Monthly Archives: October 2012

World-Building: Religion

In the process of building a fantasy world, a lot of things need to be considered and made appropriate for the world as a whole. Religion is certainly one of these. It’s best to begin with a real world, past or present, or something resembling it in many ways, and then add in fantasy elements and their logical consequences. That’s true of politics, commerce, international relations and war, class relations, and everything else about society.

Specifically in regard to religion, here are some ideas.

Religion, I believe, comes from three interacting sources. The first source is spiritual experience and the attempt to express its meaning, both to encourage people to seek and find spiritual experiences of their own and to translate the insights gained from spiritual experience into a form that can help both individuals and society. The second source consists of the customs, moral values, and social rules that govern a people on a level more basic than written law. Religion codifies these and infuses them with sacred authority by means of myth.

Note that these two sources of religion are sometimes in conflict. Spiritual experience calls for things to change, while custom and tradition call for continuity. A prophet always challenges orthodoxy, either rejecting the prior religious teaching altogether (as in the case of Muhammad in his interaction with Arabic polytheism or the Buddha with Vedic proto-Hinduism), or calling for such overwhelming reinterpretations that the result is effectively the same (as in the case of Jesus’ approach to the Judaism of his time, or Baha’u’llah’s overhaul of Islam). However, it’s also true that what was once radical and new eventually becomes a tradition, an orthodoxy of its own.

The third source of religious ideas and doctrines is political and self-serving: the desire of the religion as an organization, or of those people who hold power in it, to advance its influence and control, to gain more followers, to prevent apostasy, to compete successfully with other religions.

These same three sources will be there with fantasy religions, too, but there may also be fantasy factors to consider — although there may not, too. It depends on what the fantasy elements are in your world and where they manifest.

Let’s begin with the mundane (non-fantastic) considerations regarding the place of any given religion in the world.

Almost all historical societies have or had an established religion as part of, or integrated with, the government. Some modern societies, such as the United States, do not. The established religion of a society has certain privileges with respect to other, competing religions, at minimum official verbal endorsement by the state, and sometimes a spectrum of material advantages running from tax breaks, to direct financial subsidy, to requirements that citizens or residents participate in public rituals to some degree, to actual outlawing of other faiths.

Societies without an established religion generally have a relatively high level of religious conflict within their borders. For example, the English colonies in America saw a lot of conflict among competing versions of Christianity, especially in New England, which was founded as a number of religious experiments by fiercely-independent and often fanatical Puritans. This led to insistence on religious liberty and separation between church and state in the founding of the United States. However, lack of an established faith isn’t an automatic result of such conflict. It’s at least as likely that the end result can be an established faith either with rights of competing religions carefully guaranteed (as in modern England), or with a militant and intolerant approach where the established religion and the state together attempt to eradicate all competition (as in Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella). Unlike republican government, lack of established religion doesn’t seem to be an inevitable consequence of modernity, so having a modern, high-technology society with an established religion can work. Nor is it theoretically impossible to have a lower-technology society without an established religion and yet, since all such societies in real history are modern, a secular state in a low-technology environment requires justification to make it feel true.

If your society does have an established religion, it may be important to determine what form the “establishment” takes — depending on how much impact the established religion, or the state itself, has on your characters and your story. You should always have some idea of the answer to this question even if it doesn’t directly come into the story. One important question is the status of other religions. Is the society of your story more like the Roman Republic, which had an established religion but also allowed religious liberty, or is it more like modern Iran, where religions competing with the official faith operate under severe restrictions?

(Writers of fantasy should study history. They should also study science. In fact, they should study everything.)

In addition to these ordinary considerations, in creating a fantasy world you need to consider the fantasy elements, too, and these are likely — but not required — to have a big impact on its religious life.

Are there real, tangible gods? If there are, does the official faith (or a competing faith) worship them? If so, do the priests or religious teachers have the first idea what the gods are really like and what they really want and expect from their worshipers?

Do the gods care? Is the society a literal theocracy — meaning, not one run by a religion, but one run by an actual god? Are the gods somewhat aloof, with people trying their best to draw divine favor but having no real idea how to go about it? Do the gods expect and demand worship or merely tolerate it? If they don’t expect worship, what do they expect from men and women?

