Would it be cultural appropriation to create a world heavily based on Abrahamic religions’ mythology and history, going deep into worldbuilding templars, churches, monasteries, biblically accurate angels, heaven and hell, and even using the term “golems” for constructs (since golems are creatures from Jewish culture), “Deus” for the monotheistic god, and Latin and Greek as the main languages of the world and Old Hebrew as a holy language?
Since Abrahamic religions – especially Christianity – are mainstream, I suppose it wouldn’t be a problem (it’s like using standard Medieval Europe to base off your world), but I’m not sure about that…
What do you think?Dryad
Hey Dryad, great to hear from you again!
There are a few factors at play when answering your question, even though it might seem simple on the surface. First, Christianity as a whole is not at risk for cultural appropriation. Globally, Christianity is by far the world’s most powerful and privileged religion; plus, it has a long history of spreading itself into new areas regardless of what the people living there wanted. In a lot of places, Christianity is your cultural heritage whether you like it or not.
Of course, it’s still possible to write a story that’s disrespectful of Christianity, or just makes certain Christians mad, but cultural appropriation isn’t on the table. That said, there are certain specific elements of Christianity which are not so open, as they are specifically associated with more marginalized groups. Latin American Christianity, for example, has a number of unique practices which are often exotified and misrepresented by white writers, so that requires a lot more care.
Next, it’s really important to remember that while Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all Abrahamic faiths, they are not the same. Islam is absolutely a marginalized faith in Western countries, and while it has nearly as many adherents globally as Christianity, it’s not nearly as powerful. Meanwhile, Jews face constant pressure to assimilate into Christian beliefs and culture, so seeing our spirituality treated like a Christian subgroup is a big no no. Basically, I’d avoid creating a fantasy setting where the three faiths are mixed and matched like they’re interchangeable.
Finally, while it’s certainly possible to base a fantasy world on Christian mythology, I’d take a moment to think about how literal you want to be. This isn’t an issue of appropriation, but rather of immersion. An exact copy of Christianity may not fit in second-world fantasy settings, especially specific practices like having characters speak Latin and Greek. I don’t know what kind of story you’re writing, so this might be less of an issue for you, but it’s worth thinking about.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!
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Comments on Can I Base My World On Christianity?
> seeing [Judaism] treated like a Christian subgroup is a big no no.
If I were going to mix them up, I would treat Christianity and Islam as mutant strains of Judaism. Then again, I’m a bit of a troll, so don’t take my approach as good advice.
Maybe as “what to avoid” advice, but I wouldn’t trust my own judgement even on that.
I’m going to be ‘that person’ and point out that Judaism came first, and Christianity second. Jesus [or Joshua/Yeshua] was Jewish, not Christian, because Christianity as a religion came from his followers decades or even centuries later, not from him. ‘Christ’ literally just means ‘anointed one’.
In other words, only the Spanish game studio The Game Kitchen could have developed Blasphemous, which is heavily inspired by Roman Catholism in Spain.
I suppose I could write fanfiction about it (if I felt like it), but for an original work it’s better to use Christianity of one’s own heritage (Lutheranism in my case).
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series that used the ideals of Christianity well.
Fwiw some also see it as racist Christian propaganda, which I can understand considering the author.
I’m not going to discuss the racism, but it’s certainly explicitly intended to be Christian propaganda.
So does Lord of the Rings. The Legendarium more so. You have to dig a bit, though; the ideals are very much there (and Tolkien was VERY open about this in his letters), but Tolkien preferred a subtler approach.
It’s worth remembering that Tolkien was born a Christian, whereas Lewis was converted. I’ve always speculated that this had something to do with their differing ways of integrating those themes–Tolkien took them for granted, whereas Lewis tried to convince the reader.
Just for the record, Lewis was also raised Christian. He became an atheist later, then switched back to Christianity
Good Omens as well, even if one author was an atheist and the other was a Jewish agnostic.
I think the term golem is so widespread that little people relate it to their jewish roots. It’s more a generic medieval fantasy asset now. I don’t see a problem on using anything you want as long as it makes sense in your story. But if you want to label some cultures as the good guys and another the bad guys, i’d refrain from it. The main problem is to get heaven and hell into the mix, cause then you need to handle the existence of God, and having a literal omnipotent god in your setting would make anything inviable. The real world have the room to debate whether god allows the evil, can’t prevent it, or just don’t exist and existence is chaotic; but if a God exist in your setting there is no debate. Whatever happens is God’s Will.
Maybe except if God isn’t omnipotent, like in “His Dark materials”.
But then it wouldn’t be Abrahamic mythology, as in all of the abrahamic mythologies God is One, Omnipotent, Omniscient and Perfect.
Pagan gods are inperfect and sometimes too focused on their task that are almost onedimensional, like Ares/Mars that’s all rage and violence everytime; for anything like strategy and tactics they had Athena /Minerva.
That really depends on how you like to interpret it.
