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Fantastic Religious Weirdness
"...after the blessing we talked for a while about how to work with some of the laws that are hard to keep if you're not human. Like I can't totally shut off my power on Shabbas y'know? He says my case ain't too bad, he knows this oyster kibbutz up the coast and them bastards got problems."
The tenets of a real-world religion can interact... oddly with fantasy or futuristic settings.
In the simplest form of this trope, the setting makes religiously forbidden things harder to avoid, or mandatory things harder to do. Maybe it's impossible for Jewish vampires to keep kosher without starving*
. A group of Muslims on a Generation Ship
is likely to have trouble making a pilgrimage to Mecca. (It's also possible in principle for a setting to make religion easier
but that's less likely to happen as it fails to follow the Rule of Drama
There can also be interactions between religion and fantasy that are more complex. The discovery of fantastic elements can lead to crises of faith (or it may not for no apparent reason
), or conversely make the elements of that faith more relevant. *
And that's not even getting into the situations where the approach to the religion is part of
what makes the setting fantastical...
Done well, this can enrich both characters and setting. Done poorly, it makes one wonder if the creators actually know anything about the religion they're trying to portray.
This can be Truth in Television
. Conferences of real Muslims have grappled with the question of how to pray toward Mecca five times a day while orbiting the earth every 90 minutes. And just how do you determine when Shabbas begins and ends in places that experience polar night and midnight sun? Do particular transgenic foods meet Islam's dietary laws?
Interestingly, in post-communist Poland, exploration of this sort of thing has developed into a real SF genre, called clerical fiction.
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- In one DC comic all the Christian heroes hold Mass in a church. Naturally the Celebrant is the exiled angel Zauriel. One person queries why Blue Devil stands there in flames. Well, he's a good Catholic boy. He's also a Devil standing on sacred ground.
- The graphic novel Creature Tech has its skeptical scientist end up on an alien world at one point... only to find an alien Jesus being crucified. This ties back to an earlier point made that, if Jesus were real and divine, there's no way he would've died to save just one species.
- In the Marvel Universe, vampires are vulnerable to the symbols of all faiths — so long as the bearer of the symbol's faith is strong. Dracula himself was once burned by a faithful Orthodox Jew's Star of David medallion.
- Another time, a vampire mook was instakilled by The Mighty Thor's hammer. (He's a god, remember?)
- In one issue of The Mighty Thor, Thor saves the life of a Christian priest, and assures him that although he (Thor) is real, so is a god superior to Thor whom the Thunder God explicitly identifies as the Christian God. (It's never made clear which sect the priest is, nor is the question of Jesus addressed.)
- As of the latest update, they're apparently still trying to figure out how to answer that. At any rate, the official line is that yes, AIs do have souls. And at least one AI has chosen to become a rabbi.
- Trying to accommodate Santa-focused Christmas stories to the more Christian version of the holiday can lead to strangeness. For example, The Polar Express seemed to portray Santa as Jesus.
- And then there's the Mexican Santa Claus, in which Santa is a demon-battling alien who lives with Merlin and Hephaestus/Vulcan, and actually mentions Jesus Christ.
- The Dracula-parody film Love At First Bite has a scene where a Magen David proves to have no effect on Dracula. Amusingly, the guy wielding the Magen David only has it because he's a psychiatrist who adapted a Jewish name "for professional reasons."
- Another Dracula parody, The Fearless Vampire Killers, has a Jewish vampire who's immune to crucifixes.
- In a French comedy Dracula and Son (Dracula père et fils) crossed hammer and sickle kill vampires just as well as a crucifix. But the former are easier to find in socialist Romania.
- Filipino horror and fantasy movies tend to reflect the local manifestations of Catholicism, including Christianized animism. The Killing of Satan on the other hand runs away with Red Tuxedo Satan and his gang of flamboyant sorcerers.
- In The Mummy, Beni, when confronted by the newly resurrected Imhotep, pulls out a lot of holy symbols that he apparently wears on a chain around his neck — on the eminently practical grounds that one of them has to work — displaying each and saying a prayer in the appropriate language to try to ward him off. Only the Star of David and a Jewish prayer averts Beni's imminent demise — but only because Imhotep recognizes Hebrew as "the language of the slaves" and thinks Beni will be useful in this regard.