What about magic? Are priests also magicians? If they are, how do they use their powers to further the interests of the faith, and what conflicts occur among them as they seek power or the furtherance of their own beliefs within the religion’s framework? If they aren’t, is there another religion whose priests are? Is this religion new, or has it been around a while? If it’s new, what changes is it bringing? If it’s not new, what secrets, mysteries, and knowledge does it guard, and where is this going to take the new society in the future, as those secrets and mysteries develop.

All of these and other considerations, such as the effect of quasi-humans on the religious life of the community, should be taken into  thought as you build your world.

Image credit: slanas / 123RF Stock Photo

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Fantasy Storytelling, Spirituality

World Building: Revolution!

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

 

In my current work in progress, I’ve got a revolution going on in a fantasy setting, and this brings up the whole topic of world building, which has been much on my mind lately.

 

World building is an essential part of creating a fantasy story (or a science fiction story or a historical story or an alternate history or any other type of story where the world inhabited by the characters is in any way different from our own). (It’s even part of storytelling when the world doesn’t differ from our own, since the world from the characters’ perspective will still be different in some ways from that of the author.) To some degree, world building happens organically, as do many other parts of storytelling. You have maybe a character or two and a plot element or two and you write some scenes displaying the characters and advancing the plot lines, and you realize that this means your lovable thief comes into contact with a priest of the god Nunk-Noo, and so you have to consider the status of the priesthood, the doctrines of Nunk-Noo’s worship, whether the priests have magical powers and if so what they are, whether the god himself ever puts in an appearance, whether there are competing religions, whether this one is an officially-sanctioned cult, and so on.

 

But in at least the broad strokes, it’s probably best to have your world pre-planned. The details can be added later, as you write, and the only hard and fast rule is that you have to be consistent, and you can’t go back and change anything you’ve already published.

 

One way to do world-building is to start with either present-day reality or something historical as a template, and then change things and add things and figure out what would happen as a result. In doing this, it helps to have some understanding of both politics and economics, as well as science and the impact of technological change on society. (This can even help with the impact of magical change, although of course the magic itself you can make up.)

 

Which brings me to my work in progress, Goddess-Born, a companion volume to The Green Stone Tower.

 

Goddess-Born is set in the Kingdom of Grandlock, which I had already described in the first section of The Green Stone Tower. It’s a society that:

 

  • Has an early-modern level of technology: smoothbore, single-shot firearms, sailing ships and navigation, gas lamps, some steam-engine applications, horses as the main transportation vehicle, printing, no electricity.
  • Has a constitutional monarchy for a government, but with no democratic representation; the King and the Noble Council rule the country; nonetheless there are provisions in law protecting rights and a growing democracy movement.
  • Has very little in the way of magic. There are some magic users but they operate secretly and, although this changed at the end of Tower, magic was prohibited by law and a capital offense. However, the Green Stone Tower itself is a reminder of magic and a link to an alternate world where the magic users were banished ages ago, becoming the faerie — many of whom have since returned.
  • Has an established religion, the monotheistic worship of the Good God who gave people the secrets of farming.
  • Historically was part of the High Vance Empire, but broke away from it and established an independent kingdom; for this reason there is tension and frequent war between the two countries.

 

That’s more or less the way things stood at the end of the first book. But in Goddess-Born, two major changes are happening. One arises naturally from the level of technology enjoyed by the people of Grandlock: this is incompatible with the governing structure of the country. It’s not an accident that in the history of our own world, the development of printing and the early stages of the industrial revolution coincided with a wave of democratic reform and revolution that swept Europe and European colonies (such as America). Grandlock faces the same. The nobility have used the new technologies to force farmers off their land, creating a pool of unemployed people and forcing wages down; the people are suffering economically and, with printing, ideas about self-government and equality are rapidly distributed among them. Revolution looms.

 

For the Grandlock Revolution I used the French Revolution as a template just because it makes for good drama, so I put in a nice storming of the palace, the troops turning on their masters, and the rise of a provisional government that initiates a bloodbath, hanging noblemen and anyone they perceive to be a threat to their power. I’ve also got a brilliant general in the wings who, after winning some victories, will be poised to take over the government as Napoleon Bonaparte did in France.

