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Religion (part 2)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 30, 2023

Last time I started talking about religion as a great umbrella term for a lot of facets of worldbuilding you can take into consideration when constructing the world of your story, be it webcomic, novel, series, or anything else.

This type of worldbuilding is especially prevalent in fantasy worlds, but everything I'm discussing can go for real worlds as well (historical, modern, assorted cultures, etc). The difference is that in fantasy you will need to make all the decisions and build the religion from scratch, while for real worlds that actually existed, you will need to find the answers by researching and abide by them… except for one that you still need to answer yourself (more on that in a bit).

I also have to mention that religion (or lack thereof, as in, types of agnosticism or atheism) exists in sci-fi too, and all considerations discussed in the first part of this series as well as anything else I talk about apply in that genre as well.

So last time, I talked about deciding on whether your world's god/gods/divine exists at all, how it manifests, and how well the mortals (as in individuals) understand/are aware of/interact with all of that (or its absense).

In this part (yeah at this point I've stoically accepted there'll be many parts in this discussion and I was a fool to think otherwise), I'd like to talk about how society approaches and interacts with said divine/god/gods/absence thereof.

Let's talk about items 3 in the list: Official church/temple/worship hierarchy and organization!

What is the one common thing that temples have, across religions, era, cultures, and technology?

They tend to be big, imposing, pointing to the sky or giving the impression of touching the sky, and (at least until the age of skyscrapers) dwarf every other building in the city/town/village.

That's because of several things. Some less …pure… than others. Let's broadbrush for a bit, even though I generally don't like to do it…

1. God and the Divine is huge by definition- the ruler of the universe, the universe itself, nature, you name it. So the edifice in the honor of God/Gods/Divines has to reflect that. Even more so if it's the “house of god”. Opulence and the best a civilization has to offer tends to be poured into the visual representation of what they believe is the source of that opulence. There are reasons why human societies have this tendency, but I won't go into that now because we're looking into religion for worldbuilding purposes only.

2. God is money.

Society revolves around what will keep it cohesive and clustered, so that it can survive. Ironically, like a living being comprised of living beings, society wants to not only survive, but survive as is. Change is inevitable, but society will and does oppose it every way it can. And religion is ironically both an agent of change and an agent of stagnation.

Because religion pulls in the money (see item one). Money is what we call in behaviorism a generalized reinforcer or GCR (the ‘conditioned’ part is often omitted). A GCR is the closest thing we have to magic in a society: it's highly likely to make people do things when it's present. Coupled with religion, which makes people do things to please God/Gods/Divines, it's social magic on crack.

And social magic on crack attracts powermongers, just like they're attracted anywhere else. In this domino effect I'm describing, the power mongers ascribe status to themselves as representatives, gatekeepers, and vessels of whatever tennet, god, or ideal the religion has. Armed with this status, they can rake in the money (GCR) and they can enjoy unprecedented power within the community.

And this, organized religion is a thing that always happens, nearly inevitably, when a religion emerges and is created. It has a strict hierarchy, strict rules, and strict ways of enforcing the power of the religious elite on the rest of the society.

When is something heretic? When it threatens the status quo of the power structure within the institutionalized religion.

So when you're worldbuilding and you're making an institutionalized religion, you need to treat it as …well, an institution. A very secular institution, with secular rules, and secular hierarchy. A top boss (or council of bosses), some investors (usually kings/nobility/states/corporations), then top management, middle management, low management, entry level mooks. Anything and everything that goes in a company, goes in institutionalized religion. And it's as easy to reform as it is to convince a multinational company mogul to allow his workers to go to the bathroom on company time. .

Make sure to design proper uniforms for the religious employees- the priests, the sacerdocy. They need to be distinct and different from what non-religious employees wear: flowing dresses, funny hats, tassels, tattoos, special palanquins, special starchy collars, all the tacky bling that is not tacky just because it's religious. Ascribe religious symbolism to EVERYTHING they wear. Especially the funny hats, the bling, and whatever they have on their fingers or hold in their hands (like rods or wands or bells or whatever). Make sure that non-religious employees are not allowed to wear the outfit, as it will be considered sacriligious.

And now you got yourself an institutionalized religion- but wait, there's more!

Now you need to establish protocols of worship. How is the god/gods/divine officially worshipped? Special days, special rituals, special religious foods, fasting, etc. How is one inducted into the religion as a non-religious-employee? Is there catechism involved, do they need to pass a rite, both, none? WHY? It's very important to explain the reasoning behind it. How is one inducted into the religion as a religious employee? Do they need to “marry” the god/gods/divine in a special ceremony? Do they need to spend a night with the top dog priest who represents the god/gods/divine as communion for the divine/god/gods? (yes as in have sex) Or will a simple anointment from the special holy scented candle do? How about a branding with a prod?

It's up to you, but be careful. The protocols and ceremonies you will choose will tell your audience things about this society and this religion. If you want to “telegraph” that the religion is possibly barbaric, maybe they sacrifice babies every seven years to appease the god of death or something. If you want to “telegraph” that the religion is your garden variety religion we've encountered in history books or in modernity, you may have relatively benign rituals like making a special harvest ceremony and then throw a holy banquet or something. And if you want to “telegraph” that this religion is better than we're used to in our real world… well, then that's up to you! What do *you* think such an institutionalized religion would look like?

That may or may not be a trick question!

Have you created an institutionalized religion in your webcomic? Would you ever consider it?

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PaulEberhardt at 6:04AM, Sept. 30, 2023

I sometimes go to church, but mostly out of respect for tradition. God's ground staff are human and do very human things, and they have a great instinct for generalised reinforcers - I almost forgot about that term, but now I love it again just as at the first time I heard it. :) Think of institutionalised religions what you want, but they're indeed an integral part of civilisation. Even societies who profess to be atheistic have similar structures in its place: communism has its own places of worship and doctrines, for instance, and if the (official) generalised reinforcer isn't money it's e.g. influence and therefore power in the party. - Last time I made up fantasy religions I toyed with this idea: one empire had outlawed its old gods in order to idealise progress, never realising that all they did was switch to worshipping someone else, much to the constant amusement of the neighbouring Elves, who run the pubs that frustrated gods go to for their after-work beer.

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