Second Life

Okay, so let’s really talk about Second Life. It is fairly incredible and will only continue to grow, like virtual worlds, as the technology makes them all the more real. Apple’s “E-World” was before its time! From the beginning, I think virtual-worlds are morally neutral – just like the real-world. What we do and how we are within either world is where issues of morality and ethics and appropriateness come into play. What is the good, the beautiful, and what contributes to the banal or lesser instincts within us all no matter what world we inhabit?
Several years ago when I was at the beginning stages of postulency, I e-mailed my then bishop and said that I was playing with the idea of being a “cyber-priest.” He shot back an e-mail saying, basically, “I’m not sending you to seminary to play around in some cyber-world. The faith, because it is incarnational, can only be experienced in a tactile community. Community is impossible outside of the ‘real world.'”
Well, I thought, I’m not sure why I received such a rebuke, but it isn’t up to me or the good bishop to determine what is possible and what is not and what people consider “community” to be or where it can happen. It will be.
Fast forward and we all know that “community” happens in the ether. Second Life is the more recent expression of it. It is “real” and will only become more “real,” particularly for those who have a very difficult time in the “real-world.” It is often easier to create yourself in a virtual-world where others cannot see the “real” you, than it is to deal with the very difficult issues of “real life” so that you can be that very person you desire to be actually in real life.
What does this mean for people of faith? What does this mean for Christians? I know all too well it is all to easy to be the alter-ego of the real-life-self in the virtual-world were you make yourself out to be beautiful, when your are not, where you make yourself out to be svelte when you are actually 200 pounds overweight, where you are the life of the party when you are truly very shy, where you do the nasty like a perv because it isn’t “real.”
It is often easier to live in a fantasy than in reality. It is easier to make an avatar than to accept ourselves and learn to love ourselves as Christ loves us. It is easier to attempt to create a new “reality” then to confront the force of the “real-reality” that won’t let you be who you want to be or who you fantasize about being.
Second Life, and such virtual worlds, can be a lot of fun. It can be great to express ourselves in ways that we might be a little afraid to express ourselves in the real-world. People can learn in virtual-reality to be more “themselves” in the real-world.
The caution is, and we have to face this, that any of us can descend into falsehood, into lies, into psychosis because of it all – just like real life. We also have to face that as we give ourselves over to ways of behaving or thinking in the virtual-worlds, we are affected in the real-world. What we entertain even if in a virtual-world, it is still our minds in the real world that is doing or thinking the thing. Whatever we give ourselves over to and whatever we allow to influence us, well, even if only in the virtual-world it will affect us and will bleed from the virtual into the real.
What do we do with this? It certainly isn’t evil, but if we aren’t careful evil will be realized. As priests, as counselors, as Christians, how do we navigate the virtual?