|The Sacred Heart of Christ. Art By: Odilon Redon|
Author's Note: I truly love religion, it is the ultimate expression of humanity's need to understand the universe on its most intrinsic level. I will occasionally reference real world religions, both active and inactive, in terms of mythology. I am using the term 'mythology' not as a way of discrediting the truth of the religion or the truth it sought to explain, rather the term is used refer to set of religious explanations and beliefs. To further underscore my intention behind my use of 'mythology', I will leave you with this quote:
After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode... - J.R.R. Tolkien
Random Theology Generator – Part 1: Metaphysics
This is the first of a two part theology generator that will allow a player/GM/writer to create a religion with a semi-detailed theology. The first part covers the metaphysical beliefs of a religion: godly origins, origins of the world, origins of intelligent life, form of the deity, the nature of the soul, the nature of 'sin', forgiveness for 'sins', divine rewards, and divine punishments. With this generator, you can construct the foundations of belief for any religion you may wish to create.
|Buddha walking among the flowers. Art By: Odilon Redon|
God Mode – Off
You may wish to construct a religion that does not recognize the existence of gods/goddesses, or one that does not recognize an objective mandate for the authority of divine beings. To create such a religion, the player/GM/writer must make specific choices in certain categories of the generator rather than rolling for a random result. The guide to creating an atheistic religion is as follows:
I Am The Great 'I AM' ...: None
In The Beginning ...: Dependent Origination (if the religion doesn't recognize the existence of deities or does not believe that the universe was divinely formed)
Thus, You Were Not, But Now Are...: Devolution From Greater Form OR Natural Origination (For religions that do not recognize divine origins for intelligent life)
Oh Master, What Am I?: Nothing/Inconsequential
Look Upon Me in Awe...: None
How Hath I Offended Thee?: Any but option 1.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses...: Any but option 3 (Though 'Authority' could be defined as mundane/Earthly authority, in which case, any option would work).
I've Got Soul, But I'm Not a Soldier...: Any but option 5.
A Good Life Lived...: Any but option 5, possibly 1 and 2 as well (Paradise could be the end result of a universal metaphysical mechanism, however, the existence of Paradise could push the bounds of credibility for an atheistic theology. It is up to the player/GM/writer as to how credible a Paradise would be without a creator).
After a Wicked Life...: Possible exclusion of options 1 and 2 (Hell/Perdition could be the end result of a universal metaphysical mechanism, however, the existence of Hell/Perdition could push the bounds of credibility for an atheistic theology. It is up to the player/GM/writer as to how credible a Hell/Perdition would be without a creator).
|The Birth of Venus. Art By: Odilon Redon|
I Am The Great 'I AM'...
Depending on the philosophical outlook of the society that the religion resides in, the question of a deity's origin may or may not arise. If it does arise, different cultures may place differing levels of emphasis on such origins. In the realm of eastern versus western philosophy, it is the west that has examined the concepts of divine origins in the closest manner. This is not to say that the east has neglected such examinations, however, it has different priorities, in general, than the west in the field of Ontology.
- Eternal Existence
- Child of Another Deity
- Causa Sui
Eternal Existence: The deity has always existed, and will always exist, without regard to causality. This differs from Causa Sui (self-creation/cause), in that it places the deity above cause, even causes that originate from itself. Having an eternal existence also places the deity outside of the flow/effects of time. While eternal/eternity have the common connotation of meaning a very long time, the classic meaning is a state of being outside of time so that all points are equal in “distance” from the “point” that the deity occupies. This type of origin best fits a supreme and unknowable type deity.
Apotheosis: The deity was mortal, or in some way less than they are now, and ascended into a higher form of being. (One of my own characters have ascended in such a manner at the end of one campaign. It was awesome...). This type of origin best fits a deity that can be easily understood and related to by mortals.
Child/Creation of Another Deity: The deity is progeny of another god or gods. These divine beings can spring from a single parent in the case of Athena from Zeus, or come from a coupling such a Ganesha from Shiva and Parvati (this being the most common, but not the only explanation of Ganesha's parentage). This origin best fits just about any type of intermediate deity or a deity with a limited purview but still powerful and mysterious.
