Belief Makes You Stupid

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Convictions cause convicts."

We just need to treat religious people with kindness and love, in the same way you'd treat a child running around saying: "I'm a helicopter!"

Simon Amstell, Grandma's House

When a work of fiction is insistent on the differences between religious idealism and the realism demanded by the plot, overly religious characters may be portrayed as out of touch with the demands and opinions of the world around them. When said work of fiction is a video game, however, there may be bonuses related to the adherence to faith. May lead to Ideological Rock-Paper-Scissors if religion, magic, and science coexist in the same universe and are out to get one another.

Some of the stereotypical character traits - which are not always present in a work - used in this trope are:

Compare If Jesus, Then Aliens, No Such Thing as Space Jesus, Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions, Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid, and many versions of the Corrupt Church. Contrast God Guise, in which the effect is quaint or humorous rather than abrasive, Clap Your Hands If You Believe, where belief actually alters reality, and Flat Earth Atheist, where disbelief makes you stupid. Likely to be a Straw Character. Probably takes the Enlightenment side of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment. Overuse or one-sidedness may be a sign that the work is an Author Tract. If the belief is actually true, expect reinforcing action from a Celestial Bureaucracy.

The polar opposite is Hollywood Atheist.

As with other tropes, this trope is a commentary on Real Life attitudes crafted to suit the purposes of various authors. While like all stereotypes, there's an element of truth, and there is always going to be a certain percentage of religious people who exhibit one or more these characteristics, that does not mean one should assume those characteristics apply to every religious person they meet or every follower of a particular religion. Each religion should be assessed on as much of its history as possible, along with teachings and merits, rather than tarring some or all with the same brush. On that note, the assumption that religiosity is inherently irrational and/or makes a person that way is one many religious people find deeply insulting. No real life examples, please; we at All The Tropes do not condone bad-mouthing real-world religions, or putting down people for their religious beliefs. Above all, remember the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement.

Examples of Belief Makes You Stupid include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • The religious fanatics in "Bio Apocalypse" take this trope to the extreme.
  • Termight Empire in Nemesis the Warlock are religious fanatics seeing aliens as demons, worshipping clearly insane leader as a God and getting themselves killed with undying fanatism. Nemesis' battlecry is Credo! (Believe in latin), but he points out he means it like "belive in yourself".


  • Agora, focusing on the death of the philosopher Hypatia, depicts Christians as fanatical assholes, with their fanaticism raised Up to Eleven thanks to the sheer intolerance towards pagans and Jews; the "stupid" part of the trope comes from the fact their intolerance blinds them to the point of stupidity, attacking at random with disastrous consequences. The accounts used come from pagan writer Damascius (who was enemies with the Christians) and Edward Gibbon (a strong atheist).
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian depicts religious believers as stupid at a number of points, refusing to think for themselves and fracturing off into sects divided by trivialities. The Jewish revolutionary organizations and the followers of Brian are both examples.
  • In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the escaped prisoner, Everett, repeatedly chides people for their religious gullibility. Examples:
    • When Everett witnesses a riverside baptism service, he comments: "Well, I guess hard times flush out the chumps; everybody's lookin' for answers."
    • After Everett's travel companions get baptized themselves, Everett remarks; "Baptism! You two are dumber than a bag of hammers."
    • Toward the end of the film, when facing his own death, Everett falls on his knees and repents of his sins before God. After he is delivered from death (thanks to a sudden and massive flood of water), Everett discounts his conversion by noting that "any human being will cast about in a moment of stress." When his companions proclaim that the flood was an act of God, Everett comments, "Again, you hayseeds are showin' your want for intellect." (Note: Everett's watery salvation functions as a clever twist on Death by Irony. Deliverance by Irony, perhaps?)
  • There is a take on this trope in My Father My Lord. Although the deeply pious father is shown to have a slightly negative impact on his wife and son because of his devotion to Judaism at first, his faith ultimately is shown to have tragic consequences; a day taking his son Menachem to the Red Sea, whilst his father and the other devotees are lost in fervent prayer, he slips away into the water and drowns. His father's love for the unseen trumped his fatherly duties to keep watch over his son.


