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In my science-fantasy series, there are dozens, even hundreds of different cultures scattered amongst the stars. However, there is one set pantheon of Gods (as well as a bunch of other divine beings, some of which outrank them and some of which are subservient to them) that exists, and everyone knows that they exist because they have directly interacted with mortals on numerous occasions. How would deep religious divisions arise in a setting where everyone worships the same Gods?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is each civilization's idea of god based on some sort of messaging system? See Casandra, if it's based on display of power, then ..... Could you edit to clarify. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ Christians, Muslims and Jews do believe that God exist (and don't argue that it's the same God they believe in), and yet there are deep religious differences between them. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? How could there be religious diversity in a world where gods communicate with their followers? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ We also know that football teams exist, yet there have been wars about which one is better. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: No, the Judeo-Christian "God" is not the same as the Islamic "Allah", even though they derive from the same roots. One can even argue that the Jewish "Yahweh" is not the same as the Christian "God", and even that different Christian sects have different "Gods". $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 17:36

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Belief and worship are not the same thing.

Everyone knows the whole pantheon exists. Which members of it people actively affiliate with and choose to worship is another matter entirely. You have a culture that worships the god of war, either out of allegiance to the values and teachings, or just to gain the divine favor that's incredibly relevant to their highly militaristic way of life. But you also have other cultures that worship other gods because they consider their domains far more important or far more relevant to their lives.

Just because they all know the whole pantheon exists doesn't mean they consider the whole pantheon equally important. Heck, maybe the pantheon is at each other's throats, like most pantheons throughout history usually were, and when the gods of war and commerce are on bad terms with each other, so are their respective followers.

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    $\begingroup$ See any Classical civilisation for reference. Everyone knew all the gods existed, but there’s no point worshipping Poseidon if you’re an Athenian olive farmer. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 18:51
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You shouldn't be surprised about that, we humans in real life have split the hair in even finer pieces than what you ask.

That, from a philosophical point of view, if something with the attributes of a god exist than it has to be unique, it's something the Greeks had already figured out. Nevertheless humans have quarreled quite a bit on the various flavors which one set of worship rules implements differently than another.

But even worse, even within the worship of the same "implementation" of a divinity, we have managed to have divisions over what I generically call details. Just look at the many examples:

  • Christianity: divisions over the filioque, protestant churches vs the roman church.
  • Islam: sunni vs shia
  • buddism: the various sects
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  • $\begingroup$ You know Christians fought whole wars over how many angels can dance on a pinhead? $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 15:40
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One of the mistakes many people (but not scholars) make is to conflate the belief in God(s) with religion. You can believe whatever you want, but religion is about how you structure your world in conformance with certain ideas. This is ideology, hence politics by a different name.

Do we have political differences even when we have the same facts? You bet we can. Now add miracles to the equation and watch the fur fly.

Examples:

  • "Mars has saved the country!" "No he did not, it was Poseidon!" sounds of fighting
  • "We should follow the Way of Athena in order to live a fruitful life!" "Hell no, Bacchus is my God and he will have none of that - except maybe the multiplication...?"
  • "The Lord of Death gives everyone a better life. Therefore I will send everyone I meet, to him post-haste!" screaming

I can think up many more of these.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice first post, welcome to WB.se. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 19:41
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Maybe different people just like different gods better?

Consider an analogy: We know that football teams exist. (American football or soccer, but I'll use the former.) People who are football fans tend to pick one or another team to support*, sometimes but not always because it's their local team. Then below the "gods" of NFL teams, you have the "demigods" of college football, then the lesser divine beings of high school teams, on down to Pop Warner**. The more avid supporters of these teams engage in considerable rivalry, which can on occasion escalate to violence.

*Even though to football agnostics like me, the only difference is the colors of the team uniforms.

**For non-Americans, "Pop Warner" is a football league for mostly grade school kids, ages 5-16.

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We all know that Elon Musk exists. Yet opinions about him vary wildly.

The same can be said about any other number of famous people, groups, technologies or companies. Donald Trump, Apple, 5G, the local beer brewery, sport clubs …

Just because you know something or somebody exists doesn’t mean you can’t have disagreements about them or it. Even if you stick to the facts, not to mention myth and rumor.

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We shouldn't confuse "practical" gods with religious gods that people approach from abstract thought as a matter of voluntary choice and philosophy. The sort of practical gods you envision are much more like Google or Apple, corporations which each computer user must worship by specific tangible acts and pass certain tests of conduct and standards of permissible opinion to be treated like a 'real human', allowed to post, share files, upload/download software etc. Such practical gods have their various paid or seemingly unpaid evangelists who will tout them over others that seem something like competitors. It will also not be tremendously uncommon to see some who simply don't want to deal with one particular god that has particularly offended them, even if the others aren't much better.

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  • $\begingroup$ And for a technocracy, the companies are the gods, the ones that decide the direction the technology will evolve. Somebody working at Google today, may say the market is what decides technology evolution. There is room for debate there. While I don't think what we have is a technocracy, for worldbuilding we can play with the possibilities all we want. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:32
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Certain cultures have certain favorite gods

To answer this question all one has to do is look at polytheistic ancient cultures like the Greeks, Aztecs, Egyptians, and Babylonians. From the point of view of someone living in these cultures all of the gods were real, and yet certain groups favored one god over the others. For example, Athens favored Athena, Sparta favored Apollo and Artemis (not Ares, surprisingly enough), the temple at Delphi favored Apollo over all others, etc. You even had some weird fringe beliefs in the mystery cults that favored an obscure god like Zagreus. In some cases who even ruled the gods was debated, whether the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon was Ra, Horus, Amun-Ra, or Re-Horakty depends on who you asked.

None of them would deny that the other gods existed, just that they weren't their favored or patron deities. Most would even admit (e.g., in the case of the Greeks) that Zeus was the more powerful god over their patron. In a lot of cases it was because their interests or goals aligned better with a lesser god. For example, few people living in a landlocked region would ever pray to Poseidon for aid. And even though Hades was probably one of the most powerful and most fair Olympians, no one prayed to him because they found him unsettling.

There were even cases where these cultures, depsite having the same gods, fought religious wars with each other (see: the Aztecs and much of Mesoamerica, as well as some Mesopotamian civilizations). The fact that one city state favored a different god than their opponents was used as a point of derision.

So from these people's perspective there was only one pantheon yet religious differences arose among them anyway.

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You either have an indifferent universe or biased gods. You can have both if your gods aren't real gods, just a bunch of immortal people, but not the creators of the universe (my favorite).

With biased gods, as the Roman pantheon, there is always room for conflicts and social status.

People know about gods existence, and also that they are biased. Because of this, they can try to bribe the gods to obtain their favor, as Romans did.

The gods themselves may occasionally enter in conflict with each other, or struggle to overcome social distances. The mortals worshiping each god will perceive other mortals following other god depending on the gods relationships at that time.

There is also the relationship of gods with mortals. Because they are biased, when a god favor a certain group of people, the excluded ones will not like that god anymore, and will seek refuge in opposing temples.

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