sâmbătă, 19 decembrie 2020

DEVS: A Theological Interpretation

(Note: this is the English translation of the text originally published in Romanian at http://cumpana-o-viziune-ortodoxa.blogspot.com/2020/12/devs.html)


I think that the most interesting thing about the DEVS miniseries (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8134186/) is neither the idea that everything is pre-determined nor the comprehensive function of the multiverse hypothesis (which eventually becomes the baseline scenario). Nor is it that people would be able to produce an omniscient machine, capable not only of anticipating the future with atomic precision, but also of reconstructing the whole past with the same precision. The apparent point in DEVS is that even freedom can be, if not anticipated, then at least restrained, controlled and eliminated.

But if Devs (Deus) is able to anticipate everything (including what cannot be anticipated?), then why in the end of the film Katie, the chief designer, asks a politician to provide funding and ensure the secrecy of the laboratory's work in order to sustain the Devs program? What kind of god is the one who needs funds to survive? What kind of god is the one you can unplug at any time?

It is the god of those who want only a bearable and somewhat plausible version of reality. It is the god of all Christians and non-Christians who do not want to live in the truth. It is the god that the world listens to even when this god projects a painful version of reality. For example, when he tells you to throw yourself into the void with the promise that you will find yourself in a convenient version of reality. It is the god who helps us separate the Way from the Truth and the Truth from the Life.

After they die, Lily and Forest wake up in the simulated reality of Devs. At first glance, we might get the impression that unlike the other characters in this parallel universe, Lily and Forest are real. In fact, they are just projections, very complex simulations but no different from all the other characters in this simulated world.

The Devs program can no longer anticipate reality, and therefore it can no longer serve the purposes for which it was created and sustained. It is probably expected to serve only as a compensation for the afterlife insofar as psychologists, therapists and governmental clergy believe that it could be useful to the political power as a tool to control the hope and faith of the population in a better world. With the unanticipated gestures of Lily and Stewart, Devs loses its understanding of reality, reducing its projections to a simulation of the hereafter. From this point of view, Devs is only now revealing its essential demonic nature.

When Forest promises that all will be well, he is already dead within. For him, it is not death that is the problem, but life. For him, everything will be well once he leaves this life. But what the engineers of the simulated life do not know is that what comes after death is something that can be even harder to predict than the events of this world, in fact, it is something impossible to anticipate: it is either the opposite of life, or, hopefully, what “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

After she dies, Lily does in the program everything she would have done in real life, but this doesn’t make her any more alive. This is exactly the main question asked by the film: what is the difference between a living person and a character who, although he looks, acts and thinks identically, only exists in a computer program? The difference is that the former exists and the latter does not. One can get out of the deceitful universe of death, while the other remains trapped inside it for as long as the program or the machinery allows. Although the program is created to accomplish the resurrection, the resurrection is the only thing that escapes the program. The program “dies” with the death of man. Only the living man can say no to death, and his no can save him insofar as he will say yes to the One who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

Devs does not “do” resurrection: the “afterlife” of Lily and Forest exists only in the computer program and it is only a projected life in a possible universe that can only exist within the hypothetical frame of the theory of the multiverse. Devs’ “Resurrection” is only the projection of a possible life, a life that “could have been if” – that is, if it had not been interrupted by death. Death determines the limits of the program, because we think of life as a program whose limit is death, and Devs is, of course, created by this deadly way of thinking. This is why the program cannot anticipate eternal life, but it can only imagine an (immortal?) kind of life that most of us confuse with the afterlife.

Devs saw Christ on the Cross. But it could not see the Risen Christ. The Resurrected Christ lives outside the program because the program “knew Him not” (John, 1:10). Resurrection is the only thing that escapes the program. That is why it is the only thing that should concern us all before and above anything else.

 When Lily throws away the gun, her gesture is not just a random, arbitrary and secondary variation of the scenario projected by the Devs, but a significant manifestation of her own freedom: unlike Forest, for whom everything – even murder! – is inevitable and subject to the universal, inescapable cause-effect relation, Lily refuses to kill. In this way, she refuses to act along the logic of the causality of death, the only one that is accessible to Devs. From that moment on, even without Stewart's subsequent intervention, Devs became contradicted by the very reality it tried to represent, and thus a totally obsolete, out of reality system. Lily confronted Devs with a reality whose existence the program could not perceive, much less conceive.

Lily's free gesture means that Devs don't really have access to reality. It never had. Reality presupposes freedom, it allows freedom. If Devs projections have come to reproduce reality identically, it is because men do not exercise their freedom, but refuse it, impoverishing reality and falsifying it. The reconstruction of the Crucifixion of Christ by Devs shows Christ on the Cross, but we usually miss the understanding of this moment. Paying attention to the Savior's suffering and sacrifice, we are inclined to neglect the crucial fact that it was man who crucified Christ. Like any scene that depicts our human wickedness, the episode of Christ’s Crucifixion eminently tells us about man’s freedom. Rejection of Christ is the ultimate rejection of human freedom.

Murder and death are possible only in a world bounded by unfreedom. Therefore, the refusal of the freedom to which the incarnate God has called us and never cease to call us is at the same time a refusal of Life and Truth. This refusal creates an order, a “kingdom” of death that determines human action. Only in this order is it possible for people’s actions to be anticipated and controlled by the (ideological) program.

Ideology is possible only in a non-free world; that is why the theme of freedom is crucial for ideologies, because only through a false freedom can true freedom be abolished. The violent interdiction of faith will never succeed in separating man from God. On the contrary, it only contributes to the spread and consolidation of the faith. The alienation of man from God is possible only through a false god, who can only come from within the Church, never from outside her. This is why the Holy Fathers identified the real danger to the Church in heresy, not in atheism or in other religions. Devs is such a false god (and Forest is, accordingly, a false prophet, as Lily proves him to be) and that is why it is the only god an unfree world needs.

The refusal of life implies the refusal of freedom and therefore it can be anticipated. The world ruled by death and bounded by untruth will always allow reliable predictions. On the other hand, the refusal of death, the refusal of the order of sin cannot be anticipated by this world because this refusal has its source in another world, in another order. Free actions are possible even in the world of bondage precisely because they are not unexplainable, meaningless, purposeless, uncaused events; they are essentially good and motivated by goodness because they have their origin in that world about which not even Lily knows anything and in which she does not even dare to believe. But it is exactly such unforeseen, unpredictable actions which evade the logic of evil, that entitle us to think and to hope that such a world is possible. The freedom of an action dedicated to the truth anticipates the order of the Resurrection, that is, that reality which we could glimpse anytime, even only “through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12), if we were not so determined by the causality of death.