Those who mine the periphery of our late 60s pop kulchur may recall a sub- Scientology sect named the Process Church of the Final Judgment. The Processeans tried to co-opt the Aquarian types in the same way LaRouche courted the Left, using a paranoid worldview which was egalitarian and opaque enough to appeal to the tensions of the times. Process priests with their German Shepherds and monkish threads satisfied the acid fascism which lurked under the decade’s flowers (cf., Manson and Mel Lyman), while the mystical communalism of the cult drew in refugees from suburban lawns. Process magazines called Fear and Death mirrored Mai Lai; the Process symbol aped the swastika Rising Up Angry scrawled over Nixon’s nose. Chief magus Robert de Grimston had a name out of Dark Shadows and looked like the Nazz Himself. And the Process mixed in the Devil, a nod to Bedazzled and divly Jagger-Richards.
The Church’s best-known guest appearance is probably on two of Funkadelic’s finest albums. Process jive crops up in tunes like ‘Wars of Armageddon’ and on the LP liner notes. By the end of the 1970s, the Process had become a relic tacked onto the Tate-La Bianca and Son of Sam killings by overworked conspiracy theorists. There’s probably a bit of Process in dressed-up pulp like The Omen and perhaps it helped fire the absurd fury behind the infamous ‘Satanic Panic’ of the Reagan years. The Processeans themselves ended up running a new-age dog shelter in Utah or following the Anti-psych of Félix Guattari, or they simply vanished into normalcy.
In 1978, sociologist William Sims Bainbridge published a sober, somewhat laconic monograph on the cult’s crippled latter days. Almost 40 years on, Bainbridge seems to have had a Patti Hearst moment and has now decided that the Process is precisely what the world needs. He has just published a roman à clef called Revival: Resurrecting the Process Church of the Final Judgment.
Bainbridge is a very busy man. He is co-director of something called Cyber-Human Systems at the National Science Institute, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and a founding member of the Order of Cosmic Engineers (!). He’s written some 24 books with heavy titles like An Information Technology Surrogate for Religion, Social Research Methods and Statistics , eGods: Faith versus Fantasy in Computer Gaming, and God from the Machine: Artificial Intelligence Models of Religious Cognition. He also built harpsichords and came up with half of the Stark-Bainbridge theory of religion (look it up).
It is pretty hard to convey how truly strange his new book is. The action revolves around the resurrection of the uploaded A.I. of an old Process guru packed into several fugitive metal cylinders. This techgnostic crusade is followed closely by a No Such Agency-like entity, as well as a group of sociologists who gradually become drawn into the seductive Process orbit. A Baptist sect of the Westboro persuasion burns down a Process HQ and the academics help the magicians save the precious relics of Process past, as well as unify the warring factions of the church…
This Perils of Pauline biz is constantly interrupted by the detritus of the information age. A vast host of social media clutter and tinkling keystokes seem to surround the Process and Anti-Process divisions, forcing the hostage-narrator into curious paragraphs of explanatory asides. The menus of favored restaurants are intimately recounted as if they were mementoes of the departed (food is a major concern in general) and there are plugs for current music inspired by Process texts, as well as for Bainbridge’s original exposé and a previous Process compendium, Love Sex Fear Death . Wikipedia entries and the plots of other books that unconsciously channel Process theology are recounted in painstaking detail. A cosmology of grant applications, search engine tricks, clever ways to soup-up video games, and the inner workings of college Humanities departments are probed with entomological thoroughness.
Parts of the book take place in the online digital world Second Life or consist of long conversations about the possible synthesis of the Process, academic feminism, tech soteriology, Behaviorism (a character is even named Skinner), and modish trends such as the Kabbalah and Transhumanism. For all its IT cant, Bainbridge’s book most resembles a vigorous 19th century utopian tract by Bellamy or Bulwer-Lytton. Nobody writes books like that anymore, which is why this one seems so sincerely untimely.
The fact that these endless digressions ravenously fend off the advances of any standard plot (and the old bourgeois notions of ‘character’) makes Revival also seem close to avant-garde. There is a giddy lack of self-consciousness and guile, though the low-down on the Process’ great messianic import remains suitably Delphic. For example, how will the Luciferian-Jehovah cult deal with neoliberalism? How will it win over traditionally Confucian societies? Does the Process back unionized labor? What about this Assange guy? Or does it think this is all irrelevant in the face of the coming unification of God and the Devil?
Friends of mine recall the swishy Processeans roving around Chicago’s then-sordid Old Town, peddling Humanity is the Devil and walking their big dogs at the ash-end of the decade of discontent. Miles away, in square Park Ridge another bug scuttled around the edges of the zeitgeist (around Alinsky, around an anti-war rally or two, at best). Later in 1994, Hillary R. Clinton’s husband would bloat the prison population with his medieval Three-strikes law and help damn half a million Iraqis. Hilary R. Clinton would become Secretary of State in 2009 and rain bombs down on seven sovereign nations. Lady Macnamera of the Flies. How can Process eschatology compete with this venal office clerk? To find the abyss at the edge of Laurel Canyon or claim the Love Generation for Baal, see Mexico City on October 2 1968. 300 or more dead in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. One of many last judgements. ¿Es este Bafomet?
We note that regard for both the Most High and the Lord of the Pit is at an all-time low these days. Our culture shoots into the past at tachyon speed. It relives its ancient seizures in a time-present present only in the digital mill of time-past. Each scene is fused together in a seamless pastiche, with the warm familiarity of daylight ghosts doing the job of incense and invention. But as the great Fats Waller once said: One never knows, do one? Maybe the Process really is the Big Thing again.