From a post to Baen's Bar Honorverse dated September 17, 2006:

Survival of the Church of Humanity Unchained

    Once the initial survival imperatives of the first few generations on Grayson eased, how could the Church of Humanity Unchained retain its effectively uncontested primacy?

    Even if you ignore the events of the Grayson Civil War, the church's fundamental tenet of The Test should prove fertile ground for all sorts of dissent.

    Despite the battle between the fundamentalist Faithful and the Moderates, the Doctrine of the Test ought to have regularly and widely provided a breeding ground for all sorts of fruity-toots like Steadholder Burdette and his ilk to pop up and oppose not just secular issues, as Burdette primarily did with his opposition to the Protector and the Sacristy, but core religious issues, as well.

    In passing, we heard of the Jeremites, who are considered heretics by much of the church, but wouldn't the Doctrine of the Test cry out to not only oppose some tenets people disagree with, but for everyone else to accept that this person's Test calls him to opposition?

    How could the Church maintain its hegemony in the face of potentially countless Burdettes and Marchants for almost a millennium?


    So, you want to know about the Church of Humanity Unchained, do you?

    To be perfectly honest, the survival and primacy of the Church of Humanity Unchained is one of the areas in which I get asked the most questions. The crux of its survival and primacy, as I see it, lies in the following points (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1.     The original settlers of Grayson went through a dramatic winnowing process when they arrived in their hostile-environment new home. Casualties were very heavy, and the population dropped very close to the point of no longer being able to sustain itself. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that it dropped close to a point at which the genetic pool became insufficient for long-term survival of the species on Grayson. What it means is that the maintenance of the technology infrastructure human beings require in order to survive on Grayson requires, in turn, a certain population density to provide the technicians needed. This means that the "beginning population" of the planet was very small, compared to a lot of other colony worlds, and that the survival-oriented need for consensus and cooperation was extreme. Remember that Grayson is described again and again in the books as being a place of "bedrock traditions" blended with the ability to accept the new. This societal, cultural "personality" for want of a better word is highly unusual and helps to maintain a generally consensual world view by the majority of the planetary population, especially combined with things which came along later. Of which, more below.

  2.     The Grayson Civil War is only about 600 years in the past at the time of The Honor of the Queen, and it came within a hair's breadth of destroying all human life on the planet, even without the threat of the Faithful's doomsday weapon. They fought a war using weapons roughly equivalent to those of, say, the 1950s or 1960s, on a planet where humanity could not survive the destruction of a significant portion of its technological infrastructure. The population suffered drastic reductions because of damage to the life-sustaining technology of the planet, followed by the incredible sacrifices necessary for them to build the ships to transport the core leadership of the Faithful to another planet. This had the major effects of:

    1.     Refocusing and refining -- in other words, strengthening -- the mainstream theology and doctrine of the Church. The folks who followed Benjamin the Great (and survived the Civil War) had just been given an object lesson in the consequences of schism and fanaticism. What Grayson's population did was to resist embracing extremism of its own (in a theological sense) even in defense of the mainstream Church's doctrine. In effect, Grayson's decided that they couldn't afford to be intolerant or fanatical, because the next time, the planetary population might not survive, after all.

    2.     Teaching the Church and Grayson's political leaders the dangers of a true theocracy. Essentially, Grayson decided that while it was the responsibility of everyone to live according to God's will, it was also necessary for the business of governing the planet to be in basically secular hands. The Church retained enormous influence and power, of course. One only has to look at the fact that the Reverend is automatically the senior member of the Chamber of Steadholders (in fact, senior to Lord Mayhew, although not to the Protector… who isn't a member of the Chamber of Steadholders, anyway [g]), or the fact that all of the planetary jurists are trained by the Church, to recognize that. Nonetheless, the Church learned a very painful lesson about political meddling by the Church.

    3.     As part of the process in (a), the Church was reinvigorated. The population had been reduced, doctrine had been refocused and refined, the fanatics whose fanaticism had almost led to the planetary population's destruction had been purged from the Church, and most of those who remained on Grayson had found their own personal beliefs and faith reinvigorated, as well, in the process of defending those beliefs and faith (not to mention their own lives and those of their children) against the lunatics.

