The Best and Worst of All Possible Worlds

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By Ryan McSwain, ©2015

“So you’re interested in hearing about our Church of the Multiverse?”

“Yes,” Bryce said as he shook the woman’s outstretched hand. “But I’m afraid I don’t really understand what a ‘Church of the Multiverse’ is.”

Pastor Lisa laughed. “Don’t worry, we get that all the time. We’re a relatively new movement. Please, have a seat.”

Bryce sat down in the comfortable leather chair and admired the pastor’s office. It had a minimal, mid-century modern vibe. The pastor sat down behind her desk. On the wall behind her were two frames: one held a seminary degree, and the other a portrait of a man wearing a suit and glasses. Beneath the portrait was a small plaque which read ‘Hugh Everett III.’ The pastor wore a burgundy silk blouse and blue jeans, and she kept her brown hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. A large, ornate hourglass sat on the desk, and Pastor Lisa flipped it over. Fine white sand trickled through the narrow opening, accumulating at the bottom.

“Don’t worry about the hourglass,” she said, her positive mood contagious. “I’m a bit long-winded, but I promise not to talk your ear off longer than the timer allows!”

The two of them laughed.

“So what do you know about us?” the pastor asked.

Bryce shrugged. “Not much. I’m usually not one for church, but David said I should meet you. Find out what you’re about, see if this could be a place for me.”

Pastor Lisa smiled. “Yes, David has been with us a few years now. Did he tell you much about our church?”

He sure tried, Bryce thought. But it all sounded whackadoo to me.

“Dave did his best to explain it. I have to admit, it didn’t make much sense.”

Pastor Lisa grinned as she propped her elbows up on her desk. “We’re like any Protestant church, sinners saved by grace. Like most denominations, we set ourselves apart by emphasizing certain ideas.”

“I grew up Church of Christ. They were big on baptism.”

“That’s a perfect example. The Church of the Multiverse is big on the ontological argument. Are you familiar with it?”

Bryce had no idea what that was. “Please explain it as if I’m not.”

“There are a lot of variations, but basically the idea is: if the existence of something is necessary in one possible world, it must exist in all possible worlds.”

“Okay?” Bryce said.

“Maybe an example would help. Gravity is a natural law, right? It’s necessary for our universe to exist, so any universe that exists should have gravity. Any number of other things will be different, but gravity will exist.”

“Right. I follow you.”

“So if you come to the conclusion that God is necessary for the universe to exist, then God exists in all possible worlds.”

“That’s a bit of a presupposition,” Bryce said.

“Oh, I agree. But it’s a conclusion that billions of people throughout history have come to. And our church builds on this older argument with something a little newer: the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory.”

That I’m familiar with. Schrödinger’s cat and all that.”

“Exactly. Only instead of a cats, we talk about souls. As long as a person is alive, they have the opportunity to accept Christ, right? And that puts them right with God, bringing them the benefit of eternal life in heaven, the whole shebang, right?”

Bryce shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Sure.”

“Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a man named Carl is on his death bed. Carl has teetered on the edge of accepting Jesus into his heart his whole life, but never has. He makes a final choice, which, according to the many‑worlds interpretation, creates two universes. In Universe A, Carl accepts Jesus and dies, going on to heaven. In Universe B, he rejects God a final time.”

“And goes to hell?” Bryce asks.

“That’s where things get a bit complicated. There are possibly an infinite number of Carls. Does that mean there are an infinite number of Carls in infinite heavens, another infinite Carls in infinite hells? Are there an infinite number of gods, heavens, and hells? Jesus said his father’s house had many rooms, but that’s starting to sound a tad ridiculous.”

I’m beginning to think it wasn’t Dave’s fault that I didn’t understand, Bryce thought. “You’re doing my head in a bit,” he said.

“Sorry about that.” She picked up the bowl on her desk. “Peppermint?”

“Thanks.” He unwrapped a peppermint and popped it in his mouth.

She sat the bowl down and continued. “Our church’s assumption is that an all-powerful God exists and is, by nature, unique. And if heaven exists outside our universe, it is reasonable to assume heaven is also singular.  Because wouldn’t it be simpler if—in the afterlife—there is only one Carl?”

“And where in the afterlife is he?”

“In heaven, of course.”

He meant to ask Why?, but as he inhaled, the peppermint slid down his throat, sliding into his windpipe and creating a perfect, airtight seal.

“You see, in Universe A, Carl found salvation.”

Bryce tried to swallow, forcing the peppermint farther down his airway. This is happening too fast,he thought, putting his hand to his throat.

“Carl B would find salvation through Carl A. Our theory is that all Carls share one soul, made of the same substance, and that at death each Carl is combined into what we call the archetypical Carl, or Arch Carl.”

Can’t you see I’m choking? Bryce screamed with his mind. He reached for her arm and missed, knocking the enormous hourglass from the desk. It floated down to the ground gently, landing on one corner with a sharp sound.

It’s the adrenaline, he thought. It’s making it feel like time is slowing down.

The hourglass exploded, and time resumed.

“Oh my God, are you okay?” Lisa asked.

He grabbed at his throat with both hands. Lisa jumped from her chair and rounded the desk. A vicious pain in his head threatened to burst through the top of his skull. Bryce could feel her trying to pull him up from his seat, but the world was already fading to gray.

It’s too late, he thought. It’s too late for that.