Causa Sui: The deity created themselves, having no other cause outside of that. This differs from an eternal existence in two ways: firstly, the deity is still subject to time and that they are still subject to causality, even if it is only their own actions that they are subject to. This type of origin best fits a creator deity that can be effected by the actions of other agents while still being the most powerful being in the universe.
|The Mayan god of creation: Viracocha|
In the Beginning...
The origins of the universe can be as important to religions as it is to the fields of physics and quantum mechanics. Often, creation narratives have other meanings couched within them that reinforce the values of the religion. To a religion, the 'why' of creation is just as important, and perhaps more important, as the 'how'.
- Ex Nihilo
- From Chaos
- Divine Birth
- From Death or Dismemberment
- Dependent Origination
- Earth Diver
Ex Nihilo: Latin, meaning: from nothing. In this, the universe was created from nothing at all, having no secondary causes provided by 'raw materials'. This form of creation is the pinnacle of 'power', since it springs purely from a will with literally nothing else being needed outside of the creator. This form of creation best fits a supreme-being type deity.
From Chaos: In this form of creation, the creator is a force of order or an artist. Before the creator there was only chaos, meaning that the 'universe' was in a state that nothing could truly arise from it. Plato referred to this being as the Demiurge, gnostic Christianity also uses this term for the being that came and ordered the universe after the unknowable Creator made it. This form of creation best fits an craftsman or artist type deity.
Emergence: This is not necessarily a form of creation, but a means of explanation that entirely inhabits the point of view of a people or religion. In this explanation, the people of the religion emerged from a secure world/area into the current, and more harsh, world they inhabit now. While the Emergence narrative is common in Native American mythology, it also is present in the creation myths of the Abrahamic religions with Adam/Adem and Eve/Hawwah/Hawa being cast out of Eden into the current world. This type of narrative best fits a religion/culture that is not overly concerned with subjects that are beyond their control.
Pantheism: This is not necessarily a form of creation, but rather a state of being for the universe. In Pantheism, the universe is the physical form of an ultimate deity with everything and everyone within the universe being a part of that being. In this, the self/individuality is an illusion, with everyone and everything being unified completely on the metaphysical level. There can be other gods, but even they are just parts of the greater whole. This type of universe can be used to explain phenomena like magic, by stating that the caster has truly realized they are part of the universe and use that realization to control it. It is recommended that the prime/universal deity to have a Causa Sui or Eternal Existence origins. This type of universe works best for narratives that involve an ultimate form of Enlightenment.
Divine Birth: In this form of creation, the universe is the child of a supreme parent(s) deity(s). Depending on the religion, the universe is the result of a coupling or the birthed creation (in this case it is usually a mother type deity). This form of creation works best for narratives that involve either a highly involved supreme being or a universe that has two evenly matched opposing forces/deities (e.g. light/dark, good/evil, life/death, creation/destruction, etc...).
From Death or Dismemberment: This form of creation can bear similarities to Pantheism and Divine Birth, though the differences lie within the intention of creation or the consequences of creation. In From Death the universe is the dead body of a deity, which bears a similarity to Pantheism, however, in Pantheism the supreme deity is imminent and constantly involved in the actions of the universe. By being a dead body, the universe's creation was either an act of self-sacrifice (hope) or creation is the result of divine decomposition (pessimism). In Dismemberment, creation resulted from the reduction of a deity, either self-inflicted or an act of violence. Once again we are presented with either an act of hope (self-sacrifice) or pessimism (violence). This form of creation works best with narratives that focus perseverance through adversity, or narratives that focus on deriving meaning from dark/hopeless situations.
Dependent Origination: This is more of an origin, rather than a form of creation. In Dependent Origination the universe is result of natural/mundane/non-divine, though still powerful, events. Here, the universe came about through a mechanistic set of events, without intention. The 'how' of the creation can be anything, but in the end it didn't involve the actions of beings. This form of universal origin works best for games where there are no deities or deities that are limited in power.
Earth Diver: In this form of world creation, the creator deity or their agent dives into an abyss (be it an endless ocean or a void) and brings back dry land for beings to live on. This type of creation works best for narratives that underscore the limits of beings, both deities and mortals, while maintaining a level of mystery. Earth Diver creation/origin still leaves open the possibility of other more powerful beings without having to reference such beings in the narrative.
|The first humans, Ask and Embla. - Norse Creation Myth. Art By: Lorenz Frolich|
Thus, You Were Not, But Now Are...
From Darwin to Aquinas, the origin of sentient species has been a topic of interest for scientists and philosophers alike. The possible answers to these queries are as varied as the questioners themselves.
- Devolution From Greater Form
- Divinely Formed
- Natural Origination
- Have Always Existed
Devolution from a Greater Form: In this form of origination, sentient beings, and possibly all living creatures, are the devolved form of other beings who possessed a level of existence/ability that was superior to their current form. This type of origin works best for a narrative that involves a journey toward earlier glories.
Divinely Formed: In this form of origination, sentient beings, and possibly all living creatures, are the direct creations of a divine being. While the creator may imbue aspects of itself in the created beings, the beings can be completely different from their creator. If there is a difference, usually but not always, the created have a more utilitarian purpose rather than being the beloved 'children' of the creator. This type of origin works best for a narrative that involves the question of independence over loyalty.
Natural Origination: In this form of origination, a group of, or all, creatures are the result of natural processes. Natural can mean anything from evolution to the changing force of naturally occurring magic, rather than any willful action. This type of origin works best for a narrative that does not involve divine beings or one that wishes to reduce the importance of deities.
Have Always Existed: This is less of a form of origination than a way of skirting the issue. Sentient beings have always existed, be it a single race or a succession of races. Using this explanation allows for a universe that is layered with the detritus of previous races going back into an infinite regression. This explanation works best for a type of narrative that wishes to avoid the question of creation and origin.
|Our purpose on this Earth is not to beat each other with livestock...|
Oh Master, What Am I?
Though we may understand what we are as far as our physicality, religions across time and the world have concerned themselves with our relationship to the divine. While each answer to the question of relationship is as unique as the religion being asked, the answers can be broken down into six highly general categories.
- Beloved Children
- Beloved Subjects/Citizens
- Beloved Servants/Slaves
- Nothing / Inconsequential
Beloved Children: In this type of relationship sentient beings are the children of one or more deities. These sentient being may be adopted by the divine being, having no direct lineage to the deity but being treated as such, or they may contain a spark of the divine due to their direct familial link with the deity or deities in question. One possibility for a direct parentage between the deity(s) and sentient beings is the deity(s) sire/birth/craft the soul of the individual, while their earthly parents are responsible for their physical form. This type of relationship works best for narratives that seek to have a very close relationship between sentient beings and the deities of the world.
Beloved Subjects/Citizens: In this type of relationship the sentient beings are to the deity as a subject/citizen is to their king/queen. There exists a gulf between the deity(s) and the sentient beings which means their relationship based more along the lines of loyalty/justice. The deity(s) will form pacts/covenants/contracts/agreements with their people which the deity(s) will uphold to the best of their ability. A breech of these agreements can have dire consequences for the people, these consequences involving punishments that would not occur if they were considered part of the deity(s) family. The god(s)/goddess(es) show their love for the beings by continuing to make agreements with their chosen people, though this does not mean there are not punishments beforehand. This type of relationship works best for a narrative that involves stern or distant gods.
Beloved Servants/Slaves: In this type of relationship the gulf between the deity and their sentient beings is widened even further from the previous two types. In this type of relationship the deity makes no promises or agreements with the sentient beings, the beings being completely under the control of the deity(s). The divine being(s) is under no requirement to do anything for the beings, but only does so out of their own magnanimous nature. With this relationship the penalty for angering the deity(s) can be quite extreme, ending with the possible destruction of an entire race (though this is unlikely due to their beloved status). This type of relationship works best for narratives that involve sentient beings being under the complete power of gods/goddesses (for good or ill), with little recourse against said beings.
Servants: In this type of relationship the value of sentient beings is purely based upon the utility they serve, be it worship to feed the deity or soldiers in some kind of holy war. As long as the beings fulfill their purpose, the deity(s) will provide for the people. Once their purpose is fulfilled, or if they no longer are fulfilling their duties, the beings are abandoned (at best) or destroyed (at worst). This type of relationship works best for narratives involving the oppression of people by higher powers.