 

The other major change began at the end of The Green Stone Tower, and that’s the return of the Old Gods and the repeal of the witchcraft laws, with a consequent surge of magical activity. Most of my main characters, although not all, are sorcerers, and the gods themselves play a subtle role in the unfolding drama. There is for example a nasty priestess come from the other world, a devotee of Malatant, God of Shadow, and her machinations are behind much of the ugliness that occurs. The head of the provisional government is one of her pupils and a sorcerer in his own right. The two most important characters are children of the Old Gods fostered with a noble family and a merchant family in Grandlock — hence the title of the book; these two are called “goddess-born” because each had a goddess mother — and their opposition to the priestess is perhaps the most important defining plot line. A noblewoman who, for personal reasons, is a part of the democracy movement receives a gift from the God of Art and becomes an eloquent writer of political tracts, and receives guidance from the Goddess of Wisdom about her role in crafting the new government.

 

As always, the main story is personal, but the background and backdrop are important, and the world in which the personal stories occur impacts the stories themselves. It should all fit together and move logically from one place to another as the story unfolds.

 

 

Beginning with your template, as you add each element, fantasy elements included, ask yourself:

  1. How will people react to this?
  2. What will the people involved with it do in the world?
  3. What will their interaction be with the holders of political and economic power, or with ordinary people?

Any changes in material circumstances will always have potential political, economic, and social consequences, and understanding those consequences (whether or not they are an immediate part of the story) is a lot of the art of world-building.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy Storytelling

Religion, Spirituality and Politics

Religion and spirituality, though related, aren’t the same thing. We have a deep distrust in the West of mixing religion and politics, a distrust that has only been reinforced and confirmed of late by the example of Islamic fanatics exerting dangerous influence over governments in the Middle East. (Those who think this is a problem with Islam, as opposed to one with religion in general, display their need to learn more about the history of religions, especially their own.)

Religion is in a peculiar place. Initially it emerges as an expression of spirituality, a way of communally expressing faith and love of the cosmos, a way to reunifying the divided on a social level. But a religious organization also develops business and political interests, and these compete with its spiritual imperative, sometimes eclipsing it altogether. The more a religion gains worldly power, the less spiritual it becomes. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break in and steal,” said Jesus, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” And yet within a few centuries after his death, the faith supposedly founded on his teachings had become the state faith of the Roman Empire, rich and powerful, with treasures aplenty on Earth. Within a century after that, Christian authorities were putting “heretics” to death and forcibly converting pagans to Christianity (more Christians by far were murdered for their faith by the Christian Roman Empire than by its pagan predecessor).

It’s taken the modern separation of church and state in the West to restore Christianity to a semblance of the diversity and creativity that it had prior to the Council of Nicaea and the creation of the Imperial Church. Denied political power, the Christian denominations have also been denied the ability to suppress heresy, and good things have resulted.

Islam, for its part, suffered a mixture with politics almost from the beginning, but managed to head off the danger for the most part until modern times. The Prophet Muhammad was a political leader and a war leader as well as a spiritual leader. After his death, leadership of the community of believers, which had become coextensive with most of the Arab people, passed by election according to Arab tradition, as if Muhammad had been a king — which in effect he was. A lineage of Caliphs — successors to Muhammad’s political authority — followed. While it was never asserted that the Caliphs had inherited Muhammad’s full religious authority as well as his political authority (none of them was ever considered a Prophet), the early Caliphs nonetheless tended to assert religious authority in all ways that they could argue were consistent with the Quran. This brought them into conflict with the ulema — the community of Islamic scholars and religious lawyers — which the latter eventually won, confining the Caliphs thereafter to a strictly secular leadership role. This created a sort of “separation of mosque and state” which stood Islam well for a long while, but this tradition appears to have been forgotten by a lot of Muslims today.

As is the case with Christianity, Islam today appears to express its potential best in the West, where separation of religion and state is the norm and often the law.

Even gentle Buddhism has on at least one occasion succumbed to the lure of political power, when the great King Ashoka converted to it and made it the official religion of much of India. This situation didn’t last long beyond Ashoka’s death, however, and the potential corruption of Buddhism never went as far as it did with some other faiths.

More examples could be given, but these suffice to illustrate the rule: the more political power a religious organization seeks and obtains, the less spiritual it becomes, and the more prone to violence. Religious organizations seek political authority, as does everyone, for a mix of selfish and noble reasons; it’s argued that temporal power helps religious teachers to bring people into alignment with the divine — but the more political power the religion amasses, the less in tune with the divine it becomes. No one can be brought to communion with the holy — the god sense cannot be awakened — by force. (That includes the force asserted by threat of Hell.) There is no bond that can unite the divided but love.

