Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 8.19: Writing and Convention Culture
This trope…well this trope goes something like this:
“Oh, a new religion. How nice! Let’s see what we can do with it. Okay it has a Sky God, father figure to the other gods and mortals, lays down the law, and is the Lord of Creation. Cool. He has Son, who is kinda of shiny, and for some reason he died, but wait…he came back, somehow, okay, that’s cool. And there are some winged messengers, lets thrown them in too. And there is this other god of fire, or not him, yeah the guy who dwells in the Underworld, with the dead and stuff. Seems kinda of gloomy in there, not a very nice place. Maybe a place of punishment? I’m cool with that, which means that where the Sky Daddy hangs out must be a swell place….”
In other words, a writer when confronted with another non-Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian) religion (fictional or otherwise) tends to emphasize those aspects that are similar to Judeo-Christian tradition, or at least generally associated with them. In real life this phenomenon is know by two terms: syncretism and demonization.
Syncretism adapts like elements of other religions into another. Christianity did this with Judaism, Judaism did it with ancient Sumerian/Babylonian/Assyrian myths (from Garden of Eden to the Flood). The late C.S. Lewis followed the well worn path of the Cristian Apologist, who among other things claimed that the deities of other religions were simply imperfect representations of the true faith, i.e. Christianity. Even genius loci, that is patron deities and spirits who dwell in special places transform into patron saints of cities/nations and versions of the Mary/Saint of X.
Demonization is the process of subsuming other religions as demonic figures to be shunned or fought against in the current dominant religion. Ironically, while reviled, they become an important part of the religion as figures of evil and temptation.
Nor is it limited to Christianity. The Greeks and Romans used analogs of their own pantheons to describe deities of other peoples, be they Celt, Germanic or Egyptian and each other. Take for example Ares/Mars. Both are deities of war, but Ares is seen by the Greeks as a force of destructive passion, warfare for warfare sake that leads to nothing but blood letting and destruction. Mars, whom the Romans equated with Ares (as in they saw Ares as analogous with Mars) was a war deity, but one who was master of martial endeavors, the army and discipline/glory in battle. Fearsome, yes, but not a force of unrestrained destruction.
While it is natural to sort of fill in the blanks by appealing to this trope, as the page points out it can lead to a multitude of unfortunate implications such as the writers didn’t care, didn’t bother with research or simply think their viewers are morons (all bad tropes in their right).