Commonwealth: A Novel of Utopia, part 2, chapter 8
Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my novel Commonwealth. The rest of today’s installment is free, but only on my Patreon site. If you want to read the next part today, it’s already up on Patreon as well. You can sign up for as little as $1/month, or $2 for exclusive author’s notes and behind-the-scenes material. There’s also a table of contents for all published chapters.
In the world Rae came from, religion was – as an old book said – the opiate of the masses. When life was an unbearable weight of suffering and deprivation, religion promised paradise to those who endured. When life seemed chaotic and hopeless, religion offered the assurance of a higher purpose at work behind the scenes. It pacified the poor and the downtrodden, putting their focus on the next life rather than on the present one, and encouraged them to blame any truly intolerable evil on the inscrutable will of a higher power, rather than on human-created power structures that could be questioned or challenged.
In the Pacific Republic, religion hadn’t disappeared entirely, but it had receded in importance. People relished this life rather than longing for another, and the greater good was obvious to everyone rather than a distant and secret promise. Most of the population was nonreligious, but minorities practiced most of the world’s major faiths. However, there were no ornate cathedrals with gilded altars, no fiery fundamentalisms preaching wrath and doom, no cults that denied science or sought to control their followers’ minds through fear. Religious belief was a quiet, humble, personal affair, seeking neither to convert others nor to acquire political power.
Sophia’s church exemplified this shift. It didn’t have a dedicated space, but met in a community hall that was shared by a variety of faiths.
When Rae arrived, she found a wide-open hall with an arched ceiling, where whispers blended into white noise. The walls were paneled with smart-glass screens that could become translucent and color-tinted – instant stained glass – or could display indistinguishable-from-real images of crosses or menorahs, prayer flags or brocade hangings or a mihrab, allowing the space to be repurposed to suit any need.