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"Because Christianity is an uncommon religion in Japan, we thought it would be mysterious. None of the staff... are Christians... we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe, we might have rethought that choice."
—Producer Kazuya Tsurumaki, talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When a writer uses the Christian religion to flavor a story but avoids mentioning Jesus or discussing anything of substance about the religion. Christian symbols, especially the Cross, might appear but their theological significance will not be touched upon. This can also apply to other religions.

This trope is common in anime and manga. Japan has a long and complex relationship with Christianity. Early contact with Europeans brought about a lot of novelty which was loved, oppressed, adopted, and feared all at once. Christian symbols were unusual, dramatic, and powerful. Christians were also seen as subversives by the state. Early Japanese converts were heavily oppressed and therefore quite rare. Consequently, many Japanese have seen many Christian symbols, but know little about the religion itself. From a Japanese perspective, Christianity can be a way to spice up a story with an exotic religion, similar to how in some Western stories, Hinduism, or at least Hinduism-like aspects, are used for the same purposes. These don't stop at simple metaphors; sometimes whole references exist to events or even specific names to Christian folklore or religious texts. These are sometimes unusual, incorrect, wildly inappropriate, or the simple product of religious syncretism. Likewise, the symbols, rituals, and trappings of Christian sects are used often without awareness of the meaning.

This trope is also common in Western fiction. While Christianity remains the dominant religion in the western world, a significant number of people are not Christian. Also, Christians have differing levels of piety and different interpretations of their religion. Being Christian does not necessarily mean that someone is interested in fiction with an explicitly religious theme. To appeal to the broadest audience, a writer will avoid mentioning Jesus even if their work involves God or the Devil. God will represent a generic "good" while the Devil will be generically "evil." This keeps the writer from tying himself to a specific religion. Lighter and Softer programming will focus on God or a religious person's attempts to teach people lessons or offer them comfort (See 7th Heaven). Darker and Edgier works will present the struggle between God and Satan as war between good and evil without defining what either of those sides represent (See Constantine).

A work might still fit this trope if Jesus is mentioned only as a character in The Bible or a historical figure. However, he will not be an explicit part of the show's plot or moral.

Notably, even in works containing a critical portrayal of an organized religion, or one that is outright evil, the requisite Christ Figure generally never is.

Needless to say, many non-Christian religions suffer similar fates in the West. Also, works that are specifically written for evangelism avert this.

See also: Creepy Cool Crosses, No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus.

Examples of Jesus Taboo include:


