The human need for answers is second only to our ability to ask questions that are beyond our comprehension. Though science has demystified much of the natural world, some of the most basic, most human, questions remain elusive. Why am I here? What does it mean to be a good person? And what happens after death? When experimentation and analysis are unable to provide satisfactory answers, people feel compelled to put their faith in some creed or philosophy.
It’s no coincidence that many of the deities of the earliest human polytheistic pantheons were nature gods. To these people, the mechanisms behind natural forces were powerful and mysterious. In many ways, they literally defined and shaped everyday life as most natural forces can be both forces of creation and destruction. By putting a human face and personality on the sea, sun, lightening, volcanoes, or disease, early cultures of the world found comfort. After all, Vulcan can be appealed to for blessings and have his wrath appeased by worship and sacrifice. Mount Vesuvius is less accommodating.
By their very nature, the gods of polytheistic religions tend to be more human. They suffer from human flaws, as well as represent human virtues. On the other hand, the monotheistic religions of the world tend to be more absolute. The single god represents all that it is to be good and virtuous, all powerful and all knowing. Typically, there is also a single antagonist in those religions that in turn represents the ultimate evil. This dichotomy can go a long way to influence how the society views worldly justice and also tends to make them have a stricter standard for what is “acceptable” behavior.
There are also a group of religions that have no specific divine entity. Rather, these individuals tend to focus on the reverence of human spirituality, the natural world, and the propagation of an individual’s life philosophies. Instead of turning to a higher power, they turn within for the answers of life’s mysteries. Because many of these religions promote peace, thoughtfulness, personal enlightenment, and tolerance as their highest virtues, the cultures they predominate share similar world views.
Anywhere humanity gathers, so does belief, mysticism, and faith. Therefore, as writers we have hundreds, if not thousands, of precedents to draw from when we build our worlds. And yet, most pop fiction tends to draw from a handful of common mythologies for inspiration. I know that I, personally, thoroughly enjoy a work that touches on a belief system to which I’ve never been exposed.
Ultimately, human religions are a construct of thought and belief. Because belief so strongly informs world view and therefore action, it is essential for a writer who is actively world building to carefully interrogate their world for all the facets of religion it has to offer.Tags: Sequence 06: Making Milieu