Late in the millennium, astrophysicists perfected the Grand Unified Field Theory, found the last scraps of "missing matter" in the universe, and proved, quite by accident that God does not exist. Or, at best, God was not a very awesome particle, one billion-billion-billionth the size of a pea, with the static electricity charge of an infinitely small sock stuck to a tiny sweater. The media reported this story with the same breathless style they used in "Salt is a Killer" in 1991 and "Salt is a Miracle Cure" in 1998. And the public reacted to the reports of God's non-existence as it had to such shocking stories as Darwin's theory of evolution or Michael Jackson's pederasty: Day 1: That can't possibly be true. Day 2: I kind of knew it all along.
The jig was up for religious leaders all over the world, and many decided to come clean. From Britain, the long-suppressed introduction to the King James Bible was released: "This is a book of instructional tales for children and the weakness of mind, and not to be taken too seriously." Israeli archaeologists confessed that the Dead Sea Scrolls were a rather crude forgery which contained such glaring anachronisms as "toothpaste," "steam engine," and "Phil Silvers." And Chinese scholars admitted that the chubby smiling Buddha began life as a corporate logo for pickled eel in the third century; he was, in effect, the Bob's Big Boy of his time.
And so the world began to accept life without God. Christians who had been searching for an excuse to skip church now had a humdinger. Jews could finally eat pork without guilt, and found it didn't taste nearly as good that way. Contrarily, millions of starving Hindus were quite happy to eat the sacred cows which had sauntered through their streets for centuries. By year's end, India's leading killer had gone from hunger to hypertension, and the cliché of the portly, red-faced Hindu was born.
All but the most fun religious holidays soon passed into obscurity. Easter: in. Lent: out. Hanukkah stayed, while Yom Kippur was replaced with Hanukkah II. Ramadan, the Moslem period of fasting, sobriety, and sexual abstinence, was shortened from twenty-eight days to twenty-eight seconds. Christmas, which had long ago been stripped of any religious meaning, was virtually unchanged.
All over the world, houses of worship lost their tax-exempt status and were forced to shut down. Mosques became banks, cathedrals were converted into multiplexes. Dozens of small churches were turned into a chain of coffee shops called "St. Arbucks." They were wildly successful in 2003, and bankrupt a year later.
In 2008, the Catholic Church had a massive going out of business sale, auctioning off all its religious art. The Last Supper now graces the lobby of Mitsubishi International in Osaka. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was moved intact to Trump's Vaticasino in Atlantic City; cigarette smoke has undone all the restoration work and it now looks worse than ever. Larry Flynt bought the Pieta, and what he's done with it is too gruesome to speculate on.
The Vatican, now stripped of its treasures, installed a water slide to attract tourists. It didn't work. As for the Pope, he became just another celebrity, famous for being famous. He had a talk show on the USA Network, he did a brandy ad, he cut a country and western album. His infomercial for a vibrating massage chair can be seen on many cable channels at three a.m. He married Linda Evans.
One thing did not happen in the post-Godworld: there was not a total moral collapse. People who didn't have sex because they were too religious, now didn't have sex because they were too ugly. A Dallas man who didn't kill his hated wife out of fear of God, now didn't kill her out of fear of the Texas Department of Corrections. In fact, he never killed her-they remained married for fifty-eight years. In the last six years of his life, the man grew demented and began to think his wife was his mother; he died more in love with her than he could possibly imagine.
And so the Godless world plugged along people who were lustier, greedier, prouder, angrier, more envious, gluttonous, and slothful-but not so much you'd notice. They were also a little happier, until July 18, 2036, when geologists taking deep core samples discovered there really was a Hell and we were all going there.