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Sliding Scale of Divine Intervention

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Otherwise known as "When a character yells Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!, the chance that the Mighty Smiter will actually oblige."

On a scale of 1 to n:

0: Gods Don't Really Exist.

Religion exists but no one is really receiving the prayers. At best, the gods are myth and superstition; if the author is charitable enough toward religion, they may have religiously-motivated characters at least doing good works in the name of their god. If the author is less sympathetic, then Belief Makes You Stupid and better people have Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. Or you have a Religion of Evil and/or Path of Inspiration where the only real beneficiaries are the corrupt men that run it.

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1: The Gods Have Left the Building

"Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn't hard, for he was as light as paper and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder and a stab of the most profound and exhausted relief."

God or gods were present once, but for all intents and purposes have left or died or were sealed away (think the Titans of Greek myth). If you were four billion years old, you might want a vacation too.

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2: The Watchmaker:

"But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation."
William Paley, Natural Theology

A god or gods exist, but they keep out of worldly affairs. They may be The Creator and may keep the laws of nature working behind the scenes, but there's no way to tell if they care about being worshiped or not. Might be either True Neutral or Above Good and Evil. Or they are Neglectful Precursors. Authors who write Watchmaker gods are either neutral about the idea of God or hold the viewpoint that the beauty of nature, physics, math, order, etc, are sufficient justification for God's existence (A.K.A. the Watchmaker Argument), though they may not share the same views about organized religion. Sufficiently hard sci-fi works rarely go above this level on the scale.

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3: God Works In Mysterious Ways:

It is said that the gods play games with the fates of men. But what games, and why, and the identities of the actual pawns, and what the game is, and what the rules are — who knows?
Terry Pratchet, Guards! Guards!

Gods have an influence on the mortal plane and a vested interest in the people on it. However, they do not (i.e. The Gods Must Be Lazy) or can not (i.e. God's Hands Are Tied) intervene directly. They may send signs, omens, and occasional lightning strikes, or a mortal in their service acquires powers to do the god's will, whether or not they're entirely sure what that will is. If two gods are fighting, expect the fighting to spill over to their followers. Or they exist outside the mortal plane, but their power can be drawn on by the occult-minded. An atheist or a Nay-Theist may still get away with not being struck down. At this level, gods start to acquire Anthropomorphic Personifications and may Need Prayer Badly. This is about as high as strict realistic settings go.

4: God Walks Among Us

Gods can manifest themselves directly. It may be a God in Human Form and it may be your copilot. Probably makes the rain fall and the wheat grow. May even take human husbands and wives. If you piss this type of god off, expect a mighty smiting. Pray that they aren't Jerkass Gods or expect to be smitten more often and painfully. However, people still have reasonable free will (at least in the sense that gods are not directly controlling their actions) and the gods are not necessarily infallible and may still need the help of their followers to do their smiting.

5 through Infinity: God-King of the Cosmos

God is everywhere, omniscient, omnipresent and truly omnipotent, and makes sure everyone knows it. In this universe, You Can't Fight Fate if Fate does indeed exist. Usually only present in Fluffy Cloud Heaven, but there are exceptions.

Sandbox God

I am god here!
Jobe Smith, The Lawnmower Man

For this "God" all of the above may or even may not apply, but only for their little world, or sandbox. Outside of this sandbox however, he or she is powerless, or at the very least, just simply not all-powerful. Not actually gods by the traditional definition.

Ignorant God This entity is a god, but for all intents and purposes, does not realize that they are a god. Can manifest as any of the above 5, as since they don't know what they are, their power, while undeniable, is also random (Haruhi Suzumiya). Said ignorance can be due to any number of factors, including a divine memory gambit meant to delay insanity due to being everything and every possibility at once, and being unable to evolve or change (see God Emperor and Heretics of Dune, and Ghost in the Shell).

Gods who are actually Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are difficult to place because they might fall anywhere on the scale from 1 (setting themselves up as gods making lesser races their worshipful servants) to 2 (Precursors) all the way up to 5 (The Q Continuum). That baring the debate over whether they count as gods at all.

