The Last Temptation of Humanity
by Paul Woodlin
The man’s bare feet felt the lushness of the perfectly tended grass carpeting the rising slope towards the church. He had flown over forested hills and the wild plains of empty farmlands before the autopilot landed him in the middle of Lynn Grove, a picture perfect late twentieth century village of rural Americana, empty except for tourists and robots made up as historical figures. It was the last spot on the American civilization tour, but he was skipping Colonial Williamsburg and the rest to reach this scenic township tucked away in the hills of what old maps called northern Iowa.
Wildflowers grew everywhere, mostly pink petals with golden centers surrounded by small green leaves. He downloaded their identity from the Core: Wild Prairie Rose, Rosa pratincola, the official flower of Iowa and North Dakota.
As he hiked up the hill, he fixed his eyes on the cross that dominated the front of the building with its simple, solid combination of rectangular and triangular shapes. The sight of his goal kept his unexercised legs moving despite the weariness. He wondered how parishioners had made the climb each week. Were they all sturdy farmers, he asked himself, or had the Historical Commission left a parking lot behind the building?
His bare hand pushed open the door and he paused reverently, thinking that his fingers might be caressing hand made oak door handles. Or was it the nineteenth century, he wondered, when they would have been crafted?
He began walking through the first hall where people might have assembled before services. The walls were wooden and straight metal bars lined the room at eye level. Walking up to a dark wall plaque he said the word “English” and it displayed a description of what once happened in the room. Vague childhood memories seemed to confirm the list of activities held there: collecting food, greeting people, hanging up coats. He nodded to himself, remembering now what the bars were used for.
As he touched the bar, the cool metal reminded him of when he had last hugged his friend who’d exchanged her body for the manufactured construction that doctors said promised immortality. Had she felt herself holding him, he wondered, or had she just known it the same way she knew a picture hung on the wall? Was even her own body an extension of her or simply a vehicle for her mind?
His hand jerked away from the bar at the unpleasant thought and he walked further into the church. Two doors opened easily at his touch and he entered a room of long benches and lush blue carpet that comforted his feet. Light poured through the stain glass windows, coloring the emptiness as the windows revealed stories about Jesus like a static child’s primer.
The first picture was of His mother holding Him as a baby with the words “The Virgin Birth” underneath. The plaque further down had a short explanation of the phrase, its religious ramifications, and a history of virgin births across religious traditions. Toward the last was one of Jesus’ bearded visage showing pain as He labored under the cross, carrying it to His own execution with only the help of an unidentified man. Then came His dying on the cross to sacrifice Himself for all who would live. The very last was His Rebirth in glory.
None of these seemed relevant to his world. No one was born in poverty, no one had to suffer, no one had to sacrifice, no one had to help another, and now no one ever had to die. But he was feeling pain, a pain of emptiness that separated him from everyone around. That pain had drawn him to the temple of Jesus.
He had read parts of the Bible, and soon understood that it was written for people who suffered and needed help, people who were no longer supposed to exist. Staring at the picture of Him on the cross, he wondered why He would go through such torture. The Bible’s answer was that Jesus died because He loved us.
His friend said she still loved him, but the love she spoke of didn’t really mean much anymore; no one tried to stay together ‘till death do us part’. No one dies, after all. People came and went as they pleased, for there was no reason to cling to each other. Everything they would want would be provided and everyone was protected from harm. No one had to work together, protect another, or even comfort each other. So no one did.
Do I suffer from a lack of suffering, he wondered. That suffering which brings people closer to each other, to wisdom, and to faith?
His mind searched forward, thinking ahead to the end of the universe billions of years in the future. Would even that barrier be transcended, he wondered, with the end of the universe turned into a mere technological difficulty, or would humanity have to face death in the end, long after abandoning belief in the Judgement that awaited them? The Bible promised an eternity of Heaven or Hell after death, and even the life span of the universe was nothing compared to forever. Unless time itself will collapse along with the spatial dimensions.
Could humanity recreate the universe or even transcend it in some glorious new form? He knew his friend had been reborn for herself and in metal, but it seemed a poor imitation of the semi-legendary Teacher and of His Death for others and His Rebirth in the flesh.
Was the world becoming an inferior copy of Paradise, he wondered. Did we cease to believe in Eden because we could create one of our own?
He walked up to the pulpit and stood behind it. He felt the smooth wood beneath his hands and pictured himself in the costume of a priest.
“Why should we be alive now that we don’t suffer?” he would ask the tourists.
How many would shrug their shoulders and enjoy their ease? How many would wonder about why, too? How many would laugh?
He decided to find out.
Story © 2006 Paul Woodlin.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish