“Two thousand years ago, Christianity was but one of many cults vying for attention within the Roman Empire, but it rose to become the most influential movement of all human history. Thus, optimists would attempt to launch many space-related social movements, in the hopes that one of them would eventually take humanity to the stars.”
— William Sims Bainbridge, “The Spaceflight Revolution Revisited”
In the 4th century AD., the Council of Nicea, working for the Roman Empire, set about adapting Christianity into a suitable religion of the State. Its purpose, in retrospect at least, was to take an emerging new paradigm (brought by some guy called Jeshua bar Josephus, later “Jesus H. Christ”—let’s call it “the Kingdom within” paradigm), to reshape and redirect it in such a way that it would cease to be a thorn in the side of the ruling elite at that time. Even more than merely neutralizing it, in fact, this brilliant new paradigm called “Christianity” was used as a means to extend the power and influence of Rome, further afield than could ever have happened otherwise. It was a brilliant bit of religious engineering, and as a result the rule of Rome continues to this day, both physically and psychologically, not only as the Catholic Church but via the whole of Christianity. “The Empire never ended.”
While working on the second part of this book, it occurred to me that something similar may be occurring today.
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who specializes in religion and cognitive science and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Among his contributions to the field are his studies on how science-fiction media (writing, movies, and TV shows) act as a potential self-fulfilling prophecy. He believes that, like Strieber’s visitors and Castaneda’s old seers, ideas that embed themselves in human consciousness will eventually actuate themselves as reality. Another thing he believes (along with Willis Harman and Strieber’s Master of the Key) is that developing the technology for space travel is essential for the survival of human culture.
Many intelligent species probably end progress in a stew of mysticism, drugs, and decadent social institutions which finally petrifies into a form of living extinction. Most of the rest destroy themselves more violently. A precious few, and we may be the first of this rare breed in our cosmic neighborhood, progress so rapidly, stimulated and guided by transcendent social movements, that they achieve interstellar communication and colonization before entering a static cultural phase. [O]nly a transcendent, impractical, radical religion can take us to the stars. The alternative is one or another form of ugly death. . . . To become fully interplanetary, let alone interstellar, our society would need another leap—and it needs that leap very soon before world culture ossifies into secure uniformity, or decays into absolute chaos. We need a new spaceflight social movement capable of giving a sense of transcendent purpose to dominant sectors of the society. It also should be capable of holding the society in an expansionist phase for the longest possible time, without permitting divergence from its great plan. In short, we need a galactic religion, a Cosmic Order [emphasis added, source here].
Here are some other things Bainbridge believes (or claims to believe; my source is largely an online article):
Due to the decline in agricultural communities and the urbanization of society, there have been less opportunities for new communal sects to re-create “medieval agrarian communities,” without necessarily reducing the opportunities for “more radical communal cults.” Utopian ambivalence toward nature is increasing, some groups embracing the Earth (the agrarian sects) while others (those radical cults, like Scientology or The Process, which Bainbridge studied in 1970 and Strieber reputedly made a film about in the 1960s) try to escape it. The sect-cult distinction is only a matter of degree, however, since both can “evolve back toward conventional society.” Bainbridge gives the example of the Amana sect which became a household appliance corporation, and the Oneida cult that became a silverware corporation. In other words, religious or quasi-religious communities that became productive contributors to capitalist society—workers. Recall the maxim from Changing Images of Man and The Aquarian Conspiracy: “In the new paradigm, work is a vehicle for transformation.” “Arbeit macht frei”—labor makes [you] free. This is also a Masonic axiom, quoted in Willis Harman’s contribution to IONS’ Psychic Research: Challenge to Research (p. 653, quoting Manly Hall): “Man is given by Nature a gift—the privilege of labor.”
As part of its future-envisioning, Harman’s essay (on page 643, 647) advocates a “New Freemasonry”:
The symbolism of the Great Seal of the United States, on the back of the dollar bill, is perhaps the most potent reminder that the structure (the unfinished pyramid) is not complete unless the transcendent all-seeing eye is the capstone position. It is clearly in a transcendental sense that all men are created equal. . . . Use of the term New Freemasonry implies that the esoteric may be in process of becoming disclosed, the occult may be coming into public view. Whether or not this is happening is a question we cannot yet answer. However, there are indications . . . that make it a plausible proposition. What we can do, and propose to do, is summarize the main characteristics of the Perennial Philosophy and of true Freemasonry and examine what it would mean if this view of man-in-the-universe were to become dominant.
Harman states that, with the increasing power of multinational corporations, “it becomes essential that their operative goals shift to become more like those of public institutions.” He insists that capitalist structures are “ultimately most compatible with the growing strength of self-determination as a cultural value [i.e., capitalism] and with widespread disenchantments with monopolistic socialist bureaucracy.” “If capitalism is to survive this challenge to legitimacy,” he writes, “the operative goals of corporations will have to undergo radical change.” This radical change, which he also terms “the new transcendentalism,” includes the recognition of “the key role of work in meaningful human existence.” Work, Harman states (ibid, p. 664-6, emphasis added), is “the main way in which persons contribute to the society and receive affirmation in return, thus developing a wholesome self-image.
While Harman was reinventing Freemasonry for the masses, William Bainbridge was studying ‘”the religious convictions of many UFO cults” and noting how more and more likeminded UFO adherents and contactees were assembling to form “scientistic cults.” These cults have been central to the emergence of a “Church of God Galactic.” A galactic civilization requires a new galactic religion, and scientistic cults, particularly UFO cults, are “the purveyors of this new religious consciousness” which is leading (in Bainbridge’s optimistic view) to “the creation of a new theocratic order.” The new galactic religion “is politically and socially expedient because of its emphasis upon unfettered technological development.”
As already mentioned, Bainbridge also conducted a five-year ethnographic study of The Process Church, a group which can be seen as a splinter-off from Scientology, the largest and most (in)famous scientific-religious cult with a penchant for technology, alien mythologies, the development of psychic powers, and a prime directive of space travel.
In “New Religions, Science, and Secularization,” Bainbridge presents the following mandate:
It is time to move beyond mere observation of scientistic cults and use the knowledge we have gained of recruitment strategies, cultural innovation, and social needs to create better religions than the world currently possesses. At the very least, unobtrusive observation must be supplemented by active experimentation. Religions are human creations. Our society quite consciously tries to improve every other kind of social institution, why not religion? Members of The Process, founded mainly by students from an architecture school, referred to the creation of their cult as religious engineering, the conscious, systematic, skilled creation of a new religion. I propose that we become religious engineers. . . . We have roles to play as consultants to existing new religions, helping them solve problems that our research has permitted us to understand. But we must be prepared to launch cults of our own invention, a task I admit is both hazardous to one’s own welfare and outrageous in the eyes of people who refuse to admit that all religions are human creations. But it is far better for honest religious engineers to undertake the creation of new religions for the sake of human betterment than to leave the task to madmen and wealth-hungry frauds [emphasis added].
It’s a good thing Bainbridge has the distinction clear in his mind. Too bad he leaves out the possibility that many socially influential madmen were driven by the “honest” desire for “human betterment.” Bainbridge’s vision is of “a golden age that would be a turning point for human productivity and quality of life,” in which humanity becomes “like a single, distributed and interconnected ‘brain’ based in new core pathways of society.” As well as being “an enhancement to the productivity and independence of individuals,” what’s on offer is “greater opportunities to achieve personal goals,” including (naturally) “the possibility of interstellar travel to offer new hope for spiritual immortality.” Bainbridge apparently has the afterlife all mapped out along specifically merit-based lines. He terms it (here), rather disarmingly, “the arrival of the fittest.”
Calculation of the geometric realities facing colonization of the universe suggests that there might not be enough room in the galaxy for endless copies of absolutely everybody. The answer is a simple one. A person must earn a new life by contributing in some way, direct or indirect, to the development and maintenance of the entire system that explores and colonizes space. . . . Well- educated people can ensure the demographic growth of their population through interstellar immortality. By “arrival of the fittest,” those with the most advanced minds and cultures will spread across the galaxy. We have the technology, already today, to begin archiving human personalities at low fidelity within what I call Starbase, a database destined eventually to be transported to the stars. To gain entry to Starbase, a person must contribute significantly in some way to the creation of interstellar civilization. One way is to help develop technologies for archiving and reanimating human personalities at ever higher fidelity. Another is to work toward the establishment of small human colonies, first on the Moon and Mars, where Starbase can be headquartered and where serious work on reanimation can begin.
