The people of the Steamlands view faith in a practical light, preferring mostly to avoid the attention of the greater powers in the hope of a peaceful life. That there are Gods and magic imbuing the entire land is a fact unquestioned; the utility of loyal service to them is noted; but the ultimate benefits of fealty are weak, and questionable. This is because the gods of the Steamlands divide into two bitterly opposed factions: the uncaring, capricious and probably not-even-sentient gods of the main churches, whose beneficence is limited to their closest servants; and the malicious gods of Chaos, who offer greater but uncertain rewards to those sick enough to join with them, in exchange for a life of secrecy and pain.
The gods of the main churches are universally accepted as real, but to show faith gains nothing. Even to their closest followers they offer no eternal salvation or redemption. Their teachings offer no hope for a better future, no life beyond death, no reward for goodness and no benefits to casual faith. Those who attend church regularly to offer their prayers to these gods are given no promise that the gods will attend to their needs. The ordinary citizens of the Steamlands are simply told that ruin follows from a neglect of fealty, and expected to believe in all the main gods, and accord them respect, for no better reason than the fear of floods and earthquakes that are visited upon unbelievers. Only those who dedicate their lives to service of a single church gain any benefit from their faith: for these select few, temporal power can be gained through the power to cast benedictions and to have prayers answered. For the rest, faith and worship are reflexive acts, practised to avoid the wrath of unfeeling and unsentimental elder powers rather than out of love for or hope of a greater good on this world or any other. All followers of the main gods of the churches will live out their short, nasty lives in pain and suffering, eased only by the occasional ministrations of the Shallyans, and when they have served out their allotted mortal term will be coiled up into the earth, to return to the worms and the darkness. The best hope for ordinary mortals in the Steamlands is to live their lives unnoticed by church, god or secular powers, to avoid major mishaps (or to be tended by the Shallyans when they occur) and to die with dignity, hopefully not in too much pain, and hopefully surrounded by loved ones. Thus do the gods promise that all humans are equal.
The Chaos gods whisper in the ears of some arrogant or cruel folk that they can rise above this tawdry cycle, and offer commensurate benefits. There is no ever-lasting life in Chaos, but the Chaos gods do promise a longer life, possibly much longer than any human can hope for naturally, great temporal power to aid their followers in pursuing whatever corrupt material goals they desire, and freedom from disease and pain not through the humble ministrations of healers, but through the domination and ultimate subjugation of the human condition: in short, long life and the ability to ignore or control disease, pain and terror. Those who serve the gods of Chaos well do not go to some dark and horrific hell, as is often threatened by the preachers of Sigmar: they die peacefully and return to the earth as do all mortals, all their cruel deeds and corruption unpunished forever. However, very few of the followers of the Chaos gods live long enough to gain this reward, because the Chaos churches function on hatred, cruelty and treachery. Those who first enter the church are pawns for their more powerful brethren, used horribly and treated cruelly so that only the strongest and bravest survive. Those who fail to rise to the early challenges of entry into these creeds of darkness die soon, and horribly, or are cast out to suffer the flames of the established churches. Those few who succeed in rising above the level of initiate are then able to inflict the same cruelty they experienced on others, and to use their followers as they see fit. But for those who reach these higher echelons of the Chaos church, a more dangerous fate awaits. For though the Chaos gods reward their longest-lived and most faithful followers with peace after a long life, they punish those who fail them terribly. Leaders of chaos cults or disease sects who fail to achieve the tasks they are given, who are revealed and captured by the churches, or who betray their cult, are given the worst punishment of all: their souls are thrown into hell, and tortured until the Chaos gods tire of them. Some scholars contend that it is only through this punishment that the Chaos gods are able to generate the supernatural power they need to reward their followers, since they have been cut off from whatever godhead underlies the powers of the gods of the main churches. Others contend that so long as there is pain, suffering and treachery in the world of ordinary mortals, the Chaos gods will always have supernatural power to bestow on those they seduce away from the path of righteousness. Whatever the truth of it, the reality of the Chaos cults is always the same: the new entrants are abused and used as their elders see fit, but those same elders must always succeed, lest they be fed into the great and terrible cauldron of punishment that the gods of Chaos reserve for their own kind. Should they avoid an early death and conduct themselves well in the service of their gods, however, servants of Chaos can hope to live long lives blessed with temporal power and fanatical followers who will do their every bidding.
This is the choice that faces ordinary mortals in the Steamlands: thankless piety to uncaring, capricious gods who offer them no sanctuary from the bitterness of ordinary life; or a brutal struggle to gain the favour of dark gods through fell deeds, in the small hope of extending their mortality beyond that of their kin, and slaking their lusts on the weak and the innocent. The preachers of the main churches contend that humanity is weak and morally frail, and this is why the majority of ordinary people show a cynical view of the churches and offer only the weakest semblance of piety. But the truth is that neither the gods of the main churches or the Gods of chaos offer any reason for mortals to respect them, and none to love them. For the majority of the residents of the Steamlands the presence of immortal powers is a curse, the churches a bane, their promises empty and their threats vexing. It is in this spirit that the people greet their preachers – is it any wonder, then, that the Chaos cults always seem to spring up anew, no matter how hard good folk try to destroy them?