Today, saw a viral video that used the musings of a man known for his deep thinking and philosophical insight, Jim Carrey*. It actually contained some real nuggets, like this one: “Our eyes are not viewers, they are also projectors that are running a second story over the picture we see in front of us all the time. Fear is usually writing that script.”
But then Jim went on to encourage us to ask the Universe for our dreams and the Universe will come through, if we just ask. I recognize in his speech, a quasi Christian worldview superimposed onto a neo pantheistic, materialistic, hedonistic one: Ask the loving universe for your outrageous dream and the universe will give it to you, but be patient and trust the universe for the how and the when of dream fulfillment. He actually sounds like a lot of sermons on prayer I’ve heard or even delivered (not the first time I’m been compared to Jim Carrey!), just replace the word Universe with God.
That is, the Universe, capital “U”.
This was just the most recent example of how it has become politically correct to expunge every mention of God out of our vocabulary and in pop culture today, but it has not become taboo to use rhetoric about religious devotion, prayer, worship, awe or guidance, purpose and meaning. If we simply refer to the Universe instead of God using the exact same rhetoric, we can sneak “spirituality” in.
But let’s examine this trend. At first glance, this is a less offensive way to appeal to universal religious sentiment in people by being less sectarian, and less overtly religious. Who can be offended by outsourcing our universal religious feelings onto something that everyone, regardless of religious belief, can feel and see and “know” – like the Universe? How uncontroversial! At once it seems to include believers and non-believers alike. Even the atheist/agnostic eggheads on “Big Bang Theory” will invoke the “Universe” from time to time in reference to personal purpose or guidance. It’s not uncommon for irreligious characters of all kinds to now say, “I wonder if this is the Universe’s way of telling me I should…”
However, after short examination you can see how this trend is disingenuous at best, and utterly illogical at worst. For what exactly do we mean by the Universe? If it’s what we typically mean, all the atoms and space and heat and energy and particles that make up the observable universe, then how can that stuff DO anything for me, personally? How can I trust this material stuff? How can it hear me, it has no ears? How can it answer me, it has no power except to follow relentlessly and obsequiously, its own predetermined path, set by its own immutable laws? How can it guide me, when it itself is just flowing along a perfectly unchallengeable script? Why would “it” suggest options for me to follow, to uncover my secret fate or purpose, when inside the closed system of the Universe there are, in reality, NO OPTIONS; No option for the movement and actions of atoms, therefore, no real options for the movement or actions of people, who are simply a collection of atoms, bound by Universal laws.
Now, I get humans personify things all the time. Things like mountains, or wind or trees. So it’s not a surprise that we might personify the Universe. But when we say, “the mountain forbade us to ascend that morning…” our personification is simply a metaphor and we know it. We mean, “the weather was bad.” But truly, in the case of the new usage of “Universe”, no metaphor is being used or implied. Jim Carrey really means that the Universe will guide him, answer him, bless him, love him.
But this is just logically ridiculous. We are, without saying it, attributing personality to something completely and totally impersonal. Of course, this trend would make some sense if when we are talking about the “Universe” we really mean something MORE than the atoms and energy and space of the universe as we know it and speak about it, in the proper sense. I imagine the sage Jim Carrey himself might respond that he means something more than the physical universe when he invokes the “Universe”. He means “all of its energy together, synergistically making up more than the sum of its parts, creating a Universal Soul.” But then whatever it is he’s referring to, is something OUTSIDE of space, time and matter. And that something, whatever it is, is properly described as spiritual or extra dimensional, because it is by definition beyond the space time matter dimensions. So why call it the Universe? It seems by every other thing Jim Carrey says about it, that what he means is in fact the OPPOSITE of the universe. When he says universe, he means the NOT-universe. It’s the grossest mislabeling you could imagine. To talk about “height” and mean depth. To talk about heat and mean cold. To invoke the Universe and mean, “God”.
This is why the Theistic worldview alone makes sense of the data. It rejects the No-God solution of Atheism, which cannot seem to expunge or account for our religious urge (the “Universe Loves Me” pop trend only the latest evidence of this), and it rejects the All-God solution of Pantheism, which illogically foists personhood onto the impersonal, spirituality onto matter, morality onto relativism. Only Theism accepts the material world without rejecting a spiritual Source for everything and vice-versa. So go ahead Jim Carrey and all pop icons, invoke “the Universe”. We know what you really mean.