Making Up A Realistic Religion

Hot topics in delusion and rationalization.
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SkepticJ
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Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by SkepticJ »

This is for the story I'm working on. Its set in the hard sci-fi universe I'm working on. The antagonist in the story is a theocratic empire that wants to either kill or convert the rational Thebannese society. What I have so far is it has three gods. god#1: creator of the sky, clouds, rain, lightning, all flying animals, their sun(the great light) Thebann's moon(the lesser light), solar eclipses(short night) and the stars. god#2: creator of soil, rocks, mountains, thunder, smells, hail, metals and all life that lives underground. god#3: creator of plants, all other animals, wind, fog and lunar eclipses(sky blood). Every three years on the winter solstice a male and female child is sacrificed to each god. What do I need to do to make it more realistic?
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Grammatron
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by Grammatron »

SkepticJ wrote:This is for the story I'm working on. Its set in the hard sci-fi universe I'm working on. The antagonist in the story is a theocratic empire that wants to either kill or convert the rational Thebannese society. What I have so far is it has three gods. god#1: creator of the sky, clouds, rain, lightning, all flying animals, their sun(the great light) Thebann's moon(the lesser light), solar eclipses(short night) and the stars. god#2: creator of soil, rocks, mountains, thunder, smells, hail, metals and all life that lives underground. god#3: creator of plants, all other animals, wind, fog and lunar eclipses(sky blood). Every three years on the winter solstice a male and female child is sacrificed to each god. What do I need to do to make it more realistic?
Read up on Scientology :P

Also where is evil? Any good religion has evil so you can kill millions in the name of good to prevent evil.
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SkepticJ
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by SkepticJ »

Grammatron wrote:Also where is evil? Any good religion has evil so you can kill millions in the name of good to prevent evil.

Good point, anything contrary to their religion is evil to them; "not of the gods".
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Sundog
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Post by Sundog »

A bit of schizm might lend versimilitude and even plot points. An underground faction that isn't in favor of their superiors' plans.
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TV evangelists and suicide bombers.
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MLynn
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Post by MLynn »

I'd like to read your story when it's done.

You might want to throw in some acolytes, robes, and candles - too catholic, perhaps?
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Post by Quester_X »

acolytes, robes, and candles
Acolytes? Like this:

http://www.battle.net/war3/undead/units/acolyte.shtml
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Post by Yahweh »

Why dont you use Iacchus's religion?
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by Earthborn »

SkepticJ wrote:What do I need to do to make it more realistic?
I think the most important thing to make it realistic is to give people a reason to believe in it in the first place. Something other than 'out of fear of government policy'. People need to get a sense that they get something from the religion that they assume can't get otherwise.

It depends largely on what kind of society you describe in the story. A largely agricultural society people often get a feeling that Gods control the weather and must be appeased. That gives them a feeling of control over circumstances they have no control over.

In a very complex industrial society, many people with many different ideas live closely together and people want to believe in something that can give them a moral compass to decide which people are good and which are bad.

The easiest way to imagine such a reason to believe in that religion is this: suppose you lived in that society, what would you want to believe? So it would help to explore your own religious instincts a bit.

Human sacrifice is an interesting idea which is used fairly often in evil fantasy religions. In reality however, it is not so common. It rarely happens unless there are great societal stresses, which gives people the feeling that they must do something, anything to appease the gods. To make it a routine practice requires some very good reasons why people still believe in it, because they are not easily willing to kill their own children.
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by Electric Monk »

IANAW, but here's my take on a realistic fictional religion. (I see that Earthborn has posted a good response since I started writing this.)

For humans, at least, it seems that religions, and particularly the rituals surrounding them are formed around symbology. Religions of societies that are closer to a natural environment use concrete symbols - eggs symbolize fertility, blood symbolizes life, horns symbolize power, etc. Also, the devils of one culture tend to be the gods of rival cultures.

The myths are intended to explain why things are the way that they appear. The most prominent features (geographical, astrological, zoological) of their environment should have myths.

A society which has distanced itself from nature, "become more civilized", will tend towards abstracting these symbols. They can't make a complete break from the past, so you'll still see some of the origins of a ritual hiding in the modern version. For instance, in the blood and the flesh of communion, and the adoration of "saints" instead of many gods.

The details of the rituals seem to come about in two ways. First, the symbology must fit with the goals of the ritual. Appeasements require a gift or sacrifice. A sky god might be given a bird or a feather. A war god might be pleased with a ritual battle. Alternately, if the gods are rivals, then they might be appeased with a token from the opposing realm: the war god wants the blood of the sky god's favorite bird, etc.

The second way that the details are added is out of the constant figuring out of "what went wrong" when the god does not appear to respond favorably to the ritual. Inevitably, the priests/shamans insist that the ritual wasn't exactly right and add a missing detail, or shift the blame to the followers: "Dance along the sides of a square instead of in a circle", "Shake the rattle three times!", "Someone here wasn't faithful enough.", "I'm getting a 'K', or maybe a 'G'..." When something finally works, it becomes a permanent feature.

So, in your scenario, I'd suggest that you work these things out in your head, even if all of it does not appear on paper:

Why are there three gods? Is the number three sacred to these people? For polytheists there's no particular number of gods so a number doesn't have to be symbolic. For monotheists, there is one god because there is one universe, and one right way of thinking. With a definite, small number, there should be an explanation. (It should be something very prominent, and self-centered.) Do they have three fingers/arms/eyes? Are there three moons? Is there a special place they can go to see the three aspects of nature simultaneously in a way that invokes awe?

Why do they have the domains that they do? Was there a war between them? Did they draw lots? What is the creation myth that these people use to justify this division?