  3.     In addition to any immediate consequences of the Civil War, there are certain internal mechanisms within the Church which help to explain its long-term survival. Some of those mechanisms were always there, but were strengthened and pointed in new directions (to some extent) by the experiences of the Civil War. The real trick for the Church of Humanity Unchained is to maintain its central belief in the Doctrine of the Test (with its attendant responsibility for every believer to stand firm for what he believes he's learned from Testing) while simultaneously maintaining a cohesive, hierarchical church. For those of you familiar with Calvinist theology, the doctrine of the test is the equivalent of the doctrine of predestination and the doctrine of reprobation in terms of the dynamism of the Church of Humanity Unchained's theology. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about Calvinism for several reasons, including the fact that -- hey, I'm a Methodist, and as such, I certainly don't have the same understanding of Calvinism's central doctrines that, say, a Calvinist would -- but it's pretty safe to say that this whole doctrine of predestination (the notion that God has decided to ordain the salvation of some while leaving others mired in sin [the doctrine of reprobation] and that there's nothing much we can do about it) is viewed askance, shall we say, by a lot of people. Now, you can get into single predestination, double predestination, hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, and a whole bunch of other "tion"s and "ism"s if you really want to, but the point here is that maintaining Calvinism's central doctrine has always resulted in a state of tension between Calvinism and most of the other Protestant denominations. And it also caused the fragmentation of the early Calvinist Church and led to some very… involved theological disputes within Calvinism.

        Now, in the case of the Church of Humanity Unchained, the doctrine of the Test is basically inclusive, not exclusive, as the doctrines of predestination and reprobation are often viewed. The Test is available to all believers, just as it is the duty of all believers, and redemption is available to anyone who places his personal faith in the Tester, the Intercessor, and the Comforter (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, assuming there was anyone out there brain-dead enough not to have already made connection [g]) and meets his responsibility to Test. (For anyone who wants to go and look it up, the Doctrine of the Test has a lot in common with Wesley's Quadrilateral, although I didn't base it specifically upon Methodist doctrine.) At any rate, the Test embraces all, and therefore works to bring people into the mainstream belief structure of the Church of Humanity Unchained.

        In addition, and in direct contrast to certain other religions (and, for that matter, most Christian denominations), for the Church of Humanity Unchained "the Book is not closed." By this I mean that it is the official doctrine of the Church of Humanity Unchained that its existing scripture is part of an ongoing process of revelation by God, who is by definition infinite and therefore always exceeds human understanding. The Church of Humanity Unchained believes that God is involved in an ongoing process of revelation. It specifically rejects the doctrine that the Bible is the infallible and complete word of God. It accepts the inerrancy of the Old and New Testaments, but it incorporates additional scripture and doctrine, and beliefs that future revelations will explicate and eliminate earlier scripture in order to reveal levels and nuances of meaning which may not be currently perceptible. In this respect, it has at least a little in common with Mormonism, although I most definitely did not base the Church of Humanity Unchained on Mormonism, polygamy notwithstanding. What this means, among other things, is that the Church of Humanity Unchained's doctrine -- and scripture -- are open to expansion and change, which provides something of a pressure relief valve.

        And, finally (for this aspect of the explanation, at least) in addition to the Doctrine of the Test, there is the Doctrine of Toleration. Essentially, the Doctrine of Toleration is what requires the Church of Humanity Unchained to respect (tolerate) the beliefs and opinions of those who, on the basis of their own Testing, do not agree entirely with the officially sanctioned central tenets of the Church's doctrine. The Doctrine of Toleration has been a part of the Church of Humanity Unchained ever since the formulation of the Doctrine of the Test itself, almost a thousand years ago. It was also one of the doctrines which was rejected by the Faithful (naturally). It applies to everyone, with one very specific exception. The Church hierarchy has the authority to strip a priest of his priestly office if his beliefs lead him into actions contrary to the Church's doctrine and policy. They cannot condemn him in a legal sense, nor are they empowered to declare that he is excommunicate. The Church can't excommunicate anyone, because, ultimately, the salvation of the individual is between that individual and God, and the very nature of the Doctrine of the Test means that no mortal authority has the infallibility to consign any of God's children to eternal damnation on the basis of its own, fallible judgment. There is, of course, a caveat to all of this, in that the Church of Humanity Unchained is not so enthralled with ecumenicalism (after all, there was no one else on the planet for them to be ecumenical with for the last thousand years or so) as to sign off on a sort of "your belief structure is just as valid as mine" with people whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to theirs, or anything of that sort. In other words, while the Reverend recognizes an overarching community of belief and faith with the Reformed Catholic Church, the Third Stellars, etc., he wouldn't hold that a bunch of Mithra-worshipers, or Druids (who must, by definition, reject the fundamental doctrines of Christianity), were on the path to salvation.

