Rant Number 323 16 October 2008
A cold-calling jackass on the phone was trying to sell the priest some uber-good new computer game. ‘Design Your Own Universe’. ‘Get lost!’ I told him. I have known how to do that since I was a lad. That is, since I read Frederic Brown’s masterpiece, ‘What mad Universe?’ How could I forget that cute little paperback? One of the happiest reads of my youth, man!
Keith Winton is a pulp sci-fi writer. Having finished a game of tennis, he rests under a tree, drafting a reply to a teenage fan. Then ‘there was a flash’. A stray missile falls back to earth and catapults him into another universe. At first everything looks familiar. But in a drugstore when he produces a half-dollar coin the druggist yells ‘Arcturian spy!’ and shoots at him. Seven foot tall nightmares covered in purple fur walk the streets without anyone batting an eye-lid. New York looks almost normal by day but at night an impenetrable fog, the mist-out, turns over the streets to gangs of murderous marauders. An intelligent mechanical sphere leads humanity in the war against Arcturus. A teenage hero, Dopelle, commands the spaceships. But all Keith wants is to get back to his old, cosy universe and to the woman he loves.
Sounds corny, eh? Never mind. Cheer up! There are as many parallel universes as you can think of. Infinitely many. And because their number is infinite somewhere (where?) there is also your ideal, pet universe. You don’t have to design it, because it already exists. Pity that Burton’s Potentiomotor – the gadget that shifted Keith Winton to the universe he happened to be thinking of when the rocket blew him away – isn’t available yet. Meanwhile anyone can just use their imagination.
Muslims, for example, can rejoice in a universe where the Prophet Muhammad’s message has won over the whole earth. Men wear beards and women the hijab. That terrifying bogey of our time, the Caliphate, is a universal reality. St Peter’s in Rome is the greatest mosque in Europe. The Islamic call to prayer resounds from the Kremlin. Washington is named Allahbad. Prince Charles is the Commander of the Faithful, whilst Yusuf Abdel Ratzinger is the Grand Mufti of Germany.
There is of course the small matter of which brand of Islam rules. Sunni or Shia? Ismaili or Ahmadiyya? The Mahdi, has it come yet? Never mind, there is a universe for each, remember.
Christians too can realise their dreams. A universe exists in which many faithful people pray to a popular saint, St Muhammad. An Arab convert to Christianity famous for hymns such as ‘There is no God but God, and Jesus is his Son’. Byzantium still flourishes and the whole of Africa, Egypt and the Middle East are Christian. The Mongols embraced the Cross and China converted too. Jolly good. Well, here too, there may be disputes as to which Church has conquered. Orthodox or Catholic? Calvinists or Quakers? No hassle. Each has his own universe already laid out. A world for everyone, friends. Make your choice. True pluralism.
An Anglican universe too? Hmmm…bit boring. Grey and very, very PC. As exciting as a cup of tepid, weak tea. Not for me, thanks.
Syncretists – folks who wish for a blend of all faiths – have a worldwide church in which Buddha, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, Bahaullah, Vishnu, Guru Nanak, Zoroaster, Jupiter, the Red Fetish, the Cargo Cult and whatever have you are equally venerated. No one worries whether the Trinity conflicts with the Quran or Venus with the Book of Mormons. Everyone’s happy. The best of all possible ecumenical worlds or a nightmare? Take your pick.
Naturally, communism has its own universe. The Soviet Union never disintegrated, whilst the proletarian revolution triumphed everywhere. Private property is a past, immoral thing. Religion has been made illegal. Churches and mosque are museums of atheism. A vast system of communes covers the earth. Fidel Castro is Latin America’s socialist president and Maggie Thatcher has just retired as leader of the British Soviet. Tony Blair is doing time for war crimes. Gordon Brown…oh, him… a lavatory cleaner at Glasgow Airport, perhaps?
Frenchmen of course enjoy a universe in which their language has the status English has in our actual world. The UN and the EU speak only French and French cuisine has supplanted all others. English is spoken only by a few troglodytes. In science, Lamarck has bested Darwin. Wellington lost at Waterloo and Trafalgar Square is Napoleon Square, as you’d expect.
Italians…got to be careful. It’s the priest’s homeland. Sex, pasta and the mafia…no, too crude. I’ll leave it to readers to fill that in.
Sounds like an amusing game, doesn’t it? But wait a minute. If any conceivable universe exists, out of an infinite number, then a world also obtains in which the Third Reich won WWII. Well, you can figure out the implications.
By contrast, there is a Greater Israel universe. Stretches from the Mediterranean to the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Palestinians have disappeared behind an immensely high wall and nobody has heard about them anymore. Very kosher.
Racists too have their own, monochrome or one-colour reality. Slavery is back. Apartheid is the norm. That sort of thing. But each race has its own world, so that balances it out, perhaps?
It could get worse. There is a universe for the likes of the Marquis De Sade. Readers of his notable works, such as ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’ and ‘Justine or a Boudoir Philosophy’, will have no trouble in conceiving it. That universe is a pain – literally. And there is a universe for pederasts, as well. Like in Socrates’ Athens. The vice so vile, so detestable, so rightly abhorred in our culture in that bent world is regarded as perfectly natural. Men there fancy nothing better. Makes you sick.
Only fair there should be a universe for feminists. They have this organisation, called SCUM. Society for Cutting UP Men. You get the picture, I trust.
Do these scenarios frighten you or turn you on? Relax, it’s pretty theoretical. Burton’s Potentiomotor has not been invented yet, and probably it never will. Unlike Keith Winton, we cannot visit our choice universe. We are stuck in this familiar, drab reality. Tough.
As for the priest, he’d better not reveal what his ideal universe looks like. He’d be putting his head on the proverbial chopping block.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli