by Nicholas Sheppard
Tales of divine visits to Earth have been around since Gilgamesh was a boy, but the recent upsurge in alleged visitations would be remarkable even by the standards of Homer. First we had the tale of Joseph Salamander, who says that God spoke to him from a burning bush while hiking near Sydney, Australia. Then we had Bartholomew Erephus claiming that God had spoken to him from a cloud later the same week, followed by Erina Holsworthy’s claim that God had entered one of her children’s dolls. A torrent of other claims may be found on social media.
Many of the videos that you’ll find are surely hoaxes; it’s not hard to set a bush on fire and insert a suitably resonant voiceover. Other claimants may be the victims of mental illnesses or drug use. But even the more credible witnesses leave a lot of questions as to what really happened.
Mr. Salamander says that God asked him to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting biodiversity; but who until now has heard of God needing to prove His environmental credentials? Mr. Erephus says that God instructed him to gather a harem of fertile young women so as to go forth and multiply, as it were; but though Mr. Erephus insists that God is concerned about low fertility rates contributing to the ageing of the population in developed countries, others (including Mr. Erephus’ wife) have seen this claim as rather self-serving. Others have pointed out that God’s instructions to Mr. Salamander and Mr. Erephus seem at cross-purposes. Ms. Holsworthy says that her doll alerted her to the plight of persons displaced by war and famine across the world, but it is not clear what she is to do about this from her middle-class home in Charleston, West Virginia. Others have said that God warned them of the evils of alcohol or other drugs, or appointed them to stand up for the rights of particular ethnic groups or socioeconomic strata, or asked them to establish societies based on principles laid down by philosophers ranging from Plato to Marx.
Numerous explanations have been advanced for both the apparent frequency of these visitations as well as the bewildering array of advice that God is supposed to have given. Maybe the end really is nigh, some say, and God is making a last-ditch bid for the moral improvement of humanity. Some have explained the inconsistent nature of the instructions as individualised advice intended only for the ears of those visited; others have suggested that there might be several gods vying for our attention. For those less inclined to accept divine explanations, there’s the suggestion that a team of hoaxers is creating ‘deepfakes’ on a scale never before seen, or that we might be under assault from alien ‘influencers’ attempting to extend their audience to Earth. Or maybe the whole thing is just mass hysteria brought on by too much social media.
Rene Jacquillard, a professor of history at the Université de Montréal and noted sceptic, has suggested that the only way to resolve the mess would be to ‘catch God at it’. He has accordingly proposed a series of traps through which gods, hoaxers and/or aliens might be gotten hold of and made to perform under laboratory conditions. Sara al-Zubair, a professor of comparative religion at the University of Damascus, has proposed that the new sayings of God be collected into a kind of Extra Testament from which religious scholars around the world can distil a text suited to the needs of anyone seeking spiritual guidance. In the meantime, citizen-prophets can also contribute their experiences to on-line site Wiki-Testament. Critics point out that compiling the sayings of God into a book (or, presumably, web site) has been far from an unqualified success in bringing agreement to previous generations of religious thinkers. Perhaps there’s nothing to do but embrace the diversity and richness of God’s will. If God wants to tell Mr. Salamander to protect the environment while telling Mr. Erephus to populate it, so be it, He’s not telling anyone to do anything that many of us wouldn’t do anyway. What would be really surprising, after all these thousands of years? God calling a meeting to set out His plan in plain common-sense terms that everyone can agree on.
N P Sheppard is an academic and software engineer based in Wollongong, Australia. He has published academic research in information security, short fiction in AntipodeanSF, and non-fiction in Aurealis and Cockatrice.