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The Beginning

A deity of good aspects (Justice, Light, etc.) has guided mankind since the dawn of Creation, helping them develop and prosper. He was always a powerhouse in terms of raw divine power, allowing him to directly intervene in the material plane through an avatar, up to and including his actual divine form. There were gods of other good aspects, (love, fertility, nature, etc.) the worship of which he also built up from nothing. By guiding mortals to them, their worship directly increased the good aspect's power. Unfortunately for our deity, however, he comes to find out that he was too far back in humanity's development. A negative aspect trickster deity who kept himself hidden, reveals his presence by sealing off the material plane, which prevents deities from directly interacting with it. After giving the trickster the god equivalent of a beating within an inch of his immortal life, our deity discovers to his horror that the damage has already been done, and the seal will remain in place for over a thousand years. Because humans were not developed enough, paper and writing isn't really a thing yet, and most of his teachings exist only oral tradition.

The Sealing

In terms of raw power, the gods were unaffected. They are as powerful before as they are after. However, the Seal made direct intervention impossible, as well as making lesser actions more taxing. The other good aspects can eke out a weak blessing at best for some of their followers, while the main deity can still hand out lots of blessings of decent potency. Without the ability to speak to his followers, natural divergence is inevitable. Because of this, the Justice deity watches his Church slowly splinter off into sub factions before his very eyes. He allows this because it's splintered yet growing follower base continues to increase his power, increasing his indirect influence and because he can't stop it. As more time passes, however, the sub factions continue to splinter further, growing more extreme and eventually, begin to consume each other in wars and violence. One of the worst side effects is idolatry in that it subtracts from prayers to him. So a prayer to Justice + x is weaker than if it was just to him. The negative aspects also gradually begin to gain traction.

The Seal Ends

At this point, the seal finally ends, and the deity is able to intervene how he sees fit.

But how should he?

Obviously, nothing stops him from descending upon the Earth, and smiting those who act in his name to rape and slaughter others, and collapse the heretics' cathedrals one by one with a snap of his fingers.

But is that the best way?

He wants to put humanity back on the True Path, but without tearing the world asunder doing so. He also does not fear the negative aspects as they are, but fears what they are becoming.

The largest church (~40-50% of the followers) is the "most right", but even so, is so hilariously wrong and perverted from the original teachings that starting over completely may actually be easier than correcting it.

So, his ultimate goal is to completely reform the Church by removing all sub factions and checking the rising power of the negative aspects.

How should he do this to minimize suffering while still not compromising on his goal?

How would the fantasy medieval society react to him, and how should he react in turn?

Clarification

The established Churches have a vested interest in maintaining their power and position, so it would not be beyond possibility for them to gather up a thousand years worth of magical artifacts, and swing public belief to directly oppose the deity.

Inversely, if the deity acts too decisively and causes a lot of chaos by essentially alpha striking the church before they can respond, he may end up doing the opposite of what he wants by strengthening the negative aspects to a dangerous level.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Aify, Cadence, L.Dutch, Mark Olson, Frostfyre Jul 16 '18 at 12:22

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ It is said that one flooded the planet and started over. It could be said there are only three solutions: motivate, educate, repudiate. The first is done by sending the enemy (be it person or environment) to decimate. The second is done by sending prophets. The third, by flood or fire or famine. Which is best? That depends on the nature and culture of the people, the nature and culture of the diety, the resources available to both, and the balance of reward and punishment. "Would this work?" is easier to answer than "what are my options?" The latter often being POB. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 15 '18 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think in this case we can rule out a total restart, and favor more of an educate position. But I also wonder how an established power like the Church would react to him, and if they might attempt opposition with a 1000 years worth of acquired magical artifacts to maintain their positions. Those artifacts plus shifting peoples beliefs may be enough to tip the balance. But if he reacts too harshly he will drive people to negative aspects. $\endgroup$ – Raznarok Jul 15 '18 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Human experience is to either keep their dieties at arm's length or kill them. If the people of your world are similar behaviorally to humans, then the tendency is to keep the power you have and fight against its removal. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 15 '18 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ He is dangerous... For the sake of the nation this Jesus must die $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 15 '18 at 21:09
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The quick and dirty way

