One of the only benefits of having a one hour, one-way commute is that I get to download a lot of stuff off the Internet and listen to it during the drive. It is a great way to catch up on your “reading,” if you loosen your definition of reading enough. Of course, I listen to a lot of Orthodox stuff, and evangelical stuff if it is astringent enough and not irritating. I have also traced the history of Rome from its founding to the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476, as well the history of China from the Shang Dynasty to the present. Since I love fantasy literature, I have also followed Ransom to Malacandra and Perelandra, Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom, and Roland Deschaine almost to the Dark Tower (I’m still in Algo Ciento).
One of my favorite podcasts is a podcast on physics, cosmology, and quantum phenomena. Since I don’t understand the amount of scientific rigor necessary to develop an experiment which would prove one theory over against another, all of the podcasts in this series affect me pretty much like the audiobooks of fantasy literature. They are certainly every bit as fantastic, as wonderful. One physics podcast that struck me forcibly dealt with the ultimate fate of the Universe, the opposite of the Big Bang, which the participating physicists called the Big Rip. Since I am certain to get the science wrong, I will allow the curious to download and listen to the podcast on their own.
The physicists claim that in order to make their cosmological equations work, they had to posit a certain type of energy that hithertofore had not been detected by any measuring instrument. The physicists called this ‘phantom energy’, and explained that it was stronger than the other forces keeping the universe together. Because of this ‘phantom energy’, the expansion of the Universe, which should be slowing if it is merely a result of the Big Bang, is actually picking up speed.
Thus, in a finite amount of time, which the participating physicists estimate to be about 20 billion years from now (in a model where the Universe is assumed to be 13 billion years old), the galaxies currently at the edges of perceivable space will “wink out”. They will disappear over a sort of an even horizon where by not only will we know nothing about them, but we will not be able to know anything about them. These galaxies will have ceased to exist for us.
Over the following 15 billion years, the Great Rip will advance on our location, swallowing closer and closer galaxies until, by around 33 billion years from now, our galactic cluster (the Milky Way, Andromeda, and the Magellanic clouds and some change), will be the entire Universe for us. Inexorably this will advance until our own solar neighborhood, then our own solar system, will be all alone. But it will not end until our very faces are ripped from our skulls. The Omega Point will arrive when every subatomic particle, at a level far lower than we can currently measure, is completely alone in the ultimate Punyverse.
It was hard not to love the scientists who were reporting this. They were young and smart and cheerful and kept reassuring their audience that these gruesome events were still multiplied billions of years into the future. But I could hear the edge in their voices. This was no longer the Buddhist/Hindu-friendly breathing Universe of just 40 years ago, which continued to expand until gravity overcame the forces of expansion, and the far flung star stuff began its long retreat back to the Cosmic Egg for another round of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. This was a Universe with a very real beginning, and a very real, foreseeable, end.
Now, I have the kind of mind that sees patterns, sometimes where patterns don’t exist, so bear with me. I’ve always seen cancer as a kind of cellular anarchy, where one group of cells says to the rest of the body ‘we will not have this man to reign over us’. AIDS I have seen as a metaphorical illness where the body becomes less and less capable of making distinctions between me and not-me until your whole body becomes kind of like the ECUSA where anything goes and no one is willing too to say that even Mao-Tse-Tung wasn’t in communion with you. It is no surprise to me that AIDS arose in a time when the zeitgeist was heavily involved in erasing distinctions between races, cultures, and even the sexes.
Science always arises in its milieu. Those of us who live in the West live in an atomistic, and atomizing age. For the last, oh, three hundred years the face-to-face bonds between people have been dissolving in a reagency of technological change and the rise of what I call the Algorithm. It is hard for me describe in just a few sentences what I mean by the Algorithm, but I believe that many poets and thinkers in the eighteenth century England, especially the clairvoyant William Blake, witnessed its birth:
Hardt and Negri’s Empire describes a twenty-first century phenomenon, but their two great protagonists, Empire and multitude, resonate with the language of William Blake and Edmund Burke and the age of revolution and the Romantics. Capitalism began to mature and assume its modern form with the beginning of the industrial system in the mid-eighteenth century. The industrial system used waged labor to operate larger and larger scale machinery driven by increasingly powerful and flexible power sources. Although the system originated in England, the ramifications of the system, even in its early days, was global (Makdisi, 1998). What we today think of as “globalization” is the latest manifestation of that industrial system, although suffused throughout with electronics. In this sense there is a clear continuity between then and now. What the Romantics witnessed in its infancy today we see the thing grown up, spread out, in its gigantism.
The Algorithm cannot be bothered to issue a pair of shoes to a particular woman, cut to her own personal measurements. Instead, the woman becomes a Platonic Woman, at discrete quantum levels (now called “sizes”), and shoes are made for the Sizes. As anybody more than a standard deviation from the norm can testify, it is the luck of the draw whether one of the Sizes will fit you, the actual Woman. But the algorithm is not a tyrant. No. The Algorithm is the successor to Christianity, and only wants what is best for you. All men and women are equal before the Algorithm. All have the same rights and responsibilities. One size fits all. The antiquated web of obligations and permissions mediated between Church and local community and families and social classes with all of that oppressive machinery has been abolished. Now, all relate to one another through the Algorithm and its Mediator, the rising international Finance State.
“I’m Joe, and this is my lawyer and my accountant. This is my wife Madge, and her lawyer and her accountant. These are my two kids, Betsy and Joe, Jr, and their lawyers and accountants. We were going to get a cat, but we couldn’t afford the representation.”
Forgive the deviation, but I do not think it is entirely coincidental that the final atomization of Christendom arose in this period. The idea of a State Church – as the docent in Williamsburg told me, ‘you were the King’s subject. You went to his Church.’ – is as curious to our thinking today as landowner suffrage. In Western Christendom ,since at least the Methodist revival, the price of increased devotion to Christ has always come to paid in the coin of schism. Here in the New World, the ecclesiastical ground is littered with New Lights and Spirit-filled this, and Orthodox that, and Fire-filled other. It has even infiltrated our own churches to the point where we feel the need to have ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ services.
I remember saying to my son once about Orthodoxy, that in a traditional Orthodox society you didn’t have just saints and monks. You had Orthodox hookers, Orthodox thieves, Orthodox hitmen, Orthodox moneylenders, and they were all just as Orthodox as you. You wanna pray and mourn your sins? Good. Go over there and do it. Pray for me while you’re at it. Here’s fifty roubles. The same point could be made about Catholic Portugal or Lutheran Sweden or Reformed Holland, but somewhere the linkage got lost.
Nevertheless, its hard for me to believe that the way forward is the way back. Jefferson was as an effective anti-Constantine as ever could have drawn breath, and he pushed the final spike into the coffin of Christendom. I don’t think the camera can be thrown in reverse. Separation of Church and State is now considered a necessary bulwark protecting foundational human rights. I can’t complain, because if I had lived four hundred years ago, there is no way I could ever have been Orthodox. This a freedom granted to me by our atomizing culture. Unfortunately, it has resulted in a profound isolation from my immediate family, who are as free as I am to pursue their own versions of Christianity. So separation of Church and State has effectively become separation of Church and Family.
At this point I have little but hope that the Church of Me (with open communion, you understand. We aren’t tyrants after all) won’t be the Omega State of Christendom any more than I have but little hope that the Big Rip will be the Omega State of the Universe.