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"Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals."
- – Martin Luther King, Jr
"Dracula: I was called here by, huuuuumans, who wish to pay me tribute!
Richter Belmont: Tribute?! You steal men's souls! And make them your slaves!
Dracula: Perhaps the same could be said of all religions."
- – An excerpt from the infamous exchange that also gave us "What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets" in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Because it's important to several settings and RPG systems, particularly ones that are high-profile or relevant to /tg/, we have a religion article. Let's try and keep it focused on the directly-related-to-/tg/ stuff and not descend into the pure skub that can arise in discussions of real-life religions, okay?
- 1 Definition of Religion
- 2 List of Real-Life Religions
- 3 Religion vs. Mythology
- 4 Role in Society
- 5 Types
- 6 How this impacts /tg/
- 7 Examples of /tg/ connected fictional religions
- 8 See also
- 9 Footnotes
Definition of Religion
Almost since the inception of the term, scholars have failed to agree on a definition of religion. While there are some belief systems that always count as religions, some have applied the term to various things such as political ideologies, or groups when they reach a certain point. There are however two general definition systems: the sociological/functional and the phenomenological/philosophical.
The two most widely accepted are:
- "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a church, all those who adhere to them."
- "a comprehensive worldview or 'metaphysical moral vision' that is accepted as binding because it is held to be in itself basically true and just even if all dimensions of it cannot be either fully confirmed or refuted".
As stated before, one common element that every religion which fits the criteria has is humanity's relation to supernatural forces, as all of them have at least one god and/or an afterlife even where there are exceptions; Buddhism doesn't have any gods or its own idea of the cosmos' origins but has afterlives and the existence of the eternal soul (unless a persons achieves nirvana), and Taoism doesn't have an afterlife in the conventional sense but is pantheistic and has supernatural beings. Religions with a God/god/gods fall under monotheistic (one God) or polytheistic (more than one god), though some of the latter have a variant called henotheistic (multiple gods but only one of them is served). Interestingly, most polytheistic religions have an all-powerful Creator God as the supreme authority in the cosmos who also created the other gods (such as Ptah from Egyptian mythology, Brahma in Hinduism and Nyame from the mythology of Ghana's Akan people).
List of Real-Life Religions
Too many to list, even without debates about the term, as the number goes into the thousands. In lieu of a list on this site, here are two complied lists that should cover everything that fits the bill. Otherwise, check out the Mythology page.
- Wikipedia's list of religions and spiritual traditions
- For a simplified version from Wikipedia that focuses more on major religions
Religion vs. Mythology
While mythologies aren't religions in and of themselves, every religion has a mythology. While mythologies are merely the accounts of supernatural events, religions add rituals, practices and hierarchies that link those mythologies directly to the lives of their believers in one form or another, typically by describing how to properly serve to a god (or multiple gods, it depends) a significant role in the mythology a given religion is derived from. Whatever the source, the mythology almost always predates the religion. As a result, especially since the Fantasy genre deals in supernatural beings and forces, most if not all fantasy settings have religions. Science fiction does to a lesser degree, mostly because during the Golden Age of sci-fi empiricists and secular humanists were attracted to the genre and their views often seeped into their stories. Despite this, given that most real-life societies have had religions playing a role in or since their founding, religions are still found in sci-fi.
Religions involves belief systems and practices, where an adherent can call upon the power/being the religion is focused on to give them aid in various ways, depending at the very least on the religion and the task in question. Given that religions are about people's place in the world, how it was made, ideas on how life should be lived and how humans should relate to the supernatural, they have major implications for societies. Given that people can become dangerously single-minded about a cause, people can be become extremists about their religion, regardless of the fact that some are more benevolent than others and in numerous cases even if it involves going against the religion's teachings; in conjunction with the above this means religious conflicts can become widespread, long-lasting, cause carnage and also involve other elements such as politics- both in fantasy and in the real world.
Role in Society
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"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."
- – Napoleon Bonaparte
While it varies depending on the society and the religion in question, at least as long as human civilization has existed, religiosity has existed and has almost always been interconnected. There is no human civilization in real-life where religion was never part of its development. Even every society that pursued secularization or state atheism started off with some baseline religion that was there before it. Also, of all the lifeforms on Earth, religion is only found among humans, the most advanced lifeforms on the planet.
A person's religious beliefs (for or against) are a major factor in their worldview, often being the undercurrent for all others. This is because this belief shapes people's views on big issues such as the purpose of life, how life should be lived in relation to oneself and others and what happens to people after they die. On the upside, this often leads to teachings with the goal of unity, peace and co-operation as per the teachings of most religions (some of which also make their way into non-religious systems).
On the downside, this can lead to clashes over carrying out the will of the Powers-that-be, which religion should be followed or whether or not people should follow a god or religion at all. This can involve arguments and factionalizing, or worst case scenarios like pogroms and wars. Even in multicultural societies, while you won't exactly see people running around killing each other in the streets because they wear a turban, there will be people who will exploit fear of "the other" for their own gain. Just as idiotic zealots can scream religion is superior and any who deny themselves said faith should be killed, other idiotic zealots can scream that religion is terrible and those who follow one better be killed.