See also Super Weight.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Class 0 
  • Valdorian Age setting for 5th edition Fantasy Hero (Hero Games). There's temples, there's priests, but no direct divine activity.
  • The Assassin's Creed series. It isn't immediately obvious, but the Assassins are narratively the most correct about the apparent nature of reality when they say "Nothing is true"; this apparently even extends to religion. Faithful adherents of religious groups run the gamut from sympathetic to monstrous, but the organizations themselves tend toward the black end of the Black-and-Gray Morality.
  • In These Words Are True and Faithful, some characters appeal to God or fate, neither of which obliges. Toward the end of the book, a formerly devoutly Christian character discusses the problem of evil.
  • The works of Greg Egan fall here whenever the subject of religion comes up (except for "Crystal Nights", which has a Sandbox God instead). Religions are invariably portrayed as the disease reservoir from which every human flaw and wickedness springs, and the people who run them are never anything more than abusive authoritarians who treat their followers the way a totalitarian government treats its citizens, and they always, always forbid scientific inquiry. Permutation City has the female lead discover at the very end that not only do no gods exist, but no gods can exist, since creating a self-consistent simulated reality and turning the simulation off causes it to appear in an alternate universe that can never be visited from the "original". "Oceanic" has fictional religions exist in the future solely because society reverted back to the Middle Ages at some point and scientists had desperately clawed their way back to a 21st-century understanding over the course of millennia. Representatives of those religions are either frauds, bigots, or imbeciles.
  • Wholly Constructed Worlds made for the sole purpose of fleshing out constructed languages will be this if the idea is to make the world as naturalistic as possible. Mark Rosenfelder's Almea, for instance, is as religiously diverse as Earth, and several of its myths have been written down by the author, but the Thinking Kinds are the only sapient creatures and they all evolved naturally from animals. (But magic does work in the setting, though not consistently.)

     Class 1 
  • The entire point of Preacher is that God has abandoned His flock and Reverend Jesse Custer seeks Him out to demand to know why He hasn't done right by His creations.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, the Maker departed the cosmos long before the events of the game; the plot revolves around the fal'Cie wanting to smash two planets together in hopes that the millions of deaths might summon Him. The protagonists obviously have to stop this, and succeed...sort of.

     Class 2 
  • Chaos Gods from Warhammer/40k are Type 2. The spend most of their time fighting amongst themselves, but occasionally somebody or something in the physical universe manages to attract their attention. They cannot interact with the physical universe directly but can grant their followers new powers and mutations, as well as send their daemonic servants into the physical universe.
  • Interestingly, Lord Of The World falls here despite being a Christian End Times novel. The actual Second Coming of Jesus does not directly occur on-page; instead, the setting is Just Before the End and focuses on The Antichrist using wholly mundane means of persecuting the Church. The only divine intervention ever seen is just after said Antichrist wipes the last surviving Christians off the map, whereupon the book ends immediately. The Spiritual Successor The Dawn of All is even stranger, as it takes place in a future where everything goes the opposite to Lord of the World, meaning that instead of atheism reducing Christianity to a tiny persecuted remnant, Christians successfully convert the entire world despite there being no more evidence of God's existence than there currently is.note  Even the Second Coming of Christ is surprisingly mundane, with the main character hardly reacting to it, though that is at least justified by it being All Just a Dream. Ironically, since that spoiler is heavily implied to be direct divine intervention to save the narrator's soul, it pushes it up to Category 3.

