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The gods of my fictional world are Uri, Tempest, Selenite, Iris, and Aylin. Another thing- they're all foxes. (The world is set in an exclusively-fox island, where foxes live on the island and develop their own primitive civilizations without any interaction from humans). With this comes religion. How do I write a religion that idolizes and worships gods that can't do anything to effect the living realm, and exaggerates their personalities while they were alive?

The current story of the gods is that they were each blessed with a power during their lives and, when they died, became the god of the kingdom they were in.

How do I make a religion that's feasible to the reader and makes some form of sense, but as the story progresses you notice a weird idolization (not cult-like but close in a sense) of the gods? And how do I write lies that sprout from it? Clerics (religion-bound healers), claim to speak to the gods, though that's not true in the slightest, and they want to ensure faith in the rest of their kingdom/manipulate current events to their liking, though not in an 'evil' way. How do I write that? How do I write gods that were clearly non-perfect in their life, some even morally bad (Tempest), but still a dedicated love of them from their kingdom?

The gods did exist but they were far from perfect, and I'm struggling to portray an unwavering loyalty and justification of their actions from their followers, while also straying away from it being cultish or unhealthy, or even wrong, because the foxes themselves are good, but their religion can get creepy at times.

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    $\begingroup$ What you are asking seems more related to writing than worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 4, 2022 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think what you're asking is "how does religion work?" :D $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Dec 4, 2022 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ It is not possible to understand another being's insanity. Simply share the story that has religion in it. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Dec 4, 2022 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ why do people believe in gods on earth, there are no gods that can do anything on earth but people still believe in lots of them. people are not that rational $\endgroup$
    – John
    Dec 4, 2022 at 23:15

6 Answers 6

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Real Religions

You have described a real religion. People believe in gods that they cannot interact with. Some of the prophets and gods were real. They existed in the distant past. But the versions we remember are idealized and inaccurate. Nevertheless billions of people on the planet follow such religions.

There are many reasons people are religious. Some reasons are selfless and some are selfish. Religion provides a moral structure and comradery with other religious people. It can gives some meaning to life. People like to sing and dance at church. Some enjoy following orders and belonging to a large congregation. Other people like to give orders. They want power over other people. Others want material wealth. Some are indifferent but go along because their families are religious and fear being ostracized.

More primitive religions serve other purposes. For example the mythology of a pagan religion might contain knowledge or moral lessons that are passed down the generations orally since people cannot read or write. The stories are entertaining to make them easy to rememeber.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'll just precise one thing : We can't truly know if gods are real (if there are even more than one). However, a lot of people believe some form of deity exist; To them, they exist :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Dec 4, 2022 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The important thing is we cannot interact with the gods. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Dec 4, 2022 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron Disputed, friend, and in one sense unprovable, unless the end of the world should come. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor That's exactly my point. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Dec 5, 2022 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron Doing something <> proving it to skeptics. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 17:30
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Stories.

Each fox god exemplifies a quality. Maybe one struggles to accomplish things. Maybe one is very strong. Maybe one is wise. Maybe one plays tricks on the other fox gods.

The main thing is that each fox god has sweet, sweet stories. No-one gets sick of hearing them. The fox gods are admired, or laughed at, or perhaps (like the excellent fox in the Fox and the Grapes fable) are considered examples to avoid.

Really that is most of religion. Stories about people and entities in times past, and the light those stores shine on the real world.

And you can write these sweet stories for them!

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Alien moralities and overton windows.

Give the foxes weird moralities that don't turn up all the time. For example, one might embody the wildness of the wild, and much like the spartans encourage leaving young children in the wild to fend for themselves. That would be an alien morality for most today, letting children risk death in a forest.

Make it so their adherence to tradition is strong. People do vary and some aren't as serious about this religion thing as others, but they don't deviate a lot- a person might just break tradition to slip their child a knife if they're a bit weird. Nobody thinks of not sending their children out into the wild to fend for themselves, that's absurd. To find weird traditions to add in, google strange traditions/ cultures/ moralities like this and you can get some ideas.

Don't have unwavering loyalty and adherence.

That is cultish and weird. Have people stay close to traditions. While some may think one god is a bit extreme, they all agree in the general way things are done, except insane heretics. Everyone agrees you need to consume all of your dead relatives burnt ashes, though some add some salt. Everyone agrees that the male fox needs to dress up and dance in the courtship ceremony, it would be absurd to have female foxes dancing, though some try a more modern dance.

Make deviations, but make them mostly small rebellions.

