Cassie: Have you ever thought about all the weird shit that people say goes on? Like aliens and Bigfoot and how many stories are there? But it only takes for one of them to be true and everything is different. Like... everything we logically believe is up for grabs.
This is a trope with two opposing halves that explode on contact, much like matter and antimatter.
Trope Part the First: Anyone on television who is a person of faith is a person who will believe in anything. Unicorns. UFOs. Psychics. Snake handling. Bigfoot. Yes, all of them at once, with no exceptions. Even if they are contradictory. Thus: If Jesus, Then Aliens. "Believers" are all gullible idiots who will accept pretty much anything as not just possible, but probable, or even likely.
Trope Part the Second: Anyone on television who is a skeptic, rationalist, atheist, "scientist" or other critical-thinking type believes in nothing. Thus the contrapositive, If Not Aliens, Then Not Jesus. Alien abductions are bunk, and so are psychics, and therefore God does not exist. A declaration by a scientist that they do not believe in one thing, such as ghosts, automatically means they think that anything supernatural, including the spiritual and the religious, is total nonsense and anyone who believes otherwise is an idiot.
The rhetorical term for this kind of thinking is a "False Dichotomy": A person must be either a Believer or a Rationalist, but may not ever be both, nor fall somewhere between the extremes. Any belief on one side or the other will result in all beliefs on that side so this trope can exist with the title implication often running in reverse; If Ghosts Then Jesus is common.
The existence of characters of this type is sometimes caused by a Writer on Board, but more often is the simple result of taking complex, complicated real people with diverse belief sets and trimming them down into stereotypes so they can be pitted against each other in a "Faith versus Science Showdown" which might be resolved by a Golden Mean Aesop. This usually just comes off as an insult to everyone involved. It's false equivalence, and further ignores the fact that from a skeptical point of view, the existence of one supernatural thing provides no reason to believe in another unrelated supernatural thing, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that many religions frown heavily on belief in non-natural events that do not come from God. It's also ironically wrong for a different reason; people without religious beliefs are more likely, statistically, to believe in aliens. So a closer-to-truthful trope name would be If Aliens, No Jesus or, perhaps more fittingly, If Jesus, No Aliens.
Done with a small amount of finesse, this particular conflict can actually be entertaining: thus we have Agent Mulder and Agent Scully in their original forms, with the small but interesting subversion that the original Mulder would believe any fantastic explanation except a religious one, while the original Scully would be reluctant to believe any fantastic explanation unless it was religious in nature, in which case they would swap roles: she would become the Believer and he would become the Rationalist.
Related tropes include All Myths Are True, and Arbitrary Skepticism. If the Writer on Board is in the "Believers" camp, a Straw Vulcan is likely to appear; if in the "Rationalist" camp, expect at least one, and probably more, examples of Holier Than Thou.
Not to be confused with No Such Thing as Space Jesus, which is the opposite. Sort of.
- The graphic novel Creature Tech had an... interesting take on this. The protagonist, Dr. Ong, is an atheist and a brilliant scientist, working at a top-secret lab researching the weird and supernatural. Then, he runs across the actual Shroud of Turin at work (they know it's the real deal because the blood on it heals people and raises the dead). This makes Ong admit to his preacher father that Jesus must have really been the Son of God, but he doesn't give anything more than intellectual assent to Jesus. Dr. Ong remains this way, until a teleportation accident lands him on another planet, at the foot of a cross where an Alien Jesus is being crucified. I kid you not: If Alien Jesus, then Jesus.
- The movie version of Contact started out avoiding this trope by having Jodie Foster's character, Ellie Arroway, believe in aliens yet not Jesus, although the other characters tended to believe in either everything or nothing. After Ellie's trip through a stargate machine built from alien-transmitted instructions, however—a trip which nobody believes actually happens (after encountering an alien intelligence who appears as her dead father, she returns to Earth in the same instant she left with no recorded evidence of her trip at all, other than that 18 hours of recorded static 'magically' appeared on the tape in that instant...and this is kept secret, even from her) -- she finds herself in the same position she previously dismissed in other characters: furiously arguing for the truth of a cosmically important experience for which she can provide no hard evidence at all. While Ellie doesn't go so far as to literally believe "if Aliens, then Jesus", the message of the film—that faith is better than skepticism—is fairly heavy-handed. Ironic, since the book was written by Carl Sagan, who was definitely a skeptic.
