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Why would an alien convert to a religion that would make them subservient to humans?

Given a Galactic religion that sees humans as the "chosen" race, destined to rule. Aliens that convert must swear to obey and respect humans.

They can only disobey orders that are:

  1. Unlawful
  2. Contradictory
  3. Harmful
  4. Impossible

They do get exemption from church tax, they benefit from universal health care and basic income, and can even take humans to court.

But:

They can not serve in any judicial, political, religious position or any post that would put them in power over a human.

Given their subordinate place, what is a reasonable physiological or sociological reason for a large number of aliens converting.

Note: wars of conquest are forbidden

Forced conversion are also forbidden

Note: assume the aliens have the same physiology as humans.

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    $\begingroup$ They convert to survive. If converting lets them live, and not converting sees them dead or at a serious disadvantage, they swallow their pride and convert. Whether the religion bothers to fabricate dogma justifying the philosophy is besides the point. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Aug 20 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Asking us why a "Galactic religion that sees humans as the "chosen" race" exists is story time. Even if you edit that out, you're essentially asking, why is there religion? The answer to that is the human condition which we are all subject to, but some of us deal with it better than others and don't need a pacifier. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Aug 20 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be ignoring the fact that countless people in the real world endure suffering for the sake of their religion or cult (and this even includes varying degrees of subservience). Drop the alien aspect and you can probably ask this as is on a religion site (or an immigration site, for that matter, if I'm understanding the question correctly). Basically all the reasons a human in the real world would join a religion (or move to a country) could be answers to this question, which makes it somewhat questionable to be asked here. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Aug 21 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ Any religion that I am aware of, makes followers inferior to god(s), semi-god(s), their servants and few more special categories AND superior to infidels of any kind. The degree of these superiorities and inferiorities vary by religion, but the construct is the same. $\endgroup$
    – fraxinus
    Aug 21 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ Because it is (or at least, you believe it to be) true. Frame challenge: you're assuming that religion is a choice like what food you prefer. Most traditional religions are not a personal whim but a question of truth. $\endgroup$
    – Dan W
    Aug 21 at 16:28

16 Answers 16

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Because they are living in much worse situations before.

How many people of color have went to the Western world to earn money even though they know they would be discriminated by the white? From the Chinese laborer that died constructing US and Canadian railroads to the immigrants streaming across land and ocean to get to Europe and US, such things are not rare. Perhaps the homeworld of these aliens are under a poorly managed semi-feudal, semi-colonized system like the one at the end of Qing Dynasty in China/colonized by foreign power/under a coup that is supported by foreign power CIA style the way Central/South America had been, they will want to have a better life. (The bad-thing doer could be another alien power) And if Earth is a shining beacon of hope--at least, that is how the propaganda said, these aliens would want to go there. But Earth has a very strict immigration system that basically forbid not-human from even come. However, there is a loophole: by converting into this religion, you will get instant permanent resident status.

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    $\begingroup$ history and fact is not political bias, my dude $\endgroup$
    – Faito Dayo
    Aug 20 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @FaitoDayo Writing about things emotively is pretty much the line. If you write clinically and formally about history, and only when it's specifically relevant to a point, everyone's fine with it (even if they really don't want to hear it) – but if you're piling four or five shallow history lessons that share nought but a common theme, that's more of an opinion thing (people often do that with intent to deceive, so it raises warning flags). $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Aug 20 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ I provided examples of a race being discriminated by another, and examples of how a country supported coup in another. This is completely relevant to the answer because it shows that if this could happen on Earth, it could happen in space. $\endgroup$
    – Faito Dayo
    Aug 21 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas like it or not, deny it if you wish, but it's manifestly true that there's a reason people who were treated as second class or worse in America still came anyway to America in droves: because -- as bad as it was in America -- it was worse where they came from. That's not an ideologically-driven statement. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Editing should only be used for fixing grammar, spelling, etc. If the question has obvious opinion bias, then just down vote it and comment why. This gives Faito the opportunity to revise it if and as he sees fit, and if he does not do a good job of this, then his answer will make its own way to the Low Quality Post review queue where is can be deleted by democratic process. The exception being if he writes something that is offensive enough to require moderation, at which point, use the flag button and let the mods decide what to do with it. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 23 at 6:42
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1) If you are convinced that it is true.

