We live in metaphysically desolate times. An increasing number of us—particularly among the millennial generation—now reject Christianity and other non-materialistic faiths as superstitious relics, vestiges of a time before science uncovered the truth about existence. The less polite even mock traditional religious believers by pretending to worship a faux-god, the great flying spaghetti monster.
Scorn faith as they will, moderns can’t escape the yearning of their own hearts for something more profound than news, weather, sports, and carbon molecules—demonstrating that human beings are congenitally incapable of believing in nothing. We crave meaning. We yearn for purpose. As Dylan put it, “Ya gotta serve somebody.” It is hardly surprising that, having rejected God and believing that the only reality is that which can be scientifically demonstrated, some “non-believers” are turning to technology as their focus of worship.
Take the “Way of the Future,” a registered non-profit religious organization founded by Silicon Valley mega-millionaire Anthony Levandowski. The Way of the Future—perhaps borrowing from Christianity’s early identification as “The Way”—describes its purpose as proselytizing “the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” In other words, Levandowski intends that we view artificial intelligence—very sophisticated computers capable of self-programming—as a materialist god. Rather than worshipping their Creator, creators would worship their creations.
This reminds me of the scene in Woody Allen’s Sleeper (back when he was funny, as the saying goes) in which the Allen character approaches a computer-priest for confession. The sacrament begins with a screen that reads, “Speak into the microphone. When you hear the beep, confess.” When he is done, the screen declares, “ABSOLVED,” and the machine spits out a kewpie doll.
There is also the quasi-religion known as transhumanism. Initially, transhumanism was primarily about individual recreationism: Adherents waited breathlessly for a time when they could modify themselves with bio- and cyber-tech to have abilities akin to a teenager’s superhero fantasy. More recently, the movement has become obsessed with pursuing immortality, as by uploading our minds into computers or trading our flesh bodies for mechanical ones. Transhumanism even has an eschatology, with prophets promising a pending “singularity,” after which an unstoppable cascade of AI advances will transform the human race into immortal near-gods—sort of a materialist New Jerusalem.
There is even an emergent “transreligion for technical times,” called Terasem. Its four “core beliefs” range from the platitudinous to the wishful: “life is purposeful; death is optional; God is technological; and love is essential.” The ultimate goal is to “achieve diversity, unity and joyful immortality everywhere” within the context of a “collective consciousness.” It’s hard to tell what this means in practice. There are no creeds or moral codes to follow. Instead, Terasems have published stated “rituals,” including taking one day a week to practice, “reading, exercise, sensuality and Transcendental Meditation.”
And what overview of materialistic religions would be complete without mentioning the Raelians, named after the movement’s founder, a Frenchman who goes by the nom de cult, Rael. More a science cult than a religion, unlike orthodox transhumanists, Raelians deny evolution, and claim that all life on earth was seeded by extraterrestrial visitors.
That point of doctrine aside, the Raelians and transhumanists have much in common. Both deny theism and embrace scientism as the way to attain ultimate truth. Thus, Raelians claim that our interstellar “creators” are already trans-humans. Through applied biotechnology and other scientific advances, their bodies last for one thousand years. When their bodies can no longer be maintained, their minds are uploaded into computers, the bodies are cloned, their software is downloaded back into their new brains, and voila, they are good to go for another millennium. The highest point of Raelian public penetration came when the Rael claimed to have cloned human babies, creating a media feeding frenzy. Rael was even hilariously interviewed by Connie Chung on CNN, who agreed to address him as “Your Holiness.” (Whatever popularity Raelians have probably has more to do with the free love practiced by their adherents than to actual dogma.)
Having rejected faith, materialist religionists seek to fill the dark hole left in soul or psyche (take your pick). But this is all very thin gruel. Can you imagine a future transhumanist version of Lincoln’s famous Thanksgiving Proclamation?
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty AI . . . .
They are the gracious gifts of the Most High Computer, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Computer Father/Mother who dwelleth in the Cyberspace.
Oh, you don’t think that will catch on? Neither do I.