Chambers’ future religion

Several days ago, I mentioned having read Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built. Unsurprisingly, the thing that caught my attention the quickest was her depiction of religion. A Psalm for the Wild-Built has been characterized as “hope punk,” or SciFi that bypasses dystopian visions of the future—especially those caused by climate change and rogue technology—in favor of a vision where humanity figures out how to change for the better, becoming better aligned with the environment of which we’re part. And for Chambers, there’s also the optimistic presentation of kind-AI. When robots awake, they don’t want to kill us; robots just want to be free from the constraints of their “purpose”.

Dex, the main character of this novella, is a monk. The religion that seems to be commonly held by future humans is polytheistic, or better “pantheonistic” in that the number of gods is limited. There are “Parent Gods”. “Bosh” is the “God of the Cycle”. “Grylom” that of the inanimate. “Trikilli” is the “God of Threads,” i.e. “chemistry, physics, the framework of the unseen.” Then there are “Child Gods”. “Samafar” has something to do with knowledge and is symbolized by a sun jay. An old shrine to this god is a library. “Chal” must have to do with work of some sort, as this god is represented by a workshop-shrine and symbolized as a sugar bee. Then there’s “Allalae,” the “God of Small Comforts,” symbolized by a summer bear, whose monks, like Dex, serve people tea while listening to their problems, among other activities. That’s Dex’s role in society. They are a “tea monk”. Before Dex has an existential crisis, of sorts, they learned how to be a tea monk and spent their time traveling, serving tea, and listening to people.

In a novella that depicts the “Factory Age” as what almost ruined humanity (i.e. “the Industrial Age”), the gods of the contemporary world seem absent. There’s no dominant monotheistic being like we see in the so-called Abrahamic religions—at least not one mentioned. Does Chambers associate this sort of deity with the Factory Age? Instead, the religion that survives, thrives, and helps humanity live harmoniously with nature looks more like a collection of deities we’d find in ancient, ancient India or Greece, or maybe akin to Indigenous religions around the world.

The theology of these gods, and their interaction with humans and nature more broadly, isn’t quite deism but the nature of causation between the gods and things that occur seems to be more of a domino effect that direct intervention. Dex tells Mosscap the following:

“But the thing is, the Child Gods aren’t actively involved in our lives. They’re … not like that. They can’t break the Parent Gods’ laws. They provide inspiration, not intervention. If we want change, or good fortune, or solace, we have to create it for ourselves. And that’s what I learned in that shrine.”

The Parent Gods appear to have created a reasonable universe, governed by laws. The Child Gods inspire humans to do well in the environment given to them by the Parent Gods but humans (and other creatures, and robots) are ultimately in control of their own fate.

This doesn’t prevent gratitude and worship. Dex will say “Thank Allalae” and even chants to Allalae, saying, “Allalae holds, Allalae warms, Allalae soothes and Allalae charms.” The gratitude appears to be the point. Gratitude that emerged once humans had to learn that you might really miss something when it’s gone—something like clean air and water? No other miracles are necessary. The deities have provided the basics and for that they’re worthy.

Chambers’ presentation of future religion had me pondering the topic. What will religion look like in the future? Clearly, certain secularist dreams of a religion-less society (impossible?), or at least an agnostic-y one, don’t align with Chambers vision and I think the basics of anthropology push us in this direction. Is there’s a near cataclysm, I don’t imagine humans responding irreligiously. But they might alter their religions if there’s a sense that the “results” of their pieties almost annihilated them. So, what does religion look like in a couple of centuries from now? Chambers’ vision is one of many possibilities.


Simran Jeet Singh on the importance of teaching religion studies

As a high school teacher of religion/religious studies, I co-sign these concerns:

“Teaching about religion is not just about understanding politics. It’s also about creating cultural literacy, ensuring that our young people are familiar with the diverse people they meet on the street. University brass often refers to this kind of literacy as a civic good, but as a brown-skinned, turban-wearing, beard-loving man in Donald Trump’s America, I submit that people knowing who I am and having an appreciation for my religious heritage can mean the difference between life and death.

