The Holy Temple of Blue Origin: Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin and the Blurring of the Religious and Secular in Contemporary Apocalypticism

Summer Emerald

Painting of Jeff Bezos' head patrolling the sky

Planet Earth about to be recycled. Your only chance to evacuate is to leave with us. Planet Earthabout to be recycled. Your only chance to survive, or evacuate, is to leave with us.

―Marshall Applewhite, 1997

The earth is finite, and if the world economy and population is to keep expanding, space is the only wayto go.

―Jeff Bezos, quoted in the Miami Herald after being named valedictorian of his high school class,1982

In the twenty-two years since 39 members of the new religious movement Heaven’s Gate committed suicide, their message of escaping planet Earths imminent destruction has become exponentially more relevant in popular culture and consciousness. We can already see secular versions of Heaven’s Gate unfolding - we live in a time in which Jeff Bezos has announced long-term plans to build space colonies in massive artificially built rotating habitats with his company Blue Origin. Instead of putting his infinite supply of money towards anything tangible, Bezos is indulging in a masturbatory fantasy in which he gets to be the Christ figure in a new civilization.

Just as Heaven’s Gate were trying to escape planet earth being recycled, Bezos wants to run away to space with his chosen flock to escape ecological collapse. Blue Origin’s plans are just Heaven’s Gates’ theology backed up with pastoral pseudo-fantasy science.

There are two types of apocalypse: the classic type and the imperial. The typical apocalypse findsa marginalized (or group that perceives themselves as marginalized) group as the elect, and the imperial finds a stakeholder group as the elect. Bezos’ vision is a secular imperial apocalyptic1 vision in which the stakeholder is Bezos and anyone else who is rich enough to pay to get into this elite colony. The space colony is the transcendental reality in which they will escape the mundane of life on Earth. This is luxury doomsday prepping taken to its endpoint. A free-floating space colony is the strongest fortress a doomsday prepper could ever wish for. Here, Bezos can evolve human civilization to suit his vision in a way that he couldn’t on Earth. In May of 2019, Bezos said, “the solar system has enough resources to support 1 trillion humans. Then we’d have 1,000 Mozarts, and 1,000 Einsteins. Think of how dynamic and incredible that civilization would be.”2How do you think Bezos imagines the people of this civilization would think of him?

In a May 2019 Blue Origin event titled Going to Space to Benefit Earth, Jeff Bezos announced his plans to eventually build O’Neill colonies in space. These space settlements are massive rotating artificial habitats that float freely in space, conceptualized by physicist Gerard K. O’Neill and his students.

In O’Neills’ vision of the future, humans would build freestanding floating habitats made from materials mined from the moon and nearby asteroids as opposed to colonizing other planets in the solar system. He thought that this was a much better and more efficient idea than working with the uncontrollable preexisting conditions of other planets, such as gravity and atmosphere. Although his book, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, is about the technical aspects of the creation of these colonies, much of it is written in science-fiction style “letters” from people who live on the colonies to those living on Earth, begging the question of it being taken seriously as a scientific idea.

Artists rendering of an O'Neill Colony, a hamster wheel for humans in space

Interior of 2019 artist rendering of O’Neill colony for Blue Origin

Creating our own artificial habitats allows for complete control of climate. In this hypothetical space civilization, each orbiting cylinder would be roughly the size of a small city on Earth. The colony would be made up of many of these cylinders - at Going to Space to Benefit Earth, Bezos’ even suggested, “thousands.” In artist renderings, these cylinders look almost exactly the same as those in the 2013 post-apocalyptic sci-fi film Elysium, which is based off of a similar concept.

A still from the movie Elysium that is reminiscent of an O'Neill Colony

Still from the 2013 film Elysium showing the interior of the colony

At the Blue Origin event, Bezos goes on to speak in detail about current plans to build the infrastructure that will someday make these cylinders possible. Right now, Blue Origin considers themselves to be in the early stages of building “the road to space” which will be used to build O’Neill colonies. The company’s Blue Moon lander has already been built and is set to perform it’s first exploratory mission to the moon in 2024. Blue Origin intends to begin mining on the moon as soon as technologically possible – a proposition that has its own horrifying set of implications.

