Voices in the Wilderness: Catholicism in the Vectorized Future
2019 By NavyMongoose
“So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth.”
Many sci-fi scenarios posit the fading or outright obliteration of religion in the future. Star Trek is the most famous example, with the humans of the Federation having mostly abandoned religion as their civilization became more mature and rational.
Contrary to this expectation, however, real-life religions in our history have displayed a large degree of resilience and adaptability to the conditions of modernity. Newer science fiction reflects this growing realization: Babylon 5 featured friars as recurring characters, and the Pope is very much still active. Others like Battlestar Galactica constructed fictional religions which informed the culture and thinking of many characters, even if only as something to be defied. Even in HSD, where the old Earth religions have vanished new ones have appeared, reflecting a deep desire for spiritual and transcendence (or Transcendence!).
Jumping off from Corbeau’s previous essay about religion in the HSD-verse, I’d like to focus on one tradition in particular: Catholic Christianity. Why that one, in particular? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons, but let’s start with the most obvious.
Smells and Bells, Saints and Sinners
In the Western mind, the stereotypical image of Christianity converges on one denomination: Catholicism, with its grand cathedrals, elegant vestments, complex rituals, and centuries of history. Due to this very vivid presentation, Catholicism is very much ingrained in the minds of most Westerners as “The Church”, even if they themselves don’t practice the faith or even set foot inside a church building. Its rituals and practices are in many ways an ingenious form of advertising, because they’re a stark reminder of the spiritual reality that the ritual-performers claim to have special access to.
Even without the rituals, there is the history. The Catholic Church has existed at least 1700 years in some form, with an incomprehensibly lengthy lineage of religious leaders bestowing their blessing upon their successors (faithful Catholics, of course, claim that lineage to go back even farther). It has survived kingdoms and empires, watched whole ethnic groups fade and emerge, and bound an entire continent into a common culture despite the massive disparity in languages, wealth, and political interests. The Catholic Church is huge, influential, and laden with an impossibly rich heritage. Highly formal and very “organized”, a religion such as this tends to maintain a great degree of stability, if only through the sheer inertia of its ancient institutional infrastructure buoyed up by a fascinating inheritance of solemn, stimulating, spiritual performances.
That’s a lot of tradition and heritage to have vanish due to Hydra.
Or would it have?
Before we consider that question, let’s talk about how the Church actually functions on a regular basis.
Most people imagine the Catholic Church as having a very rigid hierarchy. At the top, you have the Pope, then his cardinals who elect the pope, then the archbishops and bishops, then the priests, then finally the regular people, the laity. To the side you have the monks and friars, who are “higher” than the laity but generally follow the priests’ directions. When the Church needs something done, the Pope creates his edicts, which filter through the clergy and down to the laity.
Of course, it doesn’t quite work this way. For one thing, the Pope and his cardinals aren’t super-bishops, there’s just regular bishops who happen to also have very special titles and jobs. The cardinalate isn’t strictly necessary but was invented for convenience (fewer people arguing over who should be pope) and security (fewer outside forces trying to influence the election). In fact, in the early days of the Church, most bishops were elected by the people (though they had to be consecrated by a bishop afterward). The very first popes were elected, too, by the priests in Rome (which is why it’s called the “Roman” Catholic Church). And that’s not even getting into the purported first pope.
In addition, the Catholic Church tends to be forever trying to grease the wheels of its gigantic bureaucracy, and that’s when it’s not putting out fires started by various controversies. There have been fights over doctrine, over the personalities of bishops, over whether one practice was too much (or not enough) of a concession to external powers (not to mention that one time there were three popes and everyone got really confused). Plus, there’s the many times that clergyman and laity have broken away from the Church over various matters. The Church is less an “organization” than a huge family, and when there’s a conflict everyone knows about it pretty quickly. There’s a saying that’s become popular lately: “I’m a Catholic. I don’t believe in organized religion!”