Reappear as flashy as possible. Appear as a huge face in the sky, tell everyone with a majestic voice that they are to return to the right path now or face the consequences. Anyone who acts up gets smited to make an example. This will likely cause a mass panic. Many people will die and a lot of property will get destroyed before you got the world back in order. You will also lose your reputation as a benevolent god. It might take a while until people will again worship you out of love instead of out of fear.

But as Nicolo Machiavelli said: When you have to choose between being loved or being feared, then it's better to be feared than loved. So when you are in a hurry to restore your religion, then this might be an acceptable sacrifice.

The slow and subtle way

Reveal yourself privately to the leader(s) of each religious sect. Tell them to adjust their teachings to return to the right path. The more pragmatic of them might think they just went crazy and started to hallucinate. Prove yourself by providing some minor miracles. The more zealous types might get excited and tell everyone about your return. Too bad for them, because that means you need to destroy them. No, I do not mean smite them. We wanted to avoid such drastic measures. I mean destroy their reputation. Use your divine powers to let some embarrassing mishaps happen to them to humiliate them in public. Make everyone think they turned insane and replace them with someone else.

When all the religions leaders understood that you are back and that they are to shut up about it, then it's time to start reformation processes in their individual sects.

Use a carrot-and-stick approach to influence the different sect leaderships. When they do as you say, you perform some miracles to help them solve whatever problems they currently have to deal with (or fulfill their personal desires, if they are those kinds of people). When they don't comply, perform some subtle miracles which sabotage them. You don't have to do anything big. For Want of a Nail a kingdom was lost. The right intervention at the right time can have tremendous consequences. In the end, no religion will be able to withstand your wraith in the long term. So they will either learn to comply or lose their influence and disappear. Still, do not rush the reformation process. You can't change someone's religious believes over night. When you force too many too radical changes in a short timespan, you risk to destabilize and further fragment the religious organizations.

When all the sects either synchronized their dogma and practices or became insignificant, tell them to reunify into one church.

Even though the lines between the different religious denominations will have become very blurry, the religious leaders might still perceive each other as rivals and seek to maintain their autonomy. But you don't need them to become friends. You just need them to cooperate. Mortal quarrels are best left to the mortals. So leave the details of how to organize their church and how to separate powers in it to them. A bit of internal intrigue and infighting can not be avoided. And as long as the church still appears unified and functional from the perspective of the average person, it won't be an issue.

When the reunification is complete, start to prepare your big reveal. At this point, you might also want to contact the political leaders of the world and make sure they know what's going on. Otherwise there might be some unintended response to your return. Some might interpret it as a power-grab by the church and try to strike it down. Other might use it as a signal to start some pointless holy war or perform an ugly pogrom against some minority in a misguided attempt to appease you. You don't want any of this, so make sure the political leaders are in on it and know what you expect them to do.

With the unified church behind you prepared to answer all the questions people will have and the political leaders prepared to maintain order, you can make this a smooth transition with very little disruption.

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Invest in some decent publications. Go with mountainsides and other large- scale media, carve some directions and commandments as cartoons, with texts and a talking statue to teach reading and writing. Update a lot, with repudiations for slanted readings by overzealous priests. 'Don't kill humans' - Carl: ah, he obvs did not mean to not kill murderers, right? Those need to die. 'Divine Edit: Do not kill humans for ANY reason'.

Also: No smiting. In your next absence, humans will need to emulate your doings, so only do as they should.

To get the church back on track, go the truth and reconciliation way: huge festivals where everybody gets his or her say, you lay down the law, then the clocks start anew and on your next (unscheduled) return, people are promoted ore axed depending on their practical implementation of your teachings. A few iterations of this, and the faithful will have their compass rightened, while the career clergy is clear on what will take them up: Living your word. Together with your carved-in-stone FAQ, this should make for pretty consistent churching.

