How Would You Handle a Monotheistic Religion?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

Assumptions:

  • You have multiple pantheons (i.e. the orc pantheon, the elf pantheon, the desert human pantheon, etc) in the setting.
  • Deity list length varies in size depending on values important to each society.
  • Deities from different pantheons can overlap (i.e. orc god of war has similar areas of concern and domains as the hobgoblin areas of concern and domains, even if the stories about each are completely different)
  • Average person worships a whole pantheon. Clerics, however, specialize on a particular deity. (i.e. whole orc clan worships whole orc pantheon, but there are 3 clerics in the whole clan, one for each of the 3 deities that the orcs venerate above all others)

With all that in mind, how would you handle a pantheon with only 1 deity in it? Thoughts?


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You could go the route of Catholics and have lots of saints to deal with the aspects of the portfolios. Or the Hindu method of having multiple deities which are actually just aspects of a single deity.

What in particular are you looking for guidance? Interaction between the pantheons? Ways of allowing clerics without giving them too many domains. Relations between worshipers of different pantheons?


You can go a few ways. One option is the One True God ruling over patron saints of such-and-such. Alternatively you use angels as the middle managers. Either way, you have the primary god from which all life and magic and existence springs and then a collection of middle tiers that take care of the day-to-day management of domains.

The church structure would be pretty straight forward. All clerics follow the 'one true god'. There will be sects or orders or towns that follow Saint so and so or Saint what's his name as well, but they are all bound to follow the will of the church.

You can even build in a schism where neighboring countries both believe in the same god and same saints but have some particular point of understanding that they disagree on and have been at war over it for some time (alternatively, the beginning of a schism is a good point at which to have the players show up; the two sides get to fight over the adventurers in trying to recruit them for some reason).

Overall this shouldn't be different than how you're doing the rest of the stuff. Depending on how you do it, the monotheistic religion may not especially happy with other religions claiming to have lots of gods, since obviously those can't be other gods since there is only the one god... and so crusades will be kind of a thing.


Well, depending on the setting its near impossible. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of a single god. It is not worhsipping only a single god, though the usually go together.

In a setting in which clerics can and do talk to their god and there can be opposing clerics, someone would realize they are not accordance with the tennets of their god but are still recieving divine power. At that point they are faced with the existence of other gods.

So, in the traditional campaign setting of Golarion it doesn't make much sense to have people believe in only one god.

As for how to deal with a pantheon that has only one god? It would encompass all aspects normally associated with divinity for those people, exactly the same way god is considered in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Foremost, it would seem to limit clerics to a very limited number of domains. The monotheistic deity would have to be crafted so that its major theme isn't too niche that it limits the adventuring party clergy to only one or two tropes, otherwise nobody will want to play the same cleric that they played last game. Niche themes can exist fine in a world where you have 25 domains spread out over 15 deities, but with a single god you'd need to make its domains diverse enough for players to feel satisfied.

Next, I look at how the world would function as a whole. Clerics and Inquisitors are really the only divine characters that mechanically *must* have a deity (their Domain class feature), so how do oracles, druids, rangers and paladins fit into the world? Does the oracle follow the setting's god; are they a cultist of a demigod, outsider, or a personified theme; or do they just tap the power of divine at the cost of their selves (their curse)? Spreading the divinity out of just the settings god into a realm of additional mysticism can add a layer of ostracism and mistrust from the everyday folk in regards to that creepy, limping lady who prays to her fetish trophy in her basement.

Conversely, how would the organized religion of the god view these splinter divine characters? Does the church hunt down these worshipers of false gods, like Medieval Europe? Does it tolerate the druid who tends a sacred grove only half a days ride outside of town? This would likely be a function of the monotheist god itself, though. If the god is a neutral deity, the church may not even have a stance on other divine sources and worship. The clergy itself, being a diverse lot of alignments, may develop a hard stance against them without the deity's direct approval.

I also look at how a monotheistic church would be integrated into society. Priests of the god would be 1st class citizens, and the church itself would have great influence throughout the world. The mayor of a small city, for instance, holds every important decision the city must make to the ear of the local priest, and whether its the church as a whole's opinion or just the priest's, 90% of the time, the mayor submits to the holy man's opinion. Also, a splinter church could probably overthrow any local government as it rallied the lay followers against the "made-up controversy" the town council has been participating in.

