Creating Religions for Traveller by Peter Gray

Halo

Halo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Astrographer): I don’t necessarily agree with all of this, but I think it is a helpful guide. This is taken from the sfrpg discussion boards here. I added a little bit of formatting for clarity.

I trust the claim that this is in the public domain, but I can’t get in touch with Peter Gray himself. If the author objects to this posting, it will be taken down with apologies.

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A Prospectus on Creating Religions for Traveller

by Peter Gray

Overview

Religion in the game has always been treated in a curious fashion. In the original edition, religion was seen through the filter of 1970s social criticism: it was the residue of outmoded thinking, and its emphasis upon repression ran contrary to the trenchant fad of authenticity that lurched out of the counterculture. Therefore it was represented as an oddball museum exhibit, some knickknack dreamt up by a bunch of fuddy duddies to be both quaint and disgusting at the same time, like an Egyptian mummy that was buried with a dried hippopotamus penis. Religion was the opiate administered to the masses by cruel tyrants like the priests of the Ram of Jokotre (see Book 6: Mercenary and 101 Patrons) or the star worshiping “son of a star” of Pavabid (Divine Conquest). Or worse it was obscure and exotic at the same time, and just a bit dangerous, like red-necked cannibal cults with air-rafts, and it looked like you were on the menu.

When CT and the patchouli dusted 70s gave way to Megatraveller and the bruising culture war 80s, the role of religion in the game was partially reexamined, and it was given more shrift. Though in the context of the Imperial Civil War it was less important than factional infighting and the racial/cultural divides that punctured the Imperium. And when the topic came up, it was still in a rather negative connotation. In the wake of the implosion, religion was a reaction against the collapse of Imperial authority; succoring the losers and filling the void of power. Hence we were subjected to cults that collected political power, like the Panamica Ecclesiasty of Narquel(Astrogators Guide to Diaspora), furthered racial or political supremacy such as the Church of the Chosen Ones (Vilani and Vargr) and theTurin Consolidation (Solomani and Aslan), or rejected secular society altogether and suggested that destruction and loss were the justified will of god (umpteenth cults in various Challenge and MTJ articles).

These kind of depictions are to the detriment of the game. Unlike D&D, where the clash of the supernatural and magic must be counterbalanced against the sensitivities of real world religions, religion can have a more significant and worthwhile presence in Traveller. Aliens after all are not transcendent Jesus or Allah-worshiping or hating in the way that fantasy creatures are. And god is still, despite Nietzches pronouncement, not quite dead in the real world. The following is not intended to be anything more than just an overview on the basics of religion and religious systems. It is not intended to be read as either gospel or as sociology, just as a helpful crutch. It just happened that the current discussion about the GTRC cuts across a number of different layers in Traveller.

Background

The human invention of religion is thought to be almost as ancient as Homo Sapiens itself. It is known from study of Neanderthal burial sites that even this offshoot branch was capable of veneration of the dead, so it may be rooted in a very primal part of human existence and supersedes the invention spoken and symbolic language, though the latter is very important in later religious perpetuation. The question as to why humans developed the need for religion beyond the simple spirituality of our more distant ancestors is intimately connected to language and its impact upon the emergence of modern homo sapiens about 160,000 years ago. Unlike our Neanderthal cousins, for whom speech and symbolic abstraction was more difficult (though this is still quite controversial), our ancestors used language to carry themselves to a much higher state of development than their beetle-browed neighbors. They used words and abstraction to convey complex ideas, plan ahead several time periods, and create complex heuristic patterns and strategies that led to deliberate advances in technology and social arrangements. Because of the greater success of modern homo sapiens at hunting and gathering, and being able to manipulate his environment, religion became an easy means of forming viable settlements and regulating the relationships between the members of a community, and the dichotomy of both nature and the rest of the community.

But that same symbolic advancement was stilted and awkward, since objective logic and formal rules of complex social engineering were still primitive. Religion filled the void in several ways, namely because it could transform successful cultural and social requirements into a narrative structure that relied upon conformity of the group to enforce and follow. Spirituality is about awe and the supernatural, religion uses those forces to create the boundaries of community. Natural forces were anthropomorphised to a great degree, something only possible through the invention of the abstract. The relationships between these forces could be traced through the hierarchies of gods, and the proper degree of respect for these forces were ritualized and codified. This enabled communities to quickly assimilate, and disseminate to its members, information vital for their survival in the face of an unforgiving nature. This information is ritualized, and sometimes become the sacred rites, when a behavior is desired, or taboos when it is not. Hence the Bible vilified Cain the farmer for killing Abel the herder because Cain’s agricultural lifestyle was a dangerous luxury in the Holy Land, further reinforced by the injunction against alcohol. Mythology is a handmaiden to religion in many cases helping to reinforce its message through alleged historical events, though in fact the two are not the same.

