Civilization: Beyond Earth - The Prophet's Work

In this column, Dear Readers, I have enjoyed pillorying the so-called great figures of the day. The fatuous and frequently hypocritical sots who set themselves up as emissaries of god (or just cut out the spiritual middlemen and claim divinity for themselves) have been my favorite targets. By far the boldest claims I had ever planned to debunk were waiting for me in New Delhi: The mystic Kavitha Thakur, daughter of self-described syncretic guru Raj Thakur. Born supposedly 17 years prior to The Great Mistake and yet here she stands today – 200 years later – looking like she’s in the prime of life. I either needed her youthful secrets or to tear down the Kavithan façade. Or both.

Stepping out of a cab, I witnessed firsthand what the people of her Protectorate refer to as “The Prophet’s Work.”

It began in the cab in New Delhi, when my driver asked the purpose of my visit. I explained I had come to unmask Kavitha Thakur as a fraud. He spun around to face me (exponentially increasing my terror of the traffic) and said: “Oh, but you cannot unmask her, you must see the truth of the Prophet’s Work for yourself.”

The Prophet’s Work. Everywhere it is the Prophet’s Work, this space program created on the doorstep of the worst violence and tragedy of the Great Mistake. Children run through the streets, kicking footballs and holding homemade model rockets. Songs on the radio extol how love can transcend the unimaginable distances between the stars. I sat through a movie about two young engineers, each giving up their seat on the Seeding flight to be with the others and to stay on Earth. It ended with a dance number after the engineers had figured out a way to send a million more people out to distant worlds. A group of young men attempted to have me arbitrate a dispute about the best way for a pilot to slow his spacecraft, atmospheric braking versus low-angle insertion. I declined the honor, explained my ignorance of their conflict, and earned a dozen withering looks of contempt. I tell you that the Pope has not given me a look with a quarter of the venom these teens did; I was embarrassed for myself. A troupe of young ladies performed a dance to me, choreographed around the “slingshot orbits” that our Seeding ships use to depart the solar system. Northern India is manic about spaceflight and the Seeding and the Thakurs.

Nobody can tell me whether the Protectorate’s space program is government-sponsored or private. Nobody knows, or possibly nobody cares. Rockets go up, are tracked, the construction is going apace in orbit, and nobody seems to be in charge of it. A child of eight can tell you how many days it is before the next Heavy Lift, and when the next Colonial Lottery is being held. Old women argue about whether hydroponic saffron would taste the same as soil-grown. Kavitha and Raj Thakur’s faces stare at you from posters on buildings and holo-ads, painted simacrula of these adorn lesser structures, buses, and car roofs. Flimsy paper pamphlets filled with their sermons are stuffed in racks and grabbed up just as quickly. The illustrations within them are of starfields and domed cities on impossible landscapes.

I ask: How many people are going on the Protectorate’s Seeding expeditions? Many! But not enough, I am told. But there will be more soon. It is the Prophet’s Work, I am told. I ask: Where does the money come from? Everyone pays what they can, it is the Prophet’s Work, I am told.

I pass a single-room school bearing Raj Thakur’s name, and inside is an earnest teacher waxing rhapsodic about what life will be like on the new world to attentive students.

I have decried religion and its adherents because I feel they subvert the society. But the Thakurite vision of the Seeding is part and parcel of India these days. Its optimism infuses every part of the culture, from top to bottom. And indeed there is something (I dare say something holy) about the way it works, despite the manic, decentralized, massively disorganized process, despite the clear ruin left over from the Mistake, despite the poverty and a thousand other factors that tell me I should expect a populace on the verge of riot, a simmering keg of resentment and malice. Instead there is joy, endless joy, and I cannot see any way for this to exist without Kavitha Thakur’s weekly sermons, or her father’s ubiquitous books and videos filled with the dense, mystic vision which somehow fuses the old gods with rocketry.

I have derided religion as backwards and anti-human, and yet the Protectorate is beyond brilliant with the light of culture, full of hope and eschewing the inherent violence of the world we live in now. I have seen the Protectorate, and I tell you that Thakur’s writings and homiletics no longer inspire scorn within me; they inspire thoughts of divinity and space travel. Dear reader, these words will not sway you, unless you have seen the Protectorate, that strange autonomous region devoted to the words of the Prophet who preached both an end to religious strife and a concrete vision of travel to distant worlds. When I dream at night, I see Kavitha Thakur beckoning to me, I hear the sound of lathes spinning aluminium billets, I hear children chanting Newtonian orbital formulations interspersed with Thakurite prayers.

As I left the Protectorate, I discovered to my astonishment that I no longer cared about Kavitha Thakur’s actual age. I was willing to accept that she was 200 years old, because I wanted the Prophet’s Work to continue. I wanted more than anything for the Protectorate to hum and bustle with life, its head in the stars already as its feet dance in the toxic dust of this world. I did not expect to love Kavitha Thakur. Dear reader: I am shaken, I am shaken, I am shaken.

--Diogenes Hitchens