  • Inverted in Isaac Asimov's Foundation, where the huge difference of technological development between The Foundation and their neighbours, produce the creation a religion when the foundationers try to share their knowledge with them. This happened because it was the only way they would have accepted their technology (which they saw as sorcery.)
  • Dune. Anyone order a thousand years of Holy Wars that nearly sent interstellar travel down the tubes?
    • Not that the technological society that preceded this was much better... the setting borders on a Crapsack World. It specifically examines the issue of how a large populace interprets the words and deeds of a religious prophet who spoke and acted for a specific place and time. In truth the prophet(s) eventually managed to accomplish what they set out to do, human physiology and psychology advanced, and human society became more modern, peaceful, and diplomatic. Then the Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres decide to get into a fight over who can better use hypno-sex to control populations, and it gets worse.
    • Actually, more of a cunning subversion on part of the author : It's not belief in an ideology or religion that makes you stupid, but things like unjustified pride and fanaticism (whether religious or any other)...
  • The religion of His Dark Materials.
    • Which was in turn a reflection of the author's beliefs about organised religion in general. It appears to be mostly an attack on Christianity, but that's due to him growing up in a predominantly Christian country.
    • That's not so much Belief Makes You Stupid as Belief Makes You Evil And Dogmatic, considering that the Magisterium are intelligent and dangerous antagonists.
  • In his nonfiction, Robert Anton Wilson of Illuminatus fame has declared, in direct quote that "Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence." Notably he includes dogmatic science (as opposed to progressive science) under the definition, as well. The theme of free-thinkers who dare to question the "obvious" values and beliefs of their society is constant in all his novels.
  • The Sword of Truth holds that both belief and emotion make you stupid. So a character who claims he has faith in his feelings must be quite insane. Mind you, characters claiming this have been known to make some rather impressive intuitive leaps themselves.
  • Religious people in Neal Stephenson's Anathem run the full gamut of stupid, from trying to murder a guy who saved one of their members' lives to believing that strange lights in the sky are a sign that the world is going to be judged.
    • Anathem also provides plenty of counter-examples. Ganelial Crade is religious, and while his religion can get in the way of his critical thinking, he's not completely stupid. The avout end up empathizing with his faith: while they don't agree with it, they feel much of what the believers feel. Then there's Cord, one of the most intelligent non-avout characters in the book, who ends up joining the Kelx faith.
  • Although the Discworld novels criticize organized religion much more than belief itself, the third The Science of Discworld book, Darwin's Watch, employs this trope somewhat.
    • "Somewhat" in this case meaning "If Darwin hadn't written Origin of the Species, humanity would never leave the planet before it froze."
      • He doesn't just not write it; he writes a book just as convincing in the other direction and more or less ends science.
  • Subverted in Tom's Midnight Garden. Abel, the pious caretaker, at first appears to be a superstitious ignoramus, who thinks Tom is a demon; eventually, his belief allows him to recognize that Tom isn't evil. Later, as discussed in a conversation between Hatty Bartholomew and Tom, the fact that Abel could see Tom strongly implies that he was far more perceptive than anyone gave him credit for.
  • Surprisingly, the Roman philosopher Celsus seemed to hold this view, making it Older Than Feudalism, trying to prove that Christians were all a bunch of uneducated Roman-Empire-Equivalent-of-Hicks. Though since he valued the traditional Roman religion, in his case it wasn't Belief Makes You Stupid as much as Belief In Christianity Makes You Stupid. Notably, he used this as an argument for why Christians should be eradicated from the face of the Earth.
  • In The Pale King, Chris Fogle had nothing but contempt for his religious roommate and his girlfriend.
  • Subverted in the Book of the Long Sun. Patera Silk's religion and gods are false, but there are facets of truth behind the lies. Silk manages to be a great leader in spite of it.
  • Father Brown’s general appearance made him look as dumb to everyone, but this trope is continually applied to him by his condition of Catholic Priest: A lot of people in his stories (The Blue Cross, The Flying Stars, The Hammer of God, The eye of Apolo) constantly make the wrong assumption that a priest is a celibate simpleton unaware of the Real Life. In fact, a priest must study philosophy and theology precisely to defend his beliefs helped by logic, and the fact of hearing a lot of people confessing his sins give him an interesting perspective about Real Life. Lampshaded in The Blue Cross when he explains to Master of Disguise Gentleman Thief Flambeau how he discovered him:

"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.
"'Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose, he said. Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."
"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.
"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."

