I've largely avoided addressing religion in any of my fictional works. I've always constructed complex belief systems to serve the same function in their place. I've tried to give the protagonists and antagonists powerful ethical and personal reasons for their actions during the course of the story without any particular real world faith being involved.
In outlining a book I intend to write in 2012, I haven't had that same luxury. I will have to include certain elements of real world religions in the story because so much of it is told with our modern world as a backdrop. It's forced me to confront a lot of my own demons with regard to organized religion.
When entering into any sort of discussion about the benefits one finds among the fellowship of a particular faith, people are very quick to point out how they personally benefit. They basically imply that they gain access to celestial benefits everyone else is bereft of because they don't jump through the same hoops they do. They are essentially "better" than other people and derive a great deal of dubious personal worth to that end.
There is rarely mention of how they are able to access opportunities to do good in the temporal realm, and if there are, it's an afterthought. Worse, serving one's fellow man is generally a commandment one is expected to accept blindly because obedience is better than comprehending one's personal agency. For this reason, organized religion has little that appeals to me.
I'm not sure how being part of a traditional religious organization will grant me the contrivances one needs to aid others more than worshipping privately would. I see many of the intrinsic benefits one finds in such organizations, but I also see the long shadow such institutions cast. Looking around our once great nation, there is little benefit in supporting huge monolithic organizations these days, and even less in giving them money.
Then there is all the pseudo-social hoops one must jump through to gain acceptance into religious institutions. Honestly, being a creative person, I already spend enough time worrying about getting the perfect stranger to like and appreciate what I do. Mixing that with my desire to worship seems like a bad plan. I don't need the temporal body of a religion to tell me I have worth and a purpose. These are things I can just as easily provide myself, at no additional charge.
Clearly, I have strong opinions on the issue.
That said, I do not want my fictional works to become a soap box or platform for my views on organized religion. I don't think it would serve others, or my story, in doing so. In trying to be objective, it's made me realize a lot of things about myself and how I quantify faith.
I do tend to make my works something of a message about how important a person's agency is. Preserving one's own ability to choose while infringing no one else's is paramount to seeking Righteousness and the preservation of Justice. Both of those concepts, I believe, are intrinsic and require no validation on the part of men, Gods, or authors of fiction.
Communicating that same message in a fictional setting possessing elements of real world religions, will be a difficult challenge. I already have thousands of words worth of content collecting dust within previous attempts to do so collecting dust. Hopefully my latest attempt will be different.
I think that if I were to push my views in a work designed for commercial consumption I would be just as bad as the religious institutions I try to hold myself separate from. I do want people to know it is equally fine to practice one's faith in private or in the public forum that is organized religion provided they are doing so with their eyes wide open. Of course, the outcome of that choice isn't as important as how you live with and apply it.
Both require that you seek your own ways to be righteous in the world, and as much as it is promised, neither can really guarantee any celestial reward. Doing good while preserving your own agency and the agency of others is a reward unto itself and should be done as a matter of course relative to our very human condition. There need be no promise of ethereal blessings or heavenly protection. Relying on your own power to choose should be enough to navigate our temporal world.
It's easy to communicate this on my blog, but not so easy via a fictional work. It's easier when I take myself out of the equation and cease to worry about being commercially successful or what people will think about me when they read my work. Of course, my Twitter account does nothing to aid me in this endeavor. ;-)