Second Life Versus New Life

Rich Braaksma at Relevant Magazine muses on whether anything like the Incarnation of Christ could happen in the multiplayer virtual reality game Second Life. Most of the piece is rather fluffy, but he touched my heart with the conclusion:

As much as we may wish to escape our world and its harsh realities, it is this world Christ joined and engaged. We may wish for a new family, new friends, a new place to live and a body that won’t age. But God’s great mercy is that He didn’t come to save the best version of yourself that you can muster—He came for the just plain, fallen, real you.

I have such trouble going through the day simply as myself, experiencing the present in all its awful contingency and overwhelming vitality. I prefer to be lost in thoughts of my novel characters, abstract arguments, the ice cream I might have after dinner — my own version of Second Life without the cumbersome technological interface. To be exposed to my own awareness is to be exposed to God. As if I could hide from Him otherwise…! The fig leaf of imagination only fools one of us.

Without raising this issue explicitly, Braaksma’s article also made me wonder if we emphasize the wrong aspects of Jesus’ story when trying to “Christianize” a secular environment or art form. He spends much of the piece discussing how the literal episodes of Christ’s life (virgin birth, healings, walking on water) could be staged in Second Life, and why they wouldn’t seem like a big deal in a virtual environment where everyone is already defying the constraints of matter.

Similarly, in modern technological societies, physical miracles may not seem like the most necessary or impressive part of the gospel. Its essence is God’s grace and forgiveness — a hard sell in a virtual world (and the real culture that generated it) where actions once thought sinful can be made to appear consequence-free. The ancients understood that our characters are shaped by what we focus our attention upon. Having traded this awareness for a legalistic divide between thought and action, we indulge in virtual murder and pornography as if our distorted desires could be switched off when we step away from the computer.

Bringing the Incarnation to Second Life would require more than a “just add Jesus” approach to the carnival of avatars and miracles floating around this virtual world. The Incarnation begins with a reminder that we bring our whole selves everywhere we go, whether we’re paying attention or not.

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