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Monotheism

Discussion in 'World Building' started by fenriswulf, Mar 12, 2019.

  1. fenriswulf

    fenriswulf Acolyte

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    My world is based heavily on Medieval Europe. The political, economic, and social organization of society are those of the mid 1400s. I'm stuck on building my dominant religion. I want to incorporate the institutions of the Medieval Church (monastic orders, bishoprics, parish priests etc.) without transplanting the whole religion. Some of the elements I want to incorporate are the military monastic orders, the conflict between religious and secular authorities, and the relationship to religious minorities (Jews, Muslims, and heretics). I feel like a monotheistic religion is the only way to pull this off. Polytheism seems to lend itself to a more decentralized religion, with different people favoring different gods. I need to figure out away to bring in the institutions of Christianity without brining in the dogma.
     
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I was in the same boat a few weeks ago.
    My solution was to first identify what Christianity understood as "God" (by creating a list of God's characteristics) and then create a fundamental difference (by averting one or two of those characteristics).
    For example, how about you mull over how different Christianity (or Islam) would be without a Bible or other singular holy book? Or maybe consider how different God would be if He was a she? How different would the religion be with a matriarchal deity instead of a patriarchal one? Or what if God didn't create the universe and was born mortal before becoming God?
    Really, if you have Christianity without a human messiah who was martyred, it's really not Christianity anymore. Not in any meaningful way, anyways.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Don't neglect to look at the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and similar churches. They can provide some angles that will be unfamiliar to a good many western readers.
     
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  4. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

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    Your monotheism would probably benefit from solidifying a Creation Story, and whatever contractual terms are outlined for an after life. Do worshippers even have souls? Where does "Sin" originate from? Is there no sin? What does your God want or expect of Its worshippers? How are these expectations communicated to Worshippers?

    What you're talking about is the organization and beuracratic (theocratic) structures of the earthly 'enforcement' (establishment) of a religion, not the actual religion. To that end: I don't believe you strictly have to use Monotheism. Not if you don't want to.

    And I'm not a theologist, but from my own research, I can offer up some broadstroke observations...

    If you think about it, in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), God is Singular, but has agency in His Angels. The Agents are named (Michael, Gabriel, Lucifer [ that didn't end well ] etc), and to me that is a foundational argument that the divine structure of the religion could be reasonably polytheisticly interpreted. If you have semi-autonomous or Free Agents acting independently of God, that have considerable powers (looking at you, Lucifer) that starts to sound like a pantheon. A flawed pantheon, but there is clearly more than ONE actor on the cosmic stage.

    People would pray (cry out ) to the Angels as both messengers and agents acting on God's Will, long before any person was martyered (Jesus) or sainted in later scriptures. If these religions were strictly monotheistic, calling out or praying to an Angel, even recognizing the authority of an Angel, could be interpreted as straight up blasphemy. To get around this, Angels are basically '(bodily) extensions', 'facets' or 'servants' of the Singular God. In fact, most of the contact with angels starts with two statements: "Don't be afraid", and "I'm so and so, running an errand for God."

    Then, we start getting a cornucopia of Saints to pray to. Again, they're supposed to be Agents to the Singular God, but a superficial glance around a cathedral, with LOTS of Saints represented and prayed to hoping they will act as conduits for God... and it might start looking like a pantheon to a outsider or casual observer.

    So, however you decide to structure your pantheon (or... monotheon? Is that even a word? Spellcheck says...yes!) for your religion, I'm very certain that worshippers will find a way to organize themselves into institutions and power structures.

    And, your concern about "rival" worship groups... we already have that, because worshippers both interpret and emphasize scriptures very differently. A Baptist is different from a Quaker is different from a Methodist is different from a Seventh Day Adventist, is very different from Eastern Orthodox is different from Catholicism, etc. (Also depends on which Edition of the Bible the practice, ex. King James).