Anime and Manga

  • During the attack in the Christmas episode of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Minmay takes shelter in a Catholic or Anglican church that's portrayed accurately, down to a priest in a collar, and a number of parishioners, making the sign of the cross.
    • In an earlier episode, Max Jenius crosses himself in a quite accurate Catholic manner after his and Hikaru's wingman is killed.
  • In an episode of Shaman King, Yoh was set to fight someone in a cemetery. While waiting for his opponent to show up, he asks why some of the graves have marks on them shaped like a lowercase t. His diminutive buddy, Manta, has to explain to him that the mark is actually a cross and that those people were Christians.
    • In at least the manga, Yoh lightly freaks out, as the idea of physical burial is in stark contrast to the tradition of cremation that he's grown up with. It also gives his opponent for that fight, a necromancer, a lot more ammo to work with.
    • Also in the manga, when learning about the Shaman King tradition, Manta for a moment muses on whether Buddha and Jesus were Shaman Kings - best buddies with the Great Spirit, able to change the world, etc.
  • As noted above, Neon Genesis Evangelion draws on Judeo-Christian tradition more for its mythic symbology than for any relevant plot points. The name "Jesus Christ" is never actually spoken anywhere in the series (although a few redshirts did exclaim "Oh Jesus!" in the English dub of The End of Evangelion right before being shot). Then again, it did focus almost exclusively on the "Judeo" side of the equation, except for the occasional cross-shaped explosion.
    • And, y'know, the name. ("Evangelion" is Greek for "Good News" or "Gospel".)
      • Of course, it also just means "good angel," which is exactly what the EVAs were intended to be.
        • It means "Good Angel" only when half-translated; "Angel" itself means "messenger."
    • Remember that Shinji gets stigmata from having Unit-01's hands pierced both in The End of Evangelion and the second part of the Rebuild of Evangelion.
  • Zakuro Fujiwara/Mew Zakuro from Tokyo Mew Mew is some sect of Protestant in the anime, apparently one that has little problem with Schoolgirl Lesbians. She wears a cross, prays and goes to church, but never during actual scheduled mass times. Her weapon, the Zakuross, is a whip with a cross-shaped handle. The Macekred English dub "censored" this by removing the sides from all the crosses, prompting a joke in the fanbase that Renee venerates toothpicks.
  • Black Lagoon features a church which is also a front for an arms smuggling operation, known affectionately as "the Church of Violence". One of the characters, Sister Eda, often makes disparaging remarks about her own religion which can be construed as deeply offensive to a devout Christian. For example she speaks in reference to herself as a nun when she says "she serves the ultimate trickster; the man who walked across the Sea of Galilee".
    • Also a case of Did Not Do the Research; Jesus is at no point said to have walked across the whole Sea of Galilee, only from the shore to a fishing boat.
  • In Sailor Moon S Usagi (or, at least, Sailor Moon) is known as The Messiah, and uses The Holy Grail... or at least an item called The Holy Grail (seihai) to become Super Sailor Moon. The villainess Mistress 9 gets the name The Messiah of Silence. In the dub these terms are changed to The Sovereign, The Purity Chalice, and The Sovereign of Silence. However, there were times that the dub threw out its production bible out the window and went with whatever term it felt like.
    • My favorite was the time they used "Ambassador of Good", instead of "The Sovereign". I really wish I was making that up.
  • Fate/stay night is about a battle royale between mages to acquire the Holy Grail. Which is in Japan for some reason.
    • The author goes out of his way to point out that this has absolutely nothing to do with "the cup that received the blood of god" and is being used as a generic term for "powerful artifact capable of granting wishes." Also, it's in Japan because in the Nasuverse Japan is a little island country that's mostly ignored by the Holy Church and the Magic Association and is thus perfect for doing secret and dangerous rituals (the first time anyway). This fact itself is probably a Lampshade Hanging on Japan Is The Center Of The Universe.
  • D.Gray-man makes an early reference to the biblical flood of Noah as an early attempt to destroy the world caused by the Forces of Evil getting their hands on one Plot Coupon too many. Additionally, the villains are all gray-skinned, powerful humans that are part of Noah's family. It would appear that the manga's author is under the impression that Noah caused the flood.
    • One interpretation suggests that the Noah were the incarnations of the various feelings Noah had after the flood when humanity started becoming just as decadent and corrupt as the ones washed away in the flood.
      • Cain's family would make more sense, since Noah's family is supposed to be a genetic bottleneck where everyone went down to one family again, like in the beginning, so everyone is, in theory, descended from Noah. Noah's son Ham's lineage was supposed to be cursed for Ham's rudeness in looking at his father while drunk and naked, but this was interpreted for so many centuries as referring to the entire population of Africa that making the villains the descendants of Ham probably wouldn't go too well.
        • Well... looking at the actual curse, it was Ham's son Canaan who was cursed, not Put, Mizraim, and Cush. (Some commentaries say that since the sons were blessed, they could not then be cursed; others say that Ham was involved but not mentioned in the above incident.) Anyway, despite what people who merely glance at the pages of their Bibles have read, Ham was not named as the curse's target.
      • Later chapters reveal that not all is as it appears. Cross Marian's last message to Allen before he died may have hinted that the Noah may not be the bad guys in this fight after all, considering it was most likely the Vatican that assassinated Cross. Also when in human form, none of the Noah seem malicious, including the Millennium Earl
    • Also, the organization the main characters belong to is subordinate to the Pope. He's come up several times, in a name-dropping sort of way on the part of some nasty fellows from central headquarters, which appear to be in Rome. God's had a name-drop or two, as well. But the Asia branch had a guardian god in their headquarters. And no Jesus.
  • Despite all of the main characters being angels and demon (or evils, whatever those are), and generally bastardizing Christian mythology, the closest Angel Sanctuary ever comes to mentioning Jesus is a few shots of the crucifix in a flashback.
  • Trinity Blood is chock full of Christians, with most of the protagonists being Catholic priests or "nuns", and there are three characters named Abel, Cain and Seth (originally the three sons of Adam and Eve). Despite this, there are almost no references to Christian beliefs or mythology. The name "God" is mentioned a few times, but never Jesus. (In the anime, at least.)
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, despite the occasional subtle Christianity parallel, the religion itself is briefly mentioned only once, with Edward remarking that it is a dead religion. Christ himself, however, is never mentioned.
    • Note that this applies only to the anime. The manga's religious subtext is much more extensive and subtle. The villain has an overwhelming god complex which includes the idea of the homunculi as all of his 'sins' removed from his soul. He even crucifies Greed. Calls him 'my son,' and when he won't come back to the fold, kills and subsumes him. God is discussed by numerous characters from several perspectives. No Jesus, though. Hohenheim has some potential as a somewhat pathetic Jesus expy, but since he's also a sort of Cain things get confusing. Devil/God-the-Father and Jesus/Cain-the-accursed. It's very strange.
      • Early on in the manga, Ed speaks with Truth, who very openly states that It is what humans would call "God." However, it seems like the God of the Fullmetal universe is not so much The Creator personified as it is the all-encompassing, unconscious creative force of the universe itself - thus, the more proper name is Truth; in other words, Science Is God/God Is Science, in a very literal sense. (Frank Lloyd Wright said it best - "I believe in God; I just spell it 'N-A-T-U-R-E.'")
      • Which, it should be added, is actually one of the traditional views historically: the logic was that by studying His works, you will better understand Him. This got dropped in the Renaissance by the rise of men who, when you got down to it, wanted to make the Ancient Romans and Greeks into a lost Golden Age and themselves as the bringers of a Silver Age.
    • And of course, Truth, as in "The Way, the Truth and the Life," is one of Jesus' many names/titles.
  • Trigun's gun-slinging priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, carries a huge cross-shaped gun, said to be extremely heavy "because it's full of mercy." He also has a portable confessional, which fits over the confessant's head. In the anime, after sacrificing himself to protect Vash by taking on Chapel and getting shot, he stumbles to a church, makes his peace with his God, and dies. But neither Jesus nor Christianity are explicitly mentioned. The "thou shalt not kill" commandment does come up at one point. Vash speaking to Wolfwood, of course.
  • While Christian elements are otherwise quite absent from Eureka Seven, The Bible does get a passing mention as being the oldest surviving text from Earth.
  • Soundly averted by Jojo'sBizarreAdventure. In part 7 they're actually collecting parts of Jesus!
  • Averted in Axis Powers Hetalia: God shows up from time to time.
  • In The Dissappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Kyon exclaims in his mind: "Who do I have to pray? Christ? Buddha? Mohammed? Zoroaster? Lovecraft?" as he hopes to find the titular character against all odds. Also, Haruhi earlier declares that even "Mr. Christ" would be glad that they are enjoying themselves, and that they'd later have to celebrate the birthdays of Mohammed and Buddha for the sake of fairness.
  • In Samurai Champloo, later episodes in the series give a much heavier role to the Japanese Christians. The Sunflower Samurai, Fuu's father, is apparently one.
  • Averted in Lupin III. In the first anime series, Lupin is shown praying in a Christian church. In the second series, the Christ the Redeemer statue plays a part in one of the heists. Another episode features a vampire claiming to be Christ's sister.