Since religions can range from an overarching element in a culture to the origin of a culture, so they often appear or are referenced in fiction. This includes the bad elements, as well as the good, with Warhammer 40,000 being full of religious tropes within itself, particularly the Sisters of Battle, who can embody anything from Mother Teresas and MLK Jrs to absolute murderous zealots that would make the Crusaders and Jihadis uncomfortable.
Apart from the formation of society, medicine and religion have been interconnected throughout history. In many ancient religions, the clergy were also the doctors or well-versed in medical knowledge of the time, tending to physical health as well as spiritual health. A lot of the bedrock of modern medical science was established by religious people (such as the friar Gregor Mendel who founded the scientific field of genetics, and the Christian biologist/chemist Louis Pasteur who helped pioneer vaccination and preservation of food among other things - in fact, the process of "pasteurization" is named after him). In numerous parts of the world today, numerous hospitals were based around specific religious people or founded by people from a specific religious group, and many religious charities, such as the Salvation Army, have a medical branch. That said there are numerous secular humanitarian institutions (with examples being Doctors Without Borders, Toys for Tots, and the Boy Scouts to name a few).
Some religions have also codified the concept of charity; in these cases, religion and charity have been inextricably entangled throughout their long history. For example, the three Abrahamic religions Christianity, Islam, and Judaism each have doctrines that require their members to do good for others in various ways such as caring for the destitute or those in need.
Throughout history to the present day, religions have often been enshrined in law as the "state religion", giving them special privileges such as extensive influence over the government or tax exemptions. In some cases, the clergy or a religious institution are the government (usually on behalf of the Powers-that-be for the religion in question) in a system known as theocracy. Today, several theocracies exist, with the two full examples being Vatican City and Iran.
Within the last few centuries, due to events such as the French Revolution, there has also been a significant amount of anti-religious sentiment, which regards religion as at best redundant and at worst destructive (beyond historical grievances with specific groups within religions, reasons for this view and whether or not those arguments have any merit, shall not be discussed here). In spite of the endless debates one could have on the subject, it is true to say that there have been people who believed themselves to be of great faith who have also been objectively terrible people. In some cases, such as with the Aztec, Scientologists, or Jim Jones' cult, they have been unilaterally despised around the world for having borderline irredeemable qualities of their "faith".
This has led to a simplistic belief among some that religion itself is bad and has to go, leading to regimes that try to exploit or promote this for personal gain, with terrible and almost predictable results each time - the first avowed example in human history being Soviet Russia. For the most part, a combination of people identifying more with their culture or nation than their religion and the concept that religion and functions of state should not interfere with each other has turned into more of a "live and let live" mentality that doesn't really support or oppose any one religion and only reacts when said religions begin actively defying the state or the state starts bringing the boot down on religion. Most of the world's population is religious, with the amount of piety varying from country to country, and there are religious and non-religious people who tolerate those on the opposite side.
Aside from the aforementioned theocracies, the most religious nations are countries such as Brazil in South America or Zambia in Africa (Zambia even has a state religion alongside a law that allows for freedom of religion). China is - at the time this was written - the world's least religious and most atheistic country (followed by Japan and Sweden; North Korea is debatable because they have the Kim Cult of Personality, but lip service is as permitted as actual faith, and it's blended with the Marxist-Leninist offshoot ideology Juche which includes violently suppressing religions to the point that merely having copies of religious texts can be grounds for execution).
TL;DR For better or worse, like it or not, religion is an intrinsic part of human civilization. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, or to what degree, is a matter we'll leave to the reader.
While there is an entire list of religions we will not discuss here, what we can do is give you some broad outlines for religion as a general rule. Note that the below is purely intended as definition. There is no endorsement, nor denunciation, here, since Religion is one of those topics we need to treat like a exposed and live electrical wire: With extreme caution.
Monotheism is the probably the most familiar to western readers. There is a singular god, he is almighty or all powerful, yadda yadda. IRL, this mostly means Islam,
DA JOOZ Judaism, and Christianity, though Sihkism also fits this description. Monotheistic faiths can be surprisingly diverse on their belief systems and practices and ways in which they practice their faith, though they generally tend to agree with the overall sentiment of there being only one god. That's one thing even Catholics and Sunni Muslims agree on.
Culture can also have a deep influence on a sect of monotheistic faith. A prominent example of this is the Baptists in the United States, who generally don't drink for what would seem are religious reasons, but there is no actual scripture that explicitly forbids alcohol (drunkenness is condemned in scripture, though). Much as the Ecclesiarchy is very flexible in what it allows, so do many monotheistic faiths, so long as the general sentiment is still true to the overall message of scripture.
A great example of Monotheism is the Imperial Cult, which worships the God Emperor, and venerates the Space Marines as his Angels of Death, which is pretty much just analogous to medieval Catholicism (tl;dr: the largest branch of Christianity. Their leader wears a funny hat too!)
Polytheism is also fairly familiar to western readers as well, likely because they know about the Greek or Roman Pantheons. Bonus points if you thought of Hinduism first, one of the largest faiths in the world simply because it is in India. Polytheism typically has a pantheon of gods, and some are on unequal power levels compared to the others. Polytheistic faiths tend to be very diverse and colorful, and this is probably the reason why it attracts so much attention, as it is seen as more interesting than the "boring" monotheistic religions. Each god is a unique character with his own role to play in the universe, and mythology is usually pretty rich with these ones.
