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(I believe I've asked about a half dozen questions pertaining to this post-apocalyptic novel, including my "is this story too diverse" question. This sort of pertains to that.)

Last night, I thought of something I hadn't before. My story has no mention of religion. I don't really think it's applicable, because these people aren't exactly focused on praying or worshipping, they're consumed with the daily task of surviving in a barren world. I'm fairly sure a character or two has said "Oh my God" or the like, but that's pretty much it.

But with the level of diversity that I include (which I do not plan on changing), is no mention of religion a bad thing? Does it seem as though I am ignoring religion entirely? Is it bad that religion has no place in this world?

(Final note, didn't know how to include this: I'm pagan, but up until recently I thought I was atheist.)

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    I don't see anything wrong with that. In the few people that survive in your post-apocalyptic world, if people were religious they'd keep their religion but there is no reason they'd develop one or necessarily turn to religion all of a sudden. – Teleporting Goat Jan 9 at 14:29
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    Well then no religion is perfectly fine. You can even have interesting developments involving an isolated group of people that formed a cult based on a deformed version of a religion from our times, while leaving the majority of the world without religion. – Teleporting Goat Jan 9 at 15:55
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    I try to recall all stories that I've read recently, and remember only one thar explicitly mentions religion. – el.pescado Jan 9 at 20:55
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    It worked for Tolkien. – RedSonja Jan 10 at 7:29
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    Honestly, it feels like you've moved a long way away from the goal of telling a story. "There's a /really/ diverse cast of characters" isn't the same as compelling fiction. Sure, there could be religious beliefs to tick more boxes, but do they mean anything to the story? – AJFaraday Jan 10 at 10:12

15 Answers 15

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You're looking at this from the wrong side. Your goal isn't to include or to represent. Your goal is to tell a story. The story should contain all the elements that it requires, and nothing but the elements it requires. "Including" anything that isn't useful to the story in any way is called 'shoehorning', and is not a good practice.

Is your story served in any way by some of the characters following some religion(s) to some extent? Does it add tension where tension is required, does it set up some theme you wish to explore, does it do anything? Then go ahead and include it. If it does nothing for the story, or if the absence of religion does something for the story, then don't have religion.

It's that simple.

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    This. All you need to ask yourself is: Is it relevant to the story? If not, don't include it. If it's a major element, include it. It's the same with the "diversity" and all other "minority" themes - are you including them for the sake of them being included, or are they relevant to the actual story. – Thomo Jan 9 at 23:26
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    On the other hand, environments full of danger and threats from random sources are exactly the sort of situations where religions flourish. From a sociological/psychological perspective, this allows people to hope that by making (God/the gods) happy they can ameliorate their situation. Your world is crumbling? Trust in the coming of the Messiah! Your fictional world is whatever you want it to be, but you need a fairly clear idea of how it works and how the people in it work. – WhatRoughBeast Jan 10 at 4:23
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    @weakdna: if you are going to include a cult with religious overtones (especially a name like 'Eden'), then you may find it useful to have a contrasting religious viewpoint to compare it with. Either remove it entirely, or add contrast, but a single viewpoint (especially a negative one) is the way that strawmen are made, and you want to avoid that at all costs. – Arcanist Lupus Jan 10 at 5:39
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    I concur with all of this, but its worth noting that mentioning a character's religion may be a significant piece of character development and backstory for them. That in no way means you should feel compelled to mention it, simply that character development may be enough in some stories to justify mentioning it. – TimothyAWiseman Jan 10 at 20:02
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    Yes. Most simply, if as you're writing the subject never comes up, then it probably doesn't belong in the story. Just like a writer normally doesn't have to ask himself, "Should I include a reference to Poland in this story?" If in the course of writing something about Poland naturally comes up, then mention it. If not, don't. Okay, it's not always that simple, you might struggle with whether something will or will not add to the story. But often it is that simple. – Jay Jan 11 at 19:38
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I find it odd and unusual for a world to be inhabited by sentient beings where no one ever mentions or relates to religion. But it is completely fine for your characters to be atheists or just not care enough about religion to mention it.

