When Religions Meet

Even in the real world, no religion operates in a vacuum. And this goes double in the often polytheistic worlds of today’s fantasy. So what happens when two religions meet?

They might just fight. There are a lot of reasons to fight in general—land, resources and authority can be reason enough, but then when the scriptures get involved, so might the weapons. A fight over religion is particularly likely if one side’s faith has one of the following features: a tendency to convert people with steel as well as words, evidence in Holy Writ that those they are running into are in some way antithetical to their religion, or a general inability to tolerate followers of other gods.

They might coexist. How that plays out depends in large part on the tolerance build into the scriptures—you’re going to have a lot more luck keeping the adherents of two faiths from sniping at each other if they see the adherents of other religions as “Like us, but different” than as being wrong, inferior, or anything of the sort. Coexistence might not necessarily mean peace, and there are likely to be small cultural exchanges—either stealing each other’s holidays or improving their own, for instance. The less they agree on coexisting, the more likely there are to be little clashes; while they may not be overt for fear of destabilizing the area, there might still be a lot of proselytizing, regular impassioned debates in public forums, and the occasional hothead trying to start a crusade. Isn’t conflict interesting?

And then there are the ones who hit it off from the start, for any of a number of reasons. Maybe the gods made their will known, and their will was “Get along” (or at least, the heads of both sides think that’s what happened). Perhaps the gods in question just sound like they’d get along, or there’s a way in which their scriptures mesh. It could just be that a lot of the people get along, and there are far too many reasons not to engage in sectarian rivalry or all-out conflict. But whatever happened, there is accord, and the religions are moving closer together, possibly even merging. This is when the religious scholars get inventive, you see. Someone may find an interpretation of one of the old stories that strongly implies that one god is an aspect of another, that God A joined Pantheon B for Reason C, that the two gods are truly the same and it’s just a linguistic difference, that Z and Q are not the same god but have found union with each other even as their people…. You get the idea, I’m sure. It might even result in complete hybridization, until after a while it’s hard to tell that the faiths were ever separate.

And don’t forget that no religion is a monolithic entity. Just because the majority of one group decides that their gods are long-lost brothers doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fringe group getting ready to spark a holy war, or vice versa.

Sure, one doesn’t have to leave it to the people. The gods could meet, hash it out and issue instructions, or all out manifest in front of both sides to make their will as regards the two groups known. Yes, it could be resolved by divine intervention. But where’s the fun in that? There are far more stories in an uninterrupted clash of cultures.

(Again for RPG Blog Carnival)

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