I really see things existing in a world like that somewhere between Medieval Europe / Asia Minor and the stereotypical Quaker ran New England Colony (The Scarlett Letter, Salem witch trials, etc.).


Claxon wrote:

Well, depending on the setting its near impossible. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of a single god. It is not worhsipping only a single god, though the usually go together.

In a setting in which clerics can and do talk to their god and there can be opposing clerics, someone would realize they are not accordance with the tennets of their god but are still recieving divine power. At that point they are faced with the existence of other gods.

So, in the traditional campaign setting of Golarion it doesn't make much sense to have people believe in only one god.

As for how to deal with a pantheon that has only one god? It would encompass all aspects normally associated with divinity for those people, exactly the same way god is considered in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Options -

1) It isn't divine magic, it is some weird arcane magic just pretending to be divine.
2) Demons and Devils, thus everyone else worship evil creatures.
3) A single being of evil that grants corrupted power and everyone else is just misled and confused.
4) If you go with the Hindu model (as Caedwyr suggested), the other 'gods' are just additional aspects of the one true god.


One of the possible options: monotheist clerics could represent different orders dedicated to different aspects of deity. Or the monotheist religion could have oracles acting as religious prophets and preachers instead of clerics.

Hmmm... Now I see a potential for prophet oracle alternate class that replaces curse and mysteries with abilities based on the monotheistic deity personality (e.g. merciful and caring mother, vengeful father, master of fate).

Another option: make a monotheist cleric archetype that replaces domains with something else, more fitting all-encompassing deity instead of specific aspects.


An all-encompassing God grants all Domains and has no favorite Weapon. Individual orders exist dedicated to different aspects of the same deity, and can disagree and fight among them. Oracles are very common, bringing the "true" word of God to the masses and to corrupt church hierarchy.


I personally wouldn't. It's just TOO easy to get too close to one of the worlds existing monotheistic religions, and offend someone.


Well, monotheism can be wildly varied. I mean look at our own world. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim or Christian, you are still worshiping the God of Moses. And within each of those main branches, you have tons and tons of sub-sects. All one God, many different belief structures and tenets.

As for having a monotheistic religion in Golarion, I think it can work, you just need to figure out what their reaction is to other divine magic/worship. They could see other clerics as misguided people who are unknowingly worshiping a single aspect of the One True God, without seeing the totality of His being. This works particularly well for good clerics, and could be similar to the inter-faith reaction we see between Christians and Jews in the real world. There is not a ton of enmity, and each knows the overlap, but each also believes that they are correct and that the other side is misguided.

So a quote from a Monotheist Cleric might be to say that Pharasma is just a servant, an angel if you will, beholden to the One True God.

Dark Archive

Christianity is a great example; you essentially have 3 personifications of this god (or thousands if you include all of the saints in catholicism). You have the Devil (who could be the "God of Evil" for all intents and purposes). You'd just split the domains across them and call it a day.

Optionally, you can say there is a single god, and therefore clergy get whatever domains they want.

I'm guessing this is to appeal to gamers that want to play but are offended at the idea of multiple "Gods"? Maybe refer to these sources of power as something other than "Gods". These creatures are actually considered to have mortality and flaws in the Golarian world; so wouldn't represent a god by any modern standard (DND gods are based loosely on Roman/Greek gods, and way back in the day were based ENTIRELY on said creatures).


What you mean , 1 true god in the campaign OR a religion where they believe there is only 1 true god?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Dale McCoy Jr wrote:

Assumptions:

  • You have multiple pantheons (i.e. the orc pantheon, the elf pantheon, the desert human pantheon, etc) in the setting.
  • Deity list length varies in size depending on values important to each society.
  • Deities from different pantheons can overlap (i.e. orc god of war has similar areas of concern and domains as the hobgoblin areas of concern and domains, even if the stories about each are completely different)
  • Average person worships a whole pantheon. Clerics, however, specialize on a particular deity. (i.e. whole orc clan worships whole orc pantheon, but there are 3 clerics in the whole clan, one for each of the 3 deities that the orcs venerate above all others)

With all that in mind, how would you handle a pantheon with only 1 deity in it? Thoughts?

