Trope-a-Day: Illegal Religion

Illegal Religion: Well, now. While neither the Fundamental Contract nor the Imperial Charter considers freedom of religion a fundamental right (those would all be much more, um, fundamental), it is, in most ways, a strict subset of those which it does recognize. The latter does, however, mention freedom of philosophy in the clause which establishes the state religion:

The above notwithstanding, the freedom of philosophy for the individual shall not be abridged, save when required for the public safety; and the rights of the citizen-shareholder shall not be diminished or enlarged on any philosophical criterion; save that the doctrines of a philosophy may act as an impairment to citizenship when they are considered antithetical to true allegiance or the principles upon which the Empire is founded, and the Senate and Curia have made such determination.

– the Imperial Charter, Section II, Article VIII

Thus, no religion is illegal in the Empire per se.

That said, the Empire is very keen on certain principles, like the ethical equality of all sophonts, their endowment with certain absolute, inalienable, non-derogable rights, that these rights are to life and property, liberty, and the pursuit of eudaimonia, the obligation of contracts, and so on and so forth, and if your religion, philosophy, or culture differs significantly on that point – especially but not necessarily in praxis1that’s what’ll get it on the list of Proscribed Promulgators of Pernicious Irrationality.

But, y’know, it’s not a per se ban, it’s a because you are by your own choice and statement incapable of undertaking the obligations inherent in Imperial citizen-shareholdership ban, which the Senate and Curia will be kind enough to explain the details of to you in the Take Your Religion/Culture/Philosophy and Shove It Act (As Applicable).

(Life is, by and large, a little more pleasant for those civilized henotheists who have no problem coming to a polite and respectful accommodation between their private beliefs and the public – primarily Flamic – ones. Dogmatic monotheism isn’t illegal, mind – its practice just makes you look like a right dick.)


  1. With regard to the “The religion requires or encourages behavior that is unacceptable to the ruling culture. In this case, the rulers may tolerate abstract belief in the religion as long as the objectionable elements are not practiced.” policy mentioned on the trope page, the Empire has thought about it for all of a second and then dismissed it. Remember that old Minbari saying, “Understanding is not required, only obedience”2? The Imperials prefer to espouse the opposite – especially the acquiescents. All deeds grow from thoughts, after all.
  2. Having that in the doctrines of your religion isn’t banworthy, but it’s certainly a bad sign.

While TV Tropes only asks for Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement where Real Life examples are concerned, I’m going to ask that if anyone has the urge to discuss in the comments, we keep it in the hypothetical mode. I’m sure we can all think of such examples one way or t’other, but I do not want Earthling religious flamewars here, and will be striking down on any that do appear with great vengeance and furious anger, m’kay?

Questions: Sleep, Implied Contracts, Twinning, Pandeism, Cascading Default, The Drowning, Deals with the Devil, White Elephants, and Stargates

Random thought: Do eldrae sleep?

Yes, except for a few unconventionally modified clades. Specifically, it’s necessary in order to dream – because bio-brains get very unhappy when they don’t get their maintenance downtime. The nowline doesn’t need as much as the baseline (being quite happy to sustain three to four hours a night, or go without for several days if given an extended rest period thereafter), but that’s about where the diminishing returns set in.

The unconventional modifications tend to each come with their own disadvantages.

Do Imperial law and common custom acknowledge the validity of implied contracts, whether implied-in-fact or implied-at-law?

Not as such. The Curial courts have no particular desire to have to invent the terms of contracts and try to parse out the meeting of the minds that may or may not have been.

Instead, to save time, they have form contracts, which are basically library functions in contract law that can be invoked by various things: purchasing over the counter, entering a brawler’s bar, and various other legally defined social rituals. That ensures that the terms are defined, and contracts are always entered into intentionally.

You mentioned that sometimes someone can acquire a backup twin if their incarnation insurer mistakenly believes them to be dead. How is this resolved legally? Is property and assets split evenly? How about debts and obligations? Relationships? Can one arrange in advance what will happen and are there established precedents and norms?

When one person becomes two, the basic legal rule (in the absence of any specific agreements between self and self otherwise) is that various things attaching to them instead attach to the corporate body of both of them. So their property and assets, rather than being split, are jointly owned by both of them; they are jointly and severally liable for all debts and obligations; like any other contracts, they are jointly and severally attached to any relationships they’re in; and so on and so forth.