The world dissolved into comfortable darkness.

She picked up the bowl on her desk. “Peppermint?”

He thought of his new diet. “No, thank you.”

She sat the bowl down and continued. “Our church’s assumption is that an all-powerful God exists and is, by nature, unique. And if heaven exists outside our universe, it is reasonable to assume heaven is also singular.  Because wouldn’t it be simpler if—in the afterlife—there is only one Carl?”

“And where in the afterlife is he?”

“In heaven, of course.”


“Because in Universe A, Carl found salvation.”

“Wait, but what about the Carl of Universe B? Where is he?”

“Our theory is that all Carls share one soul, made of the same substance, and that at death each Carl is combined into what we call the archetypical Carl, or Arch Carl.”

“But I thought the penalty for sin was hell.”

“You might be thinking of Romans chapter six, verse twenty-three. ‘For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Both Carls sinned, because they are flawed. The fallen nature of man is as much a part of the natural order as gravity. And death.”

“But what about atonement? Doesn’t Universe B’s Carl have a debt to be paid?”

“He does, but Jesus paid it; the incarnation of God who, by necessity, was sacrificed in every iteration of reality. As Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 12:9, ‘And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ In many translations of Romans 6:10, it explains that Jesus ‘died once for all.’ The Son of God died for the Carl of Universe B just as he died for the Carl of Universe A.”

“I think I get it. You have a universal approach. Everyone finds salvation, everybody gets into heaven.”

“Doesn’t it seem less unfair than the old model? There are no messy problems about election, free will, or unequal opportunity. All those uninformed choices and random occurrences, they lead to the same end. The Carl of Universe J might be the greatest saint of history, and the Carl of Universe X might be his world’s Hitler. Jesus died for both of them, and it would be enough if only one Carl among billions said yes to the Lord.”

“Who qualifies as a Carl? There are so many variables, what makes someone a Carl or a not-Carl?”

“Our church is fairly liberal on social issues, so it may sound unusual, but the moment of conception decides who is Carl and who is not-Carl. To be Carl, that waveform must collapse at a single, exact moment, through a specific combination of cells. With the current exception of In Vitro fertilization, there is no way that any change affecting that moment would result in an identical person. If a fertilization occurs in a lab setting, there’s a bit more leeway, possibly even creating a Carl hundreds of years in the future. But that’s a rabbit hole for another time.”

He watched the sand falling in the hourglass as he considered what to ask next. “Does that mean Jesus died on a cross in an infinite number of universes?”

“The fact we are limited to knowledge of this universe prevents us from knowing the answer to that question. If God the Father reveals himself to all worlds equally, then the Son of God must have been incarnated and died in every world, but we don’t know if the specifics have to be universal. For instance, there should be universes where mankind never existed or failed to survive until 33 A.D. And, for the sake of brevity, we’re ignoring the ongoing debate about alien life.”

“If what you’re saying is true, what happens to the me I’ve always been when I die? Do I cease to exist, and there’s only Arch Bryce?”

“No, you don’t stop existing. You become Arch Bryce. You would remember being you. But you’d also remember being all the other Bryces who already died. You become part of a composite consciousness. And as you gain the accumulated knowledge of an infinite number of Bryces, you would then possess the perspective necessary to become the optimal, satisfied Bryce.”

A thought popped into his head. “What if I don’t die?”


“In your model, every possible outcome happens, right? So if I get hit by a car in one reality, I don’t in the other. If I die of old age on March 1, then in another reality I hold on for another day. It could go on forever like that.”

“You’re talking about quantum immortality. And trust me, we’ve thought about that at great length. The only conclusion most of us agree on is that the universe eventually ends, and that can’t be changed. There’s a possibility that in some realities, you are the last surviving person, but even the last surviving person has to die.”

Rubbing his temples, Bryce took a deep breath. “So this theology of yours, it only affects me after I’m dead?”

“Oh, no, no. It has plenty of applications for believers. You can find comfort in the idea that somewhere, there is a Bryce who succeeded where you failed. And our funerals are a beautiful celebration of the lives the departed is living in other universes, ones where they weren’t taken from us early. And we grasp our happiness more thoroughly when we experience good fortune, because we know we must live through it for the benefit of the many versions of ourselves who are suffering.”

“What stops me from deciding to be a Bad Bryce, to live it up and depend on a Good Bryce to save me?”

“It’s not one Bryce being good that saves you, but what Christ did for all Bryces. What stops you from being immoral now? Your conscience? Right and wrong still exist, and there are still real consequences to your actions.”

Bryce sighed and sat back in his chair. “That’s a lot to take in.”

“It is, but doesn’t it take some of the pressure off?”

“You know, it really does. I’m not saying I buy into it, but it’s a nice thought. Even if I make a decision that completely destroys my life—or, God forbid, something beyond my control destroys my life—it doesn’t mean that’s all she wrote for me. There are Bryces out there doing their own thing, and one day I’ll know what it was like to live those lives. It’s the best and worst of all possible worlds.”

Pastor Lisa smiled and nodded. “Now you’re getting it. What do you say, do you think you might stick around, give us a try?”

He considered for a moment.

The last grain of sand fell from the top of the hourglass and bounced on the soft pile below.

It all sounds so crazy, he thought. But could this be what I’m looking for? Or is it just whackadoo?

Bryce made his choice.

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