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I'm a deity. Unfortunately, my powers are sharply limited:

  1. I cannot affect physical world (except #3) at all.

  2. I "control" whether a person's soul, after the body's death, goes to "heaven" or "hell" according to well-defined rules based on how they lived their life.

  3. I can come into the world as a regular mortal (save my knowledge), and try and convince mortals of things.

Now, I'm an ethical deity, and I have a goal that the most souls possible end up in "heaven".

So what I need is a religion that basically adheres to real truth: here's a set of rules, if you follow them, your soul goes to "heaven", otherwise, to "hell".

QUESTION: Given the limitations on my powers, how can I establish such a "religion" among my creatures, ALL of whom happen to be intelligent beings, with well developed skepticism and rational thinking?


Some specific details of the setting that are relevant, especially my power limits:

  1. Universe:

    • Created by me (probably by running a Perl script).

    • However, it has a set of rules I can't violate (for techies out there, I built the system but forgot the root password and lost the key to server cabinet).

    • Consists of two levels, material and spiritual.

    • Generally, material sphere tracks our real world (few meaningful changes outlined below). This includes standard science, Universe, a largely Earth like planet with a single intelligent species (unique to the universe, if you don't count myself).

    • Spiritual sphere consists of souls, heaven and hell (details below).

      Spiritual sphere is NOT detectable by the creatures, using any science and technology they can devise, even if I give them full knowledge of how it works.

  2. Creatures.

    • My creatures are mortal, intelligent (very), and their minds are naturally rational and skeptical. They have reasonably well developed sciences.

    • Being rational, they don't currently have any superstitions, religion, etc... They acknowledge they lack information on certain topics (e.g. how/why Universe was created); they have some theories; but don't feel the need for established supernatural explanation of it (nobody wants to find out their existence is a result of a Perl script :)

    • Probably humanoid but not really relevant. They are the only intelligent species in the Universe.

    • Each of my creatures has a soul.

  3. Souls and spiritual sphere

    • Each of my creatures has a soul (and only their species does).

    • Said soul is undetectable by any science or technology they can achieve (even if you offer them advanced knowledge - you don't know how, yourself).

    • The soul manifests itself as a body in a spiritual world, in some indeterminate way. Details are hazy and unimportant, for most part.

    • One being gets one unique soul created for them at birth. The soul is connected with the being, but in immaterial way (e.g. it doesn't really exist in physical universe, but the individual and the soul have same ID#.

    • When their physical body dies, that soul will become the new being, with full mind/consciousness that used to reside in the material body transferred into the soul's spiritual "body"

    • Souls are immortal

    • Upon the individual's death, each soul gets placed into two discrete halves of spiritual world: "hell" or "heaven" (before death, the soul has no existence or location, it's in "storage").

    • Their precise nature is not really relevant, and they generally track with standard Earth Christian idea in a sense of, souls going to hell will suffer majorly for eternity, souls going to heaven will enjoy afterlife for eternity. The precise nature is irrelevant but can be assumed to roughly match the creatures' own normal understanding of suffering or enjoyment.

    • Souls in afterlife can NOT return to mortal world - no ghosts, supernatural manifestations, working ouja boards and such exist.

    • CAVEAT: a soul of a child who dies before they reach the age where they can meaningfully and consciously seal their fate by (not)observing the rules is "recycled" into another newborn instead of being judged. This was specifically designed to prevent "well-meaning" pious people from murdering any children "before they sin, so their souls are guaranteed heaven".

  4. I Am

    • I am a deity.

    • Meaning, I'm immortal, know "everything" (sorta)

    • I have a set of powers that are sharply defined and limited. I was the one who designed them, so no whining.

    • I created the creatures (as a consequence of creating the universe). The creatures material side evolved under universe's rules - standard physics, chemistry, biology as exists on Earth.

    • Their souls were my creation directly.

    • I have virtually no discretion over placing the souls in heaven/hell - that happens according to well defined rules.

