, for example), you officially do not exist.

Recently, while there has been a backlash against this, this has also given rise to them gaining a reputation as being a religious version of the mafia, as in "if you're going to criticize them, do it quietly or privately, otherwise they will kill you." This is due to a combination of events such as the horrific Charlie Hebdo shootings, Political Correctness Gone Mad in much of the News and recent media campaigns and societal shifts, particularly in Western society.


"...the thing is, southerners Muslims are as smart (peaceful, tolerant, etc.) as anybody else in this country, our only problem is we just can't keep the most ignorant amongst us off the television.


  • Pretty much anything by John Ringo and his sometime partner Tom Kratman.

Live-Action TV

  • Sayid Jarrah on Lost is mostly an exception—while he is a very flawed person, he's no more screwed up than the rest of the characters and generally portrayed sympathetically.
  • Lie to Me had an episode related to radical Muslim bombings, and the characters were treated in a highly sympathetic manner. In the end, it turned out to be the cousin of one of the victims who was planting bombs in the money collecting tins carried by the young members of the church, which horrified the rest of the community. They discussed quite frankly the fact that people distrusted the Muslim community, even though the majority of them, even the most conservative ones, were appalled at what happened and mourning the loss of two of their young members that were killed while carrying the bombs without knowing it. It contrasted the government's view of the 'bombers' with the view of people who were able to see and interpret the facial expressions of all the people involved.

Western Animation

  • Subverted with Comedy Central. South Park thought that the censorship of Muhammed would be an acceptable target. They were wrong. Comedy Central censored them hard. Recently, they've become a much less acceptable target.
    • Yet inverted in making a statement on the violent reaction to the Mohammed cartoons.
  • Oran Najir, one of the heroes of Broken Saints, is a devoutly Muslim terrorist/freedom fighter from Baghdad, Iraq, whose fundamentalist Qu'ran-spouting father is named Osama. Sound a bit much? Check this: The series (and therefore the character) began before 9/11, and ended shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. As a matter of fact, the character and his story was written in response to the behavior of the U.S. towards Iraq in between the Gulf Wars, esp. in the 1990s. The significance of Osama's name is unknown, because he is never named in the series, and so the timing is difficult to tell.
    • As for Oran's actual characterization, he is actually depicted as a man whose religious beliefs are shown in conflict with his violent behavior. The series charts his journey to overcome his crisis of faith, and indeed, later on, his faith actually helps strengthen him in battle.

Real Life

  • The organized Qu'ran burning in America.
    • Fortunately averted, as almost everyone in the entire country, including typically anti-Muslim pundits, went after the highest profiled burner. True, for some of them their motivation was not giving Al Qaeda any more recruiting material than we already have, but for many, it was abhorrence for the idea of violating someone's most sacred text.
    • One South African Muslim *was* going to burn the Bible as revenge if the Qur'an burning went ahead. Other local Muslims opened up a case against him to stop this from happening (and won), and thanks to the legal precedent set by this, burning religious books is now illegal in South Africa. Oh, and the guy who wanted to burn the Bible in the first place realized he'd been wrong and apologized.
    • May actually be an inversion. The reason it received the media coverage it did was partially because of the potential backlash it could have caused. Bible burnings orchestrated by Muslims have happened before, but no one noticed or cared. Even if the media did cover such an event in a negative light, there wouldn't be a realistic fear of riots and embassies being burned to the ground.
      • This is partly because Christians have endured persecution for so long that burning a Bible as revenge comes off as pathetic. It's not like printing more Bibles is hard or expensive.
      • Also because Muslims are explicitly forbidden from burning Bibles and Torahs, because the Quran says some of the word of God is contained in it. Muslims who consider it as 'revenge' are unwittingly sinning according to what they claim to follow.

Hare Krishnas

Well known for chanting or singing the Hare Krishna ‘song’ or as it is more commonly known Maha (meaning greatest) Mantra, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON as it is most commonly known is a visible target. Mainly due to misunderstanding about practices or a lack of knowledge of why they ‘sing the same song’ the moment stems from the Vedic culture of ancient India and practices its most visible activity of singing and dancing in the street following the instructions of religious scripture that the fundamental religious process of the age is to congregationally chant the holy names of Krishna (the Maha Mantra or Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) and by so doing become ‘Krishna conscious’ or ‘God conscious’ literally conscious of who god is and what he is up to (Krishna is a name for God, he’s the blue guy with the flute).

