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Creating a Monotheism

Discussion in 'World Building' started by MisaMai, Apr 14, 2021.

  1. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    I am currently creating a world. It doesn't yet have a name and the structure is vague; I have no idea what I am doing with it but there is something I find myself struggling with as I move forward. I find myself drawn to creating a monotheistic religion as a central piece for a culture within my world. I am struggling with doing this because I don't want to offend anyone who is a member of a real life monotheistic religion. Does anyone have any advice on how to go about creating this type of religious structure in a world without having it come across as offensive? Any and all advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you.
     
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  2. John McNeil

    John McNeil Acolyte

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    Someone will take offence at a polytheistic, monotheistic or secular society. The point is not to avoid offence but not to court it. As long as the culture you develop is believable, comes across as authentic and is not an obvious attempt to throw shade at an existing religion then you will be fine.
     
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  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    What do you want the religion to do in your world?
    Is it a unifying force that brings the people together? Or a Divisive one?
    Does it play a central roll in day to day life? Or is it high-days and holy-day only?
    It many monotheistic but are there more than on version of it? How do they get on?

    As a writer you will have to expect that readers will bring their own preconceptions to whatever you write.
    They will not see your world in exactly the same way you do.
     
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  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    The way I see it...
    1) have the religion make sense in its own world. It doesn’t have to be true, just believable.
    2) don’t insult or disrespect the characters for their practice of that religion. Assume that at least some people who practice the religion are intelligent and moral people.
    Whether it be religion, race, sexuality, lifestyle or what have you: how much respect you have for the characters will determine how offensive you end-up being.

    Do those two things and you won’t offend anyone, probably.
     
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  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    The fact that you're writing a fantasy is going to offend people because that is inherently Satanic or whatever. It is impossible to create a piece of work that will never offend anyone. What you should do, though, is be respectful of real-world people and their beliefs. Like don't do what they did in Dune where they just took stuff straight-up from Islam and pretended it was something else (and also conflating the Fremen with Jews and Native Americans, too, somehow???). Something like "you can't eat these animals" or "you must pray x times a day" is found in multiple religions so using something like that won't be offensive (just be more creative as to what animals can't be eaten and why, look at Catholicism and how they define "meat" for lent and such).

    Speaking of Catholics! Christianity is a monotheism....but there are so many types of Christians. How Mormons live their daily lives and how they interpret things is wildly different from Catholics, same with Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews for Jesus. The Duggars are fundamentalist Christians but their own really weird sub-group of an even more granular sub-group (the Quiverfull movement). They don't eat pork because of the old testament....which isn't really a thing that other Christians ever do. There's even a village in Japan where Christians believe that it wasn't Jesus who died on his cross, that was his brother, actually, and Jesus moved to Japan and became a rice farmer so his grave is there.

    So whatever monotheistic religion you create is going to have some central themes/stories/beliefs that are consistent among everyone....but how that looks in practice can be wildly different. All Christians agree that capital G God is the one true God and that Jesus was important, but is heaven a literal place? Can anyone get into it or only 144,000 people? Or is it a planet somewhere else? Why did these different groups split up in your world? Can a Catholic king rule England? And since you're writing a fantasy, how does magic fit into this? Were people in the religions history/texts have magic? Did they receive it from god or someone else? Are there practices you need to observe to do magic good? Is there a holy water industry? There's a lot of really cool things you could do!
     
  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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  7. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    I don't think it would be a Crystal Dragon Jesus scenario. I didn't know there was a specific phrase for this kind of literary trope so thank you for educating me on that point. I had an idea that there are multiple original prophets that traveled in a group before going their separate ways and traveling to other places to spread the word of a single God.
     
  8. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    These are a lot of really great questions to chew on! I don't have answers to many of these yet but I do know that there are multiple versions of it. I had in mind there was a group of original prophets (possibly 5) that eventually parted ways and spread the religion to different parts of the world. Because of this different parts of the world have slightly different traditions based on the same general idea but they all share a language that is only passed down to members of the religion. I think my biggest struggle at the moment is I have the group pictured as very reserved and conservative in nature regardless of which subgroup they come from and I worry that having them portrayed as such might ruffle feathers.
     
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  9. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    I hadn't even factored magic into the equation yet! Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention. Thank you as well for giving me so much information on different branches of Christianity, I had no idea about the sect in Japan. That is fascinating and I will definitely be looking more into that later. Have you ever worked with a magic system in a religion before? I haven't solidified a magic system for mine yet but so far I think it's something that comes naturally to everyone (or almost everyone) and something that anyone can access. I would love some advice on how you or others have incorporated magic into religion if you have the time.
     
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  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    This is a very good place to start. Since at this point, you got some idea as to who the characters are in the story of your mythopoeia and stories are all about character.
    I would recommend fleshing-out this group of five a little and consider how they would interpret their divine insight through their individual experiences. For example, maybe these prophets could have been some kind of soldiers so the religion could emphasize the virtues of courage, diligence, responsibility, self-sacrifice and so forth. Perhaps, their characterization of the one true god is more along the line of a fearless and benevolent commander rather than the king/father thing you see in real-world Abrahamic religions.
    Basically what I'm getting at is that having a good grasp on who got the ball rolling with this religion can really help out the details of what the religion actually is since their fingerprints would be all over it.

    An easy way to do it is that the deity in your religion could grant magic to mortals. Either by directly giving them magic powers like a D&D cleric or by granting them knowledge on how to perform magic. I mostly went with the latter.
     
