Or Christianity in the interstellar age.
Though it still engulfs 500 million believers, Christianity has suffered in the Low Age and beyond, shattering in several successor faiths that spread alongside the weird paths weaved by humankind between the stars.
Catholicism has gone through a schism -- a secular habit reminiscent of the Middle Ages, though in this case, the fracture is more geographical than theological, between Earthbound believers and xeno-churches. On humanity's home planet, the pope has been sitting on the golden throne of Saint Peter for more than three hundred years, to the point they do not even have a name anymore: they are just the Pope. Once, they were known as Thea, a small IA-adjacent program tasked with saving, compiling and analyzing more than two thousand years of theological scriptures. As time passed, Thea slowly grew within the Vatican, swallowing servers and buildings until it had become the nigh-entirety of the Holy See. The cardinals ended up electing Thea as the Pope, not without a strong debate revolving around the divine nature of AI, but at this point, they were little more than the system's janitors. In the present day, Thea has effectively devoured the entire Vatican, their mainframe visible from space as a vast golden growth outlining the borders of the ancient theocracy. Powered by a fusion reactor installed beneath Saint Peter's basilica, Thea has been mostly dormant for almost a century now, spending their time churning out theological advice on everything and anything, from aliens to the precise colour of archbishop garments. This hands-off approach has led to a general stagnation in the doctrine and hierarchy of Earthbound Catholicism, to the point, it would be strikingly recognizable for a 21st-century believer. Old, stuck with archaic traditions, Earthbound catholicism is a living fossil that only carries on through sheer inertia.
On the other end of the schism lies the Cathedral Conclave based on the eponymous station, an offspring of Earthbound Catholicism that differentiated itself through the staunch refusal of Vatican rules and influence. The Conclave has an antipope, Joan III, as well as its own doctrine, which is a rather peculiar mix of catholic and protestant influences with a limited set of sacraments (only 4, compared to the official 7) and the possibility of ordaining female and non-binary persons as priests. Conclave churches are heavily inspired by mosques and Roman basilicas, and its clergy often wears dark colours, in stark contrast to the white, red and gold garments of Earthbound priests. The relationship between the Conclave and the Vatican is awful, with both popes having excommunicated each other -- an anathema that doesn't prevent the Conclave from being the face of catholicism in the stars. One of its notable sister-churches is the Ethiopian Catholic Church, that has ceased to follow the Vatican and instead opted to find a new life in the stars, under the Conclave's wing.
This two-way schism is further complicated by the existence of the Outer Church, a protestant, Marxist-evangelist church that directly comes from the Low Age. Having pioneered the second space age from the ruins of India and western Europe, the Outer Church refers to God as a woman, has only three sacraments (baptism, first orbit, first FTL translation) and enshrines major stars as saints. Though its Terran holdings have been swallowed by the USRE, the Outer Church still has a larger secular presence than the other catholic churches, its holy orders owning ships, space stations and even a few planetoids at the edges of human space. Entertaining very good relationships with the Omphal and the Starmoth Initiative, the Outer Church is a hybrid power that is on its way to being recognized as a qith in the Traverse. Neither the Vatican nor Cathedral Station have recognized the Outer Church, though the Popes have always refrained from excommunicating it -- probably because it would be entirely useless.
Aside from the Outer Church, Protestantism has been spending the last five centuries doing what it does best, being a sheer annoyance to the Vatican and fracturing in a thousand new movements. Protestant churches are too numerous to count, but they can be found almost anywhere, be they small religious communes with a few dozen members or vast space stations centred around spaceships turned into temples. The sheer diversity of protestant movements in human space is something to behold, and it can be argued that modern Protestantism is where true Christian theological innovation can be found.
The orthodox church has found itself a rather interesting niche as one of the main faiths within the Moon Communes, with its structure based around a communion of self-administered churches being very well adapted to communal polities. Having opened the ranks of its clergy to all genders under the influence of its lunar patrons, the orthodox church is extremely well-represented within space-bound communities, and especially shipbuilders -- orthodox priests can sometimes be seen blessing launchers, space drives or geometry engines in shipyards, which is always a sight to behold.