Comic Books

  • Marvel comics had, for decades, a literal Jesus Taboo that began in the 80's: after the Handbook Of The Marvel Universe was first printed, it explained that NONE of the major Judeo-Christian personas had *ever* appeared in one of their comics (retconning even series like Son Of Satan) -that it was always a case of impostors, such as the demon Mephisto claiming to be Satan. This has relaxed in recent years.
    • One particularly infamous Ghost Rider story had a a character known as The Friend -obviously Jesus- helping save the hero from Satan. This was later retconned to have been a way for Satan to give the hero a false Hope Spot. Apparently the editors didn't realize that this sort of implied that Satan had free run in the Marvel Universe but God never interfered.
  • One Swamp Thing comic was going to feature the creature, lost in time, meeting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. It was scrapped at the last minute. The story's author Rick Veitch didn't work with DC for years afterward.
  • In The Cartoon History of the Universe, most Biblical figures are referred to by their most common English names ("John" rather than "Yohanan," for instance) - except for Jesus and Yahweh/Jehovah, invariably rendered as "Yeshua" and "Yahu-Wahu."
    • "Yahu-Wahu" is part of a running gag; in the intro for the section that deals with Biblical times, the Historian says that they don't know the Christian God's real name, just the consonants YHWH, and that it was eventually declared that anyone who said it would be struck by lightning. The Historian remarks that it could be anything, even "Yahu-Wahu" -- at which point he gets zapped.