Culture can easily influence how practitioners of a polytheistic faith practice their faith, and some even pick and choose what they believe while disregarding others, meaning they'd fit right in with Star Wars fans! This tends to lead to a lot of divergence in belief and alternate takes on common tales, and the morals of the story can change quite easily and fluidly.
Two examples of polytheism readily known to /tg/ are the Eldar Pantheon (A more traditional polytheistic faith, though Khaine is stronger than some gods because he likes to punch people in the face) or Chaos, because duh
five four major gods, and practitioners can choose which to serve.
Henotheism is a subset of polytheism, which involves believing in the existence of multiple gods, or being open to their existence, but worshipping one as supreme. This can be found in multiple religions, including Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. It is also known as monolatrism.
As stated above, two examples related to /tg/ are the Eldar and the Chaos Gods. In fact, both parties acknowledge the existence gods outside their pantheons, but are naturally oppose them. Both sides can choose which gods they serve, such as Eldar either becoming an Aspect Warrior to put Khaine in pre-eminence or Cegorach as a Harlequin.
If you have heard of this one congrats. You are either really into religion, theology, or played a crap ton of Crusader Kings or Empire: Total War (or maybe you're a weeaboo who looked into Shinto). If not, no worries. Animism is often called the world's first religion by anthropologists, with roots tracing back as far as the days of the hunter gatherers. Animism can be observed most in sub-saharan Africa and Native America. There may be a superior "great spirit", but there are always spirits of pretty much everything.
How this belief differs from tribe to tribe can be radically different, and they tend to be highly susceptible to cultural or even environmental influences. Typically, there is a highly important ritual that must be performed so that the spirit will not be angered or disrespected. Seeing as Bison are native to North America means that there is not usually a pressing need for African Animists to address the issue of Bison spirits.
An excellent example of Animism is the Kroot Religion and (debatably) the Machine Cult, who have a higher deity (The Omnissiah) and appease machine spirits all over the Imperium from in Plasma guns to Toasters. However the Machine cult is staunchly Monotheistic if you don't believe machine spirits are actually spirits, so mileage will vary on this one. Werewolf: The Forsaken is an equally strong example of this in action, with spirits for virtually everything that exists.
While technically this can be a tradition for any faith that calls for an abstinence or removal of sensual pleasures, the overall category still applies to those different faiths, such as Jainism or Buddhism. Both are weird in that they believe gods exist, but that they are mixed into the Karma of the universe, and the overall goal of their faith is to reach enlightenment.
Jainism has not left India, but Buddhism has, and it played a very prominent role in Chinese history, including influencing several Chinese dynasties. Buddhism in China is far more intellectual due to the higher amount of intellectual traditions typically found in China. This differs from Buddhism found in other parts of the world, which are far more esoterically spiritual.
The Jedi embody asceticism perfectly, with there being strict code to follow, along with certain actions like marriage being forbidden. The same could probably apply to some space marine chapters, which does not include the Black Templars because Aaron-Dembski Bowden is an idiot.
A belief that there are two deities, one all good, one all evil. Usually, the good one is more powerful, but also more restrained. If you've ever seen a work where Satan is roughly as powerful as God, you probably have a Dualist theology on your hands.
Differs from the Dualism of Daoism/Taoism in that in Taoism, neither of the two extremes are evil, per se.
An important outgrowth of Dualism, which believes that material reality is a lie cooked up by an imposter God, called the "Demiurge", and that the true spiritual reality can be reached through secret knowledge. Needless to say, for just about all Christians, Muslims and Jews, this counts as Extra Heresy, in a rare bit of agreement between the mainlines of all three as what counts as "Heresy".
Some terms that matter for /tg/ purposes
Some terms that get bandied about that may or may not be useful:
- Atheism: Belief that God or Gods do not exist. The T'au really like this one. On its own, not as bad as it's reputation, but only because the most vocal Atheists tend to be...
- Misotheism: Hatred of God/the Gods. Can be synonymous with, or include, antitheism.
- Maltheism: Belief that God is evil. Chaos anyone?
- The belief that God is neither good nor evil is "Dystheism", while the belief that God is wholly Good is "Eutheism".
- Fundamentalism: Usually used to describe a religious subgroup, which has an emphasis on "purity" and return to some idealized past version of their beliefs; outside of a few groups of Christians, almost never used by the group itself. If it's not being used purely as a snarl word (which it frequently, but not always, is), it carries the implication that the "Fundamentalist" group in question holds their creed or holy book as being totally, objectively, and completely True, and the source from which all other Truth flows, and that anything that disagrees is a lie.
- Agnosticism: The belief that we'll never get any confirmation of if God exists, at least on this side of the grave.
- Ignosticism: The belief that asking if God exists is meaningless if we can't even come up with a coherent definition of what "God" is.
How this impacts /tg/
"Thoughtful critique of organized religion is rare in fiction. Usually it's one extreme or the other."
- – Terrible Writing Advice (a footnote from the "MYTHS, LEGENDS, AND GODS" Episode)
A few major ways. Since most if not every society in real-life has had religion either be the basis for its founding or play a role in it - in addition to the various roles religion continues to have in society - religion is just as involved in the backstory or current lore of settings. There are three major "modes" of /tg/ settings and related fictions:
- Purely functional use of religion as a story device. (What we might call "Functionalists")
- Endorsement of religion and/or religious people. (What we might call "Religion is Good" types)
- Criticism of religion and/or religious people. (What we might call "Religion is Bad" types)
For ease of categorization, writers who use these modes will also be called proponents, detractors or functionalists (who can be pro, anti or neutral).
