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The Cult of the Holy Mother is a female-dominated sect within a larger religious organization led by a male patriarch. Although the cult is small, it retains a significant role in the imagination of the populace. The cult is made up of priestesses that enter into holy matrimony with their deity. These women have taken vows of chastity to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of religious rituals. There rituals are deemed necessary by the organization and forbidden for others to carry out. As such, they are regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of the state. Occasionally, a supernatural event will be triggered which is described by the org. as a miracle. A priestess will be chosen by their deity to give birth to a son, who will grow up to be ordained as the next leader of this faith. These miracles occur anywhere from every few decades to every few centuries. They serve as an expression of the god's power and authority over nature, as well as a reminder to the people of the contract between the deity and mankind. This event symbolizes the holy trinity that the religion bases itself upon, with God the father in heaven, God the son as his representative on Earth, and God the Mother as the intermediary between both worlds.

Miracles can be used to legitimize the authority of religious leaders and authenticate the special relationship between them and the deity they worship. These supernatural events confirm the truth of the faith's teachings and secures their place in society. If done too often or on too big a scale, the populace can begin to take them less seriously as miracles and more like magic. They may even begin to demand "magic on demand" from their leaders to solve specific issues, and may even turn on them if they can't deliver. The trick is too make them rare enough so that they are seen as powerful events when they happen, but common enough to remain in public memory. However, other factions within a religion who desire more influence over the faith's direction may claim their own "miracles" as a source of their legitimacy. This can be marketed through events that retain some significance in public consciousness, or lost "sacred artifacts" that have suddenly been re-discovered, such as a shroud or an ark containing golden tablets. This can ultimately lead to a schism within the faith, with the religion breaking up into various factions spread throughout the nation, declaring themselves as the true faith and the others as heretics. In addition, rivals outside the faith would question the legitimacy of the cult's miracles to weaken their image in society, suggesting that the priestesses simply broke their vows and that they are merely fraudulent acts meant to deceive the public. As there is no simply way to disprove this, it can be a blow to their legitimacy.

How can the cult of the Holy Mother use their supernatural miracle to prevent schisms within a religion and keep it unified?

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  • $\begingroup$ What does that exposition have to do with the Question itself, please? Isn't the real Question how expression of a God's power might not authenticate (whatever you meant by a sect within a religion)? $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Trying to wrap my head around this: through the rare use of magic a "supernatural" event is 'created', believed (by the populace) to have occurred naturally, after which a priestess gets pregnant (by divine will)? The connection between the event and the pregnancy is not clear to me — can you elucidate? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Mar 24 at 19:05

5 Answers 5

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The Miracles are Unmistakable

Every miracle is different. What they have in common is that every miracle is accompanied by a fortnight of tidal waves, earthquakes, strange stellar phenomena, virgin births, everyone having the same dreams, and the creation of some really really bad pop music. So it is hard for the sects to disagree about which are the legitimate miracles.

In 12324 the miracle was the Drying up of the Inland Caustic Sea.

In 12379 the miracle was the sudden Re-Wettening of the plains of Arab into the now Sea of Arab.

In 12399 the miracle was the eradication of the Yellow Leg Plague. Every infected person suddenly got out of bed with all their sores and delerium gone. No one has caught Yellow Plague since.

In 12425 the miracle was the discovery of a new source of fuel in the Northern Tundra.

In 12525 the miracle was the birth of a particularly large and ugly baby.

In 12800 the miracle was a bumper harvest where every potato plant in the land produced yummy live snakes (in addition to potatoes).

In 12867 the miracle was the first indisputable proof that we are standing on a big disk hurtling through space.

In 12925 the miracle was the invention of a new way to treat tobacco to make it less dangerous to smoke.

In 13120 the miracle was the big ugly baby -- now a big ugly grownup -- fought Mothra for forty days and forty nights and won despite not having very good kung fu.

