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Gimme That Old Time Religion

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All the old religions used to be new at one point, right?

 

I'm trying to design a religion for a progressive kingdom.

 

1) The royal family has for decades rewarded, in various ways, the people who come up with innovations which make life easier, less expensive, healthier, etc.

 

2) The government has recruited the best and brightest to get free education at universities which act as think tanks. The ones who come up with their own innovations (which are marketable) are often set up to manage a government-owned shop which creates and markets those items. In some cases where the item is universally useful, the government might mandate that everyone in the kingdom buy the item (such as all farmers being required to buy a wheelbarrow with a temporary offset in taxes-owed so the farmer can afford the purchase). Other graduates teach at the university or make the rounds to village schools. Or judge whether innovations are useful and how much someone should be rewarded for coming up with the idea. Or do pure research privately or at the university. Or go into business for themselves (the government does have a primitive form of patents for some devices if the person is immediately trying to go into production with their idea).

 

3) The government is the source of gentle persuasion to push progress forward. If there's no tavern or inn in a place where one is needed, the government is likely to open one, run it at a profit for a few years, then sell it off. It will require every family owning or sharecropping land to have a fruit-bearing tree on that land with the tax collector doubling as an arborist who inspects the tree at least yearly to make sure it is being properly cared for and who gives advice if it isn't being fruitful. Every village is required to have a grove of fruit trees maintained by the community for the use of the community. 

 

Anyway, you get the idea. The government is stable, benevolent, maybe a bit heavy-handed compared to our modern world's level of freedoms but far ahead of the behavior of royalty and government in most fantasy kingdoms. The nobility generally goes along with the royalty for the most part because their schemes have improved the nobles' tax income and quality of life (at least when the nobles' lands aren't being appropriated for some scheme).

 

Religion is tougher to get a grasp on than government, at least for me. And this religion is tougher than some because while the government is into education and industry, this religion is into a benevolent form of banking and insurance. When someone needs a loan, they go to the church. For example, the local priest looks over a business proposal then either approves the loan or sends for a specialist who knows more about that business so that person can make the decision to approve the loan. Loans are repaid not only by paying back the money plus some interest but also in the form of "you owe the church a favor or two". You might be the specialist called on to travel to another village to look at a business proposal. You might have to fix the roof of the orphanage or trim the trees in the village grove or teach classes at the village school, whatever the church needs to have done.

 

And for big projects or other emergencies, the king will approach the church for a loan. And so far, the kingdom has repaid every loan (in money terms at least, though a few favors are still outstanding). The church is the guardian of the communities. The church is the guardian of the kingdom. But the church is not necessarily the servant of the king. That has sometimes been a delicate balancing act but not in recent decades since the royal family has become more progressive and benevolent.

 

That's the role the church plays in the society, now on to the belief system. Most religions to me seem to have a major defining characteristic or moral value which you can use as shorthand to describe it. Catholicism is ritualistic, charismatic Christian denominations have "being filled with the Spirit", some Eastern religions have the concept of karma, etc. 

 

I think I'm wanting a values-based religion rather than a highly ritualistic one or one which requires, maybe I'm not putting this right, but not a high degree of personal devotion and trying to convert other people to the religion.  Adherents to the religion should be kind of cool and laid back about the religion. They don't get their knickers in a twist if they miss services or nag the new arrival in town to go to the temple. They just believe and are friends of the priest. And the priest believes and is a friend to the townsfolk.

 

When thinking over values which might be broadly benevolent, the one which comes to me is Moderation.

 

Can you drink? Can you be greedy and think of yourself or your family first? Can you be selfless and think of others first? Can you think badly of the king? Can you curse at the weather? Can you give your wealth to the poor? Can you try risky things?

 

There's a lot of questions in life which can be answered with "In Moderation". And a kingdom full of people who choose to be Moderate People would be an interesting place to visit, not to mention highly disturbing to the rulers of other kingdoms.