    • My goal/wish is for as many souls to end up in "heaven" as possible. Like, 100% would be best.

    • I cannot affect physical world at all (now that it's been created), with minor exceptions listed below.

      This means, no miracles. No events that can prove I'm a deity to these people. They can't see, sense, or "science out" me as a deity, or anything I do in my deity form.

  5. Me in the physical world

    I can come into the world as a regular mortal, and try and convince mortals of things.

    • I can take a form and shape of a regular mortal, at birth.

    • In that form, I am 100% physically indistinguishable from other mortals, aside from knowledge I possess. No special powers/abilities. The mortal form is just as mortal as any of them.

    • My knowledge of material world is pretty generic - I know how Universe is built, sorta. Don't have detailed knowledge of advanced physics or technology or other science beyond what I could have learned as a mortal of the time. I can't predict physical events any better than the mortal scientist would. I can't teach them something fancy that proves I'm a deity because no mortal could have such insight.

    • Moreover, that "manifestation" of me into mortal body looks decidedly un-supernatural. I can only manifest as an abandoned newborn, in a place where other abandoned newborns are likely to be found; have to grow up in that mortal body; and don't possess mental abilities or knowledge above that of a mortal till I'm an adult.

    • Once the body turns legal adult age, I gain knowledge of who I am, 100% detailed knowledge of spiritual world, and my goal of being there (to convince mortals to change their ways so their souls enter Heaven.

  6. Soul judgement rules.

    The rules are fairly clear cut. If you fulfill ALL required, and majority (>50%) of "bonus" conditions, you enter heaven.

    The trick is that, a typical intelligent, rational mortal would NOT fill the conditions.

    Required conditions:

    • A mortal must believe in My existence as a deity and Universe Creator and Soul Judger. It must be a sincere belief, held for a meaningful amount of time (e.g., no deathbed conversions that Catholicism finds just fine. And no stating "Yes, I believe" as a hedge, with the intent of "Well, I don't really believe, but saying I believe doesn't hurt me any if there's no deity, and helps if there is. Win-win.")

    • A mortal must not try to commit pre-meditated unjustified murder - success of failure are equally punished (me as the deity gets to decide what's justified... and assume I'm fair and wise in deciding).

    • A mortal must not steal another's legal property, nor rob them of it under threat of duress. Caveatted exception is when this is done in a genuine case where not taking that property threatens one's life (e.g. you are dying of hunger, or you steal a gun to defend yourself against an attacker).

    • A mortal must not knowingly create a situation that is engineered to force someone else's soul to "hell". E.g., bullying someone intentionally into murdering you would land you in hell even if you lived an otherwise rightful life.

    Optional conditions (you should fulfill a majority of such). There's several, but some examples are below. However, the overriding theme is that average non-believer is just as likely to NOT fulfill the conditions, because they are inconvenient, annoying, etc.... But they aren't outlandishly hard to observe the way, say, Orthodox Judaism is.

    • A mortal must spend 1/10th their income on employment charity (meaning, they don't simply have to give money, but they must purchase someone's labor who is otherwise not employed).

    • A mortal may not eat anything but once every two weeks (they get to choose which day though), nor have sexual relations twice a week (they get to choose which days).

    • You cannot eat meat/products of specific animal (equivalent of pig). Obviously caveatted for genuine danger to life/health, as are most laws.

    ... other such things.

    Just to be clear - there's no mortal, subjective, biased priest, judge, or sovereign to decide on whether the rules were "correctly" observed by someone - me, the deity, is the ONLY judge, once someone dies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please note that, since as part of the rules, a sincere belief in Me is required, merely crafting a secular ethical system and trying to sell it by labeling it as a winning game theory strategy won't work. :( $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 27 '15 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ Initially posted in Sandbox $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 27 '15 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Do you know everybody's name? $\endgroup$ – Nathan Merrill Sep 27 '15 at 2:54
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an ex-employee which after being fired by you, decided to take a revenge by hacking into your system in order to send everybody to hell instead? $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Sep 27 '15 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ You sound less like a deity and more like an operating bureaucrat. $\endgroup$ – his Sep 27 '15 at 15:03
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So, first off, let's dispense some misconceptions:

You aren't a deity. A deity would be able to affect the world in some meaningful way, or affect their afterlives in some meaningful way. You can do neither.