Religion as a story device/Functionalists
Compared to the two types of writers found below, these writers are usually just attempting to model their work after real-world Mythology and are frequently attempting to keep their views of Religion separate from their work. Frequently comes in one of two subspecies:
- The Standard Fantasy Setting default: The world is ruled by an ordinary polytheistic pantheon, usually close to some admixture of Norse and Greek mythologies. Some of them also have a Top God more powerful than all the others, and maybe the in-universe creator of everything who is mostly hands-off in cosmic affairs. The gods of these religions tend to focus on specific areas (gods of Justice and Nature are common, for subtly obvious reasons) and frequently want their followers to propagate or promote these things.
- The kind of setting they wanted to make dictated the nature of the divine. For example, in Exalted just about all the figures anybody would call a "God" (besides the Exalted) are Useless, because the Exalted (which includes the Player Characters) are the guys who were made specifically to do whatever the gods needed them to do for reasons inherent to the setting, to go with the main theme of the setting for the PCs: "You can do almost anything, except avoid the consequences of doing that anything".
Religion as a Bad Thing/Detractors
There are several writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy that are of the opinion "Religion Is Bad", having an axe to grind (sometimes warranted, sometimes not) with either one or more specific real-life religions. This is more common in Sci-Fi than fantasy because the focus on science appeals to the naturalist, empiricist and/or humanist worldview of such writers, with the supernatural being seen as an obstacle to that. Despite that, the view is found among some fantasy authors as well, such as Philip Pullman (who wrote the "His Dark Materials" trilogy partially in response to C.S Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series). Whatever the genre, this comes in flavors of "The Gods are Incompetent" (more on that below), "The Gods Don't Exist" or "The Gods are Evil". Cosmic Horror also tends to use the latter two or combine them into "The Gods are actually Incomprehensible and Destructive Aliens" (H.P. Lovecraft himself was an avowed anti-religious atheist - hence cults are recurring villains in his stories). This also has the side effect of inclining science fiction towards an atheistic perspective.
Another major component is personal issues of the author such as grievance or prejudice, but that's case-by-case and a major can of worms. A writer could have issues with a specific religion and single them out in their works. Worst case scenario, the story is a preachy anti-religious wish fulfillment story or power fantasy; two examples are Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" comic series against Islam and Garth Ennis' "Preacher" comic series against Christianity.
Whatever the motivation, writers saying this message either model their fictional religions on the worst excesses of real world religious people, distorted or strawman versions of them or a fictional stand-in. The most frequently targeted religions are Christianity, Islam, Scientology and faiths that practiced human sacrifice such the Aztec's. Cults, especially those with beliefs that mainstream religions consider unorthodox or outright heretical, are especially fertile ground for this message, albeit running the risk of being misapplied to tar other groups with the same brush.
Religion as a Good Thing/Proponents
There are several Science Fiction and Fantasy writers who either are religious themselves and want to promote their worldview, look upon religion positively and put that into the story or both. This is more common in Fantasy than Sci-fi, partly because with the supernatural being THE fundamental element of the genre, this gives opportunities to explore many aspects of religiosity. This is less common in science-fiction, but not unheard of, such as Carl Sagan's novel "Contact" where God's signature is found in the digits of pi. These authors usually put more thought into their fictional religion plus its central figure (although they have a tendency to go all "Crystal Dragon Jesus"; that is, resemble real-life religions but with a few details changed), and try and have it be at least a somewhat good influence, although religious institutions and leaders are usually hit-and-miss affairs.
Some people make a fictional setting with figures from real-world religions, either in the real-world or an alternate world like Narnia. Others use fictional religions that either visually resemble real-life religions or figures from them. Religions that often get this treatment are the Abrahamic faiths (most often Christianity), Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology and Norse mythology (albeit often a sanitized version of the latter three). In other cases they all but abandon any form of subtlety, with the fictional religion being distinguished from the real-world religion by only a handful of minor changes. Naturally, those kinds of works tend to come off as preachy, to say the least.
Another route this uses is the route that faith itself provides the power as per "Belief Function" (think Morpheus' "your mind makes it real" quote, but applying at the cosmological level). In fact, Warhammer often goes the route that the gods are powered by faith as well as from their sphere of influence which has either caused some people have risen to godhood or caused new gods to be born in the setting. In fact, this has proven the greatest weapon against Chaos in every Warhammer setting (and why the Emperor's plan to starve the Chaos Gods with atheism was doomed to fail from the start).
Somewhat special cases
One somewhat special case is the "Religion of Evil"; in many settings, there is a religion that is explicitly capital E Evil and seeks one of the usual "Card Carrying Villain" goals of Control, Conquest, Corruption, or Destruction. Frequently has some admixture of the worst aspects of Roman Paganism, Norse practices, the Aztec, Scientology and/or the various Abrahamic religions. They also often draw from those found in the writings of H.P Lovecraft. If this cult directly worships an individual Evil God, expect whatever makes sense for that deity to be some form of destructive activity--e.g., the cult of the God of Murder demands human sacrifice on a regular basis, with a certain portion of that explicitly being not-careful-enough cultists. Regardless, Religions of Evil can show up in all three above modes, and usually has a special purpose in all three:
- All three types need bad guys. In particular, a group who by definition is Evil is always good for some no-need-to-worry-about-the-ethics-or-morality-of-killing fodder (based on the idea that everyone in its group is evil because you have to commit evil deeds to be made part of the group in the first place).
