Working Religion In
If you look at the whole of human history, religion is the single most common motivation for an action, and yet it is often ignored in genre fiction. Today we’ll be looking at ways to integrate religion in genre stories.
In historical fiction as well as fantasy, it’s important to remember that religions were the world’s first political institutions. They resolved disputes between rival clans, and later rival nations. Kings who angered the Pope were liable to find themselves in the middle of an insurrection. Earlier than that, squabbles between the various temples of polytheistic faiths were common; since in most cases these religions were effectively state-run, they competed for funding and favors from the state.
Until (and arguably during) the Renaissance, it was believed that virtually every facet of everyday life was influenced directly by God. Failing crops were often seen as a sign of His displeasure. Deformities of the body were believed to reflect deformities of the soul. Diseases were seen as a curse upon the wicked. Characters within these settings should demonstrate at least some of this mindset.
Science fiction typically ignores religion all together. This is a mistake, in my opinion. Humanity has held some form of religious beliefs since before writing. Religion still exerts deep and abiding political pressure. The Catholic Church is the oldest continually operating bureaucracy in the world. It seems unlikely that it will simply dissipate in the next couple centuries after enduring for two millennia.
Writing about a character going to Church on Omicron-Persei 8 isn’t necessary (although it is a good bit of world-building.) For stories with any sort of political element, having a church or religious organization be a player makes a lot of sense. For stories focusing more on action and less on intrigue, having a character pray once in a while establishes that religion exists without it necessarily becoming a major element of the story.
In a day or two, I’ll take a closer look at religion in fantasy, and how to make it an integral part of your story.