Christo-pagans and Judeo-pagans do it a lot.
For example, the Book of Deuteronomy states that Yahweh is “the God of Gods”, which can be interpreted as the early believers were Henotheists (belief in all gods but worships one), but YMMV.
Some would interpret the Commandment of “No other gods before me” as placing Yahweh as the highest of all the gods. And there is no rule about having gods AFTER him. Again, YMMV.
Even in the Narnia Chronicles, Bacchus/Dionysus, Silenus, and Pomona (Roman Goddess of orchards) and the River God coexist harmoniously with Aslan. And Father Christmas could be interpreted as a combo of Saint Nicholas and the Pagan Holly King (ruler of winter).
I don’t know anything that leaves any doubt on Allah, Yaveh or God being anything but Omnipotent, Omniscient and Perfect. Angels, Archangels and everyone else are of course less powerfull than Him, so they are pointless for this argument. Having other beings beneath Him don’t make the problem go. There will be a sapient omnipotent Good force in a setting where evil is a thing; so it deserves an explanation.
I believe you’re forgetting the Gnostics.
Greek gods are actually more complex than that – and did you know that Aphrodite/Venus also started out as a war goddess (that’s why she was first worshipped in Sparta and that’s where her connection to Ares/Mars comes from)?
The advantage of having several gods is that it at least feels as if you can directly speak to the person you need help from. I mean, if you’re Roman-Catholic, you at least have the Virgin Mary for all female problems, but apart from that, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick, if you’ve just been fired, or if your shop is struggling, you can only pray to one god. In a pantheon, you have someone specific to pray to every time (not that it helps any more, but it probably feels better).
Pagan gods are imperfect because they’re humans pushed all the way to eleven. They’re not supposed to be perfect in the first place. Their imperfection makes them more human and relatable. Besides, looking at some parts of the old testament, I dare say that the Christian god is far from perfect, either. There are quite some temper tantrums in there worthy of Zeus (or Hera) on a bad day.
Arguably even worse than Zeus or Hera, considering all of the acts of violence/murder committed in the Old Testament being justified ‘because God said so’.
The Old Testament is not Christian.
Generically, its the God of Abraham, or the Abrahamic God (of the three major faiths, Judaism/Christianity/Islam, but the Old Testament is strictly Jewish, not Christian).
Sorry for the nitpick.
Okay, to prevent any further theological arguments, I’ll say this for the record: We cannot simply declare whether the Old Testament is Christian or not, let alone whether it is Jewish. For some Christians, the Old Testament predates Christ, so not Christian. for others, it’s part of their Bible and belief system, so it’s Christian.
Likewise, Jewish scholars have pointed out a lot of differences between the Old Testament (as it usually appears in Christian Bibles) and the Torah. So it’s not as simple as New Testament = Christian, Old Testament = Jewish. Let’s avoid blanket statements about this in the future.
Christians still cite the Old Testament, so it’s not strictlyJewish (also, the Old Testament in the Christian Bible isn’t identical to the Jewish Tanakh).
@Nectar Vam, not going into the depth here, but for Roman-Catholics (like me), the old testament is as Christian as the new one. I know others (like Lutheran Protestants here in Germany) see it differently.
@Sunless Nick, yes, the old testament as it is found in the bible is not the same as the Jewish Tanakh.
I’m doing something like that in one of my fantasy stories.
I took the CS Lewis route, but I will not do any preaching, sermonizing or evangelizing.
The religiousness/spirituality of this fantasy world of mine is a blend of Abrahamic spirituality and Pagan mythology. Abrahamic-Paganism, if you will.
Where the Pagan Gods and Abrahamic Deity stand-in live in happy union.
With the Creator, his son, and his Wife, as the top Chief of the Gods.
Hell, even C. S. Lewis included friggin’ Bacchus in Narnia, though Lucy and Susan mention that they wouldn’t feel safe meeting him without Aslan around.
Personally, the route I’d take is that ancient deities exist, but it’s unclear whether a capital-G God also exists. If He does, He’s obviously on a whole other level of power and doesn’t enter the story.
I’m sure I have read something like this, but I can’t remember the title or the author.
It was similar in style to Sprague de Camp’s ‘Harold Shea’ stories, except the protagonist (who just happened to be an authority on mediaeval religious beliefs) wound up in a world where mediaeval religious beliefs were literally true.
The problem with it was that it required quite a lot of exposition to explain the setting to the reader…!
In addition to Latin American Christianity, another subset of Christianity you might want to avoid exoticizing is Eastern Christianity. Especially denominations from places where Christians are an oppressed minority, like the former Ottoman Empire—which now includes countries like Iraq and Syria (where ISIS/ISIL/DAESH committed anti-Christian genocide more recently) and Palestine (where Christian and Muslim Arabs alike are persecuted under Israeli occupation)—as well as Azerbaijan and India.
Not to mention African-American Christianity.