'Religion is the opiate of the masses' said someone. Probably Karl Marx. He said that sort of thing. But why would you want to be religious? I can think of a few excellent reasons.

Life after death

Many religions ofter some sort of life after death,1 whether it be called heaven, nirvana or something completely different. Some of these (for example, Jehova's Witnesses2) believe that only members of their particular group will get to heaven. They don't seem to make clear what happens otherwise.3 Probably eternal damnation, or perhaps we evaporate into a whiff of hydrogen, ozone and carbon monoxide.

Better life after this one

Some religions claim that everyone gets reincarnated, and there is some evidence to support this. However, if you're a good boy or girl, then you should be higher up on the evolutionary ladder than, say, Adolf Hitler or someone of that ilk. Personally, I think I would find life as a sheep rather relaxing... or at least until the last day.

Perks of the job

If you aren't just a lay member of the church, then you should have some advantages over everyone else. The main one in the Roman Catholic church seems to be money. If you can rise to the top of the ladder, a rich life is ahead of you. But other religions bestow other advantages upon their clerics. In some alternative4 religions, the founder claims to be in contact with aliens hiding behind Hale-Bopp5. But, of course, there is one rank higher... the deity.

The Deity

Becoming a deity is rather difficult, and generally you either created the universe, or are a direct-line descendant of one. But, if you become one, then the powers are enormous.
  • Immortality. Enough said.
  • Magick Powers, such as thunderbolts, summoning mminions or raising people from the dead, turning a packed lunch into a buffet for five thousand, or getting pissed on water.
  • Judgement Day. If you ain't been good, you ain't getting in.
  • Free love. Tell anyone you're a god*, and you'll be very busy indeed.
(in essence, anything you want.) Having said that, you do need to keep a watch on people, they do have a perculiar tendency to go worshipping other things, like gold bulls or CD-Roms.

Designing your religion

So, you want to found a religion. Take our easy step-by-step guide to DIY religion.

The Holy Book

Almost all religions have one or more holy books. So why don't you? Here are a number of suggestions for what to include.

Instructions. Every Holy Book has instructions, from God to his creations. Perhaps you could use the American Constitution, or a list of school rules. Maybe byelaws for Dunston Wittering, or an entire book of quotations. Make sure your instructions are completely ambiguous. This leads to differing factions who interpret your words in different ways, leading to bloody wars in your name. Survival of the fittest, I suppose. Make sure somewhere in here you include sacrifices to you, like vast mountains of food, high-tech computer equipment or naked virgins chained at the mouth of your cave.

Fables and myths. From the Good Samaritan to the hare and the tortoise, fables have always been a sly way of making people think about what they are doing. The first myth to find is the story of the creation, making sure that the language is such that the people understand. God didn't put E=mc2 in Genesis for a very good reason. If you're stuck for ideas, just bung an enormous turtle in there. Remember - it doesn't have to make sense.

Geneologies. All the readers will want to know what relationship Urban is to Septimus.6 The usual method is to say something really longwinded like: 'When Jared was 162, he has a son, Enoch, and then lived another 800 years. He had other children and died at the age of 962.'7 and then repeat it for an entire chapter. Or eight. These are fantasically good ways of padding out your Good Book so that it doesn't look like some insignificant little 32 page book such as 'Care for your weasel'.

Histories. People learn the hard way, from past mistakes. By reading of your wrath against disbelievers, they will be much more loyal. Also, you can tell them of your greatest battles against evil/good, how you guided your followers through hard times. Etc, etc.

Rites, Rituals and Places of Worship

Every religion8 needs somewhere to worship, whether it be a towel or other large cloth orientated correctly for portable worship, a fabulous towering Victorian building, or a large slab of stone lit only by flickering flames. This obviously depends on your tastes, and the wealth of your religion.

Your rites and rituals are to be performed there, and a certain amount of practicality must also come into consideration. If you are planning large numbers of animal9 sacrifices, carpets are a Bad Idea. Try an easy-clean flooring, like tiles, or maybe an outdoor site, where the blood stains will be removed slowly by weathering and will act as a reminder of your influence.

Lots of religions use chanting in their rituals, whether that be a beautiful soothing Gregorian chant, or something intended to raise the dead for a night on the town. It can be used to encourage mass participation, creating a huge din in order to make non-believers cower before your temple.

The Afterlife

While an afterlife is certainly not mandatory, it can certainly serve as an inspiration to believers. And an alternative afterlife can serve as a disincentive to people who would incur your wrath. I'll use the terms Heaven and Hell, you might use others, but these are in common usage.

The religions of the world can't seem to get straight what Heaven and Hell are like. I believe that Eskimos think Hell is freezing cold10 , and others have conclusively proven that Heaven (at exactly 525oC) is hotter than Hell (at no more than 445oC). So you can design your own. Perhaps your version of Hell should be toasty-hot, single-sex, or the place where all evil spawn comes from (eg: parking tickets, 404 errors, politicans, lawyers...). But Heaven... what can that be like? It has to be enjoyable - after all, you are going to be there for most of the rest of eternity. Of course, entry is rather selective. Who would you give VIP tickets to? Pop stars? Your believers? Scientists and visionaries? The rich and famous? The great and the good? Or just the kind of people you actually want to spend eternity with?

And just what is Heaven's decor going to be like? Boring white? Jazzy primary colours? Potted plants and chunky walls? Perhaps you could have it as a large party - or a quiet bar on a Sunday night, perpetually five minutes before last orders, and the drinks are free?

Of course, reincarnation doesn't have these advantages. But making your pals demi-gods on earth, and your enemies proto-plasmic amoebia does have its appeal.

Getting your believers

A religion is only as good as its followers. You might control space and time itself, but if you don't have believers, then you are nothing. Here are some helpful hints.

Audio-visuals. Why not put on a show and dance for prospective worshippers? The burning bush, stairways to heaven and triumphant trumpets are all excellent displays of power. The same could be more easily achieved with the careful application of certain hallucinogenic chemicals.

Send your son. Naturally, as Divine Ruler of the Multiverse, you are a bit too busy to go on a recruiting drive. So, create someone who can perform a few party tricks, heal a few people and can talk like a politican, and you could have millions of followers.

Create some. The universe lies before you, barren. With a few simulateous equations (with a googleplex of unknowns), a short push in the right direction, and a billion or so years to fill, you can have a couple of monkeys running naked around a nice pretty garden.

Wipe out the competition. With a few plagues of varying description, other gods reputations will be destroyed along with their flocks. Since these are unavailable from Sainsbury's, Tesco or even Netto, you might have to look a bit further for biological destruction.

Breed like rabbits. The fastest growing religion in the world today are the Mormons11. They really do believe in families.

1 An OXYMORON if I ever saw one.
2 I don't know how to spell Jehova. I know it's at least 8 letters
3 Probably because I haven't let them in. Don't get me wrong, they're nice enough people, but I dislike people who push religion onto you.
4 ie: strange and twisted
5 For example, the unfortunate incident of the "Heaven's Gate" cult, where all the members committed mass suicide, hoping to be transported into the alien spaceship.
6 Septimus is the great grand uncle of Urban.
7 Genesis 5:18-20
8 There is almost certainly some exception to this. But I can't keep on saying 'Almost every religion...', can I?
9 Or, I suppose, human
10 Therefore adding an alternative twist to 'snowballs chance in hell'
11 Technically, they've got some more unwieldy title. Something like 'The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.' But don't quote me on that.
* Apparently, Nate uses this one a lot... ;-)
This node is ©2000-2001 David McKee, the BBC, h2g2 and EDC (if they want it!)

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