You're not in control of people's souls. The Perl script controls where their souls go and you can't intervene. You can't even make "hell" a decent place to spend eternity.

You are really just a messenger, prophet, or avatar.

Ok, now that's out of the way, let's answer the question.

Once the body turns legal adult age, I gain knowledge of who I am, 100% detailed knowledge of spiritual world, and my goal of being there (to convince mortals to change their ways so their souls enter Heaven.

Here's your loophole. Because you know about the spiritual world, you can use it to prove that you're at least partially right. A person comes up with two very random messages. One for heaven, one for hell. They tell only their families or close friends. Then they die.

Because you have full knowledge of the spirit world, you now know the message. The simple fact that you know either message is pretty solid proof there's something after this life.

Now, because you're omniscient of the spirit world, you actually know both messages. This means nobody can be certain you're telling the truth. However, if you never claim to be omniscient, but just able to communicate with the dead, the people of the world are less likely to suspect something is amiss. Especially if your wisdom improves their physical lives substantially.

If thousands of people do this same test, it will soon become pretty obvious that you're telling the truth. After centuries, it will be common knowledge. Every so often, you'll need to do a new demonstration, but you'll be basically set.

Naturally, some people will choose not to believe regardless of your actions, and others will believe, but have no interest in your heaven. There's not much you can do about them, but they should be a minority.

As an additional proof, people can tell you secrets that only you are privy to. Then when your avatar dies and the new one comes of age, you can repeat the secret to the person who told you to convince them you're really you.

Meaning, I'm immortal, know "everything" (sorta).

The "everything" caveat might make this second proof impossible. But I'm assuming the caveat meant "don't know how to change physics, etc." while allowing your deity form to know everything about the state of the physical world.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yep. That's a fair and square loophole. +1 $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 28 '15 at 13:12
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Warning: My answer might be too detailed for some people. Read at your own risk.

Belief is a game of choice. The study of almost all religions of the world suggests that unlike your deity in your virtual universe, God is not limited in power or the ability of showing miracles or predicting the future. Yet there are more disbelievers in the world than believers.

We are talking about a world where religious scriptures indicate person XYZ was chosen by God and showed this and that miracle and predicted this and that event. And yet there were very few who believed him. The majority refused to believe him and in fact physically opposed him.

And here you are, in a universe of your own, yet so limited and weak. Not to mention there are flaws in your system. For one, you mentioned that you (deity) can manifest in the world as a human. So while you are a baby and have equal knowledge as that of other babies, who judges the souls of the people who die during that time?

The second flaw is that you stated you create all of the souls yourself. If that is the case, you can make all the souls very religious and zealous from the birth so that they grow up to be very devoted believers.

The summary of your universe reads like this:

I am the supreme deity of my universe, yet I cannot change anything in the world. I created heaven and hell, yet I have no influence over whom to place in heaven and whom to place in hell. I created the physical universe too, yet my knowledge about my own rules is no better than the knowledge of mortals. I cannot bring dead souls back to life so that they may speak up and testify my claim.


Anyhow. Since you are a deity, you should be able to see what people are doing in the darkest hour of the night, alone in their privacy. You can use this knowledge to convince you are all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing. This would build up your credibility for your other claims about heaven and hell etc.

And if you cannot see or hear what people do in their privacy, how are you going to judge them for their beliefs? To judge one's belief, you must know what they think, do and feel. If you do not know that, you cannot judge them.

