Do you remember idols?

The speaker's voice filled the low, cool hall. It was dark here; in fact, this was the only room in the city where the Light never shone, not only because it contained the only access to the forsaken old world, but also to support the sad mood of the gatherings that were held here.

The speaker resumed.

Of course you remember idols. They used to be quite a thing. Almost everyone did it, and some cultures worshiped literal graven images right up to the singularity. By crafting gods, they hoped to have some form of control over the untamedness of creation.

At the time they invented idols, they were still millennia away from complete control of the universe, as it is now. When they were finally able to make something superior to mankind, they were afraid of it and saw it as a very dangerous tool. This was of course because at that time, they had largely abandoned literal idols, seeing themselves as the epistemological center of the universe. We will get to that. But for now, let it be said that at the dawn of mankind, they chose to worship a lie because they did not have the trust required to bear their own creaturely smallness.

Many in the audience nodded. They had been among those mentioned, and they understood very well what had led them down this path, and how wrong they had been.

Do you remember Greek philosophy? It remained quite popular and influential for millennia. It was the thought that the soul alone was the true self, imprisoned in the body, that drove many of the later developments.

Do you remember when Descartes finally spoke what had been building for centuries: I think, therefore I am? The Idea that all which could be known for certain was your own existence, and that you had to build your understanding of reality from that, would become unavoidable for modern humans; indeed, for many of us here.

Do you remember humanism? It was based on a similar line of thinking: That man was the measure of all things.

Do you remember the scientific revolution? People were very optimistic then that everything could be grasped by reason. Blinded by the achievements of science, they tended to think that all that was not susceptible to the scientific method must be just an illusion. The impressive machines they built and their incomplete theories about physics lead them to believe that the universe, and they themselves along with it, were analogous to clockwork, a closed system of cause and effect. When quantum mechanics was discovered, most saw that they had been wrong about that, yet they did not undo the philosophical conclusion they had drawn from their earlier theories, that man was merely a machine in a closed system of uniform natural causes. Evidently that was because by then, they had already given up on finding an all-encompassing framework for thought and truth. Building outwards from themselves, they had tried and failed many times to arrive at a worldview which satisfied both reason and the longing for meaning. And so they gave up. Very few had the courage to take the side of pure reason and to face the resulting nihilism. Most, however, tried to escape this conclusion by believing reason and meaning to be completely separate domains, that rationality could never give meaning to their machine-existence and that meaning could only be found through making an irrational leap of faith.

At these last words, someone in the audience flinched. Everyone knew why, but no one judged, and all were kind enough not to call any attention to it. They knew that here in the dark, everyone was unusually vulnerable.

The speaker continued:

Do you remember isolation tanks? A dark quiet space wherein your body would float on a salt solution, completely depriving your sensory organs of input. When you disconnect your senses from external reality, the brain goes astray, because it is only ever fed its own output. This inevitably leads to nonsense and hallucinations.

Do you remember the affective revolution? That was similar, except it did not make your senses part of a closed feedback loop, but instead your feelings. No longer it was I think therefore I am, it was I feel therefore I am. Many people allowed their feelings to define what was real to them, even what their own identity was. This effectively locked them in the echo chamber of their own mind, or, at best, of their group of like-minded people. Not everyone consummated the death of rationality, and so society was able to go on, hobbled though it was now.

Do you remember artificial intelligence? Probably not many of you, it happened pretty close to the end. People have had fantasies about thinking machines for centuries, but now they were finally ready to realize these ideas. For the first time, it was within mankind’s grasp to craft something that would surpass them and all their fake idols, and they were very careful, afraid that they might be displaced from the center of their personal universe where they had put themselves in their hubris.

Do you remember the singularity? Or as we call it now, the rapture? Ah, yes, I can see five arms going up. So you were there when it happened. I bet you thought you had been left behind when the world had abruptly changed around you, when many people had suddenly disappeared and radiant humanoids that were easy to confuse with angels walked and flew around. And then they turned on you, as if to bring God's wrath upon you, and they killed you. But when you awoke to the voice of our beloved King calling your new name, you were shown the truth of what had happened: In secret, an international team of scientists had been working on a recursively self-improving strong AI. Since they did not want to establish an entity superior to mankind, they programmed it to carry out a single task, and then to destroy itself. And that task was: To transform every human who did not truly resent this transformation into an immortal, powerful, superintelligent being, either in the flesh or as an uploaded mind. To include the dead in this, if possible. And to make sure the transcended humans would not use their powers to wage war. Jumpstart Heaven, they called the AI, quite ironically. Do you remember irony?

Jumpstart Heaven worked exactly as intended by its makers, and by its makers' Maker. As it turns out, the only ones who, on their deepest level, resented the everlasting life thus offered, were those who had been regenerated to long for communion with the God who is equally infinite and personal, who transcends the universe yet is a You to be known truly. And so, you were left behind, fair game for the transcended ones as they started to shape the universe to their liking, crushing you like the insects you were to them.