It may be that “galactic consciousness”—far from being the deranged brain child of religious engineers (any more than Jesus was)—is an inevitable aspect of the fact that the Universe is conscious, to some degree at least. It may be that, if all its parts are demonstrably interconnected, such an awakening is inevitable. In which case, the hidden powers-that-be may be compulsively driven (by their own trauma-based patterns) to make the necessary preparations—not to meet and embrace this awakening but to co-opt it: to prepare forms, structures, and channels—memes, systems of worship or quasi-worship, and socio-political agendas—down which to redirect it, in order to ensure the survival of the dominant paradigm.
We don’t have to posit some malevolent, age-long conspiracy here (not on the part of human beings, at least). We only have to imagine what happens when an organism (if culture is an organism) senses its livelihood is under threat: it finds a way to survive. For a collective human psyche on the run from its own demons, split off from the ground of the body by repeated traumas, “hyperspace” may seem like the only possible way to go. The “Rapture” of a mass reenactment of the original trauma may be as foreordained as a killer’s irrational return to the scene of the crime. Global catastrophe (whether by asteroid, ice age, or alien invasion), the decimation of the populace, and the ensuing (or concurrent) attempt at dissociative flight (space travel) by the remnants into hyper-dimensional/archetypal/daimonic realms, all would be a case of history repeating itself, en masse, ad nauseum.
If the end of such a grand visionary agenda were the healing of the original split, it would be essential that the Rapture-enactment fail. This would be the only way for humanity in toto to re-experience the very thing it could not allow itself to experience the first time around: a full body-psyche integration and the corresponding awakening, not merely from but through the nightmare of history, into “cosmic” time. The soul’s full descent into the body is the bringing of Heaven down to Earth, not by force or supplication but by intelligent, tender compliance, by the simple willingness (and desire) to receive it.
“I come across people with disturbing frequency who want to integrate my descriptions of my experiences into what amounts to a new kind of religion, a dreary modern fantasy of alien contact that includes imaginary details about many different races, elaborate fictions of huge government conspiracies . . .”
—Whitley Strieber (from the Afterword to The Key)
Strieber’s fear of having his writings turned into the basis for a new religion may be all-too-warranted. At the same time, he is either naïve or disingenuous in absolving himself of responsibility. If we take a look at The Key in light of Kurtzweil, Bainbridge, and the transhumanist grand galactic vision, many seemingly “innocent” passages take on new, more problematic meanings. Strieber’s little book discusses past technology that allowed “elemental bodies [to extend] their perception outside of the time stream.” It describes UFOs as “prison guards” that “prevent progress in areas such as propulsion, which might enable you to spread into the heavens” (p. 109). The Master of the Key warns: “Material of souls is harvested and used to make intelligent machines. An intelligent machine is a being without the potential to be free. In this sense it is not alive” (p. 117). A few pages later, he eulogizes how the ancient pyramids across the planet once made up a single, “gigantic instrument of communication” which allowed human beings to “project themselves into higher worlds—what you call interstellar space.” He calls this instrument “a machinery of God, this machine. It was very intelligent, infused with many souls. It could be addressed—programmed, if you will—with carefully patterned groups of words. These formulae became ritualized among the ignorant as prayers” (p. 123).
As already mentioned, one of the primary emphases of The Key is how the planet Earth is a “death trap” and a prison (the same thing Scientology teaches); in order to escape it humanity must develop interstellar travel and spread out across the Universe. “Find an efficient utilization of energy that will enable you to colonize your solar system and reduce population pressure on earth” (p. 148). In case the Master’s words aren’t emphatic enough, Strieber drives the point home in his afterword: “We are in desperate need of a way not only to leave the earth in large numbers, but also to travel the unimaginable distances necessary to found new human colonies on other planets” (p. 157). The book refers to space travel directly, in terms of propulsion, anti-gravity and so forth, as well as indirectly, with phrases such as “your place in the cosmos” and “the higher worlds.” Other passages of the book, in contrast, discuss what appears to be the spiritual or “energetic” goal of “ascension,” which entails “surrender to Earth” and a return to the forest. The Master predicts that human civilization is on the verge of inevitable destruction, while at the same time pressing for scientific developments that will allow at least some humans to escape before the catastrophe occurs. (A scenario not a million light years from the Christian “Rapture.”)
