Convincing Fictional Religion
Question: I really want to make fully fleshed-out religions for my people in my book world. I don't just want to take the default path of "this is the god of war, this is the king of the gods" and all that. I want to make full religions to the extent that people could really follow one. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS CREEPY, but I just can't stand doing anything in my work half-way. Like, I don't want to do what Tolkien did (though I know he did it on purpose) when he left certain elements of his fiction, like Tom Bombodil, without a real background or origin or really any information at all. Do you think you could give me some tips on how to create detailed and fully thought-out religions for my fictional people to follow? It's one of the few pieces of my world that I haven't finished and it's driving me mad. Thank you!Answer:
Human beings have been creating religions since they learned how to walk upright. My suggestion is that you look for one or two of these that you can use as models. The names of the gods don't matter, but the ideas, the values, the approach to solving the mysteries of life, the rituals, the mythologies, taboos, codes of conduct, etc. are what make the religion.
If you find a religion that embodies the values you want your characters to possess, you can change the external trappings, stories, names of deities, costumes, etc. but keep the parts that work for you - the core philosophy.
A couple of other points: The level of knowledge a people possess will affect their religion. For instance, many religions created in the 20th century incorporate a lot more scientific knowledge than those created thousands of years ago.
Also, many religions have an inner and an outer school. The inner school of scholars/priests will look at scripture as symbolic (because they can see the mistakes) while the outer school tend to take it literally.