One Stone and Religious Representation

I don’t think you need to know me long to know I have a lot of problems with religion.

In Immortal Engine, the NanoWriMo that created the world of One Stone, I expressed this pretty simply, focusing on a small part of the world with one predominant church entity, which was derived in part from a highly legalistic Christian tradition. There was a little bit of your sort-of-but-not-really Catholic style, with a deliberate use of mangled Christian doctrines and canonisation of American political history.

Technically this is spoilers for a book you’ll never read.

Anyway, the point of that story was the world ended, and it was re-made thanks to science, but the science was corrupted by the work of ignorant religious ninnies, which is why the world had all sorts of messed up stuff in it. There were dinosaurs roaming the land and horses weren’t quite right, and magic worked but it was a meritocracy inspired by silicon valley. There were entropy engines and whales that sang songs of the world that had died.

Every single priest in Immortal Engine has a name that is a rude word in another language.

One Stone is set in that same, slightly mangled world, except it’s in not-Britain, in not-London, in the height of the not-Empire. The characters are pulled from across the social classes of that nation, and come from a variety of different backgrounds. There’s even a priest who isn’t scum.

What’s been on my mind in this though is the presence of other religions, and racism.

Right now, in the various parts of the world we can call Whiteland, there’s a problem with religions from let’s call them Brownland being conflated into one big generic mess of culture that we in Whiteland want to claim is The Problem and it’s not more our core fear of other races and all that.

I try to not write about other religions because any beefs I have with them are either heavily externalised and part of greater frameworks (I don’t like sexist power structures, for example) or root to the whole exercise (I think deific belief is beneath our dignity as people). Anything else feels a bit like taking pot-shots and nobody would respect the legitimacy of my complaints. Not that they do anyway – but if I spent my time complaining about Islam’s religious inconsistencies, I’m sure all I’d wind up doing was getting irritating randos quoting me at other people in horrible ways, or be derisively told that I ‘just don’t get it.’

Now, I’m not making this story up as I go along – I have a fairly solid idea of the cast and their stories since about December last year. But recently Veerender Jubbal, just being himself, suggested adding a Sikh character (to everything, this wasn’t advice to me).

Now, look, adding a Sikh character to One Stone at least in the third arc is a good idea; part of the point of the story is the side effects of military colonialism and India and the Sikh people can sorta tell you all sorts of stories about just how nice the British Empire was to them. The thing is, Sikhism doesn’t quite exist in this world. Neither does Islam, or Christianity. Things like them, shadows, memories of them, misunderstood and mishandled by outside influences, exist.

But what I find really strange – and interesting – about it is that I don’t think I’d be willing to distort Sikhism or Islam when they’re in focus. There’s already a term in the setting for the not-quite-Muslims – it’s Mohammadian. But I make sure they’re not focal – I’m not commenting on their doctrine or their beliefs, and their presence in the story is as the predominant religion of the nation of Hemulkar. And then that leaves me with a stranger problem. What if I put in a character who was ‘coded Sikh’? Say he’s got a turban and a beard, say he’s got a ceremonial knife and he’s a pacifist. Would that be good enough? Would that be acceptable? Because I can’t help but feel that ‘Sikh-ish’ and ‘Muslim-ish’ are more likely to be offensive than not.

These are serious things that I’m not comfortable dismissing in my work.

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