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Everyone wonders life's meaning, our place in the universe, and just what or who started it all. Sometimes, though, in fictiondom, a character is introduced that simply MUST know. There's no way to create this character without their knowing the "correct" religion as well as the origin of all things. But then answering it creates a different problem: Alienating the fan base. Alternatively, the creators may just want to tease the audience with a Riddle for the Ages, and that sort of riddle doesn't last nearly so long if all the answers are spelled out.
So what do you do? You do the Godly Sidestep, an in-universe Shrug of God, where the Powers That Be refuse to answer The Big Questions, whether it's because You Are Not Ready, The World Is Not Ready, or because they're Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. The meta-reason, however, is often that a specific answer is inconvenient to the creators, as it strongly colours the work's worldview and closes off ambiguities that would have allowed for extra potential.
How is this dance done? Evade the question. Get cut off mid-sentence. Lie. Something. The Godly Sidestep is the moment when the story acknowledges that yes, this character does know the answer but no, they won't be telling you.
Subtrope of The Un-Reveal. See also Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane for one tactic for performing this dance round the truth. Compare Death Amnesia, in which a character who's come Back From the Dead conveniently remembers nothing about the afterlife.
Anime and Manga
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Kyon asks Nagato, after treating with beings that are effectively ghosts of alien lifeforms, what happens after humans die. Her answer? Information classified.
- When the crew of One Piece meet an old man who was on the one ship in recorded history to make it to the end of the Grand Line. Usopp asks him about One Piece, the treasure allegedly stashed there (and, incidentally, the thing everyone's trying to get, and the title of the series). However, his captain very angrily calls Spoilers on him, saying he wouldn't like an adventure where he knew the outcome.
- While not the perfect example, no one in the Watchmen universe is better equipped to answer questions of a supernatural nature than Dr. Manhattan. He generally stays relatively quiet and respectful on the matter. When asked if he was god, he simply replied
"I don't think there is a god. And if there is I'm nothing like him."
- In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, the eponymous character meets God. God is a sleeping fat man who, upon being woken up, refuses to answer any questions and insists he's earned a break after creating the entire universe.
- The motivation of the DC Comics cosmic villain Krona is learning the truth behind the creation of the universe. To do this he created a machine that allowed him to observe the past, but all he saw was a hand full of stars before a bolt out of nowhere destroyed the machine. His attempt also harmed the universe (exactly how has varied over the years) and forced his people, the Oans, to become the Guardians Of The Universe to make up for it. Krona has since continued trying, regardless of the consequences.
- In JLA-Avengers, he destroyed several universes trying to find the answer. He eventually finds the one being who knows it -Galactus- but is turned himself into a "cosmic egg" like the one the Marvel Universe was created from in the process. Technically, he found the answer he wanted- but whether he feels fulfilled -or anything else- as a result is unknown.
- Marv Wolfman has stated that he always hated what Krona saw (but not why- perhaps he disliked the implication that the universe has a creator) and that he specifically wrote a scene in Crisis on Infinite Earths to subvert it by saying that what Krona actually saw was the hand of the Anti-Monitor trying to recreate the universe in his own image.
Film -- Animated
- At the very end of the Finding Nemo visual commentary, during the Pixar Vanity Plate, the director can be heard saying, "Here's the secret of life. The secret of life is--" (Luxo Jr. shuts off his light.)
Film -- Live Action
- Averted in The Meaning of Life.
Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life...Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
- Dogma - In a perfect example, God herself does this. After the heroes save God, the day, and the universe, the main character asks to be told the meaning of life. God, played by Alanis Morissette, simply smiles.
Bethany Sloane: Why are we here?
God: [pokes Bethany's nose] Nweep.
- Granted, if She had actually said anything, Bethany's head would have exploded, so....
- In Time Bandits, when Kevin actually asks what is the reason for evil, God merely says it has something to do with free will.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Deep Thought is a computer programmed to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It reveals that the answer is "42", and when its operators complain, points out that obviously the answer isn't going to make sense unless you know the precise wording of the Question. Then an even more advanced computer - The Earth - was built to formulate the Ultimate Question, so that the Ultimate Answer could be understood. That computer was then destroyed five minutes before it would have completed its task. That's some grand sidestepping.
