# How would a primitive society react to a cataclysmic event that disproves their beliefs?

My novel deals with a primitive society, geographically similar to ancient Egypt, based on a planet with rings. The society, known as the Motek, have a very strong sense of order -- everything has a place, very structured society, breaking out of your rightful place is sacrilege, etc.

The reason for this has to do with their origin story: in the beginning, the universe was ruled by Chaos, your usual malevolent force of destruction, and life was rough. The Motek gods came to the rescue, sacrificing their own lives by forcing Chaos off the planet and becoming the rings, which act as a shield against the ever-encroaching Chaos.

At the start of my book, the rings disappear. First, I know this is scientifically improbable, if not impossible. I don't care. Second, remember this isn't just a natural occurrence to the Motek -- the rings aren't just rings, they're actual gods protecting against Chaos.

How would society react? I'm particularly interested in research about this -- there has to be books or articles out there about primitive cultures dealing with the destruction of their beliefs and worldview.

I've imagined the basic pattern -- fear, panic, riots; rebellions; depression and suicide, etc. Any more thoughts? Or any research? I've had ZERO luck googling this!

• I suspect rioting would be very limited, and if it happens, would be very harshly dealt with. At the level of ancient Egypt, most existence is subsistence. To "riot" in such a situation puts the entire society at direct risk. – a CVn Jan 26 '17 at 8:32
• Things to Google: the rise of the Ghost Dance religious movement amongst some Native Americans in response to their way of life being destroyed en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Dance . Also you might want to investigate the Aztec/Maya religions which believed they needed to make blood sacrifices to keep the world intact and functioning, but those practices were stamped out by Christians. Also read up on Cargo Cult religions. – DrBob Jan 26 '17 at 15:36
• How did the Catholic Church react to science? First they denied it, then they claimed that was what their scriptures really meant all along. – jamesqf Jan 26 '17 at 18:06
• Although your question can be answered independently of your example, I don't see how the rings disappearing disproves their beliefs. If they think the rings are dead gods, and the rings go away, then the logical conclusion is that the gods came back to life and went off to do something. – DCShannon Jan 26 '17 at 18:51
• What @jamesqf said. People with "beliefs" don't care what evidence you throw at them. Their gods disappear, that doesn't mean they think that their whole religion is wrong, that just means they where "bad" and the gods want to punish them, or something else along that line. – r41n Jan 27 '17 at 10:01

The closest equivalent to this in human culture would be rare astronomical events - supernovas, and to a lesser extent, comets and eclipses. Events such as these have been seen as omens, and in ancient civilizations, an omen could cause a great deal of unrest among a population.

Aside from eclipses, which civilizations had memory of and therefore knew were not necessarily the end of the world, most of these events are minor and only apparent to people who watch the sky on a regular basis - which in ancient civilizations, was typically the clergy. The disappearance of rings, however, would be much more noticeable to the general population.

However, a simple omen, no matter how ominous, will not by itself cause the collapse of a stable civilization. Many people have written of omens that preceded and retroactively predicted cataclysms that came after them, but there is no case of a celestial event causing or even triggering a major social or political event directly, because that simply doesn't happen. The most likely result would be people staring at the sky for a few minutes, walking around in fear for a few days, and the priests coming up with an explanation to calm them down, after which they will return to their daily lives. Perhaps the gods are simply off fighting the Chaos away from the planet, for instance.

People may come up with different explanations and act accordingly, and those explanations will generally be based around whatever they want the omen to mean. If there is already material cause for unrest, it may aggravate that unrest; a revolutionary group may decide it is a sign for them to rise up, but if people are more-or-less okay with their situation things in the sky are not going to concern them excessively.

• The Creation of the Giordano Bruno in 1178 for example (with turned out to not be meteor hitting moon but more like the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2015) – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 26 '17 at 9:40
• For those interested in a quick fix: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno_%28crater%29 – Mad Physicist Jan 26 '17 at 15:29
• "and the priests coming up with an explanation to calm them down" explaining the unexplainable is after all the primary purpose of religion – Justin Ohms Jan 27 '17 at 0:50
• @JustinOhms I thought it was archiving and disseminating knowledge especially before writing or printing. – djechlin Jan 27 '17 at 17:41

First step: Explain why rings dissapear. At least to yourselves. You do not have to uncover it anywhere in the story, but you should know why it actually happened. For example, I will assume it is astrophysical phenomena similar to Solar eclipse

Second step: Explain how often it can actually happen Continuing the example, observing solar eclipse is very rare. Especially if we are talking about relatively small society located on one place on your planet (my second assumption)

Third step: Explain how long will it take: Under my assumptions, this is "just" natural phenomena which is very rare and happens under specific conditions. Real solar eclipse takes just few hours to observe. Long enough to panic, short to have revolution started. However, if it takes more than day in your example, your people have real problem...

Fourth: Inspire yourselves in existing religions Example with ancient Egypt will work great under my assumptions. Egyptians saw the Sun as the God, so Solar eclipse observed in Egypt had to have huge impact at believers at the time. Explore ancient Egyptian religion and inspire self

## Possible reactions:

1. God has abandoned us. The Chaos is taking on us. This is the end of the world. Abandon all hope
2. God is angry. We need to make [specific religious ritual] in order to make up with Him/Her/It
3. Chaos is taking on the rule now. Abandon the faith and worship Chaos now.
4. Chaos is taking on rule now. We have to keep faith very tightly in order to survive Chaos rule (Lets become religious fanatics in other words)

(and so on)

• I like the idea of using a solar eclipse type event to temporarily hide the rings instead of the unlikely idea of them disappearing. Since the particles around ringed planets are only visible because of light reflecting off of them make the case that light simply isn't hitting them at this time. This allows you to bring them back at the end of the story. – DasBeasto Jan 26 '17 at 14:45

you have an historic example which might answer your question: the Lisbon earthquake

The earthquake had wide-ranging effects on the lives of the populace and intelligentsia. The earthquake had struck on an important religious holiday and had destroyed almost every important church in the city, causing anxiety and confusion amongst the citizens of a staunch and devout Roman Catholic country. Theologians and philosophers focused and speculated on the religious cause and message, seeing the earthquake as a manifestation of divine judgment.

You can easily translate it in your world: you worship Badabup, supreme ruler of the Universe, and he cast his 4 handed blessing on your race because of it. And his blessing includes this event which crumble your city to dust... well, maybe better worshipping somebody else...

How they would react could range from one extreme to the other. For example they could go the seemingly obvious route and say "Our gods have abandoned us!" or "Chaos has taken over and we are doomed!". However, they can also go in the opposite direction as well. For example they could say "Chaos has been vanquished and the gods have moved on/sacrificed themselves".

My thought would be that the events immediately after the rings disappeared would decide how they react. What is also is important is what caused the disappearance as that will change what happens after.

Cause - Natural Phenomenon

Follow up Event - Effects that natural order of the world badly

Examples of how this might effect the world badly is perhaps certain important chemicals or whatever are rained down onto the world from the rings (I dont know the physics behind this or if its even possible or not, just a random thought), or it rains down asteroids on the planets causing widespread damage, tsunamis etc.

They will likely react in a way such that Chaos has taken over and the gods that protect them have abandoned them or are dead.

Follow up Event - Effects that natural order of the world in a good way

Perhaps the rings were affecting the oceans tides and now the water is all extremely calm.

They may now believe that Chaos has been extinguished and only peace reigns supreme. Why did their gods leave? perhaps because they are no longer needed, or they went to fight chaos elsewhere.

Cause - Unnatural Phenomenon (Ex. Aliens)

Follow up Event - Alien Invasion

Following the destruction of the rings which were actually a defensive weapon put in place by another alien race, the alien invasion begins raining down hellfire and absolute destruction.

They will see it as the gods of Chaos literally coming down. They're own gods failed and were destroyed.

Follow up Event - Aliens help them prosper

The aliens, seeing a primitive and helpless society, help them giving them medicines and teaching them how to grow crops more effeciently.

This would be seen as their gods coming down to help them (hence why the rings disappeared)

Cause - Unknown

Follow up Event - Not much

If nothing really happens then after an initial period of some fear and panic, people will go back to living their lives. They may come up with some reason as to why the rings disappeared for example the gods are off fighting elsewhere). Over time the religion would likely become mythology and atheism or a different religion would replace it.

