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Cyber Religion Awaits us

31st August 2010

There is little doubt that like it or not our lives are increasingly interwoven with the cyber world. If you are not afraid of a "wake-up call" or what it means to search for God in the cyber world then it is worth tuning into the outline that follows.

Beyond the use of the mind and information technology we invest a lot of psychic energy in electronic media. It is not an exaggeration to say that when we sit down in front of a computer and the inter-net we can be affected by a mystical bent that takes us into a virtual world. While the gods and goddesses of yesterday were wind and rain, today there is a new paradigm where computer scientists are creating a cyber, virtual world. The internet and religion it is said can be likened to the advent of the printing press that ushered in a revolution of change. Information became widely available so that the status and relationship between lay people and religious authority was changed for ever.

While we would want to theologically question some of the following claims we need to be in touch with current thinking. Christians have often separated mind and body but a cyber virtual world can bring these dimensions together. In the changing nature of religion inside cyber space some have adopted a pan-an-theism that concludes that God is radically present in our world and that as forms of life like the human brain become more complex they become more conscious. They claim that beyond the material world there is a bio-sphere and beyond that a neo-sphere or a layer of thought around the world. If we are sparks of the Divine we can produce the Divine within ourselves by being truthful and honest. This means that we are now responsible for a trajectory of evolution into a new world of consciousness.

While your physical body or your church can be in one place geographically, electronic media can create another reality, another you. Your consciousness is projected to another place. You can adopt another name and you can be who you want to be in a virtual world. You can even make yourself look beautiful by adopting new body parts. You can become a church leader or the Mayor of a city. The current local church where you worship each Sunday can also choose to adopt a different identity on an international platform and expand its membership and influence.

The web site "Second Life" is a religious community that connects people to a new virtual world. Rev Mark Brown was authorized and commissioned by the Anglican Church to first build a virtual Cathedral Church and then to plant a cyber Congregation. This church offers all the services of a normal congregation except Holy Communion. He sits at his desk with his lap top computer, leads worship and preaches. Afterwards there is an on line social get together. Mark opened a Facebook page called BIBLE to encourage bible reading. Its growth was rapid and today has numbered three and a half million people. Mark did this because he is convinced that if people are on line that is where the church needs to be.

What are some of the emerging insights challenging the Church and the status quo at present?

  • Cyber space is already changing the way the church operates and its effects will eventually rewrite Church law, governance and polity.
  • Church leaders and Bishops need to wrestle with this new world reality now. The church needs to creatively enter the world of Blogging and Facebook or it will be left behind.
  • Cyber space can be used in a positive way to create space for reflection. It provides a medium for self expression and growth if we come to it with a clear intention of being truthful and honest.
  • It must be clear, as Jennifer Cox points out, that being connected to the cyber world in itself does not make us whole or complete as people. We must always be sure to bridge the cyber world and natural world. We need to see and meet with people face to face. Many are concerned about a lack of bodily presence. Sharing Holy Communion/Eucharist needs to be an embodied experience.
  • When a church has no geographical boundary and consists of people in Alaska, China, Paris and Trinidad, who is the boss? How is the church ordered or governed?
  • A decentralized church will be best at handling the cyber church. Handing out power will be very difficult for others.

Submitted by Rev Ted (E. A.) Curnow.

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