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There is a veil which separates our reality from a parallel dimension that contains Eldritch abominations. An ancient empire has discovered that they can harness the power of this realm by summoning demons across the barrier. This is done through the use of human sacrifices.

A religion has formed with two separate modes of thought. One sect believes that these demons are tools to be exploited. These creatures are merely to be used to further humanity's purpose. The other sees them as transcendent life forms to be worshipped and held sacred. By combining man and demon, humans can shirk their mortal shell and ascend to a higher state of being.

This religion is accepted by mainstream society and is the only official religion. People worship the faith as it is dominant in their lives, similar to Christianity in the middle ages. However, I don't want common citizens to be seen as card carrying villians who twirl their mustaches and cackle evily throughout the day. Their faith is normalized and they go about their business like in any civilization. However, portraying this is difficult, as it is based on a religion which worships demons and practices human sacrifice.

How can I portray this to get the results that I want?

  • You probably won't be getting any answers here because you're essentially asking what to write. But ask yourself why you consider demon worship and human sacrifice to be evil. Can you change these aspects to make them more acceptable or less gruesome? (For example, what if the sacrifice was voluntary or an accepted form of capital punishment?) – Llewellyn Mar 30 at 17:07
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The first thing you need to do is drop all biases about what any of those terms mean. The term "Demon" already implies that you view this religion directly as evil, but to these people the religion isn't evil at all, otherwise why would they follow it? Good and evil is a perspective, so one of the clearest ways to resolve the issue is to use terms that reflect how that religion views things. What one religion may refer to as demons another may refer to as Gods, or Angels, or Spirit Beings, pick a term. Depending on what denominations and scriptures you read, technically demons are fallen angels anyway (at least from the Christian perspective).

Likewise, human sacrifice has been a staple of ancient religions the world over, we only consider it evil now because society has evolved to view it as murder, but the key term is sacrifice. Today we still believe sacrifice to be an entirely valid form of worship, whether that be by tithing to the church, time and labor, fasting, or giving up of material things. This doesn't have much difference from older religions, except that we no longer believe that death is something that God (or the gods) ask for. A big part of that comes from our change in understanding of the world and science.

For thousands of years religion was used to explain the natural processes of the world. Now that we understand nature and how things progress and can be predicted we no longer need religion to provide hope and security. It stands to reason though that if you want greater change you need to give greater sacrifice. Therefore, it makes complete sense in a world view where everything is granted by the gods/God that giving human life (i.e. the greatest sacrifice) will grant the greatest change. Hell, even Judaism considered human sacrifice entirely acceptable if God demanded it (see Abraham and Isaac), and technically Christianity was founded on the human sacrifice of Christ.

This also can be heavily influenced by how this culture views death, which again comes back to religion. If death isn't viewed necessarily as morbid (excuse the pun), but more as an event of glory, or a natural progression from one state of being to another, then people may simply not view the sacrifice as being negative at all, especially if the sacrifice is only enemies, or criminals, or such. Building a religion is building a society and a culture. They can definitely differ on many things, but they aren't mutually exclusive.

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You just need to adopt the right viewpoint and then convey that in your writing.

If it is worshipped by a common religion, you should just call it a god. Your people are not really worshipping demons they just have a polytheistic religion with lots of gods of varying power levels. That people indoctrinated to a monotheistic religion would call those gods demons or angels is not really relevant and has no place in your writing.

Wide spread human sacrifice for divine favor is not really any more morally evil than declaring a war to further your national interests. That we think it is, is simply a consequence of our common religions rejecting it while making allowances of convenience for warfare. Since we have for millennia looked to religion for moral guidance, we have a tendency to assume religious dogma defines what is good and evil even then the actual reasons the religion rejects or supports something are not directly relevant.

So you should just deal with sacrifice like we deal with wars. Or like people deal with sizeable portion of the population being in prison or state convicting people to death penalty. Depends on how the sacrifices actually work. We accept people being killed for "greater good" just fine. No reason your people should be any different.

You just need to convey to readers why the people think the sacrifices are the "greater good" and acceptable. And yes, you can use real world as inspiration. It is kind of unsettling but there really is not that much difference between the internal logic of systematic human sacrifice and things we accept just fine.

An example is that people dying are either seen as outsiders (enemies at war, terrorists, criminals, or even just far away foreigners) or heroes sacrificing their lives for all of us. Works for wars or fighting crime (not a coincidence that similar vocabulary is often used) and it would work just fine for human sacrifice as well.

And, while mentioning this is usually a bad idea, it is kind of relevant and should be fine at the end : Nazis actually did just fine at marginalizing millions of Jews, communists and homosexuals and then eventually removing them from society entirely.

Good and proper people have natural tendency to look to religious or ideological authorities to define what is right and wrong in society. So there is really no real reason why people in a society that practices human sacrifice would even think about it beyond it being the "right thing" to do. You just need to marginalize or remove all moral authorities that might disagree.

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Since all religions have evil effects in some situations, good effects in other situations, and neutral effects in still other situations, all religions are sometimes evil ones.

So the best way to depict an evil mainstream religion is to depict a mainstream religion realistically.

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Good and Evil are parts of moral values and moral values come from religions. So your judgement that a religion that worships demons is evil itself is coming from a moral standpoint that is most likely have a religious framework behind it.

You may not perceive the religious framework in daily life but it definitely exists. This is not a philosophy site so I'm not going to elaborate. But try to identify the background religious framework that propels your moral judgement then you can create a new one for your fictional characters.

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