• +1, although it would be good to point out that in none of these scenarios was their belief disproved by the event. They just conclude that additional events have happened in addition to the gods fighting chaos, dying, and becoming the rings. – DCShannon Jan 26 '17 at 18:54

While I am not aware of any research (and I agree it's a challenging question to have google answer) - I can venture my own thoughts on the question you pose.

1st - I think the actual reason for the disappearance of the rings has some relevance. Reason being - if something happens to cause the material of the rings to shift from their orbit - and either fall to the surface creating some kind of insane meteor shower or escape the gravity well with some kind of visible sign this would be observed by the people.

These are their Gods - they will be watching them - and if something happens to them it will be the biggest thing that happens in their generation.

Their Shamans (or whatever you call their spiritual leaders) are extremely likely to come up with some explanation. If they are corrupt and self serving - it will present an opportunity for them to cement (or increase) their own position of power. If they are noble and genuine - they will attempt to craft a story that will cause their people to become better in some way.

2nd - you could always go with the story of the rings being the actual incarnation of the peoples Gods, and they have have decided to wake up and take a direct interest in the world around them. Perhaps because of some corrupt priest they object to or perhaps because of some threat or danger about to materialise which they need to prepare their people for.

• I never even thought about having the rings ACTUALLY be the gods, though that takes this novel distinctly out of the realm of realistic... And as far as the reason, there isn't one... at least not one that I've come up with. The rings do fall to the earth -- in fact, the leader finds one -- but not a lot of them fall on the land where the culture is. – rightangles Jan 26 '17 at 8:42
• Well - not so much really. Even if you don't believe in God yourself - it doesn't stop you from writing a story or world where such a being (or beings) exist. You simply need to provide a logical basis for their inclusion in your world. Sort of along the lines of the current incarnations of the ancients from Stargate... Or come to that - even the Goa'uld themselves from Stargate... – kiltannen Jan 26 '17 at 8:43
• Well - that additional piece of info about the leaders finding a chunk from the rings leans towards the 1st concept I tossed around. So your biggest thought would be ariound are your leaders "good/ altruistic" or are the "evil/ selfish" – kiltannen Jan 26 '17 at 8:51

An alternative angle for googling : destruction of beliefs doesn't necessarily concerns events of astronomical proportion. Being faced with new, unknown cultures and populations in a sudden fashion might also challenge existing beliefs.

Think along the lines of : we were the chosen one, or there is only us on earth and all of a sudden there's others invading us (or the reverse of this, there are new people to invade).

Looking at historical events matching the above might help you model your situation in a realistic fashion.

Jews reacted to diaspora from the promised land by clinging deeply to their beliefs and maintaining their culture intact for millennia. American population went from prosperous empires to dust in no time and dissolved (and surely part of this is due to their reaction to Spaniards invasion). The flip side of this:powerful invading Christians society maintained their beliefs intact and concluded that other races where inferior once discovered.