Subjects/Citizens: This type of relationship is similar both to its 'beloved' version and to the Subject/Slave option. In this relationship the deity has a less utilitarian use for sentient beings, or the use does not have an end. The deity(s) is far less likely to destroy or irrevocably hurt the beings, but as brutal and cruel a government/monarch can be to their people so can the deity(s). This relationship means there is no love for the individual, or for even the people themselves, rather they are merely part of a large thing/concept the deity values. This type of relationship works best for a narrative that focuses on oppression without the direct possibility of genocide or ultimate destruction.
Children: This type of relationship can be the most dangerous and unstable out of all the other types. Instead of a loving parent, the sentient beings have a parent that can vary wildly in the tone of interactions with their children. As before, in the 'beloved' version, the people may be the direct children of the deity(s) or their adopted children. The deity may be suffocating and overbearing for one moment (or age), and completely distant or abusive for another moment (age). In this type of relationship, sentient beings can be in the most danger as their deity(s) are invested in 'their' children, and that investment can bring rise to genocidal rage. This type of relationship works best for a narrative that involves capricious divine beings.
Amusement: In this type of relationship there is no loyalty, love, or even use for sentient beings, they are only there for the amusement of the god(s). With this type of relationship there is no discernible reason for punishments and rewards, and often there can be rewards for very evil acts that the deity(s) find amusing. There is no justice when it comes to the gods, and no real way of trusting them at all. This type of relationship works best for narratives that involve a world in complete social, if not physical, chaos.
Nothing/Inconsequential: This type of relationship can offer the most stability for sentient beings, or sudden and violent endings for them. The deity(s) either don't exist, or simply don't notice/care at all about them. In this relationship sentient beings can go lifetimes without ever seeing/hearing-of divine action in their world. However, when such action does occur it almost always means a great deal of turmoil/destruction without any discernible reason. This type of relationship works best for narratives that involve no deity(s) what-so-ever, or deity(s) that are distant/alien.
|Ganesha - Deva of Intellect and Wisdom|
Look Upon Me in Awe...
How a deity presents themselves to people is an integral part of a religion's metaphysics as well as relationship inherent to it. How a deity presents themselves will often indicate their attitude to physical existence as well as their attitude towards mortals in general.
- Form of the People
- Form of the Winds and Fire
- Form of the Mountains and Forests
- Form of the Alien and Ineffable
- Form of the Animal
- Form of Nothing and Whispers
Form of the People: In this type of divine presentation, the deity takes on the form of the people who worship them. The form may be a complete union with a mortal, being both divine and mortal at the same time, or be a guise they use to interact with their chosen race. Whatever the case may be, this type of presentation suggests a respect/love/kinship with a particular race. This type of physical presentation works best for a narrative that wishes to have a close relationship between the divine and mortals.
Form of the Winds and Fire: Here, the deity takes on the form of storms, earthquakes, pillars of fire, tornadoes, or any other type of (semi) natural phenomena. These phenomena might not actually be the deity's physical form, rather they herald the deity's presence in an area; in this case choose (or roll) another form. This type of physical presentation works best for narratives that wish to focus on nature or gods/goddesses that boarder on the unknowable.
Form of the Mountains and Forests: In this, the god(s) take the form of natural features of the land/world. Usually, but not always, these forms are limited in scope, such as 'that mountain' or 'this forest'. However, it is possible for a deity to taken on the form of an ocean, the entire sky, or even the world itself. Whatever the form may be, it is not merely an avatar, rather the form is the deity in question. This type of physicality works best for narratives that wishes to focus on nature as being a source of divinity.
Form of the Alien and Ineffable: In this type of divine formation the deity's physical form is truly bizarre, lacking any natural precedent or similarity. These forms might possess a beauty beyond description, or be so awful that to gaze upon them is to be driven insane. Whatever the case may be, these forms can only be described in the most general of terms. This type of divine form works best for narratives that wish to focus on the unknowable mystery that the gods/goddesses present to the world.
Form of the Animal: Here, the deity takes the form of an animal, be they magical/mythical or natural. If the deity takes the form of a natural animal, these forms tend to be much larger than their mundane cousins and usually possess fantastical features (luminous fur, 'human' eyes, majestic/infernal wings, etc...). Deities that take on animal forms tend to be guardians of a particular natural environment, or have some aspect of nature as their purview. This type of divine form works best for narratives that wish to focus on the 'otherness' of gods/goddesses or ones that wish to focus on the divine aspects of nature.