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    $\begingroup$ Carved in Stone FAQ. I chortled. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 16 '18 at 8:19
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TLDR

If you change the political landscape (including the political power of your church) there is a good chance that things won't be peaceful regardless of your methods. Humans are full of corruption and there are likely some people who were hungry for power who rose high in the church who don't care for the ideals of the reformation and will oppose anything to hold power - even in a church devoted to Justice.

A few examples from history are given below.

The most successful from the examples below is continual spiritual prompting of your followers, so that they want to follow the 'correct' path rather than the establishment.

Please don't up/downvote based on your opinion of religion/the Bible, this is the best source material I have at hand to answer the question, which is religious in nature.

Flood everyone and start again

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. - Genesis 6:5-6,7:1,4

From your question, this is probably not the non-violent scenario you want to go with as thousands died. Also, it didn't really work and history shows that within a few generations Noah's decedents were almost as bad as the people who were flooded.

Appear to a chosen prophet and perform miracles

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them. I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them." - Exodus 3:1-2,7,19

Even when people believed that Moses was a prophet, they still didn't follow his instructions. Miracles convinced Pharaoh that Moses' God was real, but he wasn't convinced that Moses' God was more powerful or worth listening to than the Egyptian Gods until all the first born Egyptian boys died in one night. Horrific stuff, with the lesson not to rely on miracles alone to convince people to follow divine instructions.

Write down a list of divine rules and give to the people

When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. Exodus 31:18, 32:15

Following the giving of the 10 Commandments, God gave Moses and his brother Aaron many more rules and instructions about how to set up the ancient Hebrew church and how the people were to live (see entire book of Leviticus).

However, it didn't work: Having been rescued from slavery in Egypt and given a divinely instituted church, the people complained, immediately did their own thing, and questioned the new authority even in the face of continued divine intervention.

Now the people complained about their hardships. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Exodus 11:1,4

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this. The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous. Exodus 12:1-2,9,10

The lesson here: rules don't change people's hearts, so and there'll be friction between the new order and those who liked the old ways better

Civilisation wide hardship requiring dependence on your deity

Following unending idolatry, losing the scrolls of God's holy laws for a few hundred years (to be found accidentally in a pile in the corner of the main temple by the cleaner), and the routine killing of prophets, God tried to beat sense into Israel using Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army.

The Babylonians invaded, and took everyone as slaves back to Babylon. Many who hadn't cared about the God of Israel in the first place integrated with the Babylonian population but were never heard from again. But a core secretly passed notes and became more fervent in their belief and eventually following a few miracles decades later were allowed to return to Israel to rebuild. Israel never had an idolatry problem again, and never lost their holy books again after that - so kind of effective.

In your case, this could work - use an external 'evil' force to conquer your people so that they turn to Justice and actually listen to what he says. Still not death free however due to the conquering and war that precedes the reformation.

A long, slow, grass roots campaign, show how to live by example

A few hundred years after the Babylon thing, Israel had developed religion into the primary political structure. They didn't just obey the laws, but they put new laws in place to make sure people didn't get close to thinking about getting close to breaking the original divine laws. In doing so they became law focussed to the extent that their God send Jesus as a divine incarnation to demonstrate the intent of the laws - not to regulate behavior but to show that people should be loving toward each other.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach."

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices to the temple—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town." - Matthew 23:1,23,34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:34

This definitely resulted in a reformation - the Christian church was formed out of those Jews and Greeks who believed. But many didn't believe and remained Jewish or pagan. Also, people died because these new Christians didn't follow the old political order and so were a threat to people in power (who succeeded in killing quite a few between then and today).

Continually prompt your people through some spiritual means

The god of Israel came to the conclusion described above that rules don't get the results. You need people to want to be reformed.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar:

"The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight. But I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.