When talking about all of this, it must be noted that these grand plans are for the very distant future- Bezos says it is a multi-generation project. This, however, does nothing to change the meaning or significance. Though he knows he may not be alive to see it come to fruition, Bezos still sees himself as the creator of this future civilization.

A planned future theoretical space colony seems highly outlandish to say the least. But, a multi-billionaire standing on a stage giving an hour long talk about it lends it a sense of legitimacy in the public eye. Bezos is not some crackpot conspiracy theorist or science fiction writer, he’s one of the richest and most powerful men on Earth.

Legitimization by the public and media combined with the hubris that only wealth can bring has led to a spate of billionaire mogul TedTalk style live-stream events where the ultra-wealthy force the world to entertain their half-baked ideas as a publicity stunt. Just last month, Elon Musk held an event for the new Tesla Cybertruck in which it was accidentally damaged in a test to show its strength.

Both of these events, hosted by out-of-touch CEO’s and backed by the enormous companies which they lead, say more about the fantasies of the men speaking than they do of any technological advancements. Bezos’ has shown a keen interest in space colonization for his entire life, even speaking to a newspaper about his plans to become a “space entrepreneur” when he was in high school.

It’s interesting to see that a teenage Bezos’ was already saying essentially the same things he is today as the CEO of Blue Origin. As a child, Bezos’ was a self-described “trekkie” who spent most of his free time watching Star Trek or playing games based off of Star Trek. Blue Origin was founded in 2000, when Amazon was still a young company with a small fraction of the power that it has today. Seeing these facts, it’s easy to make the assumption that Amazon is merely a vehicle to fund Bezos’ lifelong dream of space exploration.

One could argue that Bezos’ vision of the future is entirely utopian. Jeff Bezos and everyone involved in the project certainly think that way. But utopian for whom? What will happen to the people on earth who don’t have the finances to move up to these space habitats?

At best, his utopian vision requires the assumption that sometime in the next century something will happen to drastically improve life on Earth in order for most people to have the means to make moving to space a feasible thing to do, allowing for less strain on resources and those who remain on Earth to share them easily. About Earths’ future coexistence with O’Neill colonies, Bezos says “[Earth] will be a beautiful place to live, it will be a beautiful place to visit, it will be a beautiful place to go to college - and to do some light industry. But heavy industry, and all the polluting industry, all the things that are damaging our planet, those will be done off Earth.”

This brings to light a huge cognitive dissonance in Bezos’ thinking when it comes to this long-term project - he intends for this to be a multi-generational project that will be complete some time in the distant future, but the need to stop polluting industry on Earth is immediate. We don’t have the time to slowly transition Earth to light, non-invasive industry in a few hundred years.

Furthermore, one of his core ideas is that Earth is finite., Aat the event, he said, “A very fundamental long- range problem is that we will run out of energy on Earth.” To Bezos, a centi-billionaire, we have no choice but to keep growing and expanding. He says point-blank that expanding into space is the only way for us to survive. The lifestyle of consumption cannot be altered, capitalism cannot be abolished.

Jeff Bezos lives in a fantasy in which there is no end to dynamism and growth. Capitalism can keep existing forever. Earth being laid to waste in the name of expansion to the extent that space is our only option is an inevitability. This ignores reality - and it makes total sense that someone so wealthy would live in this specific fantasy world.

Where the rest of us are already living in a post-illiberal revolution where unrest with the current system is growing rapidly and the glory days of capitalism are long over, Bezos’ wealth can allow him to be completely ignorant to the fact that this is happening. At this point we all know that we are in an environmental crisis that very well may lead us to ecological collapse and mass human extinction. Without the actuality of climate change, his plans would be the impossible dreams of an eccentric billionaire. With this bleak reality, they are dangerous and encourage class genocide.