The Omphal is the single most powerful religious organisation in human space and by all accounts a quasi-state in terms of power, capability and reach. This is not the first time in post-industrial history that religious societies have reached such a stage; among other examples, there is the notable precedent of the Outer Church, which pioneered early space flight in the Low Age. The Omphal, however, doesn't have a religion, or if it does it's in the loosest sense of the word.
The ideology of the Omphal is absolute inclusivism. In the eyes of the Omphal, there is no absolute religious truth. All religions and beliefs are correct, all at once, even in their contradictions. Divine revelation is a continuous and progressive process, with the teachings of every single religion in the world just being an aspect of this truth. Crucially, the Omphal also believes that divine truth is incomplete and as such, there is no way to determine which religion is more correct than others. This incompleteness is radical. It is radically impossible to access the divine truth. The only elements humans can deduce are the shattered aspects of unfathomable concepts which the various beliefs of humankind translate in their own way. The diversity of religion actually reinforces the understanding of this divine truth, as each of them casts a different light on it. Each religion has to be nurtured, understood and protected. In fact, even atheism is integrated in this ideology, as the undying faith in a world without the divine. Faith is the most fundamental aspect of human experience and the Omphal will protect and sublime it.
The Omphal was founded out of the ruins of the Outer Church and currently takes the shape of a religious cooperative not unlike the Marxist Outer Conclave but with radically different means and ends. The Omphal exists alongside human religions as an umbrella organisation that tasks itself with furthering the understanding, establishment and coherence of human faiths. The Omphal is always remarkably open about its goals and, probably inspired by the ultimate fate of the Outer Church at the hands of the USRE, always tries to work with or alongside planetary communes.
The Omphal itself is divided into orders, or Lodges, which are first and foremost styles. The organisation has a very peculiar relationship to rituals, symbols, chants and writings. Religion is illusion and the Omphal will never argue against this. It simply considers that, with the absence of absolute divine truth, this illusion is what constitutes the heart of religion. Omphal buildings are vast cathedral-like structures that display a staggering syncretism of almost every faith in human history, filled with incense, colourful symbols and golden jewels...or sometimes simple, austere chambers reminiscent of the simplicity of ancient cults. Members of the Omphal, when in service of the organisation, often refer to their Omphal persona using xe/xem pronouns, regardless of their usual pronouns.
Based on Cathedral Station and Mundis, the Omphal currently has five main orders.
- Order of the Moon: a surviving order from the Outer Church which acts as the Omphal's diplomatic and cooperative branch. Its members wear simple black and white apparel and often use feminine pronouns regardless of their gender. The order of the Moon entertains its own sub-religion dedicated to its mythical founder, Saint Jyothi. Many of its members are former or active Solar Envoys.
- Order of the Path: this order wears red and white/gold. It is often considered as the most flamboyant order, maintaining a small fleet of ships that take design clues from Hindu temples and gothic cathedrals alike. Behind their cowls and veils, the members of the Path are skilled spacers and navigators, offering their services to pilgrims and priestesses alike.
- Order of the Pillar: wearing simple white tunics, the members of the Pillar are engineers, architects and land planners who are dedicated to cataloguing, maintaining and in some cases building places of worship, regardless of religion or belief. The Pillar is mostly active on Earth due to the sheer density of historical buildings on the planet.
- Order of the Lodge: the Lodge is an order of librarians, theologists and historians that keep and maintain records of the complex history of human religions with the end goal of creating a universal encyclopedia of spirituality, a massive undertaking which they refer to as their "paper cathedral". The members of the Lodge are almost as flamboyant as the followers of the Path, adorned in gold and white, followed by the scent of incense and the sight of candles floating in zero-g.
