Saturday, March 25, 2023

Everything and Everywhere

We cannot be, nor can we endure, Everything Everywhere All At Once.

The movie itself was a hoot, albeit fluffier than I'd hoped.  There was kung fu action, absurd silliness and family drama bathos, all woven up into a multiversal narrative that lightly explored themes of identity and choice.  It was fun but shallow, a little bit of caffeinated quantum foam atop one's latte.  I enjoyed it far more than any of the Marvel Universe's recent oversaturated pastel cash grab products.  Dear Baby Jesus, have those films become unwatchable. 

Was EEAAO the best film of 2022?  That is, of course, entirely subjective, and in my universe, it wasn't even close.  Banshees of Inisherin was my best film of 2022.  It was beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, fiercely provocative, emotionally complex, viscerally brutal, utterly heartwrenching.  But a film centering on a tragic friendship between two heterosexual white dudes ain't gonna get the nod from the Academy in 2023.  That isn't complaining.  It's just the truth of the industry zeitgeist. understood in contemporary the magic ingredient.   An interracial queer romance?  A couple of Historical Firsts?   Throw in a dollop of publicist-driven Industry Comeback Story, and the choice of the Academy is obvious.

So sure, Everything Everywhere was cotton candy philosophizing, a shallow hit of cinematic sugar that pressed all the right intersectional buttons.  But what?  In the infinite complexity of the multiverse, what does that matter?  It worked as a film, it was often creative, and it wasn't too terrible to watch, so good on ya, mates.

There's a peculiarity about multiverse narratives, one that has certainly stuck with me as I've explored the theology and morality of the Many Worlds over the last two decades.  Meaning and ethics can be deeply challenged in a cosmology that asserts that there is no one linear timeline.   Why?  Because multiversality asserts that there's no one ending to our story...or any story.  In the multiverse, there's no guarantee of a good outcome, no evident purpose to all of being beyond the completeness of being itself.  What is the place of faith...particularly my Christian such a seemingly amoral cosmos?

For me, engaging theologically with the potential reality of the multiverse has created something of a paradox.  On the one hand, it means that I now see freedom as a terrifying absolute.  As a self-aware and sentient being, I can engage with and consider the probable impact of my choices, and of the choices of others.  I am deeply aware of the potential of every moment, for good and for ill.  I am also deeply aware of the positive potential that lies within even those with whom I disagree.  They are not automatons, any more than I am an automaton.  

On the other, an existential sense of the churning tohu wabohu chaos of infinite possibility has made me...and here lies the paradox...more conservative.  We cannot, as limited and mortal beings, embrace every choice.  We homo sapiens sapiens cannot be everything everywhere all at once, because that would destroy us.  That's the realm of God, of the I Am That I Am.  We aren't God, or even gods.  We're creatures of linear narrative, little lumps of temporally bounded fleshy process, and when we attempt to do and be everything, it destroys us.  Our psyches disintegrate.  We cease to cohere as persons.  Our souls are shattered and scattered, and we spiral smoking down to ruin like singed, helpless, foolish Icarus.

Faith is the bulwark against that devouring entropy.   It integrates.  It sustains.  It allows us to cohere as human persons.  My commitment to Jesus is unchanged, no matter what the universe.  In that, it doesn't matter whether there are a functional infinity of potential realities, or just one.  Just as faith guided our choosing back when we were sure there was just One Story, it now guides us when there are many.