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Christianity and pseudo-Christianity in otherwise fantasy worlds

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Feo Takahari, Sep 13, 2015.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Inspired by The Serpent and the Rose, but relevant to a lot of different fantasy stories.

    If a story is generally "fantasy" and is otherwise not connected to any one time and place, is it distracting to have Christianity in the story? Is it better to name it as Christianity, or to give it a new name while still having it obviously be Christianity? (In Serpent's case, it's the religion of the Young God.) Does the answer to the question differ if you're portraying Christianity as the one true religion (Lone Wolf), the evil oppressor of a good pagan religion (The Wayfarer Redemption), or somewhere in between (Serpent)?

    I'm asking specifically about Christianity because it's the only religion I see treated like this. Elantris is the only thing I've ever read with fantasy Islam, and fantasy paganism is almost always an incredibly broad "nature worship" not directly comparable to any extant religion.
     
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Doesn't the answer to your question depend on the author's intention or desire for the world she's created?

    I think that using Christianity, named "Christianity," is a perfectly valid approach — in two cases at least: 1) When the world is an alterna-verse of our own, 2 ) When the author's intention is to show that Christianity is universal, i.e. that Jesus Christ could have appeared in other worlds at some point, not just our own.

    In the first case, you could be looking at a post-apocalyptic version of Earth set sometime in the very far future or maybe just a world in an alternate dimension with a somewhat different history. Maybe this alternate Earth could include the use of various magics in addition to Christianity, continents, weather, fauna and fora, and some common features of historical Earth cultures and history as an analogue to our own world.

    In the second case, I'd find the approach to write Christianity as a universal phenomenon, with Jesus Christ appearing on multiple worlds throughout time, as an interesting approach. Doesn't the Church of Latter-Day Saints believe that Jesus appeared in America at some point? A similar idea would have him appearing on different worlds, perhaps in the same way he appeared on our own. I don't think one would have to be a Christian to utilize this idea in a fantasy setting, but at the same time I could see this approach being a spiritual/religious statement, possibly something profound, for a Christian writer who wanted to use this idea.

    As for the "somewhere in between" and other uses of the ideas, rituals, symbols of Christianity....Well, there's precious little under the sun that is new, as tropes and metaphors are often repeated with variation in literature throughout time. Even utilizing pagan Earth religions with minor or major tweaks is a common approach, as is the use of so many other things like types of government, currency, warfare, armor, horses,......Etc. So I don't see why the one approach (paganism re-invention) should be valued above the other.
     
  3. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    Personally I cannot abide it.

    I want my fantasy to be fun and offer escape, not to be a reminder of something, which in my case would immediately take me out of the story.

    Finding it in the middle of an otherwise pleasant read, to me, is how I would imagine it feels to have a disturbed person invading my home and going through my things, or peering at me through the shadows as I sleep.

    Very creepy.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2015
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I have a pseudo Christianity in my world...but one with a reason for being.

    Solaria, the main nation in my world, was founded by several thousand 3rd century AD romans in one of the last big 'people snatches' by the 'ancient aliens' of my world - including a couple hundred 'Christians.' At this point in time, 'Christianity' was a far more varied and diverse beast than present day Christians are comfortable with - the books making up the bible were in vehement dispute, the Trinity was a hotly contested theoretical concept, and the vast majority of Christians were Gnostics who borrowed a great deal from paganism. (The early church fathers waged endless literary war on the Gnostic sects, but were unable to suppress them completely until after Christianity became the state religion.)

    Anyhow, the 'True Church' of my world was founded by 'Gnostic Christians' who viewed Christ more as a guide and saint than savior. The True Church grew by Saintly Orders - some cleric or layperson would have a vision, or start preaching, gather a bunch of followers, and the whole lot would become another Order. Orders also merged or split and were sometimes suppressed (sometimes violently) if the underlying theology varied too much. Eventually, a series of reforms gave the really important orders authority over this or that aspect of life - farming, soldiering, justice, and the like.
     
  5. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    I'd say that having a complete Christianity in a fantasy setting can be a real turn off, unless the author takes care to explain it and show why its relevant to the story in a significant way. If the author just wants a generally Christianity-ish religion for the world, its far better and in my mind safer to go with a fictional religion that can be inspired by Christianity.
     
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Both and neither I'm afraid. Avoiding the issue of whether an author is actually specifically trying to paint a Christian picture, it really comes down to your world build. If the world is completely other Earth - eg Tolkein's Middle Earth, than dropping Christianity in the middle of it would be wrong. If on the other hand the world is one that is historically accurate at least to an extent, then leaving Christianity out of it would be wrong.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  7. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    Perhaps if there is some post-apocalyptic elements like in The Dark Tower series, which reference Christianity and other real-life elements quite often. Personally, I would be very displeased to find it in a fantasy. I don't mind allegories but what you're talking about would come off as a bit preachy. It comes off as saying "Christianity is the right religion so much that even fictional universes believe in it." It's sort of a bloated statement in my opinion. If that's not the intent, then it still comes off that way.
     