    WooHooManWooHooMan makes an excellent point to this: 'WHAT' artifact or communication from your God might be open to said interpretations in your WIP? Stone Tablets with 10 Commandments? The teachings of Jesus, as recorded by His Disciples, that became the New Testament? A voice from a burning bush? Reading words that appear inside a hat? Wild hallucinations under a bodhi tree?
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I agree with Night GardenerNight Gardener. A polytheistic religion could work just as well.

    I think this would depend on the sort of hierarchical elements you could add to a polytheistic religion. If the gods are organized in a hierarchy, then the institutions of humankind might be hierarchical as well as a reflection of their understanding and belief in those gods. So for instance, you could have a head Deity and the other gods who serve that deity and/or are various other "faces" of that deity or forms of that deity. If their hierarchy is a closed system, all working toward one general guiding pole, then their various incarnations/reflections on the ground level for humankind might have a similar structure.

    Even in Europe, there were different monastic orders, divisions in the ranks so-to-speak.

    If you had such a closed system, then anything exterior to it ("Jews, Muslims, and heretics") would still be viewed as other, at cross-purposes to their own organizing theology.
     
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  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    In a similar (sort of) scenario, I chose to go with a dualistic religion rather than monotheism. but with some of the same trappings as Christianity. I have it arising from an older pantheism in much the way the Zoroastrian religion did — so there are remnants of that older belief system clinging on. That is enough to cause some schisms between traditionalists and purists. Which, of course, the political powers are all too ready to exploit.

    The fact that those gods from the old pantheon actually exist and are still active adds to the mix. And they resent their 'brothers' who usurped the top roles in the new order.
     
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  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    To build off a bit from what Fifthview said: I think the big reason why Christianity, Judaism and especially Islam became centralized in a way that most polytheism didn’t was the result of having a single canon with a holy book behind it. Written law in a common language was ultimately what allowed Abrahamic religion to solidify (and ironically splinter with different interpretations of that law).
    So the holy book would be the most important piece to your puzzle.
     
  8. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    Whether a religion has one God or twenty gods every faith will have its core set of rules (think of the Ten Commandments) that apply across the board.

    Then there are the various rules about morals, sex, diet, relationships, housing arrangements, marriage and so on.

    The third part of all faiths are the verses, sayings and stories that are intended to illustrate why the above rules exist and what happens if you obey or ignore them. They also explain the origins of the known world and it's earliest history.

    There are many religions you can look at for inspiration. In my work in progress I poached fourteen gods from ancient Greece, created Five Inviolable Rules that were loosely modelled on the Ten Commandments, Five Fundamental Tenets based on the Five Pillars of Faith from Islam and many of the day to day practices from Shinto and Vietnamese Buddhism.

    The Faith has many elements of medieval Europe in it including the Inquisition, the church hierarchy, various religious military orders and so forth.

    There's a world full of faiths out there that you can look into for inspiration when it comes to dogma. Don't box yourself into a corner by assuming that a centralized faith has to imitate Christianity. Too many fantasy writers have done that and it gets tedious after a while.
     
  9. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Well...I think I have whittle that away a little and say 'A' big reason and not 'the' big reason. I think there were many other contributing factors as well, including Greek philosophy which dove tailed nicely, Roman control of a wide region, a road system, and a message which resonated. I think the world was well on its way to a monotheistic concept already, and polytheist ideas were not really gaining more traction. But....so it spread. If the truth be known, I am not really sure the book has been all that helpful. Like WHM said, it seems to have had some unifying results and some fracturing results.

    I do think, without the Christian example, it would not seem unlikely to me that a philosophical people might not still come up with the idea of Monotheism. But if we were reflecting a most likely scenario, it would seem there would some belief in a single God, some belief in many gods, and some belief in no god...and everything in between. Even in a region with a dominant religion, there would still be those he did not quite believe it whole cloth.