It would seem from a quick assessment of all this that the spiritual and the political are inherently incompatible. And yet, at the same time, there are examples of spiritual leaders who have brought about great changes in the world and had a huge impact on politics for the better. Muhammad himself is one; in more modern times, so are Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So it really isn’t the case that spirituality and politics can’t mix (though the spiritual political activist must always be aware of the danger of political causes becoming more important than spirituality itself, the tail wagging the dog, and prepared to retire to solitude from time to time to prevent that happening).

But while Muhammad and Gandhi and King mixed spirituality and politics, none of them asserted political authority based on religion. That is to say, King’s influence did not derive from his position as the pastor of a church, from the temporal power that he wielded through the church’s organization, and neither Muhammad nor Gandhi possessed such temporal religious power, Muhammad initially, Gandhi ever. They made a change in the world not through the force of arms and wealth controlled by a religious organization, but through the force of their personalities, the rightness of their causes, the subtle strength of their magic, and the power of God.

In alchemy, there is an image of the sacred marriage that involves the merging of opposites to produce the Philosopher’s Stone. The impact of spirituality on politics is one manifestation of this. If we were to insist that politics remain spirituality-free, we would in that stroke eliminate all of the good spirituality could do in the world and much of the point of its existence. (In fact, there are ways that religious organizations use to try to keep genuine spirituality powerless, such as the seclusion of Christian mystics in monasteries or the Hindu tradition of renouncing the world.)

What we require is not separation of God and state, but separation of church and state. When organizations devoted ostensibly to spiritual purposes achieve temporal power, the assertion of that power is not itself spiritual but merely another political force, another interest group — by this measure, we can usually tell those religious organizations that have lost their way.

2 Comments

Filed under Spirituality

Fantasy and Politics

It’s election time here in the United States, a presidential election year, too, and even non-political blogsters are succumbing to the temptation to say something about the ritualized and mostly non-lethal civil war that possesses the nation every four years. Can I be the only one to resist? (No — my friend Christi Killien at Farmlet remains above the fray so far, so I wouldn’t be the only one. Apparently she will be.)

I shall dive in, but in a disciplined way, and remain focused as best as possible on the twin themes of fantasy storytelling and spirituality that define this blog. No mention of current political contests even if Mr. Romney’s campaign does seem to be composing a fantasy.

Ahem.

What is politics? And how does it relate to fantasy or to spirituality? Let’s deal with politics and fantasy in this post. I’ll have another post later to cover spirituality and politics.

Politics is the making and implementing of collective decisions and the resolution of conflicts within a society by means short of the shedding of blood. Every society has politics even when it doesn’t have formal government. Politics is: All these people are living together in one place and interacting. There are things they have to do collectively all together and somehow they have to come to a decision about what things to do and how to organize it. Also, they don’t always get along, and somehow we have to resolve any conflicts that arise before they beat each other up or worse. The only human (or quasi-human) beings that don’t need politics are those that either live all alone as hermits or have a perfect telepathic interaction so that they form a single mind.

Fantasy writing must ask many questions of politics, although not as much as science fiction, for which the central theme is almost always political. The central theme of fantasy is almost always religious or spiritual, but politics remains an important part of world-building just the same. The politics of a fantasy world should work well with the circumstances of life for the characters who live in it. Circumstances relevant to determining the type of politics present in a world include:

  1. Civilized or not? That is, do the people of your world live in cities and practice agriculture or are they primitive hunter-gatherers? In the latter case, no formal government will exist, but there will still be politics practiced informally.
  2. How widespread is literacy? This depends in turn on whether the world has developed printing. A world without printing is unlikely to have widespread literacy unless it has some workable substitute. (The Roman Republic, for instance, had armies of slaves to copy books out. One could also posit a magical substitute for printing in a fantasy world.) A world in which most people are illiterate is also a world in which the participants in political decisions constitute a literate elite; such a world is incompatible with democracy and demands some type of oligarchy, monarchy, or dictatorship. Widespread literacy makes for widespread desire to participate in political decisions.
  3. How fast do people move? Also: How fast does information travel? If the highest speed for both personal travel and messages is that of a horse or a sailing ship, you will necessarily have a looser-knit, less centralized politics than if movement is comparable to a modern society or faster. If magical communication is possible at great speed, is this a privilege of a sorcerous elite, or is it widely available to most people? If it’s an elite privilege, who controls the elite? No one (the elite is autonomous)? The king or formal government? The Dark Lord? The Gods? An ancient prophecy that dictates all magic use?