It's often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and there are already many religions whose philosophies "turn the world upside-down". Jesus told his disciples that in order to be great/powerful/leaders, they must be lowly...making themselves servants. If Jesus's disciples were willing to put themselves in a low place for the sake of following him, or monks (of many faiths) are willing to forego the pleasures and status of mundane life for the sake of some form of enlightenment, then why shouldn't aliens who are convinced of humanity's "chosen-ness" be willing to lower themselves in order to follow?

Or, on the other side of the coin...

2) If you are faced with less pleasant consequences if you don't convert.

History is also replete with examples of forced conversion - ranging from the medieval-esque "convert or die" that a recently conquered people might be offered at sword- or gun-point, to the more subtle (but still manipulative) loss of various protections or privileges that society only affords to the converted. While some may choose to defy an oppressive religious regime and face persecution, there are always those who are willing to duck their heads, convert, and feel safer.

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  • $\begingroup$ you can see the same things not just in cults but also help groups of any kind. $\endgroup$
    – user88653
    Aug 20 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer because it covers both of the bases: (1) They join the religion because they believe it [i.e., for spiritual reasons]. (2) They join the religion despite not believing it [i.e., for temporal reasons]. These are pretty much the only answers, and are also pretty obvious. :) The "...that sees aliens as inferior" part of the question is just a red herring. (However, these being aliens, maybe they have a truly alien "third reason" that is neither spiritual nor temporal.) $\endgroup$ Aug 23 at 15:47
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Parallel from human history

Women flocked (and still flock) to Christianity in droves, even though they were (and still are) taught, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord ... the wives ought to be (subject) to their husbands in everything".

(To emphasize the point: most early Christian converts were women.)

Why, then? Because they're equal to their husbands in the sight of God, and men must "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her".

IOW, there's not just hierarchy of obedience, but obligation that the higher must love and take care of those under him: Jesus loves and takes care of the church; likewise, the man loves and takes care of the wife. If he abuses her, he sins in the sight of God.

(Whether or not men lived -- and live -- up to their Godly duty is another -- and off-topic -- matter.)

As surprising at it sounds to our modern sensibilities, that was a step up for women.

See below for screenshot of abstract from Sociology of Religion, Volume 56, Issue 3, Fall 1995, Pages 229–244, Reconstructing the Rise of Christianity: The Role of Women

Your story

Replace "women" with "space aliens" and "men/husbands" with humans, and that's your answer.

It perfectly ties in with all your constraints: humans must respect and take care of "inferior space aliens" because to do so is a Grievous Sin.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ those are less conversion and more being raised in said religion. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 22 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @John as I wrote, "Women flocked ... to Christianity in droves." Most early Christian converts were women. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ source, specifically for them coming from a culture that treated them better $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 22 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @John you've got it backwards: existing pagan religions treated them worse. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @John citation added. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22 at 22:48
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Reincarnation

Human bodies are the housing for superior SOULS. By obeying the tenants of the Great God Terra you too can ascend upon your rebirth from your crude and unlovely forms to the Glorious Bipedal Ape shape that is mankind! Then YOU will have proved yourself worthy of all the benefits accrued to humans as stated in the Holy Book.

Getting out of paying Jizyah (the religious tax) and access to healthcare etc are perks to get you in. But once there you're part of the downtrodden masses that Know (because people tend to believe their own religions) that if they obey the rules as written, they will be rewarded with a better place (economically, socially, etc) in their next life. Historically this has been plenty to get people to convert/stay in religions where they are "lesser" and suffer in this life for it. It's very broadly analogous to the Hindu belief that the better the life you lead the better your next life will be.

