Our world is filled to the brim with countless cultures. From traditions of the west to delicacies of the east, every civilization is truly diverse.
But there is one thing every culture has in common – they all believe in something.
Whether Greek, Roman, Mecca, Jerusalem, Scandinavia, Aztec, each has their own version of god or gods to bow before. Even atheists are faithful to something physical here in life.
World without Religion
A world without religion cannot stand on its own. It’s nothing more than wild animals roaming the wilderness for food, either eating the weak or hiding from danger.
As mortal humans our minds crave understanding and salvation. Many times when things seem hopeless, we offer a silent prayer asking for strength, seeking guidance for our actions. If there were no spiritual, all-powerful beings to offer a prayer, how would we wrap our minds around tragedy? Who would assure us that loved ones no longer here are in a better place? Who would grant us the ability to attempt our best at impossible tasks?
When we strip away the grind of everyday life, of progress, of conflict, it all comes down to faith that somewhere there exists a creator, a reverent power that is proud of our accomplishments, and generally wants to see, or even orchestrate, events that shape our character and propels us to victory.
And for those who don’t adhere to the spiritual, then the void left from that desire is redirected to faith in the physical – family, money, career, health, travel, or any number of achievable things that their scientific minds must see to believe.
Fiction and Stories with Faith
So if our minds need this faith in reality, then it makes sense that a fictional world would need a similar faith. Especially since the characters of our favourite stories go through such life-threatening, world-destroying strife.
Characters should recognize something exists that gives meaning to life, something to give thanks to, something to despise when unfortunate tragedy occurs.
This can really influence a society’s culture.
Phrases like “may god bless you” or “damn you to hell” can have more meaning when an actual deity is attached to them. Rituals and symbols can have spiritual value. Places of worship can designate holy grounds where the spilling of blood is not allowed, or maybe a blasphemous temple that people are afraid to set foot in.
And a character’s motives can really excel.
It’s never interesting to have an antagonist who is evil just because he likes to be. But take that same antagonist and add a religious twist, some voice or vision from an all-mighty being, then that’s sure to be intense as the speed of light. Nobody will question his actions after a declaration like that. This guy is either reverently divine or totally insane.
And if there’s a scene with the actual appearance of gods, who protect or enslave depending on their nature, then the story just engaged into warp speed. Maybe they walked the world thousands of years ago, or maybe they only appeared in that mystical place a hundred thousand miles away.
The existence of such beings will shape the world, and the culture of society would certainly be built up around them.
Now using real religions like Christianity or Hinduism is fine, but requires lots of research to work things in correctly. Or imagine an entirely new pantheon and really get creative with origins and motives.
I’ve always had a thing for Greek Mythology, so in my novel characters worship different fictional gods depending on their race, and recognize their own versions of heaven and hell.
This post is part four of my five-part series Elements of World Building. For more, check out the previous three posts: