The Role of Religion or Spirituality in Stories
by Anna Brentwood
August 9, 2022
In writing books for me, religion and spirituality are a major influence in who some of my characters are and what they become. In my book, Mermaid’s Treasure, a man changes his entire identity including his religion. In The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes, the strict beliefs of a bible-belt mother, who sees hard work as the only true path to heaven, births a daughter who lives to prove her wrong. In my current work-in-progress, Anthony’s Angel, a young man’s faith gives him the will, courage, and strength to carry on.
I see religion as a specific set of organized beliefs, laws and practices of faith shared by a community or group that includes worship of a superhuman controlling power, God or gods.
I see spirituality as a more individual practice, a system of beliefs that may or may not include aspects of other belief systems, but primarily concerning itself with the evolution of the human spirit or soul as it connects to the physical and non-physical world; self, others, nature.
Sadly, religion more often than not has become a dangerous dividing line in our world. But, before we go on, let me say I strongly believe 5 key things:
- Religion and Spirituality aren’t mutually exclusive of one another.
- Belief is personal. One size doesn’t fit all and that is okay. Many paths lead to the same road.
- Having a belief, any belief, can be a comfort and sustain you through life’s ups and downs.
- Don’t feel you must accept everything on faith. You should always be encouraged to delve, question, explore and figure out your own truths.
- There are many paths to truth and no one belief is absolute!
From birth, we are usually encouraged to accept what our family and community accepts and believes to be true. What is handed down to us. I call that being a traditionalist. At the other end of that spectrum are what I call the seekers.
I define seekers as traditionalists, raised in one belief system but there was a disconnect. The family teachings just didn’t do it for them and, at some point in relation to a traumatic life or death event, they became compelled to start their own quest for answers to life’s key questions. Ex; Like why do bad things happen to good people? To me? What is right? Wrong? Is there a God? Why do people have to suffer? Die? Why are we here anyway? Who made all this? Why? What is the purpose, etc.?
As humans, the need to understand is wired into our DNA. At some point, be it loss or pain, a stumble, a fall, we all crave answers. For me personally, my disconnect meant reading, studying and exploring other belief systems. I discovered religions were as varied as people, founded to provide rules and laws to help guide man and womankind and with a multitude of interpretations. I mostly discovered I am a “Don’t Fence Me In” kind of person.
Eventually, I managed to learn enough to creatively combine and create my own belief system that best answers my questions about why we are here; life, death, God, etc., and I am grateful I was able to do that because the older I get, the longer I live, having a belief, any belief helps me cope with all the crazy thing life throws at me and that is both a comfort and a blessing.
Most people today, most Americans are individualists and that trait is reflected in the choices we make, the interests we pursue and the books and movies we are drawn to. For millions of people that can mean casting off traditional religious identities.
Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are leaving their childhood Abrahamic faiths behind to explore Eastern philosophies, Wicca, meditations, astrology, and do-it-yourself spirituality, etc. A recent Publishers Weekly article claims researchers find the fastest-growing “religion” self-description by Americans is “none.” The none’s— including atheists and agnostics are now more than one in four U.S. adults. Whether religion or spirituality is your jam or not, seeking wisdom and guidance, whether you attend a church, synagogue or mosque, read books about, try or practice ceremonial magic, shamanism, astrology, or mindfulness, you don’t need anybody’s permission to seek answers, to connect directly with others seeking answers, or to read books, watch movies and learn with the characters therein as they do.
Many people—particularly young adults who may not have been to a house of worship since their last youth group pizza party—are now searching for transformative spiritual discoveries or looking to the stars for astrological insights. Others are sampling technological ways to jump-start meditation or taking neurofeedback-guided shortcuts to enlightenment but most are keeping an open mind. Keeping an open mind keeps you are learning. People feeling empowered to confer meaning upon their lives rather than having others do that for them, in my book or out, is GREAT!
Anna Brentwood writes historical fiction. She is inspired to write about interesting characters whose lives take them on journeys we can all enjoy and perhaps learn something along the way. This former suburban Philly and California wife, mother, doting nany of three lives in one of Oregon’s wild, enchanted forests in a log home that includes a sassy collection of Flapper memorabilia, her ex-Navy Seal hubby, a menagerie of creatures that once included wolves, coyotes and a hawk. Currently they harbor two very pampered French bulldogs, one ornery parrot and outside a variety of birds, squirrels and chipmunks.