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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 23, 2023

No, no. I promise this is not a post that will go like this:

Nor like this:

Also nothing I say here, is to be religiously followed. (I got that out of my chest, cringing is allowed)

This post is entirely on the issue of worldbuilding religion into your webcomic's world setup. I'm not going to get into any arguments about the existence of God or whose religion is the best, or anything like that…


Of course I will but in the context of how religion can affect your plot and your characters' development, within your story. That said, I'll get some basics out of the way, so we can focus on the fascinating stuff: I am a theist. I am an observing Greek Orthodox Christian. I have been atheist in the past, I've been agnostic, and now I'm not. So I've visited almost every camp, if you like. And I'm pretty positive that if I were to seriously talk with any of our higher ranking priests, I'd be summarily excommunicated or something.

AND THAT'S GREAT! Because religion is a fascinating thing that you can use to build a powerful world, whether you're doing a fantasy or not. More on that in a bit (or if I get too long winded, in the next installment). Even if you really don't want to involve religion at all in your story or plot, it will come up indirectly in your character interactions- an exclamation of “holy shit!” implies there's the concept of holiness in your world (possibly not of shit, though). If any character prays or says “my God!”, religion's presence has been established in your world. So let's see what else you can do with religion as a narrative and worldbuilding tool, shall we?

Let's begin with teasing out the strands of very different, basic elements that come under the umbrella term of religion:

Like this, but in reverse

So what are the basic elements of religion that are of interest to us as creators, when doing worldbuilding?

1. Divine revelation
2. Faith, official dogma and scripture
3. Official church/temple/worship hierarchy and organization
4. Spirituality
5. Number of religious dogmas, conflicting dogmas, conflicting interpretations
6. Societal dissemination, acceptance, and entanglement with secular power

For each of these strands of religion, you as the creator of your world will need to make decisions and rules. Let's first have an examination of what decisions you should make first:

1. On the divine revelation:

So this one is easy! First, the “divine” part: You must decide whether there is a god, a divine, a pantheon, or anything in between in your world. Note, that this is whether they are real. The gods in the Iliad are very, very real. Those same gods in our world just don't exist (if you're a dodecatheist, humor me, ok?). So if our world was a webcomic or story created by an artist, in our world the answer would be “no divine”. In the Iliad, it's “divine 100%”.

So the decision you will be making first is simply on whether in your world the divine is a thing, and supernatural entities exist.

The second decision you need to make while still in this strand, is whether the divine intervenes and interacts with the mortals. This is the “revelation” part. Are your gods aloof and don't intervene, just watching and waiting to judge mortals when they die? Or are they walking amongst the mortals, doing things to them, for them, or against them?

If they are aloof, then you have divine, but not revelation. If they interact in certain ways (doesn't matter if it's frequent or rare) then it's divine revelation.

Once you have that decided, you can get working on either how the gods/god/divine interacts with the mortals (if you go the “divine revelation” route) or move on to the next strand.

2. Faith, official dogma and scripture

So regardless of whether there is a god/divine/gods, there will be some kind of dogma and scripture, because mortals need explanations about things they can't explain, things they fear, and things they would like to happen to them. How they explain the unexplainable, how they go about wading through the scary stuff, what they appeal to in times of need, all of this is a sum of a) their faith and b) what dogma there exists.

Now, dogma and faith are different concepts, and you can play with that a lot in your setting- a clash between dogma and faith can make for extreme drama, both internal and external, existential and social, political and economic, and so on.

Faith comes from within. Dogma comes from outside. Faith is an emotion, dogma is a cognitive schema.

The juicy thing is that depending on how complex you want to make your societies and your world, neither your characters' faith nor their dogmas need to be correct. You can have highly religious people with deep faith in a world that you have created to be devoid of anything divine. Or you can have deeply faithless people with no religion in a world where a god or gods or the divine exist.

It's all up to you and what you want to explore!

You can have the (often easy route) of two clashing faiths and/or two clashing religions where one is correct (i.e. syncs up with the real divine you have created) and one is incorrect. OR you can have two clashing religions where both are slightly right and slightly wrong about the same divine reality you have created. Or you may have two clashing religions where both are wrong about the very real divine entity/ies you have created.

