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A super-natural vampire plague has ravaged the world. Millions have been turned in the USA alone, everyone lives in fear of a vampire attack.

In this world vampires can be killed by a stake to the heart or decapitation (sometimes). The most effective way to hurt and even kill a vampire is through using holy monotheistic symbols (cross, the bible, the star of David, holy water, etc.) But in order to work they must be wielded by a true believer (the stronger the faith the stronger the weapon is against vampires). As a general rule, the symbols must touch the vampire to work (there are some exception not important to this question).

The question is how the role of the church in society would change after it is discovered that there are symbols that can be used to fight vampires?

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    $\begingroup$ Does the holy symbol of any monotheistic religion work? For example, could a devout Pastafarian repel a vampire with a pasta strainer? $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Apr 6 '16 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Rob Watts as long as a religion falls under the constraints above, the symbol is considered holy or sacred or represent something that is holding a sacred, and it is used by a True Believer $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Apr 7 '16 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure As a Pastafarian I take offense at your claim that Flying Spaghetti Monster is not the true God and that his followers are less worthy than those of other religions. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Apr 7 '16 at 6:48
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    $\begingroup$ Does it matter what you believe in? Who decides what is a legit god and what isn't? What if I'm a brainwashed crusader/ISIS trooper/rogue buddhist monk and I think I believe in some form of god, when in reality I just believe in whatever the masterminds above are spouting, which really has nothing to do with the religion and is just a load of bollocks? $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Apr 7 '16 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate in this world faith is more important then doctrine. A person has only to believe that there is a God and that holly symbol that have some connections to that God is a weapon against vampires. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Apr 7 '16 at 13:11
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A new, generic monotheistic religion will emerge, but the old ones will not disappear, and atheism will continue to endure as well.

Since any monotheistic religion will work, it will suggest to some that although God exists, the manner of worship does not really matter. This will promote the emergence of a new world religion that worships one God, but does not connect itself with any existing organized religion.

However, others will argue that the effect on vampires tells us more about vampires than it does about God. The fact that vampires are repelled by faith in God does not actually mean that God exists (maybe vampires are just extreme atheists who physically burn when their beliefs are questioned). Similarly, the fact that other faiths work doesn't actually mean that they are right, therefore your own faith is not invalidated, should you have one.

However, natural selection will increase the number of believers over time

Regardless of what it tells us about reality, the fact is that faith still works against vampires. Religiously-inclined people may therefore become more common through natural selection, since there is now a predator which they have a strong defense against. Vampires will probably wise up after a while and stop attacking the devout in the first place, focusing their efforts on the faithless. This will likely lead to religious institutions gaining more power, since their strongest believers can now live in vampire-infested areas while the less-faithful are forced into hiding and using the old-fashioned stakes to survive against the vampire threat. Humanity may diverge into two 'factions' as a result - religious fanatic "overworlders" who rely on their faith for protection and gritty, atheistic "underworlders" who use combat skills and cunning to fight vampires, and over millions of years, may even become separate species. Atheist Morlocks anyone?

The eventual result: a devout superpower

Where in the past faith helped leaders keep their power, in this world faith is literally the source of protection for both the leaders and commonfolk who remain in the "overworld". The humans in church-run cities will be absolutely devout and unwavering in their faith, and civilization will reform under this new paradigm. They will no longer fear the vampires themselves, but will view them as righteous beings (maybe "angels of judgement") who slay the unworthy. Instead, they will fear the faithless who dwell in the "underworld", since talking to them may cause their own faith to waver, rendering them vulnerable to the vampires. This may lead to crusades, not against the vampires, but against the faithless who attract their presence.

Power corrupts?

As shiningcartoonist suggests, the increased power of the religious institution may lead to decadence and corruption within its walls, which may, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of the leaders against the vampires. However, as long as the armies don't catch on, the religious leaders may be able to keep their power, living in the protection of their walls and devout soldiers who repel the vampire threat. It is the faith of the wielder that makes the weapons effective, not the faith of the one who created the items in the first place. Things could get unstable if the priest who creates the "holy water" is attacked by a vampire in the view of the public, though...

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Various religious entities will gain considerable power and potentially come to control societies in the new world. Non believers will persist, but might tactically blend back into the overtly religious populations. Oh, and there will be blood. Lots of blood.

