So the first phase of the story I'm writing is the year-long leadup to the utter collapse of society and infrastructure brought about by humanity's sudden ability to use supernatural powers. And one of the ideas I've been tossing around about what would likely happen in this sort of situation is the sheer havoc this would wreak upon the religious world and the new religion(s) that would spring up in the wake of it.

A quick summary of how powers work in my story:

Ever since a Saturday in early September, 2017, everyone 13 or older has a brand on their arm that contains four circles on it. Every week, on Saturday, at 12:00 PM EST, one of those circles fills up with a magic rune that grants them a new supernatural power.

Everyone gets the same rune per week, and once all four circles are filled, the rune in the fourth slot is overwritten with the next week's power when it arrives, and if you want to keep it you have to switch it with a rune in another slot (you can do this with your mind, and there's no way for anybody else to affect the slot order of your powers).

In addition, everyone who was old enough to have a brand when this first started had two free, impossible-to-delete powers granted to them permanently: one that roughly doubles their strength, and one that lets them heal any injury and regrow any lost body part, in a time range going from an hour to a week depending on severity.

In addition, and here's where the main issue comes in, 24 people across the planet were randomly given their own, powerful, completely one-of-a-kind powers. And one of these people was given the power to know, several months in advance, what powers humanity will be given, when, and how to use them. He uses this ability of his to style himself as a prophet of a new religion.

Posing as a prophet and avatar of the gods, he preaches that the source of these powers is a pantheon of old-world, hedonistic, incestuous psychopaths like the ones found in Greek and Norse mythology. He preaches that the gods put us on Earth not because they wanted to be worshiped and obeyed, but because they wanted to be entertained. He says that the highest virtues have nothing to do with compassion or human decency, but in living as fascinating and exciting a life as humanly possible, with morals being a trivial afterthought or, at best, a means to an end. And most importantly, he preaches that this mass-empowerment is a sign that the gods are incredibly frustrated with the current state of most of humanity and that this is their last effort to please the gods before they decide to destroy the world and create a new one they'll like better.

Now the important thing is that none of the other people with unique powers speak up to contradict this story. One of these people stepped up and took initiative to set up a "masquerade" of sorts to keep these powers secret from humanity by threatening their lives and the lives of those close to them, but he found the concept of what the false prophet was planning to be so fascinating as a philosophical and sociological experiment that by the time he found him, he let him keep going with his plan as long as he didn't tell anybody he wasn't the only one with powers like that. So while obviously the existence of magic elsewhere means there could be another explanation for why this prophet can do what he does, as far as the world knows there's no proof he isn't the only one who can do what he can do.

The ultimate plan I have with this religion is to have it eventually result in communities scattered throughout the post-collapse world that are consumed by bloodlust and hedonism, base much of their survival and livelihood on raiding heretic settlements, and have little to no compassion or empathy for the unfaithful that their gods hold in such frustrated contempt. But right now I'm trying to get a grasp on how much longer than a year that would take, and how quickly a religion like this could radicalize if its prophet, for all anyone knew, really could perform miracles and really did have the gift of prophecy.

If a prophet with the demonstrable gift of prophecy appeared in the wake of magic entering the world as described above, how big of a following could I reasonably depict him having, and how radicalized and detached from the morality of conventional western society could I believably depict them as being, by the end of year one?

  • $\begingroup$ If everyone has the same powers, why follow him? $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jun 10 '18 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T Because while everyone else has access to the same pool of powers to make use of, none of those powers are the gift of prophecy, and he's able to predict, perfectly, without fail and to the slightest detail, what power is going to show up every week. $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde Jun 10 '18 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting scenario, but it is far too broad and also pretty opinion based. A question like "How would a cult leader attract as many followers as possible" or "How long does it take to build a successful cult" would be much more effective. You also need to lose the exposition. Its too much info to sort through prior to the question. Edit to correct these things and I will retract my close vote. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Jun 10 '18 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 Thanks for the advice. I really just can't get the hang of this. Every time I try to be concise I get flooded with clarifying questions about the details of how the situation works, and every time I put in the full context I've apparently said too much. What should I cut out? $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde Jun 10 '18 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ The core details are all that is needed. Everyone has powers now, a guy with the unique power of accurate clairvoyance declares himself a profit and sets about starting a cult of hedonism that eventually leads to the collapse of society. Then your question regarding how he does so, one that can be researched and answered succinctly. "how does he recruit so many people?" would be a good one, or "how do fringe cults become the widespread religion?" $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Jun 10 '18 at 16:47
  • 20 milion followers on twitter

  • 15 milion subscribers on youtube

  • 45 minutes of fame (yes, 3 times more than usual)

but merely:

  • 50 thousand serious cultists

So effectively whole teen and adult population gets supernatural powers and one freak gets some turborcharged supernatural powers and claims that it makes him the boss? Well... good luck.

At odds:

  • established religions - Christianity - sorry, it's anti-Christ and mark of the beast
  • established religions - Islam - sorry, people get stoned to death as apostates for lesser issues
  • established religions - other - we didn't survive centuries by not being able to provide alternative explanation suiting our prior teachings
  • secular minded people - "strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government"
  • scientifically minded people - extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so far nothing conclusive provided, this whole pantheon should be slaughtered using Ockham razor
  • special services of practically any nation

7 bilion of people would have too choose whether their all prior ideas concerning supernatural were wrong, or are dealing with talented smartass. All is certain, is that this guy knew it advance, which in case of other people having supernatural skills no longer proves anything. People dislike to change their views even in case of stronger evidence, not such whimsical ones. I give higher chances in such circumstances for movements starting from established religions (Pentecostal, Sufi Muslims, etc.) or ideological movements. This new ideology would be generally very hard to sell and having stronger powers is not a specially strong argument here.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for making me completely lose it at the Monty Python reference. :-D $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 11 '18 at 7:08

It depends on his environment. There are historical analogs for all of the following:

  • ... if a major dictator (think Roman emperor) decides the prophet is worth following OR
  • ... if there's an established political party that aligns with him OR
  • ... if there's a major communications network that is looking for a spokesperson and wants to come from 3rd place to 1st place OR
  • ... if basically there's any established network of people that engages with him

THEN his following in a year could be huge.


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