That last brings up a fairly important point. In a fantasy world, the elites and commons may not be the same as in our own reality, just as they have varied over time in our own history. Today, we are ruled largely by a commercial elite defined by business or financial success and wealth. In the pre-industrial past, the elite consisted mostly of great warriors and war leaders or their descendants. In both eras, an educated elite of professionals coexisted with the main one: priests and religious leaders, government bureaucrats, scholars and philosophers. In some societies, e.g. Medieval Europe and ancient India, the professional class (clergy, Brahmins) were ostensibly of higher status than the military elite (nobles, Kshatrya), but then we must remember that they were the ones writing all this and may have credited themselves with more influence than they really possessed.

Politics in a fantasy world must of course take into account the fantasy elements as well as the mundane ones. If magic is strong and openly practiced, an elite of magicians may completely eclipse the warriors or exist alongside it, or may openly or secretly change the course of events in a modern, high-tech society as well. The existence in the world of gods, devils, and super-beings or of quasi-human races will also have political implications. The rule of thumb in all cases is that the political system in any world — including a fantasy world — must flow naturally from the circumstances in which the people find themselves. Otherwise you end up with anachronism. You can’t have an absolute monarchy in a modern, high-tech world, for example, because literacy and access to information are too widely spread for that and people won’t tolerate it. You might have a world in which the ultimate ruler is a god — but even then, it would not be identical to the absolute monarchies of our history.

Politics arises in my work in progress, Goddess-Born, in the form of a revolution. Part of this flows from mundane reality. The Kingdom of Grandlock has progressed in technology to the point where its monarchy and hereditary aristocracy have become unsustainable anachronisms. Noble privilege is driving farmers off their land, putting people out of work, and creating widespread hardship. The country is ripe for an overthrow of the government and in the normal course of things would struggle its way towards a democratic republic of some sort — but the emerging power of the magicians and the machinations of the Old Gods are both in play, and will inevitably divert that normal course of events.

In all cases, the politics of a society should flow logically from its material, magical, and other circumstances. It should seem natural and proper for the society. That’s part of the art of world building.

Image credit: alexmit / 123RF Stock Photo

2 Comments

Filed under Fantasy Storytelling

Book Review: Y1 by Sherrie Cronin

This story starts out a bit slow. Don’t let that stop you! The rewards for perseverance are great: wonderful characters, a tight plot, lots of conflict, intrigue and spy-stuff, an utterly nasty sociopathic bastard, and a rich old man rediscovering his life’s dream in his final days. Plus shape-changing, gender-bending, improbable romance, and some fine times sailing among the Pacific islands.

This is a kind-of sequel (Sherrie calls it a “companion novel” which is more accurate) to X0, which was a story about telepathy and the unity of all consciousness. X0 is a mathematical expression read as “X to the power of zero,” which of course is always 1 for any real-number value of X. Y1 (“Y to the power of 1”) is also a mathematical expression, but while X0=1 for all values of X, Y1=Y, which is to say it remains itself, and this story has an underlying theme of individuality and the right of any person to pursue his or her own destiny. There’s plenty of action and character-development around that theme: a gay boy fleeing persecution, a young woman trying to chart her life against a domineering father’s demands, a man who gives up a fortune to do what he wants to do. Pressure to conform versus hope, identity, and conscience runs all through this story, alongside greed, power-lust, and deception.

As I said, the story takes a little while to get rolling, but the early chapters of character-building and stage-setting are necessary (even though I think some of it could have been compressed, or a bit more action and conflict could have been included to give it a faster pace in the early sections). Get through them, and you’ll be well rewarded. From the middle of the book on, I literally couldn’t put it down except when sleep insisted. And that was only because the words were swimming on the screen and I’d become functionally illiterate.

If you’ve read Sherrie Cronin’s X0 you’re already somewhat familiar with one of the main characters, Zane, Lola’s son, but you’ll find out a lot more about him here and also meet many new characters to find fascinating. Characterization is Sherrie’s great strength as a writer in my opinion and it’s well displayed here. You’ll fall in love with most of them and in hate with the rest.

Available at Amazon for $2.99.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Prophecy, Blasphemy and Heresy

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading the Quran of late, and that plus the recent furor over the film Innocence of Muslims has me thinking about the subjects of prophecy, blasphemy and heresy.

