(Written May 2007)
“What do you think of these new religions, John?” I once asked him.
“To be honest, Markus,” he told me, “they rather unsettle me. I’ve been thinking about the matter for quite some time, giving it serious consideration, as I’m sure we all have of late. Indeed, the Church has even drawn up a number of contingencies should matters get anymore out of hand.”
“Do you think that’s likely?” I asked, astonished.
“Let me show you something,” he said, rolling the papers on the desk in his study to one side. He rested a finger on a raised steel button at one corner of the desk, and after a moment a rectangle of the dark, perfectly polished mahogany blinked out of camouflage into self illumination between us. He flicked through a few directories, some requiring pass-glyphs on the touch screen.
“These documents show just a brief overview of our gathered intelligence on the most widespread of the new faiths. As you can see, the two most popular congregations now have an estimated two billion followers between them worldwide, and the youngest of these has amassed around three-fifths of that total in a little over thirty years.”
“All that for a religion invented by a well known entertainment company less than half a century ago?”
“Let us not forget, Markus, not only that it is something that has happened before within post-analogue history, but that some people for many centuries have dismissed our own doctrine as a simple work of pre-digital fiction as well.”
“That may be so,” I offered, “but surely our own Church has stood the test of time for long enough. How on Earth do these new churches reach so many people so quickly? Why are these people so easily recruited to these modern faiths?”
“They’re seduced by the pseudo-science, and the technology, or sometimes information overload of those very same things has left them disillusioned, disaffected and frustrated. The ill-bred and ill-educated masses, desperately clutching for a better life, for greater meaning, for a sense of belonging, for answers to all their questions and all their prayers. The very same reasons that have provided a need for religion for thousands of years.”
There was a sense of something in John’s voice that night, but at the time I couldn’t tell whether it was mere antipathy or pity, and, unbeknown at the time, I would never find out.
That was six months ago. We had no idea how much the world could change around us in such a short space of time. There had been much civil unrest across the entire globe, and now our own Church was in danger of being crushed beneath a new wave of evangelism on an unprecedented scale.
John was no longer with us, and I had recently been elected, through much ceremony, to take his place at the head of our Church. Six months ago I hadn’t been in line, wouldn’t have been considered, not even eligible but, like I said, things had changed fast. It was now up to me to make the decisions. I had spent many late nights at that aged mahogany desk in his old study, poring over the various plans written by our finest technical minds in case of times like these.
The first of the contingencies was so simple, and possibly the safest, most foolproof, and yet to me it seemed too barbaric. We would have inoculated our own people, directly from within, externally through communion and via airborne distribution of the necessary biologicals within confined places of worship and attendance, and then released an engineered plague of truly biblical proportions. The estimates were impressive, almost poetic, ninety-five percent survival rate for us, only five percent survival rate for everyone else. It was the ‘everyone’ that stuck in my mind. Indiscriminate. Unjust. Ungodly. We weren’t at war with everybody, after all.
I chose the second of the plans. It seemed clean. We employed a team of hackers, turned our enemy’s technology against them and started a war between the two biggest churches. We thought the war would be short-lived, that they’d take out each other’s leadership and their organisations would collapse from the inside. We hoped their followers would then cross or revert to other religions and of course we would be there to offer them our guidance. We didn’t think they’d find out who started it before it was over, and we thought we’d covered our tracks. But of course, it didn’t turn out like that. The best laid plans. We didn’t realise that once they had discerned who started it, that they would join forces and turn against us.
Now I am barricaded deep within ancient, sacred chambers, our headquarters are under armed siege. I know my hours are numbered. But in the end, I have faith. Faith in my God, faith in his forgiveness, faith that I tried to do the right thing. And in the end, with the knowledge that my religion has been waging these wars for thousands of years, faith that ultimately my own Church will win this war once and for all.
I wrote this immediately after watching a BBC documentary about Scientology, the one where the reporter lost his temper with their representative on camera. It caused a brief fuss in the press at the time. That same reporter made a follow up film a few years later to find that the representative had since left the 'church'.
Some people have said this feels like the start of a film or novel, but to me it was just another impulse piece, it's not a subject I want to immerse myself in. I tried not to identify any one religion specifically, to me they're all pretty interchangeable. Oh, don't get me started, j-u-s-t don't! Personally, I regard organised religion as one of the worst and most unfortunate inventions in the history of humanity.
I think I'll leave it at that, before I cause any more trouble, and go and put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea...
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