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  11. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    If you want to see how another, brilliant writer does this, read Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett. In it, he manages to make fun of religion, non-religious people, scriptures and everything else, but in a way which is not offensive (at least, that's what I've heard from religous people who read it, I just liked the book). It's a great case-study on how to do this.

    Do keep in mind that someone will at some point get offended by this, simply because there's always someone somewhere getting offended about something. Nothing you can do about it, other than ignore it.

    Also, it might very well be that you're actually more capable of writing a monotheistic religion than a polytheistic one, simple because you live in one. The best thing to do is probably to avoid direct parallels to real world religion and treat the characters who practise it fairly. If only dumb people follow the religion or only bad things happen because of religion, then people are more likely to get offended.
     
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  12. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    There's only one religion I've really developed in my current project, which is based on Fate. The inciting event for everything in the book is that humans have magic now. Before this, only phoenixes/dragons did (and those descended from them), so any "human" that had magic had some dragon bloodline or whatever. Some people believe that humans with magic are Bad and against Fate. Some people believe that what makes a species sapient is the ability to use magic, so humans are no different/better than animals. The crux of the conflict is based on human-phoenix relations and how this shift in power challenges the old norms/beliefs so it's a lot more complicated than what I have here lol.

    I've definitely pitched more ideas about magic/religion to people before that I'll bring up here. You should keep in mind that there's always more than one side to a story: there's how things "actually" work and how things people believe they work. The universe has always been made of protons/neutrons/electrons that made up atoms, the physics/chemistry based on that has always worked the same way, but for most of our history we didn't know any of that stuff. Democritus hypothesized that the smallest unit of matter was the atom, and later Aristotle's theory of the (chemical) elements was that they were 4: air earth water fire. Jabir ibn Hayyan said every metal was made up of 4 constituent parts: hot cold dry wet. So when people did (al)chemistry, part of their work was based on belief/superstition and part was based off of scientific principles they discovered.

    So with your religion, it may be that you don't NEED to sacrifice a lamb to have a good harvest or to resurrect the dead, but the belief is so strong that no one dares to try without. If your magic needs you to believe in yourself or to be in the right mental state, the anxiety/fear of failure would cause it to fail, not the missing sacrifice. So maybe your Hero believes in themself so hard they could do this "impossible" magic. Or maybe the villain is so self-confident they're doing this "impossible" magic and people think they're the devil or whatever (like look at Rasputin. He was just really really really lucky in how he didn't die from all those assassination attempts but people took it as him being unholy/cursed/supernatural instead).

    This also means that your magic comes from X but people think it's from Y e.g. The belief is that it comes from leylines, so you can't do magic in space, but magic actually comes from The Holy Ghost so magic in space works. One of the things that always kinds of disappoints me and feels like a missed chance in world building is when everyone believes the same thing and that it's true. Like a magic system based on The True Language of things has just one word for snow...but why? Falling snow and slush remaining in March and crunchy snow and snow that makes the world silent is all slightly different. Why should it all have just one name? Unless god showed up and said "okay here's how things work 100%," no one is going to know the truth perfectly. And even THEN there's going to be people who argue over this and interpret it differently. God told Moses that you shouldn't do work on the Sabbath, but he never said if pushing an elevator button counts as work, so some Rabbis had to sit down and sort that out (it is because you're completing a circuit and making a thing happen). Also language changes over time...like look up the history of "the mark of Cain." What exactly is "mark?" Is it a literal thing? A sign? A warning? Thosuands of years later it's impossible to know the full nuance of the original word so there's different interpretations (like how Mormons believe it's black skin, which is why black people can't be Mormons/be clergy).
     
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  13. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    I'll just pop this in here but what I think I have so far is this:

    5 warriors were stranded in the middle of a vast desert with no direction on how to escape, no food, and little water. They wandered for three days before seeing the face of a god which gave them all the means of escape but they had to stay the night where they were. As they slept this god gave them each visions in their dreams. Although the visions were the same for each of the warriors they each interpreted them differently.

    The oldest of the warriors interpreted the vision to mean god's followers should bring destruction wherever they went.
    The strongest of the warriors interpreted the vision to mean god's followers should sacrifice life and limb for the good of the many.
    The mystic of the warriors interpreted the vision to mean god's followers should spend life in study and not meddle in the affairs of the world.
    The youngest of the warriors interpreted the vision to mean all beings could only be saved if the congregated in sacred spots chosen by god.
    The healer of the warriors interpreted the vision as nothing more that a prediction of the end of days.

    I'm still working out what they preached specifically but I have lists of bullet-points if anyone is interested in seeing them. I am, as always, interested in critique or other ideas!
     
  14. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

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    Your five different interpretations leads me to believe you want at least four different religions over time, (the first two could work together). You may want to write out each interpretation, making sure to keep the actual events in the dream the same. How do the five warriors convince other people that they were truly spoken to by a deity. Also consider if people have the concept of a god/gods already or is this the first time.
     
  15. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    You will offend someone no matter what you do. So just forget about "not offending". What you need to do is to make religion make sense. Don't half-ass it; build it from the foundations and expand there.

    That means that you may have a single religion with five different denominations, or five different religions, or anything in-between, depending on differences in opinion between the prophets. At any rate, you have a lot of room for fun things such as heresies, witch hunts, religious warfare... use it.

    And ruffle all feathers you want. Tolkien himself is basically ultraconservative yet he is extremely popular.
     
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