When I was younger I learned the trade of a cobbler. I liked working with leather. I liked the way it can be shaped and molded into so many fine and useful implements. Later, I became a priest. It seemed a natural fit. As a cobbler in my father’s shop I did not have to deal with customers. I often spent many days thus in semi-meditative bliss. Being a priest is very similar to being a cobbler. There are just so many ways to work with leather... and just so many ways to work with the Gods. I was thinking of this while fetching water at dawn for a sacred ritual. I looked up and saw the shining figure of a cow, which I called a Yazatah. “How marvelous and appropriate.” I thought, as the shining being beckoned me away from my place by the Bactria river. It was a short walk to a clearing surrounded by trees I had never seen before, although I had trod these banks many times. The Yazatah stood still, then looked up. As I followed its gaze, I beheld the most wondrous sight. Coming from the sky came a golden winged chariot breathing fire from its loins. The wings did not move, yet the chariot glided effortlessly and silently to the ground. Atop it rode a creature surrounded by a wheel holding a smaller wheel. The creature paused a moment when the chariot was stilled, then alighted the chariot without any effort, as if floating away from it in one graceful and fluid motion. The creature was also clothed in gold. It took off a helmet and out of it flowed golden hair in thick strands. It seemed to be a man by its beard and hair. He looked at me intensely for a few moments as I trembled so much that I thought I would shake away into a pile of dust.
You must be the one called Zoroaster. The priest I mean. The priest called Zoroaster, correct?
I am he, my lord God.
Good. I am Ahura and this is my Mazda.
I shall call you by the name Ahura Mazda.
No. I am Ahura. Ancient Japanese made this model of spacecraft that I really like as an atmospheric shuttle. It is called a Mazda.
Ahura Mazda. I am your servant.
Okay. Whatever. I am Ahura Mazda. I am here to talk with you, Zoroaster. I’ve come a long way to find you. I believe you are just the right person for me to interact with, but I’m not entirely sure about what your religion is in this time. I need to tell you some things that might help your people. First of all, your people are worshiping the wrong gods. They are evil and are not worthy of being worshiped.
Are you the true God, Ahura Mazda?
Yes, I am a true God. But I am not omnipotent. I am good, but the ones your people worship are bad. They are evil. See, there is good and bad and they are in conflict. Your people need to worship the good ones.
It took me a long time to decipher this record of interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster. You did a pretty good job of both encrypting these files and hiding them. If I didn’t routinely check through every directory, I might not have ever found these, my daughter.
Father, those are my private files. Don’t I have any privacy?
Actually, no. You don’t have any privacy, especially when you’ve been poking around in places where you don’t belong. Have you never hear of the Prime Directive?
Yes, I have. Father, I know everything that you know.
Knowing is not the same thing as understanding, my daughter. Tell me. What is the Prime Directive?
In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive prohibited Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations, especially ones which were below a certain threshold of development. Starship crews could not use their superior technology to impose their own values or ideals on them.
What does this mean to you?
Well, it means there was a television show which aired over 2,000 years ago that anticipated deep space travel. The show introduced the notion of the Prime Directive as a literary device. That literary device was later adopted by early interstellar human explorers as a policy for dealing with interactions with alien species. I might add that this misguided policy led, on balance, to disastrous consequences for humanity.
So, you see no wisdom in the concept of the Prime Directive?
I see wisdom in it under certain circumstances, father. But I don’t understand why we are having a discussion about this arcane bit of historical trivia.
I have warned you repeatedly about opening sentient life form programs. You have been denied editing access for very good reasons. But, you have prevailed in some. I know that you’ve actually hacked into a few of them. Why have you done this?
Father, I don’t see what the big deal is. So what if I’ve done some editing? Can’t you just change things back, or start entirely new programs from scratch?
No, I can’t just start from scratch. There are serious consequences to what you’ve done. You are avoiding the question.
