J is for Judgement – Worldbuilding Religions

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This time, we’re following up right along with the previous post! I love it when topic themes work out like that.

So, yesterday we talked about iniquity/sin, and what those types of actions might look like for your religion(s). A natural follow-up to sin, though, is judgement, but it can also coincide with atonement and redemption, so we’re going to discuss all of those aspects today.

Judgement

Judgement is one of the consequences of committing sin. It can range in how it affects the sinner, whether it’s personal or societal in nature.

Some forms of judgement for each of the various types of sin covered in the last topic might be:

Sins against self could result in mental health issues. If someone judges themself (potentially even too harshly) it can lead to deep regret that overshadows decisions they need to make in the future. Depending on what they have done, they may also find that they can’t live with themselves anymore. A despair that deep can basically go in one of two directions—they either change to become a better person, or they might kill themselves, depending on the influences prevalent in a religion or culture.

Sins against others, mankind, and authority, will be the types of sin with the most obvious consequences. Judgements might include jail or prison time, limited contact with society, or even execution.

Sins against the divine can vary wildly in forms in judgement. Some of this will depend on if your religious institutions are affiliated with the government in anyway. As mentioned in I is for Iniquity, in historical times, some religious authorities would hand over heretics and apostates to law enforcement for punishment after they’d been declared guilty.

Sins against the divine do not always have visible repercussions, though. Christianity teaches that the greatest sin of all is unbelief. Unbelief in Christ is not exactly a sin that anyone but God can judge, and so in day-to-day life there’s not really any visible consequences for that. You would only experience the consequences when you die.

However, sins against the divine like heresy and apostasy may have social judgements, such as excommunication from the religious organization. It could also mean becoming ineligible for certain religious activities for a period of time.

Atonement

To atone for sin to make reparations for wrong-doing. Atonement often is the follow-up to being judged, though judgement can happen without the sinner ever reaching this next phase. For true atonement to exist, there must also be repentance involved, where one truly regrets the actions that they took.

There may be some acts that are nearly impossible to atone for, such as murder. In a very literal sense, the equivalent atonement for murder would be execution, but that also doesn’t bring back the deceased one. (But it *could* in a fantasy story, or even a sci-fi one, if you worked it right. Just a thought!)

Atonement can also be accomplished by substitution. This may mean that someone else takes on the act of reparations for someone else, or it means that the reparations themselves might mean the guilty party becoming the substitute. That might mean, in a case where someone has accidentally (not maliciously), killed someone who was the sole breadwinner for their family, that the guilty party must become the provider for the family.

Redemption

Redemption follows closely along with atonement, and sometimes if the wronged party is willing to forgive, then we can skip right over from judgement to redemption!

Some places use atonement and redemption interchangeably, but there is a slight difference. As mentioned above, atonement is about restitution. It’s about restoring what was lost to the victim. Redemption, though, is about the guilty party. It’s the act of saving them from the sins they’ve committed.

Redemption doesn’t always mean that the guilty escape all consequences, though. It’s more about transformation from constantly choosing sin into becoming a good person, and sometimes redemption is simply acknowledging that the punishment they’re receiving is just.

Redemption can also be a solely spiritual concept—that repentance leads to a change in the outcome of one’s afterlife, but has no effect on the remainder of one’s physical life.

Using Justice, Atonement, and Redemption in your Character Arcs

There can often be disparity between what a victim, an outside party, and a guilty party view as justice. Judgement, atonement, and redemption may mean vastly different things to each of them.

Inadequate justice (or overbearing justice) can be devastating. It can completely shift or derail the motivations of a character, and how society, culture, or religion deals with that can be a major point in shaping who your character is.

Worldbuilding Exercises

  1. Using the sins that you defined in the exercises for I is for Iniquity, brainstorm some ideas for how those sins would translate into judgements, atonements, and redemption. You can keep it simple, or you can delve into the different aspects of perceived justice on personal, societal, and religious levels.
  2. What does the religion(s) you’re creating teach about judgement, atonement, and redemption? Is it dealt with on a solely spiritual aspect, or are physical commandments laid down for making restitution to victims?
  3. Are there any sacrifices required from a religious perspective? Is blood sacrifice an integral part of atonement and redemption, whether it is human or animal?

Leave a comment below if you have any questions! Thanks for stopping by!

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