Sins of The Empire
Even in the twenty-seventh century, when Science seems to reign supreme and give Humankind (and Mon’dabi-kind, Se’ecrakind, Varanyi-kind…) vast powers, many sentient beings still find solace in the thought that a Higher Power watches over and guides them. A thousand million religions permeate the Galaxy, most claiming at best a few thousand adherents. But a few have become so large and powerful one must consider them Galactic powers in their own right.
Religions of the Terran Empire
Humanity’s religious history dates back at least four thousand years, and shows no signs of abating. Some of the prominent religions prac ticed in Terran space during the Imperial period include:
The Galactic Church Of The Creator
The spread of Humans onto hundreds of new worlds brought great changes in religion. On some worlds, like New Canaan or Kundun, believers sought to maintain old faiths. But elsewhere, new worlds and contact with aliens changed Human beliefs, and new churches arose. Born in the dark days of the Xenovore Wars, when many people feared the end of Humanity was at hand, the Galactic Church of the Creator attracted converts and spread slowly during the period of recovery following the destruction of the Xenovores.
The Church made a great leap in prominence when the Emperor Gregorio converted on his deathbed. Thereafter the members of the House of DeValiere were all adherents of the Church — though few call the Emperors truly devout. The prestige of the DeValieres helped the Church spread rapidly through the Imperial military and bureaucratic classes, and Imperial garrisons brought the faith to scores of new worlds.
By Marissa’s reign the Church is the largest single faith in Terran space, though its believers total no more than 30% of the Imperial population. As the Imperial family’s religion it has a great deal of prestige and influence — but it’s not an official “state religion” and neither the government nor the Church leaders want to see the two combined.
The theology of the Galactic Church derives from Earth’s old Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — and has for its sacred book the Logos. The Logos includes portions of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Koran, along with writings of the Church founders and some other major Human writers and philosophers.
Church doctrine claims God chose the Human species to bring His message to all other intelligent life, that all beings who accept the Church’s covenant become equal before God, and that at the final collapse of the Universe God will judge the actions of all beings who ever lived and allow the virtuous to live again in a new cosmos. Those who belong to the Church must participate in five observances: baptism; daily prayer at dawn and dusk; pilgrimage to Jerusalem; fasting during the Week of Purification; and observing the weekly Sabbath. Church ethical teachings emphasize cooperation, charity, protection of Humanity and Earth, and the continuing mission to spread the word.
Church Hierarchy And Politics
Leadership of the Church vests in the College of Precentors, an oligarchy of twenty-one high religious officials. Originally the College had the often-thankless task of determining what writings belonged in the Logos. Later the College took on the responsibility of devising a statement of Church doctrine, and in the process it became the Church’s governing body. Below the College the religious hierarchy has three levels: Archimandrites (officials in charge of a planet, who as a body elect members to the College of Precentors); Lectors (in charge of a district, or see, on a planet), and Priests (in charge of a single local church).
The Church remains strongly loyal to the Empire. The Precentors believe God ordained the reunification of Humanity and the expansion of the Empire. (A minority among theologians even urge the Church to honor Marissa I as divinely inspired.) However, the Church can and does object to certain Imperial policies, and in the past has criticized Emperors directly. The Church and Empire differ most strongly on the issue of alien citizenship: the Church accepts alien converts as equals and believes the Empire should automatically accord them the rights of citizens.
Less a religion than a common philosophy, one especially popular among scientists and psionics, Teleology holds that intelligent beings have a destiny to spread life through the Universe and evolve to a state at which they become, in effect, gods. Some adherents of Teleology believe time-traveling gods from the future designed the Universe, so the teleological purpose becomes predestined.
Teleologists advocate terraforming, new colonization, and exploration. They don’t seek out converts, but they find Teleology itself so compelling they sometimes use it as the basis of works of art or literature, thereby spreading the concept.
Because it has such a cosmic scope, Teleology has little influence over Imperial politics. It counts both liberals and conservatives among its follow ers, and a large contingent of Mind Police consider themselves devoted Teleologists. The Empress Marissa finds the ideas of the Teleologists intriguing, but she keeps her actual beliefs secret.
Other Terran Beliefs
“Humans” said the Perseid social commentator Faretha Ghel, “certainly have some unusual beliefs” Nothing proves the truth of this statement more than the unusual religions some Humans practice.
