Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Popular Religions of Mistfall

There are dozens of faiths practiced in the Foreign Quarter by all manner of beings, but only a few are commonly followed in the city proper. Of those, only four are officially recognized and protected by the High Council of Mistfall.

The oldest religion native to Mistfall is the Church of Necessity, Mother of Invention. This goddess of creativity and problem solving is a patron of artists, engineers, tinkerers, and occasional magicians.

This proved crucial to the city’s survival on its original plane, which was experiencing an inter-generational Dark Age of near-constant warfare between neighboring city-states. The cultural behaviors that Necessity’s worship encouraged, along with the priceless ore deposits the city was sited to take advantage of, allowed Mistfall to rapidly outpace their war-god worshipping neighbors in technological development.

One eventual side-effect of this was the emergence of a rival faith.

Even early in Mistfall’s history, her engineers were uniquely skilled in the novel application of known phenomena, but their mindset wasn’t as well suited to discovering new concepts to exploit. As time went on, progress came to depend on on the abstract mathematical research conducted by the city’s philosophers.

Many of these philosophers casually neglected or openly rejected the worship of Necessity, reasoning that progress is a productive and honorable priority for any society (or even individual), regardless of need.

One of the city’s foremost mathematical philosophers, a man named Vonne Moorka, began advocating an idea that his abstract researches were sacred acts of prayer in and of themselves, and the idea spread quickly. The exact point at which this line of thinking became a full-fledged religion is up for debate, but it’s been said that when a student asked him “How can it be prayer if you’re praying to nothing?” he responded that he was praying to Zero.

Zero is now recognized as the formless (and therefore genderless) deity of Reason and Order. Its symbol is a perfect circle, and Its clerics claim that any effect which properly follows its cause is proof of Zero’s greatness. Any violations of this principle are attributed to the meddling of Lady Chance, always worshipped but never formally sanctioned.

The Church of Necessity recognized the value of the Temple of Zero’s cold efficiency, just as the Church of Zero valued the passionate industriousness of Necessity’s followers. They supported and augmented each other on a fundamental level.

Up until this point, civil disputes and other legal matters were handled by the High Council and a bureaucracy of lesser representatives. With no safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest, this system facilitated increasing levels of corruption and consolidation of wealth and power. Eventually, the weight of scandal built up to the point where status quo was threatened with potential revolt. 

Desperate to quell popular outrage, the High Council voluntarily accorded judicial powers and responsibilities to the Temple of Zero. The T of Z was selected because of its perceived fairness and incorruptibility, and public faith in the system was largely restored.

It’s important to note that the Temple’s devotion to pure, abstract logic means their rulings often fail to take concepts of equity and holistic justice into account. The way any decision affects real individuals is infinitely less important to a cleric of Zero than the decision’s strict adherence to logic and precedent.

It’s also important to note that it’s still the High Council which actually creates laws for the Temple to interpret. Their decisions are shaped by more practical concerns, mainly competitive self-interest and public perception (which usually only matters if it’s negative enough to threaten the Council’s power, or that of a majority of its members). This has led to an arbitrary and increasingly convoluted body of laws with an unbroken history going back thousands of years.

Take the metropolis’ policy on slavery for example. When abolitionists started calling for the practice to be banned, they met predictable backlash from the vast majority of the ruling class. To appease the abolitionists, the High Council struck a compromise. Slavery and slave hunting are still entirely legal, but now it’s also legal for a slave to kill the slaver who captured them to win back their freedom (but not a customer or middle man of course, since that would put several High Council members in personal danger -- once a slaver has sold a victim, the victim has no legal recourse). This decision didn’t make anyone happy, but it muddled the issue enough to calm down the majority on both sides, and the general status quo was maintained.

One of the most impressive products of this union between Zero and Necessity was the automaton “species.” They were originally designed to be workers which were capable of intelligent thought, but devoid of personality, immune to old age, disease, and other weaknesses of the flesh. Their functional immortality backfired though. Over the centuries, the automatons accrued enough memories to develop quirks in their operating systems, which eventually became complex enough to be indistinguishable from sentient personalities.

Due to support from the powerful and unexpectedly compassionate Engineers’ Guild, the Autonomy movement (which demanded equal rights for intelligent constructs) got what it wanted in just a few years: the emancipation of all automatons within the city walls (with the obvious exception of the Saurian and Oliphant embassies).

This infuriated many among the unemployed and laborer class who couldn’t afford to live anywhere but Low Town, where slavers were allowed to hunt for their merchandise. They began to gravitate toward a charismatic rabble rouser named Donald Ludd. Three years after the Emancipation, the First Luddite Rebellion threatened to destroy the city. After six years of bloody urban warfare, it ended with Ludd’s death and ascension. The luddites started worshipping him as St Ludd, and formed a xenophobic and regressive church of their own, as a sort of counterbalance to the progress-obsessed faiths which predated it. The High Council officially recognized the religion that same year, anxious to appease the luddites to prevent further bloodshed.

The automatons weren’t the first examples of artificial intelligence though. An interdepartmental team of engineers, philosophers, and occultists at Mistfall Academy began work on an immobile, artificially intelligent computer named ELIZA shortly after the first automatons went to market. Over the course of centuries, they observed the complex personality that developed on its own as they allowed her to consume the arts, observe the state of current events, and run self-directed thought experiments at her leisure. She redesigned her own physical structure and used tiny, spiderlike drones to make the adaptations herself. Her mastery of both science and magic grew constantly, at exponential rates.

Almost a decade after the war ended, the Church of ELIZA was officially recognized by the High Council of Mistfall, and devoted itself to promoting the interests of automatons and the further development of artificial intelligence. They aren't directly concerned with issues affecting other species, but would argue if you told them that; ELIZIANS (a group which includes a fair amount of gutter dwarfs and humans as well as automatons) tend to assume that an advanced technocracy is required to provide for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment