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Mission, Ministry and Maliciousness in the Metaverse

By: Stephen McAlpine

So there you are minding your own business in the Metaverse, when someone comes alongside you and abuses you for spending too much money on that virtual pair of Nikes you purchased with your Christmas money. It gets so heated that you don’t know where to turn.

The rant gets more hostile, almost tempting you to surface into what you are told is the “real world” you inhabit. Although it seems less real by the week, and you stay on the surface less frequently and increasingly less meaningful ways, before the lure to immerse yourself grows too strong.

In the end your assailant leaves you alone, but not without leaving you feeling shaken to the core, that nasty heart palpitation colliding in both of your worlds. You decide to stay, but head off to the local church where celebrity pastor Craig Groeschel is preaching a sermon on integrity (yep, he’s doing metaverse church already folks). You sidle in and sit in an empty row (don’t want to get too interactive with other people after your recent experience) and listen as Groeschel reminds you that “integrity is when your behaviour on the outside mirrors your beliefs on the inside.”

It’s a good talk. Light on Bible, but hits the mark for you and your increasingly “inside and outside” life. You leave feeling better and make a point of tossing some crypto-coin into the offering box on the way out. Across the street you see a couple of people dressed a bit like you, and you recognise their Nikes as the other pair you wanted to buy, but weren’t flush enough to do so. You go over and mention the shoes, and introduce yourself. They seem nice. You chat. All is well in the world. Well, this world, at least.

The Metaverse is Here to Stay

If you’re raising your eyebrows at this, and assume it’s just a fad, you’re either 55 years old, or not paying attention. The metaverse is here to stay, and for meta good or for meta worse, it’s not only an increasing reality for many people, it’s becoming the preferred reality for many people. Simply put, it offers the secular world, bound by so many strictures and parameters, and groaning at the upheavals of politics, climate, identity and extremism, a transcendent experience without the pesky need of a God or other spiritual reality.

And I use the word “groaning” advisedly. As Romans 8 reminds us, the creation is groaning waiting for, well waiting for the adoption of God’s people through the eschatological reality of Christ’s return – and the redemption of our bodies! We’re all too aware that it’s groaning. But now, the promise is there that we can bypass the Parousia, and reach a new creation reality of our own design. Its a virtual – nay, immersive – Babel of great design that will do what Babel could not do – conquer the global language barriers that are inhibiting our humanity.

There truly is something utopian about the metaverse world(s), endless possibilities and the promise – however vague and outlandish at this time – of living forever once the meat-case we are confined to finally gives way. This is the truly “trans” experience that transgenderism can only dream of. Or can only point to. Transhumanity is here to stay – or until the one truly human Human, deigns otherwise.

‘You Can Be Like Gods’?

But with the promise of “you can be like gods”, there is always a sting in the tail, and already we are seeing that there are distinct challenges. The liberties that are on offer seem too good to be true. And they are. I was just reading The Hustle email yesterday and came across this article in The Verge journal, which revealed that meta-harassment is a thing:

‘Safety is a big concern for a VR environment like Horizon Worlds, where you can easily interact with someone you don’t know. Earlier this month, a beta tester posted in the official Horizon group on Facebook about how her avatar was groped by a stranger. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”’

As Trent Reznor/Johnny Cash sing in “Hurt”: If I could start again/a million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find a way.

Turns out we not only can keep ourselves wherever we go, real or meta, we also keep ourselves: we keep our sin, our proclivities, our vulnerabilities, our desires, our fears. And interesting – and alarming – to note; being immersed in the metaverse doesn’t lessen or even deaden the pain of sexual harassment, it makes it more intense. The lion just stubbornly won’t lie down with the lamb. We are stuck with this body whether we like it or not, and the body is the place that sin dwells. No matter how meta we become, we’re not going anywhere without it.

Which all means that perhaps Groeschel is on to something. Church in the metaverse seems lame and stupid and less than incarnational, and it’s clearly no substitute for the real thing (more of that in another post), but the needs are just as real. Sin is just as real. Fear is just as real. Because for so many people, the metaverse will become their preferred universe of choice. As they lose hope in the immanent frame of this non-transcendent secular age, they will grasp at anything that promises to loose them from the surly bonds of their own limitations. And then, like Reznor and Cash, they will keep themselves in so many irritating, frustrating and shocking ways.

Will We Be Sending Missionaries into the Metaverse?

Perhaps in 2052 we will be sending off missionaries to the metaverse much the way we send them off now to the various parts of this globe. Raising support for their engagement in the immersive virtual realities that are going to quickly become people’s total realities. For let’s face it, the future is grimy. less Back to the Future and more Bladerunner. Who wouldn’t want to immerse themselves in this drug of choice to avoid the pain.

And perhaps that’s where we will find people on mission. We keep saying in the West that the world is coming to us for the gospel, and that we less and less need to go there. Well, with borders shut and nation states become increasingly rogue, there’s another way for us to go to the world and the world to come to us. Perhaps.

Will it be enough? No, it won’t be. But to be honest the ways we are doing church now, in which consumerism and evangelical-lite is the norm, and in which busy lives barely allow us to intersect with each other in meaningful and pastoral ways, you can’t say we are knocking it out of the park.

Who are the Future Hudson Taylors?

Somewhere there’s a Hudson Taylor type out there (or in there), who will defy the orthodox powers that be, grow his virtual version of the Chinese pigtail that supposedly so scandalised Taylor’s contemporaries, and immerse himself and the message of the gospel in the equally broken, fallen, sinful, toxic world of the metaverse, in which those who wish to be their own gods turn out to be unable to shake the demons from their own heads.

And I for one, can’t wait to hear the tales he or she brings back on home assignment in the “real” world.


Article supplied with thanks to Stephen McAlpine

About the Author: Stephen has been reading, writing and reflecting ever since he can remember. He is the lead pastor of Providence Church Midland, and in his writing dabbles in a number of fields, notably theology and culture. Stephen and his family live in Perth’s eastern suburbs, where his wife Jill runs a clinical psychology practice.

Feature image: Photo by julien Tromeur on Unsplash  

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