• The pre-Columbian peoples did have large scale societies but in the vast majority of cases, they were destroyed by new world disease decades or even centuries before any Europeans arrived in the areas where the civilizations had been. Moreover, there simply weren't enough Spaniards to actually carry off an "invasion." Given the tech at the time, the Sp could a couple of hundred effectives at anytime. They empires of millions deploying 10^5 warriors. In all cases, the SP allied themselves with indigenous factions already at war or thinking about it. Recommend 1491 by Charles Mann. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:29
• Thanks for the reading suggestion. For what I know, Inca's empire was still prosperous and well at the time of Atahualpa. I am by no means an expert, so there are probably more fitting examples than the ones I made. – Three Diag Jan 27 '17 at 19:33
• Cortez actually got his ass kicked by the Mayan kingdom that controlled the area he landed in. Pre-Columbian people's were not stupid or infantile. They were highly sophisticated, especially in politics. By the third battle, the kingdom's warriors had completely adapted to firearms, artillery, horses, dogs ect, and the next fight would have been Cortez's last, but the Mayan Kingdom was a subject of the Aztecs who had turned into the Nazi's of mesoAmerican. The Maya saw in Cortez a potential leader from outside, one who could unite and command subject kingdoms long mistrustful of each other. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:34
• No quite the opposite, the Inca had just, by weeks or months emerged from a long and bloody civil war at the top and rebellions among subjects. They had already been hit by at least small pox carried along the Inca's massive land and sea trading routes but the civil war was already ongoing. Pizarro, found Inca allies before even entering the empire. The Inca, like the Aztecs, a rigid command and control system making them highly susceptible to decapitation strikes. When Pizarro assassinated the presumed emperor winner of the recent civil war, the whole system Inca collapsed. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:41
• It's worth noting that when Cortez first arrived at Tenochtitlan, he did so at the head of allied indigenous army of at least 20,000, That more than anything else got the Aztec's attention. When he came back to conquer the city, he had an army of at least 100,000. Sp tech helped provide some critical firepower and engineering at keypoints but it was Cortez's diplomatic skills that really counted. This pattern of Europeans allying in local disputes was the near universal pattern of European expansion everywhere in the world. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:47

Less of a straight answer, but you should probably ask yourself HOW the disappeared. I don't mean like a scientific explanation, but for of how did it look when it happened? Did they up and vanish? Did they fly away? Did the burst in flames?

All of these would be interpreted differently, and would lead to different reactions. Personally, I would make them fall into the planet. The primitives would see this and interpret that the gods have "fallen", and have possibly even joined them.

Given that the people actually saw their gods defend them, and they are now absent, I would expect the overwhelming response to be one of a continual sense of impending doom. They can clearly see that they are no longer protected, so therefore they are weak and open to be attacked.

This puts people in a "yelling fire in a crowded theater" scenario. Their panicking about possibly dying in the near future will cause their self preservation instinct to kick in, and that in turn detracts from society as it destroys mutual trust between people.

Others might focus more on the gods having forsaken them. Because human opinion is so varied, this will lead to several religious stances:

• The gods are punishing us. We must do away with [current hot topic, e.g. legalizing gay marriage as a good modern day anti-religious example] or we will all die.
• The gods are dead. We are on our own now. Anarchy reigns.
• The gods are dead. We are on our own now. We must defend ourselves.

While not everyone will see it that way, people will adamantly defend it because they believe it. Furthermore, they can actually point to tangible proof, the rings have disappeared.
Look at how zealously religious people can already preach to the world in real life, and realize that none of them have ever laid eyes on the god they worship. Having that tangible bit of proof would drastically exacerbate their zeal.

As to which of the listed opinions (or others) takes the majority of people, I can't say. I don't think even the people could say that, because it depends on some factors:

• The preacher's preaching ability can vastly influence whether people believe them or not.
• Similarly, even if a preacher is completely right, he might not be believed if he had a questionable reputation in the past.
• Coincidental events can lead people to believe a specific preacher. If someone speaks out against the preacher and a lightning bolt strikes him seconds after (through pure coincidence), everyone will believe the preacher.
• There can be established lore that makes a certain scenario more likely. If the scriptures contain earlier stories of the gods punishing humans for their transgressions, it's a lot more believeable that the same thing is happening now.

When you're dealing with religion trying to explain the (to them) unexplainable, you can't really rely on logic to know what will happen. It's much more likely to be a varied spectrum of interpretations (coloured by people's personal opinions and experiences).
As time progresses, someone will invariably appear to be "proven right" even through some stroke of luck or coincidence. If more than one theory ends up being "proven right", then it would divide the populace even more.

I tend to think that religious beliefs are more robust than that. The event you describe doesn't disprove the belief, but it will be interpreted in the terms of whatever systems of belief the people have.

So, the rings (gods) have gone. People will have opinions what this means. Have the gods gone elsewhere? Have they died (I mean, even more so than they were already) or been destroyed? Have they merely changed form, and are still protecting the people but no longer visibly from the sky? Have they been reborn as the individuals they originally were, as opposed to the diffuse rings they became when they sacrificed themselves? If they have gone, does that mean the people are now in grave danger of attack from chaos, or does it rather suggest that the people now have the protection of the ordered social structures developed in the time since the gods great sacrifice, and so the gods no longer need to be there and have left voluntarily? No doubt other interpretations are possible. Some interpretations lead to the logical conclusion that the people should keep doing what they're doing, others lead to the logical conclusion that the people should run around in small circles screaming.