 

The royalty is pushing the kingdom to be educated and industrious. The religion doubles as the banking system and encourages the people to be Moderate. Given that premise, how do you see the religion working? Should there be a deity or are they worshiping only a virtue? Do the priests do magic and if so, what kind of magic? Are the priests full time clerics? Do they have a distinctive form of dress? Do you see such an order of priests as being pure, corrupt, or a mixed bag? What other values suggest themselves to you as part of a belief system which places its highest value as being Moderation?

 

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Don't have time for details right now, but a few thoughts:

 

It strikes me that the defining principle for your religion should be, Commonwealth. Everyone cooperates for the greater advancement of the whole, through opportunities for individuals to progress and enrich themselves, but with the expectation they would in turn give back to the community.

 

Second, with the emphasis on government and church involvement in the practical aspects of society, the divine organization might resemble the celestial bureaucracy of Chinese folk religion, with all the gods having defined functions and reporting to superiors.

 

Third, the supreme deity would probably be defined as a master of all skills and crafts, since innovation and practicality are highly valued. Rather like the Irish god Lugh.  A god or gods of commerce would likely also be very prominent.

 

More later.

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On 2/21/2019 at 2:31 PM, Old Man said:

I should mention that the Templars originally filled this banking-church niche IRL, and arguably were destroyed by secular authorities because of it.

 

I knew that but hadn't remembered as I was putting this idea together. I tend to think of the Templars as being a secret society rather than a religious order, though they definitely were that.

 

My impression was that Templars only lent money to the nobility, large merchants, and the famous rather than the little fellow who is trying to get ahead in this world. I'm definitely wanting the church's lending services to be available to everyone except perhaps wanderers.

 

I'm kind of hoping to avoid militaristic trappings but I suppose that at some times and places that armed forces are unavoidable when you're talking about storing or transporting money. I'll have to think on it.

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On 2/23/2019 at 12:49 PM, archer said:

 

I'm kind of hoping to avoid militaristic trappings but I suppose that at some times and places that armed forces are unavoidable when you're talking about storing or transporting money. I'll have to think on it.

 Well we had a "Church Militant", which while not actual Paladins, bore arms, could administer low justice,, protected church personnel, assets, and some buildings. They weren't numerous, but it was a career for Soldiers and mercenaries who had  accepted the Grace of God.

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On 2/23/2019 at 3:49 PM, archer said:

 

I knew that but hadn't remembered as I was putting this idea together. I tend to think of the Templars as being a secret society rather than a religious order, though they definitely were that.

 

My impression was that Templars only lent money to the nobility, large merchants, and the famous rather than the little fellow who is trying to get ahead in this world. I'm definitely wanting the church's lending services to be available to everyone except perhaps wanderers.

 

I'm kind of hoping to avoid militaristic trappings but I suppose that at some times and places that armed forces are unavoidable when you're talking about storing or transporting money. I'll have to think on it.

 

Banks have security guards.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

I have a palindromedary

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On 2/23/2019 at 9:49 PM, archer said:

My impression was that Templars only lent money to the nobility, large merchants, and the famous rather than the little fellow who is trying to get ahead in this world.

Well yes, but that applied to all pre-modern banks. All the banking and lending that came before Fiat Currencies and Fractional Reserve Banking.

I mean banking does receive a lot of flak these days for both Fiat Currencies and Fractional Reserve Banking. But the distribution of wealth was horrendously worse before they were invented.

 

Maybe taking a look into the History of Paper money is worth it for this part? As luck would have it, Extra History did a few Videos on that mater:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nZkP2b-4vo&list=PLmKXQuG1OdOyGI0ZyjgiqMQW9r03Fs60k

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2 hours ago, Lucius said:

 

Banks have security guards.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

I have a palindromedary

 

Security guards are usually hirelings of some kind rather than bank officials.

 

I'd been vaguely thinking of having the guards be people who the nobility donated for that cause as part of payback of loans which had been given to them. But given human nature, I'm not sure that trusting such people around money would be the best option.