Though human society has evolved significantly since its humble beginnings, language is still imperfect at keeping pace to the developments of science and industry, resuscitating religious faith at critical intervals when secular understanding failed. Religious development has followed a traceable historical trajectory. All human faiths seem to have started out as collections of animistic spirits that inhabited every river and tree and boulder. As human society evolved into agriculture and herding, the vast army of spirits was reduced to a polytheistic hierarchy whose structure reflected the power system of pre-industrial subsistence, usually as an extended family ruled by a stern and yet benevolent king. As these communities became pre-industrial empires built upon conquest and trade, the centralization of rule around unitary bureaucracies and trade cartels caused a shift towards monotheism, which symbolized imperial power. Finally monotheism has headed towards submergence into utopian industrial era faiths based upon emerging sciences and technologies, from Cartesian mechanics to Kantian critical idealism, and finally has come full circle into a new period of religious mysticism and pantheism, due to the “harmonization” between secular mechanics and religious sacristy, and the remystification of the world through electronic media and animated or autonomous machinery.

At every crucial point of human progress or regression, the boundary of change has been a crisis of language, with religion using its “metastories” to lay grasp to the new order emerging from the wreckage of the past. Given that Traveller’s own fictional history is marked by several periods of social convulsion, religion should be an important background for game campaigns. Even events such as the emergence of the Solomani into interstellar space and the shock of becoming an interstellar society would prompt new development (and perhaps that explains the GTRC, Liam). The emergence of both the Vilani and the Solomani, the Interstellar Wars, the Long Night, the rebirth of the Imperium and finally the Collapse and the Dark Years are perfect religious incubators. The diversity of technology is perhaps less impressive than the diversity and power of competing religious faiths and their ministers. Imperial space should be crawling with different churches, abetted by Imperial laissez faire policies of religious freedom and non-preference for any one faith or creed, except where it becomes a threat to civility and Imperial Law. In an age of great injustice or deprivation, religion empowers communities to organize against common enemies and work towards the common good. In other words a good religion works for the same goals as the Star Vikings, and keeps the flame with as much vigor as the Regency. The first words of liberation in the Dark Years could come just as much from the Good Book, and serve to better explain motivations for characters in fighting for the rollback of the darkness.

Designing A Religion

Here is a word of advice. Ignore the section in WBH that deals with generating religions. It is too abstract and mechanical to do justice, and the result is too stilted and stultifying for effective roleplaying, or to make a vital living part of a campaign. Instead of the usual numerological obsessions, one only needs a few guidelines for creative development of a reasonable religion.

The First Step is simple: keep in mind what I said above. Religion is for the formation of a community of assembled individuals. It determines the boundaries and norms of said assemblage, assigns positions of power and responsibility, and creates a common goal for everyone to work towards. It represents its environment through its rituals and addresses the catalyst of its creation through its creation of a narrative that (hopefully) resolves the perceived problem in an acceptable manner. The reality of the supernatural entities they represent is your own business. Finally a religion must be based around an idea that is useful for bringing people together to work for that common goal.

Second Step: Determine the god view. Incidentally these are not exclusive or fixed. A single religion may go through two or more of these stages as a result of historical developments:

1. Animism:
The world is governed by a diversity of different spirits. These can occur in both the most primitive and advanced of worlds, especially if the latter has superstitious relationship with artificial intelligence. Animism is perhaps the least rational form of belief as well, because its insight into the natural world is the least developed. Primitive religions of this type are most common in hunter-gatherer societies that live within heavily forested terrain.

2. Polytheism:
These are religious faiths most common in archaic (TL 0 to 1) societies. Generally they reflect subsistence agriculture, with a smaller number of spirits being ruled over by gods and goddesses whose status reflects hiearchal divisions within the communities. In Northern Indo-European societies, for example, an all powerful male “Allfather” was sovereign, reflecting the male-dominated warrior cultures of the Norse, Germans, Celts and Dorian Greeks.

