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In a world where people worship different gods and have different principles, how does a government assimilate those gods (make them coexist without one god being superior)?

Clarification: I'm asking about how the government would guide and enforce it and maybe the prerequisite. Oh, and the gods don't actually exist.

Edit: The world is ancient, with near-medieval technology, and science isn't really developed. In real world terms, its like I'm asking how ancient Greece or Rome made multiple gods be under the same pantheon and keep adding new ones without backlash from the people even though the new gods have different principles.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking how we could potentially take different religious groups and make them all civil and coexistant? Like how currently Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists can all live together without murdering each other? In all seriousness this question is far too broad and if you haven't defined exactly what the principles are, your aim is as hopeless as achieving world peace in a world of dictators. Like what if one of their beliefs is literally murder all none believers.... $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Mar 29 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, kinda. What I'm asking for is the ideal scenario $\endgroup$ – A random person no.0 Mar 29 at 4:28
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    $\begingroup$ This is really a history question, since that is exactly what governments did whenever the main religion did not explicitly ban worship of other gods which was actually pretty rare. And that by the way is your answer, just forbid banning worship of other gods and declaring your god supreme. Then just respect all religions of your subjects. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 29 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ This is like Marvel (or DC) universe - you can add new superheroes to it, and see any backlash from fans only if you are breaking canons :) $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 29 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi exactly. Prophesies and religious rulings have an uncanny way of conforming to state pressure. Make it uneconomical to preach X, and the gods will stop whispering X somehow. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Mar 29 at 16:21
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In real history, we have two examples of how something similar was done, so that we cannot say how to do it in general, only how it worked in the Antiquity.

In the Antiquity, in general

In the Antiquity, in Europe and in North Africa, and in the Near and Middle East, just about everybody was a polytheist, with the one well-known exception, and it was generally and commonly accepted that different peoples had different gods. A Greek would not have expected an Egyptian to worship the Greek gods; an Egyptian would not have expected a Babylonian to worship Egyptian gods; a Babylonian would not have expected a Hittite to worship Babylonian gods. Moreover, it was understood that religion was something a person imbibed with their mother's milk, and was not expected to change; so that foreigners who settled in another city were understood and expected to continue worshipping their original gods.

All this worked well as long as peoples didn't mix too much, that is, as long as foreigners remained foreigners, and as long as nobody went about claiming that their God or gods were the only (or even the topmost) God or gods. Who cares that the foreigners worship? They are foreigners.

In the Antiquity, specifically: interpretatio Romana

But then came the power of Rome, and, for its own imperial purposes, Rome introduced the idea that citizenship and allegiance are distinct from ethnicity; for the first time in history, they accepted that one did not have to be born a Roman, one could become a Roman; and, even if one didn't want to become a Roman, they owed allegiance to Rome. A side-effect of this admirable openness was that it became somewhat important to put a little order in this business of multiple concurrent sets of gods.

Note that Rome did not reach such a progressive state right from the beginning. Initially, the Romans were as wary of foreign gods as anybody else; one of the oldest monuments of the Latin language is the famous Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, the Decree Against Bacchanals of 186 BCE, showing the early Roman state in full repressive mood against the spread of a foreign, in this case Greek, cult.

But, as the territory under Roman Power (that's what Imperium Romanum actually means) expanded, this repressive position became obviously counterproductive, so the Romans appropriated a Greek idea and elevated it to the rank of political principle. The Romans did that quite often; Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, as one of their poets said: captive Greece captivated her rude vanquisher.

The idea in question was the interpretatio Graeca, a device used by Greek historians to explain foreign religions to a Greek audience. In its original Greek instance, this consisted in drawing parallels between a Greek deity and a foreign one, so that, for example, Herodotus could explain to his readers that the Egyptian gods Amon, Osiris or Ptah were sort-of like Egyptian variants of Zeus, Dionysus and Hephaestus. They weren't the same, there were differences, but they could by understood by comparison.

The Romans made on more step, and in their officious (yet never "official") interpretatio Romana, they made foreign gods notionally the same as Roman gods. Odin was sort-of like Mercury, because he was smart and cunning and had a winged horse; sort-of like? No, he was Mercury, it's just that those barbarian Germans used a different name. Thor was sort-of like Jupiter, because he wielded thunderbolts; why not make him to actually be Jupiter? And similarly, Tíw (Týr, Ziu) was only a name of Mars, and Freya a name of Venus; which we can still see in the names of the week, which in Germanic languages go Tues-day, Wednes-day, Thurs-day, Fri-day, with the Germanic names of the gods, paralleling the Romance Marte-dì, Mercole-dì, Giove-dì, Vener-dì, which continue the Roman names of the gods.