The Church Of The Infinite Dark
This disturbing cult first appeared among colonists and space travelers in the early 2400s. “Darkers” claim the black interstellar void houses a host of powerful godlike beings who grant good fortune and power to those who worship them. The Church’s strange, voodoo-like rituals often include the sacrifice of various animals. Most people dismiss the Darkers as a bunch of cranks, but some Imperial authorities seem to regard the Church as a serious problem.
The Temple Of Willis
A moderately popular entertainer during the reign of Feodor, in 2620 Willis Erron decided he was God and deserved worship and adoration. Remarkably, the Divine Willis has attracted millions of followers, whose donations allow him a life of unchecked self-indulgence and excess. Several worlds have exiled Willis for various offenses against morals laws, and Imperial authorities have investigated him closely, but so far nobody has proved him guilty of any serious wrongdoing. He says he’s God and people give him money, but that’s not a crime. As he’s aged, the Divine Willis has become more erratic, and has given his followers some bizarre commandments (“thou shalt not wear fuschia” being one of the more coherent). The majority of the faithful only see this as proof of Willis’s divine ineffability.
Religions of Other Species and Civilizations
No species, it seems, has gained the prize of sentience without developing at least one or two bodies of religious philosophy along the way. Some of the major religions popular outside Terran space include:
When the Thorgons conquered their parent species, they abolished the dominant religion of the Ergons, a polytheistic faith based on star wor ship. For a time the Hegemony was strictly secular, but after a few generations spiritual longings arose even among the hyper-disciplined Thorgons. The great military hero Maldar formulated the religious teachings which bear his name today. Maldarianism combines ideas of reincarnation with a hefty dose of evolutionary competitiveness. The basic doctrine states that the Gods created the Universe as a testing-ground for the most worthy, and victory pleases them. Those who serve well and triumph over their enemies receive rewards in the afterlife, while they condemn the weak to rebirth for another round of struggle.
Priests of Maldarianism are all soldiers, and religious services resemble a drill sergeant’s rantings at green troops; a Maldarian’s customary blessing is “Fight well!” The faith has gained some adherents beyond Thorgon space — a few Mon’dabi follow Maldarian teachings, and on the rimward Terran colony world Nergal it has become the majority religion. A somewhat more refined and less brutal form, Neo-Maldarianism, teaches that one need not achieve victory in warfare, but that internal and spiritual triumphs matter as well; the Thorgons hunt Neo-Maldarianisms as heretics.
The Fex have only one religion of importance, an exceedingly ancient faith dating back to the earliest known Fex civilizations. Engaliru posits that each person has a patron god or Galir (plural Galiru), one of the infinite number of divine beings who created the world. A person’s Galir watches and judges his life, and sometimes protects him from harm or bad luck. Misfortune and harm come about when a person doesn’t heed his Galir’s advice, or he angers it with wrong behavior.
Among the Fex, individuals treat their Galiru with easy familiarity, like a close friend or a kindly relative. Many Fex turn difficult decisions into a dialogue with their Galiru, which Humans sometimes find a little strange. Artists and creative types often credit their Galiru with the inspiration for new works, and sometimes thank their Galiru publicly after performances.
Engaliru has attracted a substantial number of Human converts, especially on planets with large Fex populations. It often coexists as a kind of benign superstition among people who officially belong to another religion. Merchant spacers and asteroid miners seem particularly fond of the idea of a personal guardian divinity.
Rhigasa, the Sacred Fire Temple of the Mon’dabi, originated about five thousand years ago on Mon’da. At its heart it involves the worship of fire; Temple doctrine describes the soul as a type of fire inhabiting and empowering the body. The discovery of respiration, the power of atomic energy, and the knowledge that the stars are balls of cosmic fire only seemed to confirm the basic truths of Rhigasa, so devout Rhigasans see no conflict between Religion and Science.
Each Rhigasan household has its own sacred fire which it must keep burning; a house without a fire must get a new one from one of the temples on the homeworld. The Temple considers fires kindled by lightning especially sacred, and the starting-point of a forest fire becomes a shrine, tended and kept burning forever. The death of an eternal fire results in great mourning.