Societal Breakdown

A plague has swept the world killing tens, if not hundreds, of millions. Without any other details or qualifications, you can expect subtantial societal collapse. This will be extremely bad, and will kill many more millions.

Unfortunately for the world, it’s even worse: plague victims become murderous vampires. It’s not inconceivable that this, coupled with the chaos and disorder, might utterly decimate the human population beyond salvation. For the sake of discussion we’ll assume that some clusters of people can survive the first few bloody weeks.

Societal breakdown has at least two major implications that will be important throughout: governments will collapse to form local power vacuums and reliable long-distance communication will be greatly hindered. The power vacuum means that religious institutions or even cults have an opening to seize a much greater role in governance. The communication challenge will make the spread of knowledge about the vampire weakness almost mythical in nature and it will delay the understanding that all monotheistic religions can be effective.

Factional Strife

After this faith-based vulnerability is discovered, it would quickly change the nature of the threat. It’s no longer just a disease with terrible side effects — it might just be concrete evidence of both the divine and the accuracy of religious texts. In the short term, this would likely influence many people on the fringes of a particular religion to return to the center. Christians, for instance, who slowly diverged from their youthful beliefs and religious teachings might be quick to re-embrace their religious roots.

At the same time, less religious people can still survive and thrive. Properly placed stakes and decapitation are as effective, if not more effective, than holy symbols for defeating a vampire. As a result, there is very little disadvantage for a clan of atheists or polytheists when fighting off the undead. Anyone inclined to do so could conjure a handful of plausible scientific reasons for the vampire reaction to holy symbols and the multitude of different religious symbols could be used to suggest that it’s not truly religious after all.

And therein lies the greatest potential for strife: which religion is right? It’s highly unlikely that true believers of any one religion would consider another, particularly those with radically different tenants and beliefs, to be equally right. And someone seeking to be a more faithful believer is unlikely to consider that perhaps their religion isn’t the complete picture. This conflict will make it very difficult for a single overlapping monotheistic religion to take form. Each religion will proclaim its true believers to be the most powerful, and there won’t be an objective way to measure it.

Thus, you have factions. Societal breakdown already created a power vacuum. Now you have the seeds for bloody human conflict.

Reconstruction

For quite some time, survivors are likely to roam from place to place as scavenging will be a necessity. Even with vampires afoot, other people will be the biggest threat for a simple, time-tested reason: you cannot be certain of a person’s true intentions. However, this scenario has the potential for a twist. With rapidly increasing religiosity, communities may become more likely to embrace strangers and grow. Some religious groups might do so out of compassion. Others might choose to test strangers — perhaps using a captive vampire — and abandon or even kill weak believers.

As time passes, a few of these diverse group types will eventually settle and begin the reconstruction of society. One could imagine that settling around holy sites would be common. Resource competition and human distrust will put many of them at odds, but others might be quick to unite or ally based on their faith alone. This has the potential to cause the major new population centers to be heavily religious and massively increases the likelihood that religious leaders will govern with religious laws. Competing non-religious communities may exist, and may even be willing to be more violent to survive, but they may also be more easily outnumbered.

Cultivating Warriors

Now society has two fundamentally different threats: the living and the dead. Combatting the dead is arguably the easiest of the two: one cannot violate the tenants of their religion by slaying the damned. It may even be seen as a path to greater strength. Youths are likely to be very valuable weapons. Young children are naturally malleable and can easily be molded into some of the strongest believers among a society. As they grow up they would likely become the strongest warriors and may eventually overthrow the ruling class of lesser belief. Captive undead would likely be kept as a means to test and display one’s deep beliefs.

Handling the human threat is less simple, but something religiously-minded people have practiced for most of human existence. The term “infidel” is likely to make a resurgence in many societies, with those that think differently being open season if they must be killed. This will walk back several centuries of progress on tolerance, but the collapse of society probably already took care of that.

Transitions

The world would probably be a violent place for a long time. The technological situation will determine the speed at which the disparate new communities grow and clash with each other. Over time the vampire threat will fade, leaving humans to fight amongst themselves. As decades and centuries pass some will start to question the religions of old. If all symbols were effective against the undead, perhaps none of them have the real truth? As a second era of globalization occurs, new religions might be founded seeking higher truth. People might start to drift toward tolerance or away from religion yet again.