Fan Fiction

  • Subverted in Misfiled Dreams (a Misfile fanfic). Rumisiel mentions that Jesus was actually a scam by the angels, though he's not sure of the exact details, or even if it worked as planned.

 Amanda: But I thought you had perfect memory?

Rumisiel: Sure. I can remember exactly what I was thinking about when I was supposed to be paying attention in History class.

Film

  • In Bruce Almighty and its sequel Evan Almighty, God plays a major role and is obviously supposed to be the Christian God. However, Jesus is never mentioned.
  • In Constantine, Christ is mentioned to explain a powerful mystical artifact called the Spear of Destiny but he otherwise has no role in the story.


Literature

  • In His Dark Materials, despite a mention of taking communion in the first book, it's never clear how Jesus fits into the Authority's goal of using the hierarchy of churches to suppress independent thought and the production of Dust, or whether Christianity was a naturally occurring movement that he co-opted.
    • The author has expressed interest in returning to the subject in a later book, and he's made another book which revolves around a good Jesus and evil Christ as separate characters.
  • In The Elenium Trilogy, there are numerous references to the Elene God, and the Elene Church is obviously based off of the Catholic Church. However, there is no referece whatsoever to a Jesus figure in the story.

Live Action Television

  • 7th Heaven was a show about a Christian minister and his large family and how much better they were than everybody else. Despite the relentlessly preachy tone, Jesus himself never seemed to be much on anybody's mind. It ran for eleven seasons.
  • Reaper is a comedy about how a young man is forced to work for the Devil. Though elements of Christian religion pop up frequently, Jesus is never mentioned (though if you read between the lines that role might be filled by the lead himself).
  • Supernatural is absolutely drenched in Judeo-Christianity, except for the minor issue of God apparently being apathetic, resulting in a situation wherein demons and the Devil can be the primary antagonists without serious opposition. The angels are extremely dysfunctional and running their own show without regard to considerations of Good or Evil, at least by ethical standards. Their motivations vary from extreme spite to the desire to please their absent Father. Aside from the stray name check here and there, Jesus is entirely absent and there is no expectation, not even on the part of the angels, that He will play any role in the conflicts on the show. However, other figures from Christian eschatology are present, including the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon and at least one individual referred to as an "Antichrist" (a cambion), making the omission seem all the more glaring.
    • Since the Trinity concept gives the Son a limited ability to act independently of the Father, one might imagine the whole of God is off wherever Cas failed to find, playing cards with themself or something and flipping off desperate Creation, except those two times they (presumably) resurrected Castiel after he died to save the world.
    • The leads do meet an angel called 'Joshua' who's the only being actively in contact with God. He is nice, but totally unhelpful. Linguistically speaking, he has a pretty good chance of being the closest they're going to get to breaking this. He is also rocking the Morgan Freeman as God chic.
  • Very common in any Christmas Episode. Anything overtly religious will be glossed over and replaced with generic themes like peace and tolerance.

Music

  • Surprisingly, it isn't uncommon for bands that began in Christian Rock circles to invoke this trope, usually ones that insist that they're "only Christians in a band, Not Christian Rock".
  • Though Skillet is a Christian rock band, quite a few of their songs make no explicit mention of God or Jesus. If you've only listened to, for example, "Monster" or "Hero" then you probably wouldn't know they were a Christian band unless you Googled them.

Tabletop Games

  • Western example: In the game supplement GURPS Alternate Earths, one parallel world's history diverged from Real Life back when the Roman Empire was on the rise. While most nations' and cultures' alternative courses of development have been thoroughly investigated by dimensional travelers from our own world's future, such historian/explorers have been unable to determine whether Jesus of Nazareth did, or did not, ever exist on this (still pagan) world.
  • Dungeons and Dragons was infamously Bowdlerised in the Second Edition, with almost all Christian elments removed; hence the change of Devils and Demons to Baatezu and Tanar'ri, among others. It was eventually changed back for 3e, but oddly, they did change one religious element that had still been present in 2e: the River Jordan, which flowed through the Upper (Heavenly) planes and is symbolic in the West of crossing into Heaven, became the Oceanus, which encircled the world in Greek Mythology but has no actual religious connotations.
    • 3E also saw the final disappearance of such Biblically-inspired spells as Sticks To Snakes.