Sometimes information about a world is so in the background that it's just in your head and not communicated to the reader. You need to know what role religion plays in your world, both currently and in the past. That's true for a whole lot of things you might not actually put in the book. Because it will change how you approach things and how your characters approach things, even if it never comes up. Maybe leaders blinded by religion caused the apocalypse in the first place. Maybe religion is all the survivors had at first to keep them going, but now it's not important.

Also, if the world used to be Earth, there will be markers of religion all over the place. Buildings formerly used as churches, synagogues, mosques, etc will still be there, either intact, as rubble, or somewhere in-between. There may be surviving statues. Some hills in places have giant crosses. Someone might go into an abandoned house and find crucifixes on the walls or a menorah covered in dust. Forest areas might still have intact but aging shrines.

There are multiple possibilities and the choice is up to you. As is the choice of whether or not to talk about it. And, if so, how. Religion will be part of any Earth world, and most other worlds, even if it is as historical relics or background. That is not the same as saying it is meaningful to your characters.

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    Just as an observation on different perspectives - I find your opening statement quite odd personally - unless the story is going to encompass a significant timespan it's not that unusual for it not to be mentioned surely? For example I've been in my current workplace for 4-5 months and it's literally never come up, and I've never heard anyone else mention it even tangentially. – motosubatsu Jan 9 at 16:38
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    @motosubatsu but surely the community you live in (your world) mentions it. You drive by places of worship. You walk down streets named for religious leaders (or maybe it's the name of the hospital or park). You might even refer to the years as BC or AD (even BCE and CE acknowledge religion). Does everyone get Sunday off of school or work (except those unfortunates who have to work)? Or Saturday perhaps. Is your workplace closed on Dec 25th every year? Do people talk about "the holidays." When you're looking for it, it's amazing how many references there are. – Cyn Jan 9 at 16:45
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    I was thinking more in terms of the contents of conversations - you're right of course if I were looking for things that had a religious origin when describing the world around me then yes there are plenty. If I were to describe my surroundings when driving home for example there would be several places of worship that I could mention but I could easily do so without mentioning it to functional equivalence. I'm not sure I'd count that as bringing religion into the story though or ignoring it if I chose the latter. – motosubatsu Jan 9 at 17:00
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    @Cyn: My family and near surroudings do not mention religion unless provoked by particular news topics. Streetnames may be named after religious figures but you wouldn't know that based on the (to the reader unknown) name, and no one's explicitly pointing it out. While I do pass by churches, I don't particularly pay attention to them nor do they stand out. I pass by a bakery every day too but does that mean I need to talk about bread in my story? I have weekends off but I don't really hear anyone explicitly point out the religious origins of the weekend. – Flater Jan 10 at 9:25
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    @Cyn: In short, you are right that when you look deep enough, you find references to human society which includes religion. However, I don't agree that you must look this deep to be able to tell a story. Your protagonist can live in Pope Street without needing to ever mention who or what a pope is. Not every name or everyday customs needs to be explored to its origins, especially not when it has no bearing on the plot. Even if OP's fictional world celebrates "Foomas" on Aug 25th, who says that OP must therefore elaborate on the holiday's religious origins? – Flater Jan 10 at 9:28
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For what it's worth, I'm a Fundamentalist Christian, so my answer is from that perspective.

I presume you mean, "Is it a bad thing to write a story where religion is never mentioned?", and not "Would it be a bad thing for a person to have no religion". :-)

I don't see any problem with a story never mentioning religion, if it is reasonable in the context of the story for the subject to never come up. Like if I'm reading a detective story, I expect the police to talk about suspects and evidence, not religion. Sure, religion MIGHT come up, like if the victim was Jewish and he was murdered by a Muslim extremist who hates all Jews or some such. But most of the time it wouldn't. Indeed it would be rather disconcerting if the detective said, "We found fingerprints on the door knob that we were able to match against the FBI database. And I believe that transubstantiation is the correct doctrine of the Eucharist." Okay, deliberately silly example, but that's my point.