The interpretation that actually prevails might depend on whether the religion has an authority that the people actually trust to determine this kind of thing, or whether each practioner is inclined to draw their own conclusions and then argue their opinion. It will probably depend also on whether chaos is truly considered by the faithful to be a clear and present danger, or a thing of the past.

Athough not so striking as a planetary ring, there are plenty of historical and mythical examples where a community has lost a physical manifestation of the favour and/or protection of the Gods. So for example, when the Trojans lost the Palladium, the city fell to the Greeks, was destroyed, and the people killed, enslaved, and scattered. That was the mythical end of the Trojans, except in that Aeneas' line survived to rule Rome.

So if the people expect something like that to be the result of the rings disappearing then there could well be general despair and unrest. If actual prolems materialise during this time, then the unrest could easily worsen them into existential threats to the society, in which case the expectation of doom could be self-fulfilling.

Conversely, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and Moses' Ark lost, this (and surrounding events) hugely affected the material condition of Jewish society. But the fact they had lost an object believed to be the physical presence of God and proof of His covenant with their people, did not dispel their faith that the covenant still exists. At least, not for those who remain faithful.

I would say that if this event does cause the people to cease believing in their religion and their principles of order, then it is because the society was anyway ready to discard that system. If the faith had become largely a matter of civic tradition and going through the motions, then the event might still be very significant politically, since it opens the theocracy to a loss of legitimacy, but to many people the gods themselves would be no great loss. So if revolution was on the cards already, this event could be the trigger for it to happen. The consequences depend on the revolutionaries and how the revolution plays out.

Equally, though, sometimes people fear that a terrible thing will happen, it doesn't happen, and they get on with their lives. "OK, so we don't have the giant sky-shield any more, we must even more be on guard against chaos".

Purely materialistic explanation:

First of all, for the most of history across the world's cultures, the concept of empirical testing of ideas and beliefs simply didn't exist. Truth came from authoritative tradition, not experimentation. It took the West centuries to come around to the idea testing ideas materially and that largely driven by practical needs such a long range navigation and the need to create new technologies. Egyptian civilization existed for longer than all civilization since combined, nearly 5,000 years and they never developed the idea of empiricism.

(Note that empiricism and rationalism are not the same thing. Neo-platonism was highly rational yet rejected empiricism entirely. )

(The evolution of empiricism requires a certain level of technology, especially uniformity in the production of materials used for measuring instruments, more than any philosophical or theological shift. A careful examination of the time lines of technology and measurements reveals that improvements in empirical power generates the philosophical and theological changes that required to justify the continued use of empiricism. Form follows function, which means function preceeds form. Likewise, justification follows utility which means utility precedes justification.)

Astronomy became the first science because its measurements depended on angles, and devices for measuring angles report the same results independent of the materials they were made of e.g. a wood divisor, a stone divisor or metal divisor, all report the same angle even though environmental conditions of heat and humidity cause each class of materials to alter in different axes and different degrees.)

Secondly, religions don't exist to provide explanations of the material world but to provide psychological mechanisms to enforce greater social cooperation and cohesion. The actual various religious stories don't actually matter to the religions survival as long those stories induce adaptive behaviors in their adherents i.e it doesn’t matter whether an individual refrains from violence because they fear the judgment of Jesus or they fear bad Karma, it merely matters whether the belief in the story makes them choose non-violent interactions with their fellows over non-violence.

As such, empirical events have little impact on faith in the immediate short-term, because their primary adaptive functions is unconnected to actual material events.

Thirdly, across the world's religions, disasters are interpreted as punishments from the "good" side of the religions instead of being the work of "bad" side, the opposite of what one might expect. But, if you view religions as mechanisms for enhancing cooperations, it makes perfect sense, as the response to a disaster would be an increase in cooperative behaviors as individuals returned to piety.