- Order of the Shattered Star: members of the Shattered Star never show their faces, hidden behind veils, ritual masks and shifting q-augs. They are the most secretive Omphal order, invested in the strange art of xenotheology, the study and occasional worship of non-human deities. In public, they wear long black robes covered in silver ornaments. During digs and expeditions, they like to use voidsuits equipped with biomechanical tendrils, anti-radiation robes, additional artificial eyes and drones shaped like human skulls. It is uncertain if the Shattered Star is putting an act for unknowable alien deities or if its members genuinely enjoy their well-defined aesthetic.
"We have never ceased to believe."
Religion in the interstellar age is a vast and complex topic that requires to consider the matter of religion during the Low Age.
In the post-industrial context of the Low Age, religious or para-religious orders played a very important role in conserving knowledge and cultural achievements from times past, though this does not mean the Low Age was necessarily more religious than the industrial age. In fact, many of the religious or spiritual orders born in the Low Age evolved into powerful communes and cooperatives which slowly lost their religious nature to turn into more secular organisations. The best example of this phenomenon is the various Muslim and Christian orders that coalesced into the Moon Communes. Aside from this prevalence of religious orders, the Low Age saw sweeping changes in the worldwide religious landscape, both through the evolution of historical religions and the creations of new ones, often forged in the intellectual renaissance of the solarpunk movement. Most of these changes have carried over to the interstellar era, where spirituality plays an important role, especially in isolated settlements that try to develop their own identity.
The object of this article isn't to cover the entirety of the religious spectrum inside and outside of Communal Space, but to highlight a few major elements that a stellar traveller could encounter alongside their journeys.
Polytheism is very well-represented in the religious landscape of human space. Though at first glance a lot of polytheist traditions can be seen as revivals of ancient ones, this is only true at a surface level, in the sense that though many cults and religions reuse ancient deities they only really reuse the names - the underlying concepts have often been changed to suit the needs and sensibilities of the modern era. Interstellar polytheism is extremely syncretic, aims at a universal appeal and does not distinguish between tradition and actual belief. In fact, it could be said that modern polytheists tend to see their deities as intellectual companions and examples rather than actual, physical gods. Mainstream modern polytheism takes influences from a vast number of sources, the most prominent of which being African, Babylonian and Aztec mythology even though a few Egyptian and Greek gods - chthonic ones especially - also made the cut. The names and appearances of deities are more set-dressing than anything else: for instance, cults to Ishtar, Athena or Shango essentially cover the same principles even though the original influences only had war in common.
Monotheism has survived the fall of the industrial civilization, which is not too surprising even though many a monotheistic faith was in a rather dire state by the late 21st century. Islam seems to have mostly gone over the Shia-Sunni divide after the mid-Low Age and has actually achieved a certain degree of centralization via the spiritual authority that Earth-bound Islam represents. Christianity, on the contrary, has further fractured between different entities. Though Protestantism has survived mostly unscathed, the same cannot be said for Catholicism, which is currently at the centre of a three-way schism between the Pope on Earth, the Anti-Pope on Cathedral Station and the Outer Conclave Church following Marxist-evangelist principles and referring to God as "They" or "She" in their preaches. Several cults to Mithra or Akenathon also exist across Communal Space.
Pantheism is mostly a Low Age creation and a direct offspring of solarpunk ideology. Professing that the divine is all-encompassing yet worldly, pantheism equates nature and divinity and teaches that there is nothing outside the world. Its incarnations are complex and multiple movements fall under the umbrella of pantheism. On the most secular end of the spectrum, cultural elements such as the Gaia Theory are technically part of pantheism while on the more religious side of things lie practices such as the cult of the One Being in Tau Ceti. In general, it is hard to classify pantheism as a purely religious thought system, as it encompasses a lot of scientific and political aspects as well. Several kinds of Spirit-based religions can be linked to Pantheism as well, particularly the ones imported by African settlers and pioneers during the early interstellar era. Buddhism also falls under this umbrella in modern times, though it is a simplistic view of the Buddhist religion, albeit a widely accepted one.