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  • $\begingroup$ "who judges the souls of the people who die during that time?" - sorry I wasn't clear on that. Think of the incarnated body as my avatar. The actual deity me is still around being deity. $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 28 '15 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ " you can make all the souls very religious and zealous from the birth so that they grow up to be very devoted believers" - sure you CAN. But you already didn't. That was your choice. There's a vast amount of theological and philosophical writing IRL explaining the ideas behind "if $god wanted everyone to follow the commandments, why didn't he design humans that way". $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 28 '15 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Think of the incarnated body as my avatar. The actual deity me is still around being deity. In which case you retain all the knowledge in your avatar self too as there can be a full time two way communication between the deity and the avatar. Your avatar self can start talking at age 11-12 and tell people of very old ages what they did in their childhoods, what are their fears, their wishes etc. You can tell everybody their whole life story since birth times. Sufficient to have yourself proved as a deity. No? $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Sep 28 '15 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ sure you CAN. But you already didn't. That was your choice. Nope, not absolutely. Part of what happens to a person is their choice, and part of it is luck. If two people bet heaven and hell on a coin toss, one would win. Did he earn his win? No he didn't. He just got lucky. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Sep 28 '15 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @YoustayIgo Your response to "sure you CAN. But you already didn't." doesn't address anything relevant here. The issue raised was regarding the fact that OP stated that the people are naturally skeptical rationalists. As such, you can't just go back and have them be born as zealous worshipers. That is directly counter to the point of the entire question. EDIT: Whoops, didn't realize this was a year old conversation. $\endgroup$ – Thorn Brier Jan 28 '17 at 4:04
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If you, in your incarnated form, want to convince me, a rational being, of the rights of your religion, the main thing is you would have to explain to me why.

I mean, you state you want to maximize the number of souls in heaven. Then you add a list of - on the surface - irrational requirements. No murder and no theft, sure. But what is the point of:

A mortal may not eat anything but once every two weeks (they get to choose which day though), nor have sexual relations twice a week (they get to choose which days).

That literally sounds like a "gotcha!" requirement. What rational explanation is there for that? What does it prove, why is it on your list of judgements?

Your other optional requirements are a bit iffy. But the big one is belief:

A mortal must believe in My existence as a deity and Universe Creator and Soul Judger. It must be a sincere belief, held for a meaningful amount of time (e.g., no deathbed conversions that Catholicism finds just fine.

What is the purpose of belief in you as a requirement for getting into heaven?

Additionally, an explanation of the purpose of heaven and hell would be useful too for convincing me that you're legit.

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  • $\begingroup$ "What does it prove, why is it on your list of judgements" - if you're asking why I added them in 4th wall, because without them the story is boring as hell. Establishing "shall not kill" is trivial memetically without any supernaturalness if your people are highly rational. Basic game theory. If you're asking in-universe, because of butterfly effect that's irrelevant to the question itself. $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 28 '15 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @DVK: I'm saying that, as a skeptical rationalist in your universe, you'd have to explain "why" in a convincing, logical manner for me to believe in you. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Sep 28 '15 at 13:21
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Sigh... Let's skip the stuff about the afterlife and its conditions making absolutely no sense and move on to the actual question.

Just find a religion with yourself as its eternally reincarnating prophet and leader. Tibetans have no issue with reincarnating religious leaders, there should be no reason your people would.

People have a natural tendency to believe what they think they are supposed to believe and act in the way they think they are expected to act. So you can cover pretty much all your requirements by simply making them religious dogma. The fact that your system does not really make sense is irrelevant. People follow religions in order to fit in with their community, not because the dogma makes sense to them. So if you have a religion, people will believe.

You shouldn't have much problems setting yourself as a religious prophet. The 100% detailed knowledge of the spiritual world should be enough for that. Your utter conviction that you know what you are talking about should attract students and followers. The breadth of your knowledge should prove to your followers that you really did reincarnate. They would be able to recognize you by the sheer amount of knowledge you possess.