Quot hominum linguae, tot nomina deorum, wrote Cicero in his book about the Nature of the gods: the gods have as many names as humans have languages.

How did they reach this state? It all began with the Romans' exposure to the Greek mythology.

The Roman and the Greek religions were very different, with remarkably few points of similarity, other than the general look (they were both luxuriantly polytheistic) and a very small number of shared deities of Indo-European inheritance. Jupiter and Zeus are really the same, as are Vesta and Hestia, or Aurora and Eos. But Minerva is profoundly different from Athena, Venus is definitely not Aphrodite, and Mars shares with Ares only their combative attitude.

Nevertheless, the Greek religion had something the Roman religion didn't, namely, mythology. The Roman native deities are more in the nature of abstract ideas, they don't look like humans, they don't behave like humans and they most definitely don't have thrilling adventures in the human world. Boring. So, for literary and artistic purposes, the Romans imported the Greek mythology wholesale, and used it as if it was their own, making the obvious divine identifications. In the state religion, in the stately rituals, the original conception prevailed and remained active, but in poems and novels, in the statuary, and in decorative pictures, the Roman names were applied to the much more adventurous and relatable Greek gods.

To exemplify, around the middle of the 3rd century BCE, Livius Andronicus renders the first line of the Odyssey (ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polytropon, "tell me, Muse, of the well-versed man") as virum mihi Camena insece versutum, seeking to establish an equivalence between the Roman Camenae and the Greek Muses; but one hundred years later, Ennius writes shamelessly in his Annals: Musae quae pedibus magnum pulsatis Olympum, "Muses, who with your feet beat mighty Olympus"; thus giving up any pretense that a Roman audience did not know who the Muses were or what the Olympus mountain was.

Once the Greek gods were accepted as equivalents of the Roman gods, although everybody knew they weren't, it was not hard to extend this to the other peoples of the Empire. Where the Greek went, the Gauls, and the Germans, etc. followed.

In later times, the Romans started accepting that there were deities which didn't even have Roman names; and in Rome the cult of Cybele and Isis prospered. Once a dividing wall is breached, there is no division any more.

It should be noted that this identification of foreign gods with Roman gods was purely notional; it had exactly zero effect on the ground in those lands were those foreign gods were actually worshipped. The Romans did not go to Cyprus to explain to the natives that their Aphrodite had been officially identified with Venus and the cult of Aphrodite in Cyprus had to conform to the cult of Venus in Rome. They did not go to Germany and explain that Woden / Odin had been identified with Mercury and the Germans should immediately make him a god of thieves and merchants. No; the interpretatio Romana was for the use of Romans, so that they would feel at home in a diverse world.

As long as the peoples of the Empire agreed to build a temple for the Emperor and to perform the required rituals, all was fine. Nobody went into silly theological disputations about which god came first, or which god is paramount; such discussions were considered light entertainment, suitable for a pleasant afternoon with friends and a crater of mulled wine.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer deserves a bounty. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 29 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan You can only start bounties after 48 hours, but yes, this answer is great. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Mar 29 at 21:06
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The first step would be the peaceful coexistence of many religions.

  • Force all assimilated tribes to accept the supremacy of the government in all temporal matters. Any resistance means heads will roll.
  • Force all assimilated tribes to allow missionaries into their territory, and to allow their people to convert to another religion without temporal discrimination. Again, resistance means that heads will roll.

The second step would be the acceptance of a pantheistic worldview in general, if the assimilated tribe was monotheistic. This might involve workarounds like the trinity, with different aspects of one god, or promoting the worship of lesser angels and saints in addition to the main deity.

The third step is to let people mix and match from the pantheon. Seafarers worship the sea god and are reasonably polite but not worshipful to the war god, warriors do it the other way around.

If those three steps work out, you have generally pantheistic tribes which accept the principle that people worship different gods in different ways. Two options for the final integration:

  • Interpret new additions to the pantheon as different interpretations of an existing god. "Oh, that's just what those barbarians call the thunder god, they don't know better." The problem is that the high priest of the thunder god might insist on speaking for all thunder god priests. Ares is Mars, Zeus is Jupiter.
  • Actually expand the pantheon. There is not just one war god, there are many. Ares and Mars cover war, but Athena is a warrior as well ...
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    $\begingroup$ Athena is the god of justified war, the politicians' god of war. Ares could be said to be the god of the battle, bloodthirsty and murderous, the soldiers' god. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Mar 29 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix, the point was more about the difference -- or lack of difference -- between Mars and Ares. Just translation or different gods? $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 29 at 14:44
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Utilitarism: I worship as many gods I need, as long as I believe that they fulfill my needs.

I need money? I worship Grand.

I need fortune in love? I worship Base IV.