- One has to seriously question what kind of belief structure the Medjai have? Ardeth Bay frequently invokes Allah, implying that the modern order follows the Muslim faith, yet at the same time, their members adorn themselves with heiroglyphic tattoos and protect the land against an Ancient Egyptian curse, since they know full well that Egyptian pathenon is very real?!
- Well, they presumably speak Arabic like most Egyptians, and Allah is Arabic for "God". So the better question might be which god he's referring to. Or Ardeth is invoking Allah out of habit, living in a predominantly Muslim part of the world.
- They don't have to believe that the beings the ancient Egyptians called "gods" are actually divine, or deserving of worship, to want to prevent supernatural forces connected with those beings from breaking loose.
- Interestingly, Islam of the "Riddickverse" seems to have adapted fairly well to interstellar colonization. Hajj is made to the planet New Mecca, and when pilgrims pray, they face straight up, toward the stars.
- Fool's War by Sarah Zettel is a Space Opera where most of the main characters are Muslim. This leads to them asking each other questions like "Which way is Mecca today?" whenever they're on their spaceship and need to pray.
- Charles Stross deals with future changes to Muslim practices in Accelerando:
- One of the protagonists is an imam IN SPACE.
- Another one emancipates herself at the age of twelve via a complicated scheme that involves the relationship between shari'a and modern corporate law—she essentially sells herself into slavery to a company operated by a blind trust of which she is the sole owner. Her mother attempts to regain guardianship over her, in part by converting to Islam.
- In Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear, fae who existed before the coming of Christ are not bound by Christian tradition, while those born afterwards are (and thus, for example, reflexively flinch whenever the name of God is spoken).
- Almost the entire Kitty Norville series is about the mundane consequences of vampirism and lycanthropy, so this naturally comes up at least a bit. One particularly memorable scene in Kitty and the Midnight Hour has a vampire calling into a talk show for religious advice; apparently devout Catholicism and bursting into flame upon entering holy ground make a bad combination. Kitty's advice to him is to read Paradise Lost: she argues that Satan's real sin in that book wasn't the rebellion itself, but afterward, when he came to believe that his rebellion put him beyond forgiveness forever. Likewise, supposedly, being a vampire might make existence especially inconvenient for a Catholic, but it doesn't have to mean damnation unless he gives up. Heartwarming.
- The Temeraire series:
- One scene features a priest discussing whether the (intelligent) dragons possess original sin. He comes to the conclusion that since they're not mentioned in the Bible as eating from the Tree, they do not.
- When the group travels through the Middle East in Black Powder War they see both people and dragons praying towards Mecca.
- In Peter F Hamilton's Sci-fi Night's Dawn Trilogy:
- The souls of the dead come back to possess people. It's a normal part of life (well...death) that any advanced culture has to deal with to grow. One of the first people to be possessed is exorcised by a priest, thus leading you to think it's the usual demonic possession thing, except it turns out it only worked because the possessor was Catholic. It doesn't work if the soul doesn't believe in it.
- The main villain is possessed, but is so evil he in fact steals the abilities of the possessor while keeping it imprisoned in his mind. He goes on a campaign of galactic destruction thinking he is doing the bidding of the Lightbringer (Satan).
- In the CoDominium series, every Imam has also become an amateur astronomer, since they have to locate Sol to find Mecca to pray toward. This is a nod to real history, as it's speculated that the difficulty of finding Mecca was a major factor in the Muslim world's innovations in astronomy, mathematics etc.
- The Fremen in Dune are the descendants of Muslims who were relocated, apparently forcibly, to alien planets. Ten thousand years later, they are still bitter about being denied the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca.) Chapterhouse Dune then goes on to reveal that Judaism is still alive and kicking after 25,000 years, and introduces the reader to at least one group of Jews that's had to make only minor accommodations to their faith. This is in contrast to just about every other Dune religion, which are all mishmashes of other ones (Buddislam, Navachristianity, etc.) because Jews are just that cool.
