Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My word

I’m writing Scripture today. It feels strange, me being an adherent of no religion.

But that doesn’t mean I have no faith. All men have faith, they must, too much of the world is beyond our direct experience, and even that assumes that our senses are accurate and reliable, as Descartes pointed out long ago. We believe, we have faith, that our senses are veridical. We believe that others are telling us the truth (i.e., beliefs that they hold to be true), perhaps not so much lately. We believe that while others may not all mean us well, neither do they mean us harm. These beliefs may not be true but we have to believe that they or some beliefs like them are true, otherwise there is no trust and the systems that make our society function break down. Law is no substitute for trust and faith. Neither is religion or government. These ‘shared faiths’, mere instruments, unify and strengthen that society, but they do not make it. Mistaking the substitute for the source can even have pernicious effects in the end.

My writing is set in worlds where common action is much more necessary than it is in our own. Religious and political structures are therefore much more important, but since I also do not write in this world I cannot and do not use our religions. Religions serve a purpose, and creating one deliberately is difficult work. I model my religions on some of the religions we have created for ourselves, trying to do justice to the spirit of the enterprise.

There are people for whom this is not good enough. The light in their eyes goes out, their faces fall, the instant I use the word ‘gods’ rather than ‘God’. I consider this unfortunate. Equally unfortunate is the tendency I see in many fantasy and science fiction novels to either have no religion at all (substituting something else for the substitute) or treating it as automatically pernicious. This is not helpful. Priests are not merely power-hungry tyrants manipulating the fears of the peasantry and aristocracy alike in order to…well,whatever, but usually to stamp out the wizards. Which always struck me as odd, since clearly in worlds where magic worked, any monarch would want to have it in his arsenal, but I digress. Off the top of my head I can only recall Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni books and C. Dale Brittain’s books as portraying established religion in a more tolerant light. I would be interested to learn of others.