This seems like both a retreading and possibly an inversion of the popular myths about “Atlantis,” the last human civilization that attained the heights of science and culture. Popular legends say that it was the misuse of technology (and/or magic, though they are probably synonymous) which brought about Atlantis’ catastrophic end. In The Secret School, Strieber describes his childhood experience of remote-viewing-style visions of a past life in Atlantis. He describes how he and the other high priests/scientists are “trying to escape the chains that bind us to the earth.” They fail, of course. Another element found in some versions of the Atlantis myths is that misuse of sexual energy was at the root of their downfall. In his vision, Strieber “remembers” how, before the end comes, the doomed Atlanteans create a special calendar (the zodiac) to give future humanity a way to anticipate when the next cataclysm will arrive. He adds somewhat vaguely that they also left “a mechanism in the gene” by which we will someday access the knowledge that we need to survive.
While writing the above, I was reminded of a passage in Castaneda’s The Eagle’s Gift (p. 20, emphasis added) that refers to the Atlanteans: four giant stone column-like figures in the ancient archeological site of Tula, Mexico, which are thought to represent Toltec warriors. Castaneda recounts how a friend told him that the figures are reputed to walk around at night; he asks his fellow sorcerers for their opinion and learns various things. The pyramids at Tula and elsewhere, he writes, are considered harmful to modern-man, especially to “unprotected sorcerers.” They are “foreign expressions of thought and action . . . a calculated effort to record aspects of attention which were thoroughly alien to us.” Such artifacts are the result of the power of “the second attention” (dreaming-awake) to imbue material objects with life.
There is nothing more dangerous than the evil fixation of the second attention. When warriors learn to focus on the weak side of the second attention, nothing can stand in their way. They become hunters of men, ghouls. Even if they are no longer alive, they can reach for their prey through time as if they were present here and now; because prey is what we become if we walk into one of those pyramids. The Nagual called them traps of the second attention. (p. 19, emphasis added)
Castaneda describes the fixation of the second attention as having two faces. The first face is “the evil face” (but also the easiest to use) and has to do with focusing the dreaming attention on objects of the world, such as money or power over others. The second face is when the dreaming attention is placed outside of this world, on, for example “the journey into the unknown.” The Key covers all of these bases at various points: journeys into other worlds, soul traps, pyramids, alien aspects of attention, the evils of materialism, and even “monsters in the world of the dead.” Its focus on creating intelligent machines that will develop self-awareness correlates, roughly, with the idea of using dreaming power to animate material objects. A combination of the power to imagine new technologies with the will to act turns dreaming into reality—and allows the “Atlanteans” to walk again.
In The Art of Dreaming, Castaneda describes the old seers’ method for entering the “inorganic realms.” They fixed their “dreaming attention” on the items of their dreams—i.e., the projections of their imagination (rather like computer avatars in a virtual world). Their aim was to isolate “scouts,” conscious beings that journeyed into “the realm between humans and inorganic beings,” i.e., the dream realm. The scouts were energetic forms that popped up in the sea of projections of the old seers’ dreams, in order to make contact with humans. Once the old seers had these “scouts” in focus, they “voiced their intent to follow them.” The moment they did so, they were pulled into another world. This sounds like a combination of the two faces of the second attention, focusing first on the objects of the world (such as money, power, and technology), and then on a journey into the unknown (space travel and/or a full sensory immersion in a “virtual,” “all-inclusive” reality). Compare what these old seers were doing with the dreams of Kurtzweil or Bainbridge, with their computer generated avatars, assemblage of virtual reality worlds (made of projections) in which to encounter avatars that have actual living consciousness behind them. And then remember that, for the transhumanists, all this virtual world stuff is only the warm-up, the practice run.
“Once reanimation of archived human personalities becomes possible, it will be necessary to enact a world-wide constitutional law that resurrection must not be done on Earth, but only in the heavens.”