On the other hand, if the story treads into a subject where, in real life, people would naturally talk about religion, it can sound distinctly strange, even contrived, if you avoid the subject. Just for example, I saw a movie once -- and I'm saying this from memory, excuse me if I get details wrong -- anyway, I saw a movie that I think was called "The Life Force Experiment", about a medical who discovers some previously unknown form of energy in living beings, and who theorizes that if he can find a way to transfer this "life force" from a dying person, who presumably doesn't need it anymore, to a sick person it could cure diseases. Spoiler alert if you happen to see this movie somewhere! The movie ends with the scientist discovering that this life force retains the person's personality after he dies, and the characters speculate if this means that people could potentially live forever in this disembodied state. Ok, fine, not a bad plot idea, except ... at no point does any character in the story mention the concept of the "immortal soul" or mention any religious implications. Even if everyone involved were atheists, surely they would have heard of the idea of the soul, and seen the obvious connection. I found it wildly implausible that absolutely no one mentioned religion or the soul in any way in this story.

On a different tack: Is it plausible for all the characters in your story to be atheists or uninterested in religion? Possibly. If your characters were supposed to be a random group of people from many different places and circumstances, it would be unlikely that they all would be atheists, as atheists are relatively uncommon. But if they're a group of friends, the idea that people would hang out with others who have similar beliefs is quite plausible.

As your characters all appear to be actively gay or bi, it seems unlikely that they would be devout Muslims or evangelical Christians, as those religions disapprove of homosexuality. (Originally I wrote "orthodox Christians" but I'm editing to change that to a term that has a more clear definition and more closely expresses what I was thinking when I wrote this.)

Tangential point, but I don't see why you say that the group of characters you describe is "diverse". They're all gay or bi. That seems pretty monolithic to me. But not the point of your question.

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    Honestly I think it's pretty ignorant of you to think LGBT folk can't be Muslim or Christian. My best friend is orthodox Christian and bisexual. In terms of diversity, my characters are diverse in their race mostly, and their personal backgrounds. I'm not talking about my characters' individual religious beliefs, but religion itself as an idea and how or if I should represent it in my story. – weakdna Jan 9 at 21:59
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    @Jay didn't say they CAN'T be Muslim or Christian.He/she simply said it's UNLIKELY they would be DEVOUT. So from what I can see he/she was actually helping you in suggesting that might be another reason someone would actively avoid the subject. Maybe take in everything the answer has to offer before jumping on the defensive wagon? Also, the rest of the pain-painstakingly typed answer directly addresses your question. You're free to accept or ignore the answers and advice of others on here. Perhaps you shouldn't be asking questions on an open forum if you're so easily offended. – DeVil Jan 10 at 4:32
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    @DeVil -Well, that's a bit wrong. I'm an usher at my (Methodist) Church, and two of the most devout Christians I know are gay. Aslum is probably right about %ages (and why), but the people who nevertheless stick with their beliefs in the face of that kind of treatment are going to be those who believe the most strongly. – T.E.D. Jan 10 at 19:28
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    According to a survey published on Huffington Post, huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/14/…, 48% of LGBTs say they are atheists, agnostics, or have no religion, compared to 20% of the general public. I believe that my statement is objectively, factually correct. (Granted, the poll didn't discuss how many of those who gave a religious affiliation are "devout". That would be difficult to define objectively, though perhaps one could use something like frequency of church attendance as a surrogate.) – Jay Jan 10 at 20:13
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    Frankly I don't understand why folks here are finding this statement objectionable. I made no value judgements. – Jay Jan 10 at 20:14
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It will really depend on the story itself, the tone of it, how you present the story. The Lord of the Rings, for example, has a 'diverse' fantasy cast and no religion.

It depends on the contract you set up with the reader.

You may have readers asking if your characters believe in God. (I had readers that asked me that.) This is a normal thing to wonder about, as a reader. Clearly, since you have no religion mentioned in your story at the moment, it is an aspect of diversity that you aren't addressing with this book. At least, not yet. If readers aren't asking about religion, and if you feel your book has enough focus on the elements you wish to address without bringing in religion, then don't sweat it. But if readers are asking about it, then something in the book is causing them to wonder. In that case, you have a few choices, not limited to:

~ Set the contract so that you are making it clear religion isn't part of the story, at all. It will be completely absent. Have a character say something early on, about the world not caring about religion anymore, or something like this. If a character makes it clear for the reader to not expect religion, the reader is far more likely to accept those terms for the story.