And perhaps, horrified by this declining faith, one cleric might just release an old sample of the plague and begin the cycle anew.

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I think there is an anime exploring that idea. The Church would wield much more power- and most likely that Church would be Catholic or Orthodox as it already possess sacraments (physical things transmitting spiritual power) which that could fight them. They also both have a fairly centralized organization that is Global. Many Protestant Churches are not like this and may be overshadowed or simply unable to coordinate any meaningful resistance. It will have well trained exorcists already capable of fighting other evils. Sacramentals are the physical elements which are used to dispense the sacraments. You could even combine blessed holy water or the relics of a Saint with Weapons (a Sword, or Gun's bullets..?) Vocations to the Priesthood would increase dramatically and all of a sudden people would give the Church heed on moral stances on sin.

Deacons, men having some vows but not fully priests, would probably become almost warrior like because they can handle some of the responsibilities of a priest (other than administering sacraments).

Governments would probably start trying to meddle in Church affairs again because Bishops are once again influential, powerful leaders. They'll start trying to appoint their favorite candidates for Bishop- this could lead to increased corruption. There would be a struggle for autonomy for the Church. On the plus side for the Church, they can make demands of secular governments and society.

Areas where the Church is already powerful will be the most protected in the short term and may become bases of operations from which to launch re-conquests of Vampire held areas. (example: Italy may be used to reconquer Northern Europe with Poland's help.....)

Superstitions and the growing new Paganism may collapse if they can't replicate any of the power that the Church has. It may validate the existence and power of the God of Abraham.

I'd look to how the Church grew in influence at the beginning of the Dark Ages as a model for the transition from now to your setting as one reason it was like that was that Bishops were the only Roman officials who didn't abandon their stations; people rallied around their leadership.

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    $\begingroup$ Since only a true believer can repel vampires, this could lead to an interesting cyclical effect. The vampires cause the church to gain power, power corrupts, and the corrupted leaders are no longer effective against the vampires... $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Apr 7 '16 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @IndigoFenix good point $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Apr 7 '16 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ That is a good point. A whole diocese could almost go under because the local bishop's blessed water "doesn't, uhm.. work anymore." It wouldn't be quite the same as in the Middle Ages until the world had a good handle on the Vamp problem. The government would have a hard time appointing its own favorite, corrupt bishops too. It could be very chaotic for the Church too as things could change very rapidly. An interesting though: Someone could attempt to remove a good bishop by replacing the water he blessed (which is then distributed to the diocese) with regular water.. $\endgroup$ – shiningcartoonist Apr 7 '16 at 15:17
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I think the Church would end up in three sub-catergories:

  1. Radicals/Cleanse the Earth - These people would be the most extreme anti-vampires. They would go out to attack vampire nests and would stockpile symbols. They would preach about destroying the Spawn of Satan and would possibly even fight with people who took a more passive stance.
  2. Pay-per-prayer/pay-per-kill - So there are already many priests who practise pay-per-prayer type systems. If you take these true believers who would do anything for money and give them a problem that they can solve they will find people willing to pay them to kill vampires or defend a house.
  3. Passive/peaceful - Some priests would not get involved in the fighting. They would try and create true believers in the same way they always have, prayer in church. They would often be hated and would have their symbols stolen by more radical priests.
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During the Dark Ages, the Church acted as a repository of knowledge. Nearly every book in Europe saved from prior ages was saved in a Church or monastery.

During the period of European history often called the Dark Ages which followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Church scholars and missionaries played a vital role in preserving knowledge of Classical Learning.

Scholars doing research had to go on pilgrimages to find the books where the knowledge the sought was stored.

Traveling to different regions was so rare, that there were few or no facilities for them to use (no hotels or restaurants), so they commonly stayed overnight at these monasteries. While the travelers slept, the monks in these monasteries would "steal" knowledge by taking the travelers books and copying them.

I could easily see the church and its monasteries taking up a similar role after the apocalypse.

It would store all knowledge but especially the knowledge of how to fight the undead. It would also act as a repository for religious items shown to be effective against the undead. In fact, that might become the primary role of the church - manufacturing the weapons of war against the undead.