All of these can lead to extremely interesting plot devices and character development. But the key is to make every decision about what is true and what is not initially, before you even think up of any plot even, and stick to it.

This IS getting long winded, and I haven't even yet gotten around to talking about examples and how to build up a religion after making all the decisions, so this will be a series on how to weave religion into your world, whether it's fantasy or even whether it's closer to real life.

Consider this the end of part 1. We're gonna see the next couple of strands next time!

Is there religion in your webcomic at all?

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bravo1102 at 1:38AM, Sept. 24, 2023

My studying comparative religion, theology and mythology has left me an atheist. However, I also know there could be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy. I've created a few belief systems; anything from my satirical "Confusionism" to various dark rites and a cohesive demonology that has the quite crazy "true" story behind the Abrahamic deity including the GOOHFC (pronounced Go-fuk, the Get Out Of Hell Free Card) so I've come at the subject from multiple directions possibly because of my own nonbelief but knowledge of what others have so much faith in. I once explained to a peacticing church going Presbyterian what were the theological differences between them and an Episcopalian because they had no idea what their professed faith actually believed. People can and do believe in weird things and it is not my job to persuade or convert anyone. I'll leave the preaching to others, but it's all grist for my creative mill.

Banes at 7:09AM, Sept. 23, 2023

By Crom's elbows, this is a wonderful topic. So true that the Divine and how a fictional world deals with it is an important dimension to making that world more fully realized. It's an aspect I rarely, or possibly NEVER think about in stuff I write, which is weird because I think about God almost every day.

mks_monsters at 5:02AM, Sept. 23, 2023

I confess that my comics tend to have Christian themes since I myself am a devout Christian, but not in a way that pushes my faith. More like I try to showcase that parts that I think anyone even a non-Christian could appreciate like forgiveness, redemption, family unity and non-violent solutions. While one could say that you don't need to be Christian to believe in these things and you would be right, I want to show that THAT is the point. I find Christianity especially gets a lot of negative rap in comics and I want to show that my Lord's teaching are rooted in love and kindness.

marcorossi at 3:26AM, Sept. 23, 2023

I'm an atheist. One problem I have with fantasy worlds with religions is that they imply metaphysical good and evil. Like, in LOTR, while one can make a parody where the orcs are an oppressed race and it is all the fault of the elves, in the actual world of Tolkien this is impossible, orcs are metaphysically evil because they are corrupted by Melko, Sauron is the bad guy in principle and, as a consequence, Gandalf can never be wrong. It is a seductive view and IMHO the reason of part of the charm of LOTR, but applied to the real world it would be simplistic and infantile: even recognized bad guys like Hitler really are people with some problem (like megalomania) who therefore hurt a lot of people and we see them as evil, but they are not metaphysically evil.

PaulEberhardt at 1:26AM, Sept. 23, 2023

This is why inventing fantasy religions is perfectly fine - if you try and impose an existing religion on a fantasy culture, it likely won't ring true. I've done that, too, and one of them is so full of parodies of biblical passages that some of my fellow Christians may want my head on a stake for it. I'm rather sure, though, that God won't, quite the opposite. Any faith not strong enough to be able to take a few jokes can't be a true faith in my eyes. I think having fun with religious concepts is cool, it's a celebration of diversity and a way to make them accessible, too. Did that with Maura the Mole, in an unobtrusive way - because preaching when you're not a preacher is something I very much dislike in others. Do unto others etc.. Making fun of God's ground personnel is especially Ok, when they deserve it. They're human beings, thus they, too, have an inborn tendency to screw up anything they touch, so be sure not to stay silent when they do.

PaulEberhardt at 1:04AM, Sept. 23, 2023

Then let's get this out of the way, too: I'm a Lutheran Protestant, I believe in God: he's easy to notice everywhere, in fact, and while I'd never discriminate atheists for their beliefs I think they're missing out; if God ever took a break for just one day, they'd notice. I think of organised religions as languages, all trying to express the inexpressible in their own way with the aim of helping us coming to terms with existence and shaping cultures along the way, so I would never say any religion is better than the others, but like everyone else I've got one language I feel most comfortable in and you don't change them like you'd change shirts. [/end sermon]

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