Remove alignment from the diety. But KEEP alignment for the clerics. Assign domains for the various aspects of the diety and the clerics of the diety will group themselves according to which aspect they venerate.


With one deity, he would have to be all-encompassing. Therefore, it'd just be 'pick two domains and go'.


You can have a monotheistic religion exist in a polytheistic world the same way Christianity did in its beginning, where through omens augurs would communicate with their gods, and through visions prophets would:
Declare the source of their power to not be from gods, assume that the gods of theirs who are like yours in fact are yours. Wasn't the original Pelor made with that in mind?


Dale McCoy Jr wrote:

Assumptions:

  • You have multiple pantheons (i.e. the orc pantheon, the elf pantheon, the desert human pantheon, etc) in the setting.
  • Deity list length varies in size depending on values important to each society.
  • Deities from different pantheons can overlap (i.e. orc god of war has similar areas of concern and domains as the hobgoblin areas of concern and domains, even if the stories about each are completely different)
  • Average person worships a whole pantheon. Clerics, however, specialize on a particular deity. (i.e. whole orc clan worships whole orc pantheon, but there are 3 clerics in the whole clan, one for each of the 3 deities that the orcs venerate above all others)

With all that in mind, how would you handle a pantheon with only 1 deity in it? Thoughts?

If you go through the Greyhawk deities you will find one called Pholtus. This deity is basically Medieval fantasy Catholicism. One of his concepts was that the "other deities" were just aspects of him. He was the one true god. Perhaps reading about him will give you some insight into how that might work.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

Nox Aeterna wrote:
What you mean , 1 true god in the campaign OR a religion where they believe there is only 1 true god?

I'm not thinking of a golarion model where all the deities are in a single pantheon. I'm thinking of a setting where there are multiple religions in the world. The orc religion has, say, 5 deities. The goblin religion has 8 deities. Dwarfs have 9 deities. And let's say the gnomes have only 1 deity. How would you handle that? I'm not specucally asking about gnomes. That was just an example to seperate the discussion away from real world religions.

How would you handle domains? Would you do an archetype that doesn't get domains but other stuff instead? How about oracles? Would you have one deity but different aspects, thus having the staunch, no laughing group be in continual conflict with the life is fun crowd? Would you have reformers that span the alignments, each with their own pool of domains? Would you have the main deity have 3 domains and each reformer gets 2 different ones, thus allowing clerics to have a pick from 5? How would you handle it?


In the case of a world where there are multiple pantheons and one race has a pantheon of one god, I would handle it just like any other god.

In this case, the Gnome clerics will only have a very few Domains to choose from.

If multiple gods exist in the universe there is no reason that one of the gods should have every domain just because it is alone.


I would go with either:

A) there was an ancient creator god who has been nearly forgotten. All the other lesser dieties were created by him, gained divinity within his creation, or came from some other realm. One nation rediscovered him and revers him above all lesser gods.

Or

B) There actually is no god, the clerics derive their power from their beleif system, which has merit but is ultimately incorrect as they believe there is a greater god, but there is not. This would allow a number of different sects or alignments with in the church that espouse different views or traditions.


In my home-brew campaign world I have my own gods, elder gods, and they are playing a game by creating autonomous avatars that are aspects of themselves, or even avatars of themselves combined with another elder god.

Those avatars are the "gods" the world worships. Only a very, very, very, very, few NPCs know that the elder gods exist at all.


I would have different clerical orders within the monotheistic church. There might be an order dedicated to rooting out heresy where another sets up hospitals throughout the world while still another seeks to spread God's word (and will) with the sword. Each order worships the same deity but each has access to only a few domains. Maybe all clerics have to pick one of the alignment domains of the deity and one other for their niche.


I used a single God in my latest campain. The only thing i did was create a lot of different orders and sects taha all worshipped him in there own way and then made one big church, a bit like europa in the middelages. The god him/her self was distant and the church was monopolizing religion with different degrees of succes in different part of the world.
It worked quite ok.

