Religion and the Individual

An excellent way to introduce diversity of character types into a religion is to consider what they’re doing there. They’re not all coming for the same reason, after all—and while not all reasons are created equal, most of them can at least do something for your story.

Of course, there are the truly devout; aren’t there always? Their faith and dedication are strong, their knowledge sure—you couldn’t keep them from showing up or doing their parts for anything. If the god they follow is an active sort (and sometimes even if not!), they might have some sort of divine power, or at least something they consider to be divine power—but not always, and the ones who don’t have such power will probably still see their god’s work in the world around them. (In my opinion, the ones without it are more interesting.)

Some people are questioning. If the god is pretty inactive, “does he exist?” is a common question. If he’s more active, the question might be more along the lines of “Would something that enormous really have an interest in me?” or “Does he really do what they all say he does?” Or it might be a question about the world, or about human nature, or magic, or much of anything. Either way, they’ve got something they want to know, and they’re pretty sure the answer lies within the religion. Whether it actually does is another matter.

Others might be there for the group feeling. For some religions, this comes from post-ceremonial socializing and munching. In others, it’s tasks that everyone gets together on that fit with the overall goals of the church/unit/insert collective noun here. It’s helped by the fact that everyone has the religion in common, one way or another, and is further enhanced by use of religion-as-family rhetoric and behavior.

There’s also the connection angle: people who, despite possibly having other feelings on the matter, go to (if not through) the ceremonies or participate in the individual prayers because that’s what their family/spouse/friend/mentor/hero does. These people raise a lot of interesting questions—why are they following their [insert noun] here? Why wouldn’t they be, and why does this reason not keep them away? What would they rather be doing, and why aren’t they doing it?

Then there are the ones who are there to do something for their images. In politics, this is usually an attempt to appear devout and admirable, though it can often be an attempt to separate oneself from the convenient scapegoat or common enemy of the week. For rebellious younger children, it’s often portrayed as getting into something as far from the parents’ wishes as possible. An outsider may show up to services in order to integrate herself with and ingratiate herself to the community. Of course, we don’t all have to stick to the obvious ones, now, do we?

What about coming in to study the religion? There are a lot of things people can learn from being present that just talking to people or reading books isn’t going to tell them. Of course, they won’t tell anyone that’s what they’re doing.

There are others; these are the most obvious. What do you think? Workable?

(This post, yet again, for RPG Blog Carnival.)

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