Fiction and the Unity of God


I have noticed that most stories set in fictional worlds do not include any concept of religion. This isn't that surprising, of course: few authors worry about taxes either. The part that interested me was the religions that are present.

Religion is rare in science fiction, and when it does show up, authors tend to use existing religions (normally Christianity) more-or-less intact. Admittedly, the depictions are often inaccurate, but I suspect this has more to do with author ignorance than deliberate intent. There are exceptions to this (e.g. the Freman religion in Dune appears to be Islam after thousands of years without Mecca), but they are uncommon.

Religions in fantasy divide pretty neatly into monotheistic, dualistic, and polytheistic. The polytheistic ones are generally played pretty straight, although they tend to be more internally consistent than real-world ones.

Dualistic religions always take the form of a good god vs. an evil god, although there may be lip service paid to the idea that the evil god is lesser. This sort of religion is less common, but is represents disproportionately in what I judge to be the best fantasy.

The case that interests me, however, is the monotheistic religions. These always seem to have the same fundamental flaw: The single god they honor (or, more likely, occasionally mention) is too like a small-g god, and too unlike a big-G God. The god in question is somehow small and human. He (there's an It in Ed Willet's novel Marseguro, but I can't think of any Shes) resides in time, even if it is a somehow time. He makes mistakes, although they tend to be subtle. Above all, He thinks far too much like a person.

On some level, all monotheistic religions must speak of the same God, although their understanding of said God differs widely (and irreconcilably). Philosophers have sort of named Him TTWNGCBC, and, by His very nature, there can be only one. Not "only one in our reality", but "only one at all". Any fictional God (such as Eru Ilúvatar in Middle-Earth) is either the same God mentioned in our world, or a lesser being. "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me" (Isaiah 45:5). For the same reasons, proof that our universe was created from another could not be relevant to the existence of this God.

There is no theoretical reason why TTWNGCBC had to create the universe directly (He is not even required to be involved indirectly). Instead (as in e.g. Haitian Voodoo), the universe as we know it could have been created by His earlier creations (to any number of steps including infinite). I think that is what happens in fiction (assuming there is a God). The author (who is a creation himself) creates a world of his own. He may fill it with as many gods as he wishes, but a true God is beyond his power to create.

This is kind of disorganized (in structure and thought), but it is late and I want to sleep.

Back to essays page
Back to home page