For centuries now, religious institutions across the globe have been under constant scrutiny by scientific and intellectual communities. The clash of science and religion is one that has been a huge part of the religious experience in the modern world. The way we express this and other religious aspects of our lives in fiction is quite telling of our many views on it. Our take on presenting religion is flawed, though, and a fix of these flaws could prove a greatly beneficial thing for us all.
Possibly the most well-known and extensive presentation of religion woven into fiction, besides works dedicated to actual religions and mythologies, can be found in Tolkien's Middle Earth sagas. They include, but are not solely dedicated to, a thorough mythology that presents itself as fact within that world. The mythology of Tolkien was large enough for the purpose of his stories, but fans of his work have expanded it to something that seems just as large and slightly convoluted as most actual religions were and still are. While the irony this can be examined and over-examined elsewhere, it is far more important to realize that its significance lies in its accuracy. It's something that could very well pass as a real religion of old, and in this it betrays how religions of old were created and accepted by different populaces.
The introduction of a new religion is often the result of a new cultural influence or a complete conquest in a specific region. However, sometimes they come of their own independent accord. The spread of ideas is something that became easier and easier throughout history, and so the introduction of new religions was something that also became easier as time went on. Nowadays, it may seem like the continual shifting of religions in different regions of the globe is a thing of the past, but this is absolutely a falsehood. Religious demographics are constantly changing, as they likely shall continue to do for as long as religion is around.
These ever-changing religious institutions of ours have been under constant scrutiny from all intellectual fronts. This ever-present scrutiny is something that many writers of fictitious religions have omitted completely from their works. This is a great mistake, though. Ever since ancient times, mainstream religions have been criticized and torn apart by different parts of the intellectual world. This, whether a good or bad thing, is most certainly something writers should take into account.
Less developed societies are more likely to have beliefs that don't undergo scrutiny, but as these societies mature, this scrutiny becomes all but inevitable. By adding criticisms of their own made-up religions into their works, writers can explore their own views of religion and its clashes with other intellectual views. Whether with religion or against it, voicing one's opinion about subjects like this is something that is becoming increasingly rare and equally as important in today's world. As the war of ideas rages on around us, it's imperative that we all contribute our own two cents in the maddened world of discourse that so thoroughly surrounds us.