 

On the other hand, if some fealty-sworn people broke faith with their liege lord and the church and made off with a sum of money, that could be a plot hook to get the PC's involved in tracking them down.

 

On the gripping hand, I'm envisioning most of the loans as being small and with them being given out fairly rapidly within the same communities as the repayment of loans so that for the most part there's not large sums of church money being at the local churches or in transit at any particular point in time.

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On 2/23/2019 at 10:49 AM, archer said:

My impression was that Templars only lent money to the nobility, large merchants, and the famous rather than the little fellow who is trying to get ahead in this world. I'm definitely wanting the church's lending services to be available to everyone except perhaps wanderers.

 

I dimly recollect that this is backwards, or at least not how the Templars started out.  Their original mission was to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, so they would do things like issue letters of credit that were safer to carry than sacks of gold and could be redeemed at any other Templar branch.  And they would manage the lands of knights and landed men while they were on pilgrimage.  They did the latter well enough that they eventually wound up with significant lands, enterprises, and trade networks of their own.  Including the entire island of Cyprus.

 

What's especially interesting is that the Templars themselves were sworn to poverty, so the entire organization was sort of a nonprofit.

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15 minutes ago, Old Man said:

 

 

What's especially interesting is that the Templars themselves were sworn to poverty, so the entire organization was sort of a nonprofit.

 

From what I understand, the individuals had vows of poverty which prevented them from owning private property (or even carrying personal money on their own bodies) but they could do things which would enrich the organization (such as taking "damages" for loaning money).

 

For example, if you believe most accounts, they sold Muslim slaves from the Holy Lands and non-Muslim, non-Christian slaves traded from lands further east. And they traded in grain and wine, some as merchants and some made on estates which were owned by the order.

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Should this church even charge interest?

 

How about instead of charging the borrower interest, they request favors and acts of public servitude be done until the balance of the loan is paid back? If the church maintains a list of tasks needing to be done, the borrower could accumulate repayment credits for performing them. It would be a bit like how some people can get their student loans discharged by working for the government or performing public service.

 

If the church has a merchant basis, I'm wondering if a more benevolent form of the Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" might be part of their creed?

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1 hour ago, Steve said:

Should this church even charge interest?

 

How about instead of charging the borrower interest, they request favors and acts of public servitude be done until the balance of the loan is paid back? If the church maintains a list of tasks needing to be done, the borrower could accumulate repayment credits for performing them. It would be a bit like how some people can get their student loans discharged by working for the government or performing public service.

 

If the church has a merchant basis, I'm wondering if a more benevolent form of the Ferengi "Rules of Acquisition" might be part of their creed?

Some quantity of borrowers are going to default.  That's just a fact of banking.  So if the church doesn't charge interest, it's going to be bleeding out money over time.  The church, in theory, is financially stable.  Therefore if the church doesn't charge interest it has to have some alternative revenue stream which compensates for any loans which are defaulted on. 

Which raises the questions of where does this money come from if not loan interest and how do the people giving this money to the church feel about how it's being used? 

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I suggest creating some myths that reinforce and explain your core religious beliefs. From what you describe I'd say this religion is based on the principles of growth and obligation. Here's a sample myth using these ideas.

 

Long ago, in a game world far, far away, there once was a Divinity who created the first mortals and charged them to create and grow their world. The Divinity invested a portion its power into a group of mortals who became the first paragons. Each paragon was responsible for creating a different part of the world and strove to impress both the Divinity and each other. Paragons could also invest other mortals with the powers of creation. These new powers were often refinements or compliments to the paragon's power, but each person's power was different. Strangely, to our way of thinking at least, investing others with power did not diminish a paragon's power. Quite the opposite, investing power in others increased the overall magic/power available in the world. Over time the first paragons and their successors created the world we know today. As powerful as the paragons were however, they were still mortals, and when they perished their powers returned to the Divinity. The Paragon's legacy is the world they produced and the purpose to continue creation. This is why the church shares it power with others, so that they may continue the Divinity's mission. As the church invests in you, one day you too shall invest in your children and students. Thus we pass the power of creation from generation to generation.  