Most commonly stereotyped as balled headed white guys in orange robes, it is a worthy note that these are the monastic’s, and most practitioners of Krishna consciousness are actually married and generally have 2.5 children etc…

Some countries recognize the Hare Krishnas as a sub sect of Hinduisim, or of Vedic culture. It Is widely accepted that even though considered a New Religious Movement, their practices date back many thousands of years some say predating the bible. Their practice of mantra meditation (also congregational chanting) is also proven to be an effective meditation technique with innumerable benefits.

They are vegetarians and generally love to feed people, so they cant be all bad… probably why that Zombie in Dawn of the dead didn’t eat anyone (see below) oh and FYI Russell Brand the British Comedian is good friends with a Hare Krishna Guru.


  • And perhaps that part in Airplane! where the Hare Krishnas pull a page out of the Jehovah's Witness book, combined with the classic two-bit "doesn't take no for an answer" salesman. At least one gets punched in the face for being a right nuisance. Probably two.
    • Those weren't Krishnas. The Krishnas are the two guys with topknots and robes who, ironically, get bugged by them on the way into the airport.
  • A Hare Krishna even shows up as a zombie in the original Dawn of the Dead. He stares at one of the lead characters but stops short of trying to eat him, possibly due to his beliefs.
  • Averted in National Lampoon's Class Reunion, where a member of the class shows up dressed like one of these, yet acts exactly like any other old classmate you might run into at a reunion.

Newspaper Comics

Video Games

  • They also show up in Grand Theft Auto II. As one of the factions you can work for. About as serious as their depiction of the insane, The Mafia, The Mafiya, The Yakuza..
    • They can typically be found at the start of a level in the first game. It's well worth the police going after you for grabbing a car, running down the whole line of Krishnas, and bagging a huge bonus. GOURANGA!!!!!
  • The Airport section of the unlicensed NES game Spiritual Warfare featured pamphlet-toting Hare Krishnas as enemies. You converted them to Christianity by throwing pears at them, by the way.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Generally used as the punchline of something or other, much like the Krishnas. Everyone knows of them, but no one knows anything about them. The only thing that seems to be widely known about JW's, in fact, is that everybody hates them, and so it's okay to pick on them.

  • Jehovah's Witnesses have no secret beliefs, and are more than happy to talk about them; if you actually want to know what they believe, it's not that difficult to find out. In fact, the jokes are more often about trying to get them to keep their beliefs secret when they come knocking.
  • What is known about them is pretty funny to some. They stay politically neutral. They preach door to door. Some find this harassing. They don't celebrate birthdays or Christmas due to its origins. They also don't accept blood transfusions due to them following a Bible text that says to abstain from blood.
    • The general idea of the Witnesses is to live by Biblical values considered by them to be of divine origin, and to discuss with others how these values can benefit everyone, hence the name. By personal experience, these conversations touch upon different topics, from history, science, moral values, philosophy, political science, literary analysis, current events, family life, and the Bible. The Bible touches on all these topics. (Eg: Job, Daniel, Matthew)
    • Harassment is what it seems like if you go out of your way to avoid talking to them, because they keep coming back until they get a hold of you. If you actually speak to them and ask them not to come back, they put you on a list of people to stay away from. The rest of that is all true.
  • "Everyone knows of them, but no one knows anything about them." Theologically, they are a lot like many other conservative Christian groups (what most people would call "fundamentalist"), except for a couple of doctrinal points. (1) They do not believe Jesus is God; instead, they believe that he is the first and greatest being God created, a version of Christianity called "Arianism" after the 4th-century theologian Arius, who argued this position against the Trinitarian position of Athanasius. (2) They do not believe in the standard Heaven-and-Hell Christian afterlife system. Instead, they believe the dead simply cease to exist. The good will eventually be resurrected, bodily, in a paradisal new world. The evil just remain deleted.

