Friday, October 8, 2010

M-Theology, Ethics, and Metanoia

"You mean," said Lucy rather faintly, "that it would have turned out all right - somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?""To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that...but anyone can find out what will happen ."
Given the impossibly vast and absurdly convoluted scope of being suggested by The Grand Design's M-theory, any reasonable or insightful person will be left a bit stunned.  The universe that flows forth from M-theory and other multiverse cosmologists is utterly and bafflingly confusing.  How can we say one thing is better than another, or one path is better than another, if everything that can ever possibly be exists?

It can leave you feeling that not only is there not hope for purpose in being, but it also leaves room for such an immeasurable number of ways things can go horribly, impossibly bad.  Looking out at the horrors that are, and knowing that they could be...and may be...far worse...this is a terrible, paralyzing thing.  As, perhaps, is the awareness of how infinitely far we are from realizing our ideal state of being.

But so it goes.   As sentient and self-aware beings, we know good and evil, joy and sorrow.   Having tasted that fruit, we have none of the blissful ignorance of foulness that would be our Eden.

But what do we do with that knowledge?

We are created free to choose, and there's weight to that.  If, as M-theory holds, our choices functionally form a new stream of being, and from that stream of being flow forth myriad and infinite other streams, then our choices are not irrelevant.  They are immense.  Knowing this, how are we to act in the face of this terrifying freedom?

Faced with an infinite array of possible choices, and the weight of choosing, the only way to step away from despair or cynicism is to make those decisions based on our knowledge of the good.  Here, faith is required.  Faith has always been necessary to pick through the thicket of competing values, even back when spacetime was nice and linear and cozily deterministic.  You can, of course, have faith in many things.  But without faith in that which transcends self and clique and tribe and nation and species, we make decisions that can be based on a "good" that is "good" only in the contingent sense of self or culture, and that might be harmful or destructive in ways we just can't see.  It's a bit like shopping at WalMart, or fishing the seas until they are lifeless deserts so we can all eat at Red Lobster.

Christianity, and Jesus in particular, tells us that those decisions involve repentance, because the Kingdom is at hand.  Repentance is a word many folks are uncomfortable with.  It seems to imply a wagging finger, and a disdainful, judgmental look, and someone clucking that we've been very naughty.  I tend to prefer the Greek word that was originally used by the authors of the New Testament, as the Gospel was spread throughout the Roman Empire:  metanoia.  That's what we translate as "repentance," but if you break it down, its got another spin to it.  Meta means, roughly, "after."  Noia comes from a root meaning "knowing," or "knowledge."   Repentance is what we do, and how we act, after we are grasped by and transformed by God's understanding.  God's understanding is, after all, love.

We turn away from those options that involve brokenness and horror and darkness.  We close off their possibility for being.  We move towards that which brings reconciliation and hope and light, and in doing so open up new realms of possible joy.

Given the radical freedom with which we have been created, our guide in acting for the optimal good...and even for being able to say meaningfully what "good" is...lies in our ability to see those choices as our Maker sees them.  In the manifold providence of the God that knows all things, including the Way of love through the chaos of our terrifying freedom, lies the path and the choice that will bring the greatest joy.   That's true in every moment.  With our reason, with our emotions, and with the radically defining existential purpose that flows from faith, our ethical response to a universe in which our choices matter infinitely is to seek that Way.

If we want to see the good happen, then we need to be transformed by it, guided by it, and in faith participate in it.   That there may be deeper horrors and evils on other paths means nothing.  We have chosen to turn away from them, and to freely participate in shattering them.  That there may be greater perfections and joys than we can imagine should only be a source of rejoicing.
"Of course..," said the Faun.  "The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets.  The inside is larger than the outside."