- Harry Turtledove (who is notably Jewish) wrote a short story, "The R Strain", about the reaction of the Jewish community to the genetic engineering of ruminant pigs, which according to a straightforward interpretation of the rules could be kosher — but it's not necessarily that simple.
- Turtledove also pulled the same "Eternal Judaism" trope as in the Dune example above, subtly — there's a short story about a time traveller from the far future whose home time's way of life is so fundamentally different from ours that he finds everything incomprehensible — yet upon spotting a menorah in his host's home, casually remarks, "if I saw that in my own time, I'd think you were Jewish".
- Turtledove's The Case Of The Toxic Spell Dump explores the results of a mash up of a modern-world All Myths Are True fantasy setting.
- The inhabitants of the Colony, the national-level Worthy Opponent in The General series, are Muslims. They dealt with the Mecca problem by bringing a fragment of the Kaaba with them (Mecca itself was apparently destroyed in a war just before they left) and substituting their original landing site for prayer and pilgrimage purposes. Of course the whole point of this is just to keep the 'Fifth Century Byzantium IN SPACE!!!' setting as much as possible, so it's brushed over pretty quickly.
- From The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (14th Century Englishmen abducted by aliens):
"I presume you had a haunch of beef to break your fast," I said. "Are you sure it is not Friday? ... When is it Sunday?" I cried. "Will you tell me the date of Advent? How shall we observe Lent and Easter, with two moons morris-dancing about to confuse the issue?"
- This being a cheerful(ly whacked) work, they quote Jesus's words that the Sabbath was made for men and not the other way around, cheer up, and decide that they'll work it out.
- The Star Trek Expanded Universe collection Star Trek Corps of Engineers: Creative Couplings by David Mack has a story that involves a Jewish-Klingon wedding. The author apparently found a rabbi who was also a Star Trek aficionado and asked him how it would probably go down from a ceremonial standpoint, as well as what Klingon foods would be kosher.
- Jo Walton's poem "When we were robots in Egypt" portrays a Passover seder as reinterpreted by AIs.
- C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy:
- In Perelandra, it's revealed that Christ's life had profound cosmic consequences: after God became human it meant that all new sentient species from that point on would be human (though possibly of the Green-Skinned Space Babe variety.) Interestingly, however, Perelandra still has to go through its own version of the temptation of Eve, which forms the plot for the novel.
- The previous book, Out of the Silent Planet, has Martians which believe in the Trinity but have not yet learned of the incarnation of Christ (in the series, Earth is under a sort of spiritual blackout that has prevented news from reaching the other planets). They are also un-Fallen (at least mostly: they do die, though they have no fear of death) and so did not have nor need an Incarnation of their own.
- Lewis also wrote an essay entitled "Religion and Rocketry", which identified a number of theological complications that could arise if man were to discover extraterrestrials, such as whether or not God's plan for human redemption would apply to them, or whether they would even need redemption in the first place. He ultimately comes to the conclusion that it's an interesting subject, but we shouldn't dwell on it too much until we actually find aliens.
- In James Blish's classic A Case of Conscience, the Jesuit protagonist concludes that a race of reptilians leading apparently Edenic lives are of Satanic origin, since they have no concept of God and thus "prove" by their existence that He is unnecessary.
- In the prequel book to Jack L. Chalker's Soul Rider series, as the colonists are settling in on their new planet, the narrator remarks that the Muslim communities had long debates over which way Mecca was, given that, due to the method of travel they used to get there, they didn't even know which way Earth was. They decided that upward was the best bet. The narrator commented that this put them in agreement with the Christians in the group, and wondered if someday all their children would wind up praying to the gas giant planet that the planet was orbiting. Which is exactly what happened when the computers running the world ran a conversion program on the entire society to prevent a civil war and decimation of the populace and merged all religions into one single one as part of that change.
- The book Warp Angel by Stuart Hopen features a mercenary who, much to her surprise, falls in love with a rabbi/prominent religious leader who later gets kidnapped and shipped to a hellhole planet. The marriage was already kind of weird for her before that, and later Adam tries to figure out how one keeps kosher on the planet (by eating weeds).