If it happens accidentally, such that there isn’t any previous agreement, it’s up to the new selves to exchange rights and obligations and buy each other out. Or, y’know, remerge and become one person again.

How are disputes resolved (for those foolish enough not to be able to come to an agreement with themselves).

If all else fails, they can always call on the Curial courts to make a division for them. (This is not recommended; the Curial courts dislike having to referee this sort of thing that reasonable people should be able to work out between themselves, so doing that guarantees that you’ll get a solution that neither of you will like.)

So what would the eldrae make of the idea of pandeism — that the Universe as we know it came about when a Creator of necessarily immense power and knowledge (though explicitly not an omnipotent and omniscient Deity in the classical Abrahamic vein), for whatever reason, ceased to be a unitary consciousness? How compatible would such an idea be with the precepts of the Flamic faith if someone were to make an effort to reconcile the two?

On one level, it has very few compatibility problems – the Flamic faith expends much more time on ethos than cosmos, as evidenced by its existing multiple creation myths which don’t trouble themselves particularly with consistency. And it’s no stranger an idea than many of those creation myths are, particularly in these days of mechanimism and pervasive nanoecologies.

It may, however, somewhat troubled by the pretty clear notion among the Flamics that the creator is a schmuck, for making (or in this case, becoming) such a fundamentally broken universe in the first place. So it would need to be a school of pandeism that can cope with the idea of performing invasive surgery on a blind, idiot, possibly suicidal deity.

And perhaps more interestingly, if said Creator were to have left behind some sort of “last will and testament” (or some other analogous set of injunctions) in the fundamental fabric of the Universe’s structure for its possible beneficiaries to decode and implement, what sort of considerations would the Imperial Curia have to take into account in deciding whether to accept it as a valid and enforceable document?

A contract with only one party is no contract. (Leaving aside the special case of contracts with one’s future self, which is the form many oaths take.) Nor can a creator bind their sophont creations, because they’re independent of will. So between those two alone, it’s not looking good for enforceability.

And the content is going to affect how seriously anyone might take it as advice, even. As mentioned before, the creator is a schmuck. No-one’s going to take the word of the entity responsible for either screwing up and creating entropy, or worse, deliberately creating entropy, as particularly ineffable.

When there are just two parties involved, debt and obligation seem to be pretty straightforward: Once you undertake an obligation, you assume liability for discharging it, and if you default, Bad Things Happen.

However, how do things work out under Imperial law and eldraeic practice when, for instance, A’s default on their obligation to B causes a “domino effect” where B is unable to fulfill their obligations to C as a direct result, causing C to default in turn on their obligations to D, who then has to default against E, etc.? Is each party still responsible solely for its own obligations, or is there some mechanism by which part or all of their liability in this matter can be assigned to A for their role in knocking over the first domino?

“You, and only you, are responsible for yourself,” as the old legal maxim has it.

Contract arrangements delegating risk notwithstanding, you are responsible for all of your obligations. If you choose to subcontract some of your obligations, well then, you’ll want to be confident you have a backup, can cover a potential default yourself, or otherwise hedge  it (using subguard insurance, say, or surety bonds, just like in our system, or guild backing of the subcontractor).

(The courts do have systems to stack cases and process them together for optimal handling in the event of cascading defaults, but that’s merely a convenience feature.)

1. So what’s the “Big Picture” historical view on the Drowning of the People? The “It all happened in seven hours” tale makes for a good yarn to tell around a campfire or kitchen table, but I’m sure that there must have been plenty of preexisting movements, trends, and ideas well before the event itself that all came to a head in that moment.

Actually, that’s more or less accurate for that part of it.

As indicated, the preparations for the revolution took place over years, and the overthrow itself took about a year from start to finish – and afterwards, it took more years to establish the start of what would later be known as the institutions of the Ungoverned Era, to put them on a proper philosophical grounding with the existing ideas floating around (including but not limited to this particular philosopher), and even more time for those to coalesce into the first things resembling a modern Society of Consent…

…but the part where the revolution decided that the democratic faction of their leadership were trying to be the new boss, just like the old boss, and chucked them over a waterfall? That happened pretty much as described.