I still haven’t found anything in the Quran to convince me that Muhammad was a genuine prophet, but let’s enter for a moment the mindset that says he was, and consider the Muslim tradition in regard to prophets, or messengers of God. According to the Quran there have been many such people who were sent by God to bring a message of hope or correction to humanity. Of these, six are recognized as being particularly important: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and of course Muhammad himself.

Of these, only the last is certainly historical and only the last two are even probably historical, but never mind; that’s not the point here. Let’s take the story of each prophet at face value and discuss it briefly.

Adam was the first man, a metaphor for the emergence of our species on the physical plane and the emergence of human consciousness from the depths. Before Adam, there was no such thing as religion. Adam invented the paradoxical relationship between ourselves and God.

Noah brought an unwelcome message to humanity that God was wrathful and intended their destruction if they would not turn from their wicked ways. His message was scorned and disregarded by the religious authorities of the time (and everyone else) and humanity was destroyed except for Noah and his family.

Abraham brought a message similar to Noah’s to Sodom, and he, his family, and his few followers departed from civilization to live in a wilderness and found a new people after Sodom was destroyed.

Moses summoned the descendants of Abraham, enslaved in Egypt, to turn against Egyptian ways, forced the Pharaoh to release the slaves, and found his message met great resistance from the Israelites in the wilderness.

Jesus brought a new interpretation of the Law of Moses to Israel, based on love of God and of one another, and the spirit given precedence over the letter. He was condemned as a blasphemer and executed.

Mohammed brought a message of monotheistic worship and a simple morality to the Arab polytheists and ultimately to the rest of the world, and his message was rejected by many as blasphemous and heretical.

The common thread here is a message that is rejected by those who consider themselves religious authorities — and always on good, solid doctrinal grounds. Each of these prophets (setting aside Adam as a special case) indeed did violate the teachings of the past. That’s what happens when a new message is brought: it conflicts in some way with what is currently believed, or else there would be no need for it.

Every prophet is a heretic. Every prophet is a blasphemer. What’s more, the word of every prophet, if it is accepted by the people, eventually becomes a rigid orthodoxy against which future prophets must struggle and on the basis of which the next prophet is declared heretical and blasphemous. The nineteenth century saw this played out in Iran, as a man appeared whose followers claimed he was a new messenger of God, with a word to fulfill, augment, and replace that of Muhammad. This was Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i faith, which is now the fourth religion in the Abrahamic lineage (along with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

In many respects the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh do seem like an updated, new and improved version of Muhammad’s. He expanded his spiritual vision beyond the Abrahamic traditions to embrace and designate as prophets great teachers from other religious families, such as the Buddha; he explicitly declared equality between the sexes which Muhammad, although his teachings improved the lot of women from what went before him, did not; and he called for world peace and the unification of all mankind, a teaching that seems prophetic in another sense of that word, given the ongoing cultural globalization and the need for world peace and unity that faces us.

But in doing this, Bahá’u’lláh preached heresy, because in Muslim belief Muhammad was not only a prophet but the seal of the prophets — the last prophet, whose word is the final dispensation of God before the Day of Judgment. His message was widely rejected and condemned, and he was imprisoned for years and died in prison.

The word of Muhammad in its day was a liberation from rigid, intolerant, doctrinaire beliefs, and Muslim society in the Middle Ages was more advanced and more humane and tolerant than Christian society by far. But by the nineteenth century, Islam, far from liberation, became a prison. It held people back both as individuals and as societies. Compared to the secular societies of the modern West, Islamic society had become a backwards, intolerant, ultra-conservative shackle on the collective brain, and when a new visionary came along it persecuted him and his followers and imprisoned him for life. This is the pattern. All prophets are condemned as heretics and blasphemers

Ultimately, I believe there is only one solution: the idea of orthodoxy must be abandoned, and along with it the idea of condemning anyone as a heretic. There is no reason why spirituality should not be like art or science in perpetually seeking new ideas and new metaphors for the divine. In the end, the visions of the prophets cannot be fulfilled unless everyone becomes a prophet, and that will never happen as long as we imprison our minds with rigid conceptions of the truth.

We will never have an entirely irreligious society, because, contrary to the hopes of atheists, the spiritual dimension of life and the fruits of spiritual experience are too real and compelling to permit that. But we can, I believe, have a society that is free of religious rigidity, intolerance, and the prison of dogma. We can have a society that no longer condemns its prophets as blasphemers and heretics, because it no longer recognizes the existence of heresy.

Image credit: vadmary / 123RF Stock Photo

Leave a comment

Filed under Spirituality