Based on historical precedent across many cultures, the sudden disappearance of some visible attribute of the divine would rapidly be re-interpreted into some form that maintains social cohesion and cooperation. Likely, there would be a short period of theological fragmentation, but natural selection would rapidly select for the theological explanations that would keep society running.

Fictional Magic Explanation:

All of the above presumes that in the story world, the rings don't actually keep some form of chaos i.e. loss of predictability, separation of cause and effect, from affecting the human world. But if in your story they actually are some kind of supernatural defense, then human society would apparently face a very real upsurge unpredictable and non-casual events.

But likely, they would respond to the situation just like the real world historical societies did because prior to the rise of empiricism in the West staring in the 1500s, real world human societies believed that the world was largely chaotic and unpredictable. Only after Newton created the idea of the Clockmaker god, did the West gradually adopt the idea of nature as a type of predictable mechanism which followed rules that human's could puzzle out.

So, even if the disappearance of the rings did cause real chaos, the theological response would remain the same i.e. reworking the theology so that it continued to foster cooperation and functional social cohesion.

First of all there is no such things as destruction of their beliefs. The disappearance if part of their religion. This is from philosophy field but you always need black to describe white and so on. Without cold you would not know what warm is. You can find this trope in Goethe "Faust"

I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.

Every religion/beliefs need to have "good/bad" to describe itself.

What is important to you is how well the "bad" side is incorporated into the system. If the Motek think that the chaos was and is no more ten the disappearance of the rings would shake the core of their beliefs. So you would have total society destroyed (think Revolution in Russia).
If they think that the war is still going outside the rings then their disappearance would enact the apocalypse scenario (think middle ages with black death or Great Famine of 1315–17).

But to point you to books you asked for I would direct to you to anything about priests in ancient Egypt and their tricks with eclipses. Or to Scientifics explanations of biblical tragedies (did you know that deaths of firstborns were probably caused by the fungus in the stored grains as firstborns were given larger portions?).

Well ignoring the possible religious fracture you have a more important problem, your society is all about structure, in fact if you break out of the order then you are heretic (taking liberties with the term sacrilege you used), now everyone behaves as they should for fear of the gods but more importantly for fear of the reprisal of the mortals around them that will beat them bloody or kick them out of perfect society-chan.

Now the physical representation of these gods are rings that we can see in the sky everyday cementing the notion of order under the heavens, and the fact that you do have place in the universe and that brings you comfort and a sense security. Except that one day there are no rings... So either the gods abandoned you or they went to fight or they died, either way your society now has to deal with the fact that the base of its society is gone...

So they are stranded by their gods and now the backbone of their society is gone. Chaos, confusion and probably violence.

The answer comes from simple theology based on their belief structure.

"in the beginning, the universe was ruled by Chaos, your usual malevolent force of destruction, and life was rough. The Motek gods came to the rescue, sacrificing their own lives by forcing Chaos off the planet and becoming the rings, which act as a shield against the ever-encroaching Chaos."

Irrespective of what made the rings vanish, this will be a sign Chaos has returned and the Motek gods have descended to force Chaos off the planet again. Oh, yes, the gods sacrificed their lives in doing so first time around. The Motek gods have died, but gods have this habit of resurrecting themselves when you least expect it. They were only"sleeping" until they were needed again.

The priests and priestesses will tell their congregations to be vigilant for signs of encroaching Chaos and offer more valuable donations to the priesthood.

Since in societies like this, the priestly caste are almost invariably the astronomers they will be busy making observations about the vanished planetary rings and devising explanations for what happened. Explanations that will be closer to a form of actual science but pure mythology (but not as well formed as science as we know it, is).

Riots, panic, rebellion, and so on, how likely are they? Frankly, not much. The majority of the people will go about their business unperturbed. It will be mainly the priesthood and the ruling classes who have the leisure time to worry about what is essentially a cosmological problem. It's too remote and removed from everyday life to cause much unrest.

Well, actually you solved this for yourself already. Your Motek are set in an ancient Egyptian setting? What happened in Ancient Egypt? The pyramid building era suddenly stopped, but why? Why did they just stop and never continue?

