Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sazed’s School of Religion

In Brandon Sanderson's fantasy novel Mistborn we are introduced to a scholar or religion named Sazed, who serves as a guardian/advisor to the main character, a girl named Vin. Vin is a street urchin who possesses certain extreme powers and must take on the role of a noble born lady to aid in the coming rebellion against the empire. Along the way Sazed gives her an education as to the nature of religion as he subjects her to his unique brand of missionary work.

"I think I have the perfect religion for," Sazed said his normally stoic face revealing a glimmer of eagerness. "It is called 'Trelagism,' after the god Trell. Trell was worshipped by a group known as the Nelazan, a people who lived far to the north. In their land, the day and night cycle was very odd. During some months of the year, it was dark for most of the day. During the summer, however, it only grew dark for a few hours at a time.

The Nelazan believed that there was beauty in darkness, and that the daylight was more profane. They saw the stars as the Thousand Eyes of Trell watching them. The sun was the single, jealous eye of Trell's brother, Nalt. Since Nalt only had one eye, he made it blaze brightly to outshine his brother. The Nelzan, however, were not impressed, and preferred to worship the quiet Trell, who watched over them even when Nalt obscured the sky." …

"It really is a good religion, Mistress Vin," Sazed said. "Very gentle, yet very powerful. The Nelazan were not an advance people, but they were quite determined. They mapped the entire night sky, counting and placing every major star. Their ways suit you – especially their preference of the night. …"

"That's the fifth religion you've tried to convert me to, Saze. How many more can there be?"
"Five hundred and sixty two," Sazed said. "Or at least, that is the number of belief systems I know. There are, likely and unfortunately, others that have passed from this world without leaving traces for my people to collect."

Vin paused. "And you have all of these religions memorized?"

"As much as is possible," Sazed said. "Their prayers, their beliefs, their mythologies. Many are very similar – breakoffs or sects of one another." …

"But, what's the point?"

Sazed frowned. "The answer should be obvious, I think. People are valuable, Mistress Vin, and so – therefore – are their beliefs." (pg. 178-79)

"What was that?" Vin asked as he looked up again.

"A prayer," Sazed said. "A death chant of the Cazzi. It is meant to awaken the spirits of the dead and entice them free from their flesh so that they may return to the mountain of souls." He glanced at her. "I can teach you of the religion, if you wish, Mistress. The Cazzi were an interesting people – very familiar with death."

Vin shook her head. "Not right now. You said their prayer – is this the religion you believe in, then?"
"I believe in them all."

Vin frowned. "None of them contradict each other?"

Sazed smiled. "Oh, often and frequently they do. But, I respect the truths behind them all – and I believe in the need for each one to be remembered."

"Then, how did you decide which religion's prayer to use?" Vin asked.

"It just seemed … appropriate," Sazed said quietly, regarding the scene of shadowed death. (pg. 207-08)

This is the sort of intellectual terrorism I can sign up for. It eschews the stridency of religious fundamentalism and the triumphalism of secularism, all while maintaining a place for the scholarship of religion.

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