~ If religion is still a part of the culture, but not within your story, you could nod to the reader with a simple few lines early on--Perhaps they are passing a mosque/temple/church/etc and one character off-handedly says 'I haven't gone in years.' I think that's enough to say to the reader, 'yeah, there's religion in the world but not in the story.'

~ Decide for yourself if your characters are religious, and if so how that shapes them as individuals. Maybe one is agnostic, and only prays in times of stress, for example, and maybe another is superstitious and maybe another is a militant atheist who becomes angry if the topic comes up. If you want to add religion as a sub-thread throughout your story, decide these things and in revision drafts, allow the religious beliefs to come through.

In my opinion, from what I have seen, most novice drafts (including my own, but not all) can benefit from more depth which means subplots or deeper characterization. It's up to you to decide where to go with this. But stories are not real life, and they don't chronicle real life. They are reflections of real life. We experience them within our minds, which are not the same as our external worlds. We want to understand our own lives, their messy complexity, but when we try to understand our lives we do it a couple pieces at a time. You are allowed to have whatever cast you like and whatever elements you like. (For example, have you included the diversity of dietary beliefs and behaviors among your characters? The diversity of wealth and opportunity? The diversity of educational opportunity and attainment? Political beliefs? Health issues? Ages? And so on.)

Although the readers' experience is of supreme importance, and you do need to pay attention to it, the important thing up front is to define the contract to the terms you are offering. And write a good story.

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    For what it's worth, Lord of the Rings may not have religion but it does have a theology that's measured out by prophets (e.g. wizards) and elders (e.g. elves). The poems, songs and other utterances of the elves are full of theological references and sometimes are worshipful (albeit in their own language); morality is firmly defined such that nobody denies that Mordor is oppressive and unjust; and Tolkien provided companion literature that made it clear what supernatural realities exist around the drama of Lord of the Rings. – elliot svensson Jan 9 at 18:36
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    Sure. But, hierarchy and tradition (and wisdom!) is not religion. Arguably not theology, either. Supernatural realities (the wide net of such) are viewed with distaste among the traditionally religious. @elliotsvensson – DPT Jan 9 at 22:58
  • you mean that typical supernatural realities in Jesus' time, other than God and angels, were only observed during exorcisms? That's certainly a form of distaste... – elliot svensson Jan 9 at 23:02
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    I mean anything outside established religious teaching (including magic rings) is seen as 'bad' to a subset of fundamentalists. That's all. – DPT Jan 9 at 23:34
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Religion is barely mentioned or touched upon in much, arguably most, general fiction. I've even read books like this by authors I know to be highly religious. As a religious person myself, I occasionally find that a bit odd, but much preferable to uninformed, offensive, overly pushy or otherwise poor integrations of religion. It's a bit presumptuous, after all, to include God as a character, which is often what putting religion in your book amounts to. (Even in my own writing, I find it challenging to include religious themes in a way that is natural, not preachy, and integrated with the larger book.) So I do think it's fine to not include religion in your book, particularly if you are not religious yourself. As I've said often, realism is just a style. We accept little inaccuracies in fictional worlds all the time.

With that said, there is a middle road. You can include characters who are quietly religious. There are a lot of people who have a relationship with God (as they understand God) that is very personal and that they don't talk much about. You might know some, and not even realize it. In terms of your characters, one could wear a cross, another could pray quietly before a meal or at a time of stress. A character could mention being raised Catholic, or treasure a statue of Buddha, etcetera. You don't have to go into detail if it doesn't serve the book.

There are very many LGBTQ people of color who are religious, so knowing (from your other question) the makeup of your main cast doesn't argue against that in my mind. (It's an open secret, for example, that closeted gay men and women have long played key roles in otherwise conservative African-American churches.) In fact, I would describe people in that category as a truly under-represented group in fiction, and would personally welcome more depictions of people who exist at that intersection.

