The question I fielded about literary license in a Q&A in a Catholic Writers Conference I participated in as a non-Catholic guest, (I’m a Baha’i) led to this follow-up question about projecting the flaws of a religion.
Q: How can you project the flaws, conflicts, or other “warts” of a religion (particularly your religion) without betraying your ethics?
If the warts are there, and they figure in the story, how can you not project them?
Speculative fiction is, to a great extent, about problem-solving. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, SF is our way of projecting the solutions to future problems so as to better grapple with today’s problems.
Much science fiction warns readers of the pitfalls inherent in certain assumptions, be they technological or ideological. The assistant editor who was put off by an arrogant, power-hungry bishop with Machiavellian ideas in THE SPIRIT GATE, may not have realized that history was rife with such men. But, please note, the flaw was in the bishop not in the Faith of Christ. When I look at that, I see perfection.
Are there flaws in the doctrines of any of the thousands of sects of Christianity? As Christ urged His followers to unity, and the past 2000 years have seen so much schism, I think we must acknowledge that there are flaws. And I think they exist in our understanding of our faith, not in the faith itself.
A writer who is troubled by a trend she sees in her faith or any other faith, may wish to project that trend onto a future fictional canvas to explore with the reader what that trend might look like if carried to an extreme or to its logical conclusion. When you project an institutionalized religion into the future, you certainly could posit that its flaws will magnify, or morph, or diminish or possibly bring on a reformation.
So, yes, Christianity (or some part thereof) may have a second Dark Ages if it serves the story. Islam may have a spiritual revival. Buddhist extremists might arise to take on Hindu extremists, regardless of the fact that both faiths have, as a foundational tenet, that there have always been and always will be Avatars/Buddhas sent to guide mankind. Delving into how this can happen would make for a fascinating framework for a story.