Saturday, July 1, 2017

Religion in Fantasy #5: How to Make a Religion

A religion is a set of beliefs, shared by people, about their relationship to the world, both physical and spiritual. All aspects of expression are part of this religion.

Is It Possible to Make a Religion?

While it's possible to build an entire religion, in almost all cases, you will be better off creating the illusion of a complete religion rather than a complete religion. Not only will this take less work, but by concentrating on the interesting parts, you'll keep your story interesting.

How much time can you put into a religion? Go to the book store and look up the books on prayer. I did a search and came up with 100+ pages of books with "prayer" in the title. If religions today are still examining such basic topics as prayer, and still finding new things to say, then there is no hope of fully creating a religion on your own. That's actually good news. By avoiding all the complexities of a full religion, you avoid all the boring stuff.

How Do You Build a Religion?

To build a religion, you begin with a few basic ideas or values. These ideas don't have to be related, and often work better if they are unrelated. You then use religion as a way of uniting those ideas into a cohesive whole. Your basic ideas should center around basic societal questions. What does your society value? Why does your society value this? What does this belief it bring to society? What does this belief call society to do?

Once you have your ideas, you put them in a story which explains how these ideas came to be united. That story becomes paradigmatic, which is a fancy word for creating a pattern or template. This paradigmatic story acts as an example to build other structures within society, or to provide a general understanding of why certain relationships and social structures exist.

Once you have the basic big idea of a religion, you need at least one character who believe in it. How would this new religion express itself through the character? The important part of a religion are entirely expressed through character motivation and character conflict, sometimes externally via dialog or character conflict, but internally at other times, through soul searching and thought.

Note that a religion is different than a deity. Religion is the entire corpus of beliefs in relationship to the divine that a society holds, while a god is only a part of that.

Never Done

You will never be done with a religion. You'll always find something to have fun with. Something will pop out at you. Something obvious will smack you in the face. Some new piece of information will alter how you understand something. As the character's situation changes, different aspects of the religion will demand development.

Return to: Religion in Fantasy