“Think about it from the perspective of those who are minoritized: By stripping away our commitment to religious diversity, we are actually making our communities less safe.”

Read the full article: “Why universities — and the rest of us — need religion studies”.

Timeline: Religion in California

I’ve been thinking about religion in my home state. I’ve noticed there’s not much by way of a broad overview of the religious history of the state, so I’ve been collecting resources. Here’s a timeline and a few links that I’ve gathered thus far:

Timeline: Religion in California

1767-1784: Junipero Serra in Spanish California

1769-1821: Spanish Colonial Period

1769: Founding of Mission San Diego de Alcalá (SD)

1776: Founding of Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) (SF)

1849: The ‘Gold Rush’ begins

Sept. 9, 1850: California Statehood

1851: Temple Israel founded in Stockton (longest continuous Jewish community)

1852: Tin How (Tianhou) Temple founded in San Francisco (oldest Daoist temple?).

1857: Sze-Yap Temple founded in San Francisco (first Buddhist temple) (SF)

Oct. 9, 1890-Sep. 27, 1944: Aimee Semple McPherson (LA)

1889: Temple Beth Sholom founded in San Leandro (oldest standing synagogue)

1900: The ‘Old Temple’ founded in San Francisco (first Hindu temple) (SF)

Apr. 9, 1906-1915: The Azusa Street Revival (LA)

Apr. 18, 1906: 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Oct. 24, 1912: Gurdwara Sahib Stockton founded in Stockton (first Sikh temple)

March 31, 1927-April 23rd, 1993: Caesar Chavez

1947: Founding of Fuller Theological Seminary

1949: Billy Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade

1952: Islamic Center of Southern California established (oldest mosque in California?)

1962: Graduate Theological Union (GTU) founded in Berkeley 

1964: The Council on Religion and the Homosexual (i.e. beginning of the California Gay Rights Movement) (SF) 

1965: Founding of the John Coltrane Church (N.L. Baham III,The Coltrane Church) (SF)

July, 1965: Jim Jones moves The Peoples Temple to Redwood Valley, CA 

Apr. 30, 1966: Founding of the Church of Satan by Anton LaVey (SF)

1968: The ‘Gold Base’ headquarters for the Church of Scientology founded in San Jacinto (LA)

February 15, 1968: Caesar Chavez begins his 25-day water-only fast in Delano

1970: Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple open buildings in San Francisco and Los Angeles (SF) (LA)

March, 1997: Heaven’s Gate suicide (Heaven’s Gate’s website) (SD)

May 21st, 2011: Harold Camping’s predicted day for the return of Christ

Online Resources:


California Pluralism Project

USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture

Clifton L. Holland’s ‘An Overview of Religion in Los Angeles from 1850 to 1930′


Eldon G. Ernst, ‘The Emergence of California in American Religious Historiography’


Theology and California: Theological Reflections on California’s Culture


Boom: A Journal of California

Religion according to the IRS

The late Jonathan Z. Smith in his essay ‘God Save This Honourable Court: Religion and Civic Discourse’ commented, ‘The Internal Revenue Service is, both de facto and de jure, America’s primary definer and classifier of religion.’ (Relating Religion, p. 376) Here’s the criteria the IRS used to determine if a group qualifies as a ‘church’ (some mix needed):

-Distinct legal existence
-Recognized creed and form of worship
-Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
-Formal code of doctrine and discipline
-Distinct religious history
-Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
-Organization of ordained ministers
-Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
-Literature of its own
-Established places of worship
-Regular congregations
-Regular religious services
-Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
-Schools for the preparation of its members

I’ll be dedicating a class period of this semester’s ‘Religion in the United States’ (and next year in ‘Religion in Global Context’) to this topic. It’s a fascinating list of criteria. (In recent years it’s allowed the Scientologist, the Satanic Temple, and even John Oliver’s spoof ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence’ have qualified.)