3. Monotheism:
Imperial dominance leads to the emergence of this system. Usually this is more related to economics rather than military power, as trade must be rationalized according to a single, standardized system. Most monotheisms are either one god systems that supersede earlier polytheisms, or the god has multiple aspects or specialized helpers that prevent a deadening effect. Dualism is a special case of monotheism, largely because of its rarity, and because it multiplies a single system by two, often into warring moralistic systems.

4. Pantheism:
Literally “All God”. Panthos are complex systems where a single didactic god is not desired or needed. Rather all parts of heaven and earth become the residence of god. Such religions are ecologically inclined, where the general output of all societal sectors must be harmonized in potentially difficult environments.

5. Deism:
God removed from the machine, or god as the machine. In early industrial societies the juxtaposition of primitive science and skepticism can create conflict in cultures where the majority still cling to religious certainty. Deism proposes that the universe is a mechanism created by god, but with the creator removed somehow. This is more of an emotional response meant to compromise than a workable religious philosophy, though it remain to cater to people who wish to have feet planted in both areas (like the Unitarians).

6. Interactism:
Offshoot or offspring of Pantheism. Interactism removes god entirely from view, making worship rare. Instead it concentrates upon ritualizing and harmonizing human behavior with a really difficult living environment. The religion of the Dine (Navaho and Apache) nations of the American Southwest is a good example of this.

Third Step: Determine the system of devotion and interaction between the believer and the supernatural.

1. Sacrificial:
Weakest system. No emotional engagement between supplicant and the divine. Rather a worshiper wishes to appease potentially deadly spirits in hopes of either gaining (or at least not losing) something held dear. Priests in such religions are usually go-betweens for the believer and the divine fortune he or she hopes to secure.

2. Devotional:
Greater emotional engagement. Appeasement of spirits still the norm, though believers may devote themselves to all of the particular rituals of a particular god with more enthusiasm, especially if their profession or geographical location contains some kind of peril or opportunity that requires more frequent aid.

3. Programmatic:
The “Book” religions are of this form. A specific philosophy is laid down for the believer to follow in hopes of gaining a higher reward. The time frame that this reward is obtained varies. Disjointed mythology is usually supplanted by a common set of themes that recur throughout the main story, which may have a definite beginning and ending.

4. Gnostic/Cabalistic:
The revealed truth is deliberately hidden from the masses. The majority of people follow a certain set of rituals, while the chosen are a privileged minority who receive indoctrination in the full extent of the faith. The early Christians, Orphic cults and the Manicheans were of this pattern. Many of these religions usually form around newly discovered knowledge or exclusively controlled philosophy, and use their advantage to gain power over non-believers, the Pythagorean cult be a good example.

5. Mystical:
The relationship between god and his children is very personal. Strict commandments are supplanted by specialized religious teaching that prepares the believer for the shock of direct experience of god. A good example is Maharani Buddhism. These religions are usually embraced by a much narrower subculture whose special needs (advanced knowledge, old age, outcast status) requires more intensive immersion into direct religious experiences.

Second and Third Step Special Case:
Universalism: A religious system that embraces a wide variety of different god views and devotional systems, either due to a diverse population or to allay social tension between sharply different socioeconomic groups. Taoism is one example, though perhaps Old Testament Judaism and Hinduism are even better. The latter religion ranges from strict polytheism to pantheism, with different levels of religious fervor tolerated by priests charged with its stewardship.

Step Four: Determine Hierarchy. MA stands for Mystic Autocracy (Safe code E, Wilds Code 9) and MD for Mystic Dictatorship (Safe Code D, Wilds Code 7). A religion that spans more than one world can embody both MA and MD codes at the same time.

MA1 Living God: A religion dominated by a living god or god embodiment. These are the rarest, and nowadays are technocults that fetishize technology, such as Bart Kosko’s “Immortality on a Chip” movement.

MA2 Oracle/Saint: Ruled through intermediaries in alleged direct contact with a god or its servants.

MA3 Religious Sovereign: A religious king with extensive theological or philosophical background.

MD1 Church-State: Consensus or council ruled system, with a ruling council of high clergy, and sometimes church bureaucrats and influential laity. Shia Islam and Orthodox Christianity.