2. While we’re on the subject of the days of yore, does eldraeic folklore or mythology have any tales in the same vein as the “deal with the devil” plot, where an ambitious yet impatient and shortsighted individual makes some kind of pact with an unsavory sort that (to put it mildly) ends up putting them at a disadvantage, and has to find some sort of loophole to escape their obligation or else risk eternal damnation (or some other equally sordid fate)?

I haven’t written any of them yet, and they are obviously somewhat different inasmuch as most Eldraeic belief systems have/had no adversary/negative-principle personification, merely a negative cosmic force, but it seems quite certain that there are plenty of fairy tales with morals relating to incautious pledges, yes.

(Many of them do probably relate to Úlmiríën, the Necessary Chaos, eikone of rogues, shapeshifters, trickery, epiphanies and unwonted revelations, and sudden paradigm shifts, but hesh’s not a evil deity, but a trickster deity whose bargains, while often painful, teach. Hesh is, after all, the Necessary Chaos.)

Does the Empire have an equivalent of the proverbial “white elephant,” either as an idiom or as an actual “gift”?

The concept exists, as does the social maneuver, although as yet I do not know their names.

After reading that the Empire sends out automated stargate deployment ships, and so there are systems with stargates in them that are otherwise largely unexplored, a thought struck me. How would the Empire respond if they sent a scout through one of these stargates and discovered that there was another non-Imperial, non-Voniensan stargate already in that system? Has that, in fact, ever happened?

By doing SCIENCE to it!

(Carefully and respectfully, of course, certainly. But it’s an obvious scenario that leads to seeking out more of that knowledge and friendship that the Exploratory Service is so keen on.)

And, per below, it has happened…

Also, regarding stargates in the Worlds, the Empire and the Republic are the only folks with the capability to make them, no? I know you’ve said before that Ring Dynamics made most of the stargates in the Worlds, but you never really hinted at anyone else having a weylforge (other than whatever it is that the Republic’s been mining), so I assumed that the non-RD gates were of Imperial manufacture too, just technically by different companies or maybe state-owned.

Ring Dynamics is the only Imperial company in that business, and owns and operates all of the Empire’s gates, under one contract or another, as well as leasing gates and selling gate services elsewhere.

The (rare) non-Ring-Dynamics ones, for the most part and subject to the author’s better-idea privileges, are almost all either rediscovered ancient paleotech relics (many of which are administered by Ring Dynamics under contract because, well, they have people who understand the tech), or belong to local Vingean Powers who figured it out on their own.


Trope-a-Day: Balance Between Good and Evil

Balance Between Good and Evil: Strongly averted in eldraeic theology, the Flamics preferring to espouse the notion that good (i.e., light, the Flame) should cheerfully extirpate evil (darkness, Entropy) from the universe and feel jolly happy about it. Good Needs Evil for contrast, forsooth! The thing about light, you see, is that it comes in many different colors.

Trope-a-Day: Holy Is Not Safe

Holy Is Not Safe: Anything made, shaped, or Vorlon-touched by a weakly godlike superintelligence may be holy, but is also very likely to be powerful enough to be catastrophically dangerous if misused, mishandled, or otherwise generally mucked about with.

(Especially things like, say, the Eye of Elmiríën, which is to say, an artifact of the eikone of order, law, and perfection. Its gaze wants to burn all imperfection and entropy out of everything. Since it is an imperfect universe filled with imperfect things, looking at it hurts almost as much as being looked at by it.)


The book of Balances is one of the most significant segments of the Word of the Flame as it addresses the eldraeic character. To be specific, it takes the form of a lengthy debate between Kanáralath, Bringer of Clarity, the eikone whose concern is reason, logic, and truth unalloyed, and therefore that quality of spirit which we esteem as talcoríëf, and Elárion, the eikone representing liberty, individuality, and volition, and therefore the quality of valxíjir.

The debate dissects the question of these two qualities that lie at the heart of our nature as eldrae (q.v. the Parable of the Crystal and the Flame). At first, this is almost conducted as a duel, as Elárion praises our driving energy, qalasír, and the great deeds it has inspired, while Kanáralath speaks on the virtue of wisdom. Then, in answering each other’s points, Elárion decries (with appropriately fiery rhetoric) the bloodless contemplation of his counterpart, while Kanáralath coldly dissects the great tragedies of passion.

