on Writers Helping Writers:
One of the ways human beings are incredibly diverse is in their religious practices. There are over 4,000 organized religions across our planet, and each one has individual sects that espouse slightly (or vastly) different ideas. This makes writing religious characters a bit of a challenge.
Part of the difficulty is that religion means different things to different people. Some have a cursory religious affiliation; they embrace it on specific holy days and adopt some aspects of it, but it may not have much bearing on their day-to-day life. Writing these characters is easier because you can cherry-pick the ways in which their beliefs impact their life, and less consistency is needed.
Despite the different religions and vast disparity within these groups, I tend to see the same stereotypes constantly being portrayed. It’s frustrating, because I know from personal experience that most stereotypes are often based in reality; many of us have run into people who fit the cliché. But those stereotypes typically represent a small subset of that people group, and when they become the normal way of portraying those people, we do everyone a disservice.
To that end, I’d like to discuss the tired and over-exposed caricatures I’ve seen so we can avoid them and represent religious folks better. Because of the variety of beliefs and ideals even within the “major” religions, I’ve decided to focus this post on stereotypes that touch on many belief systems (while occasionally referencing Christianity specifically, since that’s the one I’m intimately acquainted with).