Alternate realities. The concept fits well with astrophysical views of the multiverse that posit undiscovered dimensions and all their implications. Last night my family finished its group reading of Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, as alternate a reality as might be imagined. Plucking Lyra from the uncertain ending of The Golden Compass, Pullman draws his readers into alternate worlds where everything is tied together by the consequences of “the fall” in Eden and where a new battle against the divine is about to take place. In an ambitious attempt to shift perspectives, we are told that the forces against God are, in fact, good. The magisterium, as its uncompromising strength in Lyra’s world demonstrates, will always seek to rule the world. It is an unsettling picture that Pullman paints, a reality where what we thought was Ormazd turns out to be Ahriman.
At the same time, I have caved in and begun reading The Watchmen. Not a great fan of graphic novels, I have been faced with a mounting curiosity after watching the movie a few times. In this alternate reality, God is simply irrelevant. Doctor Manhattan elaborates on the nature of a universe without a deity more fully in the novel than audience forbearance would allow on the big screen. This is a world perpetually on the brink of self-destruction, where God is absent and human ambition becomes the driving force behind a petty, short-sighted reality. Despite the comic-book feel, the story is profound and the concepts disturbing. Alan Moore’s dark vision of other worlds allows unrestrained human desire free reign with no divine restraints.
Such alternate realities underscore just how much of our reality is structured by religious beliefs. They resemble our world in significant ways, but their lack of divinity forces a nascent nobility from human characters who are only too aware of their own weaknesses. Flawed people try to create a better world. Some theoretical physicists suggest that all imaginable realities likely exist in the infinitude of universes that crowd in on our limited view of the way the world actually is. The ideas are mind-bending since even the worlds imagined on our own limited universe have both created and destroyed concepts of God. What might God’s role be, should the multiverse (or even a Stephensonian metaverse) turn out to be the true reality?