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Religion and Beliefs in C.J. Cherryh's Compact and Union/Alliance books



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Kif'ish Religion

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>From: Lesley Grant <lgrant@maths.tcd.ie>
>Subject: cherryhlist -- religion in the Compact
>Date: Tue, 4 May 93 9:51:57 BST
Thinking about the various series of Cherryh's books, it occurred to me that there isn't much religion in any of them. _The Faded Sun_ has its sen-caste and worship of the Pana, the _Morgaine_ books have the Church, _Angel with the Sword_ has the Adventists and Revenantists. But all of these are more or less in the background, as local colour. The series which does show more of religion, and which shows (maybe) religious people, is the Compact series.
At first sight there doesn't appear to be much, but there is more religion in them than the (almost mindless and automatic) blasphemy of Pyanfar Chanur, the main character. I feel the books are making the point that she and her crew are disrespectful religiously speaking, having been away from home so much. Pyanfar more or less admits this when she prays something along the lines of "O gods, if you get us through this I'll turn religious, I swear I will". (Her ship survives, she remains cheerfully agnostic). However, she is an anomaly, religiously speaking. She knows her blasphemy as blasphemy, and reprimands her niece when she emulates her; also her husband Khym Mahn, more recently from home doesn't blaspheme at all (he may eventually, under the crew's influence...). A little more information is gleanable from the appendix to _Chanur's Venture_ which tells us that Hani have interests in theology ("'feathered', an impious reference to a hani religious debate"), and that hani deities are perceived as having direct power in their worshippers' lives ("gods give you sons" [a curse]). _Chanur's Legacy_ gives us the information that there is some sort of pantheon (the crew worries what they'll do if their shsto passenger Phases, and decides gsts is "Queen of the Gods") -- although the use of the word 'queen' may be problematic, given that hani society doesn't seem monarchic -- what does 'queen' mean to hani?
The mahendo'sat at first sight seem to be monotheists, though I'm not so sure all of them are monotheistic - there seem to be so many differing mahen cultures. They have a belief in a hell inhabited by torturing 4-armed demons (and Pyanfar's relatively frequent use of "in a mahen hell" may indicate hani religion has no such idea). They have scriptures, and at least one religious figure is mentioned ("the philosopher Kohboranua"). It seems possible for non-believers (of other races?) to convert - Pyanfar has a mahen translator bought on the pretext of a client with "a religious interest".
I'm not sure about the shsto -- perhaps it's not genteel and decorous to believe in anything apart from pleasant interior decoration :-) And as for the kif, well, sfik != religious faith, at least not for any kif we're shown.
All that aside, what I want to know is - where's the religion in her Union/Alliance series? There appears to be absolutely none at all among the humans. Are Union/Alliance/Earth supposed to be populated totally by atheists and/or agnostics? Religion is alive and well among the aliens, what happened to the humans? And wouldn't it be interesting to see a Mahen mission to Earth....(Number One good faith! You pray, you not tortured by demons)
				Lesley


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>From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
>Subject: Cherryhlist
>Date: Wed, 5 May 93 16:28:51 EDT
> (...)
>       All that aside, what I want to know is - where's the religion in her
> Union/Alliance series? There appears to be absolutely none at all among the
> humans. Are Union/Alliance/Earth supposed to be populated totally by atheists
> and/or agnostics? Religion is alive and well among the aliens, what happened
> to the humans? And wouldn't it be interesting to see a Mahen mission to
> Earth....(Number One good faith! You pray, you not tortured by demons)
> (...)
I don't get the feeling that religion is completely absent from the Union/Alliance series, just that it's not very important. After all, there are references to helldeck preachers handing out religious tracts in "Heavy Time" and religious cults springing up over the discovery of aliens (the Downers) in "Downbelow Station." But religion certainly doesn't seem to affect the lives of the characters in her novels.

I suppose that being settled largely by cynical former Eatern-block scientific types gives Union a decidedly non-religious bent. About the only religious reference that Merchanters seem to make is to a quasi-mystical relationship with "the Deep" (as in deep space).

Religions and religious groups don't appear to have political influence, either -- at least in the case of Union and Alliance. As for Earth .... judging from the situation in "Heavy Time" and "Hellburner", things haven't changed *that* much from the present, so ther's probably still a mixture of secular and religious influences.

BTW, I like the idea of Mahen missionaries coming to Earth. But what would really be interesting is Earth missionaries coming to the Compact. Just imagine how difficult it would be to explain, say, christianity to a Stsho or a Kif.

(...)
- nancy
(...)


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>From: Lesley Grant <lgrant@maths.tcd.ie>
>Subject: cherryhlist
>Date: Thu, 6 May 93 9:48:00 BST
> >From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
 
> I don't get the feeling that religion is completely absent from the
> Union/Alliance series, just that it's not very important.  After all,
> there are references to helldeck preachers handing out religious
> tracts in "Heavy Time" and religious cults springing up over the
> discovery of aliens (the Downers) in "Downbelow Station."  But
> religion certainly doesn't seem to affect the lives of the characters
> in her novels.  
And this is what strikes me as odd -- not one of the characters shown appears religious in any way, whether a major, minor or barely on-screen character. All (human) characters who think about religion seem to have a picture of nutcases and pathetic do-gooders. This could well be Cherryh's own opinion of course. She does acknowledge that religion pops up in the srangest places by having a few religions on the (ex-) Union colony of Merovin, _Angel with the Sword_ being a rare example of her characters actually having a religious basis for some actions (the Adventist who plans on dying helping Altair, so the karma-debt his family owes her will be wiped out; Altair worrying the Angel is reproaching her for delying the Retribution). It just seems strange to me that all of Union/Alliance that aren't cut off should be at most agnostic.
 
> BTW, I like the idea of Mahen missionaries coming to Earth.  But what
> would really be interesting is Earth missionaries coming to the
> Compact.  Just imagine how difficult it would be to explain, say, 
> christianity to a Stsho or a Kif.  
The mind boggles. I suspect a Kifish communion service could get quite...literal. And loving your enemies and turning the other cheek just doesn't garner a lot of sfik. The Stsho, on the other hand, might go for it. They'd like the idea of everyone being good to each other (makes the Compact a lot less dangerous for merchants).

(...)
				Lesley


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>From: Jo Jaquinta <jaymin@maths.tcd.ie>
>Subject: CherryhList // Religion
>Date: Fri, 7 May 93 9:36:35 BST
> >From: nancy ott <ott@ansoft.com>
> I suppose that being settled largely by cynical former Eatern-block
> scientific types gives Union a decidedly non-religious bent.  About
> the only religious reference that Merchanters seem to make is to a
> quasi-mystical relationship with "the Deep" (as in deep space).
If you look at her history you have the early stations being settled by these long term STL ships. On all ships there is a minimum of free space for anything. Whereas giving the crew space to practice their religion would be psycologically justified I have this feeling that the crews were probably chosen from a wide ethnic mixture thus making it impractical to represent each person's religion.
Thus not having a religions foundation to build upon and existing in an environment where there is little unexplained and for that which is unexplained they have the rite of the Scientific Method the only grouns from religion to grow from is centered around Death.
One might draw an analogy between the mobile and close knit family based merchant ships with verious wandering primitive tribes. Occasionally they meet together during times of festivity. Is their "quasi-mystical relationship with The Deep" the start of early signs of totenism?
Certainly as The Fleet is run down they take on the social detrius of society, strip them of their past and indoctrinate them in new ways, they create an environment where ignorance propigates. Only the technical class know how to make things work but not necessarily how things work. The troops in the belly live in a world where things just happen and they only have to ponder orders. Cherryh portrays thems "dicing with the deep", i.e. playing games of chance as they hit jump space. It seems an echo of Samhain here in Ireland. Samhain (Halloween) comes at a time between seasons, where the normal rules of How Things Work break down. In folklore it is when the Otherworld is close to this world and all sorts of "divination games" are played. You know like suspending a wedding ring over a womb to determine the gender of a child, weather one gets the pea or the ring or whatever in the barm brak, etc, etc. Would not going through jump be an analogous time when the normal rules break down? Remember the Troopers seem to take a different sort of jump drug that doesn't leave them totally incapicated during jump. [Maybe that's why they are all a bit mad :-]
If not amongst the fleet, then the fleet itself. It comes from nowhere, swoops in in ships very much more powerful than normal merchants (remember in Merchanter's Luck when the Norway jumps in, and passes out what the Lucy had taken days to cross), and leaves having stuck. Technology may have eliminated cholera and other desieases but The Fleet is still there to suddenly cull family members.
Not only that but The Fleet stands largely outside of time. Being almost constantly on the move the time dilation of jump means they live a very long time. Has anyone actually read Rimrunners and counted the number of days that pass for Bet Yeager compared to a year going by on Thule? For Stationers The War is a long, drawn out, and sparodic thing. (A bit like Northern Ireland in our papers here) Yet for The Fleet it is much more compressed. With this higher level of intensity it would not be difficult for The Stationers to personify them as archetypes.
If religion is not strong in Union-Alliance now, do we see the seeds of the folklore for their future?
				Jo


