Sunday, March 23, 2014

In memoriam

A few days ago we learned from the New York Times that our universe evidently really did result from a stunning “inflation” in first instants of the Big Bang. It’s nice to see a scientific theory confirmed; it even suggests that the universe is orderly and that humans are in the process of mastering it. But of course the discovery is confirmation that actually the universe isn’t orderly at all; apparently most of the theories that embraced “inflation” also assert that other universes are exploding into existence all the time. This is unsettling!

For me, for reasons I can’t claim are exactly logical, the idea of universe after universe exploding into simultaneous existence makes me question an argument for the existence of God that I always thought was a pretty good one: that Someone had to start the whole business rolling. Something about this new scientific account makes me doubt that logic; I feel as if a universe like this one is just so immense that the idea that it needs a starter of some sort loses its force. Maybe it just was and always will be this way.

Of course one could then call the universe God. But that seems more like sleight of hand than a real argument for the existence of God – and certainly that kind of God doesn’t have any apparent connection to our little existences. (I admit that the Starter theory doesn’t particularly suggest a God taking any part in our current lives either.)

It would be nice to think, as I know some do, that we ourselves are God – that the communities we form are truly greater than ourselves, not just as social structures but as something more spiritual. The strongest argument against that, though, is that we ourselves are such a problematic bunch; the sum of our highest and best impulses might be godlike, but the actual societies we form are far from it.

Meanwhile today I attended the memorial service of a friend who died at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer. He was an Episcopalian, and the very warm woman minister from his church spoke of asking him, just a few days before his death, whether he was scared. He answered, in a way that she said radiated peace, “No, actually I’m a bit curious.”

That’s a good way to go. And this, as a British friend of a generation ago would have said, is for absent friends.

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