- This is ultimately the crux of the judge's decision regarding the existence of Santa Claus in the climax of the remake of Miracle on 34th Street: If the U.S. government has the wherewithal to put "In God We Trust" on their money, then who is he to declare false the faith that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus?
- The movie version of 1408 had a super-rationalist reporter who debunks tales of hauntings as the protagonist. He checks into a hotel room which, of course, actually is haunted. The movie indicates that the reporter is also an atheist. At the end of the movie, having found himself unable to explain away the haunted hotel room, he comes to the conclusion that there must be more "out there" than what he can see and touch, and has his doubts about the nonexistence of God and an afterlife severely shaken. This is supposed to provide him some comfort over the death of his daughter. In other words: "If ghosts, then Jesus." The Stephen King short story on which this was based had a similar subtext: the line about not believing in "ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties, and even if they were real, there's no God to protect us from them, is there?" was lifted verbatim from the story for the movie. The story itself has the protagonist ending his days dealing with nightmares and half-recalled memories about the incident and contrasting the horror of mere "ghosts" with the terror of the room ("At least (ghosts) were human once, but that thing...that * thing* ...").
- Lampshaded amusingly in Ghostbusters, where embodying the first part of this trope is a hiring requirement for the Ghostbusters organization:
Janine: Do you believe in UFO's, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster, and the theory of Atlantis?
- In the Super Mario Bros movie, Mario doesn't believe in parallel universes and aliens and stuff like Luigi does, and basically gets portrayed as a hard-nosed atheist for it. By the end of the movie, once he's gone through an adventure in a parallel universe, he's willing to believe anything.
- Cthulhu. The protagonist, having spent the night stumbling through endless tunnels beneath Rivermouth full of nameless horrors, ridicules his friend's suggestion that they're the legendary Shanghai tunnels (subterranean passages allegedly used to transport men kidnapped as slaves) and says sarcastically, "What other explanation could there be, UFOs?" Which is amusing given where the titular monster came from.
- Employed in From Dusk till Dawn. The existence of God is taken as proven by the existence of vampires. Possibly justified since all they needed was faith and if faith didn't work they were kinda screwed either way.
- Captain America in The Avengers. While he refuses to believe Thor and Loki are gods ("There's only one God, m'am, and he doesn't dress like that."), he accepts that they're magic-using aliens without question.
- Subverted for humorous effect in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
Ranger Brad: Oh, say... You don't believe those old legends about the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, do you? Dr. Roger Fleming: Ranger Brad, I'm a scientist, I don't believe in anything.
- Apropos of G. K. Chesterton, the Father Brown stories subvert this trope pretty heavily - several stories feature the priest seeing through apparent miracles that take others in, precisely because he has a firm belief in the supernatural - and therefore a framework to think about them in, and an appreciation that "inexplicable" does not equal "miraculous".
- This trope is used to explain why Stanley Uris, one of the main characters in Stephen King's IT can't fully accept the existence of the book's creature and eventually kills himself rather than return to face the monster. In one inner thought sequence he explains to the reader that the existence of the monster actually OFFENDS him, because the existence of ANY supernatural phenomena destroys his neat and tidy rationalist vision of the world. "Everything leads to everything..."
- Referenced in The Dresden Files.
- Inverted in Charlie Stross' A Colder War: an alternate-history USA is dealing with Lovecraftian horrors used as weapons by the Soviets. Ronald Reagan is elected and treats them as just another kind of technology - he's too religious to believe in any supernatural aspect to them. If Jesus, then not Cthulhu.
- In Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil, Lestat encounters a being that claims to be The Devil, calling itself Memnoch, who takes the vampire on a journey, showing him Heaven and Hell, as well as the history of Earth from a Biblical (and Memnoch's own) point of view. When Lestat asks the obvious question (if extraterrestrial life exists), Memnoch answers that he doesn't know, as he never looked at any other world. So, vampires, God/Jesus, the Devil, angels, ghosts, spirits, witches... all exist. Aliens? Who knows? We got enough trouble here.