MD2 Dispersed Hierarchy: Complex tree system of loyalties and obediences. Local leadership takes precedence in most issues, though it may appeal to higher authority on complex questions. Sunni Islam and Protestantism. Catholicism beyond the Pope.

MD3 Influential Expert: “Spiritual Guide” religion where the priest is an adviser or counselor to the supplicant, who is expected to do most of their own decisions in pursuit of their faith.

Step Five: Determine the “Yin and Yang” extremes that govern a religion. Most fall between the two endpoints described below.

1. Apollonian to Dionysian:
Is a religion dominated by rationalist thinking, or does it prefer to indulge the senses and give rule to the passions?

2. Promethean to Protean:
Does a religion encourage and aid the advancement of human civilization, or does it prefer the natural environment and the company of spirits that supposedly rule it? Many cabalistic religions will straddle the line, reserving a monopoly of knowledge for its followers, while keeping everyone else compliant through enforced ignorance.

3. Render unto Caesar/and Render unto Jesus:
Does a faith concern itself with the political arena and heavily influence or dominate government, or does it confine itself to the spiritual and ethical? At an extreme it may ignore or even oppose the necessity of the state in favor of a cloistered community.

4. Mammon and the Brahmachanya:
Is a religion and its practitioners heavily involved in the acquisition of worldly possessions, luxuries or indulgences of appetite? Or does it reject all of this for a spartan life of self-denial and abasement? (Or do these satisfy the same human need in different ways?)

5. Inquisitor to Guru:
Is a religion governed by a severe interpretation of the Word, from which deviation is strictly limited, with stiff regulation over the chancellors and believers of that faith? Or does it prefer the miracles of charismatic holy men who wander in and out of the community from the wilderness, leading merry mobs of disciples and hangers-on.

6. Augustine to Bruno:
Is a religion largely static in development, rejecting new intellectual developments, and opposing with sword and fire any attempts to topple its epistemic superiority? Or does it embrace such ideas freely and promiscuously?

7. The Mask of the Trickster:
How well does a religion do in navigating the channel between the following: the Virtual and the Real; the Figurative and the Literal; Fictional and Journalistic?

8. Ares and Alceisas:
Is a religion militant and bent upon either conquest, or eliminating competing creeds within its hearth region? Or is it a pacifistic religion that accepts the existence of all other faiths and differing words?

Appendix

1. Secular/Communitarian “Religions”:
Religion has the purpose of addressing particular conditions, and allowing for the creation human communities within the parameters of both faith and the boundaries permitted by the environment. In most cases religion handles the subjective areas that normal society lacks the power to express or control. But on some occasions a community will specially extend the boundaries of the priveleged area of religion into the objective areas of normal secular society, using the particular method by which religion secures conformity to ritualise normal life in a rigid social order. In such cases the state and lesser attendant authorities substitute for priests and hiearchy, and written law and unwritten custom replace the holy texts.

A good example is the Japanese concept of Wa, or social harmony. The Japanese archipelago was a difficult place to colonize, for a number of ecological and climatological reasons. Numerous groups from the Asian mainland jostled for control, leading to repeated tragedy in the form of bloody wars, famines and massacres. Now the islands were very heavily forested, leading to the development of animistic cults with heavy Chinese and Korean influences. Over time the harmony implied within this natural pantheon became the center of a system of rigid conformity, where the immigrant population was “harmonised” with their difficult environment. To prevent new groups from coming in to the country, a warrior culture was developed, and a system of Japanese Exceptionalism took root. This is not the exceptionalism based upon relative superiority by wealth or culture, but rather an anointed state of “first come, first served.” (Now replace Japan and Japanese with the word…. Aslan, and Wa with Akhaoye.) Another good example is the Pushtun and their code of Pushtunwhuli. Every Pushtun clan traces their descent from a member of Alexander the Great’s cavalry guard, and this is used as the basis of a male dominated warrior culture that tinges every aspect of their society.

In other cases, a social club or fraternity, or a philosophical movement may become so ritualized, or so affected by its own certitude as to take on religious aspects and attitudes. Masonry sometimes takes this form. (How many of our European friends have ever heard of the Priory of Zion? Its an offshoot of a nasty Italian masonic lodge called P2.) You could also add Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to this list, from some of the stuff I’ve heard. And Marxist-Leninism most definitely.

