time_shark (time_shark) wrote,

A quick note about piety

I've had something on my mind for a couple weeks — probably since saladinahmed's "Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela" started looking like a serious Nebula contender (which, you know, it turned out to be.)

One of the things that appealed to me about Saladin's story — hardly the only reason I chose it, but definitely one of them — was how it handled religion. The Caliph's physicker is a good man and a devout Muslim, a genuinely pious man. And then, as one might expect in a good fantasy story, he encounters events that strain at his sanity — and when he does, he never once questions his faith; instead he hopes he has done right by his God as he acts in the way that he feels he must.

This struck me as a very sound, very realistic depiction of the role of religion in someone's life, and it was utterly refreshing.

Science fiction and fantasy tend to paint religion in the shrillest possible terms. Whether it's the Muslims who are portrayed as one-note frothing psychos or the Christians who are portrayed as one-note frothing psychos seems to depend on the author's political leanings. Certainly fuel to supply both stereotypes exists in the world, but many genre stories (and many story submissions I've read, for that matter) seem to default to "religious person = nutcase" without thinking there's any need to explain why an individual would be that way; it's just assumed.

Doing so ignores a vast swath of human experience: ranging from everyday interactions with religion that are not at all negative, to that quiet strength faith can give to someone facing extraordinary hardships: and taking those things into account can add fascinating nuances to a character when perceptively handled.

Anyway, that is what was on my mind. Now it's voiced.

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