In 13190 the miracle was the sudden ceasefire between two armies. The troops on both sides simply decided they'd rather not slaughter each other. They put down their weapons, kicked out their generals, and went back to their farms. Hooray!

They are all different. What they have in common is that every miracle was accompanied by a fortnight of tidal waves, earthquakes, strange stellar phenomena, virgin births, everyone having the same dreams, and the creation of some really really bad pop music.

This makes it very difficult for two sects to disagree on when a miracle happens. They don't look for the miracle itself. They look for the accompanying signs.

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  • $\begingroup$ You made up that chronicle of miracles in 33 minutes ? nice miracles, only thing wrong I see is its lack of chronological order. And are you really sure the drying up of the Caustic Sea happened in the year before the Ugly Baby was born? two miracles two subsequent years would have been a waste of religious marketing potential, like the opener explained $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 19 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies "Well, I was just going to have the Ugly Baby happen, but apparently demi-mortal babies take most of a year? And with all the powers I was loading into him, it was taking even longer," "My name is Carl, Dad." "Right, whatever. Anyway, I was falling behind schedule , and the earthquakes and conjunctions were already starting, so I whipped up the Caustic Sea thing real quick." $\endgroup$
    – notovny
    Mar 19 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies Oh it was supposed to be in chronological order thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 19 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies Giant Ugly Babies take a long time to grow up. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 19 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ Ah 12324 that looks better for the Caustic Sea.. upvoted, great ideas for miracles. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Mar 19 at 20:05
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Assume that miracles have an immediate, physical effect. Instead of "remission of cancer through prayer" you get the movie-style "parting of the Red Sea," or "real Manna from Heaven," or "fortress walls literally crumbling to dust." There should be clearly no natural explanation for what has happened.

These miracles only happen when senior leaders of the faith publicly pray for divine intervention. Not always, that would turn the deity into a vending machine for benefits on demand. The purpose has to be aligned with the divine plan, and faith leaders must be truly sin-les.

And the group doing the praying, and fasting, must be inclusive. All legitimate sects must be present, or it doesn't work. So this defines what a "legitimate" sect is. Any sect that is not required is, by definition, a heretic splinter cult. Any sect that is required is, by definition, mainstream.

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Concensus

Never let locals come up with miracles, make it a central decision of your priests, with unanimous vote. Else, your miracle will become only of local importance and cause a schism, or it would be used as a token of war.

If your religion wants to prevent schisms, everyone should agree upon the miracle and its workings. Make sure the peaceful character of God's power shines through, the miracle should not divide, it should unite. Its workings be for the common good.

End wars

Allow miracles that end wars. To be acknowledged as a true miracle, the fighting parties should immediately stop all hostilities and return home as a result of the miracle. Any credible phenomenon can be used. There's e.g. a solar eclipse, priests will declare the miracle happened, ceremonially end the war.

Prevent disaster

Once in a century, you'll have a storm costing thousands of lives. Just halt the storm, or divert it into a desert, by calling upon divine intervention. When it actually ends, it will be an official miracle. Else it should be classified as fake news.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Dorian%E2%80%93Alabama_controversy

Execute corrupt leaders

A miracle may direct the priesthood to perform a task. There's a king who has been sitting there for ages and becoming more cruel and corrupt every year. When a comet appears in the sky, a miracle will be declared and a priest will ceremonially execute the king in public.

Manna from heaven

The above occur 1-2 times in a generation. It would be very convenient, marketing-wise, to have a more frequent miracle too. Suppose priests are able to call upon the heavens to let manna rain down. Hungry people will highly appreciate that and join the religion.

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In designing your own god and religion, you can draw from the way most authenticate their miracles. The way miracles stay in memory is by prophecy and scripture. A miracle that is prophesied is very tough to fake. Any event that is a stochastic process, and occurs according to a large enough prophecy while violating accepted scientific probabilities, will be seen as a miracle by the populace at large. There will always be skeptics, however; absolute proof is a scientific impossibility. But you want an authenticated miracle. Most religions rely exclusively on eye-witness accounts rather than periodic reminders. In fact, I don’t think any religion places a faith on some scheduled events. So this is a unique animal, but your god has a right to run the show however they want.

