On Miracles and Microchips
It’s a miracle. Overworked monastic scrivener, in T.V. commercial, upon
introduction to Xerox electronic copier.
The Reverend Gilder Smelt, of the Mail Me Magic Money Miracle Missions Movement, had been blessed with the gifts of miracle healing and of prophecy, but, regrettably and inexplicably, had been denied the gift of correct grammar. He was held a prophet of God by his followers when he spoke on the 7Ms Club’s vast radio and television network. He had succeeded the movement’s founder, Dr. Ducworth Bliss, after the latter had been, according to Rev. Smelt, translated directly into heaven like Elijah and the BVM.
Secular authorities held the less metaphysical view that Dr. Duck, as they termed him, had faked his death in a plane crash in Brazil, where he then proceeded to reside, safe from secular extradition, among fellow travelers of Nazi persuasion. Authorities also cynically believed that Bliss had taken with him a large quantity of mailed miracle money, sent him by the gullible who accepted the teaching that the last dollar of the starving, if sent as magic seed money in cash to 7Ms, would be multiplied and returned by God to the sinning sender seven times seventy fold. Because 7Ms was an officially recognized church, it paid no taxes and could not be made to disclose how much money it received, or how much was missing, assuming anyone really knew.
Dr. Duck’s disappearance permitted the grammatically challenged Smelt to expand upon the mendacity of his mentor, and added a certain irony to 7Ms’ theme song, “More More Money Makes Miracle Missions Move.” Previously satisfied with receiving the last mites of the hopeless, whose faith usually proved inadequate, after the transfer of funds, to achieve the miracles sought, the 7Ms Club, under Smelt, tooled up for serious electronic chautauqua.
With the compensated aid of shills, and the uncomprehending cooperation of the habitually hysterical and hypochondriacal, 7Ms’ fortune and fame flourished. The only real problem Rev. Smelt encountered was deciding whether to condition members of his audience–of the soon to be miraculously cured–to fall backwards or forwards following his heavenly healing touch. He settled on forwards. Some of the fallees seeking the strong arms of salvation were attractive, full bosomed young women.
None of Brother Smelt’s miracles, whether calling on the power of God to produce healings or to prevent hauntings, were ever verified by competent skeptics. Why permit the damned to question the ordained? What, Smelt unartfully argued, could science, or logic, or reason hope to provide the human spirit that could possibly compare or compete with faith, with the promise that all things hoped for would be provided, if not immediately, then in an invisible future world where you don’t get hurt if you fall on your face. When asked by a godless cynic why so many people sent so much money they didn’t have for miracles that didn’t happen, Gilder Smelt replied, “We done it for God.” And, as predictably as a Harvard graduate telling you he is one, the insecure and the frightened lined up to fall down.
7Ms’ miracle mania swept the world. Audio tapes, videos, CDS, interactive CD-ROMs, tee shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and every conceivable sort of bizarre religious kitsch was sent out for free to believers who sent in love gifts of magic miracle seed money. One popular item, the Ye-are-the-salt-of-the-earth, glow-in-the-dark, seashell salt shaker, formed in the image of the translated to heaven Ducworth Bliss, was sent without charge to those who made heroic love gift payments on their eternal life insurance policies. Often this variegated shaker became the centerpiece on altars of families whose polluted water supply would prematurely merge them with The Eternal Bliss.
Sufficient funds were received to permit Miracle Missions to expand into world wide real estate holdings. Miracle theme parks, hotels, office buildings, campgrounds, and even Miracle Meals fast food restaurants became common throughout America and most foreign countries. Gilder’s favorite dish, grilled Spam and Velveeta cheese with onion, lettuce, mayonnaise and ketchup on white bread, was sold by the billions as the Miracle Smelt Melt. 7Ms was ready to control the world.
Almost as fast as a priest on a choirboy, individual religions lost their identities. When a denomination discovered 7Ms suddenly owned even its church properties, rather than be evicted, the elders usually agreed to change their signs. Eventually, and not altogether bloodlessly, 7Ms came to hold solid supernatural superiority on earth. When only the conventicles and those pesky secular humanists seemed beyond their reach, 7Ms decided to change some laws.
The previously shepherdless sheep, who now consumed Smelt Melts, willingly elected religious bigots and scientific illiterates to all public offices. School teachers taught children the More More Money song, and all learning became dedicated to the proposition that one lived only for 7Ms, so that one could live blissfully after death. All knowledge was held electronically and dispensed electronically, by video while awake, and by audio while asleep. Creationism and faith classes replaced the teachings of outlawed scientific heresies that had claimed it was possible to find out how the world really worked, or where humans really came from. The libraries of the older learning were destroyed.
Years passed. Everywhere was seen the fixed smile and thousand yard stare of the fanatically faithful. There was the occasional stoning of someone who claimed the fixed earth moved, and every so often children were reassigned, and their parents re-educated, if their traditional family was found to be practicing home schooling in science, or sex education, or teaching the heresy of reason. But, in general, life was good. For a while.
Suddenly, things fell apart. Viruses evolved that didn’t know there was no evolution, nor that they could be stopped by faith. Almost simultaneously, the equipment that directed electrons to become images and voices failed. Secular scientists and science had been outlawed. Anyone who remembered and practiced the old ways, who knew how to repair or create a computer or a microchip, was in hiding or dead. 7Ms could neither deal with the plague, nor get their messages on line. Everyone was sick or dying; no miracle worked, and the voice of god in the machine was silent. A fortiori, faith failed.
Blame for these happenings was imputed to the atheistss. The Blissful Judgement was upon the faithful, because they had been meek and gentle with those who had sought to control nature and deny god’s plan.
Darkness and death covered the land. The dead were left to bury the dead. No invisible electron could be controlled. Faith was swallowed up in viruses. The unseen world had triumphed over the seen.
Some time passed before the first of the atheists emerged. He was an ancient, gaunt man; his hand held the hand of a beautiful young woman. They had received inoculations, from their people, before their own computers had fallen silent in their secret places. All electronic information in the world was now forever lost. The destruction was as complete as that of the righteous fires that once consumed the collected knowledge of the Maya. This time, religion had destroyed itself in its own temple, using its own rules.
“Hypatia,” the old man said, “I want to show you something.” They walked in silence, until they reached an outdoor Altar of Bliss. He swept away the salt shaker, and shells and salt splattered as the icon smashed on the marble. He withdrew a package from his bag, and placed it on the altar. When the tattered, watertight wrappings were removed, he stood back and let the child gaze in wonder at the treasure. After some moments she said, “Grandfather, it’s beautiful. What is it?”
He looked deeply into the health, and strength, and creativity, and intelligence, and curiosity of her human eyes, unglazed by grace, and said, “It’s a book.”