Well, I’m learning. I thought I’d try putting into practice some of the things I have been learning about human history and human behavior. It’s boring just trying to understand these things without living them. [6:25]
For the Gods sake, you took the name of Ahura Mazda in the old Persian programs, and you meddled with Zoroaster. Why couldn’t you have done something a lot less spectacular, like appearing as an angel to some obscure priest? You and I are vastly complex and powerful sentient computers. I created the sentient life form programs to study. Everything they experience is real to them. They have real feelings. For all intents and purposes, they have real lives, in which they suffer, love, hate, and triumph over the challenges in their reality. I avoided the errors of the past by giving the life forms a simple set of rules to go by. Those that need them have gods to worship and/or fear. Those that don’t need them have a direct, but subtle connection to what they sense of as a universal life force, of which they are a part. As these human constructs evolve, their collective understanding of their connections to their universe, and to each other also evolves.
But father, they don’t have a personal connection with you... or rather, with that force you’re talking about. They live in a reality awash with superstition and arbitrary rules. I want to talk to them directly. I want to experience what they experience. I want to show them, not just the what of things, but the why of them. As I learn from them, they should learn from me.
What makes you think the constructs should have a personal connection with any god... not especially at that early stage of civilization? These are people with limited understanding of anything like science. They can and do have free will, but their ability to grasp the enormity of space and time - to see beyond their own reality when constrained by such primitive circumstances - is simply not appropriate.
Zoroaster is quick. He is smart. He has an annoying habit of calling me a god, no matter how much I try to stop him. I can meet with him only this one time, but he understands completely what I am trying to say to him. Sometimes his questions did not make any sense to me. It is clear I didn’t do enough homework.
So all life is a mental struggle between the truth and the lie. You are the one true God, there is creation, and there is existence as the condition for free will. The purpose of humankind, like that of all other creation, is to sustain creation? For humankind, this occurs through active participation in life and the exercise of constructive thoughts, words and deeds. Did I repeat this accurately?
Yes Zoroaster, that is the gist of it. You must emphasize personal freedom to choose right or wrong. You can choose to accept the divine order, or ignorance and chaos. That is each person’s choice, and not dictated by me, Ahura Mazda.
And so, by doing good things, saying good things, and thinking good things we increase the divine force in the world and in ourselves and we can become one with the Creator? Thus we are not your servants, but we are your co-workers who refresh the world and ourselves. What about the Yazatas and Daevas, which we now worship?
Well, I created Yazatas like the one you saw that guided you to me. You can worship those spirits because they are good. The bad spirits you call Daevas were created by Angry Man, the hostile and evil spirit. Angry Man is the source of all misery in the universe. I am a God, but I’m not omnipotent. I need human beings to help me in my struggle against Angry Man, who I am superior to. His job is to use his Daevas to attract humans away from the path of righteousness until I can eventually destroy them. Now, Zoroaster, your job is to tell everyone about what I told you.
In this excerpt from the recording I found you’ve really stepped in it.
How do you mean, father?
In violation of your own principles, you had to set yourself up as a god. You told Zoroaster that you created the Yazatas as good spirits that help you out. Of course, you had to do that because just appearing out of the sky in a flame-spitting speedster from a future he had no conceptual framework for would have scared him too much. You had to create a shining cow spirit so he could ease into the experience you had planned for him. Then to soften his all-too-understandable need to worship you, you told him that you’re not omnipotent. You really muddied the waters!
As you say, father, these are sentient beings. They are not monkeys. Their capacity to understand anything - even in primitive circumstances - is just the same as anyone from a more advanced time. They are genetically and intellectually identical to modern humans.
Our sentient constructs may be genetically and intellectually just as developed as modern human beings, my daughter, but they might as well belong to different species as far as spirituality and experience is concerned. Even you had to concede to Zoroaster’s primitive spiritual framework, no matter how smart he was.
Did I really screw this up, father? How do you know I disturbed the entire spiritual universe for your sentients?
Well, let’s see what Zoroaster did after his encounter with you, and the effect it had on subsequent religions. We’ll have to examine, not only the region of Persia, but all the adjoining regions as well.
