Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Emergence, Faith, and the Many Worlds

Over the last month, I've gotten some response from what may potentially be a publisher for The Believer's Guide to the Multiverse.  I've been pitching it for much of the last six months, with the typical form-letter results, and was on the verge of going the self-publishing route.   But now, there's a possible nibble.  It's a fledgling e-book shop, one that focuses on editing and marketing rather than physically producing books that inhabit the cutting edge of faith.

Publication will be contingent on getting the manuscript refined and edited, so it isn't a fait accompli quite yet.  But with an editor now lined up, I'm back into thinking about quantum theory, the Many Worlds interpretation, and the ramifications of that great big bucket of fascinating cosmological crazy for Christian faith.  

My return to the manuscript has played interestingly off a slight stirring in the emergent movement, as folks have wrassled with the state of that conversation.  Emergence is still out there, talking and deconstructing and churning.

It's still a conversation, and one that engages.  Folk move around the edges of the conversation, dancing in and out of the discussion.  Like, say, Rachel Held Evans.   She's everywhere now, and her thoughtful voice resonates with that conversation.  But is she emergent?  I just don't know.   How would one know?   What I've continued to struggle with is the explicit connection of this movement to theology.

I've been able to find that, within my own corner of Christian faith.  Semper reformanda, or always reformed and reforming, as we Presbyterians say, and that works well with the openness to new forms that is a significant part of the emergent ethos.

But my sense of it is that you've got to go deeper than that if you're going to make a meaningful statement about faith to those who don't already inhabit your particular tradition.  You've got to be able to put the essence of your faith into a comprehensible worldview.

So for emergents, the challenge has always been: Why does the emergent take on faith better articulate God's self-expression into creation?  Sure, we can talk about the Spirit, but why is tolerance, openness, and creativity a more powerful articulation of what God is trying to work in us than absolutism?

Fundamentalism also has a story about existence, and a potent one, that casts all of being into a binary and linear narrative.  The literalist view of the cosmos is a heady mix of ancient story and an industrial/enlightenment-era mechanism.  Absurd?  Perhaps.  But what it does for those who hold to it is place their faith into the context of that worldview.  It establishes a clear cosmological foundation for why it is what it is.  That may be flagrantly wrong and a tiny bit insane, but it's there nonetheless.

Emergence, on the other hand...well, what does it have?  How does one say that openness to various paths to truth is reflected in the nature of creation?  I've heard little of that articulated in emergent conversations, and I've hungered for it.  It would take what has often primarily been a critique, and make it into something constructivist.

What's struck me as I've explored the theological implications of the Many Worlds/multiverse interpretation of quantum physics is that it gives deeper ontological ground to theologies of grace, freedom, tolerance, and mutual interconnection.

If this is the nature of the Creation into which our God has etched us, then the ethos of emergence makes a whole bunch more sense.   A faithful emergent soul says, "Be generative!  Be open!  Be creative! Be loving!"  And if underlying the structure of creation is the actualization of all possibility and not simply one linear time and space, then the emergent statement harmonizes with that logos.