Naturally your story doesn't need to confirm this religious belief is correct, but if it's a tenant of the faith it'd be a great way to keep the xenos following it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice in-universe reasoning, welcome once more Dario. $\endgroup$ Aug 20 at 14:57
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Because they taste really good

Humans crave these alien creatures as rare flavourful delicacies. Studies have shown that the creatures have only marginal intelligence - more than an ape, but substantially less than a human. And we eat apes already.

Nothing will stop humans harvesting them to eat. Except... Religion X grants sanctuary to any creature with just enough intelligence to subscribe to its teachings. And it has clerics with big sticks and guns, and lawyers if things get really bad. Its teachings are simple enough for these creatures to understand, and certainly they understand that they don't want to get eaten, so that's their way off the table.

Of course the tenets of that religion teach the superiority of humans, and everything else. It's profoundly abusive. But at least you don't get eaten.

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  • $\begingroup$ Remember the Twilight Zone episode: 'To Serve Man'... $\endgroup$
    – tj1000
    Aug 21 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @tj1000 I do, yes. :) I thought not being served would make a fun twist on the twist. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Aug 21 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Popplers!! (Until their parents arrive...) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 22 at 23:29
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They do get exception of church tax, universal health care and basic income

There is your answer - many, many (contemporary, terran) people would convert on the spot if that means a few € saved on church tax. Not even speaking about universal health care, if you happen to live in a 3rd world country where an operation would ruin you. And an income that allows you careless (though modest) life? Many people would give an arm and a leg (or a kidney...) for that. Especially if (switching to aliens) humans are few and far away and a probability of actually meeting one is negligible (and I guess you can behave like many religious peple do, just disobey if you do not like the command(ment)).

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There's a historical parallel for this situation - see Black people and Mormonism.

Over the past two centuries, the relationship between black people and Mormonism includes both official and unofficial discrimination. From the mid-1800s until 1978, the LDS Church prevented most men of black African descent from being ordained to the church's lay priesthood, barred black men and women from participating in the ordinances of its temples and opposed interracial marriage. Since black men of African descent could not receive the priesthood, they were excluded from holding leadership roles and performing these rituals. Temple ordinances such as the endowment and marriage sealings are necessary for the highest level of salvation. The church's first presidents, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, reasoned that black skin was the result of the Curse of Cain or the Curse of Ham.

So why did Black people become Mormons in the first place? I'm no expert, but Wikipedia has an article on Black people and early Mormonism that might be of use. One of the people cited in that article is Green Flake, whose conversion is described thus:

Green Flake was born a slave on the Jordan Flake Plantation in Madsburr, Anson County, North Carolina. At the age of ten, Green was given to Jordan Flake's son James as a wedding present. James and Agnes Flake, their three-year-old son William, and Green (along with their other slaves) moved from North Carolina to Mississippi a few years later. In the winter of 1843–1844, a stranger knocked on the door of the Flake home. The visitor was Benjamin L. Clapp, a missionary from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Although skeptical at first, the Flakes were baptized a few weeks later. Their baptism brought immediate changes to the James Flake plantation ...

Based on the brief description, I would guess that the decision stems from believing the religion is true. If someone claims to be God, and performs miracles to prove it, would you convert to whatever religion that person preaches?

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! I wasn't aware there was such a direct link between actually slavery of Black people and Christianity in America, but this specific case makes a lot of sense knowing what I know. I think the social indoctrination would play the biggest role in the conversion of these aliens into a religion that demands their eternal subservience, in much the same way as it affected Black people here in this real scenario. $\endgroup$
    – INPU
    Nov 4 at 5:21
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They get power over non-humans

So, they can't be better than humans. But, by being on the side of humans, they can place themselves above the other non-human creatures. Perhaps this is a de jura, explicit role where they are officially better, but that's far from the only way that it can happen. Perhaps they are simply looked more favourably upon by those with real power. Perhaps the only benefit they get is that they get to feel unbearably smug.

