kaigou: this is what I do, darling (3 love the stars)
[personal profile] kaigou
Currently writing a scene in which the pivotal/cultural religion of the story's world takes center stage. This is rather odd for me, and I'm wondering if it is for anyone else.

For the most part, I'm an apatheist. For me, I don't disbelieve a god, nor believe; I just don't care. I live my life according to ethics and principles (not morals), and try to do good in this lifetime with no hope nor care for any after-life rewards. If there are, fine; if not, fine. Which really amounts to: I don't like ritual, I don't like organized religion, I don't care much for massive displays of faith/belief, or the trappings of either. I kind of look at all of it... not with a jaundiced eye so much as a disinterested one. Some people require ritual, especially of a social nature. I'm not one of them.

No surprise then that the religion I've devised for my central culture is a relatively ritual-free religion. It has a lot in common with Shinto, in that very few elements are public (no weekly sunday get-together), most of it's not just personal but also private/solitary. But for the story, it's also crucial that this religion have an obligatory aspect, as well. Certain people are considered automatically priests, and it's not always within the person's say. It's somewhat like the old European tradition that the youngest son always entered religious orders -- there wasn't much choice to the role. It was pretty much set from birth, fated.

Which, seeing how I'm rather lukewarm about ritual, it wouldn't be a surprise that obligatory ritual gets my goat even faster. Yet here I am, doing a scene in which a culture explains and justifies its obligatory ritual. And for the story's purposes, it's not right for me to subtly imply via the narrative that this is a wrong thing; to be true to the story, this must be seen as a right [for that religion and its adherents] thing.

It'd be very easy to write a story in which religion (any religion) gets its comeuppance, or gets dissed or shown to be wrong in some way. I've seen that, too, when some religions -- usually ones written as seriously-close analogues to existing/real religions -- are portrayed by authors who don't believe in that religion. It feels like a failure of empathy on the author's part, because they'd rather demonize the non-Christian (or non-Pagan, or non-Western, or non-Eastern) religion than see it from the other side. (For the record, I hate those stories even more, oddly. I don't like any religion demonized, even if that sounds strange given my intro.)

It actually feels harder to write -- believably -- characters who really do cherish, and respect, and feel obligated to fulfill, a set of religious precepts. It's like I can't quite see ever being so deep-down in it that I couldn't understand how one could not be, or believe, such-and-such. Like people I knew in college who tried desperately to convert me (since apparently Episcopalian doesn't really 'count' as A True Believer) -- they were absolutely flabbergasted, even genuinely hurt -- that I couldn't seem to see how So Very Important the issue of "what you believe" really was. To them, yes, but to them, their belief was an all-encompassing thing and thus I, as someone whom they otherwise felt something in common with or whatever, must therefore also have the same something inside me that would call me to belief just as strongly as it called them. If that makes sense. (It did in my head.)

That's really hard for me to write. I can't write strong-faith characters believably. (I could say fanatic, but with the caveat that my personal attitude kind of skews the grading curve; I'm so far below "casual religion" that someone who does church once a week and sometimes on Wednesday night get-togethers is practically a fanatic in comparison.) I have an even harder time writing someone trying to justify their fanaticism, which on a good day might just be Very Strong Belief.

Anyone else deal with this in stories, or read a work where you get the idea the author's dealing with it? Or the opposite -- an author with Strong Beliefs struggling to write non-believer characters? Any tips, ideas, something to help me make sure I'm not dissing characters who in all other ways deserve to be non-demonized and treated respectfully?
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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