Object 70

Fourth Great Awakening

2044, Santa Fe, US

The greatest of changes can come in the smallest of packages. This package, one of millions manufactured by the Christian Consummation Movement, is no larger than my thumb. Inside lies a tiny eyedropper and eighteen pills.

If I use the eyedrops, take the pills, and enroll in their induction course of targeted viruses and magstim — which I can assure you I am not about to do — then over the next few months, my personality and desires would gradually be transformed. My aggressive tendencies would be lowered. I'd readily form strong, trusting friendships with the people I met during this imprinting period — Consummators, usually. I would become measurably more empathetic, more generous, and “less desiring of fleeting, individual, mundane pleasures” according to to the CCM.

Some might say that this would be an improvement on my personality, that I would become more serene and less vulnerable to 'temptation'; others that my individuality would be eroded by an insidious form of desire modification. But everyone would agree that I had genuinely changed — that I had reached 'consummation'.

From the late 40s to the 70s, 20 million Americans joined the Christian Consummation Movement. While its explosion in growth has slowed down considerably in recent decades, the CCM’s rise to become one of the largest new denominations of American Christianity represents a period of religious revival, a 'Fourth Great Awakening'.

If we want to understand the origins of the Consummation Movement, we need to look at the society in which it grew. By the early 40s, mass automation and globalisation had permanently raised the US unemployment rate to more than 30 percent, with 'underemployment' doubling that number. Enhanced social security and the glimmerings of a basic minimum income in some states had taken the financial sting out of this economic shift, but money alone couldn't replace the sense of meaning or direction that citizens had once derived from work — nor could it address the fragmentation of physical communities across the country.

Dr. Alan ‘Al’ Bhumbra aimed to fill that gap. The co-founder of the Christian Consummation Movement and a talented neuroscientist, Dr. Bhumbra devised the CCM's 'empathy and community' induction course. In 2044, Bhumbra's Santa Fe team knitted together a number of previously separate therapies — including the Mathy 'hate cure' gene therapy treatment, hormonal and pheromonal imprinting and bonding techniques, memory enhancement, and old-fashioned conditioning — into a course that was extremely reliable, and importantly, very safe.

Simply undertaking the induction course didn’t guarantee that an individual would 'consummate', so the CCM set up precisely targeted real-world social networks to provide essential human support, particularly during the imprinting period. The CCM understood how Christianity itself first spread during the Apostolic Age through hundreds of small gatherings, and accelerated that process by multiple orders of magnitude with the help of network technologies.

Early on, Dr. Bhumbra identified echo-boomers as being particularly receptive to the CCM. Those born in the teens and beyond had few illusions that a job should be a measure of their self-worth, but the 'echo boomers', born from the 1980s to the turn of the century, had been brought up to believe in the importance of careers. Importantly, they also held a relentless belief in self-improvement fuelled by the massive popularity of contemporaneous works such as The Guide.

To the echo-boomers, the CCM offered a route to self-improvement that not only worked but also involved effectively zero effort or risk. Many people during the 40s and 50s already took cognitive enhancers or mood-altering drugs, so the induction course didn't seem much worse. In fact, it seemed much better, because it held out the promise of joining a real community with noble goals. Here's a typical video from Dr. Bhumbra:

"You know, we all want the same things. We want to help our friends and family, to love and be loved, to leave the world a better place. We want to be content. Oh, and we want to be happy and prosperous! Now, is that really too much to ask for? [laughs] But it's hard. It's really hard. You pray every day and every night, but it can be mighty tough to stick to the right path. It's a never-ending struggle against temptation and against the darker demons of our soul.

"Some use meds or games to help them. I don't object to that. I think that's just fine. But it'll only work for a while. Those demons and those temptations will come back, because all you're doing is putting a band-aid on the problem. Like my doctor would say, you're treating the symptoms, not the cure.

"What if we could silence those demons, though? What if we could use our God-given knowledge and intelligence and tools to improve ourselves? That's what He would want of us. And that's what we are doing here at the CCM.

"Now, I bet a lot of you have played that new Odyssey game that came out last summer. I sure did, though I didn't get quite as far as my daughter, who's a real expert at these things. Anyhow, there's a part where you — Odysseus — have to tie yourself to a mast so you won't be drawn towards those enchanting, evil Sirens.

"When you did that, do you think you were 'cheating'? No! You were being smart. Why? Because you were confronting an evil that you couldn't avoid and couldn't defeat on your own. It's just the same with the CCM.

"When we complete our course, we consummate the lifelong journey our souls have made towards Christ. We truly make ourselves into better people, better able to help and love one another and to love God. You only need to look at the members of our church to see the truth of what I'm saying. You might have to look hard, because they're not proud people. They're humble. But every day, through their efforts, they're helping the needy. They're rebuilding our country. They're strengthening communities. And they're making the world a better place."

Not everyone agreed. Rival denominations denounced the CCM as a cult and its induction course as brainwashing, citing numerous cases of people embarking on the course without providing fully informed consent.

Behind these disagreements lay an even more serious objection: if you remove the threat of temptation from the human experience, can one still be virtuous? Can one still be counted as human at all?

In reality, the CCM's course of brain chemistry alteration was not so powerful as to remove all temptation, but merely to shift them to a more 'virtuous' point within the human spectrum. Taking the course did not make one a saint — although it did make it easier to become one. Depending on your definition of a saint, that is.

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Author's note: Like most people these days, I am not religious — and like most people, I still strive to live a virtuous life. The CCM may make it easier to reach that goal, but it comes at the cost of our very own humanity itself. I believe that desire modification is the real temptation. One that is desperately hard to resist.