by guest writer Kris Schnee
©2006 Kris Schnee
Those anthros should get down on their knees and pray.
Why is it that religion seems to be a rare topic in anthropomorphic fiction? Occasionally it does appear, but it seems to be just one minor theme among many, even though it exerts a huge influence on the real world. By taking it into account and writing about it more often, we can not only grapple with real-world problems but make our stories more vibrant and meaningful to a wide audience.
Just how rare a theme is religion? There are a few authors who have taken it on, such as Phil Geusz with his Lapist stories (including Drama Class, which appeared in Anthro #1) and Charles Matthias in some of his Metamor Keep stories. Some artists, notably XianJaguar, use anthropomorphics and religion together in their images. But overall, the topic seems underused. An April Fools issue of TSAT proposed a shared-world setting called Naked Souls with heavy religious overtones, which (with the deliberate smarminess toned down) could have been interestingand no one took it up. Nor do stories often seem to ask how the existence or creation of anthro characters affects peoples religious beliefs, even though thats a wide-open topic.
Its understandable that most furry stories dont involve religion directly, but odd that the characters seem not to show any religious inclinations at all. According to a large 2001 survey, 77% of the American population can be classified as Christian . Similarly, an October poll of 2,010 Americans found that "absolutely certain" belief in a God fell over the last three years from 66% to 58%.  The CIA World Factbook roughly agrees, giving 2002 figures of the population being 52% Protestant, 24% Catholic, and 2% Mormon, with only 10% expressing no religion.  Nearly half of Americans say they pray at least several times a week, most have no doubt that God exists, and over a third attend religious services at least several times a month.  So, if we were to write stories about typical Americans, wed have many scenes of people praying and attending church. Characters social networks would often involve their pastors, Bible study groups, and fellow churchgoers. Religion would also be a big part of characters thought process; they would ask themselves What Would Jesus Do?, as the real-world slogan goes. Yet how often does religion play a significant role in anthropomorphic stories set in America? Its as though we steadfastly avoided discussing money in our work, its such a glaring omission. By failing to discuss it, were failing to base our stories on a big part of real culture. That problem hurts writers because it overlooks a rich source of emotions, social behavior, and conflictsome of the things that are most compelling in a storyand hurts us as readers because were missing a chance to come to grips with a real-world issue.
Could it be that anthro fiction leaves out religion because the fandom is a pack of atheists? Its possible. Based on a 2000-2002 survey of 350 people (only 70% of them Americans), Christians make up only 18% of the fandom, with a 20% share identified as Neo-Pagan (aka Wiccan?), and 43% atheist, agnostic, or undecided.  These figures are massively skewed versus the American population at large! Still, its hard to characterize this group as indifferent to religion, with such a substantial share being Christian or Pagan. Even for those who now have no formal religion, isnt there an interesting reason for that absencea story that isnt being told? What causes there to be a correlation between liking anthropomorphic animals and not believing in the snake of Eden or in Noahs Ark? Theres something interesting at work here, and it deserves to be speculated and written about.
There is some evidence that the popularity in America of organized religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is declining, with the percentage of Christian believers falling from 86% to 77% over an 11-year period.  If there is any truth to this finding, its big newsmillions of people damned to Hell or overcoming a delusion, depending on your own view. Either way, its important! Whats happening to people thats causing them to change some of their most basic beliefs in this way? Again, where are the stories about the heart-rending decisions that shatter peoples basic views about the nature of reality, and where does anthropomorphics fit in? Is the fandom the leading edge of a national trend, for instance, such that 20% of 300 million people are going to be finding their totem animals before long? Or is the vast difference between the fandom and the mainstream a sign of just how out of touch it is, on a deep spiritual level? Either way, where is the material about this trend?
Its not just anthro fiction overlooking religion; science fiction and fantasy in general have the same problem. The backstory of The Lord of the Rings discusses that worlds gods, but the story itself barely mentions them. Harry Potter seems to involve religion only in the minds of outraged parents who think its some sort of guide to satanic rituals. In the X-Men comic book, Nightcrawler had some interesting development as a (fur-covered) man of faith, but thats about it. Even big-name SF authors ignore religion: Asimovs Foundation series seems to totally omit it, and in Brins Uplift series, religion is mostly for genocidal aliens. There are notable exceptions such as Heinleins Stranger in a Strange Land, but the main exception in modern mainstream fantasy is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeand thats based on a 1949 story written by C. S. Lewis, a Christian apologist! So, the lack of religion in the fandoms stories could be a symptom of the larger SF/fantasy fandoms blindness to this major area of human behavior.
This omission is an opportunity! The anthropomorphics fandom can leap on it to gain significance in the larger area of science fiction/fantasy fandom and mainstream culture. This doesnt mean having stories about evil humans oppressing furries in the name of God (at least not exclusively that), because there are many different ways to include the topic. We can look at it in terms of how anthropomorphic characters would view modern religious issues: Violent extremism, intolerance of criticism, a Church that limits who can become a priest, parents desire to send their kids to religious schools, evolution, genetic engineering Lots of material exists. Or we could look at issues that would be specific to anthro characters: Species differences, predation, radical differences in lifespan, etc, all viewed not by coldly rational characters but by people with millennia-old traditions that are sacred to them. And in terms of props and settings for fiction, there are churches to invent, ancient shrines to explore, rituals to attend, and legends to study, all within the purely fictional realm. Theres a ton of interesting material to build into the fandom!
So, lets see characters who have their faith shattered or built up, who kill and die for their gods, who devote themselves to piety, who spend their lives building cathedrals, who cross oceans to bring the Truth to foreigners. Religion can be a rich source of heroes, villains, plots, and background material. In taking it on, dont limit yourself to your own beliefs, either; it can be a mind-expandingeven spiritualexperience to write about someone who sincerely believes something that you dont. We have a lot to learn by experimenting with religion as a major theme, and it might help the fandom to grow if we can take the lead in discussing it from our own unique perspective.