As long as they can be above someone, and afraid to be below, then a lot of people will be very keen on joining.

Indoctrination

A person raised from birth to believe something can believe almost anything. Especially if you make it an emotionally loaded belief, something that they believe that they are a better person for believing. Y'know, like a religion. Now you just need to get the children away from non-believing parents. Outright arresting the non-believing parents would certainly not be necessary, and probably violates the religious injunction against wars of conquest. But this is where the subtlety comes in. Don't make it illegal to be a non-believer, but show leniency for believers with draconian punishments for the non-believers. Keep it an open secret that regular church attendance will be good for you. Then the parents either take their children to church or get taken to jail, leaving the child up for adoption by the church. If that is too extreme, then you can simply overwork the adults to the point that they'll need to rely on the church to provide childcare, with indoctrination involved of course.

Genuine Belief

The question is written as if the religion is, in the strictly factual sense, untrue, or at least not obviously true. This is a problem, but only if you intend to fight fairly. Cheat debates by having charismatic people on your side and awkward people on theirs. Make sure that no one can say the religion is wrong unchallenged, but no one raises a finger if you say the religion is true. Supply information on the glory and mercy of humanity, and omit from circulation information on their failures and cruelty. This won't be great at getting adults without really going after their emotions, but it's better than nothing.

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To get into heaven!

You might have a subservient life during your limited time here on Earth (or whatever planet they're on), but if you serve as you are supposed to, you'll enjoy eternal paradise in the next life!

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It's possible that an alien would consider that converting to that religion would put them in a position of safety, particularly if tensions between humans and aliens were high, or if humans had some kind of advantage over the aliens. By converting to this religion, an alien could possibly believe that they are gaining the support/protection of other members of the religion. It could also be that they agree with some of the teachings of that religion and are unbothered by the notion of not being allowed to have power over humans, or that they are of the mindset that they can simply stop being a part of the religion if they don't like it

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They do get exemption from church tax, they benefit from universal health care and basic income.

Enough said.

Too short for an answer? Let me say it with more words then. There are benefits there. Financial benefits.

When I was a catholic the only thing I ever got was a sip of wine and a thin piece of very bland bread once a week during the communion (I was underage, mins you). But I had to stay the whole mass for it, and I could make more than that by working one hour (and I was underage, mind you again). Now if going to the church Sunday would mean I get a sip of wine, a piece of bread, affordable access to doctors, income and a tax exemption to boost, I would totally convert again.

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The aliens really are inferior

They evolved millions of years ago. Their history is one of unceasing wars and dark ages. The handful of times they have invented space travel, they have invented orbital bombardment and destroyed their civilizations. Their literature is a litany of the impossibility of hope, the certainty of misery. It is the same for every species they have contacted. Until one brave, good species burst forth from its homeworld and reshaped the universe in under half a millennium.

The aliens know they should not rule. They know they should not disobey. They know only the worship of the human order can bring them a chance to progress and become something worthwhile.

The whole religion actually seems very plausible, except you have the humans and aliens mixed up.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Their history is one of unceasing wars and dark ages" how is that different than humans? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 23 at 4:29
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Because the Aliens don't already have Organized Religion

The aliens have never encountered anything like human religion before. Perhaps in their minds, there is only fiction and non-fiction, and when they see the "based on a true story" disclaimer, they believe it 100%. We humans have grown up in a world full of various aggressively domineering religions, and have subsequently had to learn how to work out the differences between cults, cons, and various possible explanations of reality.

As John points out in the comments, it is hard to imagine a species with the creativity to become technologically advanced without ever establishing a religion of thier own. The key here is not that they never thought of religion before, but that they don't have it. There are a lot of reasons this could happen:

The aliens may be more comfortable with uncertainty. So, when an alien doesn't know why something happens, they don't feel compelled to make something up to fill in the gaps or to fight to defend their made up assertions. So, when aliens see humans come along saying with absolute certainty that something is true, the aliens would take human certainty as strong evidence that it is true. Because in thier psyches, no one is ever that certain about anything that is not a fact.