Shadow Lodge

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Look at the RW divisions in Monotheistic religion.

For example, the medieval Catholic Church had orders and also 'cultural variants' like the Celtic church and heresies like the Cathars. Using that model, Fransicans could have access to certian domains, Domincians to others, Beneditines to still others. Celtic trained priests would have different domains than Roman clerics. Maybe some Anchorites have access to things like the Madness domain.
Some charismatic leaders like Joan of Arc are Oracles (battle in her case).
Islam like monotheisim could have Suni, Shiite, and Sufi clerics with different domains.

As for god "taking sides" maybe there is reason known only to the diety that they grant spells.


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Deities and Demigods had a chapter about monotheism. That might be helpful.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

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Start with Catholicism as a model.

Introduce 'Orders of the Church' based on the domains of the God. One order serves Good/Knowledge, the Order of Enlightenment. One serves Good/War, the Order of Chivalry. One serves Knowledge/War, the Order of Engineers.

Pick the domains, make an Order for each of them, sit back and start on the politics. With just four domains you can make a complete circle of allied and rival Order with no difficulty, and have different parts of the church.

An LG God with Law, Good, Knowledge and War probably has an intense rivalry between the Law/War paladin wanna-bes and the Good/Knowledge pacifist archivists. If you start the Deity as neutral and encompassing all domains, then any order with two domains probably monopolizes the domains and is effectively serving an aspect of the deity like any other cleric, and would be very different from a cleric with other domains.

In summary, use the domains you give the god as guidelines to orders, and let the religion flow from there.

==Aelryinth


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Some world-building questions that would need to be answered are: "Do gods in this world work in such a way that having one grant more domains than usual is doable? Does the number of grantable domains correlate with deific power?"

I'm not certain you would need to go as far as setting up specific, formal Clerical Orders or Aspects of the Deity to let monotheistic clerics pick from a large number of domains. It might read something like this: "For some reason, YourDeityNameHere grants his/her clerics certain combinations of domains and denies them others. Both domains must come from one of the following lists: DomainA, DomainB, DomainC, DomainD; DomainA, DomainD, DomainE, DomainF; DomainA, DomainB, DomainF, DomainG." How large the allowed lists are, how many total domains are granted, how much overlap between lists there is, etc. would depend on both world-building stuff about the deity and also game-balance considerations between pantheons.


Well, in the real world, people can use their (monotheist) religion to justify any viewpoint really. I'd probably just allow them to take domains based on their concept of their religion. The lord creates Evil, kills babies, blasted Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus came to bring a sword, healed the sick, preached peace. Sounds like you could take the healing and destruction domains, or the Good and Evil domains and still be in the clear.

Assuming you allow "concept clerics", any one of them could think they have a deity justifying their actions and make an entire religion around that. What's the difference really?


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

This is an interesting thread. Just the other day I was thinking about there being a Greater God and plop in the Empyreal Lords as a fantasy version of the saints. I was thinking that the Lesser Gods are really just powerful individuals that went Mythic and not really gods at all in the sense that they did not create the world or anything, but were once mortals themselves. I was thinking that the outsiders all originated as mortal creatures but then either ascended or had died and evolved into their Outsider form.


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My homebrew has something like this going on with the primary human religion. As some people here have suggested, they have numerous patron saints, and each cleric chooses one to follow. The church is sometimes considered LG, sometimes LN, so most clerics LN, N, LG, and NG alignments, and patron saints are all of the same alignment. A cleric or inquisitor's alignment must be within 1 step of his selected saint (This means it is possible to have the occasional LE or NE cleric, but this is rare). A cleric gains one domain (chosen from a list of 4 or 5, haven't decided yet) from being a member of the church, and these are the closest thing we get to a domain from the actual deity. Then they choose one of three domains that their patron saint presides over.

Shadow Lodge

I once played in a 3.0/3.5 game where humans where not the dominate species, and basically every other common race had enslaved and controlled them. Humans didn't really have an civilization of their own, and either lived as slaves (mostly to the elves and dwarves), or found small groups out in the wilds. The main premise was that a powerful (TN) archlich was attempting to gain godhood and become the patron (and only) deity of humankind, and the players where among the chosen to help him achieve that by helping humanity.