Agnostics, Deists, and Religiously apathetic

Seen as wishy-washy fence-sitters by religious folk and atheists alike. The main reason for identifying as such is that the existence of God is inherently unknowable and is either not worth trying to prove or not worth caring about.

  • Or, for that matter, presenting any (or all) as a middle ground between theism and atheism.
  • There's further irony in realizing that agnosticism and belief are not actually mutually exclusive (You might not know the answer but you can still believe in it anyway). This frequently leads self-identifying agnostics and atheists/theists to attack each other, not realizing for the longest time (or at all) that they are both on the same side of the argument, just identifying under different groups.
  • It's common for newly deconverted people to refer to themselves as agnostic, when what they really mean is atheist (Remember, atheist literally means anyone who doesn't believe in gods, not just those who actively believe they don't exist). However, there's a certain breed of agnostic who claim that they're better than theists and atheists because they don't hold any unsubstantiated belief. Atheists tend to really hate people with this confusion, as the majority of atheists simply disbelieve through lack of evidence, and even the ones who actually do think no gods exist do not hold this as an absolute belief, but merely the most likely scenario. Any agnostic who continues on in this vein moves from 'person confused by the terminology' to Acceptable Target.
    • It's not that one side is wrong, it's that philosophers and laypeople have different definitions for "atheism." Philosophers have very specific words for various beliefs. If you're a skeptic (you have not been convinced by any theistic argument, therefore don't assume there is a god) or an agnostic (you believe that the idea of a god is so abstract that we'll never prove or disprove it), you simply say that. The word "atheist" is reserved for discussing the claim that there is no god, and terms like "agnostic atheist" or "skeptical atheist" are contradictory. The idea that an atheist is anyone who doesn't actively believe in a god is the more common, less precise definition used by those who haven't studied the subject. Since the average atheist is usually just a person who happens to hold that belief rather than someone out to argue it, and the few hardcore atheists unfortunately tend to see theology as a non-subject, none of them know the specific terminology and use the more common definitions. Thus those on both sides of the argument appear to not know their terminology and say of the other "what an ignorant poser, he doesn't even know what he's talking about."
      • It's not just "philosophers and laypeople" who have different definitions. Philosophers and philosophers have plenty of competing definitions as well. Anyone who claims to have nailed down the "philosophers" definition of ANYTHING is probably trying to sell you something.
    • More than that: for many, it's a conscious choice to use a term that may not be technically correct, due to an explicit desire not to be identified with strong atheists, or people who insist all of the nonreligious should be called "atheists".
  • It's also possible for people to (mis?)use 'agnostic' to mean 'spiritual but unconverted': the idea of thinking there's something out there, but not knowing what, and not including the subtext of 'knowing is impossible'.
  • Deists (those who believe in at least one, usually non-interfering god) often get it pretty bad from all sides. Atheists consider them silly for the same reasons they do any other theist and members of other more organized religions scorn them for refusing to commit to any god.

Stand Up Comedy

"I don't want to say that I'm 'spiritual', because the word spiritual to me always makes me think of people who say things like, 'Well, yes, I have a concept of God, but it's not some old man with a long white beard who sits on a cloud.' Well, that's no one's concept of God, you condescending dick."

Live Action TV

  • In Community, the group explain their religious beliefs. When Jeff outs himself as agnostic, everyone jeers at him and calls him lazy.

Western Animation

  • Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an agnostic, as evidenced in one of her song numbers, and is portrayed as being more humble and loving than Frollo or other self-serving, more devout Christians.
      • Romany religious beliefs are far from codified and often include a measure of syncreticism with regional gaje, when they haven't just converted. What things are common include a great variety of ways for things to become spiritually polluted and a god/satan-like set of major supernatural powers. So there weren't a lot of useful ways to bring in gypsy traditions, and every chance a real Parisian gypsy could have this vaguely agnostic approach to the god of Abraham.
  • In Family Guy, Brian initially seemed to be a deist but as the series wore on (especially after it was Uncanceled) he was Flanderized into a particularly arrogant atheist.