The current falsification method of modern science makes your request very challenging. Consider the claim that cold fusion was recorded in a jar, by reputable scientists. In 1989, two electrochemists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, reported that their apparatus had produced anomalous heat ("excess heat") of a magnitude they asserted would defy explanation except in terms of nuclear processes.

Authentication requires repeatability

The problem is that when other scientists used their carefully detailed lab notes, the excess heat did not occur. The report is considered today to be an error. Repeatability is an inseparable component of any theory.

This makes true miracles impossible to detect scientifically. If it can't be repeated, it didn't happen. No matter what miracle your god demonstrates, no matter how many camera angles caught it and how many witnesses saw it, the simple fact that it can not be repeated, after recreations and supercomputer simulations and witness interviews, a scientifically valid explanation will in all cases become accepted. We can easily see this with non-miracles such as 9-11 attacks. Huge splinter cells spawn ideas of conspiracy and government fakes. Thousands of people dying will not convince us away from our beliefs. The scientifically valid explanation may be radical and nearly impossible, but it will become the accepted explanation in society before anyone believes it was a supernatural miracle. This is a fundamental property of science, because science only studies the natural world of causalities.

Personal contact is the authentication

Just like Gabriel was sent to authenticate the virgin birth to Mary, your deity needs to personally communicate the miracle to whomever it impacts. The message will need to be a simple prophecy that can’t be scientifically predicted. Today, that might mean knowing the exact time that three tornadoes will strike and their exact location. Your single priest predicts the event, the followers leave the towns, but the skeptics stay. The tornadoes fall on cue, your miracle has been authenticated.

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The miracles need to be predicted in advance by the leaders of the church, with specifics and unambiguous details. They shouldn't be predicted too far in advance, days (maybe weeks at the outside) and not months.

The other cults' inability to predict these miracles, or to do so only as often as chance would allow marks them as inferior and imposters.

Note: If there is the possibility that their predictions might fail for whatever reason, this can de-legitimize the religion. It might not survive even a single misprediction, but it certainly couldn't survive multiple mispredictions.

If the schismatic cult does predict a miracle, all is not lost as long as repeat successes can be prevented or sabotaged. The ready-made answer being, of course, that the schismatics have stolen or misappropriated the writings of a prophet or seeress, and were later smote for it. This get-out-of-jail-free card can't be overused, as it suggests that either the deity or the church itself is incompetent. The church can appeal to their human fallibility, but it raises the question of why the deity entrusts the church to them... some scapegoating might be in order.

Those who attempt the fraud of false miracles likewise need to be punished. Though, it may be true that they can have multiple successes before punishment is doled out. (Note: this is only for truly fraudulent miracles, not other supernatural events cooked up by someone other than the deity.) The church then needs to prove how the fraud was committed (sleight of hand, trickery, etc.) and the fraudsters harshly executed (burning at the stake seems sufficient, though other methods could certainly work). Bonuses for tortured public confessions.

With all that said, it's not important to explain the basic premise... the church/religion itself has no power to command a miracle. They can't decide on one happening tomorrow, so miracles aren't rewards for the biggest donor. They come at their own pace, the church can't hurry them along. They have no power over the nature of the miracle. And they only give warnings of an imminent event on a short timescale (if they have more warning, say years in advance, then they are careful to not reveal this, or leave writings laying around to be stolen).

This works because the actions of the church strongly suggest that they have a superior understanding of the universe that is unmatched by anyone. Not only that, but they do have a red phone to the deity, who presumably is capable of ignoring the physical laws of that same universe when it suits him, and that he favors the church enough to let them in on the joke. Nothing more is required for them to keep their religion unified and powerful.

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