Wholly Bible: A View from the Pew
By RAY WADDLE
The strange excitements of the digital age get stranger -- and more spiritual.
I've been encountering the phenomenon of Second Life, an alternative cyberspace program
that is poised now to rival real-life church as a virtual home for the spiritually dissatisfied
In this parallel fantasy life, people can adopt a dramatic new online identity, or avatar. They
can talk together, dance, dine, fly -- even go to church, where they are free to create visual
virtual sanctuaries and doctrines, worship styles and sermon content.
Some of these churches are jokey and irreverent, but others claim to be serious, with real
people sending their avatars to attend services.
This is the new out-of-body experience -- just one of the more fascinating, aggressive
novelties in a new century that is throwing the old church life off balance.
Congregations are hurrying to build Web sites, start Facebook pages, post blogs and catch
the excitement of connecting with new generations who expect digital sophistication.
Defenders of the online alternative world say Jesus' gospel is just as relevant in a cyber-
sanctuary as in the brick church down the block: hyperspace holiness is reaching people
who've given up on real-life religion.
Detractors say virtual reality is the ultimate nerd fantasy, an addictive illusion, new-fangled
It's up to real-life congregations to sort through all this and decide whether to thrill or chill
to the dazzle of virtual other worlds.
But amid all the online exuberance, I hope those same reality-based churches remember to
speak up for life on the actual earth that Jesus walked.
Somebody needs to speak from solid ground. Churches can, churches do. They can remind
people that the real world needs real attention, because war and peace and public policy and
personal ethics protect or destroy flesh-and-blood human beings.
Only churches can offer regular communion, preach a Genesis theology that praises God's
creation as good, send real-life people on real-life mission trips that ease suffering and
increase hope in the actual world.
In Jesus' name, this world is a vessel of transformation, not an escape hatch.
--Columnist Ray Waddle, author of two books published
by Upper Room Books, lives in Bethel, Conn.