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Basic mythology

How did your civilisation come to be? How did foxes (as opposed to other species, possibly?) end up on this island? Who were the first foxes to make it past the Big Water? Who created the Big Water, and why? Who taught your foxes to hunt, to outsmart, to be cunning and conniving?

Answers to questions like these have shaped your religion. What originally was mere vulpine has been aggrandized and legendized. These legendary foxes have died since, but their tales (tails?) and imagery are still prevalent, and your foxes might aspire to their greatness, to the impact they had on your species.

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    $\begingroup$ oh my god youve helped me so much $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2022 at 6:33
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The problem you pose exists in the real world. False religions clearly exist in our own world. As religions contradict each other, at most one religion is completely, literally true. All others must be false to at least some extent. Of course an atheist would say they are all false. Like at the most basic level, there may be one God, there may be many gods, there may be no god. Only one of these ideas can be true, so the other two must be false. Yet there are millions of people in the world who believe in each of these. So millions of people must be wrong.

So one can look at the real world and ask, Why do people believe in false religions?

If you want to know my perspective, I'm a Fundamentalist Christian. But I think a Muslim or a Hindu or an atheist could say much the same as what I say here.

From a strictly rational perspective, many of the questions are complicated and the evidence is difficult to evaluate. There are many scientific questions where intelligent, rational people disagree. Historians disagree. Mathematicians disagree. It's not at all surprising that intelligent, rational people disagree about religion.

Often, on religion and many other subjects, people believe what they want to believe. They don't examine the evidence and come to a conclusion. They come to a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it. Some things are pleasant to believe, so people choose to believe them regardless of evidence. What people find pleasant to believe varies, but so what? Like one person may want to believe there is a God because he finds the idea of a supreme being who is in control comforting. Another person may want to believe there is no God because he finds the idea of a supreme being to whom he is answerable disturbing.

Some people don't really think deeply about controversial questions at all. They believe something because that's what their parents told them or their teachers told them or they saw on TV. I recall when I was in school my physics teacher once said that he often asked his students if they believed the world was round. All of them had always said yes, of course, believing in a flat Earth is silly and ignorant and unscientific. So he'd say great -- How do you know the world is round? How could you prove it? Few could give any scientific or logical argument. They knew the world was round because that's what they were told. They had no idea how to prove it. If most people couldn't give you evidence for something as simple as why the world is round, how many could truly explain why they believe what they believe about complex questions? I've often mused that, I like to think that I'm a scientifically minded person, and so I could tell you what experiments have been done to prove that the world is round or that special relativity is true or etc. But in the vast majority of cases, I've never done the experiment myself. I just blindly believe the textbooks that say that someone else did it and got these results.

Atheists often say, You religious people just believe this because that's what your parents or your pastor told you. And I readily concede, in some cases true. But by the same token one could say, You atheists just believe this because that's what your professor in college told you or you saw on that documentary on TV. And if you are honest you must confess that for many atheists, that's true.

So all that said, you could justify why your creatures believe in this religion by ...

  1. Giving some reason why it is pleasant or comforting or otherwise satisfying to believe it. Why would someone WANT to believe it?

  2. Giving some sort of evidence, however slim, that it is true. Maybe easily rebuttable by a skeptic, but things that a believer could say, Look, we have concrete evidence that this god really lived 1000 years ago. Or, there are many who claimed to have witnessed this appearance of the god.

  3. Have authorities who preach the religion, schools teach it to children, parents teach it, etc, so that it is easy for those who don't think too much for themselves to just believe it.

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  1. Gods and religions are very different things, and although the characters might be sufficiently primitive to be unaware of this, you, the writer, should always keep it mind.

    Note that sufficienly primitive means very primitive. Educated people were perfectly aware that the gods and the religion were different things since at least the 5th century before the common era.

    As a trivial example, the three major Abrahamic religions, (in historical order) the Hebrew religion, the Christian religion, and Islam, all worship the same one true God of Abraham and share a lot of mythology -- Adam and Even, the Garden of Eden, Moses, Elijah, David, Solomon etc. But the three religions are very very different.

    As a more elaborate example, I suppose that you have heard about the major Roman gods, Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Venus, Diana, Apollo, Mercury, and so on. Does this knowledge of the gods give you any idea of the Roman religion? What festivals did they have? What actually happened in the temples? How was a religious marriage performed? What were allowed days and disallowed days?