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarians, though a relatively small religious group, tend to get poked fun of primarily for "believing nothing" and "questioning everything". This is a gross over-simplification of the modern Unitarian avoidance of dogma and strict religious rules that other religions have. Of course, a large portion of its adherents are wealthy/white/gay/hippy-ish/all of the above anyways, so there are a number of Acceptable Targets to shoot at. It also helps that Unitarians tend to laugh louder than anyone at the jokes. It doesn't help that few people know what the heck a Unitarian is, even though it was a prominent Christian sect of the 19th Century (and three Presidents were counted as members). Psst: Unitarian Universalism is a merging of two churches. Unitarianism is the belief in a unified Christian God rather than a Trinity: Universalism is that God relates to everyone of all faiths.

Despite the comparatively laid-back nature of the religion, Unitarians can attract some genuine rancor—either from other Christians accusing Unitarians of not being real Christians, or Atheists assuming that Unitarians, being Christian, must share the same beliefs and attitudes of any other Christians.


  • A joke at some Unitarian churches: "Why are Unitarians so bad at singing? Because we're always reading ahead to see if we agree with the lyrics."
  • A good example of the anti-dogma jokes: "For Unitarians, "tradition" is how you did it last year. "Firmly established tradition" is when it holds on for two years. After three years, it's "the way we've always done it.""
  • Another joke:

What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah's Witness?
Someone who knocks on your door, but doesn't know why

  • A columnist for SFgate wrote an essay detailing the Unitarian Jihad. Filled with jokes about how everything gets decided by committee vote, it was quickly picked up by Unitarians themselves who created sites like the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator.
  • Q: How do you know you've pissed off a Unitarian? A: There's a burning question mark in your yard.
  • Q:Why are there no UU's in Heaven? A: They were given a choice between going to Heaven and going to a discussion group about the existence of Heaven.

Live-Action TV

  • On one episode of M*A*S*H (television), Colonel Potter calls the head of chaplains at the Pentagon to lobby for Father Mulcahey to get a promotion. After the call goes through, Colonel Potter says "He answers his own phone, must be a Unitarian."
  • A stage manager character on The Colbert Report is a UU. The show poked fun at the character's agnosticism and his celebration of multiple holidays in a bit that a Unitarian Universalist website called "humorously accurate."

Real Life

  • Jim David Adkisson went after a Unitarian church specifically because he was looking for liberal targets.

Western Animation

  • On 'The Simpsons' at the church ice cream social, Reverend Lovejoy asks Lisa if she wants to try the new "Unitarian flavor ice cream". She gets handed an empty bowl and says "But there's nothing there." and the Reverend responds "Exactly."
    • Another joke is when Bart goes over to Rod and Todd Flanders and play the only video game they have where you shoot Bibles at cavemen and other heretics to convert them. It leads to this joke, Bart: "Aww man I missed!" Todd: "Nah, you just winged him and made him a Unitarian."

Episcopalians and The Church Of England

Are pretty sometimes seen as ineffectual "anything goes" types who will completely contradict their own dogma whenever its convenient. That's if people still aren't cracking jokes about Henry VIII. In America, WASP jokes will do.

(Interestingly, Henry VIII's official declaration of the Church of England was, while of course related to divorce, a final move in a several-century game of poaching control of national churches from one another by popes and kings. Strictly speaking, since the old Roman church withered to nothing in the Dark Ages and the pope at Rome only started recentralizing after the institution general was healthy again, the pope poached first. Medieval kings of England had control over things like appointing bishops, and never quite felt they'd lost the right.)


I'm an Episcopalian. That's like Catholic Lite. All the ritual, half the guilt!

  • Eddie Izzard has his brilliant Church of England monologue, as well.
    • I choose death! Wait! No! Cake!
  • One joke that's made the rounds involved an Episcopalian and a Methodist at a party. When a waiter offered drinks, the Episcopalian took one. The Methodist said, "I would rather commit adultery than drink alcohol." The Episcopalian looked startled, put his drink back on the tray, and said, "I didn't know we had a choice."