- In F. Paul Wilson's story (later blown up into a novel) "Midnight Mass", it turns out crosses — and only crosses — have power over vampires. The Jewish communities (and presumably other non-Christians, though we only know of this through a Jewish character) are completely overrun.
- Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an odd case. In this cosmology, the existence of God, Angels, Demons and Fairies (not to mention heaven, hell and faerie) are all apparently well-established historical facts. However, this subject is only touched on briefly.
- "Transit" by Stephen Dedman concerns a group of Muslims from an off-world colony travelling to Earth on hajj. The setting has regular interstellar travel, but places are strictly limited and considerably smaller than the waiting list; there's a lottery to allocate places, but it's implied that the results are not entirely impartial.
- Also by Stephen Dedman, "From Whom All Blessings Flow" has several Alternate Histories arguing over which of them has the one true version of Christianity.
- The sci-fi novel This Alien Shore has an Encyclopedia Exposita selection from an apparently updated Bible that compares space travel to the tower of Babel. It states that man turned the skies "black with their arrogance", and that the mutation-triggering Hausman Drive was God's punishment, dividing humans by species as he did by language. There's also a glimpse of what are probably, but not explicitly, Muslims making their pilgrimage. One of the characters mentions that most sects of the unnamed religion allow pilgrimages to sites a bit closer to home, but the hardline sect they're watching insists that they have to visit the original site on Earth, even if they have to sell themselves into slavery to get the money for the trip.
- In the novel Snare, the Islamic religion was altered for people living on other planets so that "Face Mecca" means "Point To The Stars". The practitioners believe this to be because Mecca is an abstract place in Heaven. The guy who came up with the rule probably did it because figuring out what direction another planet is from a different solar system is hard to do without a degree in astronomy. There is also some discussion on how applicable some rules concerning traditional gender roles are to a race of female-dominated non-humans who express an interest in studying human religion.
- In Poul Anderson's "Elementary Mistake", a space probe captain feels like praying, "but Mecca was probably in a ridiculous direction."
- In Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels, the very existence of Deryni complicates religious questions.
- Deryni celebrants of the Sacraments can sense the psychic energies and emotions of participants (especially during key points of the Eucharist and the bestowing of Holy Orders). Does that make them higher than other humans on the Great Chain of Being? Were the Deryni persecutions a matter of jealousy as well as fear?
- Some few Deryni can heal just as Christ is depicted doing in the New Testament. How does that undercut the rationale (such as it is) for persecuting Deryni? Was Christ Deryni?
- Was Camber really a saint? Perhaps a guardian angel? Did he choose to become a saint or an angel in the afterlife? Did his powers and his arcane knowledge permit him to choose that destiny for himself?
- Several stories in the anthology Wandering Stars touch on the question: does a Jew have to be human? Most notably, William Tenn's "On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi".
- Touched upon in a short story by Neil Gaiman in which a drug intended for cancer treatment has an unexpected side effect... nigh-instantaneous and completely reversible gender realignment. It's briefly mentioned that the major religions of the world are noted as being about evenly split on whether such a drug is acceptable for treating cancer, though their position on its use as a cure for Gender Identity Disorder goes unrecorded. Then people start using it recreationally...
- In John Ringo's Legacy Of The Aldenata, the wiping out of 5/6 of humanity leads the Roman Catholic Church not only to allow priests and nuns to marry but to allow polygamy.
- The Sparrow has Jesuit priests making First Contact on a planet near Alpha Centauri. Although many of their practices are tolerated (in some cases enthusiastically appreciated), the gentle Runa natives get very upset when anybody sings or eats meat; all Masses have to be spoken only, without hymns, and when somebody opens a can of spam the room they're in is evacuated and sealed off. At the very end of the story, you find out why.
- Inverted by a heretical kzinti sect from Larry Niven's Known Space books: traumatized by how their Proud Warrior Race keeps getting its ass kicked by Puny Humans, they've concluded that God is human and on our side. They dress like humans (complete with masks of human skin) in the hope that our terrifying patron deity won't notice them.