  • In Good Omens, most of humanity appears this way. Best shown when Aziraphale gets accidentally exorcised by Shadwell and spends the next several hours body-surfing around the aether, causing nearly everyone he encounters to assume they're being inhabited by a Demon. With slight irritation, Aziraphale has to correct them that he's actually an Angel.
    • Aziraphale also terrifies an televangelist and his congregation for the ludicrous notion of the Rapture, pointing out that during the Final Battle, the Angels fighting in the Celestial War will simply be too busy fighting the forces of Hell to go around picking random people up. Between the Heavenly War and the War down on Earth, any human that dies in the crossfire will be considered acceptable civilian casualties and it's up to God to clean that mess up... And that's if they actually win!
  • In The Left Hand of God it is repeatedly pointed out how their extremely strict religion makes almost all Redeemers incapable of original thought. They like it that way. Any acolyte who does anything too unexpected may be killed on the spot.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek, at least until Deep Space Nine fleshed out the Bajorans as more than spiritual cannon fodder for the Cardassians.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Believers" depicts a family from a zealously religious species refusing to allow Dr. Franklin perform simple life-saving surgery on their son because their religion states that he will lose his soul if he is cut open. The alien parents are earnest and loving, but their arguments are little more than strawmen, and their culture is depicted as insular and close-minded at every turn.
    • That was stolen from the headlines...
    • On the other hand, Franklin's belief that Science is superior to Religion fits this trope as well, right up to the point where he saves the child, expecting the parents to turn around and realize he was right, only to have the wind taken out of his self-righteous sails when the parents kill their own child, believing him to be effectively a soulless zombie. In the end, the episode leaves who was right and who was wrong ambiguous and up to the viewer to decide.
    • B5 as a whole seems to skirt both sides of this trope. On the one hand, it's strongly implied that the Vorlons have been exploiting the religions of various planets to manipulate their societies. On the other hand, most characters with strong spiritual or religious beliefs are portrayed positively, and most are implied to have deeper pools of beliefs than the Vorlons' superficiality.
  • On Lost, Richard Alpert is Catholic, and, in 1867, he accidentally kills a man while getting medicine for his dying wife, gets arrested, is told he can't be absolved for his sins, and then crashes on the island. Naturally, he is willing to believe he's gone to hell when told just that by an apparition of his dead wife and a mysterious Man in Black. Exploiting Richard's faith, the Man in Black tells him he can only escape "hell" by killing "the devil," the Man in Black's archenemy Jacob. The plan falls through when Jacob explains Richard is not dead, not in hell, and was misled by the Man in Black.
  • A staple of classic Doctor Who. Religion was usually portrayed as the antithesis of science and any character fanatically loyal to a 'god' and doing things in 'his' name would ultimately be revealed to be deluded and worshipping a mad computer (Face of Evil), an empty spacesuit (Planet of Fire), etc.
    • Modern Doctor Who has used this and its opposite, but an example of the trope being played straight would be The Doctor's Daughter, where the soldiers' deity turns out to be a terraforming device.
  • Averted hard on The X-Files, of all shows. Though the premise of aliens and the paranormal may seem like the antithesis of religion (as it's usually portrayed), religion gets a ton of screentime during the series. Besides the Monster of the Week episodes that deal with things like stigmata, Demonic Possession, and recordings made by Christ, the show has a lot of religious undertones. However, these undertones aren't "God is responsible for everything on the show" kind of things. More questioning religion and how it came to be. At one point, Scully finds an extraterrestrial engraving that contains passages from the Bible, and Scully herself experiences a birthing experience similar to the birth of Christ. This interplay of religion and science also plays large role in Scully's character development. Though a skeptic of Mulder's theories, she is a practicing Catholic and often must reconcile what she's learning with her faith.

New Media

Tabletop Games

  • The Adeptus Mechanicus of Warhammer 40,000 believe that all knowledge already exists, and that it must be found from ruins of the past rather than sought out—in this case, they're right, because the majority of human technological prowess was lost during the Age of Strife, and they're trying to recover it from various Forge Worlds.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • In Planescape lack of belief is plain weird, thanks to being set mostly in the parts of the Multiverse that run on Clap Your Hands If You Believe. Everyone believes if something, if only their precious Manifest Destiny. There's a vocal atheist faction, but it believes in hidden truths and even they can be priests, just of ideas/abstract ideals rather than personified powers. Inner planes are different, but there people are mostly concerned with survival (and occasionally politics) instead.
    • And the Forgotten Realms. Considering what happens to the Faithless, you'd be much dumber to not worship a god.
      • It's more the other way around, that is in the world so teeming with jostling and politicking divinities that outsiders half-expect there to be a local God of Beer Mugs, being an atheist is kind of like not believing in air or water. Not everyone even knows of the wall, but apparently it appeared after the last time the Faithless were majority of a faction with significant power.