The aliens are a long-time secular society. Missionaries of any religion often find it much easier to convert people who have never belonged to a religion than those who already worship something, or harder yet, people who were born into a religion and then decided to stop believing in it. In a world that has left all religions in thier mythology books, there would not be the since of guardedness about accepting a religion because it would be seen as a neutral, not hostile, ideology.

The aliens believe in the simultaneous truth of all spirituality. Rather than not believing in any religion, they believe in all religions simultaneously. They see all depictions of gods as either being different aspects of an infinitely complex god, or of many lesser gods. Since such people have no standard dogma, they can not exactly be explained as belonging to a religion. As you saw in ancient Rome, such kinds of spirituality can thrive as long as no dogma rises above others, but when un-organized religion meets organized religion, the organized variety tends to win.

The aliens maintain thier society by other means. Humans use religion as a way of controlling one another. Parents use religion to make thier children do what they are told. Leaders use religion to manipulate the feelings of thier subjects. For humans, our ability to conceive of and apply religion is not just about making stuff up, it is a necessary skill for creating a stronger more cohesive community. If your aliens have other more effective methods for manipulating the behaviors of a hierarchy, then religion would not be needed. Maybe they are telepathic, or use pheromones, or implant each other with mind-control parasites. Whatever it is, they have no practical need for religion.

Every major religion on Earth has in it some tannate that says you should do something to spread the faith. This in turn spreads the sphere of influence of that religion's leadership. If your aliens don't need religion for thier leaders to secure power, then there is a lot less pressure to spread your faith or care what others believe in. As such, your aliens could be just as prone to come up with religions as humans, but they would never spread the same way because members would not have reason to care if it spreads. This would make human religions uniquely pervasive in their communities because they would have never had to deal with a religion that says you must spread the religion.

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  • $\begingroup$ if the aliens are susceptible to the religion meme then they already have some. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @john If you are susceptible to Covid-19, does that mean you already have it? In biology, the things we are least prepared to defend against are the things we've never had to face before. It is easy to make the mistake of anthropomorphizing General Intelligence and saying it all looks like human intelligence, but there is no reason to think that. If alien intelligence is even slightly different than ours then many things we see as obvious will be a radical new idea to them when we meet and vise versa. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 24 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ A really compelling example of this can be see in the alien races in John Ringo's Looking Glass series where humans became a central power among the alien races because of our advanced social sciences. The humans had the least technology when it came to weapons and power generation, but human marketing and ability to think in terms of "soft sciences" were so advanced, that it allowed humanity to manipulate the hell out of their allies in comical and sometimes sad ways. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 24 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ covid is not a meme biological entities have to arise form existing entities meme can form de-novo, and religion is one of the easiest memes to form, it has happened literally thousands of time at least. If the aliens have fiction they have had religions. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ both lack fiction as well, they don't have all the pieces, they also lack complex technology likely for the same reason. you need more than just communication, you need narrative learning via communication. If the aliens have fiction they have religion. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24 at 15:09
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Subservience is their natural state.

In the wild, these aliens live in small tribes ruled by the biggest ugliest alien in the tribe. This Chief is about twice the size of everyone else, with some extra colorful plumage and frills to boot, large enough to bully anyone else into taking his word as law.

If the Chief is a tyrant, the best a smaller alien can hope for is to flee into the tribe of a different Chief who offers better treatment.

Hence the aliens are already used to being subservient to a physically different leader, and swapping if necessary. Trading one tyrant for another is a win-win situation if it guarantees them better treatment and protection.

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A very interesting question. I've seen religion facilitating oppressive systems intentionally or not in many settings before, but openly embracing and then going so far as to preach such beliefs is unique.

