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An8el
December 31st, 2002, 01:40 AM
I'm in the middle of designing a religion for a story I'm writing. I'm wondering what you think about some of the questions or needs a religion should address.

It would be handy to have something to believe in to keep going in the absence of evidence, information or immediate gratification. The characteristics of forgiveness seem necessary to describe. Many religions also seem to try to get people to have ethics and morals, and to give some transcendant consequence if you transgress.

It strikes me that I'm still leaving something out in my design. What makes a religion in a story convincing?

I happened to find an interesting article about it.
Why religions evolved article from NYtimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/24/science/social/24CONV.html?pagewanted=print&position=top)

Cephus
December 31st, 2002, 03:23 AM
Originally posted by An8el
It strikes me that I'm still leaving something out in my design. What makes a religion in a story convincing?

Seriously, what do you want the religion to do for you in the story. Religions can do anything, but if you need to incorporate it into your story as a major plot point, worry about what you need from it before you start plugging in all the fluff that doesn't matter.

I, Brian
December 31st, 2002, 04:10 AM
What sort of religion do you want, though? And is it a religion, per se, rather than a philosophical construct (cf, Stoicism)?

Ask yourself in what way you need the characters and world to interract with the religion. When you focus on that question, that should help the process.

Also, do take time to look at some of the world's religious and spiritual systems. There's so much you can learn from them, as well as use analogy to parts. Many writers do that, especially taking from the Judeo-Christian sphere, with a little Islam often sprinkled in.

An8el
December 31st, 2002, 05:06 AM
Guess I should have described it a little more. I've got a history, a culture and the mythos of that culture's response to that history, but not how that history affected them to be the way they are now. It's an "after the fall" culture that will be a composite of the religions of the survivors of the whole world, who got thrown back into a relatively "stone age" tribal culture together. Maybe something integrating animism because people get possessed by deva and animal spirits in their rituals.

So yes, I can pick and choose from the world's religions as they exist now ...or (as I think I wanted to do) make up some way that religions that "used to exist" have evolved. Or I could make up any religion I want to, essentially, and probably find a hindsight justification for how it could have evolved.

As you mentioned, it might be more of just a belief system or some sort of philosophical orientation, I'll think about that.

My problem is I've realized that building believable belief systems is important because these beliefs would strongly motivate the native character's actions and how they would try to convince the other character from the present day to proceed. I don't really have an ending in mind yet, so where to go with the plot is open. My thinking is that it will have something to do with what the culture's beliefs are, so that's why I'm casting around...

But I thought the whole idea of creating a belief system from scratch is an interesting one, whether or not it's the one I'm working on at the moment.

I wonder if anyone else here used a religion they made up as the focal point of their story...

jfclark
December 31st, 2002, 09:18 AM
Originally posted by An8el
My problem is I've realized that building believable belief systems is important because these beliefs would strongly motivate the native character's actions and how they would try to convince the other character from the present day to proceed.


I think you're on to something here. I've read very few fantasies in which the belief system was "believable." Religion in fantasy is usually one-dimensional, and the only religious characters tend to be the Rabid Zealot Priest and the Would-Be Priest-King who serve only as foils for the protagonists. Religion typically does not motivate the actions of characters other than the RZP and WBPK--probably because the author hasn't thought about how religicon *can* influence people.

This sort of cliche-riddled portrayal of religion is not only rather implausible (i.e., simplistic and rather inhumane), it usually comes off as some sort of inept (and repetitive) commentary by the author on contemporary society. I find anticlericalism in books to be almost as repugnant as it is in real life.

I'm glad you're trying to grapple with the complexity of the issues involved. Good luck!

P.S. One very good counterexample to my statements above is Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, in which a priest is the chief protagonist. Wolfe himself is a devout Catholic, and his portrayal of religion in his books is sympathetic and honest.

Patois
December 31st, 2002, 11:58 AM
Sharon Shinn's Archangel and Jovah's Witness blend religion and SF well. You might want to read them to see how she does it.

Richardb
December 31st, 2002, 12:37 PM
At an even higher level religeons do one of two things: if driven by the people they provide meaning and structure to lives that may otherwise be hopeless or dreary, if driven by politics or power they provide a way to control a populace. Don't underestimate the political and population control aspects of religeon in middle ages, dark ages, or similar fantasy constructs. So, the question is, what history does the world have, what 'dark times' has it suffered through, what 'miracles' or other unexplained phenomina, what political agendas? All of these are important aspects of building a religeon. Then consider how long the religion has existed, does writing exist, or oral tradition? Oral tradition is prone to change and even written language changes enough for meaning to be lost and intent to be changed... so how has the religion evolved?
Just some thoughts.

Cephus
December 31st, 2002, 01:34 PM
Originally posted by An8el
But I thought the whole idea of creating a belief system from scratch is an interesting one, whether or not it's the one I'm working on at the moment.

I've done that once or twice with mixed results. You can really motivate any conceivable action with religion, it just depends on how you set it up.


I wonder if anyone else here used a religion they made up as the focal point of their story...

Well, in mine, religion has usually gone the way of the dinosaur, but I've had a few where religion was present and influenced the main characters, but never on a level where you needed to really get into the religious dogma in detail.

An8el
December 31st, 2002, 04:36 PM
Good points, everyone. I'll read what some of you suggested. One question to Jfclark: I'm not familiar with what RZP & WBPK means here...?
?
Religion typically does not motivate the actions of characters other than the RZP and WBPK
Richard b, I was just thinking how the idea of fatilism and karma might affect a caste society to have someone accept and "think they deserve" the position in the society they have been born into. I guess a lack of fatilism coupled with a belief in karma would imply some sort of historic capacity for personal change and the possibility to aquire influence in the society.

The other thing I realize is how an agrarian society can be manipulated to become an army pretty easily because of the need to defend a territory. So religion in an agrarian society would be more of a power issue, unless the area they lived in was considered "undesirable" such as desert agrarian societies, such as the Hopi do. Then the need for an army would be less important.

A hunter/gatherer society might be less concerned with having to stay in a certain area and be able to just relocate to avoid conflict. So their religion would be more likely to have the features of non-violence and non-jealousy toward outsiders - such as the Inuit in the arctic.

I guess the key issue with religion is that it's usually used to bind the members together, excluding outsiders. What would be the features and history of a religion that has evolved from what we are familiar with to include rather than exclude

Se'dray-on
December 31st, 2002, 05:12 PM
another good novel to read that has believable use of religion in it is Kate Elliot's King's Dragon. Religion is a major driving force in the novel, and IMO, very well done.