Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Religion -- the Light, Part 2

The Theme of the Church of the Blinding Light is, well, something I haven't properly defined yet. What is the role of the Light in The City of Lives? Well, let's start with what it's not:
  • It's not the defining or central part of the world. While religious conflicts could support a City of Lives campaign, the setting is really about politics, class warfare, and high strangeness. The Light is not meant to act as the backdrop for heroic vanquishing of infidels.
  • Similarly, the Light is not meant to be a villainous organization, waging an oppressive inquisition. A powerful, corrupt evil church carries significant narrative weight, but it's not what I need in CoL, where all morality is drawn in shades of gray. There may be believers, corrupt priests, even organizations bent on destroying the worlds -- but they are small parts of the Church, no larger or more powerful than in real-world religions.
  • It's not something  to be laughed at. Many fictional churches are targets of satire, reflecting the author's dissatisfaction with real-world religion. The church worships clearly imaginary gods, or are hypocritical about their beliefs and practices, or is portrayed as blindly obedient. As tempting as it may be, City of Lives is not the place for me to preach via my own "perfect" religion, nor to mock people's beliefs and hide behind the label of fiction. The Church of the Blinding Light should reflect real-world religion, for both good and bad.
So that's what it isn't. What is the Church of the Blinding Light, thematically speaking?
  • It is the dominant religion of the City, binding together some Bloodlines that otherwise have nothing in common. So it can symbolize connection across otherwise disparate cultures.
  • It is a rigid faith, inflexible in the interpretation of its principles. Compared to the wild complexity of the City, and even wilder areas beyond, the Light represents both reassuring stability and stifling orthodoxy.
  • The Church provides an ethical framework for the City. While not everyone follows these ethics, they provide a foundation for their laws and societal constructs. Just as the USA, while not a Christian nation, has laws that reflect the values of its Christian founders, so will the City's laws be based on the beliefs of followers of the Light (areas of the City run by ancestor-worshiping Iversdotter gangs or money-worshiping bankers
So now that we know what the Church is and isn't, how can we look at it with a defining central metaphor? Part of me wants to just abandon it and say "it's just as complex as a real church." However, that's not terribly useful. The real world is far too complex to fit into fiction -- it must be simplified, distilled, and spun into its most dramatic form (heck, even documentaries have thematic statements and character arcs). Okay, so let's look at the defining symbol and theme of the religions that inspired the Light. And keep in mind, folks, I'm a game designer, not a theologian, so please forgive me if I get some stuff wrong.
  • Christianity's defining symbol is the cross, representing its central metaphor of Jesus's sacrifice. Its followers' goal is redemption through surrendering to God's will.
  • Judaism's defining symbol is the Star of David, and its central metaphor is the Covenant with God. Its followers' goal is a good life on earth, achieved by following God's Law.
  • One of Buddhism's defining symbols is the dharma wheel, representing its central conceit of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Its followers' goal is freedom from being through abandonment of the physical world and the self.
  • Modern Western civilization's symbol is, I dunno, the dollar(?), representing the fruits of industry. Its followers' goal is physical rewards and renown, achieved through hard work and/or talent.
So, the Light's symbol is probably a stylized sun -- perhaps one that touches a ray of light out to a tiny human form? After all, the Sons of Light are considered to be their deity's Chosen People, meant to rule the City. This is certainly reminiscent of the Judaic Covenant. But the goal of the Sons of Light is not a good and simple life, but secular power. This is the covenant they made, and their goal -- to glorify the Light by ruling well. For other followers of the Light (Leovites, Kipmen, etc.), they must support and glorify the Sons of Light, and thus gain the reward due to dutiful servants.
  • The Church of the Blinding Light's symbol is the sun, which represents their covenant with the Light. Their goal is to gain spiritual and material fulfillment by supporting the Sons of Light and/or ruling the City well.
So the Theme, we have discovered, is spiritual and secular power joining together. And this leads us directly to the new concept of the Twist: a religion (or monster, or district, or whatever) created with the method of (A)rchetype, (R)eal-life inspiration, (T)heme could end up as a virtual copy of an existing religion. In fact, the Church of the Blinding Light has come perilously close to being a copy of Christianity and Judaism. So we "twist" it, changing something fundamental around that makes the concept unique. For the Light, it is this:
  • Ambition is a virtue -- this is a notion borrowed not from any religion, but from modern secular American culture.
and, a few more twists:
  • There is no separation of church and state, but nor is worship of the Light mandatory. Church leaders are encouraged, even expected, to hold important secular positions.
  • Asceticism is seen as a sin. It is denying the wonderful world that the Light has provided -- but avarice is also punishable. The middle path, as in Buddhism, is encouraged.
  • The supernatural is not seen to be related to religion in any way, either positively or negatively.
So there you have it. Some more fundamentals on the Church of the Blinding Light. Of course, I could go in further -- take a look at the specific laws or beliefs the Church is founded on... but I doubt that much more than this will be useful for a prospective GM, nor is it a good use of our time when we have so much yet to cover. So next time, we'll continue on our fictional religion kick, with the beliefs of the Rurals and Religion -- The Seeding Manual.