- Religion is Bad types tend to use them to say either "while they're all Bad, some are worse then others", that "Religion can be used to justify anything", use it as a strawman to tar all with the same brush or they have a personal axe to grind (either against an entire religion, a group within that religion or specific religious people the author dislikes).
- Religion is Good types or the sincerely religious tend to use them as analogies with fanaticism, criticize Real World cults, compare different beliefs or deal with negative aspects of religion (occasionally making jabs at competitive religions, or fellow believers the author disagrees with). Another approach is to have a Religion of Good fighting against a Religion of Evil - either as the heroes of the story or a valued ally - to say "there is good religion, so don't tar all with the same negative brush".
- As a side note, a lot of fantasy has moved slightly away from pure Religions of Evil, for much the same reason as Always Chaotic Evil races (questions of whether this fosters prejudice against real-life groups and audiences and authors demanding more motive for their villains). While there are still plenty of them, they usually add some reason that justify their existence (e.g. faith in the God-Emperor, while horrible in its own right and despite all its excesses is still orders of magnitude more benign than the Chaos it keeps at bay) or makes them at least morally neutral under their own lights (if not that of the reader/protagonist). Popular options are for them to be an off-shoot/subset of another religion and/or be taking vengeance for an injustice (real or perceived, both of which have plenty of real-life precedent).
Urban Fantasy writers are another special case, since almost all Urban Fantasy is set in something that might be called "the real world with a twist", with all the usual political trouble that implies. As a result, they can take one of a few routes:
- The most common route is "there are many possible explanations" and vague things up as much as possible (Faith being the power that repels Vampires rather than than a cross having any actual connection to a deity is a popular one).
- The second most common route (albeit rarer outside of Cosmic Horror) is the "Religion as a Bad Thing" route. The story is straight up atheistic/"Religion is Bad" propaganda for the more preachy (pun intended) anti-religious writers. It's also frequently used by writers going for "edgy" stories with religious subject matter; in practice, both most often target Christianity or any contemporary cults. Fictional religions or cults are usually thinly-veiled stand-ins for real-life ones and the quality of the plots themselves range from good to terrible.
- Some Urban Fantasy works with a clear correct religion exist thanks to the above mentioned sincerely religious authors, which are typically barely veiled proselytizing or just straight up terrible, though there are some good ones.
- The fourth route, taken most notably by DC and Marvel comics among others, is to take an "All Myths are True" approach: All religions are sort of true, but none have any exclusivity to the Truth, so Thor and Athena might have the Archangel Michael on speeddial when the Orochi teams up with Apep to get up to no good and start making trouble in their neighborhoods (because "Mikey really likes kicking serpent tail, and gets annoyed when we don't at least try to invite him to an evil serpent ass-kicking."). Differs from the "vague things up" route by being clearer on some details, and also much more gonzo. The Abrahamic God is the exception here: He's usually kept especially vague, albeit more powerful (and yet infinitely less accessible) than anyone else in the setting, and only referred to by some codephrase (Marvel likes "The One Above All", DC generally goes for "The Presence" or "whatever is behind the Source Wall").
Doing the "The Gods are Incompetent" thing (the similar but different "The Gods are Insane", "The Gods Are Assholes" and "The Gods Don't Actually Do Anything" routes also falls under this umbrella) can go into any of the three modes; in a sincere monotheist's (such as Christian) work, it can be a "Take That" to polytheistic religions; in a "Religion is Bad" atheist's, it can be one to religion in general; in a Buddhist-influenced work, it can be a part of the whole "even the Gods are tied up in the Wheel of Karma" concept; and, even if the author is not pushing any religious message in any way, there's a neutral, plot-structural reason to go "Incompetent Gods": it can make the adventurers the Most Competent People Available since if that wasn't the case there wouldn't be anything for the adventurers to do. More softly than the Incompetent/Insane/Asshole/Neutral angle, it can be said that the gods are busy with something just as if not more important or that esoteric rules bind them.
If a work has multiple writers, (as frequently happens with RPG and Wargame settings, and quite a few popular SciFi/Fantasy ones as well) there's a tendency for the writers to try and pull the setting into one of the other two "modes" depending on their personal views. This leads to the theme changing from one side to the other as the story progresses. A recent example is the spate of retcons to the cosmology of the Warcraft universe and the morality of two of its fundamental forces the Light and the Void. If the story doesn't get focused on a pro-religion or anti-religion message, it may end up swinging back and forth between both sides (as in the TV show Babylon 5) or settle in a mid-point which doesn't take a strong stance either way.
Note that members of the "Religion is Bad" and "Religion is Good" brigades will get involved in arguments over the relative morality or "goodness" of various factions in the story and the accuracy of any messages a writer presents. Often history buffs will throw their hat into the ring as well.
