creating religions: part 2
It’s too easy for writers to fall into the trap of building stereotypical, cliched worlds. Creating an entire world from scratch is difficult, but it is also the most rewarding aspect of writing speculative fiction. In particular, religion and philosophy provide opportunities for creating worldviews and histories – two components of rich characters and worlds. Your readers deserve more than a boring, one-dimensional knock-off of a Western religion.
In this post, let’s explore the variation among real-world religions for inspiration.
Monotheism and world religions
Perhaps the most well-known view, monotheism is the belief that there is one – and only one – deity. Typically this deity is transcendent [existing independently of creation], personal [somehow involved in creation and can be related to in human terms], and omnipotent [all-powerful]. Christianity and Islam are quintessential examples of monotheistic religions. Others include Shangdi [ancient Chinese religion], Rastafari, some interpretations of Judaism, Eckenkar, and Zoroastrianism.
As you might deduce from this diverse list of religions, monotheism isn’t a monolith: it contains many different attitudes. Here are some ways to approach monotheism:
- Deism: the belief in a single creator god who is no longer involved with the world
- Monism: the belief that there is only one way of perceiving the divine and all other views are inherently flawed
- Panentheism: the belief that one god permeates the entire universe. God is IN the universe and god IS the universe
- Pantheism: god and the universe are one in the same and indivisible from each other.
- Monolatry: postulates the existence of many deities, but only one is worthy of worship. An example of this is Atenism, which was despised by many during its time.
Atenism arose in ancient Egypt when Pharaoh Akhenaten supplanted traditional polytheism with worship of the sun god Aten.
Some have argued that ancient Israel practiced monolatry. Exodus 20:3 states
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Some interpret this to mean that the Israelites did believe in other gods, but they were worshiped with less intensity.
A related concept is henotheism. This is the worship of one deity while believing that there could be other worthy gods too. Examples of henotheistic religions include the ancient religion of Greece at certain points in time and Hellenistic Judaism. Kathenotheism is closely related and describes the worship of one god at a time.
As you can see, even within the umbrella of monotheism, there is room for great variation. But there is even more to consider, so stay tuned for part 3.