     Class 3 
  • The Avatars ascended to Stratosphere from Unknown Armies are 3. They can't influence the world directly but they can manipulate Fate and work through people following their Archetype.
  • God in Battlestar Galactica is a weak Category 4 or strong Category 3, definitely intervening, but not terribly interested in smiting. Also, He doesn't like to be called "God."
  • In The Bible, God is Category 3 and up, depending on when you're talking about. He is Category 4 during and before the Israelite Kingdom, during the ministry of Jesus, and when speaking directly to prophets, and borders on Category 5 before the Flood (and is unambiguously Category 5 during the Apocalypse). In all other times (including the present), He is Category 3.
  • God (the One) in the Young Wizards series only acts indirectly/subtly. presumably because acting directly would tear apart the fabric of reality. After all, just God's True Name is so powerful that it has to be kept in two parts, lest the might of its whole form destroy several universes.
    • One of the means God uses to act indirectly are wizards, since God is where they get their power from - hence, in a way, Religion Is Magic.
  • God, also known as the White God, works this way in The Dresden Files, according to Uriel. Paraphrased: "The battle between light and dark works on so many levels that you literally could not begin to understand how it all happens."
  • Eru Ilúvatar from The Silmarillion, he has everything planned down to the last angstrom, but uses the Valar (Archangels or small-g gods) to bring about his creation. The Valar can be considered level 4 gods but they are not omnipotent nor omniscient.
  • Gods in most Dungeons & Dragons settings default to this. They're actively interested in what goes on on the Prime Material Plane and can endow mortal servants (like clerics) there with magical powers, but usually prefer to themselves stay in their divine homes in the Outer Planes and directly visit the Prime only rarely — and then usually only by sending a less-powerful (but if need be disposable) avatar.
  • In John Ringo's Special Circumstances, Barbara Everette is a devout born again Christian follower of Jesus Christ, who is openly and emphatically The Paladin for the Old Testament Bible God (many times respectfully referred to as "The White God" by devoted followers of many other religions). She channels God's power in battles with demons and other dark creatures.

     Class 4 
  • The gods of Classical Mythology would be roughly a 4.5 on the scale, falling short of 5 only because they can be tricked and could probably be defeated by something powerful enough. (And because Fate, not they, control the actions of mortals.) They take human shape and walk among their subjects often, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Fate spins the thread of men's lives and you really don't want a god ticked off at you, least they turn you into a spider or keep you from getting home to your family for 20 years.
  • Books from The Camp Half-Blood Series (PJO, HoO, ToO) (plus spin-offs like Kane and Magnus) by Rick Riordan generally follow in the footsteps of the myths they came from with gods walking about, enjoying modern life, and having kids.
  • The gods of the Tortall Universe are about a 4, maybe a hair under it. They have been known to make personal appearances and can make what they want to happen happen, but as the Graveyard Hag would say to Daine, "We have rules, dearie." — they have to use mortal vessels for many things.
  • In the Young Wizards series, the god-like Powers That Be will sometimes fully manifest and do things. It's implied that, contrary to being lazy, that they're constantly doing things to help, but that most of the time its in ways that can't be perceived by mere mortals.
  • The Rifter: The Rifter is the human incarnation of a god, who has great powers of destruction (the current incarnation, John, is using them for rebuilding too). Some people believe that the creator god, Parfir, is miraculously guiding events. John is skeptical about that.
  • The Star-Eyed Goddess of the Hawkbrothers, Shin'a'in, and Kal'andel, and Vkandis Sunlord of Karse and Iftel in the Heralds of Valdemar series. The latter got fed up with the Corrupt Church that ruled Karse for a couple centuries and rearranged things for the better, with a Bolt of Divine Retribution for starters.
  • The Neptunia goddesses all fit this. They live among people and use their powers to keep them safe, usually by going out and beating up whatever is causing the problem.

     Class 5 and Beyond 

     Sandbox God 
  • The Matrix: The machines have a very large degree of control over the world and bluepills within the simulation, but are restricted to reality in the real world.
  • The Truman Show: Christof.
  • The Lawn Mowerman: Jobe Smith is all powerful within the simulation.
  • Technically, the player of every Simulation Game, and the author of every work of fiction, is in this category. They have total control of what is going on in the work of fiction, but are just normal humans who are just as bound by the laws of physics as anybody else in Real Life, and (hopefully) are not worshipped by anybody.
  • Universal Gods in L's Empire are noted as being incredibly powerful Class 4s so long as they stay in their home dimension. Subversal Gods are weaker but they aren't restricted to one dimension.
  • "Crystal Nights" by Greg Egan is about a programmer who creates a simulation peopled by fully sapient beings both to prove he can and to kickstart The Singularity before the means to do so fall into the wrong hands, but most of the story is about how his creations feel about the whole situation (which isn't very high of him). Since the programmer is a mere human, his plan and his simulation end up destroyed by his own hubris.

