The Literary Sociologist Does Religion

The Tithe is a novel about religion. Not "religious" as in preachy. Not "religious" as in spiritual or "inspirational," as we call the romance subgenre that knots together love and faith. Not even "religious" as furthering morals set out by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan practitioners.  "Religious" as in exploring the effects of a government built on ecclesiastical doctrine.

I set the book vaguely in the future – maybe a hundred years, maybe more. It’s simultaneously post-apocalyptic and “utopian.” After the bulk of humankind perished in 2012 (remember the Mayan calendar scare?), a few hundred thousand humans remained and organized themselves into ten towns situated in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The towns have mayors and other bureaucrats, but the real power in the cities rests with the holy women and men, the imrabi and minnabi, respectively.

I had a lot of fun deciding how to organize the towns, structure their religious rituals and belief systems, and construct characters’ relationships with the towns' religious dogma. Even choosing names like “imrabi” and “minnabi” proved interesting and fun: “Imrabi” is a not-entirely-subtle combination of “imam” and “rabbi,” while “minnabi” combines “minister” and “rabbi.” The name of the novel’s god, “Elovah,” is an amalgamation of “Allah, “Elohim,” and “Jehovah.” One difference from these patriarchal religions, though: Elovah is a female deity. (Go, gender equality!)

In case it’s not glaringly obvious, I based the fundamentals of this religious system on the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I even crafted my religious rituals, such as how to pray and what weddings look like, by squishing them all together.

I suppose I could have been more inventive and designed a religious system from scratch. I’m a sociologist, though. Fascinating to me as a social scientist is the reunification of these three religions, which actually have much more in common than we like to acknowledge. Heck, Judaism birthed both. Also, let’s be super honest: I’m a big fan of sticking with what I know. I grew up Christian, and my fiancĂ© is Jewish. Easy knowledge pickins. Granted, I don’t know as much about Islam, but that’s why the Internet exists, right?
And maybe inspire a sci-fi writer or two.

Now, at the ripe ol’ age of 40, I am an ex-Christian Atheist. Did my own spiritual or religious beliefs shape this book? Yes and no. Yes, because I used information from my own Christian background to design a futuristic religious system that nonetheless looks a lot like the ones we know today. I honor my Christian background for providing fodder for that kind of project. No, because although this is in part a book about religion, it’s ultimately a novel that contemplates religion's liberatory and oppressive capacities. (Well, and its possibility for some serious weirdness; this is a sci-fi book, after all.) I honor my degrees in sociology for providing fodder for that kind of project.

The Tithe is a book about religion. This does not mean it’s an inspirational or even particularly religious novel. It’s a novel that explores some effects, functions, and possibilities of a theocratic society. It’s a book a sociologist and a romance addict, rather than a religious devotee, would pen.  

Comments

  1. Slept with a god in one of my much earlier books :) Not giving away anything from The Tithe, but I was both amused and moved by the, well, the analogous pairing.

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