Sunday, December 5, 2010

Here is a Religion I Could Go For

From China Mieville's Perdido Street Station:

Palgolak was a god of knowledge. He was depicted either as a fat, squat human reading in a bath, or a svelte vodyanoi doing the same, or, mystically, both at once. His congregation were human and vodyanoi in roughly equal proportions. He was an amiable, pleasant deity, a sage whose existence was entirely devoted t the collection, categorization, and dissemination of information.

Isaac worshipped no gods, He did not believe in the omniscience or omnipotence claimed for a few, or even the existence of many. Certainly there were creatures and essences that inhabited different aspects of existence, and certainly some of them were powerful, in human terms. But worshipping them seemed to him rather a craven activity. Even he, though, had a soft spot for Palgolak. He rather hoped the fat bastard did exist, in some form or another. Isaac liked the idea of an inter-aspectual entity so enamoured with knowledge that it just roamed from real to realm in a bath, murmuring with interest at everything it came acrosss.

Palgolak's library was at least the equal to that of the New Crobuzon University. It did not lend books, but it did allow readers in at any time of the day or the night, and there were very very few books it did not allow access to. The Palgolaki were proselytizers, holding that everything known by a worshipper was immediately known by Palgolak, which was why they were religiously charged to read voraciously. But their mission was only secondarily for the glory of Palgolak, and primarily for the glory of knowledge, which was why they were sworn to admit all who wished to enter their library. (pg. 60)  

I guess, though, my question would be how such a religion might have been able to evolve. In a pre-literate society such a religion would have excluded the vast majority of people from "salvation." (One of the reasons why Maimonidean rationalism failed to take control of Judaism during the Middle-Ages.) Also there is the problem of allowing people to read books. The problem is not heresy, per se, but the granting of authority to lay individuals to interpret ideas for themselves. How could a religious establishment maintain itself as a coherent set of beliefs under circumstances in which every man reads for himself and forms his own ideas? Protestantism learned this the hard way when they encouraged people to read just the Bible.

(See also Sazed's School of Religion.)

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