However, Jeff Bezos is no negligent fool. In fact, many of his former colleagues have described him as a highly calculated and ambitious person who isn’t afraid to “completely destroy” others to get ahead. There is conscious apocalyptic thought and intention present behind his space exploration ideas.

He knows that over the next century, several ecologically driven factors will cause catastrophic events to happen with unforeseen tolls on human life and civilization. There will be some form of environmental apocalypse on Earth. It may not be the quick fiery end foreseen in the books of Daniel and Revelation, but we will emerge from the 21st century with a smaller human population than we have now sharing much more limited resources.

It will be the poorest people who suffer the most and the richest who are able to take advantage of this. At the Going to Space to Benefit Earth event, Bezos speaks about fixing long term problems with long term solutions. This implies that in doing all of this, he sees himself as a philanthropist. Focusing on what he sees as the long-term problems allows him the power to shape this new world as he sees fit.

Bezos is the richest man in human history, and he cannot bear a normal legacy of wealth in which charitable foundations and museums bear his name. He justifies not using his inexhaustible wealth on fixing major issues such as homelessness and world hunger by calling them “short-term” problems. He wants to represent hope, to provide opportunity, to be a saviour, to be God.

For Bezos, the event that will drastically improve life on Earth and make his plan feasible is the death of ecosystems and billions of people. The film Elysium got it absolutely right - if people are to start colonizing space, class genocide is necessary to make this happen.

After all of this change, all that will be left is the upper class and a smaller, and therefore easier to control, working class that can perform the manual labour of actually building the O’Neill colonies alongside advanced machines. This is a prime example of an imperial apocalypse.

The existence of this company and these plans is the expression of billionaires’ last attempt of retaining control while sensing growing unrest amongst the general population.

Apocalyptic belief systems are comprised of many binary ways of thinking. The apocalyptic concept of space assumes the existence of a transcendent reality, often referred to as Heaven, and a mundane reality, often referred to as Earth. Heaven and Earth are opposite realities and cannot exist together.

In the apocalyptic belief system of Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, Earth remains the mundane reality and O’Neill colonies are the transcendent reality that serves as Heaven. Apocalyptic time exists in a finite continuum that includes past and predestined future events. Here, the predestined future is that planet Earth will run out of energy and the elect will colonize space.

An apocalyptic belief system also requires a message being transmitted to a select few who are prepared to receive it. In this case, the message being transmitted is that human life on this planet is not sustainable and we must leave Earth in order for human civilization to survive and thrive.

One of the other key aspects of an apocalyptic belief system is having a clearly defined binary us vs. them. The “us” in this situation refers to the elect, or the saved, those who will enjoy the spoils of the transcendental reality. The ultra-wealthy who will be fortunate enough to escape Earth’s destruction are the elect. The “them” are the poor, the lower classes who will die with the Earth because they do not have the means to tune into the message and experience salvation.

Though not explicitly religious, it is clear that the themes in this apocalyptic vision blur the lines between the religious and secular. We live in arguably the most explicitly secular period in the history of human civilization – or given the recent rise of religious fundamentalism, the tail-end of this period. Imagine the typical person who would enthusiastically attend an event like Going to Space to Benefit Earth, who fully believes in capitalism and the mythos of Jeff Bezos and Amazon as a model for achievement. How is their belief not just religion by another name? How is this model not biblical?

Jeff Bezos can functionally fill the place of God, or that of a billionaire exercising the divine right of kings. He is not part of the elect who will be saved. By founding Blue Origin and laying the groundwork to bring these space colonization plans to fruition, he is doing the saving.