Video Games

  • Played with constantly in 4X games, especially the works of Sid Meier:
    • Adopting general policies related to theocratic government often slows down your researching ability (generally either halving the rate or stopping Libraries, Universities, etc. from applying bonuses). The tradeoff is faith-empowered troops and cheaper (if not outright free) variants thereof, along with marginally happier citizens (or in Civ II, no unhappy citizens at all).
    • Civ IV is unique among the series to feature distinct religions, and boy, does it play with this trope.
      • In general, each of the seven religions serves as merely a diplomatic modifier, encouraging alliances between empires of the same religion and directing animosity towards the heathens that dare to worship some other deity. The difference is almost entirely cosmetic, and the only reason conflict even comes about is because the AI is programmed to automatically hate empires of different religions. In multiplayer games, religion is a non-factor in deciding allies and enemies. In this case, Belief Makes The AI Stupid(er).
      • Religious governments do not receive any penalty to research, but a government with the "Free Religion" civic, which cancels out the government's religious affiliation, grants a bonus to research. However, the game also rewards religious diversity (i.e. spreading multiple religions), especially since Free Religion gives better bonuses the more religions you have in your empire, and the natural setting is paganism, so there is no 'state atheism' setting, despite the presence of Communism and State Property. Additionally, Monasteries (which are available to all religions) grant nice early research bonuses.
    • Same goes for the Lord's Believers (and Expansion Pack counterpart Cult of Planet) in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, except it's permanent due to ideology separating factions rather than nationality.
      • Note, however, that the Believers are specifically identified as scary fanatics and are not supposed to be representative of religion in general, any more than Zakharov's willingness to perform unethical research is supposed to be representative of all scientists.
      • Also subverted with Sister Miriam's in-game bio and quotes: While she's definitely wary of technological advancement, she hardly thinks that Science Is Bad (at least, not at first). She is also a trained psychologist and (like all of the leaders) a deep, philosophical reason for her concerns. Miriam seems to have read and understood Dostoyevsky, to some degree—not scientific, but not stupid either.
    • Ironically, this trope was useful in Civ 2: The theocracy was inept when it came to scientific advancement, but the religious fervor made every citizen satisfied with his life and it was the best kind of regime to win war: Jumping from democracy in times of peace to theocracy in times of war and back to democracy once the war was won was a very efficient strategy (for beginners, at any rate).
    • In the DS version of Revolution, this trope is played straight and inverted. The closest thing to a theocracy is the 'Fundamentalism' government type, whereby cities abandon scientific study for the sake of culture. However, religion in general actually improves scientific advancement by giving you access to technology like the printing press.
  • Europa Universalis, though not a Sid Meier game, features a slider that dictates the church's activities: one side puts focus towards the arts, humanities, and sciences, while the other side focuses on missionary and conversion efforts. Interestingly, a later patch popular Game Mod renamed the slider from "Innovation vs. Narrowmindedness" to the more even-handed "Innovation vs. Tradition" to emphasize the fact that both sides are equally viable choices depending on the player's strategy, making it less a case of Belief Makes You Stupid than Conservatism Makes You Conservative.
    • Which religion you culture belongs to can have a bigger effect. There's your choice of state religion, and your religious/cultural 'tech group'. Catholics and Protestants share a 'latin' tech group, the best, but Reformed>Protestant>Catholic>Counter-reformed, and so on. Because of the game's time period, there is strictly speaking no 'no belief' setting to make you 'less stupid'.
  • Portrayed oddly in Final Fantasy Tactics: The higher a character's Faith stat, the more damage he deals and receives with magic. If it's too high, he'll desert to pursue a higher calling. On the other hand, atheists are utterly useless when it comes to casting magic but make for effective walls against it.
  • The Covenant of Halo hold Forerunner technology as religious artifacts. They simply copy the artifacts as they are, and it is considered heresy to change or improve on them in any way, shape, or form. Ironically, despite being leaps and bounds ahead of humanity technologically, their mathematics are way behind, as all they do is copy. When humans get hold of Covenant/Forerunner technology and apply the superior mathematics, it is far more powerful than anything the Covenant make.
    • In one of the books Cortana got better effects from a captured ship's engines and weapons simply by fiddling with the settings.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, while it's certainly true most of the priests are decent people and the gods are mostly benevolent, the Church itself participates in mass censorship, oppressed the necromancers into demon-worship thereby creating one of the Big Bads of the series, and perpetrated the genocide of the Ayleid.
    • In the other Elder Scrolls games, it's played with. The way the story is told (player perspective only) and the way said player receives information about the religions (other character perspectives only) most religions claim this about most other religions.
    • Of course, one must consider that Necromancy by it's very nature is considered an abomination by law abiding magicka users, and that by all accounts the Ayleids were pretty big dicks.
  • Tales of the Abyss is a subversion. The intelligent, level-headed followers of the Order of Lorelei (ie: Tear and Ion) are on the side of good. The Knight Templars like Mohs, on the other hand...
    • On the same palm, the entire military division of the Order is manipulated into helping (or worse, cooperating) with the Big Bad's evil plans. Its higher-ranking members have names like "Dist the Reaper" and "Asch the Bloody".
      • Although, as it turns out, said characters are trying to destroy the aforementioned deity-equivalent.
  • Dead Space gives us Unitology, a religion that preaches oneness of all humanity, but only after death. They also don't reveal the whole Necromoprh mutation thing except to their most exclusive members, i.e. the ones that have paid the most money and are thus the most loyal.
  • Shin Megami Tensei‍'‍s Messians and Gaians. Ye gods. Both, while having many, many good points in favor of their own sides. Still, their favorite method of conversion is essentially beating the other side to death while proclaiming their superiority. Even their own leaders don't think that highly of them.