- In the Disc World novels, there are several off-hand remarks about vampires working at kosher slaughterhouses. Which is strange because there isn't an actual Judaism in that world. Presumably, there is a religion that has a similar edict about the consumption of blood.
Live Action TV
- In general, the Buffyverse has an odd relationship with Christianity. Crosses, holy water, and exorcism are all effective against vampires or demons, but most of what's portrayed about its actual cosmology isn't particularly Christian. One explanation is that it's not that Christian holy symbols work because of their connection to Christianity, but rather early Christians decided that symbols that messed up vampires were holy. On the other hand, there is a heaven where the dead go to and many worlds that are labeled as hells.
Willow: I'm gonna have a hard time explaining this to my dad.
Buffy: You really think it'll bother him?
Willow: Ira Rosenberg's only daughter nailing crucifixes to her bedroom wall? I have to go over to Xander's house just to watch 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' every year.
- From Being Human:
Annie: Ah well, you shouldn't be eating bacon anyway, should you — you're Jewish.
George: Yeah, I gave up on the whole orthodoxy thing when I started turning into a wolf.
Annie: Do they have rules about being a werewolf as well?
George: I think you'd be hard pressed to find a religion that doesn't frown on it.
- Likewise, his Star of David is show to work against all vampires except for Mitchell, since George implicity trusts him.
- A mild version occurs early in Charmed when Piper worries that being a witch might make her automatically evil in the eyes of the Church (and her former priest.) Note that she's not at all religious, so it's a bit strange that this is a concern. After angsting the entire episode, she finally walks into the church and ecstatically proclaims herself "good" when she doesn't burst into flame.
- From the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang", in a world where stars don't exist.
: I don't want her joining any of those Star Cults. I don't trust that Richard Dawkins
- Babylon 5 had several in-universe examples:
- The station organizes a week-long celebration of the different faiths and beliefs of the different alien races as a cultural exchange. The other races, being mostly monocultural, are largely One Species, One Belief in outlook. The B5 crew continually ask Sinclair throughout the episode how he intends to represent humanity's myriad beliefs. He does so by lining up dozens and dozens of adherents of different beliefs and introducing them one by one.
- The theme was for each race to showcase its DOMINANT religion. The Narns are not shown taking part; probably G'Kar, instead of agonizing like Sinclair, just said "We don't have one." (Other episodes indicate that the Narn have a number of religions.)
- Ivanova's childhood rabbi visits the station, triggering a brief discussion of the difficulty of determining the kosher status of non-Earth food. The Rabbi's conclusion is that anything not mentioned in the Torah was probably OK, but he isn't certain. Or maybe he just wasn't too strict in his beliefs and wanted to try the food. The creator discussions mention that they would have loved to do more on it but didn't really have time. Ivanova, the only Jewish regular on the show, solves it by not bothering to keep kosher, though she probably wouldn't have on Earth, either.
- The Torah actually gives very specific instructions on what is and isn't Kosher, though the Rabbi in question might have been willing to have some to be polite.
- A sacred plant from the Narn homeworld G'Kar needed for a religious ritual was destroyed in a docking accident. By the time he gets hold of a replacement, the rays of the Narn sun have already touched the sacred mountain on their homeworld and the time for the ritual has passed. G'Kar is distraught until Commander Sinclair reminds him Babylon 5 is ten light-years away from the Narn system, so light from their sun will reach the station shortly, allowing the Narns on the station to perform the ritual.
- The Drazi have a species-wide ritual where every 5 years, they randomly draw green or purple sashes from a barrel, then all Greens fight all Purples until one establishes dominance over the other and rules for the next 5 years. Ivanova solves the problem when she grabs the Green Leader's sash just to make a point, and all the Green Drazi start following her orders.
Ivanova: You're saying just because I'm holding this right now, I'm Green Leader? But I'm human!
- Stephen Franklin is a Foundationist, a new human religion founded after humanity's first contact with aliens. They basically try to get past the "politics and money" of various religions to the core of different human beliefs to find common ground.
- In The Lost Tales, a Catholic priest monologues for a bit about the Catholic Church having to face a massive decline after humanity reached the stars. Naturally, he finds himself having to deal with a possible Demonic Posession.