Why would each of them get the same sacrifice? Are they jealous, and if one gets something different they fight, to the detriment of their believers? Are the sacrifices tied to the aspect of nature that they represent? (Brown eyes/blue eyes/green eyes?) I echo Earthborn's comment about child sacrifice being rather extreme in anything more sophisticated than a bronze-age culture, and it demands an explanation. I will assume that you need this to make the plot work.

What is it about the Winter Solstice that demands the sacrifice? The "rebirth of the sun" is fairly obvious, what about the other two? Does the ground freeze hard, and the wind blow into storms?

How did the theocracy rise to power? Was there a catastophy that was predicted by the priesthood? Were they seen to have brought victory against a hated enemy? Did they slip into influence with the existing rulers and sieze power at a moment of uncertainty? Have they ruled since the dawn of time and nobody knows what happened?
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Azraphael
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Post by Azraphael »

I think the key to making a ficticious religion 'realistic' is the same thing that makes real religions belivable to people: stories.

I think the general idea that you have of splitting up the domains for 3 gods is fairly sound... the human sacrifice not so much, but that's just my opinion.

Either way, I think the best bet would be to create well textured stories that the religion is based on. Stories about the sky god, the earth god, and the life god. Creation stories are usually key. After all, just about every religion is used a way to explain the curretly unexplainable to the masses. In the vast majority of cases, those explainations themselves are put to a narrative and become the stories upon which a religion, and a culture, is based.

Also, religions always have their own explainations for their actions or inactions. The reasons may not be altogether sound, but they make sense at face value, at least. Otherwise, noone would buy into them. How does that factor in to the religion you are creating? What is the rationalized purpose for their rituals (i.e. the human sacrifice you mention)?

You also might want to read up on some elemental-base religions to get some ideas. Particularly pagan religions, such as Druidism, Wicca, and Enochianism (sp?) since that sounds more like the direction you are going in. Another good resource, of course, would be Greek and Roman mythology, as examples of stories about the gods, and how they affect the average person.

As mentioned by Earthborn, you need to keep in mind that you're working in an advanced presumably industrial society. Industrialization requires invention, and therefore the ability to think beyond that which is preached (i.e. the world is flat, the atom can't be split, etc.).

In order for a single religion to have as much power as you indicate in such a society would, in my mind, require some sort of great unknown that is still currently active. Whether it is unknown to all or just most could be part of the story. One idea would be some sort of semi-regular cosmic event that proves the displeasure of the gods. Perhaps it is just a scam, a secret superweapon of sorts, that those in power use to instill fear, and therefore wholesale belief in and acceptance of the religion that keeps them in power. (Terror level orange, anyone? Sorry, couldn't resist... :))

Anyway, I hope some of this helps.

Cheers,

~Azraphael
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by Giz »

Earthborn wrote:
Human sacrifice is an interesting idea which is used fairly often in evil fantasy religions. In reality however, it is not so common. It rarely happens unless there are great societal stresses, which gives people the feeling that they must do something, anything to appease the gods. To make it a routine practice requires some very good reasons why people still believe in it, because they are not easily willing to kill their own children.
Just sacrifice other people's children, as per the Aztecs! Killing your own would be dumb. Where would the next evil generation come from?
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Post by SkepticJ »

As mentioned by Earthborn, you need to keep in mind that you're working in an advanced presumably industrial society. Industrialization requires invention, and therefore the ability to think beyond that which is preached (i.e. the world is flat, the atom can't be split, etc.).-Azraphael


I should have explained this better. The theocratic empire is a Bronze Age tech level soceity. The rational Thebannese are about 18th century tech level. They are NOT humans. They are Thebannese(six limbed, four eyed, mammal/reptile-like beings) See my Getting The Science Right thread at JREF Sci forum.
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Re: Making Up A Realistic Religion

Post by SkepticJ »

Electric Monk wrote:Why are there three gods? Is the number three sacred to these people?
Yes, the number is sacred because of the three "worlds" they want to explain; sky, forests and other places with plants and the ground.
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Post by thaiboxerken »

I think they need 3 evil gods as well. I mean, someone has to be blamed for any bad deeds that the "godly" people might do.
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Post by SkepticJ »

thaiboxerken wrote:I think they need 3 evil gods as well. I mean, someone has to be blamed for any bad deeds that the "godly" people might do.
No, I only want three. Why?, you ask. So their religion has a vague parallel with Christianity.
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Post by Quester_X »

What about a parallel to Satan? Most christians believe he exists.
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Post by Luke T. »

A theocratic society with political intrigue. Demonstrate how religious principles are compromised by earthly (thebbanly?) desires for power/money/sex and how these principles end up modified and twisted to force agreement with these physical attachments. An object lesson of why religion should stay out of eartlhy matters like the age of the Universe or if the planet is flat. Show how public policies which are rooted in scientifically erroneous religious beliefs lead to problems.

There could be socratic discussion between two characters on the interpretation of scriptures in an attempt on the part of one to rationalize what appears to be a violation of spiritual beliefs on the part of the other. You could either show the corruption of the youth by the elder, or the success of virtue over corruption.
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Post by SkepticJ »

Quester_X wrote:What about a parallel to Satan? Most christians believe he exists.
Are you sure? I thought he was a metaphor for evil to liberal christians(the majority).
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Post by Skeeve »

I would suggest that you need most of the following to make a realistic-seeming religion:

Some folk wisdom that lays down a set of rules for how to keep a primitive society alive and growing.

An authority, made-up or otherwise, to appeal to.

Some natural phenominon to venerate or mystify.

Some kind of appeal to the unknown, to explain why it doesn't always work.
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