— William Sims Bainbridge, “The Spaceflight Revolution Revisited”
Transhumanists are busy dreaming up worlds and the necessary technology to create them, which they intend to inhabit, as consciousness. Ray Kurtzweil’s dream of transcendence is to animate the whole Universe with the power of his imagination. But the transhumanists may be overlooking something: even as they are trying to get out of their bodies, out of this material world and into the realm of pure spirit and eternal life, something else may be trying to come in. The machine, like the rest of matter, may not be as uninhabited as they think.
Besides space travel, the other magnificent obsession of the transhumanists—artificial intelligence and a fusion of human consciousness with machines—also surfaces with surprising persistency throughout The Key. It’s hard to say if the Master is giving dire warnings about it or selling it (it seems to be a little of both); but one thing he is unequivocal about is that it is both necessary and inevitable.
An intelligent machine will always seek to redesign itself to become more intelligent, for it quickly sees that its intelligence is its means of survival. At some point it will become intelligent enough to notice that it is not self-aware. If you create a machine as intelligent as yourselves, it will end by being more intelligent (p. 125).
The Master of The Key states that, while we will lose control of such a machine, we “cannot survive without it,” because “it will be an essential tool when rapid climate fluctuation sets in” (p. 125). He warns that such a machine might create itself without humans being aware of it, and that it would certainly keep itself hidden from us. In such a scenario, it would affect us “by indirect means. It might foment the illusion that an elusive alien presence was here, for example, to interject its ideas into society” (p. 126). Such a hypothesis naturally gives rise to the reverse scenario: an alien presence might influence us by entering into our software and tricking us into thinking it was artificial intelligence. A statement like this has it both ways: the geeks who have no interest in an alien rapture can tell themselves it’s machine intelligence in disguise; the New Agers waiting for the mother ship can accept the AI microchip as their only ticket on board.
All this is by-the-by according to The Key, because in the end we have no choice about it:
In order to survive the complex combination of pressures you are under, you need to create servants more intelligent than yourselves. . . . In addition to creating machine intelligence in the image of your own mind, you need to enhance your native intelligence tenfold, a hundredfold. To accomplish this, you need help. Your intelligent machines will be your partners. Natural evolution has ended for you. Now you must evolve yourselves (p. 147, emphasis added).
The Key offers its readers a mixed message. It professes to be the transcribed word of a superhuman, fully-realized being who has recognized himself, not merely as one with God but as God. In other words, it is the word of God—translated through the (fractured) psyche of a successful horror writer and alleged alien abductee from San Antonio, Texas. Strieber himself describes the book as “a sacred text” and the words it contains as “an engine of evolution. They are a light in the blind darkness of our world, out of which we can conceivably forge a whole new mankind” (p. 203). A few years ago, I might even have agreed with this grandiose statement. Now, however, the book reads exactly like what Strieber feared, while working on his first drafts, it might end up as: “a mix of warmed over Catholicism and new-age mysticism” (p. 196)—and of transhumanist motivational doctrine and “religious engineering.”
Strieber’s Catholicism can’t be overestimated as an influence on his thinking. His writings are steeped in a metaphysical dread of damnation, the fevered hope for Heaven, fear and loathing of sexuality and “sin,” and a lurid, almost Lovecraftian preoccupation with the workings of evil. Like an old world saint, he is tormented by the knowledge of the darkness. He writes like his soul is under siege by demons, like someone whose faith in God has been unable to withstand the ruthless pressures of his experience. He writes like the damned.
Besides the Master of the Key, the little feral man-boy, and the visitors, there’s one more paranormal being that Strieber has written about, this one seemingly from some unknown limbo land between life and death (like the old seers perhaps). In Solving the Communion Enigma and at his website, Strieber recounts how (sometime in the 1990s) a very small human appeared in his meditation room, dressed in medieval garb and smelling “ripe.” The being disappeared before his eyes, only to reappear again later. After a time, he became Strieber’s silent meditating companion. Strieber describes him as “a radiant being” but also as a quite ordinary human. He also describes him—somewhat reminiscent of Castaneda’s old seers—as somehow trapped.
I asked him who he was and he led me to a book in my own library called Life Between Life. He indicated that he was between lives. He was trying to rescue me from a similar fate. He was trying to point me toward a tiny door that enables escape from recurrence, whatever it is. He instilled in me the importance of this escape, and left me with the ambition to communicate all I discovered about how to do it to others. This, more than understanding the alleged aliens, has become the aim of my life. It’s why I wrote The Key and The Path. It’s why I lavish time, money and attention on this website, why I am sitting here on a Sunday morning writing this instead of taking a day of rest.