Web Comics

  • In this strip of Tales of the Questor one person indicates that the religion "Does not takes kindly to ideas-- or thinking -- not their own crafting" The pauses are probably intentional. He also indicates his job is to deal with anything that might threaten or challenge his masters beliefs in any way. It is a reoccurring issue in the comic that humans, partly because of religion, cannot deal with the concept of 'Lux energies' and insist on calling it magic, and with magic being evil to them...
    • Thoroughly averted, though, with the more religious of his racconans, whose beliefs spark compassion.
    • Rather obviously Catholic vs. Protestant, with the strawman religion being Catholicism. (The churches are called Sojourners' and Universal (Catholic means universal) and the use of symbols, architecture, etc, suggests the parallel also.)

Western Animation

  • Family Guy in basically any post-Uncancelled episode. Especially "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven."
  • South Park‍'‍s general philosophy towards religion seems to be "faith may make you stupid sometimes, but it will probably also make you good (or at least well-meaning)." The episode "All About the Mormons?" especially plays with this; the Mormon family is presented as ridiculously gullible for buying the story of how their religion was founded, but when Stan calls them out for that one of their sons points out that they're also the only family in the entire town who's happy and loving, largely because their church's main focus is on family values, not religious history.
    • Then they still got it a bit off, as the history of the church is a major focus of study (alternating with books of scripture). The origin story is seen as vitally important, as it's the thing the LDS church bases its validity on.[1]
    • The aesop of the episodes "Go God Go" and "Go God Go XII" is that religion or not, humanity (and sentient otterdom) will still find petty reasons to murder each other.
  • The Simpsons seems to lean this way in recent seasons, as Ned has gotten Flanderized from "overly religious Good Samaritan" to "The Fundamentalist Knight Templar", usually so he can be arrayed against the more scientifically-minded Lisa. In "The Monkey Suit", Ned's opposition to the teaching of evolution turns the town into a fundamentalist dystopia, and in "You Kent Always Say What You Want" he went on a crusade to cleanse television after Kent Brockman swore in pain upon taking some hot coffee to the lap.[2]
  • Like the game, this is almost played straight in Dead Space: Downfall. Nearly all the Unitologists are shown as either ignorant, horrible misguided, violent lunatics, and even just plain not right in the head. The biggest exception is Samuel Irons who is portrayed as being the Only Sane Man among the entire Unitologist sect, as he is clearly aware that the Marker and necromorphs are a threat rather than as a key to ascension. Not only does he help the initially distrustful Doomed Protagonist Alissa Vincent and her P.C.S.I. Security team cut down the horde of undead marauders, he performs a Heroic Sacrifice by distracting the necromorphs so that Alissa and her remaining team member helped the survivors escape (which all go in vain of course).
  1. For example, if Joseph Smith didn't have the First Vision and the Book of Mormon is a hoax, then there goes the keystone of a member's testimony that their faith is God's restored church.
  2. And before that, we see Ned monitoring all TV shows for "impropriety", including Krypto "licking himself" on Smallville, prompting even his own children to say You Need to Get Laid