I can see it now. It’s the year 2030 on Actual Earth, but in the Metaverse it is year 8. While my physical body is at home lounging on a couch, my Avatar is in the Meta Universe on Planet Cyborg along with three other close friends. It’s 5:30am and we wanted a little group time together he daily grind began. We decided to connect for a digital cup of coffee (still haven’t perfected the taste bud app) at a ski lodge on the top of Mount Juggernaut. It’s been three weeks since we’ve met at this particular location. At 5:50am the sunrise radiates an other-worldly kaleidoscope of light. We’ve got 10 minutes before our families wake up… we think. That’s just enough time for some prayer. We communally teleport to the Garden of Gesthamene. It’s a bit crowded here this morning so we make it a private session. Nothin’ like the Garden of Gesthamene to yourself in the morning. 6:00am strikes. I say, “Gotta go.” I’m immediately teleported to a digital version of my kitchen (well an updated version of my kitchen that looks out over Himalayan Mountains… of course). An avatar of my youngest daughter appears next to me. She’s awake with her headset on. Gotta pour her a digital bowl of cereal…
Okay – if you’re not sure what I’m talking about then check out the video I shared at the bottom of this post. Mark Zuckerburg, the founder & CEO of Facebook shared this week that they are beginning to launch what he calls The Metaverse, an entire digital 3-D universe for work, school, and play. Yeah… this should go great… I can’t think of anything that could go wrong with this… 😌
I’ll confess, not everything about the Metaverse sounds initially awful. There is something intriguing about the possibilities of connecting with friends who are distant in a potentially more experiential ways than a simple phone call or even Zoom call. Experiences are important for building relationships, and in a metaverse there are endless creative experiences to enjoy with others. There are huge potentials in fields like education and office workspaces for deeper more creative collaboration (after all, sermon prep with three other Pastors while reclining on a beach chair in Hawaii with all my digital resources presented before me as hologram screens, doesn’t sound terrible. I probably could even invite John Calvin himself to come and help me with a difficult theological question). What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the initial gut reaction of any new technology should be to immediately write it off as only evil. Once upon a time when Guttenberg invented the Printing Press there were many Christians who feared the unknown new territory and what impact the Printing Press would have on culture as a whole. They thought it was the Devil’s device. The same thing happened when the internet became mainstream. And it will certainly happen now with the launch of The Matrix… I mean… The Metaverse.
But, I do have real concerns as a Christian that ought to cause a bit of hesitation as well as a bit of Biblical and prayer filled reflection. I offer these as honest hesitations and possibly warnings for ourselves and our children.
The Wicked Psychological Manipulation of Social Media
For starters there have been many stories shared at this point of Social Media company’s like Facebook using Psychology and personal data to misguide and manipulate its users, to play on their fears in order to drive its own revenue (for those who have not watched the film The Social Dilemma, that may be a good place to begin). Companies like Facebook are not public servants, they are cutthroat profiteers. Again, this doesn’t mean we have to avoid any contact with a business like Facebook, but it does mean that when they create a Digital Universe to rival or replace God’s universe, we should have an air of hesitation that they may not have our, or our children’s, best interest in mind. The savvy Christian will understand this and take appropriate precautions as they engage.
Secondly is the issue of no-neutrality. Many people mistakenly believe that there is some neutral worldview out there that pretty much everybody agrees on. Most people think of Christians as somehow holding to a worldview just a bit outside of regular society’s “neutral” position on issues. The reality however is that there is no neutral. There is the standard of God’s Word as God defines reality, and then there are deviations from that standard. That’s it. Every person’s worldview is either in line or at odd’s with God and His Word. The problem in a fallen world is that society is not always in line with God’s revealed law. Even with hundreds of lawmakers and countless judges weighing and considering decisions, society can shift away from God’s law and create truly unjust environments.
The challenge with the metaverse is that no matter how many times we are told the metaverse will be a morally neutral platform, we know as Christians that the neutrality they are describing is a myth. The creators of this metaverse are fallen sinful beings who have been shown many times over the last few years to have dubious methods behind their madness with little to no accountability or concern for the evils propagated through their platforms. While the individual interactions within a metaverse are not necessarily the responsibility of the system’s operators, the platform itself and the fabric of the universe that makes up the playing field is in the hands of Facebook’s engineers. In the video launched to describe this new metaverse, Mark Zuckerburg said that rules will need to be created to protect privacy. Well who makes those rules? And who defines “privacy?” Who defines “protection?” I hate to be nuanced, but when you’re creating a literal universe, you kind of want the right people making those decisions. This is a concern now on an app like Facebook. And it will be increasingly concerning in a digital universe.
The Metaverse as a False Gospel
Again I begin by saying that I do not think Virtual Reality is a necessarily evil concept. There may be much good that can come from it. I do think however that an increasingly detached existence from reality is not good. The metaverse, in a unique way, offers broken people a false gospel. If you don’t like the way you look, or the way you are perceived, or your family, or your circumstances, or your job, simply put these glasses on and become somebody else. Now you’re pretty. Now you’re famous. Now you’re rich. Now you have friends. The real world is hopeless, but come to the metaverse where you can be anybody you want to be. In the metaverse you can truly be born again… What struggling broken hurt person would not be allured by such a temptation?
The reality is that this false gospel message of creating a new identity online has already been played out in smaller ways through social media. There is ample well documented research on the harmful effects of high rates of social media usage are having on young people. From depression, to eating disorders, to suicide, to an overall detachment from reality, to fomenting crime, to lower education levels, to an entire generation of young men with absolutely zero resolve to do… anything. The truth is there is only one gospel, one hope, one message of salvation, one way of being born again. It is by faith in Christ alone. Make no mistake, Facebook will offer a false gospel, and many will receive it only to find themselves worse off than they were before. The statistics will keep going up. Christians must boldly step into this brokenness and get ahead of it with our own families.
We’ve all seen this movie play out many times. From Tron, to the Matrix, to Ready Player One. It usually doesn’t end well, ha. As we take new steps into our increasing brave new world, I beseech Christians to prayerfully reflect on how they spend their time and how they engage. The world needs bold Christians who know and love Jesus and who love sharing the real gospel and the hope that is found in Christ. There may be wonderful “experiences” and “opportunities” that come from the creation of a metaverse, but there will certainly be risks and dangers along the way.