10 Discussion Points about the Church and Virtual Reality

A very interesting discussion last night with Anne Tomlinson as part of the Church in the Academy series at the University of Glasgow’s theology department. (Or faculty or school or whatever the thing is right now).

We were discussing the possibilities for the church with the new opportunities that new social IT technologies have brought us.

After thinking about it overnight, here’s 10 discussion points and questions, some made last night and some fresh ones.

  • The church is actually very good at doing virtual reality – so good we don’t realise we are doing it half the time.
  • The Easter resurrection appearances seem to cast doubt on the necessity of the physical. Thomas was invited to touch but Mary Magdalene was forbidden to do so. The risen Christ seems to be no respecter of physical space, time or geography and we are the body of [the risen] Christ. Are we not?
  • If we believe in the Real Presence, do we believe that presence to be physical?
  • Prayer generally takes place in virtual space.
  • Virtual reality is most likely to be used successfully as a way of enhancing rather than replacing more common forms of perception, friendship and social interaction but that should not rule out new possibilities altogether.
  • The internet is a world-wide web of megaphones drowning out the voices of those who do not know how to use it. I tweet therefore I am.
  • In evolutionary terms, the voices of those who choose not to engage online simply may not be voices that matter.
  • Whenever we perceive new territory we send out missionaries. Current experiments in cyberspace fit that experience.
  • One day we will need to provide special ministries to the cyber-poor. (We should be planning this now – those who engage in these ministries will release the rest of us).
  • Cyberpoverty may stem from actual poverty, fear, lack of education, low personal expectation or low self-worth. Churches have a mandate to address such societal evil and should not shirk the task of digital inclusion.

Comments

  1. Hear here. (Especially the evolutionary point.)

  2. …or even “hear hear”! Very pertinent in my neck of the woods, where the cyber-poor and the cyber-dinosaurs have their abode (and the second category is not necessarily related to the first other than in outcome).

  3. Excellent points.

    I’ve been working in online Christian communities quite a while, and I’ve observed a couple of things that I think replicate mistakes in offline evangelism:

    1) ‘Success’ is equated with numbers of followers not the quality of the interactions. So a lot of energy can be put into building up a following regardless of who the followers are. This often means attracting Christians who aren’t normally very interested in being online to your online project, rather than trying to make your online Christian project appealing to people who spend a lot of time online.

    2) Events that are geared towards using the online media for evangelism and outreach almost always end up being evangelistic about online media not about Christianity

  4. Steve Murray says:

    I can’t access the blog to post comments – does this mean cyberpoverty may also stem from corporate repression? [These comments posted by Kelvin by request via email]

    My ‘cyberpoverty’ is a deliberate choice – I sit in front of a computer all day so have deliberately chosen not to be online at home. Is this really a societal evil … ?

    The web is already beset by megaphones and proverbial empty vessels can make the most noise – how do we distinguish between volume and quality – I can follow thousands of religious twitterings but who filters out the distortion? – c.f. The Guardian which is in the process of shedding journalists and filling its pages with ‘comment is free’ – aye, and you get what you pay for . . .

    You do already provide ministries for the cyberpoor – they’re called churches – they have gravitas, space for quiet reflection, sanctuary from information overload, and a community – long may they continue.

    Will there be a paywall to fund the virtual church – or will it be forced to rely on commercial sponsorship? A reading from the book of Numbers, brought to you in association with Lehman Brothers.

  5. Eric Stoddart says:

    Two important aspects that I suggest need to be added to your list, Kelvin.
    (a) the monetarisation of cyberspace, especially of social networking (making money out of ‘friendship’ is a big business), and
    (b) the effects of social networking as a means of surveillance (that’s lateral, between friends, as well as by mega-corporations); how is our behaviour being modified by the collection of, and categorisation by, our personal data?

  6. Thanks, Eric, yes.

    And important to recognise that the church is in the business of calling on people in relationship with it to cough up money too. It isn’t just big business.

Trackbacks

  1. Kimberly says:

    […] Kelvin is asking good questions again about the theology and praxis of The Church and Virtual Reality.  He sets out questions enough for several doctoral thesis, but it was this that caught my eye.  […]

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