Father Peter Sal S.J. and Father Pierre Aristide S.J. walked along a mildly cracked sidewalk. Tiny green shoots clawed their way between the fractured tectonic plates of the concrete firmament. Next to the sidewalk a large sign before a small high tech building plainly sported the wafting gold logo ‘Shahrazad’, the logo of the most profitable tech company in the physical world. The two fathers walked in, they both supposed, for the last time.
Shahrazad was the largest Artificial Universe, AU, for short. An AU was like a tech platform and like a country. Like a tech platform it was a service provider, which other people could use to create content, talk with each other, and build things. Shahrazad was also like a country, in that once one emigrated there, you were then bound by the laws, rules, and limitations of this particular Artificial Universe. Shahrazad was not designed by humans but a third generation Artificial General Intelligence. Humans designed the first generation. The first generation designed the second, and the second designed the third. Humans built the hardware though (well, more or less), own the company, and allow the continued existence of Shahrazad.
Shahrazad, the official literature says, offers a platform for a flourishing and totally fulfilled life. It’s goal is a benevolent universe free from the harms of normal life in the prime Universe of gravity, scarcity, and chaotic events. To get in one must allow a scan of their entire physical structure to be recorded and uploaded over the course of three days, the body is left behind limply stretched out on a table, but the mind is then freely existing in a new universe adjacent the normal world of decay. Other AUs had existed. They were small, sometimes very unfortunate affairs. But by the current year Shahrazad was the only AU whose name anyone could remember. They were practically synonymous. At the time these priests entered the scene, approximately 200 million people lived in the Shahrazad universe.
The Catholic Church, committed to a consistent life ethic, the value and necessity of the human body, and preserving the body’s life until a natural death, had ample reason within its tradition to condemn the new technology; furthermore, fear of the possible powers humans could gain over one another in playing with the brain caused concern worldwide across religions and ethical systems. For twenty years no practicing Catholic had stepped into an AU, but through the still existing internet there were rumors of a small Catholic community formed within the Shahrazad AU who requested a priest to be sent in.
After six additional years of training the two Peters, Peter and Pierre were ready to begin a ministry without their original bodies and enter the Artificial Universe. Why had the Church agreed to this seemingly clear break from Catholic anthropology? For one, it was disputed whether a digital body is a body. People inside Shahrazad, unlike in previous AUs, professed that they did in fact have bodies that were in some hard-to-understand way continuous with their old bodies. Most theologians strongly disagreed with this self-assessment of the digital reprobates, but still there was no official condemnation of Shahrazad. A second reason was that the alleged Catholic community inside Shahrazad had produced some of the most amazing rpgs, games, music, literature, and philosophy. They fueled a small religious revival in the outer world with their creations, inspiring the young towards virtue and the old to reform. Their requests for ministers, though perhaps odd (why didn’t they think of themselves as religiously self-sufficient? Isn’t it surprising they wanted priests? There can’t be digital sacraments, can there?), could not be ignored.
One series created by this community concerned a powerful stateswoman, known for her sincere work for the common good, and her mentor, a well-seasoned people person, with clear vision on how respect and honor allow for cooperation and justice between governments. He had stopped several small wars and brought swift salvation to millions locked in impending humanitarian crises. He seemed a saint – always benevolent, helpful, fatherly. But, when he died, and his protege found his diary, she learned he was something quite different, a monster, not in deed, but in thought, in his mindset. Shocked by the revelation that her mentor’s inner thoughts were all ego, love of being a savior, and an insatiable pride locked in a prison of self-love, she was thrown into a crisis of faith, seeing that all the good done could be done for strange, barbaric, blasphemous motives. Questioning her own motives too, she quit government and joined a convent to pray and work in the most humble jobs she could. In turn, her former colleagues and enemies decided she resigned with the intention of embarrassing the government. Visiting her in the convent they were persuaded, not that she was seeking spiritual regeneration, but that she intended to sell state secrets. Taken from the convent under arrest, she was tried and condemned to Suspended Life, a type of digital suspended animation which at that time had replaced the death penalty. Her last words in the series were, “I go in humility to a new convent. I will pray for you all there.”
The series was such a successful drama that it inspired religious and irreligious people alike to search out and care for their motives and intentions. It’s authors were a certain Elias Elias and Takayama Ukon from the AU; they had made it for the outside world, for only the outside world watches series like that.
As they approached the glass cube building, Peter said, “I hope we don’t get bored in there.”
“If we do,” said Pierre, “then you’ll just have to teach me how to play Go.”
“I think even Go can get boring after a few thousand years.”
“But the AU is a type of jail. When you Go to Jail, you do not pass Go. Thus Go lasts forever since one can never get past it,” laughed Pierre.
“On the contrary, Go gets one to Saint Joseph, i.e. carpentry. ‘Go to Joseph’ is the saying. And carpentry offers infinite delights.”
“Not even a smiling Buddha would smile at that one.”
“Yeah, my puns today are touch and Go.”
“Go to Hades… and preach to the souls there.”
“We are about to, I believe,” Peter sad flatly.
“There are hearts of gold in the AU,” Pierre reminded him as they passed through the doors.
“If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here.”
At that moment, a burst of polyphonic song filled the atrium, Psalm 148 in Latin. The brothers had gathered to bid farewell to two of their number. Peter and Pierre made the rounds said their goodbyes, and went with the company receptionist into the uploading rooms to begin the process.