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HANDLING RELIGION IN YOUR WORLD

December 27, 2017

Never at a loss for inspiration, this is a subject breached at one of my writer’s forums the other day. One of the participants asked how others handle religion in their fantasy world.

This brought up the bigger question: How do you handle religion in your world, regardless of genre?

TOUCHY SUBJECT

For many, religion is a touchy subject. There are many with deep-seated core faith values and beliefs. On the other hand, there’s a growing population that considers religion pure fantasy or something that’s downright destructive.

How do you find the balance of addressing religion without alienating either side?

Well…that can be tricky to impossible, depending on how radical or extreme the belief system. With some people, you just can’t win. I’m talking about both sides, the believers and non-believers.

All you can do is write on and try not to be flagrantly stupid about it.

REAL-WORLD RELIGIONS

First off, there’s the option of whether to address religion at all in your novel. You can play Switzerland and save yourself a lot of grief. That neutralizes the subject entirely. On the other hand, who says something, or maybe lots of somethings the characters may do don’t offend some religion out of ignorance? More than likely they do, but you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. You’d end up with a book with nothing but a period on page one.

Come to think of it, that would probably offend someone, as well.

On the other hand, if you’re going to plunge right in and use real-world religions, are they an integral part or just peripheral to the story? If so, have you done the research to get the details right?

Don’t forget that!

Now here’s the clincher. If religion is a major part of the story, is said religion the bad or good guy in the story? Is the story a condemnation of that religion?

Once again, did you do your research?

One way or another, this is going to alienate a good proportion of your readers, making your novel either propaganda, anti-religious bigotry, preaching to the choir, or gaining an audience. The one thing you don’t want to do is end up looking stupid because you didn’t get your facts straight.

On the other hand, some would argue that facts and religion is a contradiction. By facts, I mean, facts as pertaining to the tenets of said religion, nothing to do with science or reality.

Come on, folks, I’m not trying to start a crusade here!

All I’m saying is that if you’re going to use real religions in your work, whether in a positive light or not, get your facts straight before you write. Otherwise, your setting yourself up to be just another pariah and will lose half (or more) of your potential audience.

Remember, loaded subject.

MADE UP RELIGIONS SUCH AS IN FANTASY WORLDS

You have a lot more freedom in fantasy worlds to make up and use religion to your advantage. Once again, that’s if you decide to use it at all. Religion adds dynamics and realism to your world. It can also add complications.

The difference between real and fantasy religions is that you make up your own rules and names.

The way you treat these religions is the same. It still reflects who you are and how you probably feel about real religion. The red flag is that your treatment of religion in your fantasy world can do just as much to bias readers toward you of you’re not careful.

Then again, if you don’t care…

On the other hand, one doesn’t necessarily go with the other. Some, who are deeply religious, may use an entirely different view of religion in a fantasy world to reflect the issues they have with their real religion, but not necessarily a condemnation of that real religion.

Ever think of that?

In this increasingly agnostic and atheistic world, religion is becoming more and more dismissive and derided as a normal course of action. Yet there are still those that seek faith. Both sides shouldn’t be ignored in the world you create if you wish to grow your audience.

Happy writing!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2017 4:41 pm

    Would you consider the Force a religion? If so, did George Lucas get it right?

    rob

    • December 28, 2017 12:59 am

      Rob,

      First off, welcome to my site!

      Second, yes, in a way, The Force IS a religion. It has all the bells and whistles of one. As far as I’m concerned, I think they treated it right. There was a pretty good balance of the good (the believers) and the bad (the devil) and the non-believers (the agnostics like Han Solo who eventually grudgingly acknowledges it) and it never devolved into preachy book type dogma, at least to my thinking. In fact, the only mention of books at all that I recall is in the latest movie. Then again, the second set of three I barely watched because I thought they sucked. If there was a reference to books or more about the force, I wouldn’t have noticed.

      How about you?

      Fred

  2. December 30, 2017 7:36 am

    Fred,

    I tend to agree that George Lucas did get it right. At least early on, in the first three movies or numbers 4/5/6, however you chose to classify them. What I think he did that was right, was just present it as if it was a fact, just like gravity or oxygen. No better and no worse, but in his world it totally existed. The other thing he did right was to bring it along slowly. He didn’t ram it down the viewers throat and he didn’t scream it from a bullhorn in the middle of the cantata. He simply made a statement, presented it as a fact in that universe, developed it slowly and let the viewer fill in the gaps. I think there are several lessons to learn as a writer in how he presented the Force and this is something that I will be thinking about as I move forward in my WIPs.

    In 1977, no one had ever heard of the Force so Mr. Lucas had a great advantage and he used it brilliantly. But by 1985, in episode 6, I remember thinking that Luke had gone off the rails when he showed up on screen in the cloak. He became a true believer and while that was the right thing for Luke’s character development, most American’s (including me) tend to shy away from anyone who is a true believer in anything.

    I think one of the biggest problems in episodes 1/2/3 is that the Force was now at the center of the story and the plot line was now about good Force people verses bad Force people. It was scene after scene of Master (Prophet) Yoda pushing the Force on the audience with the bullhorn. It was about a religion taking a kid and molding them into a tool for the religion. It was about the Chief Priests (The Emperor) of that religion using their power to gain more power and shaming good people into bad decisions on the basis of being on the right side of the Force.

    The problem with episode 7/8 is that the story is just repeating itself. A kid with a spiritual connection is forced to become something that they didn’t want to be so their talents wouldn’t be wasted. That kid is lost and feels betrayed and uses their power for evil. I don’t have a problem with the story line, I do have a problem repeating the same story line in 8 movies. But this might be a lack of creativity issue on the part of Disney which is another discussion all together.

    By the way, I’m not a Star Wars guy but it has held a special place in my life since I saw it as a 8 year old with my parents in 1977. I have seen all the movies a couple of times and I had my wife and kids watch them so that when the new ones rolled out 3 years ago, we all would be on equal footing. In perspective, I have watched episodes 4/5/6 on average 5 times since 1977, episodes 1/2/3 twice and 7/8 once.I have watched The Godfather about 50 times, Good-fellas a hundred times and Heat more than that.

    Also by the way, I consider myself a Christian and I have a deep respect for the higher power that I chose to believe in. But I have a very healthy hatred for people who use the Bible to force people to act in a certain manner, dress in a certain way or believe a certain passage just so that those people can have more power. If the Force was Christianity, then I would be somewhere between Han Solo and the Luke of The Empire Strikes Back.

    Thanks for letting me hijack your site. I hope you invite me back for more.

    rob

    • December 31, 2017 12:23 am

      Rob,

      Wow! Excellent words. I really appreciate your detailed reply. Very thoughtful. I certainly would love to have you back for more!

      Fred

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