2. Special Topics:

1. Henotheism:
Literally “All Gods.” The situation that arises when religious tolerance is liberally accepted so that several religions compete at the same time without much social stress. The U.S. could be currently considered henotheistic. Most Imperial worlds could be considered such as well.

2. Science Fiction Cults:
“Have you been audited today? I am an Operating Thetan level 12,348, thanks to the millions of dollars I spent upon the helpful audiotapes and CDs of the Church of the Scientific Gullibility. It was easy. Following the helpful lectures on the tapes (cost per tape: $4599.99), I learned the proper way to bend over and spread.” The development of groups like the Aetherians, the Unarians and the Mindless Hoard of Hubbard is largely a phenomenon of the exposure of American GIs to exotic eastern religions during the Second World War, combined with a reaction to the muted technological anxiety of the Cold War. So it is likely never to be repeated in the history of this country. Though it is possible that after the wars that end the Dark Years could see a similar reaction to Virus, in the form of Ex-RCES flying around with pyramid shaped hats around their heads and babbling about their coming to grips with the power of “wilco.”

If these people are encountered in your campaign, it is always best for you to deal with them with as much live firepower between you and them as can be carried in both hands……

3. Racial Identity Cults:
The Church of the Chosen Ones seems to be rather mawkish as it is originally written, since racial supremacy is not usually a universal goal for a culture. But it reflects the same tension that is seen in the so called “Christian Identity” movement, which is not Christian so much as being vehemently Anti-Semitic and Pro-Aryan, whatever the last is supposed to mean (how many Iranian and Indian immigrants do you see wearing a hood and burning crosses?). COTCO exists because the Vargr are extremely sensitive, and frankly bewildered, over their special status as an uplifted sentient race. Most problematic is that they have not evolved far beyond their original pack mentality, and their fluid culture is inconsistent and anarchic compared to competing human states. The Vargr have a self-image problem in regards to humanity, and the only way to compensate (at least for a few) is to proclaim their superiority over humanity in a self-serving and chauvinistic manner. Such cults need not be just Vargr, though this is perhaps the most extreme case in the whole game.

(On a related note, Arch Anti-Semite William Peirce, the guy who wrote the “Turner Diaries”, was officially declared dog food last week (July 2002). Ding dong, the Witch is Dead …..)

4. The Blood of the King:
This is a variation of the King Arthur tale. If you remember the movie “Excalibur” there was this convoluted relationship, based upon Celtic myth, that the health of the land was linked to the benevolence of the king that ruled it, with prosperity and fecundity being a mark of approval for the head honcho. Of course Arthur buys the farm at the end of the movie, and his body is carted off to the Island of Avalon barring his eventual return as England’s king at the end of time. Of course this simply says that “what is good, even the idea of a mythical non-entity hyped up by that medieval hacke Mallory, will never die.” Naturally such a goofy idea abets some really goofy religious development. The aforementioned Priory of Zion for example “believes” that Christ survived his crucifixion, sailed off to Southern France with Mary Magdalene, and settled down to have a family, and his descendants later became the Merovingian kings of France. After their unlawful usurpation by the Carolingians, they went into hiding, and through the efforts of the Priory, Europe is being prepared for the revival of the rule of the children of the King of Kings(*). As rank as that sounds, the disenfranschised people of Brazil actually started worshiping a dead Portuguese king in the early 1900s, an otherwise lackluster monarch that had been dead since the 17th Century. The Brazilian government got upset, and its troops killed most of them at a little town called Canubas. Yes the competence of a monarch is always less important than the idea, so take heart Chuck and look forward to the day that the Old Hag dies, and you take over the throne at the merry age of eighty.

It would be interesting if there existed cults in the former Imperium that resurrect dead emperors for veneration. I don’t mean recently dead ones like Strephon or Varian. I’m talking groups that worship Cleon the Mad or Jacquelline.

Mad Cultist: “Do you accept Cleon IV Zhunatsu as your rightful sovereign and savior?”
RCES Lancer: “Who did you say?”
MC: “Zhunatsu.”
RCES:”Oh! Gesundheit!”

(*) What makes this smell even worse, is that if Christ had descendants, any random person on this list and myself have a 90% chance of being a direct lineal descendant of Him as well. Last I checked no one in my immediate circle of friends can walk on water.

