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I found this online ages ago (probably around the mid-2010s -- maybe 2017) but long ago lost the tab, title, or any identifying info and searching has been no help.

The basic outline of the story went something like this: some philosophy grad students are living in an attic in a fantasy city. Being philosophy grad students, they are struggling to pay the rent. Late one night of drinking, they hit on a great idea--they'll found their own religion to make money tax-free! They quickly draw up some divinely inspired sacred texts, decide who gets to play the prophet/disciple/bishop/martyr/etc roles, and pick a nearby street corner to arrange some "miracles" on.

It goes all too well for them--they get plenty of money to pay the rent with, but suddenly the whole thing becomes a huge hit all across the land, people start converting in droves, the government turns hostile, fights break out about doctrine and dogma and ritual...and some of the students who made up the whole thing start sincerely believing in it as well. There are schisms and crusades and inquisitions and stuff--I can't remember how it ended (or didn't get that far) but things get way out of hand.

Anyway, I know it's a long shot, but if anyone has any leads I would love to find this story again, thanks!

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  • 2
    I also remember reading this, I think I saw it in this site: freesfonline.net
    – user108131
    Oct 25, 2021 at 16:58
  • 1
    sounds like it could be something out of discworld
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 25, 2021 at 17:08
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    It sure feels discworld-esque, but I do not think it was actually by Terry Pratchett
    – Tom Warner
    Oct 25, 2021 at 17:09
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    By "fantasy city", do you mean that they live in a world with magic, divine intervention, monsters, or the like? Or just that it's a city that doesn't exist in our world, like "Ferroburgh"?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 25, 2021 at 17:18
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    I don't see anything in tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScamReligion that matches.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 27, 2021 at 19:10

1 Answer 1

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+150

Is it "The Sun and I" by K. J. Parker?

“We could always invent God,” I suggested.

We’d pooled our money. It lay on the table in front of us; forty of those sad, ridiculous little copper coins we used back then, the wartime emergency issue—horrible things, punched out of flattened copper pipe and stamped with tiny stick-men purporting to be the Emperor and various legendary heroes; the worse the quality of the die-sinking became, the more grandiose the subject matter. Forty trachy in those days bought you a quart of pickle-grade domestic red. It meant we had no money for food, but at that precise moment we weren’t hungry. “What do you mean?” Teuta asked.

“I mean,” I said, “we could pretend that God came to us in a dream, urging us to go forth and preach His holy word. Fine,” I added, “it’s still basically just begging, but it’s begging with a hook. You give money to a holy man, he intercedes for your soul, you get something back. Also,” I added, as Accila pursed his lips in that really annoying way, “it helps overcome the credibility issues we always face when we beg. You know, the College accents, the perfect teeth.”

The students do have several "miracles" attributed to them (some through dumb luck, some through careful planning and foreknowledge). The protagonist tries to reveal the religion's nefarious origins after

the "made-up" god appears to him in a dream

and is eventually excommunicated from the religion for it. He wanders the desert, eventually returning to the city where he founded the religion, being sentenced to death for heresy, and thereby being "martyred" for his schismatic beliefs.

However his execution turns out to be staged by his friends still in the religion, who actually control both the Orthodox and schismatic sects, and his friends give him a generous pension and allow him to retire in peace.


Found by sheer 100% dumb luck as I scrolled through the "Recommended Stories" section of Free SF Online, linked in the comments by @user108131.

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  • This is exactly it! Thank you so much, great work!
    – Tom Warner
    Nov 3, 2021 at 18:48

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