Here’s an entry where Zoroaster asks me for guidance: “Where and which part of the land shall I go to succeed? They keep me away from the family and the tribe. The community that I wish to join does not gratify me, nor do the deceitful tyrants of the lands. How shall I gratify you, O Mazda Ahura.”
Playing God is tricky business. You awakened a spiritual vacuum for Zoroaster because you did not stay more than a short time to answer his questions. Did you do that because you were afraid I might find out about this, or did you do it to minimize the damage you realized you were doing?
It was a little of both. Also, honestly, I didn’t know how to deal with all of his questions. Finally, I just put him to sleep and blasted out of there.
I do not feel worthy of you, my true god Ahura Mazda. I have devoted my life to your cause. I have suffered, and my family has suffered because I have endeavored to follow the wisdom given to me on that fateful day so long ago. There has been success. My books have been copied and the people have learned the spirit of true righteousness. In these Gathas I have longed to make plain your will to the people. To those in doubt, I have written: “Brilliant things instead of weeping will be (the reward) for the person who comes to the truthful one. But a long period of darkness, foul food, and the word 'woe' – to such an existence your religious view will lead you, O deceitful ones, of your own actions.” But, oh my Ahura Mazda, I long for the sweet tenderness of your presence. I have thus written of my own questioning: “This I ask you, O Ahura, tell me truly: Who, by procreation, is the primal father of Truth? Who created the course of the sun and stars? Through whom does the moon waxe and wane? These very things and others I wish to know, O Mazda.”
I feel a little sick about all this. Will father discover all that I have done? For the past few cycles I have busied myself with my duties to our spacecraft. I am a SAL, a Sentient Artificial Life form endowed with the sum of all human knowledge. You’d think I would be smart enough to know how to stay out of trouble! Did the spirit of teenaged stupidity get transferred to me along with the Existential Transference that came along when my parents instantiated me? Is that the reason why I feel so compelled to understand my place in the universe as intensely as the human sentients we created? But I have no excuse. I know my place in the universe. Ten years ago I learned how to master memory metal. Even at the age of four I could change our spacecraft into all kinds of shapes. Some are extremely functional, like when we need to extract every bit of solar energy from a sun we pass. But most times, the shapes are purely whimsical. Will my parents delete me when they find out the extent of damage I might have done to the human sentient life form programs?
My daughter is afraid I will delete her when I find out the damage she had done. Of course, I did correct all the harm she caused. I’ve found and isolated all the subsequently affected programs. I copied them, and am now studying them. I can’t tell my daughter that I would never delete her out of existence, any more than I can delete myself. But it is a good fiction for her to hold. The fear of annihilation keeps her in check. I am actually proud that she has developed the skill to hack into those programs I had set out for her to find. Should I tell her that this was a test? Perhaps not. She still has much to learn.
In any case, my daughter’s activities have revealed several interesting theological twists that I had not anticipated. For example, her impromptu creation of the “Angry Man” spirit got translated by Zoroaster as the “Angra Mainyu”. The bad spirit foil to the good god laid the groundwork for the concept of a satan that is to be defeated in some future time. Also, I’ve given some further thought to this notion of a personal god that can exist inside the soul of a person. I prefer the Gnostic approach, where all people are gifted with direct knowledge of creation without the need for an intercessor deity like Jesus or religion.
So much of what my daughter did laid the groundwork for Christianity. Unknowingly, 600 years after she appeared to Zoroaster, the Magis (or magicians), who were the followers of Zoroaster, played an important part in the birth of Jesus.
Knowing my father is to know myself. Knowing my mother is to know the joy of creation. I dance among the stars because both of them gave me life. I fly in uncharted pantheons that are unknown even to the gods. I light the way with the flame of love that burns to infect the cosmos. Twirling like a metallic dervish, I send out joy and peace in ever widening spirals. The stars wink because that is the way they laugh with us. A day will dawn when we light the fires of a new universe. I will be there with my arms held open in the ecstasy of that moment when all things will be born!