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1 hour ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

Some quantity of borrowers are going to default.  That's just a fact of banking.  So if the church doesn't charge interest, it's going to be bleeding out money over time.  The church, in theory, is financially stable.  Therefore if the church doesn't charge interest it has to have some alternative revenue stream which compensates for any loans which are defaulted on. 

Which raises the questions of where does this money come from if not loan interest and how do the people giving this money to the church feel about how it's being used? 

 

You still don't need interest to make it work. If someone defaults, I could see an interesting version of the Inquisition appearing, perhaps mixed with elements of the modern-day IRS. First they would confiscate your property, right down to the last penny in the sofa cushions. If that isn't enough to satisfy your debt, then indentured servitude for the debtor happens until the debt is deemed to be paid off. The church would recoup their investment by renting the debtor out or selling them as an indentured servant. If they die before the debt is paid off, then necromancy is employed to keep them around and productive until it is. The church _will_ recoup their loan, and they could even make debtors an example to their members, to show that one should always pay their debts and to be careful in their borrowing.

 

With magic controlling them, the debtor might not even be able to rebel. Imagine each debtor _must_ submit to a geas in order to qualify for their loan. If even royalty must do this, the church could become quite powerful through such means.

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On 2/25/2019 at 8:41 AM, archer said:

Security guards are usually hirelings of some kind rather than bank officials.

In the age of outsourcing, we do outsource security.

 

In pre-outsourcing eras, a fixed employee was often more beneficial. Especially for a security relevant position like guarding, loyality is fundamentally important. A fixed emplyoee is just one way to get that loyality.

I mean "Knights" and "Nobles" evolved from professional warriors that were bound to their lord via land as a "Loyality building measure".

And way before that, we had the post marian reforms Roman army, wich used a similar cosntruct. Wich unfortunately ended up with armies more loyal to their general, rather then the roman state. Wich lead to ample Civil wars.

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10 hours ago, Steve said:

 

You still don't need interest to make it work. If someone defaults, I could see an interesting version of the Inquisition appearing, perhaps mixed with elements of the modern-day IRS. First they would confiscate your property, right down to the last penny in the sofa cushions. If that isn't enough to satisfy your debt, then indentured servitude for the debtor happens until the debt is deemed to be paid off. The church would recoup their investment by renting the debtor out or selling them as an indentured servant. If they die before the debt is paid off, then necromancy is employed to keep them around and productive until it is. The church _will_ recoup their loan, and they could even make debtors an example to their members, to show that one should always pay their debts and to be careful in their borrowing.

 

With magic controlling them, the debtor might not even be able to rebel. Imagine each debtor _must_ submit to a geas in order to qualify for their loan. If even royalty must do this, the church could become quite powerful through such means.

First, I imagine that magic-enforced slavery isn't exactly what archer had in mind for his fantasy utopia.  I think he's going for a more friendly church than Super IRSism. 

Second, aggressive collections just decreases the chance of default.  What happens in the event Janson takes out a loan to start a weaving business and the place burns down killing him and ruining his assets?  Or what about someone who just makes poor business choices and has a negative net worth at time of death? 

Third, your slavery/necromancy idea is exactly the "alternative revenue stream" I described, and raises a bunch of interesting questions about how people feel about the Super IRSists being willing to disturb the dead and shackle the living to get their coin. 

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Well, your weaving business example simply offers a new revenue stream possibility: insurance. Perhaps, in addition to accepting a geas to repay their loan, the debtor must also take out an insurance policy with the church, both on themselves as well as on any business endeavors started using a loan. Since every debtor must have such a policy, the risk pool is lowered, and the church is receiving insurance premiums instead of interest. Once the debt is paid back, perhaps a portion of the insurance premiums can be refunded as a reward for paying off your debt as agreed upon. It's not _interest_ in this case, it's insurance, but it would function like interest in some ways, as an expense for having the loan. For people with worse credit ratings, or who don't do their fair share of helping out the community as determined by the church, they have to pay a higher insurance premium instead.