5. Syncretism:
The mixing of different religious traditions, often for political reasons. This is more than just theology in most cases, with monotheistic religions often mixing into older polytheistic traditions in areas where they are trying to attract converts. The most notable case is Roman Catholicism, which started out as a fairly strict and austere religion emphasizing the acceptance of the New Testament and strict devotion to the formerly Jewish god. But as the new faith spread outside of the Holy Land, it encountered an ancient Mediterranean polytheism centered around a bevy of pre-industrial gods and animistic spirits. To usurp these spirits and their pagan holidays, the early church fathers were flexible enough to adopt a method of beatification, whereby valorous and virtuous priests and monks were raised into semi-divine status that allowed for a circumspect degree of worship, thereby substituting for polytheistic spirits. This tradition lives on in the Christian holidays, all of which happen to coincide with ancient pagan harvest and fertility festivals (Christ was actually born and crucified in the summer).

The advance of major monotheistic religions always give way to syncretic development. Islam is perhaps the most syncretic of religions, mixing in with, and oftentimes being dominated by, local tribal traditions and mythology in nearly every country it is encountered (and prompting the ironic recognition among Islamic clerics that the United States, having no such traditions, is the only country that Islam can be practiced as it was originally intended). Catholicism mixes heavily with tribal traditions in Mexico and Brazil, Protestantism with animistic rites in Subsaharan Africa. Tibetan Buddhism is a mixture of traditional animism and imported Mahayana saint worship. Universal religions are by their very nature syncretic; Hinduism ranges from stock spirit worship to strict monotheism (Sikhism) to veneration of influential yogis to admixture with Western tradition (Hare Krishna).

In Traveller syncretism is either little more than chrome or it is a major issue, especially when one religion is dominant over a large swath of interstellar space. While Lewis Roberts has stated that his Word of God religion does not have saints, it is not beyond the limits of reason for some local congregations, especially of new converts, to include such a system to appease their new followers.

6. Religious Hearth States:
Nations or states that embody or epitomize the core theology and virtue of a particular religion. These are usually countries that did not undergo significant syncretism, or whose political and cultural traditions run roughly parallel or are in the most agreement with the core identity of a church. This identification does not necessarily lead to strong religious fervor, it does require that the affected nation and its people internalize unconciously the core theology of that faith within its daily life. In our own world several such states exist: United States (Protestantism), France (Roman Catholicism), Russia (Eastern Orthodoxy), Iran (Shia Islam) and India (Hinduism).

France is perhaps the best example of this process. Do the French bug you? Are they rude, stuffy and downright obnoxious? Do they make fun of your attempts to converse in their language? Blame the Church. Outside of the United States, where the Mother Church has been reduced by our core Protestantism to being another congregation, Catholicism is elsewhere a civilization. It envisions the creation of a perfect or harmonious Christian community that reverses the taint of Original Sin created by Adam’s fall from grace. In medieval and pre-Revolutionary France, the Church handled most education, and here it had the greatest opportunity in laying a heavy handed mixture of both educational basics and cathecism. Since the seed of sin is most evident within the young, priests and nuns were compelled to not spare the rod in an effort to drive that compulsion out of their charges. The result is a highly cohesive culture that is based upon willing repression of the young, whose successful transition into the adult world is rewarded with a coveted place in mainstream society, albeit within the scheme set down millenia ago. Though church attendance is very low in France (and across most of Europe for that matter) it is actually irrelevant in the eyes of the local clergy given the heavy influence that their faith still plays in shaping French culture. The French respect intellectualism, and have a tendency towards a material culture that rewards pious and sometimes self-abnegating moderation rather than American style gluttony (contrast Santa Claus with Pere Noel). Even French superciliousness is rooted in the church, as their demands of strict communal order tends to make them deeply disparaging of outsiders who simply don’t know any better.

7. Magical/Psionic Cults:
The existence of psionics adds an unusual wrinkle to religious development. All religions claim the ability to perform miracles, especially for more hard pressed populations. Now that the Third Imperium no longer exists, and the Psionic Suppressions are a part of a departed era, psions that survived the Collapse are in a position of power and influence. To less advanced cultures even the existence of just a few individuals with common psi powers such as telepathy can be a huge boon to the survival of communities ravaged by war. How this is to be played by referees is subject to some major discretion. Psionic dominated religions may be as divergent and diverse as normal beliefs, and perhaps more so since they are based upon the dispensation of power rather than theological discipline. These cults are likely to be as violent and unstable as their ancient Masonic and Mithraistic forebears, though some might adopt their own theologies to rationalize their existence and improve their longevity.