    I think the question in the OP can be done with just about any religious belief set, and if more Dogma is wanted to add a more stringent view of how people are to behave, just use a set of gods with a stringent set of rules (Greek Gods would not seem to apply). But if it is the notion that a monotheistic religion is needed, then you gotta go with that.

    I would argue, that if you are looking for why a far away place would come up with similar answers to religion as we did here on earth, and avoid Christ specifically, well, some things to consider. One, the evolution of philosophy, and a pursuit of what seems to be true and what does not. Socrates and Plato did not believe in Zeus, they knew that answer was more complex than what the Greek myths suggested. As one keeps asking questions, it seems likely they would come to some similar revelations. Such as the earth is not really the center of the galaxy, and the seasons are not really caused by Persephone going down to the underworld for half a year. The idea of many gods would likely fall away as time just went on. Two: the prevalence of hierarchical structures which seem very common in human organization, and would likely lend itself to any far away institution as well. Three: The very essence of human nature, which seems to like structure and routine and finds meaning in things that seem to be good pursuits. Four: the advancement of any civilization that would move in parallel with philosophical advancement. Economies, Laws, Road Systems, Governance, Public Works, they all follow a similar type of evolution and often rely on each other to come about. So at the same time philosophers are discovering Logic, Road systems are improving. And yes, along with that the ease of copying written work improves too.

    But I think along with this has to be some degree of truth. If a religion is saying things that just don't ring true, it would become a tough sell, So in the same way that major religions today had to pass a lot of scrutiny (and continue to do so), so would a religion somewhere else.

    So, if you want to present a world where a monotheistic religion sprang up, had wide appeal, and wide belief, had a hierarchy that represented it, had some dogmatic rules, and some standing forces, well, I would think all of that likely. I would think unlikely would be that it did not happen at all.

    I don't think you need more reasons, you just need to work on imagining what the religion you want would be like.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  10. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I can't speak about Judaism nor Islam, but I can assure you "a single canon with a holy book behind it" had very little to do with Christianity being centralised. The Protestant reformation, with its tenet of Sola Scriptura, was the first time the holy book became the single canon, and Protestantism is the most decentralised of the major Christian divisions.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    In addition to degrees of belief, there are also degrees of getting it wrong. You could call it heresy, but there's plenty of room within orthodoxy for believers to come up short or to go astray. People in general are muddy thinkers, and few of them get into the tall grass of theology. What the "average" person believes was (I'm talking about the Middle Ages here, but feel free to extend to other centuries) an amalgam of what they heard from priests, local belief systems, and personal opinion and experience. The result often dismayed deacons when they came on a visitation.

    To tiptoe past the MA, and building off what was said by TheKillerBs, this was true even during the Protestant Reformation, when Lutheran pastors went to rural parishes only to find that Wittenberg had not gone into the countryside unscathed.

    Fantasy stories don't get into these subtleties, but I think there's room for it. Religions can be re-cast across elves, humans, dwarves, orcs, and more, providing a kind of social prism that would be less threatening or argumentative than if told in a modern, realistic setting. Historical fiction can do it, and has, but it requires a lot of heavy lifting, as few modern readers have the necessary depth of religious knowledge. If it's all fantasy, we can leave our baggage behind as we explore the nuances of belief, doubt, disbelief, mis-belief, and unbelief. None of which words are quite the same thing as faith. Or reverence. Or adoration. It's a marvelously complex subject.
     
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  12. fenriswulf

    fenriswulf Acolyte

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    Thanks for all the responses. After doing a bit more brainstorming, I'm leaning towards a ditheistic religion. The world is created by twin gods. God A created man. Man was thankful for the gift of life and worshiped the one god but neglected God B. God B became jealous. He offered man his magic to win men over. God A thought magic was to dangerous in the hands of men. They fight. God B is banished to another world, but in the process God A is also trapped away from the world. Neither have a physical presence but are able to interact with people and the world through certain rituals.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Investigate the Bogomils and the Cathars. We know a fair amount about the latter.
     