     Ignorant God 

     Mixed or Other 
  • Star Trek: See the note about Sufficiently Advanced Aliens being hard to classify. If they use trickery and are obviously false gods (the ones Kirk defeats mostly), they could be considered a 0 or 1 case. The Bajoran Prophets of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine borderline 'actual' gods as far as the setting is concerned (a 2-ish): They exist out of linear time, and their powers are hand-waved to the degree that one could argue they're more magic than science on the scale of sci-fi hardness.
  • The DCU's supreme being, The Presence, varies depending on who's writing about Him. In power He's usually around a 4.5, fully omnipotent but fate is still capable of being fought, though in behavior He can be a 2 in that He rarely gets involved unless the stakes are really, really high (like that time in Swamp Thing where the sentient darkness that existed before the creation of the Universe came after Him). By the end of Lucifer, He willingly demotes Himself to a 1a, retiring to allow His granddaughter to take His place, with all evidence pointing to her being a more competent and loving Creator than He ever was.
  • Played with in various ways Tales of MU. Lord Khersis and Mother Kheele are strongly type 4, while the Elven Gods are either type 3 or 1A, depending on who you talk to. Khersisians also believe in the Great Star Drake who created the universe, but than doesn't interfere with it (type 2).
  • The character of The Author in Bob and George slides between the different categories. Sometimes he knows everything that's going on and is working Category 2 or 3. Other times he is there among the characters and has no idea what is happening. What makes this odd is that he is THE AUTHOR OF THE ENTIRE COMIC. He's the one writing and drawing the whole thing! The in comic universe (where There Is No Fourth Wall) cannot exist without him. More than once villains have plotted to destroy the comic universe by killing Author. Sometimes Hand Waved away and Played For Laughs by stating The Author just makes everything up as he goes.
  • Middle-earth's hierarchy of divine beings cover practically the whole scale. Eru, the universe's creator, is a 2- he has a plan for existence, but feels that the cosmos as he built it will naturally reach that end without direct interference. Since the creation, he's interfered precisely twice. The Valar are 3s- they're more active in Chessmastering events, but still keep their hands largely off unless they're absolutely needed. Evil deities like Morgoth and his one-time servant Sauron, as well as divine messengers like the wizards, are 4s, living among (and in some cases ruling) mortals. Tom Bombadil is a Sandbox God- essentially all powerful in his own little country, but he won't leave it or extend beyond it.
  • Most Discworld gods are a Type 4. Gods who present themselves to their followers as the King of All Cosmos (such as Om and Nuggan) end up as Sandbox Gods; all-powerful and all-seeing but only within the area where their worship is centred.
  • In the Circle of Magic series, there are various gods and religions, with the one that the main characters either follow or interact with being the Living Circle religion. However, it is not made clear if the gods don't exist, or if they do but don't do anything.
  • Supernatural mixes it up through all 15 Seasons.
    • In Seasons 1-3, Demons exist and Hell exists but there's no direct evidence of a God existing, though Sam Winchester prays and believes there is one. His brother Dean, however, rejects the notion of a God which would allow all the terrible things he's seen. Pagan gods do exist, but they are portrayed as monsters who feed off of belief.
    • Seasons 4-5 confirm the existence of angels who claim to be working for God. Lower-tier angels believe this is the case and operate on faith, but the higher-level ones believe God is dead or missing. The Winchester brothers learn God is not dead and has intervened on their behalf, but doesn't care to do more. The Season 5 finale heavily implied that a prophet character was, in fact, God walking among humans.
    • Seasons 6-15 confirm that the prophet Chuck is God and introduces beings as powerful as him, such as Amara his sister, and The Empty, a cosmic entity that embodies nothing. Nephalim, angel/human hybrids, are also portrayed as powerful as God and one defeats Chuck to become the new God, more benevolent God in the final season.
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