Normal magical cults are likely to have survived into the New Era. Some people, for both good and bad reasons, may simply decide that the knowledge of technology should be confined to a narrow elite to whom the secrets have been revealed after many years of faithful service and heavy study. It is worth remembering that such religions are Cabbalistic, and their power dependent upon their monopoly upon knowledge. The return of interstellar society might well upset their dominance, with violent confrontations between their faithful and the vanguard of new multicultural states such as the Regency of Deneb and the Reformation Coalition. These religions are violently unstable at any rate, as they depend heavily upon charismatic founders, and their theology is ultimately more useful to their hiearchy than to their followers, who will ultimately opt for more affirming beliefs.

An Example

Lets evaluate Lewis Roberts Word of God faith just as an example (condensed version of DANI7006 follows):

“In 547 Pierre Bothan began preaching what he called the Word of God on Datarkt/Dethenes/Old Expanses. That same day six other individuals began preaching the exact same message on six other worlds in Old Expanses, Delphi, Massilia and Diaspora sectors. These individuals had no previous contact and had no prior knowledge of each other. In fact it would be several years before they became aware of each other. Since this time, numerous investigators have tried and failed to find any evidence of prior connections to explain their simultaneous epiphanies. When asked to explain it, believers respond that it was simply a miracle.

Each of the seven prophets quickly attracted a band of followers, who also began spreading the Word of God. Within five years the followers numbered in the tens of thousands. It was about then that the prophets became aware of each other. They exchanged emissaries and agreed to a face to face meeting on Mission/Oreo/Massilia.

The historic meeting took place on 200-552 in a small mountain chalet. The prophets sent away their staffs and for two weeks were alone with each other and God. They realized that they had all had the same inspiration to start preaching, though it manifested itself in different ways. The existence of others preaching the same message cemented their beliefs in the correctness of their teachings. The seven decided to unify their followers and to create a unified organization.

The prophets elected Pierre Bothan to be the first Patriarch of the church. He would hold supreme leadership over the church while the other six prophets would continue to spread the Word.

The Word of God is very missionary orientated. It sends out priests to bring the word of God to the unenlightened. These priests have spread the religion throughout the trailing portion of the Imperium and even to the border states in the Hinterworlds, Glimmerdrift Reaches and Leonidae sectors. Though it was always strongest in the four sectors where it was created, the religion never dominated the region. It had large congregations in most high population worlds. Throughout the later half of Imperial history, it was not unusual to encounter wandering priests hitching rides on tramp freighters. Some of these priests even got as far as the Spinward Marches, though there is no evidence of any congregations being formed in that sector.

The Word of God has always been involved in politics. Its members lobby their governments to create laws more in keeping with the teachings of the Word. In some cases the Word has become the official state religion and has a hand in ruling. On other worlds it has become the government, and instituted a theocracy. On worlds that are controlled by the Word, much of the world’s economic output is used to further spread the Word. The Word has always been a strong supporter of the Imperium, and during times of war, its priests urge it members to join the military to defend the Imperium. Many influential nobles in the four original sectors are members of the Word of God. These nobles give the Word legitimacy and a small amount of influence on Imperial politics at the sector level.

In 990 when the Solomani Rim war broke out, the Word had congregations throughout the Solomoni Sphere. These congregations were split on the issue of Imperial rule. Soon some of the congregations split from Word and formed their splinter groups. The original Word of God declared these splinter groups as heretics. This period saw the Word hiring mercenaries and assassins to settle theological issues.

After the Rim War, the splinter groups that were in territory held by the Imperium, were eliminated. While the tactics used were often questionable, and sometimes illegal, the Word escaped any official notice. This was both because of Word’s strong support of the Imperium and because of the many noble members of the Word.

Five splinter groups survived on the Solomani side of the border. They regarded each other as heretics and refused to cooperate. For the most part the Solomani government left them alone, though Solsec occasionally investigated the groups.