Sacrifice plays a key role in Rhigasa. Worshippers scatter drops of their blood into their sacred fires every day, and during high holy days also burn great sheaves of food plants and distilled alcohol. Extremely devout Rhigasans sometimes bleed themselves pale sacrificing blood; a few unintentionally committed suicide-by-bloodletting every year during episodes of religious ecstasy. Charity — the symbolic “sacrifice” of one’s worldly possessions — also occurs frequently.
Rhigasa has a great many splinter cults and variants (most Mon’dabi nations have their own particular form, for example). However, despite Mon’dabi aggressiveness, few religious wars mar Mon’da’s history. Adherents seem to think that as long as they agree on certain basic tenets, individual variations don’t matter much. They view Rhigasa as a unifying philosophy, not a divisive one.
Rhigasa has no separate priesthood. Rather, all adult male Mon’dabi serve as the priests of their household’s sacred fire, and municipal officials also function as priests of the temple fires. Some xenosociologists attribute the relative paucity of religious wars to the lack of an organized priesthood.
Within the Mon’dabi Federation many aliens follow the practices of Rhigasa. The Sacred Fire Temple also has some adherents in Ackalian space. Few Humans have converted to Rhigasa; many regard it as quasi-superstitious nonsense.
A minority faith among the Mon’dabi, Telgasa, the Sacred Water Temple, claims water, not fire, is the source of all life. To no religious scholar’s surprise, it began in desert areas, and is still mostly confined to the desert areas of Mon’da (and to deserts on other worlds).
Telgasa believers build shrines at springs and sacred wells. In some cases, they make sacrifices by throwing valuable objects into these holy bodies of water. They also keep sacred bowls of water, or even personal fountains, in their homes for daily worship services.
Mon’dabi history records a few short but vicious religious wars between followers of Telgasa and those of Rhigasa. At times, public officials accused Telgasans of sorcery. Interestingly, a higher than normal percentage of Mon’dabi psionics come from families with a Telgasan background.
Recently a group of Telgasa adherents petitioned the Terran Empire for permission to settle Darius, an uninhabited desert world in Imperial space. The Ministry for Colonization and Development has the matter under consideration.
The Se’ecra created the belief system called Chet’rar (“Moral Algorithms”) shortly after they encountered other intelligent species. They designed Chet’rar to be a philosophy and ethical guide independent of an individual’s biology, instincts, society, or culture. From formal logic and some simple axioms — the value of life, the importance of freedom, the need to coexist with others, and the limits of physical law — its philosophers derive a robust and practical set of ethical guidelines.
Chet’rar has three main variants. The first, Chet’rar Efesh-na (“Materialist Moral Algorithms”) focuses on observable natural phenom ena and some ethical axioms. Xenosociologists call it the “atheist form” of Chet’rar, although it allows for the possibility that beings equivalent to gods may exist or come to exist at a future time.
The second, Chet’rar Feshtu-na (“Divine Moral Algorithms”), presupposes the existence of a deity or deities, though it also states that existing religious systems do not accurately represent divine will. Feshtu-nans find all forms of religious thought intensely interesting, although their habit of analyzing and critiquing religions irritates believers in those faiths.
The third form, Chet’rar Ak’sha (“Transcendent Moral Algorithms”), attempts to reconcile the other two with a system of ethics unaffected by the existence of God and which applies equally to mortal beings and deities. By far the most complex and recondite form of Chet’rar, Alesha has followers with a reputation for eccentric behavior.
The Se’ecra are the most numerous followers of Chet’rar, favoring the materialist form. A large minority of Se-lag practice Chet’rar, divided evenly between materialist and transcendental versions. A fair number of Sholarron and Mostreens practice the theistic version, but the Jaruma consider Chet’rar nonsensical. Beyond the CCR, Chet’rar has attracted a few converts in Perseid space, and even among Thorgon renegades who have renounced their own civilization’s beliefs.
Other Conjoint Civilizations Beliefs
Chet’rar, isn’t the only faith in the Conjoined Civilizations. Two others with large bodies of followers are Kurnam and E-feshtura.
Kurnam, the Jaruma traditional faith, claims that a hereditary Oracle, part of a dynasty descended from the religion’s founder, receives instructions from the gods. The Oracle utter cryptic messages that believers interpret as divine messages. Kurnamish priests are relatives of the Oracle, so doctrines change slowly, if at all. The faithful believe what the priests and Oracles tell them to believe, period; there’s no complex theology or moral ambiguity.