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I think it's unusual that there would be no religion post-apocalypse. Surely some people would become more religious given massive social upheaval.

I think it's fine if your main characters aren't those people, but the more characters you introduce the more it strains believability.

The more people you have, the less able you are to explain a group's absence by it just being a statistical fluke.

  • Someone else mentioned something like this, and I'm thinking of my gateway to the second book in the series to be the introduction of these characters into Eden, a city full of thousands of survivors, which is actually a cult. – weakdna Jan 9 at 22:01
  • I'm having trouble remembering... do none of the characters in "Brave New World", "1984", "Ender's Game", "The Handmaid's Tale", "Blade Runner / DADOES", "Star Trek [all]" or any other well-known favorite post-apocalyptic fiction from the 20th-21st century hold to one or another religion? – elliot svensson Jan 9 at 22:41
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    In 1984, I recall it mentioned that religion was specifically outlawed, though one could argue that they worship Big Brother. I also recall seeing religious symbols in Blade Runner. In Fallout, there is the "Cult of the Atom" who worships an atomic bomb that failed to detonate. The point is that while the main cast might not be religious, someone in their world surely is; and the more that world is explored the more likely it is that they will be encountered. – Ryan_L Jan 9 at 22:57
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    @elliotsvensson I believe in Handmaid's Tale, there are religious zealots who take over the government and turn it into a theocracy, where women are oppressed. (Haven't read the book, only watched the show, lol.) – weakdna Jan 9 at 23:09
  • It may not be relevant to the story, though. In most stories, religion is not touched on, just as bathroom trips aren’t. Yet everyone knows they do happen. – mirabilos Jan 12 at 17:14
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There's two levels to consider here - setting/story and character.

Story

Some post-apocalyptic settings have introduced religious organisations in, either pre-apocalyptic holdouts or new cults (e.g. the Fallout games) but if your story doesn't need them then there's nothing wrong with them not being there. Your world, your rules.

Characters

If a character's religious affiliation (either to a real world one, to one you created, or indeed an explicit "none") would affect their behavior in the story then it can be worth including and it can be effective. Jim Butcher uses this in The Dresden Files series both with Harry himself and with others - because it's relevant. Gods and Angels and Demons are part of his world and the plot of the series. It would be odd for it not to come up. For a less fantastical setting Kathy Reichs does this with Temperance Brennan in her Bones novels - the main character is non-religious but had a Catholic upbringing and occasionally this drives some of her actions so it gets mentioned - but only as much as is required to let you understand her motivation in that scene. I've read many, many books where a character's religion is simply never mentioned because it has no bearing on what's happening and what they are doing, at that point mentioning it would just feel unnecessary.

has said "Oh my God" or the like

Assuming this is a post-apocalyptic version of our world then there's nothing to worry about there - the phrase is in the general vernacular of secular and religious people alike so it won't raise any particular attention to the religion question.

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    Another example is Agent Scully from the X-Files. Like Bones, Scully was raised Catholic and unlike Bones, it's still a big part of her identity. This leads to an interesting dynamic in the show where Scully is typically the skeptic to the wild conspiracy theories of Mulder... except when the theory is explicitly linked to Christianity, in which she's the believer and Mulder is the skeptic. One recurring motif is that if her cross is seen without her, Mulder is instantly clued into the threat she's facing. – hszmv Jan 9 at 17:33
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Everything in a story serves a purpose. Otherwise, why include it? That is why stories rarely tell how people went to the toilet. Yes, they do, but it doesn't serve a purpose in the story. It is included only when it does (that is why, by my subjective entirely unscientific estimate, 80% of all toilet scenes in movies are in comedies).

If religion doesn't add anything to your story, leave it out. You didn't notice its absence by yourself until now, so apparently it doesn't.

I'm an atheist, and religion plays no role in my daily life at all. If I pass by a church, it's just another building. If there's an online article about religion, I scroll past it. None of my friends discuss religion with me, for most of them I don't even know if they are religious or not. If you told my life story for a period of a few weeks or months, religion wouldn't be in it.

