Here is a story so old that I have no idea where it originated. A group of Irishmen were sitting in a bar, solving the world’s problems. One of them asked the rest, “If a cataclysm were to destroy all the poets in Ireland, how many generations would it take to replace them?” One of the others simply held up his hand with a single finger raised. (If you know the origin of this, let me know.)
You will note that this is not an ethnic joke, but a comment on how the Irish view themselves. It is also true – and not only about Irish poets, but about any of those human traits that lie latent in all of us until circumstances call them forth.
That includes the capacity for religious controversy.
Before Martin Luther made his opinions stick, there was a long history of dissent within the Catholic Church. Dissenters were called heretics, and they were usually burned at the stake. Look up Jan Hus (AKA John Huss). Once Luther opened the floodgates, here came Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and good old Henry VIII with his political and personal agenda.
Quakers, Shakers, Anabaptists, Methodists – you get the picture. As someone once misquoted scripture, “Wherever two or three of ye are gathered together, there will be a fight.”
When I needed a religion for my first science fiction novel Jandrax – available battered and cheap in used bookstores everywhere – I came upon Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. I read the introduction, saw the notion of the monomyth, and the entire religion I needed exploded in my mind, complete in a heartbeat. I closed the book and never went back to it, not wanting to dilute the purity of that flash of inspiration.
Some hundreds of years in the future, Louis Dumezil, a scholar with a self-imposed mission of peace, collates all the world’s religions, winnowing out the common core, and setting it down in his Monomythos. His hope is that a common religion for all men, carved out of mankind’s various faiths, will bring an end to sectarian fighting. Fat chance. In fact, Dumezil unwittingly sabotages his own work by coming out with later, updated editions of his Monomythos.
You can guess the result. His initial success at setting up a pan-human religion based on the Monomythos breaks down into warring sects killing each other over which Monomythos is the correct one.
In Jandrax, the title character is a disillusioned former zealot who lost his religion in the sectarian fighting on Hallam’s world, and now finds himself marooned on an unexplored planet with a shipload of purists.