In this vast, blue world of ours, we have quite a few religions. We are so surrounded by religion and belief systems that it has become just everyday white noise to most of us, despite numerous people continually arguing about it. What very few people notice is exactly how much influence religion has on all our lives.
Some religions believe in a single god, which is called monotheism. Christianity and Islam are among these. Now others are polytheistic, believe in more than one god. The ancient Norse, Greeks, and Roman believed this way, along with Hindus. Other religions, or belief systems, have no god or believe in no god. Buddhism and atheism are two examples.
Each religion and belief system in our world has a set of morals and values. Before we move on, we must understand what these two words mean. Morals, according to Merriam-Webster, are “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior, expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior, conforming to a standard of right behavior.” Values, on the other hand, “relative worth, utility, or importance; something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.”
Based on these definitions, morals are more of right vs. wrong beliefs and behaviors, while values are what you think is important. Both are influenced by the world around us. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, and anyone else that you interact with will shape your morals and values. What and who a person interacts with most will leave the most significant impact on them. This often leads to that person absorbing the same beliefs, including morals and values, of the one closest to them.
It is these morals and values that affect our daily interactions with others. And thus, the cycle continues.
What about the people who don’t have a religion? Well, their parents are still there, their friends are still around them. Whether or not a person is religious, they will have a set of morals and values.
Now, if you go back far enough into family history, you will find a religious person at some point. It might be a parent, or it might be a great to the tenth power grandparent three times removed that was religious. The point is that they instilled in their children the values they had, and the children still took those beliefs. Whether or not they believed in the same god or lack thereof doesn’t matter. The morals and values were again passed down, just as they are doing right now.
What does this have to do with world-building? When religion is prevalent in a society, then the belief system will be seen throughout the people in your story. As a random example, if you have a religion in your story and there is a belief you can only hop through the front door of your house, then everyone who believes that will bounce through their door. And many that don’t believe will hop through the door too merely because it’s what they learned and grew up with.
Of course, there will be some who don’t follow the religious traditions set up by their forefathers, but that simply gives you more room for character development. Why doesn’t this character follow the norm? Are they rebellious? Why don’t they believe? Were they hurt before? Do they not see the point? Have they not heard about it or learned about the religion? The possibilities of character development are endless in regards to how they interact with the prevailing religion of the area.
Don’t leave your antagonist and side-characters out of the action. They will also be interacting a great deal with religion, and each of them will approach it from a different perspective. This can give dimension to your group and expound upon the theme of your story even more.
Now, there is another aspect of religions that has a lot of intriguing concepts. During the Dark Ages, the Catholic church was incredibly powerful. The people would give them tithes, made of money and anything else the people had if they didn’t have money, and land. It was thought that heaven could only be obtained through the church, and it was for this reason that everything the church order to be done was done. Also, most people couldn’t read or write. This made it so only the church could interpret the Bible and any other text, thus presenting whatever doctrine they wanted to the people without anyone knowing any better. Their schools, for a time, taught only future priests and scholars.
The pope could approve or disapprove of certain marriages among kings and queens. And should a king turn from the direction the church wished for him to take, then all benefits and support from the church would be withdrawn and given to someone else more worthy. The bishops and abbots and other clergymen around Europe were loyal to the pope, not the king. This often led to conflicts as to where the authority of the church ended, and the power of the monarchy began.
Though the direct influence of the church is not as powerful today as it seemed hundreds of years ago, the impact can be seen now if you only look. The power is more indirect, but still there.
When building your world, you need to think about any religions you have and how influential they are. If they are a significant power, you need to know why. Perhaps you don’t have to mention it directly in your story, but, as the author, you do need to have a grasp on it so your characters can function realistically with the religions that surround them. Even if your story takes place in a modern city here on earth, your characters are influenced in some way by religion.
Don’t believe me? Just look at your life right now. Whether or not you believe in a god, that affects how you make your decisions because you do have beliefs, morals, and values and they did come from somewhere. You do have an opinion on the different religions in the world. And whether you know it or not, those thoughts and beliefs influence nearly every decision you make. Usually not consciously, but they do.
Just take a little while and figure out what your characters believe in this topic. Write some of it down, but please don’t write an entire dissertation on it. That would be bad. In fact, that would just be another form of procrastination. 😉
Anyway, I do hope that you enjoyed this little topic on religions in your stories.
P.S. I thought I should introduce you to someone. This here is my writing buddy, Seaweed.
He sits right on the top of my desk, where he can watch me work. I must say, his opinions have been invaluable.
Do you have any religions in your stories? If you do, what are they like? Do you have a writing buddy?