Severing the Soul? The Last Christian

In Chicago, before my talk on the first 2 chapters of my dissertation, I was going to spend Saturday afternoon wandering the maze at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, between stays for the Hyatt and American Airlines promotion. It’s amazing how things get when two companies – in this case American Airlines and Marriott – break a relationship. Suddenly the other hotels all have extra-good AA promos. (If you live in Chicago, about $300 can turn itself into 28,000 AA miles and 3 Hyatt nights, enough for a flight in the US and 3 nights there. It’s a great deal.)

However, it was chilly in Chicago today, less than 10C (50F), and I didn’t want to walk outside. So, with time between check-out and check-in, I went to Borders and grabbed a few books with interesting titles. One of those was The Last Christian by David Gregory. (Don’t be fooled; the publisher Waterbrook Multnomah is not Christian; it’s part of Random House.) When I saw it on the new books display, I wasn’t even sure if it was fiction or non-fiction. As it was futuristic science fiction, I started reading. Two hours later, I had spent my afternoon and now have a quick review.

Mr. Gregory has an interesting premise. He advances society to 2088, and makes two major changes. The first change is that technology has advanced to the point where brains can be replicated in computer form. While this technology has just begun, almost all Westerners have neural implants and access virtual reality. Most communication takes place in lifelike VR, though people still move face to face. (Interestingly, though, physical transport is not at higher speed, just more automated.)
The second change is that Christianity, and all other religions, have effectively disappeared from the US and Europe. It’s basically a hyper-acceleration of the decline argument in evangelical and Catholic circles. Our protagonist, Abby, is exempt because she is the daughter of a missionary family, who lived with the natives in Papua New Guinea and had no working Internet Link. In a Deus ex machina, contact with these natives had been prohibited by law, to protect their culture, and nobody had checked on her for at least 20 years, including the organization that arguably supported her parents’ work.

This points out both the strength and weakness of Mr. Gregory’s work. The fact that I finished the book in one sitting should indicate that I liked it, at least somewhat. After all, Borders had plenty of other options. The plot moves briskly; I was actually surprised by two minor twists, though the main climax is foreseeable by about page 90. Additionally, several of the characters are complicated; there’s a feeling that they have backstory, and this affects the novel in a couple places. Those are good things. Also, there are questions of faith throughout the novel, some mentioned in the Reader’s Guide. (The Guide contains spoilers, so be careful.)

At the same time, there are several problems with the text, which lead me to my rating of just an average 2 out of 5. Some are theological; even with the current troubles in Catholicism, I find it crazy to believe that Catholicism could be eliminated within three generations. Many people baptized today would be alive in 2088. With the mentioned improvements in medicine, priests ordained today would still be alive. They just wouldn’t go away, Tolerance Act or no.
Additionally, the characters are too interconnected. Yes, it makes it easier if there are fathers, and grandfathers, and the like. But that makes this too simple, too coincidental. It’s another machina, not including the ones created in the book. At least, the professor could have been mere professional interest. And did the nearest relative HAVE to be a Senator? It’s overly tidy and simplistic, which is interesting given that the characters are also complicated.

Overall, I don’t want to be too harsh, as the main question is interesting. Would you take indefinite, potentially eternal life on Earth? Or hope for Heaven? Mr. Gregory’s fundamentalist arguments are a start, just a beginning. Though I appreciate that, there’s space in the science fiction realm that I hope more nuanced authors could consider.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network: http://adam.twelvefruits.com
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