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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.

The Spirit Gate by Maya Kaathryn BohnhoffMuch 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.


2 thoughts on “WORLD-BUILDING & RELIGION: Warts and All”

  1. The mystery writer Andrew Greeley was also a Roman Catholic priest who wrote some science fiction.
    “The God Game,” is a metaphor for what happens to people when they fall in love with their own power.
    Another book that carries a title something like The Last Ship projects into the far future with a downed space craft that strands a bunch of Catholics led by a captain, femal bishop, and how they react and their faith evolves when they have only themselves to answer to. A third book whose title eludes me involved a Pope who is forced to retire because he has a vision of the appocalypse and leads a band of survivors into a face to face confrontation with the return messiah.

    Powerful reading that gives the reader the opportunity to examine what they believe and why.

    Highly recommended as further exploration of this topic.

  2. I enjoy Andrew Greeley’s work immensely. Thanks for reminding me about him. I think the last book I read of his was WHITE SMOKE, which was a suspense and mystery yarn involving the election of a new pope. Fascinating stuff. I think I need to rediscover him.

    I love the idea of people coming face to face with the return of their Prophet. I like to think of them as First Contact stories of a sort because it is almost certain that the returned Messiah/Avatar/Buddha will explode their heavily edited ideas about what he claimed to be and what his teachings actually meant.

    Jesus alludes to this when he mentions his return at the end of the age and says, (paraphrasing), “Many will come to me in that day and say, ‘Haven’t we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and done all manner of wonders in your name?’ And I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Leave me, lawless ones.'”

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