There is one religion in particular that Bezos and Blue Origin have a lot in common with on the ideological or theological spectrum. Though different in many ways, Blue Origin and Heaven’s Gate share the same science-fiction inspired apocalyptic DNA. It is very significant that Blue Origin has risen to the popular cultural consciousness in the 20 years since Heaven’s Gates’ suicide. In these two decades, we have witnessed an apocalyptic shift that has normalized once fringe ideas into mainstream thinking.

The once extreme belief that planet Earth is facing imminent destruction has entered the mainstream via religious fundamentalism and scientific evidence pointing to the human-caused ecological death of our planet. Both Heaven’s Gate and Blue Origin share the core idea that planet Earth is about to be recycled - it’s just that whom is getting saved, and the way in which they will reach salvation, is different.

One major difference is that Bezos’ model of Earth’s “recycling” adheres to a capitalist perspective wherein the Earth will run out of resources for humans to consume and is based in scientific reality. The other key difference, which makes Blue Origin infinitely more sinister than Heaven’s Gate, is the clear class division between who will evolve to the next level and who will not.

Heaven’s Gate explicitly believed that what they called the evolutionary level above human would be reached via space travel. Jeff Bezos does not overtly state this about space colonization, but in the context of everything else he has said, it’s not too off-center to assume that he believes that this is what will happen.

Heaven’s Gate believed that their physical bodies did not matter and would be left behind on Earth, and it was their only their souls that travelled to the spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet when they committed suicide in 1997. As previously mentioned, Bezos sees the transition to colony living as a multi-generational project that will be completed in the distant future. With this in mind, one can speculate on Bezos’ future plans and beliefs about the capability of uploading human consciousness to machines.

Is “consciousness” not just the concept of the soul secularized? With scientists predicting that mind uploading will be technologically possible within our lifetime, doesn’t it make sense that the first person this would be available to would be the richest person in human history? Having your mind transferred to a computer is certainly a drastic evolution beyond the human. When speculating on this idea, the line between the beliefs of Heaven’s Gate and that of Blue Origin becomes even thinner.

The Holy Temple of Blue Origin

In my video The Holy Temple of Blue Origin, I merge all of the above ideas about Blue Origin into one. I portray a character who fully believes in the Blue Origin O’Neill colonies as both a physical escape from a dead Earth and a symbolic place of transcendence. I fully adopt the Heaven’s Gate theology and eschatology and apply it to Blue Origin. I use out of context clips of Bezos speaking at various events and twist them into seeming overtly religious and cultish in nature.

The video is meant to take place in a future timeline in which O’Neill colonies already exist or are in the process of being built and ecological collapse has reached a point where the Western world is starving.

The entire video is approximately five minutes long and made up of short 20-60 second maquettes of different situations that are all somehow related to these concepts. The video is exploring a possible future lower-class reaction to Bezos’ dreams coming true. I imagine that my character is a wage slave at Amazon who never sees the sky and eats nothing but the flavourless slop that they give her to sustain her.

She sees advertisements for condos on the O’Neill colonies, knowing she could never afford one, and dreams of a better life. She becomes a doomsday preacher in a cult that believes that there is a “non-physical, or spiritual” way to get into the Blue Origin colonies. The narrative sees the character becoming more radicalized by the belief in Blue Origins message that humanity's next evolutionary step is to colonize space. By the final video, I have reached such a point of desperation that I am committing suicide in order for my soul to transcend and join the Blue Origin colonies.

Before I edited these videos together to create a narrative, I posted them individually on social media. My intention with creating and posting these short videos was to convey the above apocalyptic ideas in a way that momentarily disrupts the inane babble of the neoliberal drip-feed we are constantly fed online.

The ideas I am working with are not new and can be found across the genre of science fiction, but are usually kept to long-form pieces of media such as books, film, or video games. To see these themes in bite-sized videos on social feeds is unexpected and creates disorder. I hope that I’ve made something strange and jarring enough to make even a small number of people stop their scrolling and think for a moment about where we are headed, or, rather, where Jeff Bezos wants us to go.