  14. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Like other posters here, I went through this when developing my primary world. I got around it - sort of - with the founders of Solaria, now the major power on that world. Essentially, these people were snatched by aliens from the 3rd century AD Roman Empire, during the 'age of military anarchy' (when a large group of people could feasibly go missing.) Most were pagan, but there were also various species of Christian cults as well, mostly of a gnostic nature (Gnosticism downplayed the role of Jesus, or in some cases, offers a radically different view). Several centuries after their arrival, the descendants of these former Romans exploded from their island home, imitated their ancestors and conquered a large slab of real estate. Most of the quasi-Christian cults remained on the island. A later emperor became enamored of these monotheists and granted them governance of the isle. Later, one of his successors, who liked the quasi Christians even more, followed in Constantine's footsteps and made the True God's Church the state religion, and ordered his subjects to convert. (It helped that 'Liberators' - huge church militia's - managed to partially fend off massive barbarian invasions.)

    Theologically, the religion is most definitely monotheistic, but true to its mostly gnostic roots, there's no Jesus figure. There are, however, a great many Saints (mostly successful missionaries, though a few are former (disguised) pagan deities. Something similar happened with Christianity.

    Well, Skip, how's that for a bit of fake religion and history?
     
  15. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    I had thought that a ditheistic religion would best serve your purposes. I was thinking of the whole yin and yang, alpha and omega or masculine and feminine thing. However I thought that it might come across as corny or cliched if I used those examples.

    I would add more but I'm still in shock from the terrorist attack that took place here in New Zealand today to think clearly.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I like it, ThinkerX. It works on multiple levels. Does your church have the equivalent of a Patriarch?
     
  17. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Yes, it does have a Patriarch - originated when one of the founding sects triumphed over the others, in the early imperial era. It's also had the equivalent of an anti-pope or or five, though the priests frown on those tales being circulated. Being comprised of different saintly orders who took radically divergent ways of spreading the faith, it still retains deep internal divisions. One large faction wishes to pretty much end the evangelical movement; in their view the missionaries in distant lands are creating heretical sects rather than expanding the faith. Another major faction is the traditionalist, the 'place for everybody and everybody in their place, no exceptions ever' bunch. They're allied with the traditionalist faction of nobles. Some orders claim authority over magicians, ranging from the relatively benign Fabian order to the grim Mithraic militants. The Mithraic Order - along with that of Michael and other militants - command the 'Liberators,' seven legions of ill trained soldiers, fueled by fanaticism, with reputations for ungodly behavior. (these church legions were 'twinned' in the Traag War and suffered severe casualties). A substantial faction spread across multiple orders would see all mages save those in priestly orders exterminated - and they've gained ascendancy more than once. A major reformist movement spread across several orders has taken off over the past few centuries, one that manifests at the local level with rudimentary public education and medical treatment.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    That's really solid ThinkerX. Plenty of room for stories in there!
     
  19. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Archmage

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    One solution if you don't want the monotheistic religion to lie to close to Christianity could be to look at some other deity than Yahawe to be the main inspiration for the god of the religion. For example Christianity has the twin gods concepts of Yahawe as a fire-and-brimstone protector of the Hebrew people and going pretty much in the "Judge Dredd" kind of style, but also as a loving father who takes the criminals into care and always ready to exchange a new chance.

    So instead of this maybe you could think about how a monotheistic religion could grow up around a god with a different feeling to him, or her? For example you could look at how the cult of Baal could work, how would Mithraism work if it gained the same kind of level of influence as Christianity did (just look at how much Christianity changed from its earlier time and after it became the state religion of the Roman Empire) or perhaps Thor, Freyja, the Isis cult or some other god or goddess that have a style that you find will work with your story.
     
  20. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Definitely look at monotheistic religions other than Christianity. Off the top of my head I can think of Judaism, Islam, Baha'i, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. There's a lot of variety in there to start with, and once you have an idea of what you want your imagination is what will set the result apart from your source material.
     
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