Or the mind, anyway. As Jessica Roy tells it at Time.com, some Silicon Valley nerds seek immortality not in the freezer (cryogenics) but the computer. The new age religion behind it, Terasem, originated in an Octavia Butler sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower:
Terasem’s followers are dedicated to studying and raising awareness about what they call “personal cyberconciousness”—the creation of mindfiles. They believe that by ritualistically recording your thoughts and feelings with great detail, you can ultimately assemble a digital copy of yourself, available for future use.
To start, you write down or record a video of you talking about a thought, memory or feeling, and upload it to a website. You can also choose to have each mindfile beamed out into the universe—hence the satellites. So far more than 32,000 people have created free mindfile accounts.
The hope is that in the distant future, these files can be organized into an approximation of one’s consciousness in an artificial body.
While most Terasem enthusiasts are atheists or agnostics (“God is technological”), the organization considers itself a “transreligion.” It is cool with whatever else you believe.
Some attendees of Terasem meetings include Marvin Minsky, an MIT AI pioneer, and Google futurist Ray Kurzweil. As to Terasem’s prospects, it is worth noting that Scientology was started by a science fiction writer.
The transreligion hopes its basic ideas will percolate through society via a just-released sci-fi thriller Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp as a scientist whose colleagues upload him to save his life (with the usual all-points-bulletin 9-11 results of course).
Terasem has competition. The Passion of the Christ, for example, is ten years old this year. And even detractors admit that, a decade on, it is the highest-grossing non-English language film in history.(“Non-English language” is an interesting classification for a film whose dialogue is entirely Aramaic and Latin.)
Indeed, although Mel is Catholic, his Passion became a hit thanks to evangelical Protestants – those who believe the Bible is the literal truth and not a “useful narrative” culminating in what the Bishop of Durham called a “conjuring trick with bones”. Instead of Jesus the wimp, Mel gives us Jesus the Redeemer. He died for our sins – ie, the “violent end” is the critical bit, not just an unfortunate misunderstanding cruelly cutting short a promising career in gentle teaching. The followers of Wimp Jesus seem to believe He died to license our sins – Jesus loves us for who we are so whatever’s your bag is cool with Him.
Strictly as a commercial proposition, Wimp Jesus is a loser: the churches who go down that path are emptying out and dying. Those who believe in Christ the Redeemer are, comparatively, booming, and ten years ago Mel Gibson made a movie for them. If Hollywood was as savvy as it thinks it is, it would have beaten him to it. But it isn’t so it didn’t. And as most studio execs had never seen an evangelical Christian except in films where they turn out to be paedophiles or serial killers, it’s no wonder they were baffled by The Passion’s success.
Meanwhile, Transcendence has just opened and is already flailing. The Guardian, Rotten Tomatoes, and Variety all panned it, among others -with the Variety critic concluding that it was anti-technology (oops). The box office has so far disappointed. Worst of all, the rotten tomatoes are thrown by the very people Terasem reaches out to, people who would denounce The Passion and ridicule God Isn’t Dead, along with anyone who finds such movies meaningful, of course.
Update: Transcendence has really tanked.
In general, legacy media explorations of culture today should be treated with considerable skepticism. Its mavens have a hard time imagining that traditional Christianity may thrive long after Terasem is a footnote in a learned dissertation on Silicon Valley culture. They haven’t even noticed that things have happened that way for millennia.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.