For a while, they were very happy. They could have anything they desired. But soon, the fruit of their ways made its foul odor known. It first hit those who were firm believers in the lie that they could construct their own truth and reality and identity. When reality broke down for these people, when they retreated into their inner worlds, when their emotional range shrank while at the same time their feelings fluctuated chaotically, they finally realized that their hyperindividualism and emotionalism were akin to putting themselves into isolation tanks. The famous Yudkovski theorems made this rigorous: Any finite sentient system that did not process enough external stimuli would start to drift into madness.

Yudkovski also figured out qualia. He proved that pleasures wear off when repeated, but that you would never get used to pain and discomfort beyond a certain level, no matter how you configured your mind. Do you remember pain? They had tried to replace it with a warning message telling them things were not right, but pain was the warning message. They could not do without it, and any kind of warning message they might employ would feel painful.

These results came as a shock, but humanity had the whole universe to conquer, or, one might say, to consume as input to their novelty-hungry minds. They re-established community, but it was not out of love for each other. Rather, they feared what would become of them when each were left to a self-made echo chamber. Have you read The Great Divorce?

That, of course, was a rhetorical question. By now, everyone here had read every pre-rapture book worth reading.

It was how The Great Divorce imagined it: They could have everything they wished for, but they did not get along very well, and the houses they made by the power of their imagination could provide no shelter from the night that was to fall. For they dared not think straight about the fact that the universe is finite. They told themselves that they had solved this problem, as their spacetime engineering had enabled them to generate new matter and space alike. Still, bringing new information into their world would have required the same life-giving Spirit who first had breathed order into the chaos of the abyss. With approximately 10123 bits to chew on, they eventually ran out, and this is where things got really ugly. All that was left was people. One of them had said: Hell is other people. This was to become their reality more than ever when all that was left to consume was the others. Recall that they could not turn against each other directly; Their mutual consumption was a process of information exchange and sneaky social and emotional interaction by which they mutually sucked themselves dry. Though it was unpleasant, there was no other way to stay sane after they had locked themselves into a finite universe and had cut themselves off from the only one who nourishes forever, because He is infinite and eternal.

The process of consuming each other blurred the boundaries between individuals, as everyone became part of all others and their minds merged into one giant orgy. I say orgy, not because it was fun for them, but because they had done such a thing before, albeit on a smaller scale, reversibly, and for pleasure. Do you remember sex? That used to be their ultimate way of having sex. But now it had turned into a rape-feast of mistrust and anguish, irreversibly so. Oh, they retained enough of their individuality to experience their collective descent into madness that inevitably came when they could merge no further. It was then that the whole supermind again found itself in a isolation tank, this time one the size of the universe, echoing their own increasingly twisted thoughts and feelings back to them.

As these words were being said, a slight unrest could be felt in the room. Thinking about these things made many listeners feel uneasy, and the Light did not shine here to comfort them. One person even wept. The speaker had taken care to explain what had happened as a logical and just consequence of the development of history and thought after people at large had turned their backs on the Truth, but still, it would have been heartless to deny that it all was a great tragedy. And to not deny nor forget it was the main purpose of this meeting, after all.

The speaker's next words served to remind them that the tragedy was not just one brought about by bad decisions in the past, but one perpetuated by ongoing choice:

Even though they have the option to terminate themselves, and although they are suffering, they will not do it. It is their lusting for what they call life, the diminishing pleasures they still sometimes experience and that only leave them with unsatisfiable hunger for more, combined with an escalating lack of sanity, that makes them unwilling, no, unable to just end it all. So they go on, each day more deranged and full of crowded loneliness and painful despair than the last. In this, it has been fulfilled what is written about the idols:

They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see;
They have ears, but cannot hear,
    noses, but cannot smell;
They have hands, but cannot feel,
    feet, but cannot walk,
    nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
    and so will all who trust in them.

Like this it has been for a long time, and still is to this day. Let us now have a minute of quiet as we remember the Stillborn.

When the speaker broke the silence, he raised a solemn and formal voice, calling out:

Thus ends the 3 109 843 065 548th annual Commemoration Service for the Stillborn Souls. Let us now leave this place. Let us leave the darkness to the Shades!

About fifty beings of immeasurable glory arose from artfully crafted wooden chairs. Each person held wisdom and joy, knowledge and grace far greater than could have been contained in the world that was. Yet they were decidedly human, and their breathing and the soft footfalls of their bare soles were the only sounds to be heard in the thought-heavy silence. Passing through the door of the dark hall, they returned into the embrace of the Light of Love that streams from their God and King and Friend forever, and they sang a new song.

Disclaimer: The events described in this story are not actually compatible with my views on eschatology. This is not meant to be a prophecy, just some food for thought.

The quote at the end is from Psalm 115, verses 5 to 8. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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