- It should be noted that Anne Rice wrote this novel (and all others about vampires and witches) before becoming a "born-again Christian" and renouncing her "heresy".
- The novel also explicitly mentions that besides setting the Universe into motion, God did not participate in human evolution, so there is nothing to indicate that this couldn't have happened elsewhere, especially since neither God nor his angels particularly care about any other planet.
- Robert J. Sawyer plays with this trope extensively in Calculating God. Thomas remains stubbornly atheist while several species of alien try to convince him that not only does God exist, but the math proves it.
- In Numb3rs, this trope seems to crop up with distressing regularity. Every few episodes, Charlie is challenged to move beyond the empirical world to a matter of faith, only the matter of faith in question is something completely outside the normal debate of science vs. religion, and yet Larry's right there urging Charlie to consider that it might possibly be true. After all, even scientists don't pretend that they can know everything, right?
- Played surprisingly straight in '30 Rock. Religion plays a negligible role in most characters' lives, except when Played for Laughs, i.e. when Liz Lemon states that her religious beliefs are "pretty much whatever Oprah tells me to do." However, Kenneth, the one (non-Girl of the Week) character who is devoutly religious, is also strongly hinted at as being immortal.
- Joan of Arcadia: "Touch Move" as well as several other episodes.
- Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel avert this trope. They've seen vampires and demons of all kinds, but Buffy is agnostic, unknown what Angel is. Buffy wears a cross necklace, but only as a weapon against vampires.
Vampire Holden Webster (after discovering vampires and Slayers exist): Does God exist, by the way? Is there any word on that?
- John Locke of Lost fame is one of the few explicit representatives on TV of that (not insignificant) portion of society who are very spiritually inclined but not religious. This has led to him being used as a foil for another character's belief system multiple times: he contrasts with Jack, who is shown (at least early on) to be very earthly and skeptical; he also contrasts with Mr. Eko, whose spirituality is of a deeply religious nature.
- This trope was actually mentioned by a character in Baywatch as her personal beliefs. In her own words, "If there can be aliens, there can be elves." The supernatural, however, was not a part of the show. Until the Baywatch Nights spin-off.
- Averted by the characters of Dave Lister and Arnold Rimmer in Red Dwarf. In true Chestertonian fashion, Rimmer scoffs at the notion of God but is frighteningly eager to declare any unexplained phenomena the work of aliens; Lister, on the other hand, is a pantheist but also considers human sapience to be alone in the universe (Lister is closer to correct; all the "alien" species they encounter evolved from Terran life forms). On the other hand, Lister is also described as or implied to be an atheist a couple of times as well - so either he became a pantheist at some point or it's just another case of Red Dwarf's rampant retconning.
- To be entirely precise, Rimmer effectively substitutes belief in sufficiently advanced aliens for a belief in God while Lister is more of an irreligious skeptic (either believing in no God or in the universe as a non-personal God). This doesn't really conform to this trope, either straight or as an aversion.
- Lister was stated to be a Pantheist in "Last Days", part of the third season, while he was stated to be an Atheist in "Back to Reality", the final episode of the fifth season. This means it's not implausible that Lister originally had faith in the idea of the universe being a non-personal god, then gave up believing in any form of god at at all.
- The short-lived sci-fi series Special Unit 2 centered on a secret police bureau devoted to tracking down "Links", evolutionary deviations that were responsible for the ideas of classical monsters. Throughout most of the series, there's a scientific explanation for most of the deviations. The episode "The Eve", however, quickly set about suspension of disbelief to tiny little pieces. A Link so old and so powerful he's considered the Devil? Sure. He can raise people from the dead? Okay. There's a prophecy about him? Sure, you could buy precognition. He needs a magic ring to carry out his plans? Er, all right, you could buy that it's of special Applied Phlebotinum. He needs to pull off a magical ritual to gain the power? Oh, fuck that noise.
- The X-Files is a subversion: Mulder, who appears to be an atheist or agnostic, believes in aliens and most paranormal reports. Scully, who may or may not be faithful, but who wears a cross around her neck, initially denied the existence of most paranormal phenomena.