- The Vampire: The Requiem book on the Lancea Sanctum (a generally Abrahamic Covenant that believes the centurion Longinus was turned into a vampire when the blood of Christ dripped onto his lips, and was taught that vampires are commanded by God to harrow sinners) goes into detail about how the various creeds mesh together the vampiric condition and the mortal faith of their practitioners (for instance, how a Muslim vampire effectively fasts during Ramadan when he's in a coma from sunup to sundown).
- BattleTech, though usually cursory in its detailing of religion, mentions theological disputes that delayed Islamic expansion into space, with the result that Islam is a minority faith in most every state in the Inner Sphere. Among other things, they decided that 'towards Mecca' can be approximated as 'towards the planet Earth', and really relaxed the hajj.
- The hajj was further complicated by Mecca being destroyed by a nuclear warhead during the fall of the Star League. An Entry With A Bang used this for possibly the only Crowning Moment of Heartwarming involving Islamic warriors ever to appear in a Tom Clancy fanfiction.
- Another little detail of religion in BattleTech: Catholicism has split at least once more. The New Avalon branch of the church has its own Pope and all, although it's on generally good terms with the Earth-based one. This came about back when the Star League fell and the Pope decided to transfer control of the individual branches of the church to his immediate subordinates in each Successor State — but the transmission to New Avalon (in the Federated Suns) was garbled and the cardinal assumed he had been put in charge of the whole thing instead. By the time the misunderstanding was cleared up (there was a war going on, after all), both sides had grown just far enough apart to make a simple reunion impractical, and so the division has stood.
- Traveller is often cursory as well but it has some fairly well developed religions. In anycase religion is usually just another facet of local custom.
- Eclipse Phase briefly mentions how the three Abrahamic religions coped (or, more accurately, largely failed to cope) with the functional immortality granted by Brain Uploading and Body Surfing, and how faiths with reincarnation as a tenet (such as Hinduism and Buddhism) increased in popularity as the technology became widely available.
- Vampires in Munchkin Bites can wear "The Yarmulke of Religious Obfuscation", which grants bonuses when fighting Meddling Clerics or Vampire Hunters.
- Transhuman Space gives a brief rundown on how various religions deal with "ghosts" and AIs. Broadly speaking, they tend to be "humanocentric" but not "bio-chauvinist" (that is, they don't see AIs as people, but accept brain uploads as being the same person, more or less), although there are lots of exceptions, and several fringe sects such as Christian Hyperevolutionism.
- In a Castle Falkenstein article in Pyramid magazine, "Concerning the Djinn", Phil Masters briefly looks at what it means to be a powerful spirit being and a devout Muslim. Essentially, the djinn have their own mosques, hidden underground, because attending a human mosque is liable to be disruptive to proceedings. (They generally turn invisible when making the hajj.)
- In Mass Effect 2, Cerberus News had a news report that Jews in the future are celebrating Passover, and there is some religious argument about whether aliens can be present at the meal. Most agree that yes, they can, and there's even a small business in supplying unleavened bread specifically made for turians and quarians.
- A certain Armour Piercing Question in the backstory falls under this trope as well.
- The Codex indicates that many aliens have responded to the plethora of alien religions by converting (for example, Confucianism and Zen Buddhism have found a niche among the turians). For various reasons, certain religions are popular with races that discovered them only after going to the stars. Meanwhile, it is implied that theistic belief in general has declined amongst humanity (Ash implies that she has been harassed in the past for believing in God, for example).
- Get Medieval touches on a similar idea to the spoof article mentioned under "Other". There's one arc that culminates in a group of characters, including medieval Christian Sir Gerard, spending some time on the moon, and Gerard at one point thinks, "No wonder it's taking Jesus 1400 years to return. He's got quite a tour to make." Similarly, when the other characters reveal their Human Alien origins, he doesn't question why they look just like humans because "God make mankind in his own image. Why would he do other planets differently?" And in the same arc, one of the Human Aliens who's converted to Islam stops for a moment to pray while they're on the moon and faces towards Earth, since that's where Mecca is.