There is much debate around this. Some say finances, some say pyramids are billboards for tombraiders. I disagree. Their tombs were their ticket to the afterlife, their way to 'godhood' of a sorts.

Their belief system in the Pyramid era was the pharaoh advocates to the gods, begs their mercy and blessing for the people of Egypt. Then the Nile didn't flood, the nutrients didn't feed their crops. Famine happened. The people starved, watched their loved ones die one day at a time in a world where they just didn't understand this is a natural occurrence.

So what do the masses believe? Their pharaohs cared more for their tombs than for their people, who --through taxes-- paid for said tomb. So the people become desperate, willing to do anything for food. The pharaoh, of course, won't starve, and the people resent him for it.

One ambitious man rallies the turbulent masses, and is installed as the new pharaoh. His pledge? I will focus on the people, not the tomb.

My point? Fear and desperation, coupled with signs of the gods' anger, would upset the masses. This breeds uncertainty, even paranoia. They need someone to blame, and the leader usually shoulders that burden. Then all you need is one charismatic person that wants change -- intentions are irrelevant. And guess what? It's anyone's game now.

## Religions are built on social networks.

Not belief systems.

Running a social network which is formless, is hard. Most of them put a "form" around it, and that's the set of religious beliefs. The belief systems are the form which the bonds take, but if the form is rendered obsolete, the network will simply take a different form.

Case in point, the start of Star Trek: Into Darkness, here.

I think that trying to find someone to blame would be a rather likely reaction. Much like witches were blamed for all sorts of things, surely someone or some group of people would attract the anger of the masses for doing something wrong - which caused the rings to fall down. "Those pesky people from Village X kept wearing blue pants on tuesdays despite Rule #422 which clearly states that appearing similar to water on weekdays with 'u' in their name offends the gods !"

Once the scapegoats have been punished, most likely killed, the people remaining would feel relieved and united, and start going about business as usual. They know why it happened, they have sorted it out, and the gods will probably be coming back now that they all behave nicely again.

## They would continue to believe anyway

Look at the USA... the science on global climate change is undeniable, so they just ignore it, and vote in a leader who works to supress the evidence.

The OP's people will just explain things away with Alternative Facts and go on believing whatever they want to believe.

• I really like your title - and truly do believe that rationalization would trump (pun fully intentional) rational thought - but the heavy-handed soap boxing has no place here. Also, there is a big difference between scientific evidence for climate change - which most people don't understand and don't see on a daily basis - and the disappearance of a major visible feature in the sky: if our moon suddenly vanished, (the overwhelming majority of) people wouldn't just say, "no it didn't!" just because they didn't understand the statistics being presented. – Ghotir Jan 27 '17 at 18:39
• -1 Yes, well the science of Eugenics was once undeniable as well. In fact, climate change is an eerie recapitulation of Eugenics right down to the social and political demographics. Eugenics was based on the best science of the day. No major scientist questioned it basic premises, the only real debate was whether the government could deal with the problem or not. The only people who opposed the concept did so purely on irrational religious grounds e.g. the Catholic church or because of class e.g. poor whites who were the primary targets of Eugenic sterilization. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:54
• BTW: If you think Eugenics was dreamed up by Nazis, you're dead wrong. It was nearly 50 years old by the time the Nazis jumped on the bandwagon and they did owing to the concepts popularity. Eugenics was strongly associated with socialism of various stripes if no other reason that only a strong centralized state could impose the degree of control over individual choices necessary to carry out a Eugenics program. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 19:58
• And, Eugenics is just one of the stupid ideas dreamed up and broadly accepted by supposed intellectual elites who sneered and mocked at all those backwoods, bible thumping, hicks. Freudian psychology is an excellent example. It was utterly without any scientific or empirical support yet it became the dominate model of human behavior among educated elites for over 70 years. People like you sneered at the hicks for refusing to accept the theory of "Infantile Sexuality" the supposed unquestionable truth that toddles had an innate desire to have sex with their parents. Hicks were right again. – TechZen Jan 27 '17 at 20:04
• @ghotir the fact that the summer has been the hottest on record, several years in a row is about as obvious as the rings disappearing. People will argue about the why of it until they all die. – Innovine Jan 27 '17 at 20:51