“[The Prophet Tarrant’s vision] was threefold,” he said at last. “One: To unify man’s faith, so that millions of souls might impress the fae with the same image in unison. Two: To alter man’s perception of the fae—to distance him from that power—thus weakening the link which permitted it to respond to him so easily. This meant a god who wouldn’t make appearances on demand, nor provide easy miracles. It meant hardship and it meant sacrifice. But he believed that in the end it would save us, and permit us to regain our technological heritage. Three: To safeguard man’s spirit while all this was taking place, so that when at last we cast off the shackles of this planet and rejoined our kin among the stars, we wouldn’t discover that in the process we had become something other than human. Something less than we would want to be.” […]
“So what happened?” she pressed.
“Humankind learned the lesson too well. Because if man could create a true God in his own image, why couldn’t he create an obliging godling with even less effort? What you worship shall come to exist, the Prophet wrote. The power of your faith will give your dreams substance. And so it was. A thousand selfish men designed their own prayers and their own psalms and gave birth to a thousand godlings, each feeding on man while serving his earthly desires. Even as the Church grew in strength, this trend continued, until there were over a hundred tiny states with their own pet deities, their own claim to power. So we went to war: man’s final recourse when diplomacy fails him. It was a disaster. Oh, if it had been a clean and glorious conflict, filled with images of faith and capped by a clear-cut victory, it might have stirred men’s hearts and won them to our side. It wasn’t. It was a bloody mess that spanned three centuries, and it ended only when we bit off more than we could chew and tried to do battle with the fae itself—or rather, with the evil the fae had spawned. Our power base destroyed, our precious image sullied, we crept back to our churches and our pews to lick our wounds in private.”
“We do what we can, Hesseth. We still serve the same dream, but defeat has taught us patience. We no longer see the Prophet’s vision as the end of a neat progression that’ll be consummated in our lifetimes, but an ideal state that may not be realized for centuries yet. For tens of centuries. Except here,” he whispered, and he glanced towards Toshida’s ship. “Isolated, unified, devout…they may have accomplished what the west failed to do. By establishing a state free of pagan influence, by raising their children in unquestioning faith…what power, Hesseth! It could alter the world. It may already have begun to.”
He stiffened at the sound of the name. “Cast out by his own creation,” he said sharply. “The Church knew that it would never alter the fae’s response to man until it had done away with private sorcery…and he couldn’t give that up. Not even to save his own soul.” He drew in a deep breath of cool night air, exhaled it slowly. “He tried to do away with Hell, you know. Excess philosophical baggage, he called it. Detrimental to our cause. He erased it from all the text, expunged it from the liturgy. They put it back. The habits of Earth were too deeply ingrained, the image of divine judgment too comforting for the righteous. In the end he lost that battle.” And so much more…
—C. S. Friedman, When True Night Falls (chapter 4)
X. recommended Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy to me and I’m very glad I took her up on it. It’s an impressively thought through blend of science fiction and fantasy, and one of the most ambitious treatments of religion I’ve read in a while. Can’t wait to read the final volume to see if she’s really going to do what I think she’s doing.