Devised by some Se-lag as a deliberate prank, E-feshtura explains the absurdity of the Universe by saying it’s a joke. One of the Gods created it to relieve the other Gods’ boredom and make them laugh.
E-feshturans do their best to keep the Gods entertained. Believers insist the originators were actually divinely inspired — the fact they think they were parodying religion is all part of the Divine Jest. Others suspect they’re all joking; the faithful agree and say that’s the whole point. E-feshtura has a handful of converts outside CCR space — except in Velarian territory where the people consider the whole idea a deliberate ploy by the forces of evil. E-feshturans tend to avoid Velarian space; some lynching incidents have occurred.
Many people consider Scomaru Shaan the chief source of unity of the Velarian Confederation. The basic belief of Scomaru Shaan is that there are 17 gods, each represented at all times by living Avatars who may not even know about their true nature as divine beings. When one of the Avatars dies, the others seek out a replacement using a mix of detective work, divination, and psionic brainwave-pattern matching.
Early in the history of Velarian space travel, omens indicated the College would find the next Avatar on Cataval. That set a precedent, and currently the College of Avatars contains eight Velarians, two Catavalans, two Quagi, four Donburil, and one Mostreen. There’s no requirement that Avatars come from the Confederation — the Mostreen Avatar was born in the Conjoined Civilizations. The next Avatar might be Human, or Mon’dabi, or even Thorgon.
Followers of Scomaru Shaan (known as Scomaru, singular Scomar) worship the living Avatars and follow their teachings on proper ritual and behavior. The faith establishes specific practices for believers to follow: Scomaru must be charitable to one another, offer no violence to other believers, and only marry within the faith. Rituals mostly involve readings from the teachings of the Avatars and group prayer. A brisk trade exists in hair clippings, loose scales, clothing scraps, and other artifacts from the Avatars; many Scomaru carry an amulet containing such relics.
Scomaru Shaan has a simple clergy with two ranks. The lower-ranking priest is called a Speaker. He runs a single church, and may join with other Speakers to form an administrative body for all the churches on a given planet. The higher-ranking priest is an Intercessor. Each Avatar chooses his Intercessors (he can have as many as he wants). The Intercessor’s role is to speak with the Avatar in private, carrying messages to him from the outside world and returning his messages to supplicants and followers. Some Avatars have entire corps of Intercessors; others have none, preferring to interact directly with worshippers.
Scomaru Shaan has the most adherents among the Velarians — nearly 90% of the population. Among Catavalans and Donburil the pro portion is more like 50%, among Quagi only 30%. A number of aliens are Scomaru, including some Ackalians and several thousand Mon’dabi.
False Avatars litter the history of Scomaru Shaan. Many of them founded heretical splinter cults. Most of those last only for the lifespan of the originator — and back when the Velarians fought religious wars that might not have been very long. A few show more longevity.
The Bloodline Heresy
A very old heresy, the Bloodline faction maintains that true Avatars must descend from other Avatars. At any given time the Bloodline heretics recognize only one or two of the College of Avatars as genuine. However, since occasionally some Avatars have one or more Avatars as distant ancestors, the Bloodline faction accepts them. Naturally, Bloodline heretics refuse to acknowledge alien Avatars.
At one time the Bloodline heretics tried to select their own Avatars, but that merely led to massacres and assassinations during religious wars, so they abandoned the practice. Today about a million Bloodline heretics, all on Velaria proper, continue to try to persuade other Velarians to adopt their interpretation of Scomaru Shaan.
The Catavalan Heresy
Before contact with the Velarians, the Catavalans had a divine Emperor who claimed descent from the gods. Two hundred years ago the Catavalan Emperor declared he was a living Avatar and all his descendants would be as well. Since the Confederation already existed and could prevent a religious war from breaking out, the schism was relatively peaceful. Today, the Catavalan branch of the faith has 18 Avatars including the Emperor. About 20% of the Catavalan population belong to the splinter church.
The Donburil Heresy
Donbur’s matriarchal society inevitably spawned a splinter cult, which recognizes only female Avatars (since the gods themselves are sexless, the Donburil do worship all the gods). About ten percent of Donburil Scomaru follow the heresy, which has its own College of Avatars on Donbur.