Sort of similar to a Kingmaker style game of finding and building a safe haven for humans, bringing the small groups together, then working on freeing others. So that's sort of another way it could be done, where the single deity is starting brand new, and being established from the start. It removes a lot of the issues with religion and history in a world where there are other deities, and all of the divine powers are unknown, but are in part based on how the players act and the story goes.


Look at the 'papal orders of chivalry' and catholic monastic orders for ideas.


Dale McCoy Jr wrote:

Assumptions:

  • You have multiple pantheons (i.e. the orc pantheon, the elf pantheon, the desert human pantheon, etc) in the setting.
  • Deity list length varies in size depending on values important to each society.
  • Deities from different pantheons can overlap (i.e. orc god of war has similar areas of concern and domains as the hobgoblin areas of concern and domains, even if the stories about each are completely different)
  • Average person worships a whole pantheon. Clerics, however, specialize on a particular deity. (i.e. whole orc clan worships whole orc pantheon, but there are 3 clerics in the whole clan, one for each of the 3 deities that the orcs venerate above all others)

With all that in mind, how would you handle a pantheon with only 1 deity in it? Thoughts?

Culturally, this should be difficult to maintain in Golarion or other D&D worlds. There are other gods out there, and they have proven magic too. The monotheistic religion has to be very powerful locally to suppress incoming religions. The monotheists also have to suppress more "primitive" religions such as druid worship. (Alternatively, perhaps it's not all-powerful in their individual location, but its followers refuse to worship other gods.)

Do the monotheists acknowledge the existence of other gods? As shown above, this is difficult to maintain in a fantasy setting. Other gods can be derided as "false" but they're offering real power, after all.

How do they treat "enemy gods"? For instance, if the monotheistic religion is evil, they are bound to be opposed by good-aligned gods. (I'm thinking Battlestar Galactica here.) Or if they're good, evil gods can certainly operate cults to take them on.

In non-mechanical terms, this is limiting. This kind of limit is cool, actually, as long as it doesn't apply to PCs.

The clerics of this deity are good at healing and light, and really bad at domination and casting Plant Growth, or however you spread the domains around. They all have the same strengths and weaknesses. Warriors might long for Kord or other war gods, but appreciate that gods of their pantheon are better at healing, or subverting enemies, or whatever else is militarily useful. The priesthood can still include other divine classes (paladins, inquisitors, oracles) giving a bit of variety.

Way of the Wicked has an interesting take on this. There is one god freely worshiped in the civilization, Mitra. It has three aspects, each with its own set of domains. These aren't supposed to be player options though. Mitra is good-aligned, and the adventure title tells you what alignment the PCs are. The followers of Mitra do not deny the existence of other gods, but the church is powerful enough to suppress their worship, and goes out of its way to destroy the cults of the evil Asmodeus.

In the Rose of the Prophet trilogy (despite the name, it's pretty cool) there are several deities. They aren't pantheons though, instead, each is aided by a series of immortals (genies, demons, angels, etc). In the quasi-Roman pantheon, each immortal is titled "god of this" and "god of that", making an actual pantheon a minority in the setting. In a Christian-like pantheon, the immortals are called saints, and are angels, or so I recall.


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Kimera757 wrote:


Culturally, this should be difficult to maintain in Golarion or other D&D worlds. There are other gods out there, and they have proven magic too. The monotheistic religion has to be very powerful locally to suppress incoming religions. The monotheists also have to suppress more "primitive" religions such as druid worship. (Alternatively, perhaps it's not all-powerful in their individual location, but its followers refuse to worship other gods.)

Do the monotheists acknowledge the existence of other gods? As shown above, this is difficult to maintain in a fantasy setting. Other gods can be derided as "false" but they're offering real power, after all.

How do they treat "enemy gods"? For instance, if the monotheistic religion is evil, they are bound to be opposed by good-aligned gods. (I'm thinking Battlestar Galactica here.) Or if they're good, evil gods can certainly operate cults to take them on.