- This subversion was most apparent in any episode featuring religious supernatural phenomena. Mulder and Scully would actually switch roles, with Mulder being the skeptic and Scully trying hard to believe.
Scully: How is it that you're able to go out on a limb whenever you see a light in the sky, but you're unwilling to accept the possibility of a miracle? Even when it's right in front of you?
- Slight subversion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Major Kira is one of the most overtly religious characters on all of Star Trek, but also very cynical, sometimes even about the aliens/gods her people worship. The gods of the Bajorans, known as "The Prophets", are referred to by most of the other characters on the show as simply "The Wormhole Aliens". Captain Sisko starts off as one of the latter, but his belief grows as the series progresses and he comes to accept his role as a type of religious leader for the Bajorans. Likewise, the race of changelings are seen as "gods" by those they rule over, but not by others. There is also this exchange between two of the show's antagonists:
Weyoun: Pah-wraiths and Prophets. All this talk of gods strikes me as nothing more than superstitious nonsense.
- Crops up in an episode of the American version of Life On Mars. The young cop, Chris, states that he wants to believe in aliens because then angels aren't so far of a stretch. Because if there are flying saucers out there, that means God exists, right? Inverted, in that he seems to believe If Aliens Then Jesus.
- Grace Van Pelt in The Mentalist is like this. She is a religious believer and also believes that a relative is a psychic, and asks the titular mentalist how to distinguish "true" psychics from "false" ones. Patrick Jane dismisses her with a categorical "There is no such thing as psychics" but she refuses to acknowledge it. She closes the discussion with the non-sequitur "The Kingdom of Heaven is a real place, Mr. Jane".
- Eureka, "God Is In the Details".
- In the 2009 remake of V, the inverse happens where people start to become more religious when the aliens invade.
- Criminal Minds inverts this. Rossi (Catholic) and Morgan (unspecified Christian denomination) are the two most skeptical members of the team when it comes to psychics in "Cold Comfort" and demonic possession in "Demonology," all though Rossi acknowledges the power of belief in such things - very negatively in the case of psychics (who waste investigators' time). Morgan was also skeptical of near-death experiences in Epilogue, doubting that such instances were really glimpses of the afterlife.
- Played with in The Lost Crown: A Ghosthunting Adventure, where Nigel is frustrated by Lucy's (wrong, but reasonable from what she's seen) insistence that the spooky things in Saxton Museum aren't necessarily proof of ghosts, just something strange. Nigel's own credibility later reveals its limits when Hardacre implies that he believes myths of dragons had a factual basis, an idea which even Nigel poo-poos as silly.
- In The Simpsons, Lisa's careful balance between sweet little girl and intellectual genius was broken severely by the episode where they found an angel's fossilized remains. Lisa is portrayed as a condescending and atheistically unbelieving skeptic, despite the fact that she was always portrayed as being somewhat religious before then (and after, to the point where when she lost her religion she was not satisfied until she found another). To her credit, we are talking about not believing in angel fossils here. And she was right, they weren't angel fossils at all.
- Mocked in The Venture Brothers episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso" when Hank Venture falls under the sway of Part One.
Hank: Brock, if pirates really exist, I mean, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy could even be real, right? It's like, all bets are off!
- In Batman Beyond, Bruce displays a healthy attitude to this kind of trope, not dismissing anything out of hand but not blankly accepting all supernatural claims either.
Bruce: These people believe that anything they can't explain is magic.
- Subverted on South Park. Although the town's adults are often shown as foolishly believing in anything, religious or otherwise, Stan, Kyle and Kenny all seem at least nominally religious yet can be rational about other supposedly-supernatural phenomena, such as psychics (which seem to be the only such thing that's definitively fake).
- Jesus has his own talk show, and there is an alien present in every single episode (either overtly or disguised). Also, the episode with fake psychics ends when Kyle's outburst causes light bulbs to explode.
- The author Robin Ramsay actually puts forth the "If Jesus then Aliens" theory in his book about conspiracy theories.
- Truth in Television: There exists (at least) one cult that believes God would come to Earth in a flying saucer.
- What would God need with a starship?