The various factions of the Word issued claims of heresy against each other and started religious wars against each other. In 1120 the Solomani Confederation helped one of the five splinter groups from the Rim War set up a new central temple on Bonshar/21 Worlds/Old Expanses. This group declared itself the true heir of original prophets and declared that the Imperium was corrupt and the Solomani Confederation deserved the loyalty of any Word members. The Solomani hoped that this would encourage worlds to join their cause, but it was never particularly successful. It did stop some of the bickering on the Imperial Word congregations and focused them on the heretical Solomani congregations.

The Word is organized in a hierarchical fashion. At the top of the hierarchy sits the Patriarch/Matriarch. Below him are the Archcanons who each control the dealings of the church in a given sector. Canons control either an individual world, or a group of worlds, depending on the number of followers the Word has on the worlds. Each world is divided up into congregations, which are centered around a temple. Usually congregations have a few hundred to a thousand members. Each congregation is assigned a priest. High priests are intermediaries between the priests and the Canons.

Wandering priests spread the Word to whomever will listen. The wandering priests are free from interference and can do as they see fit. They are required to notify the local canon of their arrival, and if they are heading towards worlds that are not in a canon’s bailiwick, they are to notify the Archcanon of their location. This allows the Canons to know where there is a need to send more priests and to keep track of any new congregations. It also allows the priests to collect traveling funds.

The Word of God believes that by doing good deeds and obeying the laws of God, a soul can purified and ascend to paradise. People who have not been exposed to the teachings of the Word of God are reincarnated until they have heard the Word of God. After three lifetimes in which they have been exposed to the teachings, and not converted, they are given up as a lost cause and their soul is extinguished. Those who profess to follow the Word of God, but corrupt the teachings are declared heretics and their souls are condemned to an eternity of suffering. Those believers who stop following the Word of God are also condemned.

The Word encourages its followers to have as many children as feasible. The Word knows that children tend to follow the religion of their parents, so this way more non-believer souls are brought into believer families and are speed on their way to paradise. It also provides more resources for the Word and allows it to spread the Word faster. This has caused some over population on some worlds, but the Word has organized colonization efforts for worlds on the Imperial frontier.

The Word preaches that believers should help those less fortunate than themselves, and the Word has many charitable organizations which help the homeless, the mentally ill, and distraught. Followers of the Word must tithe 10% of their income. The Word uses this money in its charitable activities and to spread the Word. Followers of the Word may not eat of the flesh of animals and must prepare all foods in accordance with the Word’s guidelines. Members who try to alter the divine laws given down by the Word are declared heretics, and it is the duty of all faithful members of the Word to destroy heretics with any and all means.

The Word is not a human-centric organization, in fact one of the seven prophets was a Hresh (from T4’s Alien Archives). The teachings of the Word do not make any distinction between humans and non-humans.”

Evaluation

Community Goal: Unclear. Though I imagine that its Puritanism appealed to Imperials exhausted by excessive materialism. There seems to be some Mormon inspiration, and Mormonism is built upon a strong consensus of community that was lacking in 1830s midwestern America. The wishy-washy nature of the Third Imperium leading to despair?

Devotional System: Programmatic. A very clear path of development exists, based upon adherence to the written moral codes of the faith.

Hierarchy: Originally a Church/State adhering to a Religious Sovereign. Now an Informal Hierarchy fragmented into warring faiths each calling the other “heretic.” Now here is a little problem, because the disunity of the faith might be more than its tolerable for future reconciliation.

Yin and Yang extremes: The Word of God is Apollonian and Promethean dominated, with little mysticism. It is meddlesome in politics, down to judging the fitness of interstellar secular institutions, giving it separatist leanings that limit worldly wealth and interaction. The Word is law, and the penalty for heresy is both severe and made very clear to all who would deviate. A very didactic faith that may be given to heavy literalism. It is also a very militant faith.

=======================
I think PG did a good job laying this out. He’s thorough, but I don’t think that it’s verbose. With something like this, I think it pays to clarify the terms.

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2 Responses to Creating Religions for Traveller by Peter Gray

  1. Chris says:

    hey man, this is cjs0216 from CG, this is a great read…I was actually about to start looking around for something like this for my Worldbuilding project…glad I checked your site.

    • Astrographer says:

      I’m proud to be on your blogroll next to the likes of the Cartographer’s Guild, Seventh Sanctum and Nine Frenchboys. It sets a standard I’ll have to work hard to meet. Just the sort of inspiration I need.

      Your site definitely looks to be worth continued attention. I’m glad to have found it. 🙂

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