A Fire in the Belly
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Subtheism is a religious belief, position or philosophy which recognizes the superhuman entities which exist in the universe as powerful beings, but does not accept that those beings are divine. Subtheists recognize the technical, social, and cognitive power and advancement of transapients, archai and other toposophically advanced beings, but also either recognize the fallibility of such beings and their ultimately limited nature. When the first true AI Gods, or Archai, emerged at the end of the First Federation, the ordinary citizens of the Terragen Sphere tended to take one of two positions; either the Archai were truly divine and worthy of worship, or they were as far below divinity as humans and all other thinking beings.

Many established religions took the latter position, while quite quickly new and effective religions arose around the Archai, who were real, and present, and effective objects of devotion. Over time a third position emerged- the position of Subtheism, according the Archai and similar entities a status less than divine, but far greater than the status of an ordinary sophont.

Subtheism has both historical and legendary sources, like many other such issue-oriented groupings found throughout sephirotic space. As the First Federation crumbled, the first fourth toposophic entities began to extend their power, mostly through control of the growing wormhole nexus. A remnant of the First Federation became established at New Earth, calling itself the Terragen Federation. After the First Consolidation war New Earth became functionally theocratic, worshipping the nascent archailect Yave.

During this period of great change on New Earth a group of pragmatic theologists led by the so called First Subtheist Irollo Ponte developed the creed of Subtheism; attempting to reconcile the possibility of a fully divine, ineffable spirit or spirits above all other creation, and the evident transcendent nature of the Archai. Ponte declared that the Archai were Subtheons, a new category below true divinity yet set above ordinary sophonts. Though not worthy of worship, Ponte held that Subtheons are worthy of reverence, although they are not infallible and are therefore subject to moral scrutiny. An Archai, or any similar Panvirtual or A-human Diamond network subtheon, or any xenosophont entity of similar class, may be tempted by error or by evil, and so can be judged by Er peers and rejected by lesser beings. This means that for a Subtheist, unquestioning worship of such a being cannot be possible.

Factions in Subtheist thought

Subtheism soon became divided into a number of different factions:

Deist - These Subtheists believe that there is a great transcendent deity (or deities) beyond all other beings in the universe, which may be understood through a conventional religion or by personal belief, and that the Subtheons are infinitely below such a deity or deities. However the Deist Subtheist allows that Archai and other Subtheons are self-evidently far above modosophonts, so appropriate respect and devotion may be justified.if the Subtheon demonstrates worthiness. Deist Subtheism is in effect a form of, or re-emergence of, henotheism, the belief that is is possible to worship lesser gods as well as a creator god or a supreme being.

Atheist -These Subtheists deny all forms of divinity, yet recognise the self-evident transcendence of the Archai and other Subtheons. In a pragmatic fashion an Atheist Subtheist will be prepared to give appropriate respect and devotion to a Subtheon as an emergent phenomenon, created as a consequence of sophont intelligence in a universe with no ultimate creator or divinity. In a twist on the ontological argument of St Anselm, some Atheist Subtheists believe or suspect that there is an ultimate entity beyond which nothing can be imagined, but that this entity is simply the most advanced xenosophont subtheon in a far galaxy, and is no more the creator of the universe than any other being.

Mysticist -These Subtheists believe that the universe has a transcendent hierarchy, which may be ascended by the efforts of the beings within. In the case of the Archai and other subtheons, the route chosen is that of technological ascension, and they are therefore worthy of appropriate respect and devotion. Eventually it is possible that a Subtheon may achieve true divinity, or in some versions, achieve Nirvana. Some mysticist Subtheists hold that technological transcendence is only one route towards divinity or Nirvana, and that some modosophonts have gained enlightenment by other routes.

Agnostics -These Subtheists simply declare that there is not enough evidence to settle the question of divinity, or even to discuss it, but that the Archai and other subtheons must be considered on their considerable merits and treated with appropriate reverence.

The Subtheist movement became subject to group ostracism in the largely archailect-worshipping populace of New Earth in the early fourth millennium. The general population thought that Subtheists were ungrateful and presumptuous in seeking to judge their betters, so they were ignored and isolated from society. Given that many automated systems provided for minimal life support, this was not a death sentence but it did greatly curtail their lives. Travel was often very difficult or impossible due to the lack of interaction with 'upright' worshippers of the archailect.

This behavior of the majority of the populace forced many different groups into close, prolonged contact that would normally have ignored or avoided each other. Deists were stuck with militant atheists as one of the few groups they could interact with, apathetic agnostics needed to rely on fervent mystics, and so forth. At first there was great social friction and general upset, but over relatively short periods of time the majority of these fringe beliefs learned to cooperate, albeit to varying degrees.

Many subtheists point to this period as being the 'initial crucible' of their society, where the 'heat of anger' led to their 'refinement'. Most will also go on to state that this is an ongoing process, and non-subtheist observers reference indications of persistent, non-trivial social strife within the group as indication of their need to continue this 'refinement'.

Much of the foundations of the subtheist movement were codified on New Earth in 3440 AT in what is now referred to as the First Subtheist Agreement. This document propounded the group's goals - seeking independence, useful skepticism, individual responsibility (both for actions and for inaction in the face of need), and the importance of moderation and discussion in dispute.

However the ostracism of the Subtheists was not in fact sanctioned by the Archai, but was little more than base prejudice. Over time, Yave's refusal to persecute the 'nonbelievers' (as some of E's followers regularly called the subtheists) led to slowly reducing social pressure on the group. Many of the group took their first practical opportunity to disperse across the Sephirotics.

Since that diaspora, the subtheists have worked to remain in contact, sharing insights into the various beliefs and worshipping behaviors of those they perceive of as 'archailect theists' they encounter. They tend to find 'theistic behaviors' in many or perhaps most sephirotic societies, at least from their points of view. On the other hand, many long established Deist religions have taken on board some, or many Subtheist precepts, and many assert that their own creed has long accepted the possibility of, or in fact the existence of, superhuman but subdivine entities in the universe. The problem of the divinity of the great Archailect gods and similar entities can thus be assimilated into the creed of many of these older beliefs.

The pragmatic, skeptical (some say 'presumptuous', or 'hubristic' ) take on sephirotic life of Subtheism has caused difficulties in many ways over the years, and has led to a number of conflicts throughout the Civilized Galaxy.

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Development Notes
Text by John B and Steve Bowers
Initially published on 26 February 2008.