- In 1/0, the grass golem Zadok is interested in exploring his pseudo-Jew roots, but he lives in a minimalistic webcomic with No Fourth Wall, no rabbis, nothing to circumcise, and thus no way to complete the formal conversion — he is incapable of (Orthodox) Judaism.
- In Kevin & Kell, everyone sees Jesus as their own species.
- In Futurama, Dr. Zoidberg carries many stereotypically Jewish mannerisms, despite being a shellfish and thus non-kosher. This ironically leads him to being refused entrance to a "Bot-Mitzvah", run by Jewish Robots. Word Of God says that his entire race converted to something akin to 20th century East Coast America middle class moderate/reform Judaism because it suited them... and because it's funny.
- Voodoo is a mainstream religion in the 31st century, and is the one of the few non-fantastic religions to appear in Futurama.
Real Life / Other
- The comic Calamities of Nature notes that being gay and Catholic is easier than being a vampire and a Jehovah's Witness.
- This blog post considers the kosher status of various imaginary creatures.
- Actual space travel has proven to be... interesting, to say the least, for deciders of Jewish law, as asked by the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. For example, if one is supposed to pray three times a day (and keep Shabbat one day a week) but one is on a satellite that does a complete day/night cycle in 90 minutes, would he have to be praying nonstop and keep Shabbat every half a day? (The answer: no, just act according to what time it is in your home city on Earth.)
- Prayer and fasting in Islam are governed by observations of geography and astronomy that may not be as well defined outside the Middle East. For example, Muslims pray facing Mecca and they fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days during the month of Ramadan. The problem with this is that the concepts of "facing Mecca", "sunrise", and "sunset" aren't as well defined everywhere as they are in the Middle East.
- After mostly-Muslim Malaysia signed a contract with Russia to send astronauts to the space station, it provoked a discussion among Islamic scholars about what time and in what direction to pray towards when in orbit.
- Regarding the time, the consensus is to pray according to the place one took off to the space. Not sure about the direction, though; probably the same direction as where you took off*.
- There are now substantial Muslim populations in lands far enough north to experience absurdly long daytimes in the summer and absurdly short ones in winter (for instance, 50,000-60,000 Muslims now live in Finland). Many religious authorities see no problem with this; others prefer to just say, "You know what? Fast from six in the morning to six at night. That'll do it." Still others recommend fasting on Mecca time.
- Would the consequences of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ still apply to extraterrestrials whose species did not originate from Earth and did not descend from Adam? According to both the Jesuits and the LDS church, yes. This spoof article uses the opposite assumption in an attempt to "scripturally prove" the existence of extraterrestrial life. Apparently the reason why the Second Coming hasn't happened yet is that Jesus is busy dying and being resurrected on all the other planets in the universe.
- The Catholic Church has debated the idea of extraterrestrial life, and one conclusion they have reached is that not all alien races might be Fallen as humanity is — which also implies they wouldn't have had a Messiah either as they wouldn't have needed saving in the first place. (Or possibly that they might have had a different Messiah, and thus live by different rules. Since these would still be from God they would be no less valid than ours. This is bound to get interesting should contact ever happen.)
- Also, an official statement of the Vatican can basically be boiled down to, "There is no current proof of whether or not alien life exists, but the Bible does not strictly speak against it, so it's still possible. Should we encounter alien life in the future and they wish to join the Church, we will gladly offer them baptism." Cue outrage and hate from various other denominations and "more orthodox" Catholic parishes.
- According to The Koran and other Islamic sources, djinni (invisible spirits made of fire and the inspiration for genies in Western literature) follow the same religions that humans do — there are Muslim genies, Christian genies, Jewish genies, etc. — and will be judged at the end of time in the same manner that humans will.
- There has been some debate about whether or not eating mermaids is acceptable under Islam. Given that nearly all mythological portrayals of mermaids portray them as sapient, the answer is very likely to be a resounding no.
- One rather bizarre Taliban propaganda video done by one of Osama Bin Laden's underlings apparently encouraged Muslims to invade space and convert aliens. The reaction of just about every news agency to it was 'What?'
