“Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away—here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day” (Marty Haugen, “Gather Us In,” © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.)

++++

There’s a trend in our culture that’s disturbing to me. Politicians, parents, and preachers with a certain spin or take on Christian faith consistently discount and dismiss particular scientific theories and/or warnings as so flawed as not to be believed or some sort of scam or not worthy to be taught in the classroom or funded by the government. Science itself is seen as the enemy of faith and the results of careful observation and experiment are referred to as “just a theory.” (That phrase itself shows how little these people understand science. A theory is not just a guess; it begins as a hypothesis, which is tested and refined until a theory based on observed behaviors of, for example, people or particles emerges.)

Contrast the approach of someone like the popular and now controversial preacher, writer, and pastor Rob Bell. In his “Everything is Spiritual” talk, Bell uses string theory, quantum mechanics, and contemporary cosmological thought to explore what it means to be human. Bell is an evangelical, but he sees science, obviously, not as the enemy, but as an ally in the overall quest for Truth. If indeed, everything is spiritual, and simply being human means we are spiritual, then science is inherently a spiritual pursuit, honoring to God as we explore his creation.

The biblical wisdom tradition, largely ignored by every kind of Christian (the mainline Revised Common Lectionary has only a few passages over the course of three years), leads us to the same conclusion. The everyday stuff of life is the basis for theological reflection; exploration of the world and the cosmos is a holy task and can open our perspectives in ways we never imagined. For example, the long speech of God from the whirlwind in the book of Job is intended to awaken Job to the undreamed-of possibilities for his life and broaden his viewpoint.

Recently, I’ve begun to think about how science could help us approach the question of Heaven. If we think about it at all, we may assume Heaven is somewhere “out there” beyond the stars; it’s “up.” But what if we baptized M-theory or string theory, for example, which posits the existence of parallel universes (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/132932268/a-physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist)? Suppose we began to think of Heaven not as “out there” but contiguous with our reality.

Such an idea would open up possibilities for passages like Revelation 4:1: “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” A door is a portal, an entrance into another reality existing side by side with this one like one room with another. The prophet would simply need to step through in order to enter the parallel realm. Or how about Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” Heaven as a parallel universe would allow us to understand that text quite literally. We’re surrounded, but we can’t see the saints, because they live in a different dimension. And of course, there are all the texts in which Jesus suddenly appears to and among his disciples. Could he have been traveling instantaneously from his universe into this one and vice-versa?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing short of our actual going to Heaven. But I think these things are fun to think about. And it’s important to affirm science as a resource for faith. Whether Heaven is a parallel realm or indeed somewhere beyond the farthest galaxy, as the old song says, “it’s a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.”

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

Advertisements

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The Other Life is but the latest work of fiction (though the author says not science fiction) to explore the idea of parallel universes. In the book, written by Ellen Meister, a woman is married and pregnant in one reality, while she is single in another. She goes back and forth between the two through a portal in her basement, if I recall correctly from the discussion on NPR.

Alternate worlds and parallel realities have been a mainstay in sci-fi for quite a while. “Star Trek” used the device from the classic series through “DS9” to “Enterprise.” “Stargate SG-1” had a “quantum mirror” through which one moved between alternate worlds, an infinite number of them. And, my current favorite, “Fringe,” makes parallel worlds the central focus of the plot. So, in the show, in our world, 9/11 took out the Twin Towers, which still stand in the alternate version. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die by assassination in the other world. Indeed, one denomination of currency in the alternate reality is nicknamed a “Jr.” since it has MLK’s face on it.

Ridiculous? Not really. Brian Greene, the renowned physicist, has written seriously about such parallel worlds, an idea that actually began to be talked about as early as 1957. He says that every decision we make creates a new universe. Every decision that is possible is realized, each in its own reality. Each possibility allowed by quantum mechanics does in fact happen.

What, then, if there were a world in which there was no rebellion against God? Or suppose that Joseph had not been thrown in the pit by his brothers or Moses had not been rescued from the Nile? Consider what the world would have been like if the Greeks, not the Romans, had ruled at the time of Christ. What if Jesus did not die by execution, but lived to a ripe, old age and kept teaching? And on and on.

Every decision we make is important, from which route we take to work to how we will respond to a critic to whether we take a risk and meet someone we have admired from afar. That may be frightening in some respects, to realize how much our choices matter. But in another way, it’s heartening to know that when we make a terrible mistake, there may in fact be another version of ourselves who chose rightly. And the ripples that stone of decision made did not set up a tsunami of negative consequences, but instead started justice rolling down like waters.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

For a conversation with Brian Greene, listen in at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/audio/2011/mar/21/science-weekly-podcast-brian-greene-tim-jackson.