In the real world, the Catholic Church operates on a highly decentralized model, both as a consequence of its own doctrine (unexpectedly enough) and as a sheer necessity to getting such a large religion to even function. Every bishop is basically a monarch over his own diocese and disposes of whatever spiritual (and, sometimes, political) matters arise however he sees fit. Priests vary so much in temperament, skill, and preferences that attending different parishes across a single diocese can yield a vast array of experiences. And let’s not even get into all the groups the laity run.
Ad Aspera, Per Astra
So where does that leave the future-Church as the bombs start falling?
For one thing, the model described above allows for a large degree of initiative and self-reliance even as the hierarchy provides central direction and control. No doubt when the war between Earth and Mars breaks out, there will be plenty of activity across the globe as Catholic dioceses do whatever they can to protect themselves from the chaos.
The rise of Hydra and the devastation, Lavos-style, of Earth’s biosphere is another matter. This event would have almost certainly destroyed almost all remnants of the Church on Earth, which means that, for Catholicism to survive, it would need a foothold on Mars, somehow.
Now, this sounds a lot easier than it really is. At the very least, MarsCo doesn’t seem very willing to let the entire bureaucracy of a religion uproot itself and re-plant on Martian soil. The Church would have to be more discreet and send the least resources necessary to ensure that the institution could continue.
But what do you actually need to preserve the Church?
Well, according to Catholic doctrine, the unbroken lineage of episcopal succession – the principal claim of the clergy to being the true heirs of Jesus Christ – depends on the supply of bishops. How many bishops do you need to have a viable Church?
All the Church needs to do is plant a single bishop on Mars (and probably a huge hard-drive containing the Bible and every single notable document on Catholic teaching). That bishop can make more bishops, who can then make priests. Pretty soon you’d have an entire hierarchy just ready to re-evangelize the whole planet, and maybe even reach out to the Vectors, too.
MarsCo is probably not going to like that, though.
God and Mammon, Church and State
Even the sanitized, redacted history that we read in the core rulebook indicates several reasons why the Church and MarsCo wouldn’t see eye-to-eye, the creation of artificial life being chief among them. However, even before that, there’s the whole issue of the Church not being particularly friendly to capitalism.
The Church does not believe in laissez-faire economics. In fact, it continually asserts that there is an important role for governments to direct economies towards the common good. Part of preserving this common good is ensuring that everyone has enough property to be able to make a living; an economy dominated by corporate ownership is, in the eyes of the Church, an unfree, unjust society.
Would the Church have, then, been sympathetic to the Earth governments, even Terra Firma? Not necessarily, and it’s more likely that the Church would have been against them, too. In the view of the Catholic teaching, all nations are subject to divine law and the authority of the Kingdom of God (and its manifestation on Earth, the Church). National divisions between states are irrelevant to the Church, because ultimately all of humankind ought to strive to unite under the laws and precepts of Christ and his Kingdom on Earth. The word “Catholic”, after all, means “universal”.
Navigating between the Scylla of corporate power and the Charybdis of nationalism is contentious enough, but of course MarsCo has upped the ante by creating monsters.
In His Own Image
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26-28 (NKJV)
For the Church, life is sacred, a gift from the Creator, and while humanity has been granted rule over the Earth, he may not do whatever he pleases, because ultimately it is God who has authority over the universe.
MarsCo violated these principles in the most dramatic way by creating artificial lifeforms. It’s not too hard to imagine the Church rising up in great protest, denouncing MarsCo’s monsters as abominations and as an attempt to grasp the power of God himself, the very same kind of action that drove humanity to sin and out of Eden.
Things get more complicated, however, with the creation of the Vectors.
Up to now, the Church has been confident in knowing that MarsCo’s creations were just dumb beasts, having their own unique kind of existence but ultimately inhuman. With Vectors things become much blurrier: could an inhuman creature derived from human DNA also be a person?
The video footage beamed back from Mars would have deepened the debate even further. However, the Church’s answer would be clear: these Vectors were real people.
What about all that “image of God” stuff, some of you might ask? Well, that’s the funny thing: God isn’t a physical being but is pure Spirit. Anything that has a spirit like His – having intelligence, free will, love – is a person just like He is. Whatever has a God-like spirit would also manifest being a person through the way they act, through loving and knowing real language and the ability to grasp the highest ideals of humanity: courage, justice, sacrifice. For Catholics, reason and intellect, freedom and love, are all organically linked: sapient creatures don’t simply refuse to act like people because they’re not interested, and conversely mere animals wouldn’t try to perform the things that Vectors clearly were doing before the eyes of billions.
These ideas aren’t exactly new, either. When the Spanish conquered the Americas and began to enslave the natives, a friar spoke out against the injustice, asserting the personal dignity of the natives. Going even farther back, we see in the fantastic bestiaries and treatises of purported foreign lands an openness of medieval Catholics to the existence of people who do not look very human at all. They even believed that there was a tribe of dog-headed people somewhere far away [Editor’s note – See also St. Christopher Cynocephalus! – Corb]. So, it’s not hard to see the Church being OK with dog-headed people when they actually appear, even if the circumstance of their creation was a grievous crime against humanity.
With the escalation of the war to include nuclear weapons, the Church would have been compelled by existential imperative to establish itself on Mars. Perhaps MarsCo, seeing that the Church is not friendly to Terra Firma, would have let bygones be bygones, or perhaps not. After all, the Church was one of the loudest voices against its projects, and it would have certainly rankled MarsCo executives to allow an old enemy into its territory.
Nevertheless, the chaos of the evacuation and the need to preserve the human race might’ve smoothed out these differences in time. Maybe the Church, assuming they were able to send enough clerics and believers to Mars before the spaceport bombing, might’ve established itself as a working part of the new society just as we see in our day, integrated into the social and political sphere.
We know, of course, that it was not to be, due to the mysterious events that led to the sudden decline of humans in the first century. The religion would have been overwhelmingly comprised of humans at the start, and by its very nature was inseparably tied to human history and culture. Conversions from Vectorkind would have certainly happened, as the Church channelled the missionary spirit of ancient times, despite the protests (and, possibly, covert action) of MarsCo, who would have balked at the prospect of having so many Vectors adopt a belief system at odds with its own.
Unfortunately, we can already see the results of this battle of ideas: the overwhelming control by the corporations of society, history, and the economy. The Church, if it exists at all, has lost. That would leave one option, if the Church is to persist into the modern era: exile, likely in a Grotto where it can preserve its traditions and pass them on to a select, trusted few (of course, “few” is relative when we’re talking about billions of people).
Voices in the Wilderness
Modern Vector society lives a comfortable existence, their material needs provided for by the power of their corporate patrons. Nevertheless, we know that not everyone is happy with this arrangement; the existence of Grottos, Universities, and other outside political entities is proof enough of that.
There are several ways the Church could sustain itself, hidden away in the corners of Vector society. In history, we have the example of the monasteries, preserving and propagating the knowledge of ages past and growing new communities of believers around them. The technology of the Vector era allows for other possibilities: analogous communities in space stations, perhaps, or a discreet presence on SolNet, trying to search for potential converts without drawing attention to itself. There’s also other, old-fashioned methods, such as a network of charities, though such entities would have to be kept at arms length to avoid the gaze of the corporations.
Education is likely the most significant aspect of culture that the Church would need to control for its members. As an alternative to the corporate curriculum, the Church could introduce its own, resulting in Vectors whose outlook and frames of reference are surprisingly human-like, yet at the same time not, as there’s been centuries of intellectual development. Traditional teaching and preaching orders such as the Dominicans and Jesuits could be re-founded, which leads to some interesting possibilities should they try to interact with the vast, non-Catholic population of Sol.