Form of Nothing and Whispers: Here, the deity has no true form, or the deity's form has never been seen by mortal eyes. These deities usually work through secondary parties, such as mortal prophets or angelic servants. If the deity does take direct action in the world, their actions occur as part of natural or miraculous events with no apparent actor. This type of divine physicality works best for a narrative that wishes to focus on the actions of mortals or on truly mysterious deities.
|The murder of Abel by Cain. Art By: Odilon Redon|
How Hath I Offended Thee?
In any relationship, there are rules (spoken or unspoken) which exist. The basis of these rules can be upon mutual agreement or unspoken societal norms that exist across a culture. In the case of divine relationships, these rules are often the basis for entire section(s) of holy texts. The rules can be as simple as banning certain destructive behavior (like murder or rape) or as complex as requiring certain rituals at certain times. The consequences of which can be as varied as the deity(s) in question.
- Acts against the will/law of a deity
- Acts driven by undesirable/evil urges/intentions
- Acts that bring about undesirable consequences
- Acts against natural laws
Divine Will/Law: With these types of relational rules, the deity has proscribed a set of laws/rules that sentient beings must follow. These rules/laws can be along the same lines as natural laws (no murder, rape, or theft) or they can be much more involved (requiring certain types of diets or ritualistic behavior). The deity often does not give reasons for such laws/rules, but this is not always the case. In the case of rules base upon natural laws, intentionality is key (it is not murder if you kill someone in self defense). In the case of much more involved requirements, intentionality plays less of a role rather than the consequences of actions/inaction. This type of relational setup works best for narratives that have strict rules, and consequences, for behavior and action.
Undesirable/ Evil Urges/Intentions: This type of relational setup is far more nuanced, with few rules/laws. The rules/laws are more concerned with types of motivation that are considered desirable of unwanted. Usually, but not always, this type of relational setup bans urges/desires based upon self-aggrandizement or actions/inaction based upon personal-enrichment/empowerment. There is a degree of nuance when it comes to urges/desires involving only the self. It is usually acceptable to do something with the sole intention of staying healthy/safe/full, but it may not be acceptable to do something with the sole intention of gaining overt/unnecessary luxury. Whatever the case may be, a seemingly good act (such as feeding the poor), can be actually evil/wrong if the intention was unacceptable (such as feeding the poor so that one increases their own fame). This type of relational setup works best for narratives that are just as concerned about the intentions behind an action as the action itself.
Undesirable Consequences: This form of relational rule/law is nuanced and usually involves few rules/laws. Here, it is not the action that has any value, rather it is the consequence that has any value (the ends always justifies the means). In this, it would be a good act to murder 2 billion people if it results in saving 2 billion and 1 people. The consequence of such a setup means that intentionality has no meaning, and if the consequences for an action are undesirable then the act was evil no matter the good that was intended. Care must be taken with this type of setup, since things like rape/murder/genocide/abuse will end up being considered good if the consequence for such actions are desirable. This type of setup works best for narratives that often involve tough decisions or situations where there is no perfect answer.
Natural Law: This form of relational rule/law involves following an engrained set of laws/rules that exist within a society or reality itself. The consequences for breaking or following the law can involve mundane events (such as action by a society or government), or can involve more metaphysical events (such as karma or wu-wei). In either case, there is no authoritative action taken by divine entities, though they may react in their own way (though without any mandate for doing so). This type of setup works best for narratives that do not have gods/goddesses or ones that deny an objective authority of the gods.
|The Penitent. Art By: Albrecht Durer|
Forgive Us Our Trespasses...
Just as important as rules are to a relationship, are ways of gaining forgiveness for certain actions. In certain cases, an action may very well be unforgivable or require a great degree of action in order to gain forgiveness. Whatever the case may be, different religions have different answers to the question of forgiveness.