  8. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    You can always create a monotheistic form of religion without using real world examples.
     
  9. Lunaairis

    Lunaairis Sage

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    Narnia is a perfectly good series even with its Christian symbolism.
    In game of thrones the new gods are basically christianity, with a little different practices and ways of worship. Neither of these did I ever once feel jolted out of because of the depiction of religion. Yes you can use christianity as a major religion in your works, or as a theme for a work. It's just a tool your work will not be greater or poorer for using it.
     
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    It really depends on the author's intention. If part of the book is social or other commentary about Christianity than using it (by name or another) strikes me as fine. If the author wants to make a comment or needs something monotheistic and does not feel the need to build a new religion to make a small point, then borrowing from it or using it also seems fine.

    Just tossing it in for the heck of it might seem odd.

    I am not of the school that feels fiction should be pure escapism. I think the best fiction teaches me something about my life, my world, or the human condition. I don't want to be lectured to or at, but I do want to learn and grow from the fiction I read, not just be entertained.
     
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  11. Firstly, I'd like to say I'm an athiest, and I'm really not a fan of the ideologies presented by monotheisms, so when I read a carbon-copy of Christianity in a book, it pisses me off, especially when everyone in that religion is amazing and wonderful - look at history. Religion is anything but.

    However, Christianity is a monotheism (one god). It shares a good 95% of its roots, beliefs and ideas - oppression of women, hatred/ need to "redeem" heathens, the idea of an afterlife split into heaven/paradise and hell/jahannam, with the other major monotheisms of the world - Islam and Judaism. Core ideologies will be, if not the same, then similar, and if you have sects (which you should, something else that you don't see much, whilst history is full of them) be prepared for them to hate each other (again, history). If you are going to write a monotheism - it makes sense to do so, after all, the biggest religions today are monotheism, they are successful, not least due to the aggressive, expansion mindset they encourage - in the "evolution" of religion they out-compete polytheisms (many gods) because the polytheisms simply don't know they have to compete.

    So basically, what it boils down to, is yes, write a monotheism, which will have many of the same traits as Christianity/ Islam/ Judaism - that is especially true if your world's social history is anything like ours, especially in the middle east where these religions came from -i.e heavily male dominated, so on and so forth. But don't set out to write Christainity - I think the easiet way to do this is to avoid many of the "Christain" holidays (all of which were stolen from pagan religions to make them more compliant to Christianity) - here I'm talking about celebrating Christmas (yule/ winter solcitice on Mithras' bday), easter (Germanic Goddess Eostre), the idea of three being "holy" - from Celtic europe and Ireland, ect, and various saints that used to be gods, such as Ireland's Saint Brighid.

    Hope this wild, passive aggressive rant helps in some form - I've been reading too much Dawkins lately and the idea of monotheisms just makes me sigh and feel a bit depressed.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015
  12. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    I'm always a bit disappointed when I come across a pseudo-Christian religion in fantasy. As someone who is fascinated by anthropology, I'd rather see a myriad of religions whose systems differ wildly from each other. That's an area where a lot of fantasy falls short. You have your pseudo-Abrahamic monotheistic faith, then maybe a pseudo-Greek polytheistic religion, and possibly a pseudo-Gaelic polytheistic faith. The latter two will invariably ignore the intricacies of the real-world faiths they're based on in favor of a gradeschool understanding of how they function.

    Where's the animism? The ancestor worship? The literally thousands upon thousands of gods that populate faiths such as Hinduism? I want to see many different religions, all treated like real religions--none of the sharp boundaries that we tend to establish around religions, both real and not. Religions bleed together, combining deities, swapping traditions and rituals, and fusing their myths and creeds.

    I'd like to see more of that.
     
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Then there is the pseudo-Manichaeistic (or alternatively, the pseudo-Zoroastrian) faith that seems fairly common in fantasy, where there is one Ultimate Good God and his antithesis, the Ultimate Evil God, who are involved in perpetual battle.

    Of the pseudo-Greek style, there is one particularly common approach, which I'll call the "pick a profession, create a god" approach. I.e., you have the god of sailors, the god of vintners, the god of thieves, the god of blacksmiths, ....

    I wonder if the creation of an absolutely new religion is completely impossible for authors, given the various permutations that have already actually occurred on Earth, combined with the authorial license and penchant for stealing (utilizing) from reality.