Western Animation

Mainline Protestants

Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists (if they're not feuding), and their splinter groups are often times depicted as bland and interchangeable, assuming they're not The Fundamentalist. Expect tiny churches, beige decor, lots of small town gossip, big zany hats and rehashing of generic WASP stereotypes. African American churches are considered somewhat exempt because of their role in the civil rights movement, but they might still be chewed out on some of the more contentious issues (homophobia, gossip, phony faith healing, etc..) ; expect a loud, joyous, clapping choir, a flamboyant preacher, audience participation so involved people are fainting in the aisles... and even bigger, zanier hats.

  • In case of Southern Baptists, see Deep South. Hyper-conservative (albeit not to the same extent as the Amish), fire-and-brimstone, and generally still acting like the Civil War and civil rights movement never happened (which is kind of unfair, since many evangelical Christian groups - including some in the South - were instrumental in helping to get slavery gradually abolished). On the other hand, they're usually also portrayed as intensely involved in and committed to the community - the entire population of an American South town going to the same church on Sunday, from the mayor to the dog catcher, is Truth in Television in parts of the South.
  • Christian teens are commonly the antagonists in a lot of teen programs (Saved, Easy A) or have to give up their beliefs to become a "better" person (Glee, Secret Life).
  • Commonly, kids in abstinence groups are portrayed as judgmental hypocrites; this possibly is meant to be critical of having opinions on sexually active peers, or criticizing the demonization of contraception, but usually comes off as being "abstinent is directly wrong," and that you are either stupid or selfish for not "doing it," and the advantages abstinence has over contraception (it's cheaper, has no side effects, and has more probability to work) are rarely brought up. However, most main female characters usually will be a virgin and proud of it, but never for religious reasons.
  • There's sometimes the belief in countries with a Catholic majority, like in Latin America for example, that all Protestant denominations, especially within the United States, are comprised of slightly backwards people who are usually very overdramatic and willing to dish out all their money to televangelists in exchange for salvation.


  • In Vampire in Brooklyn, Max manages to take the form of a flamboyant black preacher and convince an entire congregation to start singing "evil is good."

Live Action TV

  • Shirley from Community sometimes enforces her beliefs on the rest of the group and even tries to force them to celebrate Christmas. Generally, she's one of the sweetest and most down-to-Earth characters, though.


  • Cynically invoked by Genesis song "Jesus, He knows me".



  • An obscure stage musical called Crowns is entirely centered around Black church ladies and their flamboyant hats.

Western Animation

Bart: Still looking for a new faith?
Lisa: Yep.
Bart: Hey, how about one of those religions where you eat a human heart?
Lisa: No.
Bart: How about Methodist?
Lisa: (Emphatically) No!


Often goes beyond "LOL" and well into "EEEEEEEEEEK!". Practitioners of voudon and other Yoruba-derived faiths, such as Santeria, Candomble, and Obeah, are often portrayed as magical and mystical at best. At worst, they're portrayed as murderous, morbid, and practitioners of necromancy and dark magics the likes of which would make Voldemort soil his robes. See Hollywood Voodoo for details.


Basically portrayed as brainwashing organizations, whose followers view their religious leader as a Messiah, and obey him without question. They're almost cut off from the outside world, believing in only in what their leader says. Most of the time they usually result in mass suicide.

  • In some countries, this is the very definition of the local word for "cult".
  • The academic term is "New Religious Movement" as the term "cult" is inherently pejorative.

TV Ministries

TV ministers in fiction are pretty much universally portrayed as being big haired, overweight, obnoxious, materialistic, loudmouthed southerners who are corrupt as corrupt can be. They're in it more for the money than they are for the saving of souls. Their sermons are almost always accompanied by pleading with their followers to send in more money, or to commercials that allow their flock to purchase such "holy relics" as a set of "Last Supper Steak Knives", each engraved with the face of one of the apostles, or a set of "Mary and Joseph salt and pepper shakers" and the like.

Anything religious in general

Is there a god? What is the purpose of life? What is life after death? etc. Whatever you think, someone will always find a way/reason to hate/bash/spoof it.