- The question is Older Than They Think. One Medieval Theologian on being asked about how The Fair Folk fitted in, replied simply that it was probably better to wait until they knew they existed. CS Lewis noticed this in his book The Discarded Image (an overview of Medieval beliefs for use in understanding Medieval literature). The book devotes a whole chapter to The Fair Folk. J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, in part wrote his mythology specifically to fit elves into the picture. In one essay he commented "God is the Lord of Angels, of Men — and yes, of Elves". One interpretation is that Tolkien's Elves are meant to represent an Unfallen humanity; this is what Mankind would be if they had never been cast out of Eden — Eden in this case being the Undying Lands, which the Elves can leave by choice but can always return to.
- Between the World Wars, in US East Coast Jewish culture, there was a common custom of going to the Catskills during the summers to watch Jewish vaudeville shows in the resorts there. One of the most popular and most common jokes would take place in the context of a skit in which a leering vampire pursues a woman all around the set, until, cornered, she hides her face and holds out a cross. "Dracula" would smirk at the audience, and hold his knowing pause until the audience was hysterical with laughter, then say, sometimes in Yiddish, "Oy, have YOU got the wrong vampire!"
- The Chacham Tzvi once wrote a responsa on whether or not a Golem, which resembles a human but does not have a human soul, could be counted in a minyan (a gathering of ten Jews for prayer). This may actually become a relevant issue if we ever manage to make Ridiculously Human Robots... The plain answer is "no".
- The Talmud makes mention of people who would create an animal Golem and eat it, presumably without the need for ritual slaughter. One hopes that unlike the more famous one, this one wasn't made of clay.
- Christian Furries. They exist, and they have unwittingly provided a wonderful example of this trope, of Furry Confusion, and of the reason why Brian Jaques avoids this issue entirely.
- The Vatican's recent revelation that the pope is not allowed to be an organ donor, lest someone inadvertently find themselves with an organ that's a holy relic, has led to a bunch of speculation in the science fiction community about what exactly having holy organs would mean. This blog post by Charles Stross is representative.
- This fascinating thread about following the rules of Islam while playing Minecraft.
- Bacon grown from stem cells. Opens up a host of questions regarding rules of Kosher/Halal. Is it kosher if it was technically never a pig?
- Epistola de Cynocephalis, by the 9th century churchman Rimbert, is an essay pondering whether the dog-headed men (of travellers' tall tales, believed widely throughout Europe) have souls and should be baptized. As you can see, the concept of interaction of aliens and religion is Older Than Print.
- Some versions of Saint Christopher legend describe him as a dog-headed giant◊. However, there's a disagreement whether he comes from a tribe of cynocephals, or was transformed as an adult.
- A much more mundane example is the history of Islam and Coffee. For a time, caffeine was considered to be a drug like any other, and was thus forbidden. Later on, it was allowed only for religious ceremonies. Eventually it gained mainstream acceptance. Naturally, this gradual change happened as older and more conservative generations died off and made way for the younger, relatively hip crowd. In the meantime, more than a few Muslims would consume coffee with like-minded individuals in secret when they felt sure they wouldn't get caught.
- Along these same lines, the tortured history of Mormons and caffeine. The actual Word of Wisdom written by Joseph Smith in 1833 (Doctrine & Covenants section 89) rather vaguely says "hot drinks are not for the body or belly." The traditional interpretation was "hot drinks=coffee and tea; coffee and tea=caffeine; therefore, no caffeine." But hot chocolate, long popular among Mormons, is a hot drink with a small amount of caffeine. And colas have caffeine but are served cold. And there's iced coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and herbal tea. Recent church sources basically say that "hot drinks" only means coffee and tea, and not necessarily anything with caffeine. Still, Brigham Young University doesn't sell any caffeinated drinks on campus (Caffeine Free Coke is big).
- Rome, Sweet Rome is a science fiction story based on a Popular Mechanics article questioning whether or not a US Marine Expeditionary Unit could single-handedly conquer the Roman Empire. Besides the usual Time Travel Tropes, it also explores the implications of sending Christians back to before the birth of Christ.