As I sit here contemplating the weekly Bible study I attend with my wife, I can’t help but think the role that religion plays in my writing. I don’t intentionally write about religion, either the institution or the activity, but it always seems to be there somewhere. Religion in some fashion has been an interest of mine since I was very young.
It seems like I’ve been through them all at one time or another. There was Roman Catholicism, including a two year sentence in parochial school. Then there was a bout with occultism (very popular in the late 60’s/early 70’s) and Orientalism (Taoism was cool until the television series ‘Kung Fu’ was cancelled). Then came years of agnosticism, until I came to be where I am today, a confirmed Lutheran.
With that being said, I need to add that while I have the assurance of my faith, it does not preclude me from questioning everything. But the desire to question everything should not be confused with my natural cynicism.
Questioning everything comes from twenty years as an Air Force intelligence analyst and demands that I try to see everything through the filter of cultural and historical context, rather than just blindly accepting what I am told.
My natural cynicism is embodied in my tendency to distrust people, institutions, and their motives. Sure people do good things, but there is always an ulterior motive.
Actually the tendency to question everything and natural cynicism complement each other. Together they make me wonder why people do what they do and compel me to try and determine their motivations. This is especially important for a writer influenced by religion.
Religion is an activity whose greatest potential is salvation, but whose propensity is for exploitation. It is that propensity rather than the potential that makes religion such a fertile field for inspired writing. Think about the various types ― the exploitative preacher, the evil wizard, the pedophile priest, the draconian evangelist ― and there are so many, many more.
Please don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I am irreligious or anti-religious, but religion because it is so often binary ― right or wrong, no gray ― its doctrines invite conflict and conflict is what makes good fiction interesting.
So what do you think? Wasn’t it Karl Marx who said that religion is the opiate of the masses? Far be it from me to agree with Marx, but from a writing perspective he does have a point. Religion, especially when it is effectively exploitive, creates the opportunity for self or even mass delusion. That is, to believe in something so entirely that all else is secondary, even life. Unfortunately real life provides many examples of how religion has been manipulated to destroy the very things it is assumed to protect and cherish. Cults, I’m sure you know the kind, are a great example. They’re fine until someone starts mixing the Kool-Aid.
Do you have good examples where religion has been used effectively as an element in your writing?
If you’d like to share an example or have a comment about this or any of my posts, click the Leave a comment link. I’d really like to hear from you. Thanks.