- Atoning to Victim
- Atoning to Authority
- Atonement is Impossible
Economy: This is more of a mechanism of morality than it is strictly a means for forgiveness, though forgiveness is taken into account. With economy, each action/motivation/consequence has a particular value be it positive, neutral, or negative. Some economies might assign a null value to some actions (using an umbrella while it is raining, or choosing to read 'Perdido Street Station' rather than 'In Viriconium). Other economies might assign positive or negative values to all actions by extrapolating on possible effects/consequences (it is good to use an umbrella since getting wet might result in getting sick [which is bad], or it is good to read 'Perdido Street Station' rather than 'In Viriconium' since one has read the latter quite a few times but read the former only once and it is good to experience newer things). Whatever the case may be, nothing is unforgivable in this setup, though it may require more effort/action than a person is willing/capable of doing. This setup works best for narratives that have a more mechanistic form of morality, without the presence/need of divine moral authority.
Atoning to the Victim: In this form of forgiveness gaining/granting, the party in the wrong must seek the forgiveness of the wronged party. Difficulty arises in when the wronged party is unwilling to give forgiveness (either by still being too hurt to meaningfully give it, or out of spite) or if the wronged party is unable to give forgiveness (either by being dead, or in such a state that they cannot meaningfully/responsibly grant such forgiveness). There are two possible consequences in being unable to gain forgiveness: either the offending party remains unforgiven or they can gain forgiveness from a secondary party (be it a higher authority, or a representative of the wronged party). Usually, in gaining forgiveness from a higher authority, such forgiveness is only granted if the wronged party is withholding forgiveness out of spite or if the offending party is very contrite for their wrongdoing and is unable to gain forgiveness due to the wronged party being unable to give it. In gaining forgiveness from a representative of the wronged party, usually the representative must be explicitly given authority by the wronged or the representative is a family member of the wronged. In either case, the requirements for gaining forgiveness usually require a greater degree of reparation on the part of the wrongdoing party. This form of forgiveness works best for narratives that focus on making amends to the victim rather than authority.
Atoning to Authority: In this form of forgiveness the focus is on making amends to an authority of some kind (whether natural or divine) rather than the victim of a particular action/inaction. If the authority is a benevolent one, they will usually require the wrongdoer to genuinely seek the forgiveness of the wronged, but the victim's forgiveness is not required to be officially forgiven. Other forms/beings of authority may simply require that the wrongdoer make amends to them, rather than the victim, in essence paying some sort of fine or toll. Whatever the case may be, any wrongful act is first and foremost an act against the authority with the victim coming second. This type of setup works best for a narrative that focuses on characters relationship with authority rather than each other.
Atonement is Impossible: In this form of morality, one can never atone for any wrong act no matter how minor it may be. A narrative may treat this setup as being focused on present actions rather than the past, or that the wrong done to an authority (the victim having little or no meaning) can not be atoned for due to the position the authority/deity holds in the world. An authority may set such actions against them aside, once again placing the wrongdoers in the authority's good graces, but the wrongful act can once again be held against the wrongdoers at any time for any reason (in giving/gaining forgiveness, the forgiven act(s) are erased/buried/inconsequential and cannot be held against the offending party again). This type of setup works best with narratives that focus on indelible results of actions.
|Lead us not into temptation. Art By: Alphonse Mucha|
I've Got Soul, But I'm Not a Soldier...
What the soul is has been of great concern to both philosophers and priests alike. Concepts can range from the consciousness that resides in the body (Cartesian Dualism) to the very essence of a person's mind and body (Aquinian Theology). The possible qualities and aspects of the soul are as varied as the religions and philosophies that posit them. It should be added that most, but not all, religions do not see physical disability as a sign of a deficient soul. Rather, most religions see disability as dysfunction of physical processes that cause difficulties for the soul to enact its will or fulfill its purpose. Even with religions that posit the soul being the very essence of the mind and body hold that broken biological processes keep the body and mind from being expressed in their ideal forms. Whatever the view on the soul, many religions see people with disabilities as being worthy of assistance or even living martyrs to be respected.
- Soul as Consciousness
- Soul as Essence
- Soul as Energy
- Soul as Metaphysical Change
- Soul as God
- Soul as Nothing
Soul as Consciousness: In this concept of the soul, the soul is the consciousness that resides in the body and reacts to the stimulus presented to it. It is the soul that makes decisions based upon the stimulus presented to it, commanding the body as best it can in order to enact its will. Whether or not the soul continues to reside in a body that is brain-dead various by religion and philosophy. This soul concept works best with most narratives and tends to be the automatic choice when it comes to questions of the soul.
