Monday, September 08, 2008

Because I'm too tired to come up with anything new.

Today I'm offering up a leftover thought for your consideration. Of course, the particular mental Tupperware I'm dumping into this post contains a wacky idea that has blown the mind of everyone I've shared it with over the years, so hopefully it will be at least mildly interesting to you.* Or at least not coma-inducing.

First some background for those of you who are not Mormons and/or wannabe cosmologists (NOTE: if you're not in the mood for my self-indulgent rambling, just skip the next three paragraphs):

We Mormons, like many other Christians, believe that Christ's atoning sacrifice is infinite and eternal. This means that we believe that the Atonement enables us to be redeemed of all the imperfection in ourselves and in our earthly circumstances and the consequences of those imperfections. I have assumed, like most Mormons, that this meant that my failure to make a good decision when presented with Opportunity A would (if I satisfied the terms of my contract with Christ) still allow for me to receive Opportunity B, though possibly not until the next life. As I imagined it, Opportunity B would most likely not be the same as Opportunity A, but it would be so delightful that presumably I wouldn't mind at all that I'd missed the first boat.

We Mormons also believe that all truth is part of “one great whole” -- that the division between so-called secular and religious knowledge is an artificial one. This is why Mormons tend to enjoy sci-fi – because our religious doctrine reaches into the cosmos, embracing the ideas of other inhabited worlds, the eternity of matter and human intelligence, and a god who is subject to certain foundational cosmological laws that provide the structure upon which his glory hangs. It's not the central thing we talk about, but it is part of our beliefs, and a pretty darned fun part at that.

So about fourteen years ago Stephen Hawking came to lecture in Salt Lake. Actually, he came twice because we were just so excited to see him he couldn't resist coming back to cash in once again on our adulation. I was an uber-geek teenager who had read A Brief History of Time (meaning I'd looked at all the words in sequence and then scratched my head) so I was excited enough to stand in line half the day in the sun for tickets to see him "speak" in the Symphony Hall, and a few years later in the university stadium. It was admittedly quite groupie-esque, but also brain-expanding. If you're not up on Dr. Hawking, he's a cosmologist obsessed with finding an elegant unifying principle to explain every aspect of the universe. His work touches on brain-cramping physical principles that warp reality as we think we know it: alternate universes, black holes, the illusion of linear time, the possibility of reversing entropy, kooky subatomic particles that won't behave themselves. I don't pretend to fully understand most of it, but I love what I do understand and after attending his lectures I found myself trying to connect some of his ideas with principles of my religion (in a lazy sort of way). The most intriguing possibility I came up with was this:

What if Christ's infinite and eternal Atonement is so infinite and eternal that he doesn't just “forgive and forget” your flawed performance and give you positive outcomes in spite of your earlier failings? What if God's forgiveness means that when you comply with his terms for using the Atonement, ultimately all universes will be eliminated except the one in which you actually did perform perfectly at every crossroad and received all the best possible outcomes? In other words, what if successful use of the Atonement literally erases the fact of our failings from reality, and not just their negative outcomes? What if God “forgets” our sins not just because he's a nice guy, but because a property of the Atonement enables him to make them so they never happened in the first place?

I'm probably wrong in this particular speculation, but Joseph Smith taught that truth is way more delightfully mindbending than even we wacky Mormons are ready to accept. That once we have mastered the simpler, foundational truths (love, sacrifice, faith, etc.) we are expected to use them as stepping stones to the equally essential “mysteries.” Not that I've mastered the foundational truths yet, but sometimes one does get the itch to wander to the edge and try dipping a toe in the Mystery for a bit....

What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong B-vector?

If I can get an angelic confirmation of my kooky idea, I'll be sure to let y'all know, so stay tuned. Though I promise not to start a new religion.**

* If you feel your mind about to blow as you read this exceedingly profound post, please type a comment quickly before your head explodes, just to boost my ego. A simple “Pop!” will be more than sufficient to convey both your wonderment and your impending demise. I promise to come to the funeral, as long as it's not open-casket.

** But if I ever did start my own religion it would have a really cool sci-fi name like the United Sistern of the Sacred Stargate. Or the Immaculate Intergalactic Immortals. Or the Apostolic Apocalyptic Astro-saints.