If we were the Nervous God of the skeptics, unsure of our followers, worried over our popularity, and concerned more with obedience than love, here’s how we could handle things. We’d use the principles imagined in Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Truman Show. We’d create a flock of faithful who’d never doubt, always comply, but, alas, would be less than human.
The novel, Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley in 1932, portrays a society that has mastered genetic engineering and the principles of conditioning to create a new Heaven on Earth or better living through science. From this novel, we’d take genetic engineering that simplifies human nature into a few pure types of hardwired, biological potential. This vastly reduces variability in responding to just a few factors so that we don’t even need a computer to handle the available combinations. Everyone falls into just a handful of categories that restrict awareness, perception, intelligence, evaluation, memory, and desire. Even the Alphas will have built in limitations, most notably an arrogance that arises from their superiority to everyone else . . . except us . . . and they won’t see that.
George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1948, features a dystopic political world dominated by Big Brother and communication technology. From 1984, we’d take that technology of surveillance, scrutiny, and propaganda. We don’t need to get old school Soviet with this like we’re Uncle Joe Stalin or even old school Nazi with Uncle Adolf Hitler. We can make this technology feel friendly, useful, inert even. We’ll run fun shows on it that the folks will like so that they don’t realize they’re being watched on the other side. And we’ll offer lots of helpful reminders to them when we sense that their loyalty is wandering.
Richard Condon’s 1959 political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, uses brainwashing for nefarious ends, but we’ll take that vulgar term and make it tasty for the cognoscenti: subliminal conditioning. Let’s develop a really cool looking headset that even designers at Nike would think is good. The headset will include ear buds and a sunglass visor with a heads up display like with those modern fighter aircraft. Again, let’s make it fun and useful so they don’t realize the subliminal messages are there.
Finally, Peter Weir’s 1998 movie, The Truman Show, traps Jim Carrey’s character in a Hollywood sound stage where everyone, except Carrey, is an actor following a script. As long as the Carrey character doesn’t see the acting, his life is bliss. So, from The Truman Show, let’s take unawareness. No one will know any of the above is happening. Everyone will be happily appearing in their own daily experience not realizing that we’re in the background, essentially producing everyone’s life with genetic engineering, constant surveillance, and continuous conditioning. As long as no one walks through the door and sees that they’ve been living in a metaphoric Hollywood motion picture studio, everyone will be faithful.
Just think about this.
It would work. People would develop unshakable faith in this God even without any miracles like parting a sea or raising the dead or casting a plague upon the Pharaoh. A few simple biological types, constant monitoring and communication, continuous and quiet conditioning, and a complete lack of awareness – combine those elements and faith is easier than falling off a log.
Now, consider the implications of this thought experiment.
1. Sure, it would work, but is this persuasion?
Genetic engineering, cradle to grave conditioning, and constant surveillance and communication look and sound like persuasion, but taken in whole, this scenario is not the mark of sources communicating with freely choosing receivers. Everything about this scenario avoids or destroys the key elements of persuasion, volition, most notably. People are led to believe they have choice, but clearly they don’t.
2. Sure, it would work, but are they really human?
People created in this environment could be enough like us so that we could all mate and create biologically viable offspring, but the human nature of people created in this thought experiment would be a strange nature compared to people created like us. Such people would either not have volition or at the very least would be unaware that they had volition. Under either circumstance, their behavior would be so different from us that they would seem more like aliens than foreigners. While talking and feeling free, they would show behaviors that to us would be automatic, habitual, routine, planned, and controlled. They’d be as free as chimps in a game preserve carefully watched and manipulated by unseen and unknown managers.
3. Sure, it would work, so why didn’t God do something like this?
If God is Nervous, yet Omnipotent, these simple tactics would solve His problem. He could easily create a blissful flock of sheep, not unlike the Eloi from H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine. The fact that we can even think these thoughts suggests that God, volition, and persuasion go together in a fundamental and unbreakable relation. Any one without the other is meaningless. If God did create people with volition then only persuasion is allowed.
God could easily employ the tactics I’ve outlined here and we’d all be living blissfully in The Truman Show. Yet, the variety of human faith and skepticism would seem to prove that God is not loading the dice, but rather is letting us roll them straight or crooked as we choose. It’s hard to see this as the Nervous God of skeptics. He allows volition even when He could easily overcome it.