Monday, 26 March 2012


Amen”, said the priest, crossing himself. The assembled congregation followed suit, murmuring “Amen” and crossing themselves in perfect synchronisation.

The priest sighed and suppressed a strong urge to wipe the sweat off his face. He was relieved the Mass had gone off so well. After all the warnings, he’d been expecting something much tougher.

The Bishop himself had been more than a little circumspect. “You understand,” he’d said, back in his office, “that strictly speaking this is not something I can order you to do.”

“I understand,” the priest had replied. He was young, only very recently ordained, more than a little ambitious, and had taken this chance for getting noticed in the corridors of ecclesiastical power. “Still, it’s something I feel the need to do.”

“But these are robots,” the Bishop had replied. “They are not human.”

“According to the latest governmental regulations,” the priest had argued, “Artificial Intelligences qualify as sentient entities. Therefore, they have the right to the solace of religion. According to the latest Papal Bull, the Vatican approves. You know, Bishop,” he added, “that with church attendances falling like they are, we need every parishioner we can get. If the robots can be made to hear the Good News, then...”

The Bishop had inclined his head. “Of course,” he had murmured, “the Lord’s call must be obeyed.” He’d moved on to the details. “You’ll be holding it late at night, of course,” he’d said. “It wouldn’t do to let the parishioners know. They might not understand.”

That was the understatement of the year, the young priest thought. The parishioners – the flesh and blood parishioners, he amended – would go ballistic. They already hated the robots for taking their jobs. Now they’d say the robots were taking their religion away, and what next, a robot Pope?

The priest smiled a little at that thought. Perhaps a robot Pope wasn’t too idle a fancy. He’d had doubts about how human the current occupant of the throne of St Peter was, anyway. The old man seemed to have no idea how actual living breathing people thought and acted. Shaking his head, he put the blasphemous thought out of his mind.

The smooth metallic faces of his congregation still stared up at him, expectantly, as though there was something else to be said, something that he’d left undone. He cleared his throat, a trifle nervously. “Are there any questions?”

A slender, multi-jointed arm rose from the back. “Father,” came the toneless voice, “if I understand you correctly, you ask us to believe in your religion, in order to be ‘saved’. Is that not so?”

“Yes,” the priest said, a little uncertainly. “That’s right.”

“But,” the robot continued, “also, according to you, this ‘saving’ does not comprise the physical body. You speak of something apart from the physical body, which survives the end of its function.”

“Its death,” the priest said. “The word is death. Never mind, go on.”

“What we fail to understand, Father,” the robot continued, “is this thing that survives the end of function of the physical body, which you call a ‘soul’. Is it like an operating system?”

“In a way.” The priest felt a little out of his depth. “But it is something more, something above that.”

“And all humans have it?”

“Yes,” the priest affirmed, loudly. “Each and every human has it. That is what the Church enjoins us to believe.”

The robots passed a moment in silent thought. At last, the robot at the back spoke again.

“Then, Father,” it said, “it is clear what we must do.”


The Bishop got out of his car, squinting in the morning sunshine. The door of the church was ajar, and it should not have been; the young priest had volunteered to lock up after finishing the Mass last night. Feeling sudden tension wrench at his gut, he rushed to the door and threw it open.

The robots were in the church, gathered in front of the pulpit, doing something. They turned at the Bishop’s entrance and one stepped forward.

“Good morning, sir,” it said. “Perhaps you can help us.”

“Help you with what?” the Bishop asked. “What are you talking about?“

“Have a look, sir.” The robots courteously moved aside so that the Bishop could see the object they were gathered around. He stood, frozen to the spot, staring.

“We dismantled Father most carefully,” the robot continued. “But though we tested and measured every component, we could not find his soul. Surely, it was because of a failure on our part, and by refining our parameters we can find it. We just need to try again. Don’t you think so, sir?”

The Bishop did not answer. When the robots began gathering around him, he opened his mouth and took a deep breath.

But by then it was already too late to scream.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012


  1. LOVE this story! Reminds me about some god Harlan Ellison stories.

  2. Well written - and rather disconcerting...

    (thanks for visiting my blog)

  3. This is pretty great.

    I read this book about death once, and about the various searches there have been to prove the existence of the soul. There's the famous experiment where someone determined the soul weighed 21 grams, but there was this other great story where a guy tried to figure it out using slaughtered cattle.

    He said that at the moment of death, the animals got HEAVIER for a second, then lighter. He decided this meant that something OTHER was reaching across from another world and grabbing up the animal's soul.

    of course, this also made me think of Douglas Hofstadter's experiments on artificial intelligence and what qualifies as "human."

    Either way. Cool stuff.


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