The greatest point of contention between the Church and mainstream Vector thought would be the concept of the immortal soul, or spirit. Traditional teaching asserts that it is unique to each person, non-transferable, and can only result from the natural conception of living sapient creatures. Cogs and especially AIs would throw these premises into question. Here are supposedly artificial creatures, yet they exhibit all the signs of reason and free will. One can imagine the idea of Cogs (let alone AIs) having spirits being a very contentious theological matter within the Church leadership.
Among all these strategies and plans there remains the common element: the total belief in the teachings of the Faith and the immense, infinite importance of the Gospel. Every project and every scheme are directed towards this goal, and the faith of those in the Church is such that they might be compelled to make great sacrifices to ensure that generations yet to come would know the truth that so many suffered to pass on to them.
Even though the Catholic Church would be much diminished, it would remain stubbornly committed to its ancient traditions and in propagating them. This can generate plenty of fascinating tales as this immensely old organization attempts to make sense a world that seems determine to outpace them.
♃ Jesuit Conspiracy: This notion stems from the very beginning of the Jesuit’s existence, given how they were tasked to root out the Reformation by establishing control over cultural institutions. The Jesuits might be up to their old tricks again, infiltrating schools and museums and otherwise being a nuisance to the corporations. The Jesuits are also known for being skilled lawyers, argumentative and crafty. There’s a reason that “Jesuitical” became a slur word!
♃ Charity for Faith: The Church is quite familiar with running vast welfare networks, and it’s not hard to imagine them taking up their old trade again, albeit more focused on emotional and spiritual comfort that the corporations cannot or will not provide. The Faith, of course, provides a ready explanation for the anxieties of today…
♃ City on a Hill: A more ambitious path for the Church might involve the revival of a theocratic state, like the Papal States of old. A kind of super-Grotto, it would be the perfect place to ensure the continuation of tradition, but there would be difficulties. The Vector population from this place would undoubtedly perceive the world very differently from other Vectors, making it hard to plant new communities outside the Church-State. Still, having that base of resources might be the edge these missions require to succeed.
♃ Shadow War: Perhaps the most drastic option of all, this would involve the Church striking out and actively trying to restore its rightful place. It would conduct low-scale ideological warfare against the corporations, trying to undermine their power structure. This might force it into strange alliances, such as with Spyglass or Progenitus, as well as with other Grottos like the Long Now who want to preserve old knowledge. MarsCo would be its main target, but others, such as TTI, would clearly be considered a threat, as well, for reasons of principle (TTI’s blatant manipulation of supernatural forces would be a greater abomination than anything MarsCo has done). Blowback in the form of sabotage and assassinations is likely, but that doesn’t preclude the Church raising forces of its own. Perhaps the crusader orders, such as the Knights Templar, can make a comeback, especially with all the negative stigma about the “Crusades” having vanished.
♃ Subversive Creation: Undoubtedly, many deviations from standard doctrine can occur from the official line over the centuries. Some might even take this in a radical and dangerous direction, such a “Catholic” scientists who decide that, being made in the image of God, they also have the power to Create. Unfortunate party members might have to fight interpretations of Leviathan, or even of The Beast. Of course, this is a great way to make a link to TTI and their schemes.
These are, of course, merely guidelines, and Guides are free to devise whatever scenario appeals to their vision.
Building the Kingdom
As the Church struggles to survive, it would be forced to confront new situations unaccounted for by its traditions and writings. Especially acute would be the founder effect it would endure from having so few survive the fall of Earth. With all the major clerics being able to sit at one table, much of their personal interpretations of the Faith could colour the religious practices of all who come after them.
Consider how we in the present often have trouble understanding the societies of the part and the values they held. Without human civilization to inform the new Church, it would no longer be bound by its strictures. Thus unburdened by the assumptions of human culture and society, a gradually more Vectorized Church, as such, might change in a profoundly unexpected way. What kind of strange theology would develop due to Cogs? How would the Church handle Transcendent technology? The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.