The world remained entirely focused on the congress and watched it with increasing hope, with day after day of remarkable progress. On the seventh day, to commemorate the miracle of the first gathering, a world holiday was declared and our time zones were rotated to make Cincinnati the place where each new day began. A measure was passed to erect a giant monument there, to enlarge the square and build a great temple with one high tower, somewhat like a mosque, from which the daily prayers could be conducted. And so that no place was left out, replicas of this model were to be set up by the faithful of every city and town, on whatever scale they could afford, and these would be the new seats of the Church.
This was a very clever step taken by the founding fathers, perhaps wiser than they knew. It gave concrete substance and focus to a religion dangerously invisible and wordless. They realized that public enthusiasm be quickly employed before it dissipated, and so these temple-raisings proceeded with amazing speed. By this the new church not only acquired a central standing in everyone's eyes, but it also gained the basis of property from which to expand and control and delegate. And these organizational matters were also carried out swiftly.
As I watched these strange developments on television, and saw them in the streets, I was somewhat disturbed at what I thought to be the signs of disintegration in our world. In just a few weeks, and almost at the whim of the mob, the face of society was changing. I saw a danger in this purportedly blank bible, not in itself or its simplicity, but in what it wordlessly and silently displaced, which was everything but a blank page. While others only saw what they were painting white, I saw what they were painting over. Few of my colleagues agreed with me that under these symbolic acts lurked a monster about to devour the greater part of human culture.
But the next few months proved me right, with each new step of this "innocuous" revolution. To keep up the spirit of the faith, gatherings were held every morning and evening. These were loud and crowded affairs where loyalty was shouted, resentments fuelled, and the labor force for each temple-raising quickly recruited. The sick were also prominent at these scenes. Brought in by the hundreds on litters, lined up and prayed over, and sanctimoniously daubed with white paint by a new order of priests, they added a note of piety to a movement that in most respects seemed like a ruthless bid to enslave the healthy.
The media was the most pathetic tool and victim of the new order. Seeking to ingratiate itself with the new leaders it offered them as much coverage as they wanted, and they wanted it all. The industry had already suffered cutbacks and was now reduced to two worldwide networks. When our monetary system collapsed the networks were ordered to fill three hours of their schedules with news coverage, and the rest with whatever they pleased.
The televangelists already commanded a small part of this programming. But not long after this the soaps and game shows began to disappear one by one, to be replaced by live sermons and special reports on temple-raisings and public "whitenings." The news too was now only "Church" news.
The convention kept going. It elected a permanent body and was settling its various branches of administration. Indeed, it was appropriating more and more governmental offices and roles each day. It disbanded the United Nations and called itself the United Council. Governments around the world bowed to the mild demands of this new and vigorous order and allowed their own sickly ministries to be peopled by these new representatives, full of zeal and energy and purpose.
When it felt that its power was secure, the first of the purges began. These weren’t yet stern commands but simply advice to the faithful. It was suggested that what couldn’t be painted white should be discarded from one's home. This meant mostly ornaments and art, knickknacks, books and dark furniture. The dwellings of the faithful were soon emptied to a near Spartan state, and vast heaps of garbage accumulated in the streets, until bands of "cleaners" were organized to haul it away to be burned.
I suppose that by emptying their houses people thought they were somehow combating the plague, though it didn’t abate. If anything, their crowded, daily gatherings made it worse. But this is academic. In the cities close contact was unavoidable, and from all the reports that I heard, the ratio of the sick was just as high in the most desolate regions.
In a short time a booklet was issued by the council setting standards and guidelines for its flock, for their conduct and households. There was no mention of penalties yet,simply rules; the price of admission into the lists of "associates," as they were called, to the portals of light.
None of these edicts mentioned the unfaithful, and I paid them only the attention of a curious bystander. I doubt that much more than half the families in my neighborhood, or what was left of it, attended the rallies. I did notice that most people began wearing the long, toga-like robes which the Church recommended, and I myself switched over to my light gray suit, but nothing more. I still held a seminar with five students and thought of offering a lecture in comparative religion next term. I told my students to spread word, in the hopes of getting a decent attendance. But I had a gnawing fear that my position was soon to be terminated.
As my duties were minimal, I spent a large part of each day reading my books or watching the daily news reports with my idle colleagues. Newspapers or publications were a thing of the past. The first real inklings of serious trouble for our school came when the High Council announced that all scientific research not directly related to finding a cure for the plague was a waste and must be stopped. This effectively closed the science colleges of our university.
But worse followed. The Church leaders now decided to flex their muscles over the unfaithful. After a few days of inflammatory rhetoric on popular "Church" shows, they contrived a scene for the nightly news which showed a crowd of the faithful in one city rampaging through an abandoned industrial complex and breaking all the machinery they could lay their hands on, and then setting fire to the structure and watching it burn. The tone of the commentators during this report was apologetic at best, if not complimentary to the vandals. This set the tone for full-scale destruction, and in the days following, thousands of factories and warehouses and laboratories were put to the torch.
In the next few weeks this rash of violence doubly swelled the ranks of the Church faithful. It made up the minds of the timid and the undecided who feared for their lives, and most of all the civil magistrates outside the order, trying desperately to keep a hold of the shreds of authority they still commanded.
Now that we were ridding the world of machines, television was next in line to fall. The first decree, of course, was to switch back to black and white broadcasting. The two networks agreed, and probably even felt relieved at so slight a concession. Their own machinery had been spared. The programming by now was one unending roll of Church news and "inspirational hours." But the fact remained that the medium was, per se, technological and evil.
In a matter of four months the fundamental organization of the Church had been completed. They found their most potent tool was the daily rallies they held in every place. They kept the remnants of our telephone networks for their official use and were ready to put an end to the last remaining features of the old world that might conceivably be used to turn a popular tide against them.
Radio fell silent, with one order, and music was dead. For television they devised a more ingenious end. On the final days of broadcasting they continually increased the brightness of the signal by small increments each hour. On all our screens less and less could actually be seen within the blinding glow, while the voices of our most fervent evangelists blared on, prophesying a white end to everything in the universe. They even tried to send stronger signals at this point to blow out the guts of television sets around the world. But this backfired, or so I heard, for I turned my own set off that day, hours before it reached such an annoying climax.