Both, of course, are correct. We are, as Elárion teaches, creatures of Flame, not mere creatures of clay, born to exert our will upon the world. But a flame untended runs easily wild, as the bloodier centuries of our history demonstrate in great depth.

The next section of the debate has the eikones discuss the interactions between the two – and the failure to balance them property – in detail. This section of the Word indeed describes six of the Antithetical Heresies, which such an imbalance can give rise to. A deficiency of valxíjir is the straight and narrow way to the Heresy of the Deedless Cripple, that of those who do not strive and depend upon others for their worth; while an excess leads one into the Heresy of the Uncaring Rider, who negligently exerts his will heedless of the rights and hearts of others. Likewise, a deficiency in talcoríëf is the path of the Thoughtless Churl, who obeys and enforces without understanding; while its excess delivers one to the Heartless Philosopher, whose contemplation paralyzes action. Talcoríëf curdled begets the Heresy of the Obstructive Naysayer, who disdains the thoughts and ambitions of others; while corrupted valxíjir is the way of the Defiling Nihility, who finds satisfaction only in exerting power, ultimately only to destroy.

The final synthesis of the debate discusses the empowering balance of passion and reason, and the way in which each quality must be fulfilled by the other. Reason superdominant is impotent: contemplation exalted to inaction, if not empowered with the will to use it. Overriding passion is dangerous: folly, destruction, and chaos alone come from action without mastery of the will exerted to give rise to it.

Reason, therefore, must be enlivened with passion; passion, ruled by tempered reason. The enlightened sophont seeks and rests upon the balance point from which both valxíjir and talcoríëf may simultaneously be affirmed. From within this place, they may make choices in cool rationality, neither ruled nor controlled by their passions, and then act upon those choices with an absolute and pure will.

– Commentaries and Insights, Vol. IV,
the Luminous Sessily Arkonides of Atheléä

Worldbuilding: Immigration and Religiosity

A thought or two inspired by part of this comment seen via /r/bestof, said part being:

Where it gets extremely tricky and sensitive is how non-fundamentalist Muslims fit into the picture. The same for non-fundamentalist Christians, or Jews. Because the fundamentalists would argue, and in a way I agree with them, that the beliefs of these people are so far removed from the original message and meaning of the religion that they are not truly Muslims, or Christians or Jews. In order to achieve a form of Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism that is acceptable to ‘Western society’, you have to reshape and twist the doctrine of that religion SO MUCH that it can start to not make sense at all.

(You may also want to read the surrounding paragraphs for context, but I don’t think you really need to.)

…and which, in the finest spirit of “everything gets used for worldbuilding”, I shall now use to illustrate something of the nature of non-native religiosity in the Empire and one particularly characteristic problem people run into at immigration.

‘Cause here’s the thing.

The Empire is an unabashed ideostate, neither an ethnostate nor a volumetric geostate. It is the contractual association of the Freest of the Free, which certainly anyone is permitted to join – the advertised immigration policy is, after all, “just turn up” – but they do have to  be able to sign the associative contract in good faith. Like so:

I, affirmer’s full name and/or identifier, hereby affirm my agreement and attachment to the principles of the Fundamental Contract; that all sophonts are endowed with certain absolute and inalienable rights; that these rights are to life and property, liberty, and the pursuit of eudaimonia; that all sophonts are equal in their exercise and retention of these rights, without privilege or priority; that sophonts cooperate amongst themselves in separate and coadunate action to secure them; and that they do so freely and by their own sovereign will.

Therefore, as a free and self-sovereign sophont of recognized competence, I hereby agree, consent and reaffirm my binding to the rights and obligations of the Fundamental Contract which underlies the civilization of the Empire, on my own behalf as well as that of my guardianship; consenting to be guided first in my actions by the Rights of Domain, of Defense, of Common Defense, and of Fair Contract; and accepting freely the obligations attached thereto to guard the absolute and inalienable rights of my fellow sophonts as my own; and in full understanding that should I Default from this, my own rights shall therefore be abeyed until the default is amended.

