“The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.”
— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “The Blessed Struggle”
It’s immediately clear that Sister Miriam proudly carries forth the Cross into the future. Nobody else we’ve seen is willing to quote God so openly. That’s for sure. And look at her: she’s got that grim church-lady vibe to her. But Christianity has meant lots of things to lots of people before. So it’s worth looking into what kind of religion motivates her.
Judging from the quote, it looks like she likes herself some radical Protestantism. The old-style religion. If she were Catholic, she’d be wearing vestments and talking about the Virgin Mary. If she were something like an Episcopalian or Lutheran, she’d be talking about Jesus and forgiveness. But, instead, she leads with God watching and judging mankind. If the player needed any more evidence of this, her capital base is named New Jerusalem. This is evocative of the oft-stated Puritan fondness for the Old Testament and their desire to create a new Jerusalem on a virgin shore.
This aligns quite nicely with her preference for religious Fundamentalism as a political choice on the social engineering chart, as well as her disdain for the heedless pursuit of Knowledge for its own sake. Given that, it’s intriguing that Reynolds chose to make her a woman: radical Protestant fundamentalists tend to be quite hostile to feminism and women in charge. It’s unexpected in a similar way to the fact that the militarists are run by a female Colonel. And yet, it’s not completely discordant. Her intelligent advocacy of her fierce religion is reminiscent of Anne Hutchinson from colonial New England.
The second thing that jumps out is that Sister Miriam and her Believer faction has a militant side. Her book is called “The Blessed Struggle”, after all, and this aligns with the faction’s strengths. They get a special attack bonus for their devotion and a large supply bonus which enables them to field a large army. They can be dangerous even if they are technologically behind.
The third point to notice is that Miriam is not blindly anti-technological progress. She’s not Amish. Despite her willingness to consider tradition (the “streets of yesteryear”), she does not condemn the datalinks just for being novel. But she is cautious about the potential negative effects of certain technologies on the social system. Evil, in her philosophy, is a real and absolute phenomenon.
This contrast between Miriam and Zakharov (which is pre-ordained by their opposed social policies) shows that in SMAC, unlike virtually every other 4X game I can think of, the research bonus or penalty is not merely a reflection of the brilliance of the faction’s scientists. Instead, it is a reflection of the faction’s willingness to adapt their way of life to the demands and possibilities that are opened up by the new technologies.
This realization brings the purpose of the Believers’ spying advantages into full light. It’s not just that their fanaticism and relentlessness make for better spies and more relentlessly loyal citizens and soldiers. It’s also that the Believers prefer to see other factions implement a technology into their society before radically remaking their own. Which is probably the real in-universe reason behind the Believers’ 10 turn moratorium at the beginning of the game before they start accruing research points. Unlike the other faction leaders, the Believers are focusing on establishing traditions in the new world before they go about overhauling them.
Just like Yang, it would have been easy for Reynolds to just make Miriam a black hat figure. His audience of late-90s Western strategy gamers is not a fertile breeding ground for Calvinist fundamentalism. But Reynolds chose a much more interesting course. Sister Miriam and her Believers will prove to be just as fully-realized a faction in the game as any of the others.