I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me- Jeremiah 32:1,30, 39, 31:33

This prophesy reportedly came true a few hundred years later after Jesus died when God's holy spirit became available to everyone.

This was probably the most effective form of reformation accomplished that has been documented in the texts, as the result was described with only positive outcomes:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42

While the availability of the holy spirit to anyone who believes was a continual thing after Jesus' death, of course not everyone wanted to be a believer. Deaths from this method are related to those from the previous 'grass roots' method as they both happened around the same time.

Inspire some priests to read and understand the divine texts properly

After the aforementioned reformations, new political power structures developed over a period of several hundred years, culminating in the Roman Catholic church dominating Europe and manipulating monarchs for their own gain. Another reformation was required.

The Lutheran reformation is usually dated as starting 31 October 1517 in Wittenberg, Saxony, when Luther sent his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Archbishop of Mainz. The church had been collecting money to pay for cathedrals in exchange for forgiveness of sins, which Luther said was not how divine forgiveness worked, with reference to the original texts.

The invention of the printing press and literacy enabling the average Joe to read Luther's arguments were vital to the effectiveness of Luther's reformation - before this everyone had to just believe what they were told by their local priest.

Due to the upset of political power Luther caused, this reformation also came with many deaths (see St Bartholomew’s Day massacre painting below).

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Summary and discussion

Human hearts seem to be full of corruption, and many people want power even if it means perverting something good. These people will resist your reformation regardless of whether you go in hard or soft.

It might be worthwhile considering the overall aim. Can your deity afford to cut losses, ignore the intransigent and focus on reforming those who are more receptive? If so, can this be done quietly without disturbing the current power balance? Some evil will remain, and likely even be preached, but over time you might be able to inspire many thousands of poorer people to follow the true cause. In time (potentially over several generations), some of these may make it into the halls of power and start to change the whole religion a bit at a time.

It seems unlikely that you'll ever convince everyone (or even a majority?) to follow the new way regardless of method, given free will. So setting up a culture of religious tolerance would help prevent deaths of your true followers at the hands of the others.

Also, the fact that Luther needed to cause a reformation 1500 years after Jesus started the church just goes to show that even the best effort your deity makes now will likely need to be continually followed up as each generation has their own opportunity to turn away from the one true path.

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Take literally a single moment to sort out the population into those worth saving and those not and quickly painlessly kill the second group outright. He can cleanse the church in an instant without anyone who has to go suffering at all.

As to the reaction of the survivors that depends on the spin he manages to put on the situation, if he can make it a "plague on the unfaithful" moment then those who survive are going to do their utmost to repent their sins and live good upright lives if the bad gods get in ahead and set him up to look like an evil sadist there could be issues. Spin doctoring the situation is going to be the work of several generations, your god will need a succession of compelling and personable prophets to speak on his behalf. A couple of wars to keep the faithful focused on more worldly affairs wouldn't hurt either, so he may want to leave some of the worst, and most obvious, corrupters of the faith around for earthly rather than divine retribution.

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  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree that alpha striking the opposition from existence is a strong strategy. Although I do question his ability to appraise and kill them all that quickly as he has been proven to be finite in his power, as well as not omniscient. I feel like he would definitely sort his house in the short term, but then leave himself very vulnerable to the negative aspects influence on mortals longterm. "He didn't REALLY know they were bad, but he killed them anyway, because it was EASY..." insert evil god here $\endgroup$ – Raznarok Jul 15 '18 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Raznarok He'll definitely need to manage the spin for several generations, he's going to need to empower some really compelling prophets but I'm sure he can pull it off. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jul 15 '18 at 18:59
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Smite dead the entire clergy, then appear in miraculous fashion before the faithful and hand them golden tables on which written in fire are your new commandments for them.

Smite dead a number of them over the next few months or years who are sinners in a very public manner.

And don't forget to reward the faithful who live in peace and accordance with your commandments with bountiful harvests, health, and plenty of children while the wicked heretics suffer disease, famine, and depravity.

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