Examples of /tg/ connected fictional religions
- The Imperial Truth was originally the Emperor's plan on beliefs, which he and his servants propagated throughout the galaxy during the Great Crusade. Attempting to wean mankind away from Chaos and being a firm member of the "Religion is Bad" brigade, the Emperor proclaimed there are no gods, and religion had to be abolished willingly or by force while science or reason are to be used for explaining the universe and morality. Everything transpired according to his design, except theistic religiosity in the 40k universe is the best weapon against Chaos so Emps' interstellar state atheism policy gave them a major opening. Things went from bad to worse when people started looking up to the Emperor as a god himself, he responded accordingly, and the Chaos Gods got a new tool in the form of Lorgar. After the Horus Heresy and the Emperor's removal from galactic politics (and even during the Siege of Terra itself) the Imperial Truth was slowly shelved in favor of the Imperial Cult, to the point that in "present day" 40k espousing the teachings of the Truth is ironically considered heresy. Only a few practitioners of the Imperial Truth remain, most notably the Custodes and the Space Marines (both of whom know The Emperor better than anybody to worship him as a god. Plus, their religious autonomy.).
- The Imperial Cult is the present-day religion of the Imperium of Man, and is a mix of several Abrahamic Religions along with copious amounts of warmongering, fanaticism and xenophobia. Derived from the Lectitio Divinatus penned by Lorgar pre-HH, the Cult decrees that because the Emperor is capable of all these miracles and power: he must be a god, and why you should worship and pledge loyalty to him. Its a complete 180 from the Emperor's original teachings, and has simultaneously been responsible for damning and saving the Imperium past the clusterfuck of the Horus Heresy. It's unknown whether the Emperor still abhors godhood and religion and would abolish it the moment he could, or if he's resigned himself to becoming the very thing he fought against for mankind to persevere in these trying times. Whatever the case, he didn't want to be a god, but now he has no choice but to become one.
- The Cult Mechanicus (Machine Cult) is the religion of the Adeptus Mechanicus, placing a heavy emphasis on machines, viewing them as gifts from the Machine God called "The Omnissiah" Officially, the Omnissiah is The Emperor, which allows the Mechanicus to sidestep the more puritan pundits of the Imperial Cult (we worship The Emprah, just not how you do it). Unofficially, the Omnissiah may or may not be the C'tan god: The Void Dragon. It also has a high emphasis on the collection of knowledge, and one of the Admech's roles in the galaxy is to explore remote and uncharted regions of space to find and search for knowledge that has been lost throughout the millennia. The last of these, is guidelines on machines and knowledge. Officially, heretic(tek) and xeno works are to be abhorred and disposed of, viewing them as perversions of the holy Machine God's works. Unofficially however, more liberally-minded and higher-ranked Magos would happily hoard heretek/xeno works, seeing their potential over the more restricted and constrained works of the Mechanicus.
- Chaos is a violent and complicated henotheistic (believing in multiple gods but only worshipping one) or polytheistic religion with dozens, if not hundreds of interpretations. Even then, there's more sub-cults that worship their particular god in a specific way, either minutely or vastly different from everyone else among followers of the Big 4. And this doesn't even get into the realm of Chaos Undivided (which worships the concept of Chaos itself, instead of the individual gods) and Malal. Chaos has very little established guidelines regarding worship, apart from their patron god's/gods' general likes/dislikes, so any religious practices or rituals are either based on commands from the god/s or up to the imagination of the cult.
- Interestingly, there is a Space Marine of the Chaos faction who follows the Imperial Truth, and that is Fabius Bile.
- All Greenskins worship Gork and Mork (jury's out on whether the Gretchin Revolutionary Committee do), but are too disorganized to have anything like a formal religion, though they do make effigies of Gork and Mork and call on them. The closest thing they have to tenants is that Gork favors violence, Mork favors cunning. Greenskins have gotten into fights over this, but violence is part of their nature and that of their gods. While they fight over religion, they also fight over almost any dispute anyway, and may even start a religious argument just to enjoy a good fight among themselves (though the only theological argument they can formulate is "is Gork the god of cunning or is Mork?" or vica versa). On the surface, religion does not play a big-enough role in Ork society compared to other races, being just another outlet for Orks to fight about. But if Ghazghkull is any indication: religion can have a great impact on Orks, with him being becoming one of the greatest Warlords in the galaxy, primarily because he thinks he's personally blessed by Gork and Mork themselves. So if you throw in the Orks' gestalt field into the mix, its likely that its not that religion doesn't matter to them, it's under-utilized.
- The Tau's creed "The Greater Good" is a specie-wide philosophy that was adopted ever since the initial unification of the Tau in the olden days. In a nutshell, the Greater Good emphasizes the co-existence of all Tau and sapient life in general into working together for a common goal to further the Tau's progress, seeing everyone's potential and hoping to utilize that for an, ahem, greater good. Personal religion isn't forbidden, but it must not contradict or override The Greater Good, and must be disregarded if it ever does so. Technically, this means Tau can be religious or non-religious, as the Greater Good is not a religion (due to lacking an afterlife and supernatural aspects, with the closest things to figures of worship being the Ethereals). This sounds all fine and dandy, but the Ethereal class, who are responsible for maintaining The Greater Good, have been shown to be less benevolent than believed and have been using their unnaturally powerful charisma to subtly oppress the Tau and use them to further their own agendas.