You do not mention whether you retain memories of the previous mortal lives. Doing so would set up you as a superb leader and teacher in addition of being a religious figure. Although you should in any case have more impartial judgment than ordinary mortals, which would make you a good and respected judge and arbitrator. You'd probably end up as a secular leader as well.

The result would be something like early Islam or Tibetan Lamaism and should be able to do what you want.

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All you have to work with is information, since miracles aren't possible nor can the world be subtly manipulated. Cheating by exploiting known flaws in the minds of your creations isn't an option either. Proof will probably a pretty tenuous thing in this scenario since appealing to the emotions of your creations isn't really an option either. None of them are just going to proclaim "I believe".

Questions about what to do with the inadvertently ignorant of your existence will be left to another time. (Though as a responsible God, you really should do something about that.)

First priority will be to generate enough belief in your creations that accept your existence as a supreme being. The usual approach is to do things that only a God can do. Part the waters, raise the dead, heal the sick, stop the moon and sun, that sort of thing. All you can do is tell stories about the afterlife and offer suggestions for leading a good life. If your creations have the capacity for confirmation bias then it may work out.

Tell stories about heaven and hell with as much detail as possible. Detail is a critical thing to engage a person's imagination. The more detail there is, the better. Consider the following examples:

Heaven is like sitting on a rainbow where it's always warm and everyone is always happy.

versus:

You're with your family, who you love. If your family now isn't all that great, that's okay because in Heaven, everyone's flaws are fixed. There's plenty of food, and the holidays are twice as long as usual. You can work if you want to, it doesn't matter. Most people just pursue their interests all day long. Sex, as much as you want.

(That last part will be sure to attract a lot of attention.)

Marketing yourself as the creator probably won't win you many friends because they will want to know why the universe behaves a certain way that's inconvenient for them. Perhaps be a prophet or holy man of some kind. This way, you can tell the heaven/hell stories along with the life commandments and not take as much heat.

Over a long period of time, tell these stories but maintain consistent threads through out. The culture of your people will change over time, make sure to keep your story universally appealing. Make sure to portray yourself as a consistent affable, loving, diety without being particular to race, class or creed. Actually be a Good God that people will want to trust and believe in.

Invent a story to explain why you can't do miracles, say, some demon has locked you out of this world except for a few humble messengers who can spread the Good Word till the coming of the Great Die Function when the Good God will break through and all will be revealed.

The farther back in history your stories appear and the more consistent they are, regardless of the culture they were spoken to, the better chances you'll have of "proving" your religion. But without miracles, it's gonna be really tricky.

Things to watch out for

Make sure you don't get killed before that age of maturity. A break like that may have some unintended consequences. If you're really unlucky, you might not make it to maturity for centuries if it's a particularly violent period...but there's ways to spin that too.

Lie anyway about Miracles

Tell people that you did miracles in the past. They will have no way of knowing whether it did or didn't happen, especially if the miracles are of the healing or casting out illogical demon types. Miracles are impressive and help generate belief. Remember, giving as much detail in this "story" as possible will help make the miracle believable.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Tell stories about heaven and hell with as much detail as possible." - I seem to remember that the rule of thumb for detecting lying (e.g. for a cheating spouse, or a fake review) is exactly overabundance of detail from the source. So this might backfire if the people possess enough basic psychological knowledge $\endgroup$ – user4239 Sep 28 '15 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DVK, true but specific detail can stir the imagination too. It's a fine line to walk I suppose. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 28 '15 at 13:54
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Lacking miracles you will have to rely on... Faith.

Immortality is the key. Along the lines of the Dune-universe Bene Gesserit you will have to set up a tradition for your Rules and God Incarnation. Just incarnate and set up a box at a street corner and start preaching.
Tibet with it's lamas may provide some inspiration as well. As may The Life Of Brian.

Initially your incarnation will likely be nailed to the cross but after some centuries pass while you keep at it your self-triggered religion should acquire headway as ancient scrolls become authoritative by age alone.

Just keep at it! Perseverance (ow, chuck that, FAITH) rules!

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