Our first guestblog for the 18 Days of Tesseracts is from the incredible Mary Pletsch, whose story, “Burnt Offerings” is part of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.
BY MARY PLETSCH
My story in Wrestling with Gods is called “Burnt Offerings” and its main character is a priest who is, at heart, a private agnostic. Though uncertain whether the God he serves is real or if there are any Gods at all, he is still not free to resign his post or even admit his doubts. He relies on the support of his Temple for the medical care he needs to stay alive.
It’s easy to stereotype people based on what religion they follow, as if every member of a particular faith was the same. All Buddhists are pacifists. All Wiccans are hippies. All Christians are intolerant. But that’s not what I see around me in real life.
Every faith has its casual adherents. Every faith has its zealots. Every faith has people who will act in violation of the religion’s actual teachings. Every faith has people who consider “Jewish” or “Catholic” or “Muslim” to be more of a cultural description – a set of traditions they were raised with – than an active statement of their personal beliefs in God or the lack thereof. Every faith has its devoted followers. Every faith has its hypocrites and its corrupt manipulators. Every faith has people who will use its tenets to encourage them to be kinder to others.
So when I was writing “Burnt Offerings,” I kept in mind the large number of people who could all call themselves “followers of a faith” while believing and acting in very different ways. There’s the corrupt Pater Donner, who—however religious he might once have been—has fallen to a state where his focus is on money, power, and persecuting others. There’s the priestess Sicaria, whose devotion to a goddess of retribution makes her a danger to anyone who acts against the Temple’s beliefs. There’s my protagonist, Shaman Pasharan, who’s afraid to admit that he’s still not sure whether or not any God is listening to his prayers. There is a woman who struggles to follow her religion in a place where she faces persecution for it, and there’s an enemy who claim to follow the same religion while using it as a propaganda weapon for territorial expansion.
The real world is filled with complexity, and fiction that strips religion down to Good Religious People vs Evil Devil Worshipers, or Smart Atheists vs Dumb Religious People, or Chosen Faithful vs Foolish Unbelievers , doesn’t do itself any favours. At worst it reinforces harmful stereotypes. At best, it oversimplifies.
No matter how fantastic the fiction one writes, it can still “feel real” if it reflects the truth of the world around us. The truth is that faith is filled with disagreements: splinter groups, different sects, reactionaries and revolutionaries, saints and manipulators, doubters and true believers. Fiction is an excellent way to build empathy and understanding, but in order to do so, it needs to present us with reality’s messy uncertainties.
Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats. She also writes romance under a pseudonym. Visit her online at www.fictorians.com
For an Interview with Mary Pletsch about “Burnt Offerings” go to Corey Redekop’s interview series, Writing Gods.