I am a firm believer that Religion and Inspiration come hand in hand. It is not unusual to see that people use their own faiths, or perhaps those of others, for writing prompts, story ideas and even the starting point of something else.
Everyone has a system of beliefs; it is these moral, ethical and behavioural guidelines that one has for yourself that tends to speak to others as well. The neat thing is that as a reader I don't have to agree with you or be of the same system of beliefs in order to enjoy your writing. Beliefs and religion can also lead to truly unique story ideas: think in the fantasy genre. Where did vampires, werewolves and the like of grotesque beings come from if it wasn't from a fear of following the commands of your religious convictions?
Now, I am not just saying look at the religious material for story inspiration, but traditions too. I learned, in a French Catholic Home, that if I wanted to light a candle while I prayed it would probably benefit me because it would keep my eyes focused and my mind sharp because nothing else would distract me. Staring at the flame was a reminder of how Christ was a light for the world... and how we were called to do the same.
There are people who would disagree with me about whether or not religion is inspiring or whether it's a hindrance. Chris Walker from chriswalkeronline.com made a blog this summer (July '10) called God, Gods, Religion and Inspiration Don't Mix Easily. As if the title wasn't direct enough, he shares a story that could be used for either side of the argument.
Here's the story: (grammar errors are not my own.)
"Once there was a perfect mirror and it really did reflect the perfection of the whole of life. Everybody could see and that's called inspiration. And one day, someone tried to run off with that mirror to control what people could see and they accidental broke it. Twelve pieces of the mirror lay on the ground and twelve people ran off saying, 'I have the mirror.' Twelve religions were born, but nobody had the whole mirror."
Chris later goes on to say that Spirituality is how one fits the whole mirror together, and so forth. I would like to argue that spirituality is religion skewed for relativity; but I digress with that direction.
You see, our religions may not be the whole of truth but to every one of them I agree holds some truth. Perhaps it is this thought that can inspire creativity?
So here's a prompt based on that: What piece of the mirror does your faith hold that leads to truth? Now take it and place it in the context of a story... build a character who lacks those traits. For other prompts, try going to beliefnet.com and looking up a religion you don't know a lot about... or perhaps try to find one you don't know a lot about...
I now continue with the original intent: religion as a source of inspiration.
The infamous "Books for Dummies" series can be found online. Religious books for dummies can be found under the title: Religion & Inspiration. It is of note that it is not, inspirational... but rather inspiration.
Even the Christian faith is considered "inspired." The books of the bible (all 66 if you're protestant, and all 73 if you're Catholic) are considered inspired. Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, CARM for short, says that the books of the bible were written by men "inspired" by the Holy Spirit, or God. Even the bible itself uses the idea of inspiration to quote its authority. 2 Timothy, 3:16 "All scripture is inspired by God."
So. Find yourself ever day dreaming about a neat theory? Perhaps it's a short story waiting for you to discover it. If you're questioning religion, perhaps it's a story about discovery or a memoir you have budding within you.
In my own case, using the foundations that were laid by my childhood faith and looking at other religions with that perception often leads to a whole calamity of ideas all battling to get their way out onto paper...