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>From: Lesley Grant <lgrant@maths.tcd.ie>
>Subject: cherryhlist
>Date: Mon, 10 May 93 9:48:23 BST
> (...)
> 	If you look at her history you have the early stations being
> settled by these long term STL ships. On all ships there is a minimum
> of free space for anything. Whereas giving the crew space to practice
> their religion would be psycologically justified I have this feeling
> that the crews were probably chosen from a wide ethnic mixture thus
> making it impractical to represent each person's religion.
In _Heavy Time_ and _Hellburners_, all the EC people appear to be atheists or agnostics. It's likely that this also held true for the first STL ships and the stations -- the only belief was in making the EC more profitable. (BTW it doesn't take much room to pray, which is about all any of the 'major' religions requires. And how much room does a Tanakh, Bible, Qur'an or any other set of scripture take on microfiche? Any other religious duties can normally be postponed or worked out in some other way -- for example, an Islamic crewmember could have Zakat [standardised money for the poor] paid by standing order from their wage account, and fasting in Ramadan could be either practised if possible, or postponed due to being 'on a journey'. The other three necessary religious duties take either no room [bekief in God, belief in angels] or little room [prayer])
> 	Certainly as The Fleet is run down they take on the social
> detrius of society, strip them of their past and indoctrinate them
> in new ways, they create an environment where ignorance propigates.
> Only the technical class know how to make things work but not necessarily
> how things work. The troops in the belly live in a world where things
> just happen and they only have to ponder orders. Cherryh portrays thems
> "dicing with the deep", i.e. playing games of chance as they hit
> jump space. It seems an echo of Samhain here in Ireland. Samhain
> (Halloween) comes at a time between seasons, where the normal rules
> of How Things Work break down. In folklore it is when the Otherworld
> is close to this world and all sorts of "divination games" are played.
> (...)
First off, I don't really think that the aspect of Samhain as breaking the borders is applicable here. However, the troops' playing dice games as the ship jumps is certainly presented as a quasi-religious act. I believe it (and the troops' generally appallig behaviour) is an attempt by them to try and gain a measure of control that is usually completely lacking in their lives. They must sit out ship battles, are completely helpless most of the time on board, and are on the bottom of the chain of command. In any situation they can, they try to reassert control over the course of events: control the new recruits by beating/raping them; control stationers' contempt by intimidating them; control their fear of jumping by playing symbolic dice games. It's probably as religious as the troops get, because more established religious traditions would require them to submit themselves in yet another area of life.
	
> (...) For Stationers The War is a long, drawn out,
> and sparodic thing. (A bit like Northern Ireland in our papers here)
> Yet for The Fleet it is much more compressed. With this higher level of
> intensity it would not be difficult for The Stationers to personify
> them as archetypes.
For people in the midst of the War, the Fleet may be demonized, but it's certainly not demonic. Everyone's quite aware that the Fleet is made up of humans. The thing that merchanters and stationers would try to forget is that the Fleet is made up of their own children, that 'ordinary' folk could be turned relatively easily into killers. The only 'archetypes' that others have of the Fleet is 'murderers', 'theives', etc. This is just common denial of the sort that leads people nowadays to think of a mass-murderer next door as always having been a nice quiet person. People are either seen as completely good or completely bad. Perhaps later on the Fleet might figure as doomed heroes, a ghost fleet or whatever, but during/just after the war they are just seen as criminals whose time is past.
			Lesley

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