- Despite popular belief, The Vatican has historically had an attitude of "God can do anything, so anything is possible." When Copernicus' friend Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter lectured about the early findings implying a heliocentric solar system, Pope Clement VII and several cardinals all attended, were fascinated, and one wrote a letter to Copernicus encouraging him to publish his findings. With the exception of a few Obstructive Bureaucrats using scripture to push an agenda, the Catholic hierarchy has been silent or supportive about just about every scientific theory. True to the trope's name, they've even come out in support of the existence of alien life.
- So, you're saying that only a few bureaucrats burned Bruno and put Galileo under house arrest? Not quite what happened.
- No, he's saying that Bruno was burned for heresy not related to his heliocentric theories. When you directly question the existence of God, outright deny that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, openly espouse pantheism, and live in 16th-century Italy while you're doing all of the above, you can't really be surprised when the Inquisition shows up. Galileo likewise could have stayed out of trouble if he'd stuck to talking about astronomy instead of also, in unrelated contemporary political commentary he was writing, started slandering the Pope.
- Actually, they've come out in support of their religious ideas still being true even if alien life is found.
- So, you're saying that only a few bureaucrats burned Bruno and put Galileo under house arrest? Not quite what happened.
- Reports of Alien Abduction are steadily increasing, while reports of being impregnated by horny gods or demons have all but vanished (supposed house hauntings and demon possessions, however, remain popular).
- Most branches of Mormonism have believed in the existence of "worlds without number" and the life thereon almost from the beginning of the movement. The Earth merited a visit from Jesus because it is apparently the most wicked planet in God's domain—although it is also the most righteous.
- A fairly important and well-educated Orthodox Christian author Pheophan the Anchorite, while responding to an obviously heretical statement about Jesus actually being an alien (back in 1800s) said that the problem is that we simply don't know anything about aliens, such as whether or not they even exist, and if they do, did they commit the original sin or not, and if they did, was it necessary for Jesus to die again just for them, and if it was, et cetera, et cetera.
- One of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen G. White, invokes this trope literally by claiming God himself gave her visions regarding created beings on other planets. According to her, God created multitudes of worlds before Earth, where the inhabitants were still perfect and unfallen (unlike humanity after the whole Adam and Eve thing).
- There is an old joke about a UFO landing and an alien pops his head out the door the first thing he says is, "Has Jesus been through here yet?"
- Another old joke—an atheist is walking through the woods when Bigfoot jumps out and starts chasing him.
The Atheist: God save me!
- Subverted by this recent article, about a ufologist who wants religiously-minded scholars to open up to non-spiritual kinds of paranormal phenomena but is having trouble.
- Methodological naturalism kind of flip-flops on this point. The world view focuses on that which is observable, and where cause and effect are connected, ie. an evidence-based system. Because the supernatural and other associated things are inherently without evidence, methodological naturalism makes no judgment on them, leaving them out of scope. While the default position most seem to take is to not accept an idea without evidence, changes to our understanding of the natural world could lead to accepting a whole new range of things.
- In other words, once there is evidence for the supernatural, it ceases to be supernatural, and becomes "natural, if weird and yet unexplained."
- Humorously put in a Tim Minchin beat poem, "by definition, I begin, alternative medicine, I continue, has either not been proved to work or been proved not to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine."
- People in the skeptical movement refer to this concept as "crank magnetism", where people who believe in one inherently crank idea are far more likely to believe in a lot of other, unrelated, crank ideas. When you hear a creationist explain that all the fossils were fakes planted by UFOs from Atlantis, you're running into a full blown case of crank magnetism.
- By definition such a person is no longer a creationist.
- Given the bible is mum as to any of the details of God's plan to plant the fossils to test our faith, this isn't really outside the creationists' wheelhouse.
- A member of the Vatican stated that [paraphrased] we should "be free to believe in aliens, because not believing in them limits the creative powers of God," though he's only saying that it's possible that aliens exist, not that they definitely do.
- A recent favorite of the Italian YouTube community is Matteo Montesi, an ardent Christian believer who also, in his hundreds of videos, talks about conspiracies, aliens, ghosts, The Reptilians, and many other pseudo-scientific theories, and seems to believe in them all equally. For example, here he talks (Italian only) about the supposed Nibiru Collision of 2012, getting angered when faced with the possibility that nobody believes what he's saying.