Sunday, February 1, 2009

Redefining the Constants

Years ago, I watched an episode of Star Trek Next Generation that featured the character named “Q.” This character was an all powerful being from a “continuum” of beings like him, yet they lacked omniscience, not understanding what it was like to see through the eyes of other beings, subject to their limitations. One particular Q who was named “Q” gets punished by his brethren, and he loses his god-like, special status. He chooses to live out his now moral life as a human, and he settles in with those on his favorite starship. Much of the story line involves his discovery of the limitations of his new, human form. And in keeping with standard sit-com rules, the writers restore his powers by the end of ths show, all the wiser for the experience.

Still beyond brilliant after having been a mind of the ages, this guest character Q helps the crew in the engineering department. The crew struggles to stabilize the decaying orbit of a particular planet’s moon that threatens to crash into and destroy its heavily inhabited planet. One think seemed to jump off the screen for me: Q offers one solution to one of their dilemmas that proves to be beyond the capability of mortals, but the suggestion gives the chief engineer a viable idea that saves the day. I can’t remember the exact terminology Q uses, but the way the actor states it is classically arrogant, mortally ignorant, impossible and brilliant at the same time. He glibly offers his solution, a statement to the effect of “That’s simple. Just change the gravitational constant of the universe.” If you can change something so foundational, you can theoretically change everything that rests upon that foundation.

When I first saw this episode in syndication, I was reading Norm Geisler’s book on the New Age and pantheism, a couple of years after it was published. At the time, I again marveled at how the Eastern religions solve their “gravity problems” of right and wrong by “redefining the ethical constant of the universe.”

When you no longer have an objective standard of ethics, it really does solve a lot of sticky problems regarding passing judgement. This works for most people, until someone violates them in some way, that is. Eastern religions redefine one of the universal constants of human relations – that there are right actions and wrong actions. They eliminate sin. In sci-fi, this works, but if we did this in real life, we might rescue one moon, but the rest of the moons would plummet from their stable orbits, destroying untold planets in untold numbers of solar systems.

I find myself pulling that phrase out of my mind now and then ("Just change the gravitational constant of the universe!"), particularly as I read more about the emergent church. They also conveniently redefine their own universal constants, redefining the Word of God on their own terms. Surely God hath said or not said any given thing, for this is what is convenient for me. The problems of denominations prove messy and offensive to some, so we just redefine doctrine or get rid of it all together. Jesus spoke far more of hell than He did of heaven. Just change the gravitational constant of the universe and get rid of hell because it offends people, and we don’t want people to be offended. Eliminate the concept of Biblical authority so that if you don’t like what the Bible says on a topic of choice, you don’t have to accept it. You get to believe whatever you want that way without offending anyone. Don’t want people to have to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? That might offend them. So just change that gravitational constant of the universe so that salvation and heaven are no longer exclusive to those who have faith in Jesus. That way, anyone who is nice can go to heaven without the Blood in nice, friendly, universalist fashion. Suddenly, we no longer need a Saviour.

How convenient.