- Subverted at the end of So Long and Thanks For All The Fish (Which, it should be noted, comes from the same book series that featured Deep Thought mentioned above). The protagonists travel to the planet where Gods final message to his creation is written in 30-feet-high letters of fire. The entire message is revealed to the reader, and it goes like this: We apologise for the inconvenience.
- In The Quest For Saint Camber, Kelson converses via Mind Speech with a being who appeared and helped him vanquish his treasonous cousin Conall:
"Are you who I think you are? [Kelson] dared to ask.
And who do you think that I am? the being replied.
I believe you are Saint Camber of Culdi, whom I sought on my quest. You--came to my aid.
Did I? the being answered. Or am I but a convenient image for the stronger and better part that is within you and, indeed, within all folk who seek the Light, and which can be called up when darkness threatens?
Kelson blinked. It had to be Saint Camber. Only the irascible Deryni saint would be so evasive and yet speak so primal a truth."
- If he won't even cop to his identity, forget about asking him about God/Heaven/Hell/the Meaning of Life/Whatever.
- The Percy Jackson and The Olympians series features gods and demigods. Soon after Percy learns about the gods, he asks the obvious question and is informed that the gods are "the lower-case 'g' kind" and they "don't deal in metaphysics."
- Doctor Who
- In "Planet of the Dead", The Doctor knows the true story of Easter. Right after he says "What REALLY happened was-", he gets cut off and forgets what he was talking about.
- When The Doctor battles against the Devil himself. When The Doctor asks him "from which religion?", the Devil answers "All of them" and further states that he existed before time. They have other things to worry about than where exactly it came from and what this means for the universe, so they don't inquire too closely.
- In the Red Dwarf episode White Hole, Holly gains an IQ of over 12,000 and professes to know the meaning of the universe. The only being present to ask her is a toast-obsessed kitchen appliance, and any questions it puts forward end up being about bread. Before anyone else can ask, she realises she has three minutes to live and refuses to communicate with anyone.
- Star Trek: Voyager has an episode where Sufficiently Advanced Alien Q Jr. is told to write an essay about the origins and aspirations of his species. Kathryn Janeway treats the result as if it was an ordinary, though well done, student work.
- Averted HARD in a classic Saturday Night Live skit, where an angel (Dana Carvey) happily rattles off answers to the quickfire questions of a just-deceased fellow (guest host John Larroquette).
- "So, who's actually still alive: Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, JFK, or Adolf Hitler?" "Umm ... Morrison and Hitler."
- "Are Bent-knee sit-ups or straight-leg sit-ups better?" "Straight-leg."
- "What's God's favorite religion, anyway?" "Lutheran." "Huh."
- The creators of Joan of Arcadia made this the rule, actually listing things God couldn't say with regards to unversal truths and religion. God conversed with Joan on a regular basis and always refused to answer any major questions.
- The song (not the album) "God Shuffled His Feet" by the Crash Test Dummies.
- In Life and Death, When Death asked which religion were right, God whispered in his ear. Death was surpised, meaning it was something unusual.
- In Its Walky, The Big Cheese claims to know which religion is the correct one, but refuses to tell anyone, claiming that if you don't figure it out for yourself, you won't understand the answer.
- The Simpsons - God is about to tell Homer the meaning of life when the episode ends.
Homer: What's the meaning of life?
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: But I wanna know now!
God: You can't wait six months?
- After learning that Niblonians have been around since the dawn of time, Leila asks them about the creation. After seconds of untranslated Niblonian gibberish, Leila exclaims "That means every religion is wrong!"
- In "Overclockwise", Bender temporarily achieves omniscience, and obtains printouts with the answers to life's great questions. He casually throws away "the reason we exist", but does show Fry and Leela an account of their future together.
- Duckman - Finding himself in Heaven, Duckman gets an Etch-A-Sketch from God. He asks why and God tells him that it has the Meaning of Life written on it, but by then it has been erased from Duckman moving it around.
- An episode of Disney's Hercules has Zeus about to give the meaning of life on a chat show, however they run out of airtime just before he states it.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: Subverted Trope - The Secret of the Universe turns out to be "I was only kidding.
- In God the Devil And Bob, Bob asks God why he allows evil to exist. God takes a deep breath and explains to Bob, just as a train passes between them and the audience. Bob is impressed and accepting of God's answer, but we never get to hear it.