Given under my hand this day date,

affirmer’s signature

Witnessed this day by witness’s full name and/or identifier, who, as a citizen-shareholder in good standing of the Empire and an adherent of the Contract, pledges surety in the light of the Flame for the competence of the signatory and the validity of this Affirmation.

witness’s signature

In good faith, for these purposes, implies “under alethiometric analysis”. Which is a problem, if you believe in the fundamental doctrines of many religions, ’cause however in good faith you may feel you’re being because obviously such considerations couldn’t possibly be meant to apply when you’re quarter-valuing women, abominating homosexuals, or stoning those buggers who wear mixed fabrics, your mental reservations will light the alethiometer up like a Christmas tree.

(We pause briefly while the House of Exemplars pats itself on the back for its collective foresight, inasmuch as everyone from Merriéle Herself [1] on down to the present day were careful to note that they were just writing down their best perception of what the eikones wanted and expected ongoing contemplation and future generations to revise accordingly with the benefit of further thought – and thus avoided binding their seven-millennia-later successors to a bunch of Bronze Age mandates labeled the ineffable, eternal, unchangeable TRVTH. Dodged a bullet there, eh?)

But here’s the catch-22. There are also a lot of non-fundamentalist people around who would pass that test, because they don’t literally believe in the aforementioned things, but they’ve never really repudiated them either. They exist in the shadowy doctrine-twisting world in which, sure, this is the ineffable word of God and the scriptural basis for our religion, except that it obviously doesn’t mean what it says and what He really wants is peace, love, charity, fluffy bunnies, and other things more in accord with modern thinking that don’t explicitly punch the Contract in the face.

…yeah, that won’t get you in either. Because regardless of how self-aware you are about it, that is going to light up the alethiometer with the information that you, sir, ma’am, herm, or neut, are someone who espouses Serious Philosophical Commitments to Ideals and then ignores said Ideals for some stuff you and your chums just made up, belike.

That doesn’t play very well with people who take notions like “obligation” and “self-integrity” and so forth seriously. And it plays even less well with the Imperial Guard of Borders and Volumes – being the people asking you to affirm a Serious Philosophical Commitment to an Ideal – who will bounce you and your admittance request right back out the door and onto the next starship to Hypocrisia.

Which leaves as admissible only those whose ancient theogonists happened to luck out and hit enlightened libertism – or at least values that don’t gratuitously offend enlightened libertism – by chance or revelation, or else those religions flexible enough to engage in theologically supported reform as they go. (There are more than a few Christian sects that would qualify under this clause, because what they believe and what they espouse are aligned with each other, and that theological and doctrinal evolution were intended; equally, of course, there are more than a few that wouldn’t.)

The combination of these effects leads to both a tendency to cooperative niceness where non-native religiosity is concerned, and to many-much vigorous denouncing from outworlders. But then, they’re used to that [3].

[1] Whose own writings reflect a certain willingness to argue with the divine, and indeed to look Heaven in the eye and judge right back. The Church of the Flame followed [2] in this initial tradition.

[2] The ripple effect this has had on ecumenicalism and religious diplomacy by producing a religion whose representatives, while more than happy to go along with civilized polyhenotheism, also have no problem whatsoever with saying out loud the equivalent of “Man, your god’s kind of a giant celestial asshat, huh?”, is left as an exercise for the reader.

[3] A standard cadet exercise at the Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy is constructing memes to get the people denouncing them on the extranet for being tolerant and the people denouncing them on the extranet for being intolerant (of the intolerant) flaming each other instead. This is both good introductory-level practice and kind of funny, so.

Trope-a-Day: Stop Worshipping Me

Stop Worshipping Me: Played straight by a large number of seed AI “gods” who by and large find the tendency of lesser orders of intelligence to worship them embarrassing and really quite annoying, not to mention inappropriate.  Really.  Just because something can fit whatever notions of divinity you just made up doesn’t mean you should go around praying and groveling and… ugh.  It also doesn’t help that they are perfectly aware of the images that most baselines have of their gods, and most of them find the comparison… unflattering, to say the least.

Averted in the Empire with the Transcend’s eikone-archai, mostly because (a) the eldraeic mainstream always took the position that they were getting an iceberg’s-eye view of the purely conceptual eikones and should not presume to limit them by anthropomorphic deification; and (b) they never worshipped them (in the sense we’d recognize) even when they were considered supernatural deities, because worshipping is entirely too subordinate a position for them to take with regards to anything.

(Especially any deity that’s worth bothering with.)