- The Farsight Enclaves, who have thrown off Ethereal rule, are the exception in that they have rejected The Greater Good, seeing it as the method of oppression used to keep the T'au under complete control of the ethereals. Due to this, if one considers the Greater Good a religion, The Enclaves are irreligious.
- As of the 4th Sphere Expansion disaster, Chaos Tau are starting to become a thing.
- At one point, the Earth Caste gathered Genestealer-infected Tau and studied them to see what would happen. Of course, a Genestealer cult developed and naturally they violently escaped control and surveillance. According to rumors, they've even produced a Genestealer-infected Ethereal.
- The Eldar have varying views on religiosity depending on their type. Their religion is polytheistic, with henotheistic offshoots, and Ausryan was the highest ranking god. However all of the Eldar gods were murder-raped to death by Slaanesh except for Isha (taken by Nurgle), Khaine (shattered and flung into realspace), Cegorach (hiding in the Webway) and Ynnead (born long after Slaanesh's birth). Their Pantheon's religious practices aren't fleshed out save for those of Cegorach, Isha, and Khaine, via the Harlequins and Aspect Warriors. With most of their gods out of commission, Eldar religious worship is of a deistic bent.
- Craftworlders and Exodites almost exclusively worship the original Eldar pantheon, though some engage in henotheistic worship of only one of the gods. Asuryan is more popular among Craftworlders while Isha is among Exodites, though nearly all give Khaine some tribute during war.
- Corsairs are all over the place, though Khaine is a popular choice given their more militant nature.
- Being agents of the Laughing God himself, the Harlequins' worship is centered around Cegorach, whilst still paying minor tribute to the other gods.
- The new faith around Ynnead, the Ynnari, is rapidly growing but have yet to establish teachings or rituals.
- Unique among the Eldar, the Dark Eldar are irreligious for the most part and while they believe some gods exist they're too self-centered to worship them (this is canon). They're often also anti-religious to boot; a major landmark of Commorragh is a landfill of religious icons called Iconoclast's Mound, and one Wych cult - the Pain Eternal - revolves around killing religious people and destroying shrines and holy sites. The sole exception, except for Dark Eldar who stop being Dark Eldar, are the Incubi who hold Khaine in high regard.
- The Ynnari have encountered atleast one ancient Craftworld that turned into an entire Genestealer cult in a misguided attempt to avoid getting their souls consumed by Slaanesh as their ship had no infinity circuit present. We're not sure if this worked to any capacity (if at all, given the Hive Mind does not absorb souls), but they were taken down by the Ynnari for obvious reasons.
- There are numerous rumors of a very small number of Chaos Eldar, but these are barely fleshed out and heavily classified in-universe. There have been verified Nurgle-worshipping Eldar and persistent rumors that some have embraced Slaanesh without becoming soul-food. Apart from this, some Dark Eldar have been willing to summon Chaos Daemons or work with Chaos worshippers (or allies of Chaos) to further their own ends.
- While the Necrontyr had religions before certain star entities roboticizied them, those aren't fleshed out or detailed. Its also heavily implied the C'tan co-opted the Necrontyr religion beforehand. With the change to Necrons taking the higher though processes of most of them, any Necrons who can comprehend faith and religiosity either worship the C'tan or have become irreligious.
- The Tyranids themselves are irreligious, being spehss bugs and all, but understand at least a few of the advantages of religion. Genestealers infect people and together they establish cults on targeted worlds, such as one worshipping "Children of the Stars", a perversion of the Imperial Cult (such as one that worships a four-armed version of the Emperor) or something else like "Celebrants of Nihilism" (yes, that's a canon Genestealer cult name). Psychic influence is often involved and, notably, the Genestealers do not consider themselves gods because that would require self-awareness on their part. Once the Tyranids arrive en-masse, the cult-gets assimilated along with all non-Tyranids willingly or not. An interesting tidbit is that the Hive Mind stops the Tyranids from attacking the cultists in early stages of the invasion and leads them on, only to later override the Genestealers' wills and and make them slaughter the cultists if the cultists don't just throw themselves into the nearest digestion pool first.
Dungeons and Dragons
- Among Dungeons and Dragons settings, Planescape, Eberron, and Pathfinder are notable for having some coherent things that could be called "Religions", rather then the usual generic Pantheism.
- Most of Planescape's Factions effectively count as religions, to the point they can produce Clerics (Atheist ones at that). Yes, even the Athar. (Perhaps especially the Athar.)
- Half of Eberron's religions aren't worship of deities. The Blood of Vol seeks to unlock the divinity within one's self and rejects the gods (if they even exist) and the Path of Inspiration seeks to improve their next reincarnation. The Undying Court worships not gods but their undead ancestors that make up their government. The Path of Light, Becoming God and Reforged all seek to create a deity. Even some interpretations of the Sovereign Host, like the one most common among dragons, don't worship them as deities. Due to the way divine casting works in Eberron, all of these can produce divine casters.
- There's a handful of religions on Golarion that aren't merely worship of pantheons. The most prominent (read: Actually has mechanical support) is the Prophecies of Kalistrade, which is basically fantasy Ferengi.
- D20 Modern's Urban Arcana, unusually for urban fantasy, has D&D deities bleed into reality alongside the monsters. You are still able to play a
cleric"acolyte" of any real world deity despite this.
