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While Shepherd Book has quoted some Christian scripture, Firefly takes place far enough in the future that many people speak a mix of Mandarin and English. It's never made clear whether, in this time, Christianity resembles current Christianity, or if Shepherd Book's religion is one that's evolved from a mixture of different religions.

Is his religion Christianity as we know it today, or is it a belief system that has evolved from a mixture of influences, including Christianity, but also including other beliefs as well? And if it is a mixture of religious influences, then what is it called?

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    Some more data points from "Heart of Gold": 1. He says that some orders allow Shepherds to marry, but he follows a narrower path. 2. When he volunteers to work on the fortifications, he remarks that he's been following the teachings of a certain carpenter for a long time. #1 points to Shepherds in general not being Catholic, at least not by today's definitions. #2 is definitely a reference to Jesus.
    – Martha
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 18:21
  • The comments to this answer to another question scifi.stackexchange.com/a/48763/112895 seem to describe some things that a character claims are in "the Bible". If so, and if that's the same "Bible" that Shepherd Book refers to, then apparently some things had got into the Bible that are not in it now.
    – A. B.
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 4:52

3 Answers 3

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Book follows some form of Christianity, though it's hard to tell whether it is a denomination that exists today. He carries a Bible (or at least an Old Testament/Torah- but he does refer to it at least once as "The Bible") containing, to River's dissatisfaction, the familiar story of Noah's Ark. That narrows it down to one of the Abrahamic religions. As razummy pointed out, there seem to be some Catholic elements to his background, notably his apparent history with some kind of monastic order in an abbey. (Given the heavy Chinese influence in the Verse, some crossover from Buddhism makes sense too.)

The most explicit reference to the nature of his faith comes in Serenity when,

after shooting down the ship that had attacked Haven,

he says it "wasn't very Christian of me." So clearly he identifies himself as Christian.

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  • +1 for the last sentence. But in English, "bible" is often used as any authoritative book - like the "series bible"s that many on SciFi.SE are so familiar with ;)
    – Izkata
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 23:50
  • @Izkata yes, but the instance I'm thinking of is in the context of the Noah's Ark story, as fire.eagle mentioned. He says something like "The Bible doesn't need fixing." Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 0:39
  • Ahh, alright. I remember the scene, but not the exact phrasing.
    – Izkata
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 1:17
  • @TravisChristian: Just like English doesn't use a different word for God (the Christian one) and god (any deity), Bible could have become the eponymous meaning of "holy scripture". So any religion's holy book (however you want to call it) could be addressed as a bible, just like how we e.g. currently say in English that Allah is the god of the muslims. Especially given how English and Chinese have mixed over time, it's likely that not every word retained its exact meaning but evolved naturally.
    – Flater
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 13:35
  • @Flater Sure, but the context of his Bible reference is a conversation about Noah's Ark from the Book of Genesis. It's possible that it had been included in another in-verse scripture that had come to be known as "The Bible" but that's an unnecessary stretch when you consider the other clues. Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 17:29
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I would say it's an evolution and amalgamation of a few of today's religions. I believe the chief influence to be Christianity, and a mix of Protestantic (in lack of overt rituals) and Catholic (in that there are, apparently, monastic orders).

I also think I see influences from Buddhism and Shintoism.

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    Agreed Christianity is at least a chief influence. I remember when River was "fixing" his book, she made a direct reference to Noah's Ark.
    – fire.eagle
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:06
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    @fire.eagle Noah is a central figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
    – Sam
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:33
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    There are many references to small religions spreading to the border planets. I would think that his religion would have divergently evolved rather than merged with other religions. More along the lines of the Protestant explosion when the small religions realized they had a huge landmass they could practice freely on. That is not to say it would not have taken on new aspects from other religions, that happens all the time and aren't mutually exclusive.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:43
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    @Chad "generic" Christianity is axiomatically protestant. Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Mormonism are the big "name brands"... if it isn't restorationist (Mormons, JW's, and a few other such sects), isn't Catholic and isn't some flavor of Orthodoxy, it's protestant. Even the so-called "Independent Catholic" and "Old Catholic" groups are protestants.
    – aramis
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 8:13
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    That is not true. Baptist, Lutheran, Methodists are all name brand protestant religions. You could also belong to a non-orthodox (read fringe) sect of Catholicism or Mormonism. Protestant is just a set of common beliefs generally based off of the writings of Martin Luther. There are non-protestant Christian churches including some of the "New Age" Churches. There was nothing in anything i have seen or read to make me willing to say that it was Protestant based.
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 13:53
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Protestant

According to the original script for the pilot episode, book is garbed as a Protestant minister.

We see, Passing through frame, Shepherd BOOK. He's about sixty, weathered and worldly, with a quiet kindness in his eyes. Farmer stock, not a trace of bullshit and a workingman's hands. He drags a few boxes and suitcases on a sort of wheeled papoose, carries another suitcase in his hand. His clothes are plain and instantly identify him as some kind of protestant minister.

Firely: Serenity - Pilot Screenplay


Catholic

That being said, there's pretty good evidence that Book is some manner of Catholic. He apparently took orders at the Southdown Abbey (a cloistered monastery) and he also takes Confession, atypical for a Protestant minister.

Finally Wong said, “You’re still a Shepherd, yes?”

Book nodded. “I am. I’ve left the abbey for the time being, but I haven’t left the Order.”

Firefly: Big Damn Hero

He refers to himself as a monk (or at least doesn't correct Kaylee referring to him as one).

“Kinda did,” Kaylee said. “What the Shepherd means is that if someone confessed that he was going to do something really bad, the monks would tell on him.”

“Yes. We would tell on him,” Book agreed. “Or her.”

And we see him in his cassock in Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale

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