Many choose lives of servitude already, for their own varieties of reasons and in many various ways, such as those who choose to work the same job for their entire life or live as lifelong housekeepers for a family for example. This is very different, of course, but it shows that this can, theoretically, be at least partially consentual on the side of the servile population, though likely influenced by other social or societal factors. If these aliens already live under the authority of humanity and are raised in environments where proselytizers of this religion are widespread and communities where this faith is already embraced, these aliens adopting the faith despite its dogma is rather likely. I would write this as a phenomenon predominantly occuring mostly in the aliens that live in small communities of their own people, possibly lacking a community of their species at all, and in interstellar states with a human ruling majority. On a species' homeworld, where they have seen many chosen prophets and great empires and all the working parts of a history as well as a large and traditional population of the respective species, I do not see it as likely that this outworlder faith could easily find a large following. But in immigrant communities and among individuals flung across the stars, going to schools and work on other planets and eventually moving offworld as they integrate, conversion is far more likely.

Of course, this all assumes that these aliens have a similar psychology and sociology to neurotypical humans. Species that do not develop communal social patterns or have the proper neurology to even facilitate appropriately humanlike religious behavior, which is unique to the human species as far as is currently understood, could be respectively easier or more difficult to convert these aliens. I would see this as a uniquely opportunistic challenge if you choose to present it in your setting, though; what might the servitude of aliens demanded by this faith look like if they are literally physically incapable of grasping the concept? Would this just be outright chattel slavery, then? And in that case, your setting's mistreatment of these foreign aliens and the systems that oppress and converts them rapidly becomes, intentionally or otherwise, something of an allegory for the chattel slavery of Africans in the Colonial Era (which did use religious justifications, at least in the United States), as well as its lasting legacy. Seeing this, you may want to research into these systems further, not only to see how it all operated but also its lasting effects on a society and individuals, should you choose to write communities or nations that have abandoned this horrible path or the stories of alien survivors of the oppression they have faced. You will also want to consider (assuming your setting's nations are mostly capitalist; I don't think space communism would take kindly to this faith but who knows) that aliens living in poverty and low income, likely as staff on spaceships and janitors and the like, are far more susceptible to being converted or choosing to convert than suffer a life free of slavery but burdened by debt and social immobility. Poverty and its struggles was a major push of real life slaves back into servitude after it was abolished in the United States, and this specifically is a concept that has been explored many times in many ways by authors; the idea of people willingly becoming slaves to avoid lives of social and political freedom, but so burdened by their economic status that they choose to become slaves. An example is the system of Imperial slavery in the Empire of Achenar in Elite: Dangerous, or the real life examples throughout history, occuring especially during the Colonial Era but also at other points in the past and the present.

This is a really fascinating question, and I really enjoyed looking into it! I hope my answer helped you come to your own conclusion, and I hope to see more of this incredibly interesting setting in the future. [:

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  • $\begingroup$ I missed the part about healthcare and tax exemptions. This almost guarantees the conversion of poor non-humans. With specifically the mention of church tax, and therein the fact that this is not a secular society that has entrenched religious laws, this opens up the very real possibility of systematic xenophobia keeping aliens poor and thus maintaining a steady influx of converts. This setting is, like, really dark. Let me go back to writing about my happily married lesbian warrior queen... $\endgroup$
    – INPU
    Nov 4 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ It's not quite slavery more like cast system. The humans view themself as the benevolent rulers of the universe and out and out cattle slavery wouldnt fit with there self image. $\endgroup$ Nov 5 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ It more combinations of the Indian cast system with feudalism. The alien convert swears to obey and serve humanity and the church swears to provide and protect the convert. $\endgroup$ Nov 5 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure That makes sense! Very interesting to see a caste system based on species in a sci fi universe. I think the main change this would cause is simply that the current of poverty to religious convert would be a lot more intentional and a lot more powerful. Also a lot easier to stratify accordingly. This is a really interesting setting you have!! $\endgroup$
    – INPU
    Nov 6 at 5:21
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For exactly the same reason anyone converts to a religion. It's usually a pre-requisite for mating with one or more of its members, or at least for having a non-antagonistic relationship with their extended family.

Sure, I'll join your god club if means we can get jiggy wit it.

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