- Star Wars is inconsistent on if the The Force is a religion. The Jedi and the Sith could both be considered religions as they are considered monastic, but mix in several other traits such as being meritocratic (Jedi) and kraterocratic (Sith) and Lucas himself has axed at least one prototyped book for portraying them too much as a religion. On the other hand, there's the Imperial officer in "A New Hope" who disses Vader's ways as "sad devotion to ancient religion", only to get chided for his lack of faith with a Force choke. It's also notable that the Sith were former Jedi who left the Jedi path for several reasons including disagreements over the teachings of that creed. Aside from that, religion is nearly always a non-human tradition, something noted in a culture's historical background and never seen implying its extinction, or a scam. The religiously linked "damn" and "hell" are the two real world swear words that exist in-universe, purely because Han Solo used them in the films and while a young Anakin told Padme about "angels" in the prequel film these are later revealed to be in-universe aliens, albeit mysterious and powerful ones.
- There are rare exceptions where a religion is fleshed out and explored, and the writing goes various directions for better or worse. A notable example is the aggressive polytheistic religion of the antagonistic Yuuzhan Vong from the EU (which the story gradually revealed was long ago perverted from benevolent roots, and this perverted form takes a few cues from Islam, Maori beliefs and Aztec mythology).
- Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a low opinion of religion and in his vision humanity had done away with it and was better off for it and he had no interest in adding it to the aliens. However, some of the cast and crew disagreed and occasionally references to religions found their way into the show, which increased after Roddenberry's death. The Federation's culture is distinctly humanistic (extending the concept to alien species) in its outlook, in which religion is regarded as a thing of the past.
- While there are plenty of "Godlike" entities in Star Trek, almost all are treated as Sufficiently Advanced Aliens in the Arthur C. Clarke sense--and in particular, in ST:TNG, the flip side, that Picard and his crew are frequently shown to look like Gods to sufficiently primitive aliens, is gone into in more than one episode.
- The primary religion of the Federation's main frenemies, the Klingons, is a deistic religion where a Klingon warrior killed their gods, and in their belief Klingons who live according to those tenets get to live in a pseudo-Valhalla.
- The Bajorans are a highly religious alien race, with the majority following peaceful teachings and a minority of violent extremists.
- Of some note, the Bajoran religion is of interest because their "Gods" actually exist, and can be (somewhat incomprehensibly) talked to (a rarity outside of Science Fantasy). In other words, they were frequently a method of having some religion vs. science debates where the divine entity (A) explicitly exists, (B) is explainable as "sufficiently advanced and unusual aliens", and (C) aren't jerks, just bad at communication with those of us who experience time linearly--in other words, with a deck that wasn't quite as badly stacked. The religiosity was meant to be as a way of contrasting the Starfleet personnel with the native population and to draw a parallel between Bajorans under the Cardassian Occupation and various real world recently freed oppressed religious-slash-ethnic groups.
In the fifth Star Trek movie, "The Final Frontier", some of the crew steal the Enterprise to look for God and instead find a powerful alien being impersonating God in the center of the universeJust like there is no live-action movie of Avatar: The Last Airbender, there is no Star Trek 5 and it's plot can't be shortened down to Kirk fights God and wins!
The Covenant faith from Halo is an odd one. Visually, they obviously take influence from the Eastern Orthodox church, but they see the Forunners akin to Siddertha Guatauma, and the Halo rings are the way to begin "The Great Journey". Within it are tons of references to Judeo-Christian theology, and the original title of "Arbiter" was actually "Dervish", but since some towers got knocked down in the US, this name was understandably dropped. The Covenant also defy the simplistic analysis of "science vs faith" by having explicitly more powerful weapons than the UNSC, reflecting a blend of the two elements.
- Of note is that Halo 2 is perhaps the only game/piece of media that actually critiques religion in a way more complex than "LOL RELIGION DUMB AND SILLY AND BAD". Many players and critics praise the fact that the Arbiter slowly grows out of the Covenant faith, learning the true purpose of Halo contradicts what he's been told, with Tartarus being his dramatic foil (helps that the Arbiter gets his information from the source via a Forerunner A.I). The Zealotry is still bad, but the writers explicitly took time to flesh this out as opposed to just taking a simplistic position and having Gary Stu beat the shit out of caricatures of anything they didn't like.
World of Darkness
- Very large books could be written about religion and World of Darkness/Chronicles of Darkness. We'll just cover a few highlights:
- From Vampire: The Requiem, there's the the Lancea et Sanctum, which might be best described as "Christianity for Vampires", and the Circle of the Crone, which is "Pagan Vampires". Both have Vampire miracles on tap (pun intended).
- Hunter: The Vigil has various religious organizations among the Compacts and Conspiracies, some very similar to real world ones, others...not so much.
- Mage: The Ascension has various religious Traditions, portrayed in that highly-stereotypical and highly-depending-on-the-author way typical of old WoD.
- Differs from Misotheism in that (1) you can think God is evil and not hate him (particularly if you're evil yourself (see Religion of Evil, under the Special Cases section)), and (2) You can hate God and not consider him evil; for example, you could think Him merely indifferent to suffering. That being said, the main reason we include it here is because there have been factions in /tg/ relevant settings who hold this belief, particularly Gnostic influenced ones.
- Interestingly, this term has also been applied to certain Atheists, particularly the more anti-religious ones, and Free marketeers.
- Amusingly, Babylon 5 was mainly written by a single writer.