Soul as Essence: This concept of the soul bears similarities to the previous concept, but goes much further. In this concept, the soul is both the blueprint for the ideal form of the individual as well as their consciousness. Here, the soul is an active participant in not only consciousness but the body itself, informing every aspect of creature as it can. Due to the limitations of biology, the body rarely meets the ideal form which the soul attempts to drive it to. This type of soul works best for narratives that wish to underscore a sense of inherent rightness in physical existence, with the spiritual aspect of a person being only part of existence as a whole.
Soul as Energy: Here the soul is the energizing force behind life, with what might be termed the 'self' being a product of the soul's energizing presence. The soul does not contain anything that contains a sense of identity, though some religions that use this concept state that the soul may bear memories (not a personality) to the next life or into some form of afterlife. This concept of a soul works best for narratives that wish to focus on the transitory nature of existence or life.
Soul as Metaphysical Change: Here the soul is not a set identity or state of being, rather it is that which reacts to the physical world and is constantly changed by it. This concept bears similarities to Soul as Consciousness but it is more of a participant in the world in which it resides in. While the Consciousness soul may merely react to a particular stimulus, this soul is changed by everything it comes in contact with and through that change reacts to the stimulus presented to it. The 'self' aspect of the soul changes as the rest of the soul does, but these changes are often subtle and do not present anything notable until after numerous minor changes or after a major (and often traumatic) event. This concept of the soul works best for narratives that wish to focus on the constant change that is inherent to life as a whole.
Soul as God: In this concept of the soul, the soul is a piece of a deity that has been separated from her/him/it. This concept of the soul need to be paired with other concepts in order to give a full explanation of its existence. For example, this piece of divine might be the source of all consciousness in a body or merely the energy that consciousness results from. The goal of life, using this concept, is to rejoin the rest of the deity that the soul is a part of. Enlightenment, or magical empowerment, in physical life is the result of realizing that the individual in question is in part a god with all the privileges and abilities inherent to such a being. This type of concept works best for a narrative that focuses on finding one's place or purpose in reality/life.
Soul as Nothing: Here, there is no soul. What is considered the 'self' is just the end result of biological, or magical, properties and processes. This concept also comes with the consequence of having no free will, since all choices are the result of mechanistic processes, no choice can be made because there is no true self to make it, just modalities of input and output. This concept of the soul, or lack there of, works best for narratives that wish to completely avoid the questions inherent to metaphysics.
|Garden of Earthly Delights. Art By: Hieronymus Bosch|
A Good Life Lived...
In creating rules/laws regulating behaviors, one must always consider the consequences for desirable behaviors/actions. Every religion addresses the consequences of desirable behaviors in this life and after death with each religion having its own take on what these consequences are.
- Perpetual Paradise
- Temporary Paradise
- Advantageous Rebirth
- Rewards in this life
- Rejoining Deity
Perpetual Paradise: In this form of reward, the individual's soul is transported to paradise after the end of their life. The form this paradise can be as varied as the religion in question and the culture of the rewarded soul. Whatever the form may take, the soul of the individual is usually reunited with family members who have passed before them and are placed in close proximity to their deity. From the point of their entry until the end of time, and perhaps further, the soul resides in this paradise. This form of metaphysical reward works best with most narratives, and tends to be the automatic choice for most narratives.
Temporary Paradise: This form of reward resembles the previous form in many ways, but it differs in its duration. Here, the soul resides for a period of time which can differ widely depending on the religion in question. With this form of reward, the soul will not encounter previously passed loved ones unless they had died recently. Once the allotted time has expired, the soul passes from paradise into a new state. This state can range from rebirth to a form of oblivion, whatever the case may be, the transition to this new state will be an easy one. This form of reward works best for a narrative that wants to focus on an afterlife as well as rebirth.
Advantageous Rebirth: In this form of reward, the soul of the individual is reborn into a better life than their previous one, or is reborn (or metamorphosed into) a higher form of life. This higher form of life can be a more advanced form of mundane life, or some kind of spiritual/supernatural being. This form of reward can either be attended by a deity(s) or can be simply a mechanistic process of the metaphysical universe. This form of reward works best for narratives that focus on cycles or natural processes.