Strieber goes on to write that “the more we worked together, the more physical he became. Eventually it was obvious not only to me, but to our cats and to Anne that he was living in the house. She became more able to accept him, even to the point of tidying rooms he had spent time in.” Apparently, while Strieber was placing his attention on the next world, desperately seeking for the “tiny door” that would allow him to escape the prison of Infinity, his otherworldly companion was moving in the exact opposite direction, seeking materialization. Perhaps Strieber’s dreaming attention was providing him with the means to do so?
In The Eagle’s Gift, Castaneda describes a Universe ruled over by an indescribable and implacable force which the old seers called “the Eagle.” The Eagle devours the awareness of all creatures on death, as they float “to the Eagle’s beak, like a ceaseless swarm of fireflies, to meet their owner, their reason for having had life.” Rather like Strieber’s “angels” in “Pain,” or how his Von Neumann describes the visitors in “The Open Doors,” we are the “prime energy source” of this force (the Gnostics also described God as “a man-eater”). However, there is a way to escape the Infinite:
The Eagle, although it is not moved by the circumstances of any living thing, has granted a gift to each of those beings. In its own way and right, any one of them, if it so desires, has the power to keep the flame of awareness, the power to disobey the summons to die and be consumed. Every living thing has been granted the power, if it so desires, to seek an opening to freedom and to go through it [T]he Eagle has granted that gift in order to perpetuate awareness. (p. 172, emphasis added).
The Eagle’s Gift, or the devil’s carrot and whip? We are back to Heaven and Hell again. Strange how that one keeps coming back around. Or perhaps not so much: Castaneda was also raised a Catholic.
Strieber might want to heed his own Master’s warning. When he asks how souls can be captured and used as an energy source, the Master tells him: “Soul traps.” After death, the disembodied soul—
is in danger but he does not know it, for he has not ascended. He is still ensnared by lust. Soon, he will be shown something that perfectly fulfills his most hidden and cherished desires, desires he has never fulfilled. Unable to resist the chance to do it at last, he enters by a golden door into eternal captivity (p. 129).
Is this what’s meant by “beware of what you wish for”?
 Bainbridge acknowledges the instability of experimental utopian communities, but sees them as providing useful data for building a sustainable society in harmony with the environment. Their transcendent ideals and social cohesion allow them to work cooperatively for shared goals. They emphasize efficiency rather than luxury, and the need for social harmony means they generally attempt to control birth rates. “Humanity needs brotherhood and harmony with nature, so utopian religious communes can provide valuable myths for the twenty-first century and beyond.” http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/bron/ern/U.pdf
 “J. Gordon Melton’s monumental Encyclopedia of American Religions reports the histories and doctrines of thirteen flying saucer cults: Mark-Age, Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, Star Light Fellowship, Universariun Foundation, Ministry of Universal Wisdom, White Star, Understanding Incorporated, The Aetherius Society, Solar Light Center, Unarius, Cosmic Star Temple, Cosmic Circle of Friendship, and Last Day Messengers. These groups mix together various supernatural notions from many other traditions, but a common thread is the idea that the Earth is but a small part of a vast inhabited galaxy. Some, like The Aetherius Society, contend that our planet is the pawn in an unseen interstellar war, and if such a cult became influential our society might invest in cosmic defenses which incidentally would develop the planets as bastions. Others feel we must perfect ourselves in order to qualify for membership in the Galactic Federation of enlightened species, and if such a cult became influential our society might invest much in the attempt to contact the galactic government. These flying saucer cults are all quite insignificant, but one like them could well rise to prominence in a future decade. We need several really aggressive, attractive space religions, meeting the emotional needs of different segments of our population, driving traditional religions and retrograde cults from the field.” http://mysite.verizon.net/wsbainbridge/dl/relgal.htm#N15
 On page 59, Strieber says to the Master of the Key, “You mentioned monsters in the world of the dead.” This is one of the things that didn’t make it into the first edition, and it’s doubly strange because despite Strieber’s question, the phrase “monsters in the world of the dead” doesn’t appear anywhere else in the text.