If your characters are the same, it won't be for them, either. If they are very religious, they would at least at certain points, turn to group prayer or such. Religion would matter to them and should at least be mentioned. Because then it serves the purpose of characterising them.

Don't include things just because they exist. We're telling stories, not creating a word-by-word simulation.

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A convincing story needs to acknowledge that human beings, since the origins of the species, have sought, individually and/or collectively, answers to fundamental questions about the origin of things (including themselves), the meaning of events ("why ...?"), the strength of nature vis-a-vis that of their own (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc), what's after death, and so on, which virtually all (I'm not aware of an exception) societies and group has addressed through different means.

In your case, you can either assume (or state) that individuals have already satisfactorily answered such fundamental concerns in a non-religious way (e.g. through atheism?), or that they retain some form of religious content (however primitive it might be) through which they do so, or that, perhaps more realist, they are still more or less seeking for it, as we could argue every human being (with different degrees of activeness) is.

The alternative is a human being who has no inherent tendency whatsoever to ask him/herself fundamental questions - perhaps not a true human being after all.

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people aren't exactly focused on praying or worshipping, they're consumed with the daily task of surviving in a barren world

Well, in the reality your point is wrong because it's exactly the opposite - the harsher the reality, the more religious are the people. Guess where there are the most fasting days - in Ethiopia. It's the societies of surplus that are the most godless.

But it's your story and your world, it doesn't have to follow real world's logic. If you wish no religion in your story, you shouldn't feel bad about this.

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No religion is not a bad thing - it is just a matter of how some people think. For example, many people who do have a religion, could think that the people who don't have a religion should be part of their religion. I, for one, don't believe in any religion, and don't think that it is bad to not be part of a religion. It is all just what people were raised to believe.

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Please note that the question isn't about whether one should be religious, but about whether not having religion present in one's novel at all (no mention of any character being or not being religious, no mention of religious buildings, etc.) is strange / problematic / unrealistic / otherwise not good. – Galastel Jan 10 at 21:31
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Generally speaking, religion isn't just about believing in gods or spirits or whatever. Religion is also a manifestation of history and culture. (e.g., the history of the Jewish or Irish people is tied up with religion, but it's not the supernatural aspects that mattered.)

In 21st century American culture especially and in Anglophone culture more generally, religion (and Christianity especially) has gotten tied up with...a lot of things. Political alignment, history, science, global warming, urban and rural culture, racism, LGBT rights, ... and so on. It doesn't matter whether it's factually or statistically true, it's what people believe.

From a worldbuilding perspective, it could go either way. It could lots of ways. Maybe people turn to religion to deal with the world around them. Or maybe people blame old world ideas for destroying everything and reject them. Or maybe it makes no difference, and people continue to believe what they believe. Maybe people come to deny religion itself, as an old idea from a dead world.

Probably, it's going to be a complicated mixture of all the above. What ends up happening depends on the history of the world before and after, and how it interacts with culture and society. You could claim that religion has ceased to exist or be relevant, at least in the region where your story is set. You could mention it as background fluff and otherwise not deal with it. You could make it a major character trait for one of your characters. Or you could make it a central theme and idea. That's up to you.

From a writing perspective, that's where it gets complicated. Anglophone and American culture is going through a period of cultural conflict, and again, religion is tied deeply into it. Eventually things will work themselves out in some way or another. But it's a problem today. The fact that you needed to ask this question and the arguments people've been having in the comment threads shows it to be so.

The simplest option is to just ignore it. That's what stories tend to do, after all. But if you do decide to bring it up? Then people will interpret your story through their own lenses. You will get questions, ranging from the ideological ones like How can gay people have religion? and Why haven't gay people abandoned religion in the future? to the reasonable ones like How has religion changed since the apocalypse? and How does future religion deal with gay people?

Some of these questions can't be answered, the political ones especially. Ideology doesn't answer to reason, and ideologues will always get upset for writing whatever you write. I doubt people will blame you if you ignore them! As for the other questions, well, it's up to you whether you answer them. But post-apocalyptic stories are science fiction stories, and people have come to expect answers to these kinds of questions in stories like these. (...which is, of course, yet another expression of modern culture.)

