Monday, 27 December 2010

The God Problem

As you know I recently played Prince of Persia, and it's storyline is basically about a dark god escaping his imprisonment. Pretty usual story yes? But it reminded me of an argument I have with myself often (Dont ask), especially after reading or watching a storyline that has gods as a central theme.

When you create a new setting for a story, especially if it's fantasy, you have to ask an important question.... Are your gods real? If you say no you actually save yourself alot of trouble.... because in that case the gods exist as a men believe them too, and in that way they become a kind of mirror of the culture that worships them.

But if you say yes, you've caused yourself a little grief.

The trouble stems from the fact that there is no right or wrong answer.... which means there is a right or wrong answer for your reader. Everyone's set in their ways and has a clear idea how certain things work, or how they should. Religion is no different, it's been one of humanities biggest arguments for a long time. No matter what you do, if you have a god that is real and effects the story in some way (They dont have to be an active deity to have an effect) your probably gonna bump into readers that dislike your vision (Not declaring holy vengeance of course, this is fiction were talking about).

This happens for me alot whenever I read a story that has light handed deity's or heavy handed deity's... Sometimes there is something there that just.... rubs me the wrong way. It's not that there wrong, or that their image could be improved... Perhaps it could have been improved, but the point is I'll look at it and go "Hrmm, dont really like that approach".

In alot of cases I'll dislike it because the gods are too human, or perhaps if there not human enough. My personal belief (Story lines, not religion, Haha) is that a deity should be recognisable as a person, and yet totally unknowable.... So basically somewhere in the middle and far away from one of the extremes.

One of the problems you'll run into in your narrative is when your god does something, but does not deign to answer why they did it. When you have a god that is somewhat active, and in a kind of communication with it's subjects but does not explain it's reasoning always gets on my nerves. This kind of deity does not need to explain its justifications (If it has any) and it's people are like children, not able to comprehend it's vast vision. Yet I feel if your going to mess around with someones life they deserve to know why, and if it's too 'complicated' then at least make an attempt....

Now your probably thinking "Well, their a god, they are above mortals and can do whatever they like" But it's that idea I dislike. If you have gods who can do what they like (Even with limitations) without having to answer for their actions then it belittles the importance of people... Makes them less somehow. Now if thats the aim of your narrative, then go right ahead.... but the trouble is I see this happen alot and almost by mistake, like the writer never thought about the consequences of adding a god that answers to no one but themselves.

For example I recently read a book which had a small Pantheon for these desert people. These gods were very real and possibly the most powerful beings in the world (A world of magic and wizards etc), and yet they were the only ones of their kind. When a neighboring nation came into some big trouble (A dragon that not only breathed fire, but melting acid breath too) these desert people came to them with their sultan and holy man and a small army. Yet there gods would not help this other nation in the way you'd expect, instead it shielded their own people and left the problem to the hero of the story (It was his fault there was a dragon at all). Now these guys did help all the injured people and helped evacuate them... But the thing is the hero begged them to help, and even though they could they left him to face this terrible ordeal alone... To teach him a lesson and give him a chance at redemption...

Yet the way it happened was completely horrible, and they would not say why they would not help. The problems not the way they acted, the problem was who they would help... This other nation had 'gods' but only make believe ones with no power.... no one could come to their aid... And so it almost seems like these desert people horde the power and benefits of their gods to themselves...

This was a world where gods were real, but only helped you if you'd been born in the desert. I'm pretty sure the writer wasn't aiming for something so bleak, but that's what we have... A deity only interested in it's own. For those of you paying attention this is an example of the unknowable deity, who is so far removed from its people they don't even know what their worshipping.

But what of evil deity's? Well you have two kinds, much like villains. Those who are born bad, and those who become it later on. Like the villains they share their birth with, I dislike deity's who are evil just cause. Not because I dislike the black and white of good vs evil but because solely evil deity's promote lazy writing and tend to be handled pretty badly. One's who become evil later on.... Are usually handled pretty badly as well... They usually go bad because they want something (Usually exclusive rights to the world) which comes off as very childish for a supposedly supreme being.

In the Prince of Persia game you have the God of Light and the God of Darkness, and they are brothers. One day the God of Darkness didn't feel like sharing anymore and just started to break everything, so his brother tricked him into a tree. Now an interesting thing that doesn't get explored alot (As far as I know) is the idea of the whole imprisoning and what it means. Think about, these brothers must have existed forever, and while they have their differences in essence their still brothers. One gets out of hand and starts wrecking the party for everyone, and then his brother, who the bad one didn't actually do anything to... seals him away.... forever. If I was the bad brother I'd feel utterly betrayed... that my brother would do something so.... so evil is unthinkable.

Perhaps the God of Darkness was really out of order smashing the world up, but that shouldn't excuse the God of Light of his terrible deed of shutting away his own brother.... If anything in many respects there as bad as each other. Darkness for not playing nice, and Light for not finding a way to balance the problem his brother had created.

1 comment:

  1. How disappointing. I somehow stumbled onto this and was reading the backlogs...and then then the wit and comedy just stop. Rawr