On Religion and Spirituality in the Mendaihu Universe

One of my biggest worries when it comes to the Mendaihu Universe novels, to be honest, is that it would be taken as a ‘religious’ novel, or that it would be mistaken for a soapbox for my own ideas on spirituality.  Granted, the novels have a heavy amount of spirituality, belief and faith involved in the world building, so it might happen yet.

Thankfully my worries have been misplaced so far.

The whole idea of using spirituality in the MU is not to preach or to proselytize, but to imagine a reality in which a belief system, its tenets, miracles, and everything else is not only real, but a natural part of society.  Like the use of spiritual chakra energy as a source of power and strength in anime like Dragonball Z or Naruto, the enlightened people of the MU use their spirit energy for many useful things: innerspeak (clairaudience), physical sensing (clairsentience), reality seeing (claircognizance), and so on.  More to the point, these abilities are part and parcel of Meraladian life — innerspeak is the ‘silent half’ of the Anjshé language, where the intent is projected psychically while the words are spoken, for instance.  All these abilities are from ‘within’ — that is, their souls.  It’s a part of their life organically as well as spiritually.

That’s not to say that I’m ignoring zealotry and bigotry, of course.  There are characters from ADoS forward who use cultural bigotry, even if their reasoning for it is an innocent (to them) ‘you wouldn’t understand’.   The new as-yet-unnamed MU novel reveals a new generation of believers of the One of All Sacred who think of themselves as a special enlightened class personally chosen by their deity — something Denni Johnson would have been horrified to see.  There are those who are committed to their version of their belief, regardless as to whether it conforms to reality.

 

I will admit that the terrorism that we’ve witnessed in the past twenty years or so (including the past few days) has been a bit of an influence in this universe as well.  The Mendaihu and Shenaihu both contain extremists in their ranks (the kiralla and the nuhm’ndah, respectively), and both have their physical embodiments of such extremism.  But as with everything in this universe, nothing is ever black and white, good and evil, and the MU is no different.  There are gray areas, where the best of intentions lead to bad conclusions, and vice versa.  This is precisely why the Bridgetown Trilogy is not about good triumphing over evil, but about doing the right thing, despite overwhelming outside influence.  And this is also why I chose to paint both sides as fallible.  Both sides have had blood on their hands at some point in their histories.  Neither is without sin.

I’ll also admit I’ve been thinking about this since Friday, after the events that took place in Paris.  Understandably I was shocked by the terrorism that unfolded, but I was also equally as shocked by the white noise that followed in social media — the blaming of an entire religion (or all religion, for that matter), the puerile political taunting, the ‘how can you feel bad when [x] is happening elsewhere’ shaming, and the reactive surface emotions of revenge and vilification.  That white noise, thankfully, has receded somewhat over the weekend.  As they say, cooler heads prevail.  I also saw a beautiful outpouring of compassion and love coming from the same channels, and those are the voices that have remained as the others have begun to die away.

And this, by far, was the hardest part of writing the Bridgetown Trilogy:  trying to make the events of the novels a global spiritual and religious event, and not something that only the main characters are feeling.  I felt that it needed much more than just the population reacting like they were in a Michael Bay film, running away from explosions in glorious slo-mo.  I wanted a more realistic reaction:  This is really happening.  I’m angry/sad/terrified, but I’m not helpless.  I will either stay and fight (accept the personal awakening) or take flight and protect those I love (refuse a personal awakening).  The trick was to passively show these nameless background people reacting, even if it was in just a sentence or two.  The reader sees this three times in the first few chapters of ADoS:  via clairaudience when Nehalé performs the Awakening ritual and senses everyone’s reaction; offscreen, with Nick and Sheila mentioning the number of witnesses they’ve spoken with just after the ritual; and onscreen, when Poe passes a car on the highway on the way to the Crest and notices how eager its occupants are to get out of town.  I pepper these throughout the three books; just a mention or two to remind the reader that the rest of the world is out there, and they’ve been affected as well.

As a writer of fiction, I’m not going to claim my way is the best way to see reality, nor am I trying to push a message.  I’m merely telling a story and unfolding it the best and truest way I know how.  I can only hope that what the reader gets out of it is entertainment, and maybe something to think about as well.

Writing Religion in Genre

Religion can be a very tricky thing to write about in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It has to be done reasonably well and for good reason.  It also has to have at most a strong backbone for which to base part (or all) of the plot or a character’s makeup.  The writer should not want to overtly use the religion’s place in the story as a soapbox, either, because readers will pick up on that right away.  Nor do you want to pick and choose the ideas of well-known established religions and use them without understanding at least some of its already-established rules and tenets.

In creating the ‘spirituality’ of the Mendaihu Universe — I call it such because it’s not so much an established religion as it is a spiritual state of being — I had to create a belief system that had to follow specific rules.  The First Rule, as it were, was balance.  I had to work within the confines of a yin-yang system, where the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu were not so much mortal enemies as they were parts of a whole.  When one takes action, the other one must respond in kind.  This alone propels the action in A Division of Souls and drives the plot of all three books in the trilogy; when Nehalé Usarai performs the Awakening ritual in the first chapter, the Shenaihu must respond, and do so fivefold.  This will set off even more responding actions from the Mendaihu again, and so on.

This is often where the savior comes in; the character whose life is lived outside of this cycle, who must put a stop to it before both sides utterly destroy each other.  In the trilogy, this is the One of All Sacred.  He or she is not exactly an established deity (in the Mendaihu Universe, that is the Goddess of All That Is), but an outside player of a religious stature who is tasked with returning everything back into a peaceful balance.   The savior often has a somewhat clearer mind than many of the other characters; they’re not wound up in some kind of emotional tailspin or blinded by distraction.  [This can often be their own distraction — their distance from the situation sometimes causes them not to fully understand it.]  The savior’s own story arc is thus not only to Make Things Right Again, but to spiritually ascend in their own way.

What kind of religions have you seen in genre fiction that fascinate you?  If you’ve created your own, how have you worked out the rules?