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I don't really think it's applicable, because these people aren't exactly focused on praying or worshipping, they're consumed with the daily task of surviving in a barren world.

These are exactly the conditions under which religion thrives. The top five that, combined, occupy 70% of the human population (to say nothing of the hundreds, or thousands, of religions that humanity has occupied itself with at one point or another) were invented in extremely deadly and primitive circumstances. Life expectancy was low, "law" as we think of it didn't exist, wars were fought over whims, people died from diseases that we've forgotten about, medicine was nonexistent, and backbreaking work (or outright slavery) was a permanent occupation for 90+% of the human population. Religions, have mostly emerged from the poor, downtrodden, ignorant and destitute who need some measure of hope in a world that offers them none. Sounds a lot like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, right?

Others have pointed out that you don't need a religion to tell a good story - and that's true; it depends on the story you're trying to tell. You may be telling a story with a different goal. It might be allegorical, or you might be making a heroes journey, or you might be asking a more sci-fi "what-if" philosophical question to see what happens, or any number of other story goals. You don't need a religion for every story.

But some stories merit it. If you're trying to establish a realistic and personal setting where the focus is on characters who act much like real people, and make their decisions with all the same flaws and biases that real humans do, excluding religion is pretty odd.

Your readers may not think about it, and you're not obligated to write anything you don't want to, but you might find in the future that adding a religion to one of your drafts (not necessarily for this story) can enrich it in ways you didn't expect.

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I wanted to add an answer that discusses the merits of adding religion in the story as well as the possible danger in omitting it. Other answers have suggested not to "shoehorn" religion in if it doesn't drive the story. Only adding what's necessary and serves the story is definitely a good thing to strive for but there are other concerns as well, such as making the story believable. In the case of a post-apocalyptic society I would find it extremely unbelievable for the characters not to at least briefly discuss why they think the world went to hell, society collapsed, etc. And such discussions would almost certainly feature religious explanations.

Example:

"Is God punishing us for our sins then?" asked Mark, half-joking.

"That's what those crazy MarDaens on the other side of the mountains seem to think, answered Jacob.

"There's no God. Just us horrible humans. We destroyed this world all on our own" said Sally over her shoulder, her voice surprisingly grim.

In short, the characters are going to need to assign meaning to the fact of the world's demise, even if that meaning is "it doesn't mean anything". This would hold true even if the world's end happened as far back as several generations ago.

Further things you should be aware of:

  • The word Apocalypse literally comes from the Greek of the New Testament. It refers to the Apokalypse of John, i.e. the "Secret Book" of John, (aka The Book of Revelations) which describes the end of days.
  • Besides the Apocalypse of John, the other most famous end-of-the world story is that of the Flood/Noah's Arc in the Old Testament.
  • Religion features heavily both plot-wise and thematically in almost any apocalypse/post-apocalypse story I can think of, including (to name a few): Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut), A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller Jr.), The Stand (Stephen King), Deus Irae (Phillip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny), The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe), even The Elfstones of Shannara (Terry Brooks).
  • Religious discussions/themes can be a useful tool for character and plot development.

TL;DR: There's strong precedent for including religion in a post-apocalyptic tale and it very well might seem unrealistic if you don't include it. It can prove a useful tool as well. Also The word Apocalypse itself comes from the New Testament. The end-of-the world stories from the Old and New Testaments are almost certainly the most culturally relevant across all of Western society.

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In my opinion, in a post apocalyptic world, you MUST have religions. Not one religion, but MANY religions. Every 3rd or 4th settlement should be some kind of a religious cult. Cults tend to be good at surviving. Efficient, order driven, mistrusting of outsiders, etc...

And they should all believe in some messed up/twisted/extreme version of some pre-apocalypse religion.

The more desperate people become, the more likely they will trust in an invisible force.

That's just human nature.

You can have so much fun with it and yet not offend your religious reader.

It is only natural for survivors to believe war, disease, famine, natural disasters, zombie outbreaks, etc. are divine punishment for mankind's transgressions!

protected by Galastel Jan 12 at 9:49

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