St. Elsewhere: Italy’s New Religion of the Internet

A new online Italian pseudo-religion reveals that the web itself has become a kind of vehicle for worshiping the modern-day cult of the sacred self.

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In March, Beppe Grillo, a comedian previously best-known for founding the anti-establishment Italian political Five Star Movement, appeared onstage in Rome to announce a sudden change of career—he had now decided to found his own religion, too. 

“Why can’t I create a Church?” he asked his sell-out crowd, which included the nation’s former prime minister Giuseppe Conte. The audience thought they were merely attending the star’s latest stand-up set. Instead, they were present at the public launch of Christianity 2.0.

Grillo’s new “Church of Elsewhere” was to be headed up by an “Elevato,” or “Elevated One,” namely Signor Grillo, who evidently saw himself (or Himself) very much in the Jesus Christ role. Ecce homo, he appeared onstage wearing a modern-day digital Crown of Thorns, consisting of intertwined USB cables of the kind usually used to link laptops up to printers, scanners, or modems. In 2023, proclaimed the Elevato, God “needs updating,” just like a computer running an old and now barely functional operating system.

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Grillo’s new “Church of Elsewhere” was to be headed up by an “Elevato,” or “Elevated One,” namely Signor Grillo, who evidently saw himself (or Himself) very much in the Jesus Christ role. Tweet This

The 74-year-old jester was previously a noted agnostic, leading some to suspect this was all just another joke; but Grillo insists otherwise. He has since instructed lawyers to determine how his new church might successfully qualify for public funding as an official, State-recognized religion. 

A Is for Apostasy

Five Star was the world’s first successfully elected “open source” political party, governing on an anti-corruption platform as part of a coalition government from 2018, until things turned sour and its electoral popularity waned. Its initial triumph, however, was built upon its unique structure, in which members came together to debate, create, and vote on policy platforms in open online forums, rather than behind closed doors, as was traditional. 

Grillo’s Church of Elsewhere is intended to function similarly, being a cult “of questions and not answers.” The Italian word for elsewhere is altrove, and the religion’s holy logo is a capital letter “A” resembling a TV broadcasting antenna, radiating waves outward into starry space, asking deep and meaningful questions of the universe itself—questions seemingly to be posed by supporters online. 

Grillo’s church was founded by the Elevato himself in his garden at noon on the Winter Solstice of 2022. It has an “apostolic” mission, he says, being governed by a Ministry of Elsewhere consisting of an unspecified number of Altrovatar, or “Elsewhere-Adepts/Sages,” who will “preside over the laws, the apostolate and the administration of the Church…on planet Earth.” These Altrovatar are “appointed and deposed” by the Elevato, but they, in turn, appoint the Elevato themselves too, a circular form of governance echoing Five Star’s previous open-source model of online democracy.

The church has three main symbols: the “A,” radiating out perpetual questions; the Crown of USBs, symbolizing the infinite web of online connections between the Elsewhere ummah; and a fish, declaring the movement’s alleged continuity with the original Christianity from which it purportedly sprang. But if this really is a new, mutant form of online Christianity, then why is it needed? What went wrong with the old one? Like Windows 98 in a world of Windows 11 version 22H2, according to Grillo it simply grew obsolete and stopped working.

God Is Dead

For Grillo, the old Christian God 

is no more, that’s the problem. All the great [artistic and civilizational] masterpieces would not exist without God, the engine of the world, and now that He is gone, there is nothing left. We have replaced it with capitalism, with money. We need an entity… 

Otherwise, our society itself will simply crash and fizzle out into a permanent blank dead-screen mode, at one with Nineveh, Tyre, and poor old MS-DOS. 

Christianity’s alleged mistake, said Grillo, had been in claiming hubristically to provide humanity with definite answers to the mysteries of existence, which its priests proved ultimately unable to provide. Rather than relying on flawed individual humans making ex cathedra pronouncements like the pope did, mankind should instead crowd-source its philosophical answers by posing them to the entire world online: “we should not look for answers, but questions; the answers will come by themselves.”

This same basic strategy did not end too well for Five Star themselves, it must be said. Nonetheless, the idea explains the naming of Grillo’s Church: that answers to life’s mysteries always lie elsewhere, meaning the wise seeker of truth values only the journey in search of it, not the ultimate arrival at journey’s end, which will never in fact arrive. Thus, Grillo appears to have hit upon a contemporary electronic form of pop-Buddhism, not a new digital Christianity at all.

The Soul: A User’s Manual

Members receive two essential holy items: an 80-page Bible, or user’s manual, and a spiritual “driving license” (ironic, as Grillo himself was famously banned from taking up any actual public office due to an old manslaughter conviction for causing death whilst driving). In a reversal of the usual driving license points system, devotees first have to gain a minimum soul-points score by taking part in certain prescribed rituals, or exorcisms of the ego, such as The Breaking of the Mirror, a glass-shattering renouncement of personal vanity which must have been personally difficult for the habitual attention-seeker Grillo himself to perform. 

Subsequent misbehavior will then result in sinners losing soul-points, and eventually their license may be withdrawn until they can make amends. Bizarrely, it seems an Altrovatar can perform an ego-exorcism upon a non-member without their specific permission, meaning anyone could potentially become an involuntary convert without even knowing. 

Another form of exorcism, ironic for an online cult, involves adherents being banned from using their phones for a week. Holding up his own smartphone onstage, Grillo explained, “This is a confessional, a rosary. Every ‘like’ is an ‘amen.’ The Church is Facebook. You confess to the world, reveal your entire self, and the world takes it and sells it.” Technology has replaced God, Grillo seems to say. His only viable solution is to use technology to create a new one. 

Possibly, Beppe Grillo recognizes these contradictions perfectly well and is only performing satire of our unholy new digital age here after all. Live onstage, the stand-up Elevato also claimed the miraculous power to transform water into chinotto, or fizzy Italian orange juice, but “not into wine, everyone is capable of that.” 

In our brave new era of online solipsism, it seems every man has now become his own little self-worshipping virtual godlet. Ecce homo indeed.

[Photo: Beppe Grillo (Credit: Getty Images)]


  • Steven Tucker

    Steven Tucker is a U.K.-based writer whose work has appeared online and in print worldwide. His latest book, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, examines the similarities between the ideologically corrupted sciences of the Soviets and Nazis and the equally ideologically corrupted woke sciences of today. He formerly taught in an English Catholic high school.

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