  4.     If you go back into At All Costs (I don't think that what I'm about to say would constitute a snerk), you'll find a point at which Reverend Sullivan, talking about the Third Stellars with a certain other religious leader, is told basically that the Third Stellars are sort of what the Church of Humanity Unchained might have turned into without a strong, central hierarchy. This is actually a fairly accurate statement. While the books talk about the centrality of the Church, and while the Sacristy and Elders -- and the Reverend -- hold authority and jurisdiction over the entire planet-wide Church, there are sects, or what one might call sub-denominations, throughout the Church. Part of the strength of the Church of Humanity Unchained, over the last 600 years, has been that the Church has been willing to entertain internal diversity within a powerful hierarchical institution. There are individual congregations and groups of congregations within the Church of Humanity Unchained which are what one might call "liberal" and which one might call "conservative." Steadholder Burdett came from one of those officially accepted "conservative" sub-denominations, as did Brother Marchant. When they stepped beyond the boundary of their own conservatism into the active, public, "mainstream" condemnation of someone else, however, they crossed the line. They were completely within their rights to hold whatever views they chose -- always assuming, of course, that those views were the result of a genuine and rigorous application of the Test, and not simply a knee-jerk response to prejudice -- within their sub-denomination. Their sermons within their own churches could say whatever they wanted, so long as they did not condemn those who did not voluntarily share their own beliefs. Father Church's hierarchy might deplore those beliefs, might remonstrate with them, might even find their doctrines in error, but the hierarchy could not cut them off from the general body of the Church so long as they respected the validity of all others' Tests. They could not, however, claim the protection of the Doctrine of Toleration for themselves if they were unwilling to extend that same doctrine to those with whom they disagreed.

    What this does is to create a situation in which the Church allows for substantial gradations of belief. There are within the Church of Humanity Unchained's sub-denominations -- like the Jeremites -- whose beliefs are sufficiently "nonstandard" as to be considered heretical by some other sub-denominations, but the Church hierarchy rejects that view. The enforcement tools of the Church of Humanity Unchained for dealing with those who would split the body of the Church come in two flavors. First, there's the relationship between the Church and Grayson's jurists. This is the secular arm of the Church's enforcement tools. It means that Grayson planetary law, for the most part, protects the right to maintain one's own distinct set of beliefs, and forbids the suppression of anyone else's beliefs even on the basis of one's own Testing. Second, there is the power of the Church -- as demonstrated in the case of Edmund Marchant -- to cut off those who do attempt to dictate to the beliefs of others.

    When you combine this sort of intolerance of intolerance, one might say, with a policy on the part of the Sacristy and the hierarchy in general of maintaining a dialogue with even the most conservative/reactionary (or -- for Grayson -- ultra-liberal) -- sub-denominations, plus the belief that the Book is always open, there's been a distinct tendency (for the last 600 years, at least) for sub-denominations to be reabsorbed into the mainstream of the Church either because those sub-denominations' members' "hard edges" have been worn away by the Church's patient tolerance and they have returned to the mainstream, or because modification of mainstream theology (in step with the belief that the Book is always open) has brought the mainstream close enough to them for them to be reabsorbed into it.


    Obviously, this isn't a complete explanation of everything I envision going on within the Church of Humanity Unchained. Someday, if I ever get around to writing the story of the Grayson Civil War and Benjamin the Great, you'll probably get more detail about all of this, since much of it grew out of the experience of the Civil War and how the Church of Humanity Unchained interpreted that Test. But I hope it does help to explain why on a planet with a single, central, hierarchical Church, there are still conservatives opposing the reforms which the Reverend and Sacristy have openly and enthusiastically embraced and the Church hasn't fragmented into schismatic bits and pieces as a consequence. Those conservatives are free to believe whatever they believe the Test calls them to believe, and to vote and campaign politically accordingly. What they are not free to do is to call down the condemnation of God on those with whom they disagree, or -- especially -- to incite violence against anyone on the basis of conflicting beliefs.