Religion and Nations in EP

Questions and comments concerning our treatment of religion and old nation-states in Eclipse Phase have arisen in a couple of different forum threads. I'm going to try and explain the thought processes behind some of the decisions we made with the setting, so folks can at least understand a little more clearly where we're coming from with regards to these elements.

The status/decline of old religions was something we actually debated quite extensively as we put the game together. I don't think it's any secret that many transhumanist and religious ideas don't play well together, so when you mix them, something has to give.  We certainly wanted to avoid the trope of having major religious revivals as you find in many sci-fi settings -- while sometimes handled well (see Dan Simmons as an example), it is quite often a poor application of fantasy with sci-fi trappings.

There is no arguing that religion has survived several centuries of changes and challenges and is still going strong, at least today. On a purely memetic level, religious ideology has a lot going for it, and according to some research may be a hardwired element of some people's brains. While some religious sects are seeing increased growth (notably pentecostals and muslims), there is also evidence that religion is on the decline, especially in more developed and educated countries (the US being an anomaly). When talking about a setting like Eclipse Phase, you're talking about religion facing hurdles it has never faced before, such as stronger communication networks and increased connectivity (online access and ease of travel), which erases much of the cultural isolation that has helped old religions thrive. Add in transhuman technologies, such as resleeving, AI, and uplifting animals, and you're looking at a full-on assault on some of the foundations of religious philosophy. When you can transfer a brain to a computer and back again, many people are going to start thinking that the idea of a soul is as outdated as fax machines. Throw in some aliens who think this God fellow is a rather quaint idea, and religions lose further credibility.

Additionally, many communities of believers were severely reduced or wiped out entirely with the Fall of Earth. Catholicism in particular took a major hit as many of the areas it was most numerous lacked the access to ships or infrastructure to get many of their people out. In the game setting prior to the Fall, access to space had primarily been reserved to high level government and corporate players and technical and scientific experts, two groups who tend to not be all that faithful to traditional religion given their other beliefs in things like the scientific method or dogmas like nationalism or the market.

So, yes, in the default EP setting, we decided that many of the old religions had been downsized, politically emasculated, and increasingly pushed towards irrelevancy. Some have adapted better than others. We went this route with Islam, partly because of its track record and partly because it has a history of molding itself to work alongside scientific concepts and secular regimes (though certainly Catholicism has also displayed this at times). Also when talking about Islam it's important to note that this is not necessarily fundamentalist Islam but rather the more ecumenical version that held sway in medieval Spain and is seen today in places like Southeast Asia and many parts of Africa. Buddhism and Hinduism also fared respectively better due to ideas of reincarnation acclimating well with resleeving.

As to the irrelevance of old Earth nation states in EP -- this is emphasized for several reasons. One is the primacy of the hypercorps. In EP's back history, the nation states were far slower and less aggressive in pursuit of space expansion than the hypercorps. We are seeing this already in modern times, where for example the US space program is stagnant, restricted by politics and bureaucracy, and no longer pushed by a cold war. On the other hand, private space enterprises are ramping up. In EP, it was these daring, private companies that pushed the boundaries of space exploration and colonization -- and in a globalized world, these corps are not allied to any single nation-state. In a scenario like this, the interests of space-pioneering hypercorps are going to radically diverge from the interests of Earth-bound powers, which is actually part of the tension that leads up to the Fall. Add in that the leadership of many old nation state regimes died along with everyone else during the Fall, and the influence of these old-groundhugger regimes is not looking as mighty as it used to.

Another reason for de-emphasizing nation-states was the impact on culture from both resleeving and nanofab. If you can literally wear someone else's skin, cultural differences are going to see some massive flux. How do you know who's really Chinese when anyone can wear a Chinese-looking body and program themselves to speak the language? When you're crammed in a tin can several million miles from home with a bunch of other poor people working the same crappy job as you, in a situation where you all depend on each other for survival, do the cultural differences enforced by governments and people completely irrelevant to your current situation really matter any more? It's a literal melting pot scenario.

This was our take on the situation at least, and that's how we spun it in the setting. Ultimately, though, when you're running the game, it's your world, and you should feel free to change it. In fact we hope that many people will use the Creative Commons license to show us and everyone else how they play Eclipse Phase.


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