    Overall, keep in mind that inventing names and basic functionalities for the gods is the trivially easy part. More difficult is elaborating the personalities and characters of the gods; gods, by definition, are supernatural beings with personalities and agency, or else they would be spirits or elementals. The most difficult part is constructing the actual religion: does it have priests? Monks? Prophets? Festivals? Temples? How does it mesh with everyday life? Are marriages religious rituals? Is there some sort of ritual for taking new children into the religion? Do the mortal characters pray? Do they offer sacrifices? And so on.

    And, besides the names and functions of the gods, their personalities and characters, and the actual religion, there is a fourth element you must work on: the mythology, that is, the stories which the mortals tell about the gods -- how God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, how He guided the Chosen People out of Egypt in the form a pillar of fire, etc.

  2. "A religion that idolizes and worships gods that can't do anything to effect [sic] the living realm".

    That's easy. I don't know what your religion is, but it probably is something. Even if you are not practicing, or an outright atheist, you most likely live in a culture where a specific religion is considered "native", and you of course know quite a lot about it. Just pick another real life religion as an example to base your work on.

    For example, from the point of view of a Christian, the Hindu religion "idolizes and worships gods that can't do anything to [a]ffect the living realm". Yet a billion people follow it.

    Or pick an ancient and long dead religion as a base. After all, we can be quite sure that Zeus and Hera and Athena and Hermes etc. can't do anything to affect the living realm -- they were not even able to protect their own religion from being eliminated in favor of a barbarian Middle Eastern God...

  3. "A religion that's feasible to the reader and makes some form of sense, but as the story progresses you notice a weird idolization (not cult-like but close in a sense) of the gods."

    This is a perfect description of the mainline Catholic and Orthodox variants of Christianity, from the point of view of mainline Protestant variant. Mainline Protestants, both Calvinists and Lutherans, are of the opinion¹ that Catholic and Orthodox practices are, first, borderline idolatrous, with our venerating icons, praying to the Mother of God and to the saints, and, second, full of ignorant supersition, with our insistence on the efficacity of magical words and rituals.

    ¹) As far as can tell; at least this was for sure historically true. I freely admit that I don't know if this is still the opinion of the modern mainline Protestant churches.

    And, of course, this is also a perfect description of Christianity as a whole from the point of view of Islam...

  4. "Clerics (religion-bound healers), claim to speak to the gods, though that's not true in the slightest".

    I hope you don't really mean that, because it would make your clerics dishonest confidence tricksters. What you probably meant is that the gods do not listen to the prayers of mortals. That's fine. We believe that God listens to our prayers, but how can we be sure? The Church tells us He does, but how could we be sure?

    You may want to read up on a philosophical and theological position called deism. Basically, God, or the gods, do exist and yes they created the world; but everything else, supposed revelations, credulous miracles, so-called prophecies, mysteries, rituals etc. are man-made illusions. Deism has a long a most respectable history, with a strong influence on key historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

  5. "An unwavering loyalty and justification of their actions from their followers".

    Some of the mortals will indeed have an unwavering loyalty to the gods. Most of the mortals will very rarely think of the gods, usually only when they find themselves in dire straits. And some of the mortals will have no loyalty whatsoever to the official gods; there are always free thinkers and atheists and heretics, or at least people whom the majority perceives are dangerous free thinkers and atheists and heretics.

    In our own history we had no shortage of bloody and ruinously expensive wars motivated primarily by "an unwavering loyalty" to God, starting with the Crusades in Middy Evil times, continuing with the Thirty Years' War at the dawn of the Modern Age, and still going on in our very enlightened days.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer doesn't at all deserve the downvotes it has. If I may make a criticism (despite previously receiving one perfectly correct one from you about the Formosan language very gracelessly): I think you have a couple of surprising gaps in your otherwise excellent historical knowledge about Protestantism. In particular, you seem to conflate Calvinism and puritanism with Protestantism. Most Lutherans and many Anglicans are not that different to Catholics, either in worship or structure, or even many aspects of theology, although they obviously assert sola fide. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ The iconoclastic / low church Protestants you're thinking of are the Calvinists and Baptists and the various non denominational evangelicals. In the same way Protestants who think the E.O's are just Catholics with beards should learn the difference, an appreciation of the Calvinist / other Protestant split makes for better understanding. There's two axes: Calvinist to non Calvinist, and conservative/evangelical to liberal/mainline. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ The rather squishy mainline Protestants really represent a third group that don't have any firm opinions on Catholicism (or on anything, really); the various conservative and especially conservative Calvinist denominations regard E.Odoxy and Catholicism more or less as you describe. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2022 at 7:22

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