Rewards in this Life: In this form of reward, the good/just individual is rewarded by fate and circumstance for their righteous behavior. This can be used in a subtle manner, as with Wu Wei (Taoism) where the individual receives less resistance to their actions as they learn to harmonize with the flow/cycle of the universe. With rewards that resemble Wu Wei, evil men and women can still amass incredible amounts of wealth and power, but such amassing is always fraught with resistance difficulty. The more overt form of this type of reward is similar to cliché fairytales, where the good are always handsome and strong while the evil are always wretched and ugly. In any case, this form of reward works best for a narrative that focuses on harmony with the intentions/flow of reality.
Rejoining Deity: This form of reward bears similarities to the Paradise rewards, but involves a more spiritual focus. In this form of reward the soul comes into some kind of ineffable union with their deity, be it where the soul recognizes that they are actually a part of their god/goddess, or a form of harmony/sharing where each maintains their identity but shares themselves with the other in a way that is impossible in the physical world. This form of harmony/union might occur in a paradise-like setting, but the setting is at best secondary or at worst inconsequential to the purpose of this reward. This form of reward works best for a narrative that wishes to focus spiritual enlightenment/unity rather than measurable rewards.
Oblivion: In this form of reward, the world and existence is seen as eventually being tiresome or perhaps even torturous. Whatever the case may be, a limited being will eventually come to despise existence out of boredom after experiencing all that can possibly experience. In being given oblivion, the soul is destroyed and the individual can finally 'rest', never having to do anything ever again. This form of reward works best for a narrative that seeks to underline the inherent pain or toil that any form of existence might entail.
|Angel leading a soul into Hell. Art By: Hieronymus Bosch|
After a Wicked Life...
Just as religions and philosophies are concerned with rewards for a good life, they are also concerned about punishments for a life lived in evil. As with rewards, these punishments can be as varied as the religions in question.
- Perpetual Punishment
- Temporary Punishment
- Disadvantaged Rebirth
- Punishment in this Life
- Continued Existence
Perpetual Punishment: Many religions use this form of punishment as a way of dissuading would-be evil-doers, and bringing justice for those who commit evil. Here, the souls of the wicked are subjected to an unwanted form of existence for all of time. The form that this unwanted existence can vary from religion to religion: be it submersion in a lake of fire, or being forced to relive the pain they have caused. This form of punishment can work well with any type of narrative, and is usually the automatic choice for most narratives.
Temporary Punishment: This form of punishment resembles the previous form in all ways save that there is a set duration. Once that duration has expired, the soul may be reborn to try to live a better life, or is destroyed once the allotted punishments for their crimes have been enacted. This form of punishment works best for any type of narrative that wishes to include rebirth as well as an afterlife.
Disadvantaged Rebirth: In this form of punishment, the wicked soul is reborn into a lesser station than their previous life, or into a lesser form of life. Whatever the case may be, the wicked soul is given another chance to live a more righteous life, otherwise they will sink even further in the social/evolutionary scale. Those who continue to live wicked lives may have an infinite number of chances in order to live a good life, or there may be a bottom to how low they may sink before a more permanent punishment is enacted. This permanent punishment can be a Perpetual Punishment (like Hell) or complete destruction. This form of punishment would work best for a narrative that wishes to focus on cycles of rebirth while also focusing on the concept of justice.
Oblivion: In this form of punishment, existence is seen as inherently good, with non-existence being evil or unwanted. The offending soul may be destroyed to avoid the harm that it would cause if allowed to be reborn, or it may be destroyed because it is unwanted for the next stage of some divine plan. Whatever the case may be, this punishment tends to be final, without any chance of it being undone. This form of punishment works best for narratives that wish to focus on final consequences for actions taken.
Continued Existence: This type of punishment is rare, but not unheard of in the realm of world religions. In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainism faiths continued existence/rebirth (Samara) is something to be freed from (Moksha/Nirvana/Mukti), though most forms of the aforementioned faiths do not see life as an evil, just a stage that must be surmounted in order to reach one's true purpose. How one goes about being freed from continued existence has as many answers as there are religions to give them. What happens after being freed from existence can vary widely from religion to religion: restful oblivion to a perfect state of spiritual existence. This type of punishment works best for narratives whose 'good' is something that extends far beyond concepts that involve physical existence.