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To kill a vampire using a holy monotheistic symbol, one must:

  • Be a believer on the faith related to the symbol. A Jew with a cross is ineffective, as a Catholic with a David star. Muslims, which have no holy symbols (except, maybe, the Quran), are screwed.
  • Be a true believer. Most Christians aren't, they just generally believe, and that's it.
  • Wield the object of faith. A painted cross on the front door will do nothing to protect the house, much less its inhabitants.

Curiously, the exact form of the object of faith can be anything, it's faith that matters: a saint's statue, an object with a cross-like shape, a painting of Jesus Christ, etc. It's up to the person's creativity to use it effectively.

Churches will shed non-true believers to form a core of people able to fight vampires, adding to themselves the role and social impact of paramilitary.

Given a few decades, one will see Presbyterian Security, Inc. managing shopping security, using "Holy" AK-47, with two add-in pieces to make it a cross.

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With that major a plague there'll be a backdrop of societal strife and vying for power, as other answers have noted. At various points in history religious institutions have held the real power even if there is a government. Sometimes it's been done by force and sometimes by patronage, but in this case they have actual proof that they can work wonders in our world, so expect some to seek that kind of control.

You've raised an interesting wrinkle, though: any monotheistic faith, sincerely held, works. The other thing that religious history has shown us is that religious power tends to be accompanied by one-true-way-ism: we should rule, conquer, or whatever because we have God on our side. This time they don't. So the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, the Unitarians, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Orthodox Jews, liberal Jews, and others are all effective. We should, therefore, expect the "competitions" among (and within) religions to continue. No one group will be able to use its vampire-slaying abilities to justify itself as the One True Faith.

Some will likely be troubled that those other guys seem to be working miracles when, clearly, God favors us. Expect each religion to explain others away -- the work of the devil, sorcerers, frauds, whatever aligns with the particular religion. Purists will not accept heathen vampire-slayers as legitimate; pragmatists will take any advantage they can get against the vampires, even if it means working with religiously-objectionable partners.

In the USA (I don't have worldwide stats) the fastest-growing religious group is the "none"s, currently at about 20%. These are atheists, agnostics, and people who just don't care or never thought much about religion. Those 20% are now vampire-bait, so given the evidence they see around them, expect many of them to re-evaluate. Religious institutions will see surges in seekers, but only the ones who actually develop faith will stay (because the others will find that they're no better off at fighting vampires than they were).

Putting all this together: major organized religions like the church will (a) see a large influx of members or prospective members, who will need to be educated in the faith, (b) seek greater political power, and (c) explain away other religions' effectiveness, circling the wagons somewhat. Less-major or not-so-organized religions will also see some influx and won't be well-positioned for either seeking power or discrediting others, so they'll focus on their own communities.

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See the plot of the expanded Nightfall.

As I recall, in Silverberg's continuation, the main character who was fighting against the superstition and ignorance of the cult determined eventually that it would be a compelling social tool for surviving the apocalypse and preserving knowledge. In this case, the cyclic nature foreshadows that surviving the first generations and providing for rebuilding society also fuels the eventual downfall at the next nightfall.

In a post-apocalypse, people will be primed for belief. Everyone will be able to use these weapons just fine. As for the scientists and other rationalists, seeing that they work is proof enough for them. So everyone believes. In a universe where that stuff is demonsterativly true and allows for making useful tools against real threats, it will not be at all like the church you compare it with. It will be more like Newton's Laws or Electricity in our universe.

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Several interesting effects:

Faith works

Those who believe in God can do miracles. Those who don't believe cannot. That proof of the effectiveness of faith goes way beyond people who pray and had their cancer go into submission by random chance.

Any true belief works

Organized religion takes a hit when it becomes obvious that personal faith matters more than adherence to the church doctrine. What happens when a cynical teleevangelist or corrupt priest can't defeat vampires?

Personal faith might incorporate the church

If the vampire hunter believes that holy water only works if it has been blessed by a priest (and that it works even better if it has been blessed by a cardinal in a big cathedral), would that make it so?

Together, there could be a reinforcement of faith without a reinforcement of the church.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you suggesting that prayer, not medical treatment, cures disease/cancer? Not cool. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Apr 7 '16 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM, edited for clarity. But I believe that confidence/happiness affects health, and prayer can affect happiness. The placebo effect doesn't just work for homeopatic dilutions. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Apr 8 '16 at 4:52

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