Video Games

  • Very common in the 8 bit era, back when video games were still primarily kids' entertainment. One of the most obvious examples was the cross in Ghosts 'n Goblins changed to a completely different item in both the arcade and NES ports, a shield. (Since this weapon had the power to block shots, a shield might have actually made more sense.) Konami changed the holy water and cross weapons in Castlevania into "firebomb" and "boomerang", respectively (also justified, as those names were more in line with what they actually did).
  • Taken to a rather funny extent in Metal Gear Solid 3. When leading lady EVA makes a joke to main man Snake about him being there to tempt her, Snake can then radio back to base where he is given a seemingly patronizing lecture about the Adam and Eve story. Naturally, this is added purely for the original (Japanese) audience's benefit.
    • It's also a little sad that Western players never got the "Kuwabara, Kuwabara" reference explained but that was left in.[1]
  • Subverted by Persona 3. Though the Megami Ibunroku Persona series is a spinoff of Shin Megami Tensei, where God is Occasionally A Complete Monster But Lucifer Ain't Too Hot Either, the Main Character, who is about the epitome of ultimate selfless good, has Messiah as his ultimate Persona. Not a messiah, but the Messiah. However, the Messiah Persona is supposed to represent all such messianic figures, including Jesus.
  • Averted with a grudge in Final Fantasy Tactics. The Glabados Church is a not-so-thinly-veiled analog of Middle Ages Christianity, with St. Ajora (and his twelve disciples) standing in for Jesus. According to doctrine, he was even a pacifist who was betrayed and sold out by one of his own, and upon his death an entire city was pulled down into the abyss. The Germonik Scriptures reveal the truth about him, stating that he was a foreign spy and saboteur instead.
  • In The Legend of Zelda, the Bible is translated as "Magic Book" in English. Also, in a case of Earth Drift, all games past the first few no longer feature crosses on the shields.
  • Xenosaga was rife with religious (primarily Gnostic) imagery, complete with references to Jesus's contemporaries. Fans were surprised after learning one enigmatic character's true name is Yeshua (a common synonym for the name of Jesus) in what seemed like an unusually bold subversion of the trope. However, in the final game we see the character in soundless flashback seemingly attending a sermon by a man tactfully out of shot, presumably the real Jesus.
      • However, it was subtley implied that while there was a "Jesus", Yeshua was the "man behind the curtain" so to speak, being the one who actually performed all the miracles.
      • Jesus is a form of a common contemporary name. The thief who was saved by popular vote was originally named 'Jesus Bar-abbas,' which reads 'Jesus son of Father,' just to be confusing. Latter translations omitted that unnecessary detail. Jesus himself had regularly used the noun 'abbas' for God.
        • Joshua (the one from the Old Testament with the war against the Canaanites) is another form of the same name. In Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (but not Protestant ones) there's also Jesus Ben Sira.
  • Averted by Umineko no Naku Koro ni. In EP7, Maria makes references to the Book of Matthew, specifically about the circumstances of Christ's birth, and draws parallels to Maria's situation, i.e. Maria not having a proper father.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Gee Whiz", where Standards and Practices prohibits the cast from using Jesus' name, leading to the nickname which doubles as the episode's title. He's also described as looking like Ted Nugent, who actually appears in the episode as a guest star.
  • Played With by Rugrats in their second Christmas Episode, where the babies come across a life-sized Nativity scene and admire what they think is a real baby. "Jesus" is still never named, though.
    • Played Straight and taken further by other episodes based on Bible stories, however. God is never mentioned in the Passover special; a burning bush talks to Moses/Tommy for no explained reason, and the parting of the sea at the end is a Deus-less Ex Machina. Likewise, an episode about Noah's ark gives a vague comment about Noah being warned "from the Heavens."

Notes

  1. It's a Japanese idiom that literally means 'mulberry field', with a meaning similar in nature to 'knock on wood'. Specifically, it's an incantation to ward off lightning, based on an old Chinese legend that mulberry fields don't get struck by lightning. It's made all the more delicious in this game as Volgin, who had chanted this little phrase to himself for much of the game, instead chose to mock the rolling storm clouds while aboard the Shagohod. Take a guess as to what ultimately kills him. Go on.
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