In non-mechanical terms, this is limiting. This kind of limit is cool, actually, as long as it doesn't apply to PCs.

The clerics of this deity are good at healing and light, and really bad at domination and casting Plant Growth, or however you spread the domains around. They all...

There's no particular reason this can't work on a racial or cultural level: This is the God of our people. Other gods may exist, but we belong to this one.

Whether that's a humanoid race or a nation that a god has adopted.


thejeff wrote:

There's no particular reason this can't work on a racial or cultural level: This is the God of our people. Other gods may exist, but we belong to this one.

Whether that's a humanoid race or a nation that a god has adopted.

This is more or less what I think the OP was thinking about.

The (let's just pull a race out randomly) Gnomes have the One True Gnome god, and no other.

Humans might have a slew, or Elves their bunch of 'em, but Gnomes only have the one for Gnomes.

Alternatively, in humanity:

The Hindu-style belief: millions of gods that are secretly the one god.

The ancient Judaic (and Atenism period of Egyptian worship) belief: the other gods exist, but are not worthy of our worship.

The more modern Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) belief: there is one god only, there is no other. (All other entities are either explained as being "not gods" or said to not exist.)

In any event, in most given Pathfinder settings, the Monolatry style of belief is the most likely version of "monotheism" to exist, compared to true monotheism.

Kind of like Golarion Atheism: it's not actually "atheism" in most cases, as we think of it, it's just that "atheism" happens to be the closest word known by the most people.

(Actual honest-to-goodness Atheists in Golarion are effectively - at best - incredibly clever and potentially convincing fools.)

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I would look at the Kushiel's Dart series of books for inspiration.

It's basically alternate history, but REALLY alternate, because in the series, the blood of Jesus mixed with the tears of the Magdalene, and formed a child in the Womb of the Earth. He was forsaken by God, so 7 or 8 angels rebelled and left Heaven to be the child's guardians.

So the people of Terre D'Ange (France/Gaul) worship Eshua (God's grandson), and also his angels. People in different countries have different religions, and that is accepted as normal. They have different foods, fashion, and language, so of course their religions are different. Fantasy Russia has a very militant Christ the Warrior faith, Venice worships a goddess, their are wandering "Christians" that seem very Orthodox Jewish (and thus no big Catholic Church and related bureaucracy and foundation), Egypt and Greece versions of their pantheons, etc. etc.


Green Ronin's Mediaeval Player's Handbook has a whole section on God and 11th/12th Century Christianity, along with guidance on how to fit in Islam as well. It's really a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.


Henotheism.


Anonymous Visitor 163 576 wrote:
I personally wouldn't. It's just TOO easy to get too close to one of the worlds existing monotheistic religions, and offend someone.

THIS.

I don't think monotheism is compatible with RPG's, especially D&D and Pathfinder which are built upon there being dozens of gods.


I think it's a cool concept. If the gnomes have one Gnome god who grants all the domains (possibly through archangels, saints, or religious orders with a set list of domains), that adds a lot of cool story options to the world.

I was working on a campaign based on The War of the One God. There would be a region with one god, but that god has four aspects- one for each season. Clerics, oracles and druids would worship each aspect in the season of that aspect. But the campaign would revolve around a cult that worships one aspect, and wants to make that one aspect dominant.

So there are a lot of options available for the One Gnome God (or One True God of any race), from aspects of one god to saints to archangels to religious orders. You could also have a Great Old One who offers access to all of the domains, and allows any alignment (of course in the long run a Great Old One would probably have a negative influence on the clerics and the world).


From what my experience is, Monotheism is pretty much default in most fantasy rpgs. Lots of cults that have little in common, except in some cases a shared mythology.

Liberty's Edge

The "Gods" of the setting are not actually "Gods" but simply incredibly powerful beings able to grant powers to those who "follow" them.

Above and aside from these "Gods" is the one true "God"

Done and done


I wouldn't, generally. Monotheism is one of those things that puts the "Escape" in "escapist fantasy". Everyone is keen that there are many gods and anyone claiming that there is only One God would get laughed into the gaol for jacknappery.

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