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In our world, we consider human life to be precious and valuable. It is meant to be preserved, and a deliberate act of taking a life is considered deplorable by society. This is considered normal. The people of this setting also consider life to be valuable, as it was given to them by the gods. As it is precious, human life is the only thing worthy of being sacrificed to them. This continent is controlled by a theocracy where self-sacrifice is revered and promoted. The gods demands tribute from their people, and being sacrificed to them is the highest honor one can achieve. However, only a select few are worthy of such honor.

Slaves, the destitute, and average people are not applicants for this. The gods want those of merit, who have great potential and have proven themselves through competition. This is done through ritual games similar to our Olympics. These games are often dangerous where warriors or athletes from respective states go up against each other. Those who survive will meet each other in a final contest where there can only be one winner. All those who die in these games would be honored by their families and society as heroes who defended the pride of their nation. However, the winner will be given the ultimate honor of having their hearts removed and their soul offered to the heavens, where they would achieve godhood. Because of these games, outright war among nations has been avoided for millennia.

The religion demands for society to kill off its best people routinely, but I don't want to portray it as evil. The people and their leaders genuinely believe in what they are doing, and they have normal rules against murder and crime, etc. These events also keep the peace on the continent, as these war game rituals have taken the place of war and conflict. How can I get this across to the audience?

  • "Evil" is a strong word. Many earlier cultures practices human sacrifice or other forms of public executions like gladiator combat, but their portrayal is not necessarily "evil". "Savage", "barbarian", "uncivilized" maybe better terms to characterize them. Would this be Ok for you? – Alexander Jan 15 at 21:52
  • @Alexander change to wording made. – Incognito Jan 15 at 21:56
  • I would recommend that you watch some of the Netflix series "Vikings" -in which the culture of the Vikings is compared with the more normative Catholicism prevalent in England at the time. The Vikings do practice human sacrifice, and the ways that this is introduced to the viewer and treated by the writers of the show are very well done. – JBiggs Jan 16 at 4:55
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First, I will direct you here, because the questions overlap some (but are not duplicates). How to present an alien culture with different morals, without it coming across as savage?

You can't keep the reader from labeling the actions as "evil" if that's what they wish. And perhaps you don't want to stop them. Human sacrifice is pretty awful, at least to our modern minds.

Present your world matter-of-fact. This is how it works. This is why it works. Show the reader these things by how you describe them, not by sitting them down and explaining it.

Your characters might enjoy parts of the rituals, but they aren't doing all of this for kicks. They're doing it because it serves a purpose. Several purposes. Show those purposes.

One example is religious. They (some of them anyway) believe that these actions will please the gods and this in turn will benefit the society. Group ritual actions also bring a community together. They also reinforce social and class stratification in a community, something that leaders may consider necessary for the economy. They empower leaders and give them status. They reward certain families and sub-communities and elevate their status. They distract the people from things they ought not to be concerned with (problems with government, a disaster that could happen, etc). And they reduce leisure time where citizens could be out making trouble. Those are just a few examples.

The reader will take cues from you, the author. If you show these actions as normal (within this context), your reader will suspend disbelief. Of course, when contemplating the book, the reader may think very differently about the moral choices of the characters. And that's okay. You're presenting a world, with all its blemishes. Another route is to create dissidents in your world (it would be odd not to have any, but showing them is your choice). How you portray them, if at all, will help guide the reader as well.

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    "Present your world matter-of-fact. This is how it works. This is why it works." This, everytime. It doesn't need to be presented as good or bad, it needs to be showed to the readers. They'll judge on their own if they want, or just enjoy the ride. – Reinstate Monica. Jan 16 at 9:22
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Portraying the positive attitude of the sacrificial being, as well as which details of the sacrifice to share is an excellent method.

If the people themselves are eager for the honor, that puts a whole different spin on it. Show their desire to be the chosen one in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Portray the positive emotions, reasons, and reactions.

The exact method of being sacrificed will also make a difference. If it is described with blood and gore and horror type elements, it will come across one way... but if they lay down on a bed of flowers and pass away peacefully, that's a whole different look and feel.

Furthermore, if the God or Gods in question are real and receive the person up in glory, especially if the divine event has manifestations that are visible and audible to an audience, this should further affect the tone and reception of your concept.

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In our world, we consider human life to be precious and valuable. It is meant to be preserved, and a deliberate act of taking a life is considered deplorable by society. This is considered normal.

Only within certain contexts. Some consider the unborn to be exceedingly precious, more precious than the poor and destitute. More precious than criminals. Others see this issue differently.

We have and use the death penalty. Would it be so far fetched to imagine some of the people, within our modern day, watching an execution and thinking that it is a sacrifice to God?

The people of this setting also consider life to be valuable, as it was given to them by the gods. As it is precious, human life is the only thing worthy of being sacrificed to them. This continent is controlled by a theocracy where self-sacrifice is revered and promoted. The gods demands tribute from their people, and being sacrificed to them is the highest honor one can achieve. However, only a select few are worthy of such honor.

We here on Earth also honor self sacrifice. Not to the point of death except in acts of heroism, in which case certainly to the point of death. So far, in broad strokes, you are talking about a matter of degree between what we are used to and your world.

Slaves, the destitute, and average people are not applicants for this. The gods want those of merit, who have great potential and have proven themselves through competition. This is done through ritual games similar to our Olympics. These games are often dangerous where warriors or athletes from respective states go up against each other. Those who survive will meet each other in a final contest where there can only be one winner. All those who die in these games would be honored by their families and society as heroes who defended the pride of their nation. However, the winner will be given the ultimate honor of having their hearts removed and their soul offered to the heavens, where they would achieve godhood. Because of these games, outright war among nations has been avoided for millennia.

Vaguely bizarre, but OK.

The religion demands for society to kill off its best people routinely,

This is a problem to me. Why is athletic, healthy, and rich deemed 'best?'

but I don't want to portray it as evil. The people and their leaders genuinely believe in what they are doing, and they have normal rules against murder and crime, etc. These events also keep the peace on the continent, as these war game rituals have taken the place of war and conflict. How can I get this across to the audience?

To answer your question, you do it by comparison. You provide explicit examples through backstory, written history, oral tradition, swear words, whatever--that points to the thousands upon thousands of lives lost before the tradition was begun.

I see little in your setup that is very far removed from American culture. Some people here wish to die. Some wish to be heroes. Life is only valued under certain circumstances. In some ways, your society is more moral than American culture because your society is keeping warfare at bay.

I'd play up that angle. I'd go toward 'on the nose' and have a character describing how there used to be barbaric cultures that would drum up wars over lies, over resources that were better left alone, over ego, and that these wars would last generations and divide the country more insidiously than anything else the country had ever faced before. that war became the economy. That its funding was held separate from the national budget, because it held a protected status as 'necessary.' That it became a god in its own right, and people prayed to the god of war for victory. And your character can make the philosophical argument that the good of the many (and the fabric of the culture) outweighs the good of the one. And besides, who doesn't want to be a god? And, if he achieves god-hood, he may even be able to end this dastardly game and to warfare.

  • "We here on Earth also honor self sacrifice. Not to the point of death except in acts of heroism". That's incorrect, but it proves your point. Japanese Culture has traditionally seen suicide as an acceptable way to shield your family from the shame of some dishonor. Suicide for disgraceful actions is traditionally seen as a good person (government and large companies are more closer to the west on the matter, and are trying to take steps to get a more modern view on suicide, but it's an uphill battle). – hszmv Jan 18 at 21:43

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