Incidentally, this is why the Roman religion was so open to foreign divinity: as long as the religious acts were thought to contribute to the prosperity of the community, they were accepted without excessive nitpick.

As a government, just avoid enforcing rigid walls that delimit what is good religion and what is bad religion.

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While peaceful coexistence of religions is lovely, it's not always how this works. Another way to achieve your goal is with a combination of co-opting an existing "lessor" religion mixed with subversion of the dominant religion.

Christianity is an expert at this, specifically Catholicism and other pre-split sects. Look at their largest holidays: Christmas and Easter. Most modern-day practices surrounding these holidays come from pagan holidays that were folded into the Christian ones as Christianity took over (often but not always Celtic paganism).

When Christians invaded the Americas and their religion became dominant, worship of local Gods continued, but subverted into worship of saints and especially the Virgin Mary (multiple versions of Mary that only exist on this continent). In Mexico and other Latin American countries, much of the details of "the Virgin" and various saints were wholesale borrowed from existing deities but folded into the cast of characters the Christians approved of.

Entire books have been written about this phenomenon. As well as countless articles. A few sources:

While Christianity is monotheistic and saints, prophets, etc are not considered deities, one might argue that the system of Catholic saints is in fact a pantheon. While the saints are based on real people, in many cases their lore comes from gods of other traditions. In some Catholic cultures, they are prayed to and treated as if they were gods, they just don't get that label because the Church would not approve.

In your world, you don't have to make the dominant religion monotheistic. There may not be a dominant religion, or there could have been in the past and now there isn't. There are lots of possibilities on an invented world.

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    $\begingroup$ Down voted for fundementally wrong interpretation of Catholic saints, the nature o the Virgin Mary and various titles. The association of dieties in the Americas comes from Voudon, which is a synchronization of Catholic Saints and African deities, but is still considered to be a monotheistic religion, with one all powerful being (God, Bondye) and an intercession being to that deity (The Saints, Loa). The differences are that Saints are all real people who are confirmed to be in heaven (Or the Archangels named in the bible) while the Loa are spirits from West African lore. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Mar 29 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @hszmv I appreciate your taking the time to explain your downvote. I was rushing to get my kid to school so may have over simplified my last point. I've edited it. This may not satisfy you but hopefully it helps. Also, while certainly there is a rich history of the blend of African religions with Christianity in the Americas, I didn't mention it because it was not central to my point. The indigenous religions of the Americas also blended with Christianity. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Mar 29 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ " In some Catholic cultures, they are prayed to and treated as if they were gods" No, this is demonstrably false. Catholics do not consider the Saints to be gods and assign them no divine natures. Their nature is that they are the deceased that are known to be in heaven. Catholics believe that the dead can pray for the living and in this capacity, prayer that invokes a specific saint is basically requesting that the saint includes the living's concerns in his or her own prayers. God and God alone still does the heavy lifting of answering prayers and performing miracles. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Mar 29 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @hszmv Some villages in Mexico would disagree.... I agree that your view is the official one. But I'm talking about how people act and feel, not anything official. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Mar 29 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Than do not attribute it to Catholicism or at least note that it is an incorrect interpretation. A lot of anti-Catholism sentiments are rooted in the confusion over the issue and it can be quite insulting to suggest it's such a case (and most Protestant faiths don't acknowledge Saints. Aside from Catholics, only the Eastern Orthodox church (Not a Protestant Sect) and the Anglican Church (A Protestant Sect, founded by a man who was very devoutly Catholic but wanted a Divorce) recognize Saints. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Mar 29 at 17:35
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Compartmentalize the gods into departments. As long as the department's don't overlap in terms of who gives what blessing, the issue of seniority won't come into question, only the usefulness, and in turn the number of followers. For e.g. if you have three gods of war, making them the gods of land battle, naval battle and aerial dogfight. They are all equal in position, but not equally useful or popular, as land battles have bigger armies. So God land war will have more followers, and his temple will be more widespread. On the other hand, god of jetplanes will have few but elite followers, bringing more influence and money to the temple.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or "God of Battle" and "God of War", like Ares and Athena in Greek Mythology. One of them could plan a long and successful campaign, the other just liked a good fight. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Sep 12 at 8:18
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Add "God Parents".

Announce a new God or Goddess (or both!) at the very top, who "previously" were only known about by the Ruling Class and highest of High Priests, but is now allowing the secret of their existence to be known. But, they're still only for the Elite in the Government to Worship.

Then declare that the other Gods and Goddesses are all descendants or in-laws of the new Top-God. That, while the Gods may sometimes fight and argue, they are all one big family, and they want their followers to do the same. Not to suddenly be all happy and buddy-buddy with each other (after all, most of you know what siblings can be like!), but rather to be open to reconciliation, and never to take it "too far".

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