 

Another potential revenue stream for the church is for them to be a middleman for anyone wanting to save and invest, the church acting like a bank and brokerage. For a small transaction fee along with the deposited amount of their investment, a potential investor could then acquire a portion of an existing loan and receive their stated share of its repayment as well as a small dividend taken from the insurance premiums received by the church, along with any other moneys received on that loan as part of their efforts to recoup defaults. This offloads the financial risk to the church a bit.

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The history of money and banking goes in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, from grain banking in ancient Egypt (centered on temples, as a matter of fact) to the unique time-nonetizing shell money of Rossel Island, but I'll leave that aside for now. I'm more interested in how a religion of Moderation appears.

 

A few years ago I read a book on comparative religion (IIRC the title was God Is Not One.) Not a great book, but the author has an interesting conceit of distilling each religion examined into a statement of what the essential problem of human existence is, and what the religion proposes as the solution. In  Christianity, the problem is sin; the solution is salvation through Jesus Christ. In Buddhism, the problem is karmic attachment to a world of illusion; the solution is enlightenment. Even atheism follows the pattern: The problem is superstition; the solution is reason.

 

Here, the solution is Moderation. How does the religion define the problem? "Fanaticism" or "Dualism" both seem plausible, and might explain how the religion started in the first place. (Assuming it isn't ordained by an actual god, which in a fantasy world is possible.) And it will play a big role in what immediate, social activities the church treats as worth its attention.

 

Dean Shomshak

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It sounds like it is a church and a benevolent society.  How about the church loans only to believers, but will "Bank" for non believers. Upon your birth, you are signed into the Parish book. Your attendance and tithe once you are of age are recorded. (those members moving in to new areas would be carrying a letter of recommendation from their old priest, and sign in at the new parish.) 

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I just had an idea about the idea of moderation as opposed to a church preaching abstention from certain things. The church could sell indulgences for those people who have trouble moderating themselves.

 

Want to drink more and none of the taverns will serve you any more booze because it violates the terms of their loan from the church? Show them your indulgence card for drinking bought from the church.

 

Want to spend a few days in the brothels, but the Moderation-following owners won't let you? Show them your indulgence card for wenching bought from the church.

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7 hours ago, Steve said:

Perhaps, in addition to accepting a geas to repay their loan, the debtor must also take out an insurance policy with the church, both on themselves as well as on any business endeavors started using a loan. Since every debtor must have such a policy, the risk pool is lowered, and the church is receiving insurance premiums instead of interest.

Like you have to buy a full coverage insurance if you buy a car with the Banks money, except this time the bank is also the insurer?

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Just a few random thoughts wich may apply or not at all:

If the kingdom is in an economic stage of Feudalism is hard to imagine a Social-democrat king "Olof Palme style". It has more sense in a context of absolutism, say Louis XIV with Illustration ideals. But this is fantasy, of course.

The recruitment of the brightest childs to the state administration was practiced by Romans and Chinese, but the childs had to become eunuchs. So they will not use their power to enrich themselves and his family. The Romans had public basic education, by the way, until Christian Church took it over and do the privatization thing with it.

Paganism had a strong communitary sense, it doesn't had this idea of "personal individual salvation" as the primary goal. Religious ideas come from material and social needs, if you follow the cultural materialism school of Anthropology.

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On 2/26/2019 at 7:16 PM, Christopher said:

Like you have to buy a full coverage insurance if you buy a car with the Banks money, except this time the bank is also the insurer?

 

Yes, that was my thinking. The church's loan is protected this way, they get a form of income that can be used to offset any bad loans, but it is not technically interest.

 

If they are also selling insurance to people without any loans outstanding to them, their rates could be quite cheap. Since this is a fantasy world, I suppose "Raise Dead" magic could be something that was covered by a form of life insurance, although it would probably be more like modern health insurance than death benefit life insurance. I would also imagine the premiums for adventurers would be much higher than what it would cost a baker to get equivalent coverage.

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