    How religion is used makes some difference for me as a reader, but it's not always a significant issue, depending on the novel I'm reading. I remember when I was first becoming enamored with Japanese anime and I kept running into various permutations of Christianity: I thought it was odd, a little off-putting, but I no longer do. I've wondered if Christianity is just as "exotic" to some Japanese authors as Shinto or Hinduism or other polytheistic religions would be to many Western authors.
     
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  14. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Exactly. The first (and only) time I saw Hellsing Ultimate, I cringed my way through the first episode as the writers seemed bound and determined to reinforce every stereotype within Christianity. The "Protestant=Good, Catholic=Bad" thing was especially bothering. I mean, I was raised Protestant, but both my parents grew up Catholic, and both of their families have strong Catholic roots. I grew up with a great respect and appreciation for the rich history of the Catholic Church. Seeing it trivialized and reduced to stereotypes that way was...painful, to say the least.
     
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  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Oh, I have that as well. Get out past the bounds of the Empire...well, there be ancestor worship, pagan deities, and Lovecraftian abominations. I realized a long time ago that a world is a big place, room for all kinds of things.
     
  16. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Giving my unpolluted opinion first before I check out what others have said in the replies.

    Being a Christian myself, it depends. Mostly on two things:
    • How similar the fantasy religion is to Christianity and what branch of Christianity it appears to be patterned after.
    • What light the artist seems to be painting said Christianesque religion in.
    These two things are related. In general, the more similar the fantasy religion is to Christianity, the more likely I am to be put off from the work if the religion and its followers are cast in a largely negative light while a positive portrayal might gain the artist a few bonus points in a "yay, we have similar views!" sort of way. But even still, I get annoyed when it's clear the writer is prioritizing their Christian themes over good storytelling. On the other hand, if the resemblance is more vague, only a few elements are borrowed, or the religion is patterned mostly after Christianity's Catholic branch (apologies to our Catholic scribes, I'm a Protestant), then I tend to more easily accept a negative portrayal because it doesn't hit as close to home. However, I can't stand the "Christian oppressors" narrative, not because I think Christians have never done wrong or should never be depicted as doing wrong, but because this narrative is almost always a painfully obvious neopagan soapbox. And if the wholesome pagans live in a goddess-worshiping feminist utopia until the patriarchal Christians march in to muck it up, I might vomit. As for the name, I think it's better to give it a new name unless your story explicitly takes place on some version of our Earth. But that's distracting for worldbuilding reasons and nothing to do with how the work treats Christianity.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2015
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  17. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Let's try to keep the tone respectful. Some of our members are religious and some are not, and MS isn't the place to dissuade others of their beliefs. It's difficult to have a respectful discussion if we have our members pointing out negative aspects of the beliefs of others, whether those aspects are accurate, exaggerated or a misconception.

    It seems that other than this paragraph, the thread is on-topic and related to writing. So I'm just asking everyone to please keep it that way, though I may end up moderating the offending post(s) or shutting down the thread if I get another report.
     
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  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Thank you @Legendary Sidekick.

    I think it is important, when talking about these things in the context of fantasy, to remember that we're talking about a fantasy world, not the real world. You can raise issues about how religions work in the real world, or have worked throughout history (and people may disagree over these points, certainly), but that doesn't dictate how it has to work in your fantasy world. You're not dealing with the real world and aren't constrained by its history.

    if you want to have a religion, whether monotheistic or not, in your fantasy world, and it turns out adherents to that religion are wonderful, noble people, that's fine. In a fantasy context, I can see someone building that world. If you're writing allegory, then depending on what you're doing it may be necessary to write it that way. Even if you're basing your fantasy religion on a real-world religion, what you're writing about is still a fantasy variant because it takes place in a fantasy world, and you can give the religion and its adherents any attributes you want.

    The idea that X happened in the real world, so it has to be so in a fantasy world is a fundamental misconception about the possibilities of fantasy fiction.
     
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  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Thank-you! I've had the exact same thought multiple times recently, spanning multiple topics.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Thanks. I have as well, over threads here and at another forum. One example that pops up a lot is the idea of good and evil races, where people say you can't have them because it's just not realistic - people are shades of gray and a whole race can't be good or evil. That's true, in the real world, but not necessarily so in a fantasy world. Strange to be OK with dragons and wizards hurling fireballs, but the idea of an evil race suddenly raises "realism" issues.

    Some people may not like the idea of good and evil races. That's fine - people like what they like, and it's subjective. But there is nothing any more unrealistic about them than anything else that occurs in a fantasy world, and again depending on your theme or what you're doing with a work it may be perfectly reasonable to set up good and evil races. And in a fantasy world that may have an ethos of absolutes, with interactive gods who are good or bad and involved in creation, having good and evil races certainly makes sense. It's logical within the context of the world.
     
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