|Urns to house Olivia's native soil,|
courtesy of the Museum of London
In A Flame in Byzanium by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Olivia flees the chaos and destruction of Rome for the ordered and civilized world of Constantinople. She finds a world there vastly different from her expectations. One difference proves pivotal to how people in her adopted city view the world, and that is their religion.
As a vampire, Olivia has take her own approach to everlasting life. She has brought with her containers of her native soil, which somehow sustains her undead body. She acknowledges the power and validity of others' religion, but refuses to be a hypocrite, and bow to others expectations of conduct, or make untrue declarations of her beliefs. As such, the leaders of Constantinople view her as degenerate, just like the Christian laity and clergy of Rome.
The Christian Church of the first few centuries after Christ, was far more diverse than what exists today. Yet it changed as religious leaders narrowed down what believers were allowed to read, think, and practice. Many have argued that this effort to focus Christianity on its essentials was necessary to help it survive after the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet, as in Yarbro's novel A Flame in Byzantium (and also in False Dawn), all too often belief's in one's rightness have been used as an excuse to hurt and even kill others.
Conformity has its place in any human society. But, unlike the days of ancient Rome, civilization is no longer crumbling. Today, people expect religions to find ways to accept, celebrate, and honor the beliefs of all those who seek to love, respect, and serve others. Even if those others talk, dress, and act so differently that, at first, they seem degenerate.
Who knows? Those other people might even be loving, respectful, and charitable vampires like Olivia.